CNN Washington AM Note
June 4th, 2013
06:06 AM ET
11 months ago

CNN Washington AM Note

NATIONAL STORIES:

CNN: Missouri residents told to evacuate after levee breach

Hundreds of people were being evacuated from their homes in Missouri after a levee was breached Monday night. Officials in St. Charles County near St. Louis activated warning sirens after the levee broke, a statement from the county said. Earlier Monday, a bridge connecting West Alton, Missouri, and Alton, Illinois, was shutdown after a temporary flood barricade gave way. Forecasters say there could be major flooding Tuesday. The Mississippi River at St. Louis was 10.1 feet above flood stage Monday night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey website. Flood warnings and advisories were in effect from counties in northern Illinois down to Louisiana.

CNN: Bill would let Sandy Hook families withhold crime-scene photos, documents

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is considering legislation that would let families of victims in the Sandy Hook school shooting block release of some crime-scene documents. The governor's office sent CNN a working draft of the bill. If enacted, it would require written consent of those who survived the shooting or family members of those who died for officials to release photos, video, audio recordings or 911 calls "depicting the physical condition of any victim." The bill also would allow officials to redact the identity of any minor. It would exempt the release of death certificates as public records, and would limit the release of 911 call recordings. Only transcript portions not containing descriptions of the victims would be made available.

NBC: Smoking employees cost $6,000 a year more, study finds

Smokers cost their employers nearly $6,000 a year more than staff who don’t smoke, researchers said on Monday in what they say is the first comprehensive look at the issue. And in what some might see as a dark twist, they’ve taken into account any savings that might come because smokers tend to die younger than non-smokers, drawing less in pension costs. The findings support a growing trend among employers to not only ban smoking in the workplace, but to refuse to hire smokers in the first place, argues Micah Berman of Ohio State University, who led the study.

HuffPo: Medicaid Expansion Denial Will Cost States Billions: Report

States that refuse to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama's health care reform law not only will deny health coverage to poor residents and lose access to a huge influx of federal dollars, they also will see increased spending on uninsured people's unpaid medical bills, according to a new report by the Rand Corp., a consulting firm. The Rand Corp. analyzed 14 states with governors who oppose the Medicaid expansion. It found their actions will deprive 3.6 million people of health coverage under Obamacare, forgo $8.4 billion in federal funding, and cost them $1 billion for programs that partially compensate medical providers who care for the indigent, according to the report published in the journal "Health Affairs." Since nearly half of states may not undertake the Medicaid expansion next year, those figures could be even higher. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia plan to broaden Medicaid in 2014, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

WHITE HOUSE:

CNN: Obama to name three to influential court

President Barack Obama is set to put forward three nominations for the influential United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday, officials told CNN. The officials, speaking anonymously since the announcement has not yet happened, said the president will nominate attorney Patricia Millett, law professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, and U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins to the court, which is often regarded as the second most important judicial panel in the country after the United States Supreme Court. … But some Republicans argue the three vacancies currently on the bench should remain unfilled, citing what they see as a relatively light caseload. They argue Obama's choice to nominate three appeals judges at once amounts to "packing" the court with ideological allies.

WSJ: Obama Plans to Take Action Against Patent-Holding Firms

The White House on Tuesday plans to announce a set of executive actions President Barack Obama will take that are aimed at reining in certain patent-holding firms, known as "patent trolls" to their detractors, amid concerns that the firms are abusing the patent system and disrupting competition. Mr. Obama's actions, which include measures he wants Congress to consider, are intended to target firms that have forced technology companies, financial institutions and others into costly litigation to protect their products. These patent-holding firms amass portfolios of patents more to pursue licensing fees than to build new products. The firms say they are doing nothing wrong, just using patents that were legally granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They say they promote a fair market by protecting smaller inventors.

WSJ: U.S. Sanctions Target Iran's Currency

The White House on Monday tightened restrictions against Iran by directly targeting the country's currency for the first time, as the U.S. and its allies push Tehran to abide by international nuclear standards. "This promises to make Iran's weak currency even weaker and more volatile," said a senior Obama administration official. The goal is to make the currency, the rial, "essentially unusable outside of Iran." U.S. and European sanctions have contributed to a devaluation of as much as 80% in the value of Iran's currency over the last two years. But new steps Monday are likely to add pressure to the rial.

WaPo: White House threatens to veto spending plans unless broader budget deal reached

The Obama administration on Monday threatened to veto any spending bills for the coming fiscal year unless Republicans and Democrats reach agreement on a broader budget plan that “supports our recovery and enables sufficient investments” in White House priorities. The White House budget office issued the blanket veto threat late Monday in response to two spending bills headed to the floor of the House this week. One would fund veterans affairs and military construction, the other would fund the Department of Homeland Security. Both were drafted in accordance with a budget blueprint drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), which calls for the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester to remain in place through the coming fiscal year. However, the Ryan budget would shift the burden of those cuts away from veterans and national defense programs, and force domestic agencies to shoulder the entire burden.

ALSO SEE: Roll Call: House GOP Doesn't Buy Obama's Latest Veto Threat

San Francisco Chronicle: Fans resent lack of public Obama events

It's a scenario that's all too familiar: President Obama will visit Silicon Valley this week – but the only Californians who will see or hear from him will pay at least $2,500 for the privilege. As the president begins his 20th trip to California since entering office, the seemingly endless capacity of the White House to vacuum up California campaign checks – without scheduling any public events – is becoming a cause for concern, even among loyal Democrats. "It's a missed opportunity," said Democratic strategist Garry South, who gave the maximum donations allowed to Obama's two presidential campaigns. "It's usually a mistake to just be making fundraising forays into a state like California without combining those political events with some sort of public activity," he said, noting public events offer alternatives to photos of Obama "hustled into the back of a ballroom." Obama's latest Silicon Valley fundraising swing, to benefit the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, begins on June 6 and includes an evening reception at the Palo Alto home of Flipboard CEO Michael McCue and his wife Marci, where tickets start at $2,500 per person.

ALSO SEE: USA Today: DNC nixes salesman's plan to pay $32K to lobby Obama

WaPo: Keystone opponent Tom Steyer warns Obama to reject pipeline or face backlash

Billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer has written an open letter to President Obama, warning him to reject the Keystone XL pipeline or face an organized rebellion from some of his most loyal supporters later this month. On Friday, Canada’s British Columbia province informed a federal review board it opposes the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which aims to export crude oil from Canada’s oil sand region to Asia via tankers. Since that represents an alternative means for shipping oil to Keystone XL, Steyer wrote that “the last of the arguments for the development of the Keystone Pipeline has collapsed.” Steyer, who has targeted Keystone supporters through his NextGen Action political action committee, says in the letter the president and his deputies now have no excuse for approving the project, which would transport the carbon-intense crude from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries.

CAPITOL HILL:

WaPo: House Republicans broken into fighting factions

On New Year’s Day, in a cramped room in the Capitol basement, House Republican leaders faced an angry caucus. Democrats had negotiated them into a corner — virtually every American would be hit with a massive tax increase unless the House agreed to block the hikes for everyone but the wealthy. A freshman lawmaker seized a microphone and demanded to know how the leaders planned to vote. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was a yes, but his top two lieutenants were opposed. “If you’re for this and they’re against, we’ve got problems,” Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher (R-Tenn.) shouted at Boehner and more than 200 lawmakers present, according to Republicans who attended the closed-door meeting. Sure enough, they had problems. Hours later, Democrats helped Boehner pass the measure over the opposition of more than 60 percent of GOP lawmakers. That vote, to avert the “fiscal cliff,” marked a breaking point for House Republicans, who had disintegrated into squabbling factions, no longer able to agree on — much less execute — some of the most basic government functions.

The Hill: House panel seeks to boost Pentagon war spending by $5B

The House Armed Services panel’s Defense authorization bill would hike Pentagon spending by $5 billion in 2014. The increase would be used for spending on the Afghanistan war, and Republicans on the panel indicated it would make up for cuts to training and maintenance that have occurred over the last year due to sequestration. The legislation offered Monday by Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) includes $85.8 billion in war spending, an increase of $5.1 billion from the Pentagon’s 2014 budget request. In the bill, $4.5 billion of the additional funds go toward readiness accounts that pay for things like Air Force pilot training and Navy maintenance. …The legislation will be marked up Wednesday by the full committee.

POLITICAL:

CNN: Lautenberg leaves tricky political question for Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he had some "pretty good fights" with Sen. Frank Lautenberg. But Lautenberg's death early Monday puts the Republican governor in a pretty good bind in replacing him. "It's no mystery that Sen. Lautenberg and I didn't always agree," Christie said Monday of the liberal Democrat. "In fact, it probably is more honest to say we very often didn't agree, and we had some pretty good fights between us over time - battles on philosophy and the role of government." As Christie, a Republican, runs for what is expected to be a relatively easy re-election, he now invites unwanted attention as he decides on a temporary replacement for Lautenberg.

National Review: Congress Probing Chief Counsel’s Office in Washington in IRS Scandal

Congressional investigators are probing the highest echelons of the Internal Revenue Service in Washington, D.C., in connection with the agency’s targeting of conservative groups, according to documents obtained by National Review Online. Those documents, provided by an IRS employee who asked to remain anonymous, indicate that those being asked to provide computer data to investigators include the agency’s chief counsel, William J. Wilkins, and both of his deputies. The chief counsel is one of just two political appointments at the IRS made by the president. Investigators asked the IRS to gather all data from the computers of several employees throughout the agency, and their request, according to the source, was broadened late last week to include over a dozen employees in the chief counsel’s office.

ALSO SEE: CNN: New IRS chief asks for patience over targeting probe

Politico: Democrats' 2014 strategy: Own Obamacare

Scarred by years of Republican attacks over Obamacare, with more in store next year, Democrats have settled on an unlikely strategy for the 2014 midterms: Bring it on. Party strategists believe that embracing the polarizing law — especially its more popular elements — is smarter politics than than fleeing from it in the House elections. The new tack is a marked shift from 2010, when Republicans pointed to Obamacare as Exhibit A of big government run amok on their way to seizing the House from Democrats. But the Democratic bear hug, reflecting a calculation it’s probably impossible to shed their association with the law even if they wanted to, is still a high-wire public relations act. The White House has consistently struggled with messaging on Obamacare, hoping the public would gain an appreciation for the health care makeover as its benefits became apparent. That never really happened, but Democrats seem to be banking that it finally will.

WaPo: Maryland governor’s race off to early start

More than 17 months before Maryland chooses its next governor, politicians who want to succeed Martin O’Malley made it clear Monday that a long, tough campaign is already underway. Harford County Executive David R. Craig became the first major Republican candidate to make his 2014 bid official; a prominent Democratic contender, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, announced Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as his running mate at a rally in Columbia; and Michael S. Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman, confirmed that he is “looking at” the race. The announcements underscored the uncertainty in the contest to replace O’Malley (D). Some candidates are clearly eager to get started. But with a year to go before the primaries, there’s a second school of thought taking shape, too: wait until more people are paying attention.

Politico: Bill Clinton Israel speech nets $500K

The Jewish National Fund is paying former President Bill Clinton half a million dollars to make a 45-minute speech in honor of Israeli President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday, according to a new report. The event, which will be held June 17 in Rehovot, Israel, at the Peres Academic Center previously asked guests to pay just more than $800 to attend, to cover Clinton’s fee. That requirement has since been canceled after Peres said he wouldn’t attend if it became a fundraiser, according to the Times of Israel. The $500,000 will be paid to Clinton’s William J. Clinton Foundation, which focuses on issues surrounding environmental protection and public health, the news site reported. The money was transferred to Clinton nearly a year ago, according to the report.

NATIONAL SECURITY:

Reuters: Afghan colonel arrested in prisoner torture case; US link suspected

An Afghan army colonel has been arrested by the government for illegally handing over prisoners to a man working with a U.S. special forces team that was accused of torture and killings, three sources have told Reuters. The rare arrest of a senior military officer underlines the resolve of Kabul in cracking down on excesses in the 12-year-long civil war ahead of an election next year. It also plays into government efforts to distance itself from the West as it woos Taliban insurgents to join peace talks ahead of the withdrawal of international combat troops in 2014. Reports earlier this year that villagers detained by security forces in the Nerkh district of Wardak province were being tortured or killed led to a serious rupture between Afghan authorities and the U.S.-led multinational force. Afghan President Hamid Karzai later ordered all Western troops out of Nerkh.

WaPo: U.S. military chiefs balk at taking sex-assault cases out of commanders’ hands

The nation’s military chiefs have told Congress in writing that they oppose or have strong reservations about a controversial bill that would reshape military law by taking sexual-assault cases out of the hands of commanders, setting up a likely clash with lawmakers who are pushing the idea. In a rare joint appearance, the uniformed leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to testify Tuesday before a Senate panel about what the Pentagon has described as an “epidemic” of sex crimes in the ranks. Lawmakers are floating a variety of bills to attack the problem but have not settled on a single approach. The service chiefs, however, made clear in recent letters to the Senate panel’s leadership that they do not favor a leading proposal that would give uniformed prosecutors, instead of commanders, the authority to open criminal investigations into ­sexual-assault cases and bring them to trial. Such a change, they argued, would undermine the foundation of military culture by sending a message that commanders cannot be trusted to make good decisions.

Reuters Exclusive: China tried to convince N.Korea to give up nuclear tests -source

China told an envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that Pyongyang should stop conducting nuclear and missile tests, but the North showed little sign of heeding the request, said a source with knowledge of the talks held late last month. Kim dispatched Choe Ryong-hae, vice chairman of the country's top military body, to explain North Korea's recent actions but he got a lukewarm reception from his Chinese hosts, said the source, who has close ties to Beijing and Pyongyang. North Korea's 30-year-old leader took power in December 2011 and has carried out two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear weapons test since then. He also embarked on a months-long campaign of threats against South Korea and the United States.

ALSO SEE: BBC: North Korea Yongbyon reactor work ‘nearing completion’

CNN: Marine reservist kidnapped in Mexico, FBI seeks public's help

The FBI is turning to the public for any information about the apparent kidnapping in Mexico of a U.S. Marine reservist. Armando Torres, III was kidnapped, along with his father and uncle, by armed men in La Barranca, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on May 14, the FBI said. Torres drove across the International Port of Entry Bridge at Progresso, Texas, to visit his father's ranch in La Barranca, Tamaulipas, the FBI said. Shortly after he arrived at the ranch, armed gunmen entered the ranch and took Torres, as well as his father, Armando Torres II, and his uncle, Salvador Torres, by force, the FBI said. The father and uncle are Mexican citizens and the three have not been seen or heard from since. The state prosecutor's office in Mexico's Tamaulipas state told CNN that neighbors said the apparent kidnapping could be tied to a land dispute involving the Marine's father.

CNN: Kerry says Syria seeks help from Iran, Hezbollah

Secretary of State John Kerry sharply criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday, accusing him of soliciting help from Iran and its fighters on the ground in Syria as well as fighters from Hezbollah. "A designated terrorist organization has now crossed over from Lebanon into Syria and is actively engaged in the fighting," Kerry said at a State Department press availability about the Syrian civil war. Al-Assad, he said, is willing to use Scud missiles against civilians and noted an "extraordinary number" of people are trapped in the besieged rebel stronghold of Qusair near the Lebanese border. "He will not allow humanitarian aid to go in until the military has finished what (it) intends to do," Kerry said. "So I think the world is seeing the actions of a person who has lost touch with any reality except his own and is willing to wreak any kind of punishment on his own – the people of his country – simply so that he can maintain power," he said.

ALSO SEE: NYT: Kerry Says U.S. Came Late to Syrian Peace Effort

ALSO SEE: CBS: Rice: U.S. "doesn't have an option of no action" in Syria

AVIATION, REGULATION and JUSTICE:

LA Times: Minors detained at adult immigration facilities, report says

More than 1,300 minors — including several dozen 14 or younger — were held for days in immigration detention facilities for adults over a four-year period when the Obama administration ramped up deportations, according to a new report by an advocacy group. The proposed immigration overhaul in the Senate aims to improve detention conditions for immigrants without legal status, but critics say the stiffer enforcement of border security will create additional backlogs for already overcrowded facilities. Under federal regulations, those under the age of 18 should be transferred out of adult facilities within 72 hours. But records from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office of enforcement and removal operations, which were released to the Chicago-based National Immigration Justice Center under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, show that at least 1,366 minors were held in adult facilities for more than three days during the four years prior to Sept. 30, 2012.

CNN: After NY officials raise concerns, feds reverse Ellis, Liberty islands security plan

Days after a senator and a police official raised security concerns, the Interior Department has reversed a National Parks Service plan to screen visitors only after they arrived by ferry at two of New York's landmarks - Ellis and Liberty islands. In a letter written to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel announced the change and requested that a security screening facility be built in Manhattan's Battery Park so visitors will be screened before embarking for the historic islands. Jewell requested that the city immediately begin getting the permits to build a temporary security screening facility in Manhattan before the July 4th opening weekend for Liberty Island, which is home to the Statue of Liberty.

CNN: Mississippi man indicted, allegedly sent ricin letters to Obama and other officials

A Mississippi man was indicted Monday in the mailing of ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and two other officials. The five-count indictment charges James Everett Dutschke, 41, with producing and using the deadly toxin as a weapon, using the mail to threaten Obama, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lee County Judge Sadie Holland. The indictment alleges Dutschke tried to implicate someone else for the crimes. That other man, an Elvis impersonator named Paul Kevin Curtis, was arrested on April 17. He claimed he'd been framed, and the charges against him were dropped less than a week later.

REGIONAL HEADLINES:

Richmond Times Dispatch: McAuliffe reports $5.4 million cash on hand, Cuccinelli has $2.7 million

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has widened his campaign funding advantage over Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee. In fundraising totals released by the Democrat’s campaign on Monday, McAuliffe had raised more than $3.7 million from 4,234 donors from April 1 to May 29, including $2 million from the Democratic Governors Association. As of May 29, he had $5.4 million cash on hand. During the same time, Cuccinelli raised $2.2 million from 4,412 donors, with $1 million from the Republican Governors Association. He has $2.7 million cash on hand, according to figures compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics.

Chicago Tribune: William Daley blasts inaction on pension reform

Democrat William Daley says he is “stunned” the state failed to address the pension crisis in the spring session and indicated the legislative meltdown is moving him closer to announcing a decision on whether to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn in the 2014 primary. “Where’s the leadership?” Daley told the Tribune in an interview. Already sounding like someone in campaign mode, Daley said a strong governor would have found common ground between the rival pension solutions offered by fellow Democrats, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, rather than leave Springfield with a stalemate.

Salt Lake Tribune: ACLU of Utah files federal lawsuit over use of tear gas in prison’s mental health unit

The ACLU of Utah filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging constitutional rights of inmates housed in the mental-health unit at the Utah State Prison were violated when tear gas used to subdue one inmate spread into other enclosed cells. Correctional officers fired tear gas on Aug. 3, 2011, after one inmate refused to return to his cell from a courtyard, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for Utah. The gas was pumped through air vents into the fully enclosed cells of other inmates, causing burning eyes, lungs and skin. Many inmates thought the wing was on fire. "We commonly heard that people thought they were going to die," said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah Foundation. "We think the circumstances of the case amount to the use of cruel and unusual punishment."

The State: Obamacare nullification bill on SC Senate agenda

South Carolina this week could become the first state in the country to restrict the enactment of Obamacare since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that law last year. A proposed bill, on special order in the state Senate, would allow the state attorney general to take businesses, including health insurers, to court if he “has reasonable cause to believe” they are harming people by implementing the law. The bill already has passed the House. If it passes, the bill could push South Carolina to the forefront of Obamacare resistance, giving the state’s Republican leaders a national stage.

Las Vegas Review Journal: Nevada gun, marijuana bills pass, More Cops tax hike fails as Legislature adjourns

A hectic final day in the Legislature on Monday saw bills mandating background checks on gun sales and establishing medical marijuana dispensaries eke out narrow but final legislative victories. But the gun check bill faces a veto threat from Gov. Brian Sandoval, and he has not yet taken a position on the marijuana measure. Also seeing final approval were bills helping the financially ailing city of North Las Vegas provide police and fire protection, allowing the Clark County Commission to impose a gas tax increase for roads, and establishing a four-year program of tax credits to lure film companies to Nevada.

INTERNATIONAL:

CNN: 3 killed in Lebanon clashes as tensions over Syria persist

Three people were killed and 30 others wounded Sunday and Monday in clashes between rival armed groups in northern Lebanon's port city of Tripoli, Lebanon's Internal Security Forces said. Clashes between the groups - one from a Sunni Muslim neighborhood in Tripoli, the other from an Alawite Muslim neighborhood - are the latest in long-running political and sectarian tensions that have become more pronounced since an uprising in neighboring Syria. Two ISF personnel and two Lebanese army soldiers were among the injured in the clashes, the ISF said. …Lebanon has increasingly felt the effects of the Syrian conflict, which began more than two years ago with President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on demonstrators.

ALSO SEE: WSJ: U.S. Oil Boom Scrambles Mideast Calculus

ALSO SEE: Financial Times: Iran oil output heads to 25-year low

CNN: U.N. nuclear chief frustrated by stalemated talks with Iran

Talks between Iran and the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency are "going around in circles," the agency's director general told a meeting of U.N. officials in Vienna on Monday. Yukiya Amano said Iran has to first address the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency requirement of effective verification for Iran's claim that its program is for peaceful activities. He called on Iran to provide access to the Parchin military complex, where the Islamic Republic is believed to have tested rockets. A senior Western diplomat in Vienna said Amano has stated it may no longer be possible for IAEA inspectors to find anything at the site. The diplomat said that the Iranians have paved over a large part of the area surrounding a building where the IAEA suspects the Iranians were conducting nuclear experiments.

CNN: Turkish protesters decry 'unprecedented violence'

Protesters seething over their treatment by security forces hurled rocks at riot police in Ankara's Kizilay Square on Monday, the latest in a string of violent clashes that have punctuated massive anti-government demonstrations spreading across Turkey - leaving thousands injured and at least one dead in the past two days alone. The protests united demonstrators from across the political spectrum against a common foe: security forces who unleashed tear gas and water cannons on them in response to what had been largely peaceful protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "There has been unprecedented violence against protesters and social protest," demonstrator Neslihan Ozgunes said Monday. The Turkish Medical Association claimed that at least 3,195 people had been injured in clashes Sunday and Monday.

ALSO SEE: CNN: Unions join forces with Turkish protesters

ALSO SEE: The Guardian: Turkish protesters raise $55,000 for full-page ad in New York Times

CNN: China plant fire that killed at least 120 linked to possible ammonia blast

Investigators believe a fire that killed at least 120 people at a poultry processing plant in northeast China may have been started by an explosion resulting from a buildup of ammonia gas, state media have reported. The blaze began early Monday in a slaughterhouse at the plant in Mishazi Township in the province of Jilin, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua, which described it as one of the deadliest workplace accidents in recent years. 

CNN: 11 people disappear from Mexico City bar; relatives seek answers

Mexico City sees its share of protests, but this one was unusual. One woman wept. Other protesters shouted at the tops of their lungs, demanding answers. Still others showed pictures of their relatives to puzzled passersby. The protesters who gathered Thursday are relatives of 11 party-goers who went missing more than a week ago from a bar in a posh Mexico City neighborhood known as "Zona Rosa," or Pink Zone. The area has a vibrant night scene with bars, nightclubs and upscale restaurants on every street. The protesters say their relatives were kidnapped on May 26 as they were partying at Heaven, an after-hours bar in the neighborhood. All 11 disappeared sometime between 10 a.m. and noon, they say.

AFP: Syria Rift Dominates EU-Russia Summit

The European Union and Russia launch a full day of talks on Tuesday dominated by a far-ranging dispute over the Syria crisis and Brussels' decision to lift its arms embargo on President Bashar al-Assad's foes. EU dignitaries said Russia's human rights record would also come under the microscope at the talks in the industrial Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to build on his rapport with the visiting EU duo of President Herman Van Rompuy and Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso when he hosted a dinner late Monday ahead of the full day of talks. Moscow is also hoping to eventually secure visa-free travel to Europe and win a release for its natural gas giant Gazprom from new rules that forbid it from owning pipelines and other facilities in EU states.

Bloomberg: Myanmar Hosting VIPs to Expose Country’s Growth Challenge

Myanmar’s efforts to catch up with the world around it after half a century of military rule is being put to the test this week as a summit of government and business leaders fills hotels and stretches phone networks. Myanmar hosts the three-day World Economic Forum on East Asia starting tomorrow, with heads of state and executives from companies including General Electric Co. (GE), Coca-Cola Co. (KO) and WPP Plc (WPP) attending. Delegates may struggle to communicate over phone networks that have yet to be expanded and will have difficulty finding businesses that accept credit cards. Many hotels are still cash-only, with some only recently accepting Visa and MasterCard payments, including the Parkroyal Yangon.

WSJ: Xi Tries to Firm Ties in Latin America Visit

President Xi Jinping carried his four-nation tour of the Americas into Costa Rica, where the recently installed Chinese leader discussed commercial and energy projects, as his country tries to extend its diplomatic and economic reach into Latin America as a counter balance to its rivals—the U.S. and Taiwan. Mr. Xi discussed a handful of projects with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, including upgrading the Central American country's main oil refinery to process crude oil Chinese energy companies buy from Latin American partners like Venezuela and Ecuador. They also talked about developing a free-trade zone that Chinese manufacturers could use to assemble and ship their products at lower cost. Over the weekend, Mr. Xi visited Trinidad and Tobago, the tiny Caribbean nation rich in liquefied natural gas. On Tuesday, he will fly to Mexico for a visit to strengthen trade links with Latin America's largest exporter of manufactured goods and one of China's main rivals for access to the U.S. market. Mr. Xi´s tour culminates in a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in California later this week.

BUSINESS:

CNNMoney: U.S. steps up natural gas exports

The United States will soon start exporting more of its energy bounty. That's making oil and gas companies happy, American manufacturers nervous, and some environmentalists livid. Last month, the Energy Department approved a second application to export natural gas, this time from a facility along the Gulf Coast partly owned by ConocoPhillips (COP, Fortune 500). The approval came two years after DOE granted the first natural gas export license to Cheniere Energy (LNG), which also has a plant on the Gulf Coast. The two-year gap was the result of DOE waiting for studies on how gas exports would impact the economy. Would exports significantly raise prices for consumers? Would they cause manufacturers to leave, taking jobs with them? Those studies - along with several from the private sector - are now done. The reports all generally said exports would be a good thing.

WSJ: Nonbanks Set for Oversight

U.S. financial regulators took a long-awaited step to address market vulnerabilities Monday, proposing that a first round of large, nonbank financial companies, including American International Group Inc., AIG +0.65% face tougher government oversight. The Financial Stability Oversight Council, led by the Treasury Department, voted to propose designating several companies as "systemically important," according to government officials. While the panel of regulators didn't disclose which companies were proposed for designation, AIG, Prudential Financial Inc. and the GE Capital Unit of General Electric Co. GE +1.37% confirmed they were part of the first group. "The Council has made significant progress over the last two years in making our financial system safer, stronger, and more resilient. Today, the Council took another important step forward by exercising one of its principal authorities to protect taxpayers, reduce risk in the financial system, and promote financial stability," Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement.

NYT: Behind the Rise in House Prices, Wall Street Buyers

The last time the housing market was this hot in Phoenix and Las Vegas, the buyers pushing up prices were mostly small time. Nowadays, they are big time — Wall Street big. Large investment firms have spent billions of dollars over the last year buying homes in some of the nation’s most depressed markets. The influx has been so great, and the resulting price gains so big, that ordinary buyers are feeling squeezed out. Some are already wondering if prices will slump anew if the big money stops flowing.


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