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10 things you need to know today: February 26, 2013
The GOP says Obama is using scare tactics, a blizzard slams the Great Plains, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making news and driving opinion
 
Obama: Governing by freakout?
Obama: Governing by freakout? John W. Adkisson/Getty Images

1. GOP ACCUSES OBAMA OF SCARING THE PUBLIC OVER THE SEQUESTER
Republicans are accusing President Obama of using scare tactics and political-campaign maneuvers to pressure Republicans into accepting a Democratic proposal to avoid the deep budget cuts due to start hitting March 1. Instead, they say, he should be talking to the GOP about a deal. "This is not time for a road-show president," House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Monday. Both sides say they want to avoid the cuts, which amount to $85 billion this year and $1.2 trillion over a decade. "These cuts do not have to happen," Obama said. "Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise." [Washington Post]
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2. BLIZZARD SLAMS SOUTHERN PLAINS
A massive winter storm dumped record snowfall on parts of the southern Great Plains, burying the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles in more than a foot of snow and disrupting travel across the region. The storm has been blamed for at least two deaths — one person died when his SUV hit an ice patch and overturned in Kansas, and another was killed in a home when heavy snow caused the roof to collapse. The storm, which the National Weather Service called "a crippling, historic blizzard," also forced officials to close roads, airports, and schools. [CNN, USA Today]
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3. IRAN RETURNS TO NUCLEAR TALKS
Iranian officials are meeting with negotiators from the U.S. and five other nations on Tuesday for the first talks on its nuclear program in eight months. Tehran said it was prepared to make an offer to the major powers — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany — after the Obama administration proposed limited sanctions relief in exchange for a halt to work the West suspects Iran is doing to build a nuclear bomb. The meetings, in Kazakhstan, are expected to last two days, although nobody expects "a fully done deal" to come out of them, according to a European Union spokesperson. [Reuters]
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4. ITALIAN VOTE SIGNALS FINANCIAL GRIDLOCK
European stocks plunged early Tuesday, after an election that many hoped would push debt-plagued Italy toward much-needed economic reform instead set the stage for gridlock. Yields on government bonds jumped in Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as investors braced for battles over how to restore Europe's financial stability. Protest voters backed parties opposed to austerity measures Italy has promised to other European leaders battling crushing public debts. "The cost of austerity led to an electoral rebellion," said Enrico Letta, deputy head of the center-left Democratic Party, which won a razor-thing margin. "This is a complex situation to live and manage." [Wall Street Journal]
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5. FORMER SURGEON GENERAL KOOP DIES
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, long considered one of the most influential people ever to serve in the post, died Monday at age 96. Koop held the job for eight years in the 1980s under then President Ronald Reagan, thundering against the evils of smoking and promoting awareness of the AIDS epidemic when many Americans considered it a "gay disease." "He really changed the national conversation, and he showed real courage in pursuing the duties of his job," said Chris Collins, a vice president of AMFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. [ABC News]
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6. GOP RIFT OPENS OVER GAY MARRIAGE
Dozens of prominent Republicans have signed a legal brief arguing that gay couples have a constitutional right to get married, putting them in direct opposition to some of the party's most powerful leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner. The document is being submitted to the Supreme Court in support of striking down California's same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8. With the backing of several former George W. Bush aides, four former governors, and two members of Congress, the brief serves as the latest example of the internal feud that has rattled the GOP since the November election. [New York Times]
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7. FIRST ROCKET SINCE TRUCE LANDS IN ISRAEL
A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck southern Israel on Tuesday, although it caused no injuries. It was the first such attack since November, when Israel ended a military operation launched in response to a wave of rocket fire by militants in the Palestinian enclave. The latest attack came after days of protests following the death of a Palestinian man in an Israeli jail. [BBC News]
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8. BALLOON CRASH KILLS 18 IN EGYPT
A hot-air balloon crashed near the Egyptian city of Luxor, killing 18 tourists from Hong Kong, Japan, France, and the U.K. The balloon reportedly hit an electric cable, causing a cylinder on board to explode and sending the balloon plunging 1,000 feet. Two people, including the pilot, survived. "People were jumping out of the balloon from about the height of a seven-story building," a witness who was riding another balloon said. The balloon trips are popular in the area, as they let tourists view some of Egypt's most famous pharaonic-era ruins from above. [BBC News]
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9. CENSUS BUREAU DROPS "NEGRO" FROM SURVEYS
The U.S. Census Bureau is removing the word "Negro" from its survey forms, after using it for more than 100 years. Starting next year, census forms will give people the option of describing their race with "black" or "African-American" instead. In 2010, the bureau decided against scrapping the term on the theory that some people, particularly older, Southern blacks, still related to it, but since then, officials say, public feedback has confirmed that most black Americans no longer identify with the term and find it offensive. [ABC News]
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10. RODMAN PLAYS BASKETBALL DIPLOMAT IN NORTH KOREA
Former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman embarked on a "basketball diplomacy" mission on Tuesday in North Korea. The edgy Rodman — known in the '90s for his bleached hair and tattoos — will team up with three members of the Harlem Globetrotters to run a basketball camp for children and play against North Korean athletes as part of a Vice Media production due to air on HBO in April. Vice founder Shane Smith concedes that sending Rodman to the isolated communist nation is "strange," but says "finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing." [Associated Press]

 

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