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Mondo Washington

In the myopic view on Capitol Hill, last week's Senate vote to block the drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was a signal victory for the Democrats, who are nominally fighting off Bush's pro-oil approach. Meanwhile, the present U.S. energy policy—endorsed by both parties—is carried out worldwide in any number of ways.

The White House has denied offering any support for this month's botched coup in oil-rich Venezuela. But last week, global speculation about CIA backing for the ouster of President Hugo Chvez forced a Bush spokesman to admit that administration officials had met with the business leader who briefly took Chvez's place. The Pentagon also confirmed that in December, a top official held a confab with the Venezuelan army's chief of staff. A likely target, the uncooperative Chvez had been a force for putting a little spine into OPEC's posturing. While the Arab states quarreled over quotas and pricing, he recognized that the world depended on his country's supply of fossil fuel—and he wasn't shy about exploiting that advantage. No wonder the rest of the world viewed the startling events as just more machinations by the CIA, the latest in a long list of U.S. interventions.

The speculation is warranted. We're preparing to invade Iraq's oil fields in the name of overthrowing the barbarian Saddam Hussein. That will put an end to Saddam's bluster about an OPEC embargo and liberate our fifth largest source of crude.

Further, as part of Bush's energy-independence policy, we are in the midst of a campaign to make Central Asia safe for our oil companies so that in addition to supplying us, they can also provide oil—and more notably gas—to Europe, India and China.

If left alone, OPEC countries will play an ever-increasing role in the economic well-being (or distress) of the West. A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that by 2020, total energy use will increase by 35 percent in industrialized regions and 51 percent elsewhere. Oil will remain the major fuel, and the share supplied by OPEC will increase from 54 percent today to 74 percent. Only 6 percent of all power will come from renewable resources, i.e., solar and wind power, etc. So much for Bush's energy independence.

KAREN HUGHES FINDS HER RUBY SLIPPERS

It is sometimes hard to understand what George Bush means when he talks, and grappling with his thought processes was made more complicated whenever chief communicator Karen Hughes tried to translate. But on April 23, Hughes finally sent a clear message. She announced that she intended to resign and go back to Texas with her family this summer, thus ending one of Washington's more public displays of rank ignorance.

Last week, Roll Call relates, she was on Capitol Hill reportedly telling a closed-door meeting a "divine plan" had enabled the Bush team to get through the Sept. 11 catastrophe. One staffer said Hughes likened the presidency thus far to a marathon that began with the Florida balloting controversy. Krista Ritacco, an assistant authorized to speak for Hughes, told Roll Call her boss was merely saying "the experience of Florida definitely gave everyone the patience to deal with 9-11 and the aftermath."

Hughes has been in quite a muddle to explain Dubya's thinking ever since he became president. When the Chinese forced down the American spy plane last year, Hughes told Reuters the prez was all ears for updates. "He really does seek information," she said. "He's very curious, and so he asked a lot of questions. He asked some detailed questions. Several times he asked, 'Do the members of the crew have Bibles?' 'Why don't they have Bibles?' 'Can we get them Bibles?' 'Would they like Bibles?'"

In a New York Times Magazine story about the making of the president's key address to Congress last fall, her ignorance on the subject of Afghanistan ought to have been an embarrassment to all concerned. The reporter, D.T. Max, said Hughes sat with a native Afghan serving on the National Security Council—a meeting in which she was amazed, just shocked, to learn the Taliban barred women from schools and outlawed movies.

LET US PREY

Last week, the Christian right scored another victory with passage in the House of a measure making it harder for young women to obtain abortions and criminalizing those who help them skirt a state's parental-consent law. This gain follows passage in the same chamber earlier this year of a measure that treats the fetus as a human being deserving full protection under the law—a step that, if also approved by the Senate, would make a person having an abortion guilty of murder.

These are promising days in general for the Christian crusaders in Washington. Religious zealots prey on fear and anxiety, while war stirs up religious fervor and patriotism. In this case all the more so since the foe is identified by religion. It is increasingly clear that the Bush administration wants to erode the separation of church and state.

At the forefront of the attack is Attorney General John Ashcroft—now also the point man for anti-terrorism. This gives him all the more power to attack Muslims, whom the Christian right already has bluntly identified as needing to be stamped out, and to weaken the Constitution, a secular document for which he has scant respect.

The first goal of the administration is to pass legislation that allows the government to fund church-based institutions as the vehicle for social-welfare programs now carried out by the government. As a senator, Ashcroft backed legislation to permit limited use of federal funds by faith-based institutions, an idea he supported again as attorney general.

The attorney general is hardly alone in his crusading. Walter B. Jones, a conservative congressman from North Carolina, wants to remove a tax code provision that bans churches from endorsing or opposing candidates for political office. Until recently, this bill was dead in the water, but with the Christian right lobbying hard, it has now picked up more than 114 co-sponsors—more than one-quarter of the House members. With the exception of four people, the backers are all Republicans and include the House leadership: Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom "the Hammer" DeLay.

Another Southern conservative, Congressman Robert Aderholt, is pushing legislation to let officials post the Ten Commandments in public buildings such as courthouses and schools. "For too long, government has attempted to censor expression of religion," he said last month. "Discrimination against religion under the guise of separation of church and state needs to end." As for the long-standing position of the courts that government must be neutral when it comes to religion, Aderholt has said, "We would make the argument the Supreme Court does not always have the final authority over the interpretation of the Constitution." This legislation has 57 co-sponsors, including once again the House leaders Armey and DeLay.

To complement Aderholt's legislation, Indiana conservative Brian Kerns is sponsoring legislation to have the Ten Commandments hung in the chambers of both House and Senate.

Additional reporting by Michael Ridley, Gabrielle Jackson and Meritxell Mir.


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