A new day is dawning for America and its island neighbor. John Kerry, the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Cuba in 70 years, is on hand today at the newly restored American embassy in Havana, where he has just helped raise the Stars and Stripes. Later, Kerry will meet with Cuba’s foreign minister, the archbishop and a group of dissidents before heading home tonight. Both countries’ diplomats, meanwhile, will continue dismantling Cold War-era frigidity while the U.S. administration pushes Congress to lift a longstanding trade embargo.
The Presidential Daily Brief
They’ve swallowed the medicine. Legislators today approved Greece’s third bailout in five years, despite months of protest and a rebellion within the governing Syriza Party against Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Following hours of heated debate, the bill for the $95 billion in loans — contingent on tough economic reforms at home — passed early this morning, 222-64. While the money will help Athens stay afloat, at least for now, tensions within the ruling party may push Tsipras to call for elections as early as September.
Just what the world needed: militants with machetes and mustard gas. U.S. officials believe the jihadists stooped to a new low this week in northern Iraq, after Kurdish fighters there suffered breathing difficulties. It’s believed that ISIS may have targeted them with a mustard agent — deadly in larger concentrations — that it captured in Syria, where Assad’s regime has admittedly stockpiled such munitions in the past. While ISIS has certainly scored psychological warfare points, German experts are on their way to investigate whether there’s really anything new to fear.
They’re not even sure it’s safe to breathe. Two days after a blast in this northern port city, details about the cause remain sketchy. A regulatory failure may have put dangerous chemicals together and in close proximity to residents, leading to scorched piles of cars and hollowed-out buildings, 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Citizens have criticized Chinese authorities for holding back on information, and many fear they’re breathing in toxic fumes. Military and chemical experts, meanwhile, have begun searching for clues at the blast site.
Japan’s Shinzo Abe expresses ‘profound grief’ in World War II address. (BBC)
Study: Pollution in China is linked to 1.6 million deaths a year. (NYT)
IMF warns Spain to continue economic reforms ahead of elections. (DW)
U.S. oil futures drop to six-year low as crude glut continues. (FT) sub
Carly Fiorina says vaccination should be up to parents. (Politico)
Connecticut high court rules death penalty unconstitutional. (Washington Post)
They’re “getting the old gang together.” So say supporters of the former U.S. vice president and 2000 Democratic nominee, who are reportedly considering a 2016 primary bid. One notably doused candidacy rumors with “lukewarm water,” rather than an icy denial. Since winning the popular vote but losing the election 15 years ago, Gore, 67, has won an Oscar and a Nobel Prize. He declined to endorse Hillary Clinton in 2008, and his signature project, climate change, has risen in prominence. But is he ready — and willing — for one more run?
They’re heading in the right direction … but still have a ways to go. The world’s most valuable brand increased its female and minority hires 50 percent or more this past year, adding 11,000 women, 2,200 Blacks and 2,700 Hispanics. Still, 69 percent are male and 54 percent white, with women in just 1 percent more of the roles than last year. At the top, it’s worse, with white men holding 60 of 83 major leadership positions. CEO Tim Cook called it “a start,” while admitting there’s “a lot more work to be done.”
Chemistry revolutionized the culinary world with molecular gastronomy. Now it’s hitting the bar scene, with folks like bartender Frankie Solarik and his well-tended menu at Toronto’s BarChef, armed with blowtorches and vacuum sealers. He and his staff concoct drinks filled with unusual tastes and textures — think foams, gels and exotic infusions — to evoke everything from fresh leather aromas to roasted marshmallow flavors. Some worry that molecular mixology will become more about the spectacle and less about the drink. But Solarik says he’ll always be willing to stir things up.
They’ll be getting letters. Big Bird and Grover are moving to the premium cable network this autumn, with new episodes airing behind the paywall before becoming available nine months later on PBS, the program’s home for 45 years. Sesame Workshop will churn out 35 episodes a year, compared to just 18 now. And while the deal will upset some fans, it’s meant to generate “critical funding” for the beloved show — suffering in the age of DVDs, YouTube and Netflix — in a bid to keep it afloat.
He can afford a whole lot of shoes. The Houston Rockets guard has signed a 13-year contract that takes him away from his previous six-year arrangement with Nike, where he was never given a signature line. He’s signed on with the German manufacturer, to the tune of $15.38 million a year, in a deal that resembles his on-court salary of roughly $16.78 million. Adidas, meanwhile, currently nets less than 3 percent of the American basketball shoe market and is banking on Harden to get back in the game.