LA Times: Exodus ministry to shut down after apology to gay community
A controversial Christian ministry devoted to changing people "affected by homosexuality" announced Wednesday night that it was shutting its doors after operating for more than three decades. The announcement by Exodus International came during its religious conference in Irvine and after its President Alan Chambers apologized to members of the gay community for "years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole," the Florida-based ministry said in a statement. "I am sorry I didn't stand up to people publicly 'on my side' who called you names.... I am sorry I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine," Chambers said in his apology. "More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God's rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives."
CNN: James Gandolfini's remains await autopsy in Rome
The body of actor James Gandolfini was transferred to a hospital morgue in Rome early Thursday, where it awaits an autopsy. By law, medical examiners in Italy are required to carry out the postmortem 24 hours after the body's arrival in the morgue, a hospital spokesman said. Before Italian authorities can release his remains for transport back to the United States, the U.S. Embassy in Rome must issue a death certificate. Gandolfini was not alive when he arrived by ambulance at the Policlinico hospital late Wednesday, said spokesman Antonio Spasola. Though the cause of death is not yet known, his managers believe that a heart attack killed the man who portrayed Tony Soprano, a washed-up mob boss suffering from panic attacks. He was 51.
CNN: Obama calls for reducing U.S., Russian nukes
President Barack Obama followed in the footsteps of past U.S. leaders with a speech on Wednesday at Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate, where he said he would ask Russia to join the United States in slashing its supply of strategic nuclear warheads. "We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe," Obama said in the city that symbolized the East-West divide in the decades after World War II. "After a comprehensive review, I've determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies - and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent - while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third," he said. "And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures." Obama's speech made repeated references to Berlin's post-war history and the resiliency of its people. He called on them to manifest the same spirit that helped bring down the Berlin Wall to now take on broader challenges facing the modern world.
ALSO SEE: Fox: Lawmakers question Obama's pledge to scale back US nuclear arsenal
Der Spiegel: Mr. Sunshine: 'Yes We Can' Memories Flood Back on Feel-Good Trip
Barack Obama's first official trip to Berlin was short on substance but rich in symbolism. For a few hours in the searing summer heat, his relaxed charm and eloquent idealism triggered memories of the heyday of "Yes we can," before drone attacks, Prism and realpolitik. What a scorcher! And no one felt it more on this big day in Berlin than the people gathered on Pariser Platz square. Some of the invited guests didn't even show up because of the sudden heatwave engulfing the capital. Some 4,000 sweated it out in the blazing sunshine until Barack Obama finally arrived. Behind the bullet-proof screen, the sweat dripped off his brow, so he took off his jacket, threw it down behind him and rolled up his sleeves. "We can be a little more informal among friends," he called out to the crowd. Of course, it was the searing heat that prompted him to abandon the dress code. But there was also something symbolic in his gesture. The message was, "We know each other; we don't need to get all dressed up when we meet." And the subtext was: "All this talk about a cooling in trans-Atlantic relations is nonsense."
NYT: Obama Readying Emissions Limits on Power Plants
President Obama is preparing regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, senior officials said Wednesday. The move would be the most consequential climate policy step he could take and one likely to provoke legal challenges from Republicans and some industries. Electric power plants are the largest single source of global warming pollution in the country, responsible for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. With sweeping climate legislation effectively dead in Congress, the decision on existing power plants — which a 2007 Supreme Court decision gave to the executive branch — has been among the most closely watched of Mr. Obama’s second term. The administration has already begun steps to restrict climate-altering emissions from any newly built power plants, but imposing carbon standards on the existing utility fleet would be vastly more costly and contentious.
CNN: Key immigration agreement expected to be announced Thursday
A bipartisan group of Senate negotiators is expected announce Thursday it has reached an agreement designed to bolster border security mandates in the pending immigration reform bill, according to a Senate source involved in the negotiations. Other changes sought by Republicans are also expected, but details of those alterations were not shared by the source. The last minute changes are aimed at attracting 70 or more "yes" votes for the contentious bill, which supporters hope would give it much-needed momentum in the GOP-controlled House.
ALSO SEE: Politico: Mitch McConnell sits this one out
The Hill: Hispanic Dems 'cautiously optimistic' after meeting with Boehner
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that immigration reform would need majority support from both Republicans and Democrats to pass in the House. More than two dozen members of the Democratic group attended the private meeting with the Speaker, and leaders emerged saying they were “cautiously optimistic” that a broad immigration bill could win support in the GOP-led chamber. Still, members said Boehner did not back off his remarks from Tuesday, when he said he would not bring to the House floor an immigration bill that lacked support from a majority of Republicans. And while Hispanic Caucus members praised Boehner for agreeing to meet with them and made positive statements, they were not all smiles afterward.
ALSO SEE: Time: Boehner in a Bind on Immigration
WaPo: Proposal would allow more women to come to U.S. under immigration bill
A group of female senators is planning to introduce a proposal Thursday that would ensure that more women would be admitted to the United States under a comprehensive immigration bill, representing an early attempt at leverage by the Senate’s emerging bloc of women. The lawmakers say pending immigration legislation is unfairly weighted toward male workers because it rewards applicants who are better educated and have more technical skills. Under their amendment, the female senators propose reserving 30,000 residency cards each year for fields in which women hold most of the jobs, such as nannies, home health-care workers and early childhood educators.
Politico: The immigration bill goes local
The strategy for passing immigration reform through the Senate isn’t just about striking a deal on border security. It also means assuring Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) that fish processors in his home state will be protected, meeting a request from Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) that Nevada will be added to a border commission and guaranteeing Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) that resources won’t be diverted from the northern border. As border security dominates headlines a week before the final vote is expected, a quieter campaign is under way to address the targeted, sometimes parochial, interests of senators who are likely to support the bill but need to show that they fought for some immigration-related concession in return.
The Hill: House votes to let states run drug tests on food stamp applicants
The House late Wednesday voted to give states the authority to conduct drug testing on people applying for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). By voice vote, members approved the idea as an amendment to the farm bill that was proposed by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.). Hudson said the proposal would help ensure SNAP benefits go to needy families and children. "If adopted, this amendment would join a list of good-government reforms contained in the farm bill to save taxpayer money and ensure integrity and accountability within our nutrition system," Hudson said. …Democrats were outraged at the proposal, and said that by proposing it, Republicans are implying that people on food stamps use drugs. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said studies have shown people using SNAP are no more likely than non-users to be using drugs.
ALSO SEE: Philly.com: Nutter, other mayors: No using food stamps to buy soda
National Review: The Tuesday Group Still Lives
The Tuesday Group, a moderate Republican caucus long ignored within the House GOP, is quietly starting to fight back against the conference’s right turn. At a meeting this week, Representative Steve Womack of Arkansas confronted House majority leader Eric Cantor on a topic sufficiently sensitive that all of the congressional staffers in the room were asked to leave. Womack wanted to know what Cantor was doing about the role of “outside groups” such as Heritage Action, Club for Growth, and others that work to hold Republicans to conservative principles. The brief skirmish was a sign of life for the beleaguered Tuesday Group, which has seen its numbers and influence wane in recent years. The group’s obituary has essentially been written numerous times (The New Republic ran a 2011 profile titled “Tuesday Mourning”). “It’s an ongoing feeling that our party has some external influences that are putting political purity well ahead . . . of our ability to basically hold the majority that we currently have,” Womack told National Review Online in an interview.
Politico: Planned Parenthood promoting Obamacare
Planned Parenthood is diving into a new area of education, not without its own controversy: Obamacare. The group’s more than 750 health centers across the country will be promoting the health law and helping women find out about new coverage options for themselves and their families before — and after — enrollment begins Oct. 1. They’re creating everything from refrigerator magnets to online apps that help people enroll in a health plan. Some affiliates will be applying to become official government-funded “navigators” to give people more hands-on help through the signup process. Planned Parenthood says its health centers see nearly 3 million patients a year, many of them using the clinics as their primary point of care. More than nine out 10 are under age 40. About half are uninsured. So the group sees itself as uniquely placed to reach those women, helping them get covered and serving as messengers to their families and communities. To that end, it’s training clinic staff, printing posters and pamphlets and incorporating information about the law into its educational programs.
NYT: Strategist Out of Closet and Into Fray, This Time for Gay Marriage
As the Supreme Court considers overturning California’s ban on same-sex marriage, gay people await a ruling that could change their lives. But the case has already transformed one gay man: Ken Mehlman, the once-closeted Republican operative who orchestrated President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election on a platform that included opposition to same-sex marriage. Now Mr. Mehlman, a private equity executive in Manhattan, is waging what could be his final campaign: to convince fellow Republicans that gay marriage is consistent with conservative values and good for their party. His about-face, sparked in part by the lawyer who filed the California lawsuit, has sent him on a personal journey to erase what one new friend in the gay rights movement calls his “incredibly destructive” Bush legacy. He remains controversial, both applauded and vilified. On the left, he is either an unlikely hero or a hypocritical coward. On the right, some Republicans embrace him; others deem him a traitor.
Politico: 'Women for Anthony' hosts event
Meet the Women for Weiner. The former congressman, who apologized for the lewd picture scandal that ended his House career before launching a bid last month for New York City mayor, is holding a fundraiser hosted by “Women for Anthony” next week at the Manhattan home of an education activist and philanthropist. The host committee is led by his wife, Huma Abedin, and includes her sister, Heba; Rory Tahari, wife of designer Elie Tahari; and Cheryl Saban, the wife of California-based mega-donor Haim Saban, who funded a short film lauding Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department shortly before she left Foggy Bottom. POLITICO viewed a copy of the invitation, which asks people to come to cocktails with “our next mayor.”
Boston Herald: ‘Markey's trying to scare women’
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez’s wife is tearing into U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey in the final days of the heated race — accusing the Democrat of using “dishonest and misleading” negative ads to turn women against her husband. “I feel like Markey’s trying to scare women against Gabriel,” Sarah Gomez told the Herald in a rare interview, saying the negative ads have led many women voters to avoid the race altogether. “I was with a group of young women and they said that they are not interested in politics because of all the fighting and all the negative ads on TV,” she said. The 42-year-old stay-at-home mother — who usually avoids the media spotlight — joined her husband on the campaign trail yesterday for a “Women for Gomez” event.
BuzzFeed: Anti-Immigration Reform Crusader Steve King Feels The Tea Party Love
Steve King was prepared to talk about immigration for six hours all by himself if he had to. On Wednesday, the Iowa congressman and immigration hardliner had organized a press conference-turned-rally scheduled for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon — with a two hour break for an anti-IRS rally — to protest the immigration bill moving through the Senate and “have a debate not happening inside the halls of Congress.” I didn’t know when we started out this morning if I might be standing here alone till five o’clock tonight,” he told BuzzFeed. “I couldn’t have said go if I wasn’t ready to [do] that. I told my staff, if I can’t carry the whole load than I can’t say yes.” But King didn’t have to talk by himself. Crowds showed up in droves. One member of Congress after another showed up to give speeches. The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector dropped by to talk about his widely criticized study that the Senate’s immigration bill would cost $6 trillion (though there was no criticism from this crowd). For King the outpouring of support from Tea Party groups and likeminded members of Congress was proof that his efforts to stall, and hopefully kill, the Senate’s immigration bill in the House were working.
ALSO SEE: National Journal: The GOP's Steve King Problem
CNN: Christie mourns 'New Jersey treasure' Gandolfini
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called James Gandolfini a "true Jersey guy" in a statement mourning the actor's death Wednesday. Gandolfini, whose most famous character was mob boss Tony Soprano, was born in Westwood. His manager said Wednesday he had died, possibly of a heart attack, while in Rome. He was 51. “It’s an awful shock," Christie wrote. "James Gandolfini was a fine actor, a Rutgers alum and a true Jersey guy. I was a huge fan of his and the character he played so authentically, Tony Soprano.
CNN: Official: US, Afghan Taliban talks to be held 'in next few days'
Peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban over the war in Afghanistan will likely be held "in the next few days," a senior U.S. administration official told CNN on Wednesday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not offer up a timeline for the discussions. News the meeting was moving forward followed a tumultuous day that saw questions raised about the peace process after an angry Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was pulling out of the peace talks with the Taliban and canceling security talks with the United States. Karzai was angered over reports the Taliban appeared to be offering its new office in Doha, Qatar, up as an alternative government, going so far as to put up a sign proclaiming it the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan - the name the Taliban used during their rule. In a statement released by Karzai's office, the president said "foreign powers" were behind Tuesday's opening of the Taliban office. Karzai appeared to renew earlier claims that the Taliban and Western officials want to destabilize Afghanistan.
ALSO SEE: CNN: Trust low, but U.S. says talks with Taliban will go on
CNN: Watchdog details fraud in security clearance vetting
Extensive fraud has been committed by investigators responsible for conducting background checks used in granting security clearances to national security employees, a government watchdog will tell lawmakers on Thursday. Patrick McFarland, the inspector general for the Office of Personnel Management, will tell a joint hearing of Senate subcommittees on homeland security that his office doesn't have the resources it needs to ensure the checks – which were required of the millions of Americans with clearances – are not falsified. So-called "fabrication cases" occur when background investigators "report interviews that never occurred, record answers to questions that were never asked, and document records checks that were never conducted," McFarland will say, according to prepared testimony.
CNN: Scenarios for Snowden: Escape, arrest, asylum
A narrow window of time is closing quickly for Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has infuriated the U.S. government by leaking details of surveillance programs after fleeing the country. As FBI agents gather evidence against him, the 29 year old is racing to find a permanent refuge while hiding out in Hong Kong on what's thought to be a 90-day tourist visa which could expire in early August. Experts say Snowden's visa is unlikely to be extended, as he would struggle to prove that his planned stay is temporary. "Once the 90 days are over, and unless his visa is extended, he's an illegal immigrant here and could be picked up by the police for overstaying," said Professor Simon Young, director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong.
ALSO SEE: NBC: Julian Assange says WikiLeaks helping Snowden gain asylum
CNN: Current, former Navy football players charged in sex assault
One current and two former U.S. Naval Academy football players face rape and other charges stemming from an alleged attack on a female midshipman, the Navy said. The charges grew out of a Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe of allegations by the woman that she was assaulted after attending a party last year. The results were then reviewed by the academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Michael Miller, who decided to formally file charges under military law.
WaPo: Scrapping equipment key to Afghan drawdown
Facing a tight withdrawal deadline and tough terrain, the U.S. military has destroyed more than 170 million pounds worth of vehicles and other military equipment as it rushes to wind down its role in the Afghanistan war by the end of 2014. The massive disposal effort, which U.S. military officials call unprecedented, has unfolded largely out of sight amid an ongoing debate inside the Pentagon about what to do with the heaps of equipment that won’t be returning home. Military planners have determined that they will not ship back more than $7 billion worth of equipment — about 20 percent of what the U.S. military has in Afghanistan — because it is no longer needed or would be too costly to ship back home. That has left the Pentagon in a quandary about what to do with the items.
TRANSPORTATION, REGULATION and JUSTICE:
CNN Poll: Judging the Supreme Court
As the Supreme Court gets ready to issue opinions on some high profile and contentious cases, a new national poll indicates Americans are split on whether the high court is doing a good job. According to a CNN/ORC International survey released Thursday morning, 48% of the public say they approve of the job the Supreme Court's doing, with an equal amount saying they disapprove. There is, however, an ideological divide. Fifty-three percent of liberals and 58% of moderates, but only 37% of conservatives, say that they approve of the court.
ALSO SEE: San Francisco Chronicle: Calif. may act if court upholds Prop. 8
CNN: FBI uses drones for surveillance in U.S
FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged the law enforcement agency uses drone aircraft in the United States for surveillance in certain difficult cases. Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that drones are used by the FBI in a "very, very minimal way and very seldom." He did not say how many unmanned surveillance vehicles (UAVs) the FBI has or how often they have been used. But a law enforcement official told CNN the FBI has used them a little more than a dozen times but did not say when that started. The official said drones are useful in hostage and barricade situations because they operate more quietly and are less visible than traditional aircraft such as helicopters.
CNN: Leak probe has chilled sources, AP exec says
The Justice Department's sweeping collection of Associated Press phone records as part of a national security leak investigation has had a chilling effect on sources, the news agency's top executive said on Wednesday. "Some of our long-trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us - even on stories that aren't about national security," AP Chief Executive and President Gary Pruitt said at the National Press Club. "In some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone and some are reluctant to meet in person," he said. The Justice Department subpoenaed and subsequently obtained two months of AP phone records as part of an investigation of its May 2012 coverage of a foiled airline bomb plot in Yemen.
CNN: KKK member, accomplice created lethal X-ray system, FBI says
Two New York state men have been charged in a bizarre plan to develop a mobile X-ray system that would be used from afar to silently kill people that they deemed "undesirable," federal officials said. Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, and Eric J. Feight, 54, were arrested Tuesday after an undercover operation by the Albany FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. They were charged with conspiracy to provide material support for use of a weapon of mass destruction, according to the criminal complaint. Crawford and Feight were developing a device "intended to be mobile ... designed to turn on remotely from some distance away" that would emit "some dangerous levels of X-ray radiation," according to John Duncan, executive assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York. Individuals who might have been "subject to this X-ray radiation, would not immediately know that they had been harmed until some days later when they would either be injured, or it could result in their death," he said. The suspects intended to use the device to harm and kill "enemies of Israel," a Department of Justice news release said.
CNN: Filmmaker asserts new evidence on crash of TWA Flight 800
A documentary on the 1996 explosion that brought down TWA Flight 800 offers "solid proof that there was an external detonation," its co-producer said Wednesday. "Of course, everyone knows about the eyewitness statements, but we also have corroborating information from the radar data, and the radar data shows a(n) asymmetric explosion coming out of that plane - something that didn't happen in the official theory," Tom Stalcup told CNN's New Day. All 230 people aboard TWA 800 died when the plane, headed for Paris, exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Scores of witnesses observed a streak of light and a fireball, giving early rise to suspicions that terrorists had struck the plane with a rocket. Investigators concluded the streak was likely burning fuel streaming from the plane's wing tank.
Financial Times: US eyes prosecution of foreign cyber thieves
The US is weighing whether to prosecute foreign officials for the cyber theft of American commercial and government information in an effort to raise the potential cost of such attacks. The justice department’s national security division has been studying whether to bring cases against foreign officials since at least 2012 and training prosecutors on how to proceed with such indictments. Any such decision would mark a substantial escalation in the US response to what it has said is an escalating number of attacks by foreign hackers on US business and government computer networks. The main source of those attacks in recent years has been China and groups that have been linked to the Chinese military. Such actions would also be diplomatically awkward following recent revelations regarding the US’s own large-scale cyber espionage, led by the National Security Agency, the electronic eavesdropping body.
NYT: Executive With Eye on Bloomberg’s Mantle
It has a familiar ring: A civic-minded technology executive, flush with cash and connections from his corporate exploits, concludes that he is uniquely qualified to run City Hall. He is not Michael R. Bloomberg. But Jack D. Hidary sure sounds like him. Just when you thought the mayoral race could not get any busier, Mr. Hidary, 44, is preparing to toss his entrepreneur’s hat into the ring. A Brooklyn native who is considering running as an independent, he has quietly set up an exploratory committee, assembled a campaign team and established a Web site, HidaryForNYC.com.
Hartford Courant: Pushed By Guns Law, PTR Industries Will Relocate To South Carolina
Bristol firearms manufacturer PTR Industries is moving to South Carolina, a company executive confirmed Wednesday. The company — which said two months ago that it would be relocating once it found a suitable location "friendly to the industry" — will move to Aynor, S.C., near Myrtle Beach, said John McNamara, vice president of sales at PTR. The gun manufacturer, with about 45 employees, was the first firm to announce its exit from the state following recent gun control legislation. Many of PTR's employees agreed to the move and even held an informal vote choosing South Carolina over other states.
Boston Herald: Tsarnaev’s fireworks source pounds Hub with fliers touting July 4th deals
A New Hampshire fireworks peddler that sold pyrotechnics to the accused Boston Marathon bombers is under fire from local officials for blanketing the Hub with fliers and coupons as part of a July Fourth marketing blitz targeting Massachusetts, despite a statewide ban. “Certainly at a minimum it’s pretty insensitive for a city that is still grieving and recovering from the bombings,” Attorney General Martha Coakley told the Herald. Phantom Fireworks, which sold explosives to accused marathon terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev just days before the April 15 bombings, has fired off a flurry of fliers to Hub residents in recent days in a direct mail campaign. The fliers — some of which have landed in mailboxes in the Dorchester neighborhood where the family of the youngest marathon victim, 8-year-old Martin Richard, lives — advertise a massive sale that includes “buy one get one free” and “no limits on quantity.”
ALSO SEE: CNN: Bloomberg group sorry for reading Boston bomber's name
Des Moines Register: Medicaid-paid abortions need governor's OK
Gov. Terry Branstad will sign one of the most significant bills of the year into law during a ceremony Thursday morning in Mason City, extending government-paid health care to tens of thousands of Iowans and earmarking $1.7 billion for the state’s various social service programs. But tucked in on page 33 of the 214-page bill is a social-issue hot button for Branstad himself to press — a new provision giving the governor final say on whether the state will fund medically necessary abortions for poor women. The measure makes the entire $1.1 billion state appropriation for Medicaid, the low-income health care program, contingent on “approval from the office of the governor of reimbursement for each abortion performed under the program.”
Omaha World Herald: Chuck Hagel gets warm welcome at UNO, supports Obama's call for nuke reduction
Chuck Hagel may have irked some Nebraska Republicans last fall, but that wasn’t on display Wednesday as he basked in a warm welcome on his first trip back home as the nation’s defense secretary. Hagel received plenty of accolades from an audience of about 300 after he delivered a 40-minute speech and took a few questions at the University of Nebraska at Omaha — his alma mater. It was Hagel’s first public appearance in Nebraska since becoming President Obama’s secretary of defense and since he riled up the state GOP last fall by backing Democrat Bob Kerrey’s failed U.S. Senate bid. …For his part, Hagel stuck to national issues, leaving politics out of the equation. He spoke in support of Obama’s proposal to reduce the nation’s nuclear arsenal by 30 percent and of his hope that Afghan officials would enter into peace talks with the Taliban. He defended the need to cut the military’s budget in the face of “fiscal realities.” Such cuts can be made without reducing the nation’s military strength, Hagel argued, by achieving savings through “management reforms and restructuring.”
NYT: While Claiming Battle Gains Against Rebels, Syria’s Assad Is Facing Currency Crisis
Even as President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is proclaiming battlefield momentum against the insurgency with the help of his Hezbollah ally, he appears to be facing a new threat: a rapidly weakening currency that has unnerved many Syrians. The currency, the Syrian pound, fell about 30 percent in value against the dollar over the weekend, partly on news that the United States intended to arm some elements of the rebellion seeking to topple Mr. Assad. Money traders and economists said the plunge might have been accelerated by the apparent unwillingness — or inability — of Syria’s Central Bank to halt it by buying pounds with dollars or euros, suggesting the government’s supply of foreign exchange reserves is running low.
ALSO SEE: CNN: U.S. military presence in Jordan quietly grows
WATCH: VIDEO – CNN's Fred Pleitgen visits the devastated Syrian town of Qusayr, which has been recaptured by government forces.
Foreign Policy: Aleppo Evil
A crowd gathers at the center of Bab al-Salam, a refugee camp on the Turkey-Syria border that is home to some 13,500 internally displaced Syrians. Children sit at their mothers' feet, playing with plastic toys in the melting mud. One boy's cheeks are pocked with small red dots; a boy next to him, wearing nothing but a diaper, has a large crusted lesion on his leg - signs of an infectious skin disease that is spreading throughout Syria and the neighboring region. Since war came to Syria a little more than two years ago, the country has been transformed into a public health nightmare. Gastroenteritis, which causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, is ubiquitous among displaced populations - both inside and outside Syria - and a measles epidemic is currently sweeping the northern portion of the country. (At least 7,000 cases of the disease have been detected since 2011, according to Doctors Without Borders.) An outbreak of water-borne diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid, cholera, and dysentery, meanwhile, is all but "inevitable," according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But in camps like Bab al-Salam, it is a silent, flesh-eating parasite that is literally leaving its mark on the population.
ALSO SEE: Daily Star: Lebanese president tells Hezbollah to end Syria campaign
WSJ: As Sanctions Bite, Iranians Invest Big in Georgia
Economic sanctions against Iran have made it increasingly hard for Iranians to do business abroad. But Iranian businessmen are flocking to Georgia, a longtime U.S. ally in the Caucasus region, to pursue profits evaporating in much of the world. In recent months, Iranian nationals have taken the reins of a private Georgian airline, a major trade bank and a scrap-metal plant. Persian is often heard, such as on a recent night at a Tbilisi casino, where Iranian tourists played roulette and sipped drinks brought by Russian hostesses. Iranian products ranging from roofing materials to sour-cherry jam are pouring into Georgian markets, made more attractive by Iran's weak currency. Iran's government itself is buying Georgian land, Iran's agriculture minister has told Iranian media.
BBC: Government U-turn fails to quell Brazil protests
Brazilian authorities have failed to halt nationwide protests, despite reversing the public-transport fare increases that sparked the unrest. Crowds blocked main roads in Sao Paulo and Brasilia, and protesters confronted police in Rio de Janeiro state shortly after the U-turn was announced. Earlier, there were clashes before Brazil's football team played Mexico in Fortaleza in the Confederations Cup. Protesters are angry at corruption and high spending on next year's World Cup. Activists say they have not changed their intention to hold the biggest demonstrations yet on Thursday.
CNN: 5 convicted in mall fire that killed 13 toddlers; Qatari ambassador sentenced
Five defendants were found guilty Thursday on charges related to a Qatari mall fire last year that killed 19 people, including 13 toddlers, a spokesman for the victims' families said. Qatar's ambassador to Belgium, Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al-Thani, and his wife were sentenced to six years in prison and were ordered to pay the victims' families blood money. The couple owned the day care where the children were killed. The ambassador is also a member of Qatari royalty. Two other defendants - the chairman of the Villaggio mall and the deputy mall manager - were also sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay blood money, the spokesman said.
CNN: Floods cause devastation in northern India, killing about 150
Rescue workers in northern India are scrambling to save tens of thousands of people left stranded by devastating floods that have killed as many as 150 people in the region. Triggered by unusually heavy monsoon rains, the floods have swept away buildings, roads and vehicles in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand, which borders Nepal and China. "Our hearts go out to the families of those who have lost their lives and those who have suffered injury or loss of property in this huge tragedy," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who carried out an aerial survey of the affected areas on Wednesday. With bad weather hampering rescue efforts and some areas still under water, officials are struggling to gauge the scale of the disaster.
WaPo: SARS-like virus has high mortality rate in Saudi Arabia, specialists say
A new virus responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness in the Middle East may be more deadly than SARS, according to a team of infectious disease specialists who recently investigated a set of cases in Saudi Arabia. Of 23 confirmed cases in April, 15 people died — an “extremely high” fatality rate of 65 percent, according to Johns Hopkins senior epidemiologist Trish Perl, a member of the team that analyzed the spread of the virus through four Saudi hospitals. Saudi officials said that as of Wednesday, 49 people have contracted the disease and 32 have died.
CNNMoney: Dow sinks 200 points after Fed hints at stimulus easing
Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke tried to carefully explain how the central bank will figure out when it's the right time to pull back on its monthly bond purchases, but investors didn't have any of it. The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled more than 200 points, or 1.4%, Wednesday afternoon after Bernanke took questions from the media about the Fed's exit strategy. The S&P 500 also dropped 1.4% and the Nasdaq sank 1.1%. Stocks had been in the red all day, but were barely below the breakeven line before the Fed chairman began speaking. Bond prices also fell sharply, sending yields higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose as high as 2.36% - its highest level since March 2012. It had been hovering around 2.2% ahead of the Fed.
NYT: F.T.C. Is Said to Plan Inquiry of Frivolous Patent Lawsuits
The chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission is expected on Thursday to recommend a sweeping investigation of “patent trolls,” companies that buy large portfolios of technology patents and use them to sue software designers and makers of products like smartphones and tablet computers, people briefed on the inquiry said. The chairwoman, Edith Ramirez, is planning to ask the full commission to approve an inquiry that will include the issuance of subpoenas to companies that are known as patent-assertion entities, or, unflatteringly, as patent trolls. The move comes after the issuance of several executive orders by President Obama directing executive agencies to take steps to “protect innovators from frivolous litigation.” If approved, which is likely, the F.T.C. investigation will require patent-assertion companies to answer questions about how they conduct their operations, including whether they coordinate their lawsuits with other patent holders and if they funnel proceeds from lawsuits and patent licenses back to the original patent owner.