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News Briefs

Economic Downturn Lights Fire Under GOP Tax Hawks

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

With a nervous eye on the swooning economy, top Senate Republicans on Thursday abruptly changed course and decided to push for an immediate $60 billion tax cut this year -- in addition to the $1.6 trillion tax cut President Bush has proposed for the next ten years.

The Senate GOP leaders also decided to speed legislative action on both their new tax-cut proposal and Bush’s plan.

“We are convinced ... that this must be done as quickly as possible for the economy,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) after meeting with his GOP colleagues. “I’m firmly convinced this $60 billion [proposal] will be a big sign that we care.”

Although Bush's original tax plan would not take effect until 2002, he has said he would support congressional efforts to provide some relief in 2001. A Domenici aide said the senator’s proposal was hatched in recent discussions with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill.

Whether the proposal can pass the Senate, which is evenly divided between the parties, remains uncertain. Top Democrats recently have been warming to the idea of providing an immediate tax cut to stimulate the economy. But Domenici wants to add onto a $1.6 trillion tax cut that many Democrats already view as too large and too skewed to the rich.

Bush Continues to Reach Out to Catholics

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

President Bush is reaching out to Roman Catholics, courting one of the most important groups of swing voters whose support has gone increasingly to Republican presidential candidates in the past three elections.

His aggressive focus on developing an easy relationship with the church’s leaders, exemplified by two events this week, comes as he seeks to build support for his program to ease the way for government help for charitable organizations.

Bush attended ceremonies Thursday dedicating the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center at the Catholic University of America. On Wednesday evening, he received a delegation of cardinals and bishops at the White House East Room.

“I may be just passing through and I may not be a parishioner, but I’m proud to live in your archdiocese,” Bush said, with a nod to newly elevated Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington.

Bush also has been calling on bishops and cardinals during his introductory travels around the country, paying short, private visits with the religious leaders.

Bush appeared to put the support of Catholics at risk with his campaign visit last year to Bob Jones University. Officials of the South Carolina school have made anti-Catholic statements. But before that visit could become a campaign issue, Bush moved to quell any criticism. He wrote a letter to Cardinal John O’Connor of New York in which he apologized for his visit to the school.

Taliban Opens National Museum to Journalists

THE WASHINGTON POST -- KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

Three weeks after decreeing that all statues in Afghanistan be destroyed, the country’s ruling Taliban movement briefly opened the national museum for journalists, revealing a gloomy, near-empty labyrinth of rooms missing virtually devoid of treasures.

The museum, which has been shut for most of the past six years, once housed a priceless collection of artifacts, from paleolithic pottery shards to Greek coins to Buddhist statues. Thursday there was little inside the shell-pocked, graffiti-scrawled structure except a giant inscribed marble bowl, a hastily arranged display of about 50 artifacts, and endless shelves of ceramic fragments labeled in French in a dank basement.

After the Taliban, a radical Islamic group that controls most of Afghanistan, ordered on Feb. 26 that all pre-Islamic statues and idols in Afghanistan should be demolished, authorities said they had destroyed a number of statues in the museum that were deemed idolatrous. The Taliban also wrecked two giant Buddha statues in the central Afghan province of Bamian two weeks ago.

Yar and other officials said the vast majority of items in the museum had been destroyed or looted before the Taliban regime took power in Kabul in 1996, when civil war among several Afghan factions in the early 1990s turned the city into a battlefield. The officials also said many valuable Islamic objects had been stored elsewhere for safekeeping.

White Dwarf Stars Hold Part Of Dark Matter Mystery

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Solving at least part of one of cosmology’s great mysteries, an international team of scientists reports it has found a chunk of the missing “dark matter” that makes up most of our galaxy.

The components of dark matter have eluded scientists for 70 years, prompting an increasingly intense game of cosmic hide and seek.

Scientists have determined that the universe must have a certain mass. Anything less than that would not provide enough gravity to hold galaxies together: they would simply fly apart.

But visible matter can account for only a small percentage of that total mass -- hence, the rest resides in the posited dark matter. In our galaxy, less than 10 percent of the matter is visible in stars that can be detected.

The new findings suggest that between 3 percent and 35 percent of that dark matter is made up of white dwarf stars. These are burned out husks of stars that once shined as brightly as our sun but now glow only feebly, said Ben R. Oppenheimer, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley who led the study to be published online Friday in the journal Science.