• "In the internal Bush administration war between the State Department and" Vice President Dick Cheney's "office over North Korea, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her top North Korea envoy, Christopher R. Hill, won a major battle against the Cheney camp when President Bush announced Thursday that he was taking the country he once described as part of the 'axis of evil' off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism," the New York Times reports. "It is the first step in what will be a long, drawn-out diplomatic process that is meant to lead eventually to establishing a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula."
• "Bush gave a leader from an oil-rich Persian Gulf ally a plum reward on Thursday: a stay at the Camp David presidential retreat," AP reports. "Bush welcomed Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to the rustic wooded retreat in the Maryland mountains."
• "The Food and Drug Administration increased bonuses to its employees by 29 percent in the past year, despite earlier objections from lawmakers," the Washington Post reports. "The increase shown in the latest records, provided by the FDA, prompted objections by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the panel's investigative subcommittee."
SCOTUS: Landmark Case Affirms Individual Gun Rights
• "The Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia's ban on handgun possession" Thursday "and decided for the first time in the nation's history that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to own a gun for self-defense," the Washington Post reports. "The court's landmark 5 to 4 decision [PDF] split along ideological grounds and wiped away years of lower court decisions that had held that the intent of the amendment, ratified more than 200 years ago, was to tie the right of gun possession to militia service."
• "D.C. officials and lawmakers Thursday expressed dismay... and said they will spend the next three weeks drafting guidelines to strictly regulate the weapons," the Washington Times reports. They "uniformly said they would implement strict regulations to govern the sale and registration of handguns but were not certain about what kinds of guidelines would be put in place."
• The decision "will have little practical impact in most of the country, legal experts said," the New York Times reports. "Most state and city gun restrictions appear to be allowed under the ruling, including licensing laws, limits on the commercial sale of guns, restrictions on guns in places like schools and government buildings and prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill."
• "The Supreme Court's dramatic ruling establishing individual gun rights -- along with other recent decisions -- shows that the Roberts court remains deeply split despite justices' efforts to find common ground," USA Today reports. "In the annual term that finished Thursday, the justices divided 5-4 on many of their most closely watched cases: throwing out Washington's ban on handguns, barring the death penalty for child rape and allowing Guantanamo prisoners to challenge their detention before U.S. courts."
• "Antonin Scalia is a feisty justice who has cut a wide swath through the law but rarely has written the biggest Supreme Court decisions. His no-compromise style often leads him to lose the votes of colleagues needed to keep a majority in contentious cases," USA Today reports. "Yet Thursday he authored one of the most significant rulings ever in a case that was tailor-made for his personal quest: trying to discern the original intention of the men who drafted the Constitution."
• Also Thursday, the court "struck down a law meant to level the financial playing field when rich candidates pay for their own political campaigns," the New York Times reports. "The 5-to-4 decision [PDF], legal experts said, was significant for rejecting the rationale behind the law, known as the 'millionaire's amendment,' and for confirming the court's continuing skepticism about the constitutionality of campaign finance regulations."
Congress: Senate Passes War Funding Bill
• "A long-delayed wartime spending bill cleared Congress Thursday night, together with new aid for the unemployed and a landmark expansion of education benefits for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," the Politico reports. "Millions of workers who have exhausted their state benefits are promised an additional 13 weeks of assistance, and the bill includes both disaster funds for Midwest flooding and increased food aid for poor countries facing shortages overseas."
• "Senate Democrats Thursday came one vote shy of limiting debate on Medicare legislation that would have averted a Medicare physician pay cut set to take effect Tuesday," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The bill went down 58-40."
• "As commuters increasingly turn to bus and rail lines because of soaring gasoline prices, public transit, long the poor relation of American travel, is finally getting respect -- and money," the Los Angeles Times reports. "In an effort to make riding bus and rail lines even more appealing, the House on Thursday moved to provide $1.7 billion to help transit agencies pay higher fuel costs, limit fare hikes and expand service."
• "Two key architects of the Bush administration's controversial interrogation policies defended their legal positions" Thursday, "sparring with House Democrats over whether discredited Justice Department opinions led to mistreatment of military and CIA detainees," the Washington Post reports. "The testimony from David S. Addington, chief of staff to" Cheney, "and John C. Yoo, a former senior Justice Department lawyer, was light on new details but heavy on rhetorical disputes with members of a House Judiciary subcommittee."
• "As a coterie of first-term Republican senators wraps up an eight-week push to spotlight GOP proposals on healthcare in this election year, their effort has been largely drowned out by Republicans hoping to make energy a wedge issue against Democrats," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., with the assistance of Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bob Corker of Tennessee, David Vitter of Louisiana and others, has taken the reins in stressing a Republican alternative to the universal healthcare measures being championed by Democrats in this election cycle."
• "With angry constituents waiting for them back home, lawmakers clashed fiercely on Thursday over how to address high gasoline and oil prices," the New York Times reports. "But with all sides recognizing that there is virtually nothing Congress can do to lower fuel prices any time soon, Democrats and Republicans focused as much on finger-pointing as on policy making."
• "Despite a pledge by Congressional leaders to reduce pork-barrel projects, new information shows that both the number and amount of earmarks have increased in several spending bills now making their way through Congress," the Times also reports.
Iraq: Government Looks To Interim Security Deal With U.S.
• "Iraqi and U.S. officials may not meet a July 31 deadline for a pact to establish a legal basis for a long-term U.S. military presence here, but an interim deal could allow military maneuvers, according to people familiar with the talks," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The two sides have made progress in recent days on an agreement on their political, economic, educational and cultural relationships, and they expect to have a deal on those issues by the deadline."
• "Two bombings in Iraq on Thursday killed at least 40 people, among them three Marines and two interpreters who were part of a civil affairs team meeting with Sunni tribal leaders, U.S. military officials said," the Washington Post reports. "Thirteen Americans, including two civilians, have been killed in Iraq since Monday, most of them during or immediately after meetings with local leaders or officials," illustrating "the continuing risks that service members and diplomats face as they attempt to build up the Iraqi government."
• "The handover of security control in Iraq's Anbar province to Iraqi forces has been put on hold, the U.S. military said" today, because of "a sandstorm forecast to hit the region," Reuters reports.
• "The Army will deliver some key technologies to ground forces in war zones three years ahead of schedule as part of its $160 billion combat modernization program led by Boeing and SAIC," AP reports. "Senior Army officials said Thursday that changes to the Future Combat Systems program will expedite the use of high-tech equipment, including unmanned sensors and robotics, to infantry brigades fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2011."
• "U.S. Army Spc. Kendell Frederick lost his life while trying to become a citizen of the country he was fighting for," AP also reports. "Now, his mother hopes a bill President Bush signed into law Thursday will make sure no other soldier dies the way her son did."
Nation: Solar Power Plants Put On Hold
• "Faced with a surge in the number of proposed solar power plants, the federal government has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact, which is expected to take about two years," the New York Times reports. "The Bureau of Land Management says an extensive environmental study is needed to determine how large solar plants might affect millions of acres it oversees in six Western states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah."
• "The number of young homosexual men being newly diagnosed with HIV infection is rising by 12 percent a year, with the steepest upward trend in young black men, according to a new report," the Washington Post reports. "The report, released" Thursday "by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appears to confirm impressions that a 'second-wave' AIDS epidemic is underway in gay America."
• "As the waters in the Midwest recede and an early tally of the region's devastating floods reaches billions of dollars, some communities are blaming their woes on the federal government, saying it turned its back on their pleas for help building or bolstering the barriers protecting them from the Mississippi River and other waterways," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Federal rules require communities to help pay for projects that can cost millions, which can put them out of reach."
• "The hostile takeover battle for control of Anheuser-Busch, the 150-year-old brewer and the biggest U.S. beer brand, is not just another one of those corporate clashes that prompt old-timers to lament the passing of venerable family control into the hands of faceless, voraciously predatory corporations with goofy names," the Chicago Tribune reports. "This is a fight that touches the soul of" St. Louis, Mo., "a proud old German city that once harbored grandiose 19th Century dreams of being the nation's capital."
• "An Egyptian-born nuclear physicist who worked in a government-financed laboratory" in Pittsburgh "for 18 years filed a lawsuit on Thursday saying the Energy Department had revoked his security clearance because of his ethnicity, his Muslim faith and comments he made criticizing the war in Iraq," the New York Times reports. "The physicist, Abdel Moniem Ali el-Ganayni, 57, lost his job shortly after his clearance was revoked in May by Jeffrey F. Kupfer, the Department of Energy's acting deputy secretary, who cited 'national security' in refusing to reveal what led to the revocation."
Economy: Dow Plummets As Oil Prices Surge To Record High
• "Surging oil prices combined" Thursday "with mounting anxiety over the health of such disparate industries as banking, auto manufacturing and technology to send the Dow Jones industrial average tumbling by 3 percent to its lowest level in almost two years," the Washington Post reports.
• "The sustained drop, led once again by banks and brokers, is heightening regulators' concerns about the health of the battered U.S. financial sector," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Adding to the anxiety: The past months' cascading fall is reminiscent of how technology stocks led the way to the last bear market after the dot-com boom."
• "The Federal Reserve is considering making it easier for private-equity firms to invest in banks, which would smooth the way for huge new capital infusions to the troubled financial sector," the Washington Post reports. "Financial companies, reeling from losses, have raised more than $300 billion in the past year as they have tried to rebuild their capital, and they may need to raise billions more. Top officials, including Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., have strongly encouraged banks to raise more money."
• "American International Group Inc. plans to absorb losses for a dozen insurance units after their securities-lending accounts suffered $13 billion of writedowns tied to the subprime-mortgage collapse during the past year," Bloomberg News reports. "The world's largest insurer will assume as much as $5 billion of any losses on sales of the investments, up from a previous commitment of $500 million."
• "The top securities regulator in Massachusetts has sued UBS on the grounds of fraud, saying that the firm misled clients when it sold them auction-rate securities and that it pushed the increasingly risky instruments on individual investors to reduce its own potential losses," the New York Times reports.
• "Bill Gates is retiring, sort of.... He will still be Microsoft's chairman and largest shareholder, but" today "is his last day as a full-time worker at the software giant, marking the unofficial end of his career as a business leader," the Times also reports.
World: Pakistan Denies Involvement In Afghan Assassination Plot
• "North Korea" today "demolished a cooling tower for its main nuclear reactor in a televised spectacle designed to display its sincerity about dismantling its weapons program," the Los Angels Times reports. "The televised demolition had been suggested by North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Il is a cinema buff famous for his flare for the theatrical," but it also "served the purposes of President Bush, looking for to a photo opportunity -- which like the collapse of the Berlin Wall for Ronald Reagan -- would bolster his legacy after leaving office."
• "The Bush administration breathed easier when the prickly and unpredictable North Korean government stuck to its script and handed over long-delayed nuclear paperwork as planned," AP reports. However, "the documents do not spell out the number of plutonium bombs in storage or make promises about what happens to them."
• "Pakistan on Thursday sharply denied that its powerful intelligence agency was behind an attempt to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai in April, saying the accusations by Afghan officials were politically motivated," the Washington Post reports. "Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said the allegations against the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, were 'untrue and baseless.'"
• "The Taliban are no longer at the gates of Peshawar, they're inside, throwing their weight around in Pakistan's largest city," Reuters reports. "Their brazen presence is a chilling demonstration of the political and military failure to resist a militant Islamist tide rolling in from the Pashtun tribal belt on the Afghan border."
• "The Afghan government announced Thursday that it had fired three senior police officials in the southern province of Kandahar, two weeks after the Taliban staged a spectacular prison break that freed hundreds of militants," the Los Angeles Times reports.
• "Afghan opium poppy cultivation grew 17 percent last year, continuing a six-year expansion of the country's drug trade and increasing its share of global opium production to more than 92 percent, according to the 2008 World Drug Report, released Thursday by the United Nations," the Washington Post reports. "Afghanistan's emergence as the world's largest supplier of opium and heroin represents a serious setback to U.S. policy in the region."
• "More than a million Iranians are addicted to some form of opium, heroin or other opium derivative, according to the government, and some estimates run as high as 10 million," the New York Times reports. "In a country where the discussion of some social and cultural issues, like homosexuality, can be all but taboo, drug addiction has been widely acknowledged as a serious problem."
• "As President Robert Mugabe defied intensifying international condemnation to insist that" today's "presidential runoff would proceed, a picture was emerging on Thursday of the circumstances under which Zimbabweans would be forced to go to the polls, and what they might face if they resisted," the New York Times reports.
• "Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired two mortar shells into southern Israel today, as the week-long ceasefire deal between the sites teetered on the brink of collapse," the London Times reports. "Israeli and Palestinian officials expressed doubt over the likelihood of the truce surviving a second week, citing the number of cracks that have already appeared in the fledgling accord."
Campaigns: Top Guns Back SCOTUS
• The Supreme Court's Second Amendment decision won praise from Arizona Republican John McCain, while Illinois Democrat Barack Obama voiced his support for both a right to bear arms and a government's right to regulate gun ownership. Earlybird's Campaign News section has details.
Commentary: Up In Arms
• Commentators spar over fallout from the SCOTUS decision, a possible conservative agenda for the court and more in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.