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CyberAlert -- 05/15/2001 -- Bush Team Too Influenced by Big Oil

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Bush Team Too Influenced by Big Oil; Liberal Charged Price Fixing, ABC Jumped; Washington Post Upset By Ashcroft's Prayer Meetings

1) The CBS Evening News led Monday night with how its poll found, in the words of John Roberts, that "62 percent say the oil industry has too much influence with the Bush administration." Roberts then listed which top officials once worked in the energy industry, "ties that 56 percent of Americans think will result in favorable treatment of the oil and gas industries."

2) Henry Waxman as ABC's assignment editor. World News Tonight devoted a whole story Monday night to his claim that energy companies withheld electricity from California in order to boost prices. Afterward, Peter Jennings assumed the charge was accurate as he bemoaned how "there is really no way to prove how much energy is being withheld by the power companies."

3) Eight years after the Washington Post insulted Christian activists as "largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command," the paper featured a front page story on an unnamed few upset by Attorney General Ashcroft's bible sessions with staffers. The Post highlighted complaints that he is "running the department like a church." One Justice attorney charged: "It strikes me and a lot of others as offensive, disrespectful and unconstitutional."


1
After months of the media portraying the Bush administration's ties to "big oil" as a negative example of money in politics instead of as a sign of the Bush team's energy expertise, a CBS News poll found, in the words of John Roberts in the lead story on Monday's CBS Evening News: "Sixty-two percent say the oil industry has too much influence with the Bush administration."

Roberts then helpfully noted which top officials once worked in the energy industry, "ties that fifty-six percent of Americans think will result in favorable treatment of the oil and gas industries." Adding a conspiratorial tone, Roberts relayed: "Environmental groups agree and point to a closed-door meeting at the American Petroleum Institute just nine days before Mr. Bush took office."

Dan Rather opened the May 14 CBS Evening News, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
"Good evening. The price of gasoline is breaking records and budgets all over America. A U.S. Energy Department survey taken today finds that gasoline went up another penny in the past week to a nationwide average now of $1.71 a gallon. It's even higher for so-called reformulated gasoline, now averaging $1.83 a gallon. With every increase in prices of gasoline and other energy comes new pressure on President Bush to take action. In the latest CBS News poll out tonight, Americans named the energy situation as the number one problem facing the government. Two months ago, it didn't even make the list. President Bush is set to announce his new energy plan later this week. Today he made a new move to blunt criticism from environmental protection groups and conservationists. CBS News White House correspondent John Roberts begins our coverage."

Roberts started with Bush's successful overture to labor: "Six months ago, these union leaders battled to keep George Bush out of the White House. Today the White House reached out to them, seeking labor's support for an energy plan that's being attacked by critics. For Teamsters President James Hoffa, it's all about jobs."

After a clip of Hoffa saying Bush's plan would create an "amazing number of jobs," Roberts concentrated on the negative: "But the new CBS News poll out tonight finds the majority of Americans believe it's about what's best for big oil. Sixty-two percent say the oil industry has too much influence with the Bush administration. The President, Vice President, Commerce Secretary, and National Security Advisor all worked for oil companies. The Secretary of the Interior, and other high-ranking administration official, also had ties to oil and energy, ties that 56 percent of Americans think will result in favorable treatment of the oil and gas industries. Environmental groups agree and point to a closed-door meeting at the American Petroleum Institute just nine days before Mr. Bush took office."
Phil Clapp, National Environmental Trust: "All of the industry lobbyists there put together a wish list which was transmitted to the transition office and then to the Interior Department, and it shows up line by line in the energy policy."
Roberts mildly countered the environmentalist paranoia: "The White House makes no apology for extending a helping hand to the energy sector, saying it's the best way to increase supplies of oil and electricity. But sky high prices have already sparked a new cycle of exploration and construction, and it's long-term confidence that's driving the boom, says analyst Bill O'Grady."
Bill O'Grady, A.G. Edwards: "It's not just I'm gonna drill today because the price is good. I'm gonna drill today because I think the price is going to be good in the future."
Roberts concluded: "Which means that even with the President's plan, the oil industry doesn't believe that prices will drop significantly any time in the foreseeable future. And as for the idea of a quick fix, the White House has weighed several options, but officials say they have rejected most of them because either they wouldn't work or they might just make things worse."

For the complete CBS News rundown of its poll, go to: http://cbsnews.com/now/story/0,1597,291197-412,00.shtml

One finding Roberts skipped over: Dick Cheney's approval rating came in at 56 percent compared to a piddling 17 percent who disapprove of his performance -- and he's the biggest "big oil" man in the administration.

2

A liberal Congressman speaks and ABC News jumps. ABC dedicated a whole story Monday night to the claim by Henry Waxman that energy companies withheld electricity from California in order to boost prices. Afterward, anchor Peter Jennings assumed the charge was accurate as he bemoaned how "there is really no way to prove how much energy is being withheld by the power companies" since there are "no independent inspections of the plants."

Jennings set up the May 14 World News Tonight push piece: "Today in Washington a U.S. Congressman from California accuses the power companies of price gouging."

Reporter John Martin began with proof of how conservation doesn't work, but he used the data to make a different point: "Last week Californians suffered a new round of blackouts even though demand for electricity, 33,000 megawatts, was lower than at its peak three years ago. In fact, Californians have been using less electricity at peak hours each year since 1998. But Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman says at least 5,000 megawatts, one-tenth of the state's peak demand, were withheld deliberately last week to boost prices."
Henry Waxman: "People feel that they're being robbed, being taken advantage of, that's there's gouging going on. And you know what? They're right."
Martin boosted Waxman's charge: "That's an opinion shared by this independent energy analyst."
Professor Peter Navarro, University of California-Irvine: "It's a ruse. Basically the producers have learned that they can make a lot more money by withholding some of their capacity from the market rather than providing all the power they can generate."
Martin gave a few seconds to a denial of his story's premise: "But the industry insists the blackouts were caused by a fire at one power plant and by maintenance shutdowns at others."
Jan Smutny-Jones, Independent Energy Producers Association: "I think there's a lot of rhetoric and, unfortunately, finger pointing going around but very little substance behind those accusations."
Martin then conceded regulators undermine the case, but quickly moved on to another allegation: "State energy monitors say they also see no evidence of price manipulation, but in another case of alleged artificial price increases being heard here in Washington today, California is accusing a Texas conglomerate of conspiring to withhold natural gas."
Harvey Morris, California Public Utilities Commission: "They artificially drove up natural gas prices in California which has harmed substantially California consumers."
Martin: "This too the energy industry denies."
Norma Dunn, El paso Corporation: "When you have demand that tremendously outstrips supply the price is going to go up."
Martin concluded: "But California officials continue to investigate price spikes in both electricity and natural gas. And tonight Governor Gray Davis repeated his contention that only the federal government can control his state's rising energy costs."

Immediately after Martin's piece, Jennings endorsed the Waxman and gas withholding claims as he complained: "There is really no way to prove how much energy is being withheld by the power companies. There are no independent inspections of the plants and it is up to the power companies to police themselves."

And it's up to CyberAlert to police the biased networks.

3

Prayer meetings at the Justice Department attended by the Attorney General! What an unconstitutional horror warned a front page story in Monday's Washington Post. Eight years ago then-Washington Post reporter Michael Weisskopf wrote in a news story this now infamous passage: "Corporations pay public relations firms millions of dollars to contrive the kind of grass-roots response that Falwell or Pat Robertson can galvanize in a televised sermon. Their followers are largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command."

While John Ashcroft is a Pentecostalist and not a fundamentalist like Falwell and Robertson, Monday's Post story matched the same derogatory attitude toward Christian believers reflected in the February 1, 1993 story quoted above.

"Ashcroft's Faith Plays Visible Role at Justice," warned the top of the fold May 14 headline. The subhead intoned: "Bible Sessions With Staffers Draw Questions and Criticism."

Reporter Dan Eggen, without naming any sources, focused his piece on how "some who do not share Ashcroft's Pentecostal Christian beliefs are discomfited by the daily prayer sessions -- particularly because they are conducted by the nation's chief law enforcement officer, entrusted with enforcing a Constitution that calls for the separation of church and state." Eggen highlighted one unnamed Justice Department attorney who charged: "It strikes me and a lot of others as offensive, disrespectful and unconstitutional."

An excerpt of the May 14 front page Washington Post story:

The Bible study begins each day at 8 a.m. sharp, with Attorney General John D. Ashcroft presiding. A group of employees gathers at the Main Justice building in Washington, either in his personal office or a conference room, to study Scripture and join Ashcroft in prayer.

Ashcroft held similar meetings each morning as a U.S. Senator and sees the devotionals as a personal matter that has no bearing on his job as attorney general, according to aides. Spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said Ashcroft wants to "continue to exercise his constitutional right to express his religious faith." Any employee is welcome, but not required, to attend, his aides said.

But within the massive Justice Department, with about 135,000 employees worldwide, some who do not share Ashcroft's Pentecostal Christian beliefs are discomfited by the daily prayer sessions -- particularly because they are conducted by the nation's chief law enforcement officer, entrusted with enforcing a Constitution that calls for the separation of church and state.

"The purpose of the Department of Justice is to do the business of the government, not to establish a religion," said a Justice attorney, who like other critics was unwilling to be identified by name. "It strikes me and a lot of others as offensive, disrespectful and unconstitutional....It at least blurs the line, and it probably crosses it."

"It's alienating," another lawyer said. "He's using public spaces to have a personally meaningful event to which I would not be welcome, nor would I feel welcome."

Ashcroft declined to comment on the devotional meetings, and reporters have not been allowed to attend. But top Justice Department officials say his Bible studies at Justice should be viewed no differently from those organized and attended by many members of Congress.

"It is against my religion to impose my religion on people," Ashcroft said in a recent speech.

Several aides also said many of Ashcroft's top staffers -- including the chief of staff, the deputy chief of staff and the communications director -- have never attended the devotional meetings, nor have they been pressured to do so. They say that the sessions are open to all Justice employees, Christians or otherwise, and that one of the regular participants is an Orthodox Jew....

The federal government's "Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace," issued in 1997 after bipartisan negotiations, say supervisors and department heads must be especially careful with religious activities or statements.

"Because supervisors have the power to hire, fire or promote, employees may reasonably perceive their supervisors' religious expression as coercive, even if it was not intended as such," the guidelines say. "Therefore, supervisors should be careful to ensure that their statements and actions are such that employees do not perceive any coercion...and should, where necessary, take appropriate steps to dispel such misperceptions."....

Ashcroft considered a run for the presidency with support from leading Christian conservatives, and has regularly cited God and Scripture in speeches and policy statements. In 1998, Ashcroft said at a Christian Coalition event that "a robed elite have taken the wall of separation designed to protect the church and they have made it a wall of religious oppression."

The next year, he told Bob Jones University graduates that America was founded on religious principles, and "we have no king but Jesus." That statement became the subject of some controversy at his confirmation hearings.

The morning devotionals are not the only sign that Ashcroft approaches religion differently from his predecessor, Janet Reno, who ran a strictly secular office. At a Black History Month celebration in February, for example, Ashcroft prayed with a minister, who urged Justice employees to join in.

The department also issued new style guidelines for correspondence carrying Ashcroft's signature. They forbid, among other things, the use of "pride," which the Bible calls a sin, and the phrase "no higher calling than public service."

"He's running the department like a church, complete with rituals and forbidden words," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "That is deeply troubling."

Ashcroft refers to his daily devotionals as RAMP meetings -- Read, Argue, Memorize and Pray. Attendance ranges from three to 30, including some from outside Justice, but centers on a regular core of a half-dozen Justice staffers with long-term ties to Ashcroft.

All employees are invited to attend, but Tucker said no department-wide memorandum or invitation has been issued.

Ashcroft hands each participant a devotional book from a stack he has used for years, Tucker said. The book highlights a Bible verse or passage for each date of the year, and the group spends the first minutes discussing its meaning, according to a participant.

The group then moves on to a memorization, with the goal of committing to memory a psalm or Bible story through repeated readings.

The session ends with a prayer, often including a reference to a relative or acquaintance who is ill or in need. The prayer is usually ecumenical, but at times has referred to Jesus or other Christian figures. Although sometimes led by Ashcroft, the prayer is more often recited by another volunteer.

Shimon Stein, 24, a Justice program analyst who worked in Ashcroft's Senate office, is the only regular participant who is not a Christian. Stein, an Orthodox Jew, said he finds the meetings fascinating from a theological perspective and enjoys discussing matters of faith with the attorney general and his co-workers.

"He's made every effort to make everyone and everything feel comfortable," said Stein, who was the only participant other than Ashcroft identified by Justice officials. "There is theological discussion and textual discussion....Growing up in the circle I did, I didn't have a chance to study other religions, so it's very educational for me."....

"These go on on the Hill all the time, and he's done this for years and years and years," Tucker said. "He's always done them in his office, and that's how he started his day."

But advocates for the strict separation of church and state, as well as some Justice employees, said Ashcroft is now in a far different position from when he was a U.S. Senator. As the leader of the nation's top law enforcement body, they contend, he has a responsibility not to offend employees of different faiths or test the limits of accepted guidelines.

Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington office, said Ashcroft is at least violating the spirit of the federal rules on workplace prayer.

"Ashcroft has a right to pray in office, but he does not have a right to implicitly or explicitly force others into praying with him," she said. "Ashcroft's the chief defender of the nation's civil liberties. He can't pretend to be just another citizen leading prayers."

A career Justice lawyer agrees, calling the devotionals "totally outrageous."

"It feels extremely exclusive, that if you don't participate in that kind of religion, that your career could be affected by it," the attorney said. "If I had some political aspirations and wanted to work for the front office and didn't have the same religious feelings as he does, my non-participation could adversely affect me."

Others say the issue is muddier than that. Harvard Law School professor Phillip B. Heymann, who was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, said the prayer sessions are "not clearly wrong or illegal. But the main practical worry is that anybody might think they may be closer to the attorney general if they prayed with him, or more able to influence him....It's really sort of on the edge."....

END Excerpt

To read the entire Washington Post story, go to:
http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A23278-2001May13.html

Seems like those so upset by any hint of religious belief are the intolerant ones. And they have a sympathetic ear at the Washington Post. -- Brent Baker


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