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Senate Edward Kennedy gets Medal of Freedom


Senate Edward Kennedy gets Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON — Among the 16 people who will receive the presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony today is a Democratic lawmaker whose political significance has been made all the more conspicuous this year by his absence.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, battling brain cancer and now mourning his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died Tuesday, will not be on hand to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor from President Obama. His daughter, Kara Kennedy, will accept the award for him.

In the tightly knit club where the Massachusetts Democrat has spent almost 47 of his 77 years, other senators can’t stop thinking about the void Kennedy has left.

“We miss him every day,” Senate deputy Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois said just after Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. Kennedy was the only senator to miss the vote — the first time during his Senate tenure that a presidential nominee had been elevated to the nation’s top court without Kennedy’s insistent tenor voice in the debate.

As senators labor for a deal on health care — Obama’s top legislative priority, and an issue that Kennedy has called “the cause of my life” — they find themselves yearning for the Senate’s jovial, enthusiastic and patient dealmaker.

“A lot of times I’ve asked myself, ‘What would Teddy do?’ ” said Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who is filling in for his friend at the helm of the Senate’s health committee. In the Senate, Kennedy “is one of the pillars,” said former senator John Warner, a Virginia Republican who retired last year.

Since being diagnosed with incurable brain cancer in May 2008, Kennedy has been carefully husbanding his energies. After attending Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, where he suffered a seizure, he spent most of the winter in Florida.

This spring and summer, he has been at his family compound at Hyannis Port, Mass., trying to balance work with his debilitating treatments. In June, the senator completed his memoirs, True Compass, scheduled for publication in October with a first printing of 1.5 million.

Last month, he was photographed being pushed in a wheelchair to his beloved sailboat, Mya. On July 31, just after Dodd announced his own impending surgery for prostate cancer, Kennedy phoned him, Dodd said.

“I knew he was in great shape when he called, just ribbing me about this, doing what we’ve been doing to each other for years,” Dodd said. “That was the best sign I’ve had in weeks that he’s doing OK.”

Kennedy hasn’t been seen in Washington since April 27, when he voted on a bill to crack down on financial fraud. A week earlier, he watched Obama sign at the White House a national service law — legislation that, at the insistence of its Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, was named the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.”

It was another indication of the affection his colleagues have for Kennedy. In an April survey of senators by The Hill newspaper, Kennedy was named the chamber’s “most bipartisan” member.

“It’s a personal touch,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, explaining how Kennedy has charmed so many of his political opponents.

Three years ago, McConnell said, Kennedy accepted his invitation to speak at University of Louisville, “wowed the students” and brought his host a framed photograph of Sen. John Sherman Cooper, a Kentucky Republican for whom McConnell had worked as an intern.

Despite their deep philosophical differences, “I genuinely like the guy,” said McConnell. “He’s fun to be around.”

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China quake survivors spend second night in freezing cold

Battling bitingly cold weather and a lack of oxygen, rescue workers clawed with their bare hands through the rubble of homes and schools toppled by the 6.9 magnitude quake that hit Yushu county in Qinghai province on Wednesday.

Officials said medical teams and supplies such as tents and quilts were on their way to the zone, where doctors set up makeshift hospitals to treat victims of the deadliest quake in China in two years.

But thousands spent another night without shelter in freezing temperatures after the quake destroyed almost all the mudbrick and wooden houses in Jiegu, the local capital, and flattened schools.

“I lost my husband and I lost my house,” Gandan, a Jiegu resident, told AFP, her son and daughter at her side. All three were living in a tent with other people, with one bowl of barley to share.

“We don’t know what to do, we have no food,” she said, standing by the tent a stone’s throw from her collapsed mud and brick house.

China quake devastates stunned town

The number who perished rose to 760, including dozens of children, while 11,477 were injured, the official Xinhua news agency said, quoting rescue coordinators.

The death toll is expected to rise further, with 243 still buried, and local officials say they were short of medical supplies and large digging equipment.

“The rescue job in this disaster zone faces many difficulties,” said Miao Chonggang, of the China Earthquake Administration, which is coordinating more than 7,000 rescuers.

President Hu Jintao cut short a Latin American tour and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao postponed a trip to Southeast Asia.

Hu told a news conference in Brasilia the quake was “a huge calamity which resulted in big losses of human life”.

Chinese president calls quake ‘huge calamity’

Wen on Thursday visited the quake zone, an underdeveloped area of the Tibetan plateau known as the “Roof of the World”.

“The top priority is to save people. We will never give up even if there is only a slim hope,” Wen told a meeting at the quake-relief headquarters in Yushu, according to Xinhua.

Soldiers, police and firefighters used shovels, iron bars and bare hands to dig through the mangled piles of concrete and rubble from 15,000 toppled homes.

Foreign governments offered help as international aid officials warned that the priorities would be providing shelter, medical aid, food and water and ensuring sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.

Meanwhile tens of thousands of Internet users have been showing their solidarity with the quake victims by posting virtual flowers in online “mourning halls” and donating to appeals, Xinhua said.

Jiegu lies around 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the provincial capital Xining, about 4,000 metres above sea level, meaning rescue workers from outside the region struggled to cope with the lack of oxygen.

The government said electricity and phone links had been restored to dozens of towns but the difficult terrain, including deep canyons, and the bitter cold and remoteness of the area were hampering rescue efforts.

Dazed survivors told harrowing stories of loved ones crushed under their homes.

“There are 10 people in my family and only four of us escaped. One of my relatives died. All the others are buried under the rubble,” Samdrup Gyatso, 17, told Xinhua after his two-storey home crumbled.

Facts on China quake zone

Among the dead were at least 66 pupils and 10 teachers, Xinhua said, quoting local authorities, as grieving parents waited for news near the ruins of the schools, where discarded school books and clothes lay.

Xinhua said a baby boy had been born in a tent near the epicentre shortly after the quake.

“It must be the first life that came to the world after the disaster,” Huang Changmei, a doctor, told the agency.

“The baby brought hope to the ruined place.”

The devastation was reminiscent of the huge quake in May 2008 in Sichuan province, where thousands of children were among 87,000 deaths when their shoddily-constructed schools collapsed.

Schoolbooks strewn in China quake rubble as children perish

Xu Mei, of the education ministry, denied a media report that around 200 children had been buried in the ruins of a primary school in Wednesday’s quake.

In Beijing, Zou Ming, the head of the government’s disaster relief department, said nearly 40,000 tents, 120,000 articles of clothing, 120,000 quilts and food were being dispatched.

Vatican, White House: Abortion one topic of Obama-pope chat


Vatican, White House: Abortion one topic of Obama-pope chat

U.S. President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI discussed current affairs, the Catholic Church’s teachings and abortion as they met for the first time Friday, according to the White House and the Vatican.

The president also handed the pontiff a letter from Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was diagnosed with brain cancer last year, and asked that the pontiff pray for the senator, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said.

Kennedy, 77, a Democrat, received the diagnosis after suffering a seizure in May 2008.

Obama and the pope spent about a half-hour talking, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Obama told the pope he understands the church’s teachings and said, as he has before, that he would like to reduce the number of abortions in the United States, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told CNN.

He said his sense was that the two “discussed abortion and stem cells. They discussed a range of those issues.”

In a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, on May 17, the president urged a search for “common ground” on abortion.

No matter how much Americans “may want to fudge it … at some level the views of the two camps are irreconcilable,” Obama said.

He urged supporters and opponents of abortion rights to “work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term.”

The commencement ceremony was boycotted by a number of graduates dismayed by the Catholic university’s decision both to tap Obama as its commencement speaker and to give him an honorary degree.

The president and the pope also discussed the pontiff’s recent encyclical — which criticized the current practice of capitalism as being shortsighted and unethical — as well as the Middle East, Cuba and the situation in Honduras, McDonough said.

Obama had been in L’Aquila, Italy, for the G8 summit. He headed to Ghana after the meeting.

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