Morning Briefing: September 30, 2011

American-born extremist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen, marking a “significant and dramatic strike in the campaign against Al Qaeda.” Awlaki, who has been linked to more than a dozen terrorist investigations, as well as the Ft. Hood shooting rampage and the attempted Times Square bombing last year, was killed in a U.S. drone strike.

The Justice Department is widening its crackdown on states’ harsh immigration laws, possibly adding lawsuits against four states to challenges it has launched already against laws in Alabama and Arizona. The expansion to Utah, Georgia, Indiana, and South Carolina would be a “highly unusual” step, as civil rights groups have already launched suits in those states.

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens told ABC News that his one regret was voting for the death penalty to be reinstated. Stevens spent nearly 35 years on the court, but would do only one case over again if he could: “My vote in the Texas death case…I think that I came out wrong on that.”

Twenty House Democrats are demanding an ethics investigation into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for his failure to disclose the hundreds of thousands of dollars his wife has received from groups opposed to the health care law. Pointing to the “simplicity” of disclosure and Thomas’ “high level of legal training,” the Democrats said “it is reasonable to infer that his failure to disclose his wife’s income for two decades was willful.”

Disgust with the economy is at its all-time high,” with 90 percent of Americans saying the economy is poor in a new CNN poll. Fifty-two percent of poll respondents said Bush and the Republicans are responsible for the state of the economy, and 32 percent laid the blame at the feet of Obama and the Democrats.

Despite the down economy, executives are still getting massive “golden parachute” severance packages, even after failed tenures. Just last week, Léo Apotheker was given $17.2 million in cash and stock when he was removed as head of HP after just 11 months on the job.

Yesterday, the House quickly approved a stopgap spending bill to finance the government for the first four days in October and will vote on “a more ambitious seven-week spending bill” next week when members return. The fight of FEMA funding was simply deferred as the agency “discovered that it had enough money to continue providing disaster aid through the end of the current fiscal year.”

A tomato-throwing mob staged by the Syrian government assaulted U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and several aides on Thursday while on their way to meet with opposition leaders. No Americans were hurt. “This attempt to intimidate our diplomats through violence is wholly unjustified,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the attack.

And finally: The Board of Elections in New York City has released the breakdown of write-in votes for the NY-09 special election. Perhaps not surprisingly, the seat’s disgraced former holder, Anthony Weiner, received the most write-ins at 31. The Simpsons mayor Joe Quimby received two votes, ’90s sock puppet Lamb chop received one, as did Snoopy, and “Munchma Quchy of Colbert Report fame.”

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