Today's briefing: Jobs in the US, rights in Russia, the pope in the Mideast

Here is what we’re working on today:

In US news:

• We’re looking over the new unemployment numbers for what they mean about the direction of the economy. Both Laurent Belsie here in the newsroom and Peter Grier in Washington are filing on this.

Linda Feldmann in Washington is following the political jockeying over the coming Supreme Court vacancy. Hispanics are pushing hard for a seat.

Gail Chaddock on Capitol Hill looks at the legislation the House just cleared to tighten up rules on mortgage lending and whether that horse is already out of the barn.

• “Stress tests” results out today are making it easier for strong banks to exit the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, but economics writer Mark Trumbull is exploring why the government wants to slow them down.

California’s Governor Schwarzenegger made news when he launched a discussion this week on whether marijuana should be legalized. Mike Farrell in San Francisco is taking a harder look today at legalization’s potential as a revenue raiser.

Dante Chinni looks at America’s “military bastions” – one of 11 county types that make up Patchwork Nation – and finds that military payrolls may soften the impact of recession there, but not much.

• Coming later in the day, Dan Wood and Mike Farrell in California report on how the fast-flaring Santa Barbara wildfire is testing California’s expertise at managing mass evacuations.

In world news:

Religion writer Jane Lampman lays out the agenda for the pope's fence-mending tour in the Middle East, where he will try to reassure Muslims and Jews about the Vatican's views.

• As Russian President Medvedev finishes his first year in office, Fred Weir in Moscow writes on a new Amnesty International report that details allegations of rights abuses against journalists and activist organizations.

Fiat’s status is rising with its new stake in Chrysler. And Jeffrey White in Berlin notes other major stirrings in the European auto inustry with merger talks between Porsche and VW.

• The Gurkhas, Nepalese regulars who fought for the British since the salad days of empire, are winning another battle. Ben Quinn in London writes on their campaign for the right to retire in Britain.

Jane Arraf visited Basra in southern Iraq and finds that while its famous cultural scene was driven underground when the militias were in charge, it is beginning to blossom again.

You can’t see Basra from there, but Alex Marks writes today on the Fourth of July reopening to visitors of the Statue of Liberty’s crown.

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