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The word that Pentagon rules may soon "catch up a bit with reality" as the military considers formally allowing women to do something that they've already been asked to do in Iraq and Afghanistan — serve close to the front lines but technically not "in combat" — raises a question.

As NPR's Tom Bowman reports, the new rules still wouldn't allow women to serve in front line combat jobs such as infantry, armor or Special Forces.

The World Health Organization has just one week left to prepare for a highly anticipated meeting on controversial bird flu research. One official says that 22 invitations have gone out and the WHO is still waiting to hear back from some of the invitees.

Recent experiments involving the H5N1 bird flu virus have caused a furor in the science community, and the WHO was urged to convene an international discussion.

After a surprise sweep of Tuesday's three election contests by Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney headed to Georgia on Wednesday for a fundraiser and rally in Atlanta.

As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports on Morning Edition, heading to Georgia — Newt Gingrich country — was "a bold move" for Romney. "Before a packed crowd at a local tile and flooring company, Romney talked about creating jobs and reducing government spending — and he also took aim at his GOP opponents," Lohr reports.

The number of Americans who filed first-time claims for jobless benefits dipped to 358,000 last week, down by 15,000 from a revised 373,000 from the week before, the Employment and Training Administration just reported.

At 358,000, claims were the lowest they've been since March 2008.

The "four-week moving average" number of claims was "366,250, a decrease of 11,000 from the previous week's revised average of 377,250."

"After negotiating through the night," NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, states attorneys general, federal officials and five major banks have agreed on a plan that will provide about $26 billion in mortgage relief and aid to homeowners who got crushed when the housing bubble burst.

"Syrian forces fired mortars and rockets Thursday in the rebellious city of Homs, the latest salvo in a weeklong assault that has killed hundreds as President Bashar Assad's regime tries to crush increasingly militarized pockets of dissent," The Associated Press reports.

Relying on reports from activists and residents in Homs, the AP and other news outlets say it appears that a brutal crackdown continues.

Following up on a plan he unveiled last September to let states apply to be exempt from basic elements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law, President Obama will today announce the first 10 states that have qualified for such exemptions.

Turn on the news on any given day, and you're likely to hear about the Dow Jones industrial average. It is the most frequently checked, and cited, proxy of U.S. economic health. But a lot of people — maybe most — don't even know what it is. It's just the stock prices of 30 big companies, summed up and roughly averaged. That's it.

And what does the daily movement of this number have to do with the lives of most Americans? Not much.

A federal Inspector General's office confirmed Wednesday it is looking into Freddie Mac investments that act as bets against homeowners being able to refinance.

In addition, U.S. senators are expected to probe Freddie Mac's investment practices at a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Freddie Mac, based in northern Virginia, is the taxpayer-owned mortgage giant whose public mission is to make homeownership more affordable for Americans.

American lawmakers are furious about a mounting diplomatic crisis in Egypt, where dozens of nongovernmental workers, including 19 Americans, could face trial.

The United States says Egypt needs to let pro-democracy groups continue their work to help the country's transition, but Egypt accuses them of operating illegally.

The work of democracy promotion groups has raised suspicions in many countries, but Lorne Craner, who runs the International Republican Institute, says he has never seen anything like what's going on now in Egypt.

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