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10 things you need to know today: December 13, 2012
Russia says Syria's Assad is losing control, the EU reaches a landmark bank deal, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making news and driving opinion
The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has killed thousands in its crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising that began nearly two years ago.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has killed thousands in its crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising that began nearly two years ago. AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

1. RUSSIA: ASSAD IS LOSING CONTROL
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Thursday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared to be losing control and territory to rebel forces, adding that "unfortunately, it is impossible to exclude a victory of the Syrian opposition" — the clearest indication yet that Russia sees Assad, a longtime strategic ally, as headed for defeat. Bogdanov also said Russia was preparing to evacuate its citizens from Syria, the first such announcement. For months Russia has resisted Western pressure to persuade Assad to step down. Bogdanov's announcement came after White House officials on Wednesday claimed that Assad's regime had fired Scud missiles at rebels in recent days, in what's being seen as a major escalation of the fighting between the two sides. On Wednesday, President Obama also recognized Syria's opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. [New York Times (2)]
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2. FED DOUBLES DOWN ON KEEPING INTEREST RATE LOW
The Federal Open Market Committee, the policymaking arm of the Federal Reserve, on Wednesday announced that it would keep its benchmark interest rate target at near zero until the unemployment rate fell to 6.5 percent or the annual inflation rate rose to 2.5 percent, the first time the central bank has set such specific targets. In addition, the Fed said it would continue purchasing $85 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities and Treasury bonds in 2013, another measure designed to ease borrowing and boost economic growth. Analysts say the move reflects a fundamental shift in the Fed's approach toward monetary policy, with a heightened focus on encouraging employment, rather than concentrating on keeping a lid on inflation. [Washington Post]
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3. BOEHNER TO GOP: DON'T MAKE HOLIDAY PLANS
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned members of his caucus on Wednesday not to make holiday plans because talks on the impending fiscal cliff have hit a standstill. Further dampening GOP spirits, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) added, "We're going to stay here right up until Christmas Eve, throughout the time and period before the New Year, because we want to make sure that we resolve this in an acceptable way for the American people." The comments came a day after Boehner and President Obama exchanged new offers to avoid coming tax hikes and spending cuts, with Obama lowering the amount of revenue he wants to collect from $1.6 trillion to $1.4 trillion. The GOP refuses to detail what their new offer entails. [Huffington Post]
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4. EU REACHES LANDMARK BANKING DEAL
The European Union on Thursday agreed to make the European Central Bank its top banking supervisor, "giving EU leaders confidence that they are gaining the upper hand over the eurozone's debt crisis." Officials said the ECB would regulate some 150 to 200 banks directly, mostly major cross-border systemic lenders and state-aided institutions, with the power to delve into all 6,000 banks in case of problems. The complex process, however, could take several years and will require "political commitment from eurozone and non-euro members alike, something that countries such as Britain, with a restive Euroskeptic population, will find particularly stressful." [Reuters]
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5. PANETTA ARRIVES IN AFGHANISTAN FOR TALKS
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived Afghanistan on Wednesday, where he will hold talks with Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams, the head of the Regional Command South, and also with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The discussions will be about the scope of U.S. presence in the country after the international combat mission ends in 2014. Before arriving in Afghanistan, Panetta told reporters the White House hoped to have a decision soon about the U.S. troop makeup after the withdrawal. About 68,000 U.S. troops remain in the country. [Voice of America]
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6. OREGON POLICE IDENTIFY MALL SHOOTING SUSPECT
Authorities in Oregon identified Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, as the gunman suspected of killing two people and then himself at a suburban mall in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday. According to what Roberts told former girlfriend Brittany Curry, the young man's mother had died during childbirth and he had never met his father. After being raised by an aunt, Roberts apparently left home at 14. Describing Roberts as "a really good guy," Curry said she was in shock about his actions and could not offer a reason for his mall rampage. Roberts had been taking classes to become a firefighter at a local community college before the shooting occurred. [CNN
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7. GOOGLE MAPS RETURNS TO IPHONE
Google has released its Maps app for the iPhone 5, after Apple controversially replaced the app with its own mapping software when it released the latest generation of the smartphone. Google's app introduces functions that were previously restricted to Android devices, including voice guided turn-by-turn directions, estimated travel times, and indoor panoramic images of buildings that have signed up to its Street View Business Photos service. [BBC]
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8. JOHN MCAFEE ARRIVES IN THE U.S.
Anti-virus software pioneer John McAfee arrived in Miami on Wednesday after he was deported from Guatemala, where he was being held for illegally crossing into the country from Belize. McAfee had fled Belize, where he lived, after going into hiding when police there sought to question him in connection with the murder of his neighbor, who was found dead a few days after having an argument with McAfee. McAfee denies killing the neighbor and has not been charged with any crime. [Associated Press]
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9. REPORT: U.S. CITIZEN BEING HELD IN NORTH KOREA
Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old U.S. citizen who runs a company that takes tourists and prospective investors to North Korea, has been held in North Korea for a month, according to Do Hee-youn, head of the Seoul-based Citizens' Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees. The alleged detention comes at a sensitive time for Washington, which is trying to rally support for a new round of penalties against Pyongyang over its launching of a rocket this week. South Korean news reports said Bae, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in South Korea, was detained after bringing five European tourists into North Korea on Nov. 3. The Europeans were allowed to leave the country, the reports said. [New York Times]
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10. FACEBOOK UNVEILS NEW PRIVACY CONTROLS
On Wednesday Facebook revealed new privacy controls that aim to make it easier for Facebook's members to quickly determine who can view their photos, comments, and other information that appears on different parts of the website. A new privacy shortcut in the top right-hand corner of the website provides quick access to key controls such as allowing users to manage who can contact them and to block specific people. [Reuters]

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