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On Watch in Washington October 3, 2012

SUPREME COURT FACES ANOTHER MOMENTOUS TERM

It would be hard to top the historic significance of the term that just ended, but Supreme Court watchers say the justices will confront some momentous questions once again when their next term officially begins Monday.

Among the cases confirmed on the docket: a closely watched test of racial preferences in college admissions, whether a single sniff by a police dog constitutes a “home search” and a major business case testing whether corporations can be penalized in U.S. courts for human rights violations committed abroad.

After tackling immigration and the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law in the final days of its past term, the high court also is likely to take up the charged issues of gay marriage and voter rights before adjourning next summer, legal analysts say.

“If we weren’t just coming off of health care, we’d be calling this the term of the decade,” Tom Goldstein, veteran Supreme Court lawyer and co-founder of SCOTUSblog, said in a telephone interview. While the cases the court has agreed to hear are impressive, the lineup in time could rate as one of the court’s most significant legally and politically.

Arguably the most controversial case on the docket deals with affirmative action in college-admissions programs, in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, brought by a rejected white applicant to the Texas school who says she was a victim of racial discrimination. The court last took up the question of such preferences in college admissions nine years ago, and both sides say the more conservative court could use the case this year to rewrite the principles for admission at selective colleges and universities across the country.

In the arguments set for Oct. 10, the court will decide whether considering race in school admissions violates equal protection.

“There’s really no question that [these] Supreme Court justices are the most conservative in our lifetime,” Louis Michael Seidman, constitutional law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said at a recent news briefing hosted by the Supreme Court Institute. “There is a question as to what kind of conservatives they are. Are they the kind of conservatives who want to tear up everything and start over again or conserve where we are, but not extend where we are? This case really poses that question.”

Business caseload

The court will hear a number of cases that affect the business community. The first oral argument, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum scheduled for Monday, will explore whether victims of human rights violations abroad can file suit in U.S. courts under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute.

This statute was barely invoked until about 1980, when a number of lawyers began suing U.S. corporations for “aiding and abetting” human rights violations in countries where they invest or operate, said George W. Bush administration Solicitor General Paul Clement, speaking at a Heritage Foundation preview of the Supreme Court term this week.

The court also will hear cases dealing with criminal procedure. Bailey v. United States challenges whether police officers may detain people who are not at home while their homes are being searched. Two other cases deal with drug-sniffing dogs, asking whether an “alert” from a drug-sniffing dog establishes probable cause for law enforcement action, and whether a police dog sniffing outside a home constitutes a “search” under the Fourth Amendment.

David Cole, American law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said the cases highlight a “real conflict between two really bright-line rules.”

“One, the court has always tried to protect the sanctity of the home, and the other is that they’ve said that you have no privacy interest in contraband,” he said during the Supreme Court Institute panel discussion. “Those come into sharp conflict in this case, and I think it’s difficult to predict how it will come out.”

In a case with implications for the war on terrorism, the court will weigh the constitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the case of Clapper v. Amnesty International.

A particular concern of conservative legal scholars — property rights — will be covered in the case of Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States. The question before the Supreme Court is whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ periodic flooding of a property constitutes a government “taking” in violation of Fifth Amendment rights.

“The modern Supreme Court has been more sympathetic to claims of property rights,” noted SCOTUSblog’s Mr. Goldstein. The property in question, a state-owned forest, has experienced flood damage on more than 23,000 acres over the past six years.

On the labor front, the court may take up a case involving whether mandatory union membership for health care workers who are paid under a Medicaid-waiver program in Illinois violates the workers’ First Amendment rights.

Occasionally, certain issues come up multiple times in a term, Mr. Goldstein said. This year, he has traced a series of cases that involve legal standing in lawsuits.

“The issue that is present in more cases than any other is, when can you bring a lawsuit, when do you have standing, when is a lawsuit moot,” Mr. Goldstein said. “That’s the one question that seems to cut through a lot of different cases.”

Although the high court usually hears about 80 cases over the course of a term, Mr. Goldstein said, the justices are on track to decide about 70 this term.

Late additions?

Some of the most important cases this term aren’t officially on the docket, including the hot-button issue of gay marriage and the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Congressional Republicans are helping defend the law after the Obama administration announced that it no longer would defend the law’s constitutionality in court.

“It’s virtually certain that one or more of the [DOMA] cases will be granted, presenting what is arguably the most far-reaching issue of the term,” said Irv Gornstein, Supreme Court Institute executive director, noting that about 1,000 federal statutes are affected by the federal law’s definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman.

While Massachusetts v. HHS deals directly with the Defense of Marriage Act and is largely expected to come before the court this term, the case dealing with the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 blocking gay marriage in the state is uncertain, Mr. Goldstein said.

The Supreme Court also is expected to choose from several cases dealing with the constitutionality of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This statute bars certain “covered jurisdictions” — primarily in the South — from changing voting procedures until the Justice Department or a three-judge court in the District of Columbia ensures that those changes don’t endanger racial minorities’ right to vote.

Many of the affected jurisdictions argue that the restrictions, adopted in the early days of the civil rights movement and the fight for racial integration, are no longer needed. (Contributor: Excerpts from  Keely Brazil’s article in  The Washington Times)

Pray that our U.S. Supreme Court Justices will be given God’s wisdom in adjudication of these very important cases now lining up in their docket.

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

 

WHY THE COURT WANTS TO TRY AGAIN

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument next week in Fisher v. University of Texas, the high court’s first case on the use of race in higher education admissions since its 2003 decisions in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger. Why did the court decide to revisit this issue after less than a decade? Much of the speculation on this question centers on the shift in the court’s alignment; since Justice Samuel Alito replaced Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2006, the court is less sympathetic to racial preferences. But another factor is perhaps as important: Grutter and Gratz laid out a strategy for containing affirmative action that clearly, objectively failed.

In 2003 — as today — the court was closely divided on affirmative action policies, and as the “swing” vote, O’Connor played a central role in shaping the decisions. While O’Connor had usually voted against racial preferences on such issues as contracting and hiring, from her first such votes in the mid-1980s through the 1990s, she took a different approach in 2003, in her first case involving university preferences. O’Connor held that because of the compelling interest colleges and universities had in a diverse learning environment, racial preferences were permissible if they met some specific restrictions: Race alone must never be the “defining feature” of an application; no racial group could be “insulated” from competition with other applicants; schools must carefully consider race-neutral alternatives in pursuing diversity and must phase out the use of race as quickly as possible. In Gratz, O’Connor joined one set of justices in finding that the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions had violated these and similar principles by awarding every black and Hispanic student a specific number of points based on their race; but in Grutter she found that the university’s law school, which used a more subjective process, did not.

Even when O’Connor wrote the majority opinion in Grutter, there was a good deal of skepticism about how seriously she took her own restrictions, because aside from the absence of a specific race “formula” at the law school, the law school seemed to violate O’Connor’s principles at least as much as the undergraduate college admissions process invalidated in Gratz did. There was, for example, virtually no evidence in the record that the law school had ever seriously considered race-neutral methods of achieving student diversity or even given meaningful weight to such factors as a student’s socioeconomic background (the college, in contrast, gave points to a wide variety of background factors). Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in dissent that O’Connor’s opinion had effectively abandoned strict judicial review of the university’s use of race because, while laying down strict tests, it gave only “perfunctory” attention to whether the law school met them.

A key question following Grutter and Gratz, then, was whether universities would take O’Connor’s words seriously, and start to narrow and reform their use of racial preferences, or whether they would instead take the decisions as a signal that court supervision of preferences would be lax, so long as they did not use explicit formulas or point systems in administering preferences.

The available evidence suggests that most colleges and universities have followed the second path; indeed, racial preferences have become larger and more mechanical than before Grutter.

At the University of Michigan’s undergraduate college, the school quickly scrapped its point system. But our analysis of its 2006 admissions patterns found that racial preferences were clearly much larger than before Grutter, and race was more often the “defining feature” of an application. If we compare Asian and black students with similar test scores and grades, for example, blacks had a 96 percent chance of admission in 2006, compared with 11 percent for Asians. The college used more racial categories in evaluating applicants after Grutter and paid less attention to socioeconomic background.

Our analysis of a sample of public law schools before and after Grutter shows much the same pattern: The effective weight given to black applicants based on their race went up at schools around the country, and the room left for consideration of non-racial forms of diversity went down. Post-Grutter, many law schools have automatically admitted every black applicant whose LSAT scores and college grades meet some minimal threshold, while turning down 90 percent of white applicants with the same qualifications.

We see little room to doubt that universities have taken Grutter and Gratz as a green light to pursue racial preferences even more aggressively than before. The most memorable line in O’Connor’s Grutter opinion was her expectation that racial preferences would disappear by 2028. With nine of those 25 years already past, and preferences more entrenched than ever, it is not surprising that a majority of the justices think the time is ripe to revisit this issue.

Richard Sander is a law professor at UCLA. Stuart Taylor Jr. is a journalist and author in Washington. They are co-authors of “Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.” (Contributor: : Excerpts from  Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr. –  The Washington Post)

There are many issues that this court needs to address in order to clarify the intent of the law upon its citizen. Pray that clear and concise understandings of the law along with righteous discernment be administered to these upcoming decisions by the Supreme Court justices.

“Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25)

 

OKLAHOMA PASTORS PROTEST STORE’S FIGHT AGAINST MORNING-AFTER PILL

A coalition of liberal Christian groups has come out against Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit challenging federal health care guidelines that require companies to provide insurance that covers the morning-after pill.

The Rev. Lance Schmitz says more than 80,000 people signed petitions opposing the Oklahoma-based arts and crafts chain’s lawsuit. The Oklahoma City pastor tried to deliver the petitions Thursday to Hobby Lobby headquarters but was ordered to leave the property. He says he will mail the petitions instead.

Hobby Lobby, which operates more than 500 stores in 41 states, says providing coverage for the morning-after pill violates its Christian owners’ “deeply held religious beliefs.”

The petitions say Hobby Lobby’s owners shouldn’t use their beliefs to deny women access to birth control.

The company says it has no objection to preventive contraceptives.

David Green, CEO and founder of the Hobby Lobby Stores says, “When my family and I started our company 40 years ago, we were working out of a garage on a $600 bank loan, assembling miniature picture frames. Our first retail store wasn’t much bigger than most people’s living rooms, but we had faith that we would succeed if we lived and worked according to God’s word. From there, Hobby Lobby has become one of the nation’s largest arts and crafts retailers, with more than 500 locations in 41 states. Our children grew up into fine business leaders, and today we run Hobby Lobby together, as a family.

“We’re Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles. I’ve always said that the first two goals of our business are (1) to run our business in harmony with God’s laws, and (2) to focus on people more than money. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. We close early so our employees can see their families at night. We keep our stores closed on Sundays, one of the week’s biggest shopping days, so that our workers and their families can enjoy a day of rest. We believe that it is by God’s grace that Hobby Lobby has endured, and he has blessed us and our employees. We’ve not only added jobs in a weak economy, we’ve raised wages for the past four years in a row. Our full-time employees start at 80% above minimum wage.

“But now, our government threatens to change all of that. A new government healthcare mandate says that our family business must provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance. Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs. It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one. If we refuse to comply, we could face $1.3 million per day in government fines.

“Our government threatens to fine job creators in a bad economy. Our government threatens to fine a company that’s raised wages four years running. Our government threatens to fine a family for running its business according to its beliefs. It’s not right.

“I know people will say we ought to follow the rules; that it’s the same for everybody. But that’s not true. The government has exempted thousands of companies from this mandate, for reasons of convenience or cost. But it won’t exempt them for reasons of religious belief. So, Hobby Lobby – and my family – are forced to make a choice. With great reluctance, we filed a lawsuit today, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, asking a federal court to stop this mandate before it hurts our business. We don’t like to go running into court, but we no longer have a choice. We believe people are more important than the bottom line and that honoring God is more important than turning a profit.

“My family has lived the American dream. We want to continue growing our company and providing great jobs for thousands of employees, but the government is going to make that much more difficult. The government is forcing us to choose between following our faith and following the law. I say that’s a choice no American – and no American business – should have to make.”  (Contributor: USAToday, The Washington Times)

Pray that God’s will will be administered in this forthcoming litigation. God is the Creator of all life, and therefore man’s attempt at perverting this truth is certainly answerable to God’s judgment. Pray that the evil motives of this current Obamacare law be exposed and rendered null and void.

“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb… Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13, 16)

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

 

DEBATES CAN SHIFT A RACE’S OUTCOME, BUT IT IS NOT EASY

History shows that candidates have different ways to score through presidential debates: the forceful put-down, the surprising show of skill, the opponent’s fumble, superior post-debate tactics.

OCT. 13, 2004 Senator John Kerry and President George W. Bush after their final debate, in Tempe, Ariz. Mr. Kerry’s strong debate performance was not enough to win.

Multimedia

But it also shows that to fundamentally alter the direction of a campaign, a candidate usually has to accomplish all of those things.

That underscores the challenge that Mitt Romney faces against Obama as they approach the first presidential debate of 2012, the 27th of the television era featuring the major party nominees.

In 2004, with Americans increasingly anxious about the Iraq war, Senator John Kerry knocked President George W. Bush onto the defensive by pointing out: “Saddam Hussein didn’t attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us.” Mr. Kerry dented Mr. Bush’s lead, but ultimately could not overcome it.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s avuncular “There you go again” performance reassured Americans that he was not the extremist that President Jimmy Carter had warned about. Reagan’s standing improved after that debate, though the race had already tilted his way and a Gallup study later concluded that the debate was “not likely to have been a determining factor” in his landslide victory.

Four years before, President Gerald R. Ford blundered by asserting, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” Trailing Mr. Carter, the Democratic nominee, by double-digit margins before their three debates, Mr. Ford made up ground after the debates but went on to lose the popular vote by two percentage points.

Only twice have debates appeared to shift the election’s outcome. The first time was in 1960, when Americans first saw presidential candidates debate on television.

Senator John F. Kennedy, whose crisp, cool demeanor contrasted with Vice President Richard M. Nixon’s haggard appearance, moved from being even in the Gallup Poll to four percentage points ahead by the last debate, on Oct. 21. Gallup later concluded that the candidates’ four encounters that year “could very well have accounted” for Kennedy’s narrow victory, though the closeness of the contest and a dearth of other polling at the time make a definitive conclusion difficult.

The clearest shift from the debates came in the 2000 race, pitting Gov. George W. Bush of Texas against Vice President Al Gore. It resulted from a rare combination of factors, with devastating cumulative effects on Mr. Gore’s campaign.

Mr. Gore entered the first encounter, on Oct. 3, with a reputation as a strong debater and with a lead of five percentage points among likely voters in a New York Times/CBS News poll. “We weren’t all that far from where Romney is now,” Jan van Lohuizen, a pollster for Mr. Bush, recalled last week.

But Mr. Gore’s skill at jousting became overshadowed by minor factual misstatements and what appeared as a condescending, impatient demeanor — especially after Mr. Bush’s aides called attention to them in post-debate interviews.

“They beat us after the debate in the spin room,” said Tad Devine, a strategist for Mr. Gore. “Their spin was, ‘He lied and he sighed,’ and that took hold.”

It got worse when Mr. Bush’s running mate, Dick Cheney, bested Mr. Gore’s No. 2, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, in the vice-presidential debate. In the second presidential face-off, Mr. Gore responded with what was widely judged to be an ineffectual performance.

Then, in their final debate, on Oct. 17, Mr. Gore overcompensated again — seeking to discomfit Mr. Bush by approaching him onstage. With a nod of greeting and an easy grin, Mr. Bush made Mr. Gore appear foolish.

Other errors by the Gore campaign during those two weeks, which included poor makeup for one debate that gave Mr. Gore an orange tint, helped Mr. Bush gain a strong edge in polls for “likability.” Daron Shaw, a political scientist at the University of Texas, called the result a “wave effect” that lifted the Republican ticket.

The wave left Mr. Bush with a lead of one percentage point among likely voters in the post-debate New York Times/CBS poll — a net swing of six percentage points in his direction. In surveys by NBC News/Wall Street Journal and by Gallup, the swing was 9 and 12 percentage points.

If not for that shift, veterans of both campaigns say, Mr. Bush would not have been in position to eke out his Electoral College victory.

“The pivot point of the election,” Mr. Devine said. He still regrets the campaign’s inability to shape news coverage of the first debate, saying that “we should have fought back harder” with a message that if Mr. Gore sighed, “so did America.”

Even the most gifted political communicators have found debates an uneven terrain.

Reagan cemented his telegenic reputation by closing his lone 1980 confrontation with Mr. Carter with a question for voters: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

“We were headed for victory” anyway, said Ken Khachigian, who was Reagan’s speechwriter. But the strong performance “accelerated” Reagan’s momentum, he said, “maybe turning a very strong victory into a landslide.”

Four years later, Reagan’s Democratic challenger, Walter F. Mondale, gained the upper hand in their first debate. Steady and incisive, Mr. Mondale saw his poll ratings surge while Reagan, then 73, came across as fumbling and outmatched.

Reagan’s performance quickly triggered commentary — too much, in the Mondale campaign’s view — about whether he was too old to be president. “That hurt us a lot,” said Maxine Isaacs, Mr. Mondale’s press secretary, by creating conditions for a backlash in the president’s favor.

In the next debate, Reagan declared, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Mr. Mondale, then 56, laughed along — and concluded that his chance of erasing Reagan’s lead had vanished.

“I said to myself, this is probably over now,” Mr. Mondale said. He ultimately carried one state, his native Minnesota.

Mr. Mondale sees both possibility and risk in Mr. Romney’s quest to seize voters’ attention. The imperative for aggression collides with the need to show respect for a personally popular incumbent.

“These debates are the one chance to change how they look at him, and how they look at Obama,” Mr. Mondale said.

The lesson of his own experience? “That’s a high hill to climb.” (Contributor: The New York Times)

Pray that the debates will expose any hidden agendas that these candidates may have that do not line up with God’s will for His nation. We are still “One nation under God.” And we still stand by the phrase of affirmation “In God We Trust.”

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

 

GAS DRILLING BOOM RATTLES RUSSIA

The Kremlin is watching, European nations are rebelling, and some suspect Moscow is secretly bankrolling a campaign to derail the West’s strategic plans.

It’s not some Cold War movie; it’s about the U.S. boom in natural gas drilling, and the political implications are enormous.

Like falling dominoes, the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is shaking up world energy markets from Washington to Moscow to Beijing. Some predict what was once unthinkable: that the U.S. won’t need to import natural gas in the near future, and that Russia could be the big loser.

“This is where everything is being turned on its head,” said Fiona Hill, an expert on Russia at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington. “Their days of dominating the European gas markets are gone.”

Any nations that trade in energy could potentially gain or lose.

“The relative fortunes of the United States, Russia, and China — and their ability to exert influence in the world — are tied in no small measure to global gas developments,” Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government concluded in a report this summer.

The story began to unfold a few years ago, as advances in drilling opened up vast reserves of gas buried in deep shale rock, such as the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania and the Barnett, in Texas.

Experts had been predicting that the U.S. was running out of natural gas, but then shale gas began to flood the market, and prices plunged.

Russia had been exporting vast quantities to Europe and other countries for about $10 per unit, but the current price in the U.S. is now about $3 for the same quantity. That kind of math got the attention of energy companies, and politicians, around the world.

Some European governments began to envision a future with less Russian natural gas. In 2009, Russia had cut off gas shipments via Ukraine for nearly two weeks amid a price and payment dispute, and more than 15 European countries were sent scrambling to find alternative sources of energy.

The financial stakes are huge. Russia’s Gazprom energy corporation, which is state-controlled, had $44 billion in profits last year. Gazprom, based in Moscow, is the world’s largest producer of natural gas and exports much of it to other countries.

But last month Gazprom halted plans to develop a new arctic gas field, saying it couldn’t justify the investment now, and its most recent financial report showed profits had dropped by almost 25 percent.

The U.S. presidential campaigns have already addressed the strategic potential.

A campaign position paper for Republican Mitt Romney said he “will pursue policies that work to decrease the reliance of European nations on Russian sources of energy.”

In early September, Obama said the U.S. could “develop a hundred-year supply of natural gas that’s right beneath our feet,” which would “cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone.”

Poland’s Ministry of the Environment wrote in a statement to The Associated Press that “an increased production of natural gas from shale formations in Europe will limit the import via pipelines from Algeria and Russia.”

The issue has reached the highest levels of the Kremlin, too.

Hill, of the Brookings think tank, heard President Vladimir Putin speak in late 2011 at a Moscow gathering of academics and media. She said in a blog post that “the only time I thought that he became truly engaged was when he wanted to explain to us how dangerous fracking was.”

But one top Gazprom executive said shale gas will actually help the country in the long run. Sergei Komlev, the head of export contracts and pricing, acknowledged the recent disruptions but predicted that the U.S. fuels wouldn’t make their way to Europe on any important scale.

“Although we heard that the motive of these activities was to decrease dependence of certain countries on Gazprom gas, the end results of these efforts will be utterly favorable to us,” Komlev wrote in an email to the AP. “The reason for remaining tranquil is that we do not expect the currently abnormally low prices in the USA to last for long.”

In other words, if the marketplace for natural gas expands, Russia will have even more potential customers because it has tremendous reserves.

Komlev even thanked the U.S. for taking the role of “shale gas global lobbyist” and said Gazprom believes natural gas is more environmentally friendly than other fossil fuels.

“Gazprom group generally views shale gas as a great gift to the industry,” he wrote. When natural gas prices rise, “it will make the U.S. plans to become a major gas exporter questionable.”

Whether exports happen involves a dizzying mix of math, politics and marketplaces, along with the fact that U.S. natural gas companies — and their shareholders — want prices to rise, too.

James Diemer, an executive vice president for Pace Global, an international consulting company based in Virginia, believes that shale gas costs more to extract than the current market price. Pace, which recently released a report called “Shale Gas: The Numbers vs. The Hype,” has been studying shale gas for Gazprom and other clients.

“The capital will stop flowing” to U.S. shale gas, and the price will go up, Diemer predicted. He would not divulge the kind of work Pace is doing for Gazprom. Pace is owned by Siemens, a German company.

Pace’s work for Gazprom has raised some eyebrows in Washington, and Hill noted that industry watchers in Europe already believe Russia is bankrolling environmental groups that are loudly opposing plans for fracking in Europe, which could cut down on Russia’s natural gas market.

“I’ve heard a lot of rumors that the Russians were funding this. I have no proof whatsoever,” she said, noting that many critics give the rumors credence because Gazprom owns media companies throughout Russia and Europe that have run stories examining the environmental risks of fracking.

Gazprom dismissed such conspiracy theories, saying that “nothing could be more out of touch with Gazprom’s inherent interests,” because the shale boom promotes gas as an abundant, affordable energy source.

Many U.S. media outlets, including the AP, have run stories about shale gas and the environment. Regulators contend that overall, water and air pollution problems are rare, but environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn’t been enough research.

U.S. energy companies are eager to export natural gas products. The issue is sensitive enough that the Obama administration has delayed a decision on export permits until after the election. In April, the Sierra Club sued to block one plan for exports, saying it would drive up the cost of domestic natural gas and lead to environmental damage.

But just the potential for exports could allow others to seek lower prices from Russia, said Kenneth Medlock III of the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston.

“It changes the position at the bargaining table for everybody,” Medlock said. “You stack all that up, and you start to realize, `Wow.’

There’s one enormous unknown with the shale gas bounty in the U.S., Hill said. Unlike in Russia and some other countries, neither the government nor any one private company can really control or direct it.

“The question is, can the U.S. do what the Russians do, which is use this as a political tool?” she said. (Contributors: Associated Press)

Pray that the United States be given wisdom in the use of this precious national gift in resources. Pray that our national leadership will be found to be trustworthy stewards of this newly discovered natural treasure.

“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” (1 Cor. 4:1-2)

 

UNIVISION REPORT CONNECTS “FAST AND FURIOUS” SCANDAL TO MURDERS OF MEXICAN TEENS

The Spanish language television news network Univision unleashed a bombshell investigative report on Operation Fast and Furious Sunday evening, finding that in January 2010 drug cartel hit men slaughtered students with weapons the United States government allowed to flow to them across the Mexican border.

“On January 30, 2010, a commando of at least 20 hit men parked themselves outside a birthday party of high school and college students in Villas de Salvarcar, Ciudad Juarez,” according to a version of the Univision report in English, on the ABC News website.

“Near midnight, the assassins, later identified as hired guns for the Mexican cartel La Linea, broke into a one-story house and opened fire on a gathering of nearly 60 teenagers. Outside, lookouts gunned down a screaming neighbor and several students who had managed to escape. Fourteen young men and women were killed, and 12 more were wounded before the hit men finally fled.”

Citing a Mexican Army document it obtained and published, Univision reported that “[t]hree of the high caliber weapons fired that night in Villas de Salvarcar were linked to a gun tracing operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).”

That operation was Fast and Furious.

The “massacre,” as Univision described it, was not the only bombshell the network unveiled in its Sunday evening report.

“Univision News identified a total of 57 more previously unreported firearms that were bought by straw purchasers monitored by ATF during Operation Fast and Furious, and then recovered in Mexico in sites related to murders, kidnappings, and at least one other massacre,” the Univision report reads. (Contributor: The Daily Caller)

Pray for a full disclosure of the wrongs perpetrated by the Fast and Furious ongoing investigation. Give thanks to the Lord for what has been brought into the light thus far. Pray that a righteous resolve will come forth in the days ahead.

“But in that coming day no weapon turned against you will succeed. You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you. These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the LORD; their vindication will come from me. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Isaiah 54:17)


CONGRESSIONAL PRAYER CAUCUS – CURRENT ISSUES FOR PRAYER

Opposing hostility towards faith in the Air Force – Congressman Randy Forbes joined Congressman Diane Black and Congressman Todd Akin in sending a letter signed by 66 Members of Congress urging Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to investigate a pattern of hostility towards faith in the United States Air Force.  Over the last year, the Air Force has repeatedly capitulated to pressure from outside groups to remove religious symbols and references to faith from the service.  The letter calls on Secretary Panetta to issue clear Department of Defense policy guidance, consistent with our Constitution, to preserve the place of religious expression in the military at large.

Urging the President to preserve religious hiring rights – Congressman Randy Forbes and Congressman Mike McIntyre sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to maintain current policies that allow faith-based organizations that consider religious criteria in their employment decisions to perform contract work for the federal government.

Supporting legislative prayer at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit – Thirteen Members of the House of Representatives have joined the Family Research Council (FRC) in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of legislative prayer.  The Lakeland City Commission in Florida had a policy of inviting clergy to offer invocations at the beginning of its meetings.  The Atheists of Florida sued, arguing that because most of the prayers were offered by Christian clergy, the prayers were “too sectarian” and thus violated the Establishment Clause.  The brief submitted by the Members argues that courts do not have the jurisdiction to delve into the inner workings of a deliberative body’s meetings because of the constitutional separation of powers between the branches of government.

Supporting the freedom of school boards to open meeting with prayer – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting a resolution introduced by Congressman Tim Walberg that supports the freedom of school boards to open meetings with prayer.  H.Res.662 expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that school boards are deliberative bodies similar to city and county councils and state legislatures, and should be treated as such for purposes of analyzing the constitutionality of their prayer policies.

Working to protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.Res.489, introduced by Congressman Doug Lamborn, which expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those that celebrate Christmas.  Each year during the Christmas season, there are increasing efforts to remove religious symbols and references from the holiday.  H.Res.489 emphasizes that the First Amendment does not require bans on religious references to Christmas, and supports the use of these symbols by those who celebrate Christmas.

Urging Vanderbilt University to protect religious student groups – In October of 2011, Congressman Randy Forbes led 22 Members of Congress in sending a letter to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos of Vanderbilt University, urging him to ensure that the school’s nondiscrimination policy was not being interpreted in a manner that discriminated against religious student groups.  Several religious student organizations at Vanderbilt, including the Christian Legal Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, were placed on “provisional status” for requiring their student leaders to share the groups’ religious beliefs.  Thirty-five Members then sent another letter in May of 2012, expressing continuing concern that the school’s nondiscrimination policy requires all student groups to open leadership positions to all students, yet exempts fraternities and sororities from the requirement while refusing to exempt religious student groups.

Fighting attempts to remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance –
Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus lead in sending a letter to NBC, expressing concern over the network’s omissions of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance twice in a video montage aired during coverage of the U.S. Open.  In response to the letter sent by 108 Members of Congress, the network reprimanded the employees responsible for the omissions and implemented safeguards to prevent similar instances in the future.

Opposing efforts to remove a memorial cross honoring military veterans – In January of 2011, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a cross displayed at the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California was unconstitutional.  Members of the Prayer Caucus signed on to an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Ninth Circuit asking the full court to reconsider the case, and asserting that the cross’s presence at the memorial is constitutional.  After the Ninth Circuit declined to reconsider the case, Members joined the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the Court to take up the case and reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  In June of 2012, the Supreme Court announced that it would not review the case; however, Justice Alito issued a statement saying the appeal may have been premature and the Court may reconsider the case after the district court issues a final order on the fate of the memorial.

Urging religious freedom protections for service members –
The repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military raised concerns that service members whose consciences or religious beliefs conflicted with homosexual behavior would face discrimination and disapproval.  Members of the Prayer Caucus sent a letter to President Obama, urging that specific religious freedom and conscience protections be adopted during implementation of the repeal to formally assure all Americans that our citizens need not leave their faith at home when they volunteer to serve.

Affirming America’s rich spiritual heritage – Co-chairmen of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, Congressman Forbes and Congressman McIntyre, reintroduced legislation to recognize our nation’s religious history.  H.Res.253, America’s Spiritual Heritage Resolution, affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our nation’s founding and subsequent history, and designates the first week in May as America’s Spiritual Heritage Week.

Working to decrease frivolous lawsuits challenging public expressions of religion – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.R.2023, introduced by Congressman Dan Burton, which would ensure that the legal system is not used to extort money from state and local governments through frivolous lawsuits against public expressions of religion.  H.R. 2023 would not prevent parties from filing lawsuits alleging Establishment Clause violations, but it would require each side to pay its own attorneys’ fees.  The bill would limit the remedies available to the suing party, so the only relief available would be that the state or local government would be required to stop its public expression of religion, if the court deems it unconstitutional.  The result would be a decrease in frivolous lawsuits and the assurance that state and local governments are not intimidated into halting constitutional public expressions of religion.

Recognizing the significant impact of the Ten Commandments on America’s development – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.Res.211, introduced by Congressman Louie Gohmert, which recognizes the significant contribution that the Ten Commandments have made in shaping America’s principles, institutions, and national character.  The bill supports designating the first weekend in May as “Ten Commandments Weekend.”   (Contributor: Congressional Prayer Caucus Web Site Current Issues)

On watch in Washington October 3, 2012 PDF Version

 

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