The latest news on the House-budget, Iran-British captives, Iraq-Senate, Iraq-Saudis, Arab-Israeli peace offer, US attorney firings, immigration, Massachusetts-Sudan disinvestment, poverty-New York City, social networking, abortion, and select op-eds.

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Iraq-Senate. Senate Sets Stage For Iraq Face-Off – “Faced with his second rebuke in a week from congressional Democrats on Iraq policy, President Bush summoned Republican allies to his side in an effort to shift momentum in the escalating battle over the course of the war.” Defying Bush, Senate Passes Iraq Spending Measure – “Issuing a stinging challenge to President Bush, the Senate approved a spending measure that provided more than $97.5 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but ordered troop withdrawals from Iraq to begin within 120 days and set a goal of removing most armed forces within a year.” Senate: Home in 1 year – “The Senate approved a war funding measure calling for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq next year, and Democratic leaders warned President Bush that he risks “undermining” the troops on the battlefield if he vetoes the bill,” Iraq: It may be a rough road to a Senate-House compromise – “Fresh from passing the first timelines to bring home U.S. troops from Iraq, congressional Democrats now face the daunting task of reconciling critical differences between a Senate withdrawal plan and one approved by the House.”

Iraq-Saudis. Saudis Publicly Get Tough With U.S. – “Saudi Arabia has begun to play an uncharacteristically assertive diplomatic role in the region in an effort to calm potential flashpoints in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.” U.S. Feels Sting of Winning Saudi Help With Other Arabs – “American officials said that they were caught off guard by remarks by the Saudi king condemning the American intervention in Iraq as “an illegal foreign occupation” and were seeking clarification.”

Iran-British captives. Navy crewman’s ‘apology’ shown – “Iran broadcast footage of a second “confession” from one of its British military captives as Iran’s president said the UK should apologise for “violating” Iranian waters.” Iran raises stakes in hostage crisis – “The Iranian hostage crisis took a sinister turn when Tehran withdrew an earlier offer to release one of the 15 captive sailors and marines and issued a second, strangely-worded letter in her name calling for Britain to withdraw from Iraq.” Britain and Iran raise the stakes – “Britain and Iran have raised the diplomatic and propaganda temperature in the battle over the 15 captured British sailors and marines.” Security Council Voices Concern Over Iran Captives – “Britain escalated international pressure in its week-old confrontation with Iran over the seizure of 15 naval personnel, winning from the U.N. Security Council a statement of “grave concern” over the capture.” Tehran Levels New Charges About Seized Britons – “Iran leveled new accusations against Britain in the crisis over 15 captured British sailors and marines, and withdrew a promise to free the only woman in the group, insisting that Britain admit fault before any captives were released.”

Arab-Israeli peace offer. Heads of Arab States Prod Israel to Embrace Peace Offer – “The leaders of 21 Arab governments called on Israel to embrace a peace initiative that would have it withdraw from the land it occupied in the 1967 war in exchange for full diplomatic relations with them,” Arab proposal is ‘revolutionary’ – “Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, welcomed a land-for-peace deal offered by Arab states as a “revolutionary change”, but warned that his country remained deeply sceptical about aspects of the plan.” Arab League leaders urge Israel to accept peace plan – “Arab leaders urged Israel to accept a 5-year-old peace plan that they say could end the decades-old Middle East conflict, calling for negotiations with the Jewish state as the annual Arab League summit drew to a close.”

US attorney firings. Ex-Aide Contradicts Gonzales on Firings – “Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was more deeply involved in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys than he has sometimes acknowledged, and Gonzales and his aides have made a series of inaccurate claims about the issue in recent weeks,” Ex-Aide Rejects Gonzales Stand Over Dismissals – “The former chief of staff to Alberto R. Gonzales testified that he had consulted regularly with the attorney general about dismissing United States attorneys, disputing Mr. Gonzales’s public account of his role as very limited.” Former aide contradicts Gonzales – “Despite his earlier denials, Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales was deeply involved in discussions that led to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys,”

House-budget. Democrats’ Budget Plan Narrowly Passes in House – “Democrats marshaled a $2.9 trillion budget blue

print through the House, uniting a diverse coalition behind a spending plan that would increase funds for education, health care and veterans’ services while aiming to erase the federal deficit within five years.” House Budget Is Clear on Spending, Vague on Revenue – “House Democrats passed a five-year spending plan that offers something to almost everybody but leaves many questions unanswered – much like the plan passed by the Senate.”

Immigration. GOP immigration plan favors workers over relatives – “A White House proposal for overhauling immigration laws would abandon the long-standing practice of admitting immigrants seeking to reunite with their families, instead giving preference to applicants based on the nation’s employment needs.”

Massachusetts-Sudan disinvestment. Patrick to push Sudan sanction – “The Patrick administration forcefully urged lawmakers to withdraw more than $100 million in state pension fund investments from foreign companies doing business in genocide-ravaged Sudan, setting the stage for the state’s first major attempt to exert financial pressure on a foreign government since it pulled funds from apartheid-era South Africa more than two decades ago.”

Poverty-New York City. New York City to Reward Poor for Doing Right Thing– “Seeking new solutions to New York’s vexingly high poverty rates, the city is moving ahead with an ambitious experiment that will pay poor families up to $5,000 a year to meet goals like attending parent-teacher conferences, going for a medical checkup or holding down a full-time job,” A cash opportunity for some of NYC’s poorest families – “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled a novel $50-million program to pay New York families cash for taking steps to lift themselves out of poverty by keeping their children in school, staying healthy and earning more.”

Social networking. Grass Roots Planted In Cyberspace – “If there’s a social networking site that John Edwards is not a part of, we’d like to know what it is, pronto. No one’s sure exactly what role these sites — a.k.a. socnets — will play in the upcoming election. But whatever it is, Edwards isn’t taking any chances. The man’s flooding the zone”

Abortion. To foes, pregnancy sites blur the abortion picture – “a burgeoning movement of pregnancy centers set up by abortion opponents to dissuade women from terminating pregnancies. The centers usually provide free pregnancy tests, counseling, referrals to social-service agencies and material aid such as diapers and baby clothes. Although a few existed in the U.S. as far back as the 1970s, there are now more pregnancy centers than abortion providers,”


15 Britons In a Sea Of Intrigue (David Ignatius, Washington Post)- “We are in a season of skulduggery in the Middle East, with a strange series of events that all involve the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The murky saga is a reminder that the real power in Iran may lie with this secretive organization, which spawned Iran’s firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

Not an Election for Playing It Safe (E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post) – “Sometimes, taking risks is less risky than avoiding them. The front-runners for the 2008 presidential nominations are being too careful for their own good.”

Civil-union bill an apt compromise (Geoffrey R. Stone, professor of law at the University of Chicago, Chicago Tribune) – “The issue of gay marriage deeply and emotionally divides the American people. But it is an issue on which compromise is possible. Last week, the Human Services Committee of the Illinois House of Representatives voted to legalize civil unions. Illinois should enact this legislation now.”

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