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Pope Expresses Esteem For Turks Before 4-Day Visit Tuesday November 27, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Catholic, World News.
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VATICAN CITY (AP)–Pope Benedict XVI, expressing esteem and friendship for Turks and their leaders, asked Sunday for prayers for his upcoming pilgrimage to Turkey.

“Dear brothers and sisters, as you know in the coming days, I will go to Turkey. From this moment, I want to send a cordial greeting to the dear Turkish people, rich in history and culture,” Benedict said, adding he expressed “feelings of esteem and of sincere friendship” to Turks and their leaders. Benedict departs Tuesday for a four-day visit to Turkey that will be his first to a predominantly Muslim nation.

Sunday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Istanbul to protest the pope’s upcoming visit.

The protest was organized by a pro-Islamic political party whose leaders have said they were offended by Benedict’s comments linking violence and Islam.

US Rep. To Push Probes That May Provoke White House November 27, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Congress, White House.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–The incoming chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee is promising an array of oversight investigations that could provoke sharp disagreement with Republicans and the White House.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., pledged that Democrats, swept to power in the Nov. 7 elections, would govern “in the middle” next year. But the veteran lawmaker has a reputation as one who has never avoided a fight and he did not back away from that reputation on Sunday.

Among the investigations he said he wants the committee to undertake:

– The new Medicare drug benefit. “There are lots and lots and lots of scandals,” he said, without citing specifics.

– Spending on government contractors in Iraq, including Halliburton Co. (HAL), the Texas-based oil services conglomerate once led by Vice President Dick Cheney.

– An energy task force overseen by Cheney. It “was carefully cooked to provide only participation by oil companies and energy companies,” Dingell said.

– A review of food and drug safety, particularly in the area of nutritional supplements.

Meanwhile, the incoming chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee said his committee would not take on contentious issues, such as extending expiring tax cuts or overhauling Social Security, at the beginning of the year. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said Democrats do not want a fight with President Bush and want to prove they can govern.

“The first thing we’re going to do is try to work together on things we know we can accomplish,” Rangel said. “Rather than have the committee against the president, it’s not going to happen,” Rangel said.

Rep. Barney Frank, set to lead the House Financial Services Committee, said issues such as raising the minimum wage will be popular, even thought the idea has been identified with liberals.

“In my own committee, the biggest difference you’re going to see is we’re going to return to try to help deal with the housing crisis that blights so many parts of our country socially and economically,” said Frank, D-Mass.

Frank, who in 1987 became the first member of Congress to voluntarily make his homosexuality public, also said he wants to modify the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The current policy prohibits officials from inquiring about the sex lives of service members and requires discharges of those who openly acknowledge being gay.

“One of things I do want to address, yes, is discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Frank said.

“In fact, what we have is a shortfall in the military. I think when you have people being fired who can read Arabic and understand Arabic, because of what they do when they’re off duty, that that’s a grave error. But that’s not what we’re going to begin with.”

A report in 2005 by the investigative arm of Congress estimated it cost the Pentagon nearly $200 million to recruit and train replacements for the nearly 9,500 troops that had to leave the military because of the policy. The losses included hundreds of highly skilled troops, including translators, between 1994 through 2003.

Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, who will become the Senate’s second-ranking GOP leader, said Republicans still have enough clout to block legislation “if it’s really bad, not in the country’s best interest.” But he also said he wanted to find areas where the two sides can compromise.

“The people, I think, sent us a message. I think we’ve got it,” Lott said. “We’re going to be working hard together.”

The lawmakers appeared on “Fox News Sunday.”

Kansas Republican Says Announcement Close On US Presidential Bid November 27, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Congress.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–U.S. Republican Sen. Sam Brownback said Sunday he has poured thought and prayer into a forthcoming decision whether to seek the presidency in 2008.

“We’re very close with announcements. My wife (Mary) and I and our family have spent a lot of time thinking about this, praying about it, and really considering whether we could bring a message to the country that needs to be discussed,” Brownback said. “I think there is room, on the Republican side, for somebody that’s a full-scale conservative, that’s an economic and fiscal and social conservative.”

If Brownback, a conservative Kansas Republican elected in 1996, makes a bid for the White House, he could face better-known challengers such as Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who have set up presidential exploratory committees. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., also may run.

Brownback, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” said there was both room and a need among Republicans “to develop some new plays, particularly on the compassionate conservative agenda.”

Moderator George Stephanopoulos told Brownback his expression left little doubt about his intentions.

“I can tell from that smile that you’re in,” Stephanopoulos said. “That’s not very coy at all.”

Responded Brownback: “We’ll see.”

Brownback has made several trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and other states that hold early presidential nominating contests.

GOP Senator Considering Whether To Stop Blocking Judicial Nominee November 27, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Judiciary.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–A conservative U.S. Republican lawmaker is considering whether to stop blocking a judicial nominee over concerns her appearance at a lesbian commitment ceremony betrayed her legal views on gay marriage.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a potential presidential candidate in 2008, said Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet T. Neff shouldn’t be disqualified automatically for having attended the ceremony. But Brownback, R-Kan., made clear it raised doubts in his mind.

“But what I want to know is what does it do to her look at the law? What does she consider the law on same-sex marriage, on civil unions, and I’d want to consider that,” Brownback said Sunday.

President George W. Bush nominated Neff, who has a liberal reputation, to be a U.S. District Court judge as part of a compromise struck with Democrats.

Neff’s nomination is pending before the full Senate; Brownback has stalled it because of her attendance at the 2002 ceremony in Massachusetts.

“I’m still looking at the Neff situation, and I will in the future,” Brownback said.

Neff has said she attended as a friend of one of the two women, a longtime neighbor.

Neff has declined to answer Brownback’s queries on whether the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage or civil unions, saying it would be improper to address questions that might come before her as a federal judge.

Brownback called gay marriage a developing area of the law best not left to the judiciary anyway.

“To me these issues should be decided by the legislative bodies, not by the judicial bodies, and it seems to me this may indicate some view of hers on the legal issue. And that’s what I’m concerned about here, is her view of the legal issue involving same-sex marriage,” Brownback said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., urged taking a step back, away from “the political agenda,” in considering judicial appointees.

“You know, these are important lifetime appointments. These men and women who serve on the bench, we really trust their judgment and their wisdom and giving these political litmus tests I don’t think is in the best interest of justice in America,” said Durbin, who will be the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.

In an Oct. 12 letter to Brownback, Neff said a minister presided over the ceremony and she insisted her attendance wouldn’t affect her ability to act fairly as a federal judge.

“The ceremony, which was entirely private, took place in Massachusetts, where I had no authority to act in any official capacity and where, in any event, the ceremony had no legal effect,” Neff wrote.

Brownback and Durbin appeared on “This Week” on ABC.

Iran Promises Cooperation If UN Watchdog Handles Case November 27, 2006

Posted by notapundit in World News.
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TEHRAN (AP)-Iran promised Sunday to improve its cooperation with the United Nations nuclear watchdog if the agency, instead of the U.N Security Council, takes charge of its nuclear dossier.

“If the case is returned to the agency itself, it would be possible to review current ambiguities better than before,” Mohammed Ali Hosseini, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, told journalists. “The agency is the best and the most qualified body for the case.”

Hosseini sought to show that Iran had cooperated with the International Atomic Energy Agency in the past and was ready for greater cooperation, provided the nuclear watchdog agreed to its requests.

The IAEA officially turned over Iran’s dossier to the Security Council in February after Iran failed to answer key questions about its nuclear activities.

Iran’s lack of transparency has increased suspicions by the U.S., and several of its Western allies, that Iran is trying to make atomic weapons, a charge it denies. It says its goal is to generate electricity.

Hosseini said Iran had granted IAEA inspectors access to the Lavizan site, a former nuclear research facility. “The request by the agency, for taking sample, has been accepted,” he said about a visit the IAEA mentioned in a report in April.

If the IAEA had agreed to Iran’s request for assistance building a heavy-water nuclear reactor, Iran would already have increased its cooperation, the spokesman said in remarks that showed Tehran was disgruntled with the IAEA decision.

“If they (the agency) had approved the help, then the ground would be ready for the presence of its inspectors,” Hosseini said.

Last week, the IAEA rejected Iran’s request for assistance building a heavy-water reactor, which foregoes the uranium enrichment process. Enriched to a low level, uranium can be used to fuel a reactor, enriching it further makes it suitable for an atomic weapon.

“It is part of the agency’s duties to help member countries. None of our activities have been illegal. Inspectors can inspect them,” he said.

Hosseini reiterated Iran’s expectation that Russia will use its weight to defuse the crisis. “It is expected that Russia to use its diplomatic capabilities to return matters to negotiation and the case to the agency.”

The U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, is deadlocked over how to sanction Iran for ignoring demands to stop its other potential avenue to weapons production – uranium enrichment. Russia and China, both trade partners with Iran, have said repeatedly that the prefer the impasse to be resolved diplomatically rather than through imposing punitive measures.

Iran has repeatedly refused to suspend enrichment, defying an August Security Council deadline, and saying it will not halt the process as a precondition to negotiations over its nuclear program.