- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Atheists target visitor center

MADISON, Wis. | The nation’s largest group of atheists and agnostics filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to block an architect from engraving “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance at the new Capitol Visitor Center in Washington.

The Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in western Wisconsin, claims the taxpayer-funded engravings would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

The House and Senate passed identical resolutions this month directing the Architect of the Capitol to engrave “In God We Trust” and the Pledge in prominent places at the entrance for 3 million tourists who visit the Capitol each year.

The resolution came in response to critics who complained that Congress spent $621 million on the new three-story underground center without paying respect to the nation’s religious heritage. The center opened in December.

The foundation is seeking a court order to stop the engravings, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost less than $100,000.


Salazar seeks new mining rules

An Obama administration official says reforming the nation’s 137-year-old hard-rock mining law is a top priority that Congress must address.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a Senate panel Tuesday that the administration will devote “significant resources” to aiding congressional reformers who want to rewrite the General Mining Law of 1872. “We think Congress can get this done.”

Critics say the law has left a legacy of hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that are polluting rivers and streams throughout the West. Mining companies also don’t pay royalties on gold, silver, copper and other hard-rock minerals mined on public land.

Mr. Salazar said Congress should be able to pass a mining bill even though its agenda is brimming with other issues.


NFL players union to lobby Congress

As NFL owners and players resume talks on a new collective-bargaining agreement, the new union chief and 20 current and retired players plan to meet with members of Congress on Wednesday in hopes of building political support to head off a lockout.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, union head DeMaurice Smith said the group will remind lawmakers about the “gifts” Congress bestows on the league, such as an antitrust exemption for broadcasting contracts.

It may be hard to conjure up much sympathy for players making seven-figure salaries. But Mr. Smith noted that thousands of people work as stadium workers. “And I’m not sure in an economic downturn whether a business that generated $8 billion in revenue last year should be contemplating” throwing those people out of work during a lockout, he said - adding that lawmakers should think about the consequences to their home cities.

The union and league held a negotiating session in Washington on Tuesday.

Last year, the owners voted to opt out of the current agreement in 2011, raising the possibility of a work stoppage in two years. Owners argue that the current agreement is too favorable for players, who get about 60 percent of revenues.


Switcher Specter raises $1.7 million

During the fundraising quarter in which Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, he raised about $1.7 million, his campaign said Tuesday.

Mr. Specter, serving his fifth term, now has about $7.5 million to spend.

In comparison, his likely 2010 Democratic primary challenger, Rep. Joe Sestak from suburban Philadelphia, raised more than $1 million during the same period and has $4.2 million in cash.

In April, Mr. Specter severed his decades-long ties to the Republican Party. The latest fundraising quarter ended June 30.

When he made the switch, Mr. Specter offered to give money back to any donors who asked for it back. He’s since given back $225,000 - about $150,000 from individuals and $75,000 from political action committees, said Chris Nicholas, his campaign manager.

On the Republican side, the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Tuesday endorsed former Rep. Pat Toomey, who represented northeastern Pennsylvania. Mr. Toomey nearly beat Mr. Specter in the 2004 primary, and he’s running again.

He raised about $1.6 million in the period and has $1.1 million in cash.


New complaint dogs exiting Palin

ANCHORAGE, Alaska | Outgoing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is facing yet another ethics complaint - for supposedly abusing her office during the presidential campaign.

In her resignation speech earlier this month, Mrs. Palin said such complaints were taking a personal toll and crippling her ability to govern. She officially steps down July 26.

The new complaint is the 18th against her and charges she improperly accepted a salary and used state staff during her campaign for vice president. Fourteen complaints against Mrs. Palin - all that have been investigated to date - have been dismissed.


Corzine looks at ‘Apprentice’

TRENTON, N.J. | “Apprentice” winner Randal Pinkett may be auditioning for a different role: New Jersey lieutenant governor.

Mr. Pinkett’s name is among those being floated for the No. 2 spot on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket. If chosen from a narrowing list of contenders, Mr. Pinkett would apprentice under Gov. Jon Corzine, the incumbent seeking re-election.

Corzine campaign spokesman Patrick McKenna said no decision has been made, but running mates must be named by July 27.

President Obama is due to campaign with Mr. Corzine in New Jersey on Thursday, fueling speculation that Mr. Corzine or Republican challenger Chris Christie could announce their picks by then.

With Mr. Corzine trailing in early polls, Mr. Pinkett’s named has emerged as an out-of-the-box pick with the potential to energize the state’s crucial black voters. Mr. Pinkett is black.


Ensign won’t resign, will seek re-election

LAS VEGAS | Republican Sen. John Ensign said he has no plans to resign despite his affair with a staffer’s wife and his parents’ $96,000 payout to the woman’s family, and he intends to seek re-election in 2012.

The embattled lawmaker told the Las Vegas Sun that he has received calls and e-mails of encouragement from supporters in Nevada and Washington.

“I fully plan on running for re-election,” Mr. Ensign said. “I’m going to work to earn their respect back.”

The two-term Republican senator also said his support is coming from fellow senators as well as those “on both sides” of Senate leadership. He says supporters are telling him, “Keep your head up. This thing will pass.”


Senators back limit on tarmac strandings

Airline passengers could be stranded on tarmacs no longer than three hours under legislation introduced Tuesday in the Senate.

The protection for stranded passengers is part of larger bill that provides a blueprint for Federal Aviation Administration programs for the next two years, including an acceleration of the agency’s timetable for modernizing the nation’s air traffic control system.

The bill was introduced by Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, chairman of the Senate’s commerce committee, and Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, chairman of the aviation subcommittee.


Red Line signals still malfunctioning

Signaling equipment that is supposed to detect stopped Metro transit trains continues to fail periodically in the area where a deadly crash occurred in Washington, officials testified Tuesday.

National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman told a House subcommittee that investigators are replacing various pieces of equipment in an attempt to stop the problem from occurring on a portion of the Red Line near the Maryland line.

So far, she said, nothing has worked.

“It’s a mystery as to what’s going on here,” Metro Board Chairman Jim Graham told lawmakers.

Nine people were killed and more than 70 injured June 22 when a Metro train slammed into another train stopped on the tracks.

Metro’s signaling system is designed to prevent crashes by generating speed commands and not allowing more than one train to occupy a section of track. But problems began occurring after a piece of equipment was replaced five days before the crash.

Investigators continue to examine how the system was functioning at the time of the accident. If the system was malfunctioning, the oncoming train could have lacked information that another train was stopped on the tracks.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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