Inside the Beltway

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THE MOSQUE QUESTION

Can America live with the idea of a $100 million “ground zero mosque” built two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks? The prospect has sparked political debate, protests and national press as critics confront the project as proposed by the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative. The din grows louder: Hearings have begun at the Landmarks Preservation Commission in Manhattan, ultimately charged with approving or rejecting the construction of “Cordoba House,” described by organizers as a “cultural nexus” and “a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form,” complete with a swimming pool and a 500-seat auditorium.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the project, insists it is a community center, not a mosque - comparing it to the city’s Jewish Community Center or the 92nd Street Y. He has the support of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and is opposed by Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rick Lazio and Rep. Peter T. King, a Republican from the 3rd District. Mr. King has called for an investigation into the financial underpinnings.

“The response to my call for an inquiry has been very positive. In my neighborhood, we had 150 victims who died at ground zero, their friends and families left behind. Now, you can build mosque anywhere you want. The issue is not about where people pray or worship. This is an extraordinary situation. To build the mosque within a few blocks of ground zero isn’t appropriate, and besides that, it is a multimillion dollar operation,” Mr. King tells Inside the Beltway.

“There should be an investigation into who is financing this project, because the balance sheets are revealing very few details. At the very least, the 9/11 families deserve a full accounting of who is paying for this mosque, and information about the imam who is leading it. In the past, mosques and imams have not always been cooperative with law enforcement. Add it all together, and significant questions emerge,” Mr. King adds.

THE MAINE EVENT

Bad timing, unfortunate coincidence, collateral damage? It’s all in the headlines:

Michelle Obama urges U.S. holidaymakers to support the Gulf Coast.” (The Guardian)

Obama family will spend the weekend in Maine.” (Boston Globe)

“First lady encourages Americans to vacation on the Gulf - the Obamas head to Maine.” (ABC News)

Obama vacations for the third time - since oil spill began.” (Right Pundits.com)

“Obamas will vacation on the beach in Maine when the beach in the Gulf has more room. What were they thinking?” (Lucianne.com)

THIRST FOR FREEDOM

Inside the Beltway has heard of the Muckraker’s Happy Hour, a motley gathering of journalists and wonks organized by the Project on Government Oversight at a Capitol Hill watering hole each month. But move over. Witness the Ayn Rand Happy Hour - this hosted by FreedomWorks, a grass-roots group chaired by Dick Armey that seeks less government and less taxes.

An inside source reveals that official cocktails include the Ragnar Rum Runner, the Ayn Rand White Russian and Halleys 5th Concerto Cosmopolitan.

FreedomWorks’ president Matt Kibbe will act as the genial host as guests celebrate the author’s classic novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” a cautionary tale of overbearing government. Mr. Kibbe also is sending a copy of the book to every member of the U.S. House and Senate. That’s a lot of books, like 535 of them. His guests get copies, too.

“They will be able to discuss the parallels between the events of the novel and the developments in present day America,” Mr. Kibbe observes.

RECOVERY BLITZ

It’s the “summer of recovery.” Get used to it. That’s the brand name this week. In the next 72 hours, President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a cast of thousands - well - eight Cabinet level officials, anyway - will journey to green-minded electric-car factories, battery manufacturers and vehicle charging stations. All will likely repeat the mantra of Council of Economic Advisers chairwoman Christina Romer’s new analysis that insists, “For every Recovery Act dollar invested in projects that leverage private capital, the private sector is putting in at least 2.5 times as much.”

The journeys are far flung, and unless staged in electric cars, they will leave a considerable carbon footprint: Mr. Obama heads to Michigan, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis will visit North Carolina, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu goes to Indiana, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan goes to New York City - and so on.

MESSAGE FROM W

In days of yore, the press was fond of accusing the George W. Bush administration of being secretive. Time marches on. The former president is eager to share the archives of his time in office. The George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, in fact, will boast the largest digital archive in the nation’s history, including the “Freedom Collection,” a central repository for archives of political dissidents struggling to bring freedom and opportunity to their own nations.

There’s also a research-based policy institute in the works, a woman’s initiative chaired by Laura Bush, a Texas rose garden, a museum. The center is seeking charter members, says Mark Langdale, president of the George Bush Foundation. See the details at www.georgewbushcenter.com.

POLL DU JOUR

52 percent of New York City voters overall oppose the building of a Muslim cultural center close to ground zero.

82 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats oppose the idea.

42 percent of voters overall say the building would be “an insult to 9/11 families.”

77 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats agree.

55 percent of voters overall say mainstream Islam is a “peaceful religion.”

32 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Quinnipiac University poll of 1,183 New York City registered voters conducted June 21 to 28.

*Tip line always open at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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