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Morning Brief: Obama arrives in Germany

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The stage is set for Barack Obama's big speech in Germany. After meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama will speak to assembled multitudes before the iconic "Victory Column" in Berlin's Tiergarten Park. Yesterday, Merkel said she "wouldn't resist" a backrub from Obama, whom she called "well-equipped -- physically, mentally and politically." [UPDATE: Here's the AP's writeup of the Obama-Merkel meeting.]

Der Spiegel looks at the debate over Barack Obama's 7 p.m. event, and interviews Obama aide Susan Rice and McCain advisor Randy Scheunemann. The McCain camp has criticized Obama for holding a "campaign rally" in a foreign country. "I'm hoping to communicate across the Atlantic the value of that relationship and how we need to build on it," Obama has responded. "I doubt we're going to have a million screaming Germans."

Reuters expects Obama to "ask Europe to shoulder more of the burden" in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

More Decision '08

Tough luck: John McCain had to cancel a planned campaign event at a Gulf Coast oil rig, due to weather concerns.

The latest WSJ/NBC poll finds that voters' views of Obama remain in flux, with many Americans still uneasy about the Illinois senator's background and experience.

Global Economy

The Arctic could hold as many as 90 billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Full study here (pdf).

Toyota surpassed General Motors in sales during the first half of 2008.

"Big divergences" are stalling global trade talks at the WTO in Geneva.

Americas

A massive U.S. bill aimed at shoring up housing prices looks set to pass after President George W. Bush withdrew his veto threat.

Fidel Castro says Cuba doesn't have to explain its position on hosting Russian bombers.

The trial of Osama bin Laden's driver reveals that Flight 93 was intended to hit the Capitol dome.

Asia

Lawmakers are upset about a Bush administration plan to help Pakistan retrofit its aging F-16s.

A former U.S. official dishes at length about the Afghan government's ties to the heroin trade.

China is pressuring parents who lost children in the Sichuan earthquake to take "hush money."

Middle East and Africa

Abu Dhabi is partnering with General Electric to finance commercial investments in clean energy, healthcare, and transportation.

Israel's military officer, visiting Washington, calls for action to halt "Iranian aggression."

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir danced at a "pep rally" in Darfur.

Europe

A fascinating profile of Radovan Karadzic and his double life. Karadzic's trial will be a chance for the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to redeem itself.

About 100 staffers at a French nuclear plant have been "slightly contaminated" by radiation.

France moved to scrap the 35-hour workweek.

Today's Agenda

The U.S. federal minimum wage goes up to $6.55 per hour.

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This Week in China

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TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images

Bombs exploded in two public buses Monday in the southwestern city of Kunming, killing at least two passingers and injuring 14. Officials refuted reports that bizarre text messages had preceded the bombings, and said Tuesday that no evidence had been found linking the bombings to the Beijing Olympics.

On Wednesday, officals tripled the reward for information related to the bombings to 300,000 yuan (around $43,500). Meanwhile, the city of Beijing said it would step up bus-security measures, and Shanghai, which is hosting Olympic soccer matches, announced it will install security cameras on 1,600 buses.

Olympics

Western TV networks are pushing back agianst constraints on Olympic coverage.

Hotels in Beijing are slashing prices as the anticipated tourist onslaught fails to materialize.

Some U.S. Olympians may wear masks in Beijing to protect their lungs from pollution, much to the chagrin of their hosts.

The opening ceremonies will employ "green fireworks" designed to limit pollution.

Guess who's not invited?

Politics

Officials will allow approved protests in designated city parks during the Olympics; the crackdown on Internet dissent, however, continues. Entertainers deemed a threat to China's sovereignty are no longer welcome, either.

China and Russia ended a decades-long border dispute.

Although 86 percent of Chinese are happy with their country's overall direction, more than a third see Japan and the United States as enemies.

A Tibetan living in Beijing is suing the Chinese government after being denied a passport for three years.

Economy

One new report says China's economy has averted the threat of overheating, while another argues the government needs to temper "hot money" inflows to stave off inflation and stabilize markets.

U.S. companies are keeping a wary eye on a new Chinese antitrust law.

Other News

A coal mine flooded in southern China, trapping 36 miners and killing at least seven.

China has more smokers than the United States has people. Unsurprisingly, China's anti-smoking campaign is not having the desired effect.