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February 19th, 2012
04:53 AM ET

State of the Union Early Bird for February 19, 2012

(CNN)-It's early, and State of the Union is bringing you the best of the morning headlines to go with your cup of coffee.

On our radar: Controversial statements from presidential candidates, and tensions in Iran and Syria.

Check out what we're reading, and watch our interview today with presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) as well as our insider panel: former presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) and Republican Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

2012

Paul: U.S. "slipping into a fascist system"

"We've slipped away from a true Republic," Paul said. "Now we're slipping into a fascist system where it's a combination of government and big business and authoritarian rule and the suppression of the individual rights of each and every American citizen."

2012: The year of 'birth control moms'?

Women backed Barack Obama in big numbers in 2008 but then swung right in 2010. If the president is to win reelection in 2012, he’ll need to win women back — and Lake and other Democrats see the GOP push on contraception as a gift that will make that easier.

Santorum: Obama leads with a 'different theology'

“It's not about your job. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology,” Santorum said. "Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology. But no less a theology.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA

Rising Gas Prices Give G.O.P. Issue to Attack Obama

In a closed-door meeting last week, Speaker John A. Boehner instructed fellow Republicans to embrace the gas-pump anger they find among their constituents when they return to their districts for the Presidents’ Day recess.

“This debate is a debate we want to have,” Mr. Boehner told his conference on Wednesday, according to a Republican aide who was present. “It was reported this week that we’ll soon see $4-a-gallon gas prices. Maybe higher. Certainly, this summer will see the highest gas prices in years. Your constituents saw those reports, and they’ll be talking about it.”

THE ECONOMY

‘Taxmageddon’ looms at end of payroll tax holiday

On Dec. 31, the George W. Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire, raising rates on investment income, estates and gifts, and earnings at all levels. Overnight, the marriage penalty for joint filers will spring back to life, the value of the child credit will drop from $1,000 to $500, and the rate everyone pays on the first $8,700 of wages will jump from 10 percent to 15 percent.

The potential shock to the nation’s pocketbook is so enormous, congressional aides have dubbed it “Taxmageddon.” Some economists say it could push the fragile U.S. economy back into recession, particularly if automatic cuts to federal agencies, also set for January, are permitted to take effect.

IRAN

Barak Says Iran Sanctions Have Further to Go Before Military Strike Needed

“We’re still in the sanctions stage and we expect them to become even more tight,” Barak said at a press conference today in Tokyo at the end of a four-day visit. “I think there is consensus in most capitals of the world that Iran should not be allowed to turn into a nuclear military power.”

Iranian warships sail into the Mediterranean

Two Iranian warships sailed through Egypt's Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea, Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency reported Saturday, amid heightened tensions in the region.

The move represents only the second time such ships have crossed the Suez Canal since the Islamic republic's 1979 revolution.

It was not clear from the report where the two vessels, a destroyer and a supply ship, were headed. However, another semi-official Iranian news agency, ISNA, said the ships were on their way to Syria.

House Intelligence chairman: Iran behind attacks on Israelis

“I can say with a very high degree of confidence that Iran was involved and some of its more known intelligence — both military and civilian intelligence services — were engaged in these events,” said Rogers in an interview set to air on NPR’s All Things Considered on Saturday evening.

Israeli Strike On Iran 'Not Prudent,' Gen. Martin Dempsey Says

SYRIA

In Damascus, street protests and diplomacy

Close to 300 doctors have been arrested since mid-March, one opposition group says.

Syria 'disintegrating under crippling sanctions'

One of Syria's leading businessmen says its economy is being crippled by foreign sanctions and that the government is slowly disintegrating.

Israel's ex-spy chief sees opportunity in Syria crisis

If the regime falls in Syria and the Iranians are expelled, this is going to be a horrendous defeat for Iran.

Thanks for reading!


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