Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 23, 2012

The Afghan massacre suspect faces charges, Santorum expects victory in Louisiana, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making news and driving opinion

1. BALES TO BE CHARGED WITH 17 AFGHAN MURDERSArmy Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will face 17 counts of murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder when he is charged Friday for the March 11 massacre in an Afghan village. According to most reports, 16 people — nine of them children — were killed, and it's unclear why the number is now 17. Officials say the discrepancy will be clarified when charges are filed. Bales is currently being held in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. His lawyer, John Henry Browne, claims the case will be "extremely difficult for the prosecution," saying "they have no murder scene, no forensics… I'm going to make them prove every claim." [CNN]………………………………………………………………………………

2. FEDS CAN KEEP DATA ON AMERICANS LONGERAttorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. signed new guidelines Thursday easing restrictions on how counterterrorism experts retrieve and use data on Americans with no clear terrorist connections. The National Counterterrorism Center will now be able to retain private information on U.S. citizens with no suspected terrorist ties for five years. Previously it was only able to do so for 180 days. The relaxed restrictions are intended to help analysts better identify terrorism suspects, but privacy advocates are concerned. [New York Times]………………………………………………………………………………

3. THOUSANDS RALLY FOR TRAYVON MARTIN Thousands of people rallied for Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., on Thursday, demanding that his killer, George Zimmerman, be arrested. "Trayvon could have been any one of our sons, he could have been any one of us," said civil-rights leader Al Sharpton. "Trayvon represents a reckless disregard for our lives that we've seen for too long." [USA Today]………………………………………………………………………………

4. SANTORUM POISED FOR BIG WIN IN LOUISIANA According to Public Policy Polling, a substantial victory is in the cards for Rick Santorum in Saturday's Louisiana presidential primary. Polls show him leading GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, 42 to 28 percent. Santorum, campaigning Thursday in Texas, implied Obama was preferable to Mitt Romney, saying "we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch-A-Sketch candidate for the future." [Politico]………………………………………………………………………………

5. OBAMA VOWS TO FAST-TRACK KEYSTONE PIPELINE On his energy tour Thursday, President Obama said the administration would "cut through the red tape," speed up the review of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, and "get it done." The president's environmental allies were angered by the move, while Obama's political opponents said his late support of the pipeline was disingenuous. [Politico]………………………………………………………………………………

6. FRANCE DEFENDS HANDLING OF SHOOTER French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has defended the police's handling of Mohammed Merah, the suspected motorcycle gunman who was shot dead by special forces on Thursday after a more than 30-hour standoff. Fillon told a French radio station on Friday that authorities would have had no ground on which to arrest Merah prior to his string of lethal attacks, and that the French domestic intelligence service had done its duty "perfectly well." [CNN]………………………………………………………………………………

7. WHITNEY HOUSTON AUTOPSY SHOWS COCAINE Whitney Houston's autopsy findings show the late singer had cocaine in her system when she drowned last month and that she was a chronic user. "We are saddened to learn of the toxicology results, although we are glad to now have closure," Patricia Houston, the pop star's manager and sister-in-law, said. Marijuana, Xanax, the muscle relaxant Flexeril, and the allergy medication Benadryl were also found in Houston's system. [Associated Press]………………………………………………………………………………

8. KROGER DROPS 'PINK SLIME' IN BEEF Kroger Co., the largest supermarket retailer in the country, announced Thursday that it would drop the beef product known as "pink slime" from its fresh meat section. Pink slime is a filler made from scraps of meat treated with an ammonia-based microbe killer. Federal regulators and the meat industry insist it is safe, but a number of supermarket chains have recently stopped selling meat containing the product amid growing national attention and consumer concern. [Los Angeles Times]………………………………………………………………………………

9. NBC RENEWS SMASH NBC has renewed the Broadway drama, which stars Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, Debra Messing, and Anjelica Huston. Creator and executive producer Theresa Rebeck will not return as show runner next season. [Los Angeles Times]………………………………………………………………………………  

10. MAD MEN RETURNS The oft-lauded AMC show returns at last on Sunday night. Critics call the fifth season premiere impressive and "visually thrilling." [Hollywood Reporter]

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