Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Several Economists and Pundits Slam "Clinton-McCain" Gas Tax Holiday

Reuters and CNN report that several respected economists find the proposal by John McCain and Hillary Clinton to suspend the gas tax for the summer a very bad idea--and that only Barack Obama grasps that the best way to reduce the price of oil is to use less of it.

The economists, from a spectrum of political backgrounds, include: Greg Mankiw, a former chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers; Eric Toder, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington; Gilbert Metclaf, a economics professor at Tufts University currently working with the National Bureau of Economic Research; and even New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, an economics professor at Princeton and a regular Clinton advisor, who has also questioned her hostility to NAFTA and CAFTA.

Summing up the economists' unanimous opinion on the gas tax holiday, Krugman wrote in his blog yesterday: “It’s Econ 101: the tax cut really goes to the oil companies.”

New York Times syndicated columnist Thomas Friedman, who has written repeatedly and extensively on the dire state of U.S. energy policy, also heaps sarcasm on the idea in a column today entitled "Dumb as We Wanna Be:

"It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

"When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit." He continues:

"The McCain-Clinton gas holiday proposal is a perfect example of what energy expert Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network describes as the true American energy policy today: 'Maximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.'

"Good for Barack Obama for resisting this shameful pandering.

"But here’s what’s scary: our problem is so much worse than you think. We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy then you want to raise taxes on the things you want to discourage--gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars--and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage--new, renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite."

The opposite includes failure by the administration and Congress to provide incentives to viable alternatives like wind and solar power--while Shell and Exxon Mobile announce record profits. Friedman quotes another expert:

"It is also alarming, says Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, that the U.S. has reached a point 'where the priorities of Congress could become so distorted by politics' that it would turn its back on the next great global industry--clean power--'but that’s exactly what is happening.' If the wind and solar credits expire, said Resch, the impact in just 2009 would be more than 100,000 jobs either lost or not created in these industries, and $20 billion worth of investments that won’t be made.

"While all the presidential candidates were railing about lost manufacturing jobs in Ohio, no one noticed that America’s premier solar company, First Solar, from Toledo, Ohio, was opening its newest factory in the former East Germany--540 high-paying engineering jobs --because Germany has created a booming solar market and America has not.

"In 1997, said Resch, America was the leader in solar energy technology, with 40 percent of global solar production. 'Last year, we were less than 8 percent, and even most of that was manufacturing for overseas markets.'"

Friedman concludes: "The McCain-Clinton proposal is a reminder to me that the biggest energy crisis we have in our country today is the energy to be serious--the energy to do big things in a sustained, focused and intelligent way. We are in the midst of a national political brownout."

Wright's Jeremiads As American As the Earliest New England Pulpits

Barack Obama's public divorce from his former pastor notwithstanding, a columnist has developed a thought I posted here on March 28th. Rosemary Radford Ruether agrees that Jeremiah Wright's cursing of America has recent precedent from today's religious right. But, she adds, it's also a religious tradition of left and right that's as old as the earliest New England Puritans.

She quotes some of the conservative fundamentalists whose condemnations after 9/11 I alluded to, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. She also recalls the judgment of Robertson and John Hagee after Hurricane Katrina that the catastrophe was God's judgment against sexual sinners in New Orleans. (Hagee, by the way, has endorsed John McCain for president. McCain says he disagrees with Hagee on Katrina, but he won't disown anyone who supports his candidacy! Sounds familiar.)

After noting that the prophet Jeremiah condemned Israel for sins both sexual and social, Ruether cites similar jeremiads by John Winthrop, the first governor of the Puritans' Massachusetts Bay colony, in a shipboard address while the settlers were still at sea; and by Nicolas Street, pastor of the New Haven Congregational Church during the American Revolution.

Another contribution Ruether makes to the discussion is to quote one of Wright's more infamous passages at greater length: "The government gives [black people] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America--that's in the Bible--for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

The full context reinforces why Wright says God condemns America: above all for our self-worship, our lording it over those less well-off and powerful than us, instead of being the servant people the Puritans hoped we would be.

This does not relieve Wright or Obama from specifying the limits within which Wright's assertions are true. But it does indicate that Wright made some effort to do so.

[Apologies, by the way, for misspelling Ruether's last name in my April 9th post.]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs) Can Create End-of-Life Ethical Dilemmas

MSNBC is publicizing an important article in the Washington Post that describes why the latest and most effective heart pumps can cause serious end-of-life ethical dilemmas.

Left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) originated as a way to keep damaged hearts functioning while heart-transplant candidates waited for donated organs. But the devices did such a good job that permanent implants are becoming the therapy of choice for patients with chronic heart failure.

The procedure costs about $200,000 and Medicare will pay for it. U.S. centers are implanting about 1,000 per year now. But the experts expect that to rise to 10,000 per year within the next five years.

The ethical problems arise when the devices begin to lose their effectiveness, either with further deterioration of the heart itself or related conditions that leave the patient with little or no quality of life.

The article says that most physicians equate the devices with ventilators, feeding tubes and other forms of life support that patients have the right to stop if their condition deteriorates or becomes intolerable. But others say the devices become a functioning part of the patient's heart, so that to shut off the devices is to do harm and even actively kill the patient.

Given this ethical debate, experts are recommending a lot more counseling and analysis before an individual patient gets an LVAD, including weighing cautiously if a patient is too old or too sick to really benefit from the device. However, this would not be of much help to patients in emergency situations who are not in a position to give informed consent to the procedure.

The article also notes extreme situations where LVAD recipients have become so distressed with their doctors' failure to address end-of-life frustration and pain that the patients have powered off the devices themselves.

Hopefully a new ethical consensus will develop on what options should and should not be available in dealing with this new technology.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pope Did Not Prevent Pro-Choice Politicians from Sharing in Communion

National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen Jr. notes that during two of the eucharistic liturgies Pope Benedict XVI led last week in Washington D.C. and New York City there was no effort to prevent three prominent pro-choice politicians from sharing in the communion service. In an article posted April 20th, Allen reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator John Kerry went to communion at Nationals Stadium and Rudy Giuliani at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

This is significant for a couple reasons. First, as Allen reminds us, several of the most conservative U.S. bishops have threatened to deny communion to Catholic politicans who do not work to make the right-to-life position law. He writes:

"During the 2004 elections, several American bishops announced that they would deny communion to Kerry because of his stance in favor of abortion rights. A majority of bishops, however, shrunk from that stance, worrying that it could politicize the Eucharist.

"Eventually, a commission of the bishops’ conference led by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick reached the conclusion that a uniform policy on the question could not be reached, and that it would be up to each bishop to set policy in his own diocese.

"Since that time debate has continued, with both sides citing broad statements of principle from the Vatican in order to bolster their case."

Pelosi even made a point of announcing the day before the liturgy that she planned to share in communion. So it is significant that when the pope had very public opportunities to adopt the conservative bishops' policy at his own liturgies, he declined.

These developments are also significant for interpreting what the pope meant April 16th when he asked the U.S. bishops: "Is it consistent for practicing adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?" While the pope obviously disagrees with pro-choice politicians, evidently he does not mean to push his position to the point of denying them communion.

That at least is much more in keeping with the dialogue approach that Vatican II favored. As I noted in my post yesterday, the pope would gain from using that model across the board, rather than berating Catholics who have not been convinced by some of Rome's official positions.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pope Benedict’s 'Consistent' Catholicism Is Not Consistent with Vatican II's

I am grateful to Washington Post syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. for highlighting the following statement that Pope Benedict XVI made to the U.S. Catholic bishops at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on April 16th. I didn’t see it covered anywhere else. Benedict asked:

“Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?”

The answer Benedict wants is “no.”

That, certainly, was the answer required of each of the bishops before they were promoted to their current jobs—almost all of them by Pope John Paul II or by Benedict himself. Of course, the answer could vary in intensity: U.S. Catholicism has devoted considerably more energy and resources to upholding the right to life than to effectively helping the poor and marginalized.

The answer I want to defend is “yes.”

It is, to be sure, a qualified yes. But the fact that it can be yes at all is the fundamental difference between my theological attitude toward the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the attitude of the two popes.

And that difference is why the way in which Benedict thinks the church should provide hope and leadership to the world is ultimately not productive, but the Vatican II model is.

The popes’ diagnosis is that the world is confused and grappling for answers in all the wrong places. The popes’ vision is that only official leadership of the Catholic Church has the divinely revealed absolute truths that provide the answers the world needs.

The Vatican II diagnosis—expressed in several of its documents but most pointedly and repeatedly in Gaudium et spes, its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World—agrees that human beings are searching for answers. In contrast, however, the answers are implanted in all of creation, in every human heart, in every human interaction, in every religion the Creator has inspired and in every human experience, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The church in this model is the pilgrim people of God. Its calling is not to tell the world what the answers are, but by constant dialogue with human beings in all their social, political and religious groupings, to discover with them and to learn with greater and greater precision the answers we already have or that novel human creativity needs to craft.

Using the Vatican II model, the answers to Benedict’s questions become much more nuanced and thus more realistic.

“Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized?”

As the liberation theologians taught all of us, including Benedict, there is no doubt that the Christian calling requires a preferential option for the poor. Faithful Catholics cannot defend a stance that does nothing for the poor and the marginalized, let alone ignore them. But as Benedict himself shows by disagreeing with some of the concrete actions proposed by liberation theology, there are many different ways for Christians to work to improve the lot of the poor. It is not possible for the church to adopt a single set of solutions and characterize everything else as exploiting them.

The diversity of options comes to light when the church in the United States tries to defend the rights of immigrants. The pope is correct to insist that any immigration reform should respect the fundamental human right of families to remain together. But that guideline does not yield a monolithic U.S. Catholic answer for practicing Catholics to follow. Practicing Catholics conscientiously disagree on how to control our borders, address those who have crossed illegally, decide if U.S. employers should have a legal source of non-citizen labor, or prevent the problems of the last two decades from happening all over again.

“Is it consistent for practicing Catholics…to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching?”

If the Catholic moral teaching on sexual behavior were only that emphasized by recent popes, it would be inconsistent for practicing Catholics not to follow it and not to at least encourage others to. The fact is, however, that based on their personal experiences, practicing Catholics are persuaded conscientiously that the Catholic position should permit more alternatives than the popes want to allow. They do not buy the papal position that the only legitimate sexual behavior is in a marriage between one man and one woman where each instance is open to the production of offspring.

It is no secret that over several decades practicing U.S. Catholics have disagreed with the popes in increasing numbers on issues such as birth control, divorce and remarriage, sex before marriage, homosexuals’ right to express their love sexually and aspire to lasting unions, the value of priestly celibacy, and the exclusion of women from the priesthood.

What is inconsistent is not the steady, growing resistance of practicing Catholics to the narrow view of human sexuality the popes want to retain, but the popes’ refusal to acknowledge that most U.S. Catholics (as well as those in Europe and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere) have not found the papal teaching persuasive. Consistency requires the popes to listen to the experience of the faithful, not to dismiss it in favor of abstract philosophical positions that had started to unravel even before Vatican II.

“Is it consistent for practicing Catholics…to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?”

Here again the consistency issue is the failure of the popes to sell their position to enough practicing Catholics. The failure has been most conspicuous on the papal opposition to stem cell research and a more recent effort to mandate extraordinary end-of-life measures which even the most traditional Catholic theology did not require. But even on abortion, where the papal position has probably gained the most assent among practicing U.S. Catholics, only a slim majority of them favor imposing the official Catholic position on non-Catholic Americans.

The popes face a number of challenges if they want practicing Catholics to do more on these issues than they already have. One is basing their answer on when life begins on an arcane philosophical model that admits of multiple answers. Another is assuming that in a pluralistic democracy the church can demand that politicians who are practicing Catholics have an obligation to impose one of those answers as public policy. Another is assuming that Catholic politicians who believe conscientiously that other public policies do more to advance the papal position than imposing it are somehow not in communion with the church.

In short, what is consistent for practicing Catholics is for them to keep telling church officials when they find official positions defective—so that the officials can carry out their own duty to re-examine the soundness of their positions or their effectiveness in trying to communicate them.

Berating practicing Catholics for being unconvinced is unlikely convince many more.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pope's Handling of Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis Is Surprising, and Most Encouraging

Pope Benedict XVI has surprised just about everyone with how candidly, compassionately and effectively he has dealt with the clergy sex abuse crisis during his trip to the United States this week. Publicly and privately he took several actions that demonstrate beyond doubt that he has personally reviewed several of the victims' cases and was profoundly moved by how badly the Catholic Church treated them.

He made a point of talking about it as one of only four topics he addressed during his flight. He told the U.S. bishops they had handled the entire affair very badly and they needed to improve their administrative and pastoral response to it. He asked the 45,000 people who attended his liturgy in Washington Nationals stadium to take an active role in the pastoral response. Then, in the biggest surprise of all, he met privately with a few of the victims and Cardinal Sean O'Malley from the Boston archdiocese, where the nationwide scandal began. O'Malley said he gave the pope a notebook that listed all of the Boston victims by name--more than 1,000 in all--and asked the pope to remember them in his prayers.

For many it was a surprise that the pope mentioned the topic at all. Even better was the manner in which he discussed it, saying forthrightly how shameful it was and how committed he is to preventing such abuse from ever happening again. For the victims and the millions of U.S. Catholics who share their pain, it was probably the most encouraging week of his papacy.

As the victims' advocates have pointed out, what is needed for the encouragement to last is for the pope to commence the long-delayed final act in this sad drama: publicly holding accountable the bishops who enabled the sexual predators by transferring them from parish to parish so that they could find fresh victims to prey over. They should include Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston during much of the time the predators reigned, who now languishes in a cushy job at the Vatican; and Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archbishop of Los Angeles, who was not too busy building a multi-million dollar cathedral to spend years obstructing disclosure and prosecution of the predators he supervised.

The pope's surprising, encouraging actions merit sustained applause. He has given the victims the first real hope they have had in decades. If he wants to keep that hope alive, he needs to teach the bishops how grievously they erred and how important it is for them to face the consequences of their shameful behavior.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Poland Helps Jews Honor 65th Anniversary of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Against Nazis

The Associated Press and MSNBC report that in Warsaw today Polish officials hosted Israeli President Shimon Perez and Jews from several countries to honor the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against Nazi troops, 65 years ago this week. The AP report says:

"The uprising was the first act of large-scale armed civilian resistance against the Germans in occupied Poland during World War II. On April 19, 1943, German troops started to liquidate the ghetto by sending tens of thousands of its residents to death camps. Several hundred young Jews took to arms in defense of the civilians. Outnumbered and outgunned, they held off German troops for three weeks with homemade explosives and a cache of smuggled weapons. The Nazis killed most of fighters and then burned down the ghetto street by street."

At the start of World War II the Jewish community in Warsaw alone numbered 400,000--the largest in Europe and behind New York the second largest in the world. This week's ceremonies began at the site where the Nazis sent more than 350,000 Jews by train to the Treblinka death camp, 60 miles to the Northeast.

The picture above shows Cantor Joseph Malovany from New York singing a prayer in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes monument. Poland's chief orthodox rabbi, Michael Schudrich, read out the Kaddish, or Jewish prayer for the dead.

Survivor Hela Rufeisen, who took part in the fight as an 18-year-old and lived to tell about it, was one of the few ghetto-uprising survivors to attend.

The AP reported that "on Saturday, the last surviving leader of the ghetto's struggle, 89-year-old Marek Edelman, will lay flowers at the ghetto monument, and the Jewish community is planning a seder meal in memory of the ghetto victims."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Broadcasts Give More Really Convincing Reasons to Stop Adding Bodies to the Planet

ABC News, 20/20 and National Geographic have teamed up for broadcasts tonight and Sunday that paint a really ugly picture of how much the average American consumes and throws away from cradle to grave.

On ABC World News tonight, 20/20 later this evening, and the National Geographic Channel on Sunday, the broadcasters will show stark visual displays of the nearly 4,000 disposable diapers the typical U.S. child will go through; the 13,000 plus pints of milk and almost 90,000 slices of bread each of us consumes; the 22,500 gallons of water each of us drinks and the additional 28,000 gallons each of us showers away.

The reports estimates that if everyone on the planet lived like us, we'd need four or five more planets just to produce the resources and bury the waste. The point is to encourage modest cuts in U.S. consumption.

But doesn't all this argue--again--that it's time for us to stop adding bodies to the planet, until we can sustain the needs of the people we already have?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Like 5th Circuit, Louisiana Supreme Court Says Insurance Did Not Cover Levee Breaches

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that on April 8th the Louisiana Supreme Court, in a major post-Katrina decision, decided that insurance policies that did not cover flood damage also did not cover the levee breaches that flooded 80% of New Orleans. The decision overruled two lower courts and basically agreed with an earlier ruling by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The report emphasized that the Louisiana Supreme Court ruling was even more important than the 5th Circuit's, "because state law holds sway in insurance disputes."

The ruling again seems to point to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the only entity that might be held responsible for the massive loss of property and life caused by the levee breaches. So far, however, the Corps has proved all too adept at preventing itself from getting sued. Excerpts from the article follow:

The court said the lower courts should have looked at the "plain, ordinary and generally prevailing definition" of the word "flood."

"Contrary to the court of appeal's reasoning, this definition (of 'flood') does not change or depend on whether the event is a natural disaster or a man-made one -- in either case, a large amount of water covers an area that is usually dry," the Supreme Court opinion said.

Justice Chet Traylor of Winnsboro, writing the majority decision, went a step further, saying the flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was not caused by man, only aided by human errors.

"The flood was caused by Hurricane Katrina, not by man," Traylor wrote. "The levees did not cause the flood, they, whether through faulty design, faulty construction, or some other reason, failed to prevent the flood."

Attorney John Houghtaling , who joined the lawsuit on behalf of the state of Louisiana, said, "This is the end of the road here. This is a very, very sad day for anyone who isn't an insurance executive."

Houghtaling said he was "shocked by the ruling" and thought the insurance industry had "pulled the wool over the eyes of another court." In addition to 1,500 homeowners Houghtaling represented against insurers, he was also retained by former Attorney General Charles Foti to argue that the state's Road Home program, which uses federal taxpayer dollars to cover gaps in insurance payments, should be reimbursed for at least $1 billion it paid for water damage homeowner policies should have covered.

Houghtaling's firm noted that in 2004, the industry asked the state insurance commissioner to approve new policy language making it clear that water from levee breaches wasn't covered in homeowner policies. Houghtaling said that proved the industry knew that previous policy language -- which remained in use by all but two firms at the time of Hurricane Katrina -- was ambiguous. The Supreme Court didn't address that argument in its ruling.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Shoah and Nakba Are Both Atrocities, and Neither Justifies Denying the Other

Widely respected Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Ruther has an excellent piece in the April 4th National Catholic Reporter on the seemingly endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She says the major obstacle to resolving it is that both sides refuse to grant validity to the other's painful past.

Ruther, a regular contributor to NCR, is the Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA (from which I earned my Ph.D.). She acknowledges there are legitimate historical reasons for Israelis and Palestinians to despise each other, but that neither group bears sole responsibility for that history--and the Palestinian connection is especially remote.

Today's Palestinians have no direct responsibility for the Holocaust, known in Israel as the Shoah. As Iranian President Ahmadinejad is fond of pointing out, it was a crime perpetrated against Jews by the West, directly by Germany but with the complicity of every Western country that failed to stop it, including the United States. The closest the Palestinians get to responsibility is ancestors several centuries ago who drove the Jews from Palestine, forcing them into Europe and eventually the Western Hemisphere. Today's Palestinians are beneficiaries of that history. But it's a very unreasonable stretch to find them personally liable for it.

Yet, as Ruther emphasizes, the Shoah was used "as a claim to a unique entitlement of the Jewish people to a state built on Arab land." After the 1948-49 Israeli war of independence, the United Nations, largely to assuage the guilt of its Western founders, awarded Israel 54% of Palestine. It eventually grew to 73%. The Palestinian objection, also voiced by Ahmadinejad, is legitimate: "if you (the West) have committed this huge crime, why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay for it." Thus the Muslim hatred for the West is rooted in the fact that the Palestinians have had to pay much more dearly for the West's Holocaust than any people in the West.

Ruther says the Palestinians refer to the confiscation of their land as al Nakba (the catastrophe). The Nakba refers not only to the loss of territory, but to the 800,000 Palestinians who fled for their lives or were forcibly expelled from their towns and villages during the 1948-49 war, becoming refugees in Jordon, Lebanon and Egypt or internal refugees in Israel. Palestinians see the catastrophe as on-going and escalating today, with every new expropriation of their land and strategies like the wall built around Palestinian parts of the West Bank, designed as they see it to make their lives so intolerable they will have to leave.

Some of today's Israelis would argue that they are not directly responsible for the Nakba. And those who have opposed the progressive confiscation of Palestinian land would have a point. But as descendants or beneficiaries of the Zionists who basically conquered Palestine in 1949, the majority of today's Israelis have a much more proximate responsibility for the Nakba than today's Palestinians have for the Shoah. Those most directly responsible are those who support more appropriation of Palestinian land.

The Zionists, to be sure, operated from the conviction that another Holocaust could not be prevented unless the Jews reestablished Israel as their homeland in Palestine. But it was wrong of the Zionists and wrong of the United Nations to insist that the only way to achieve a Jewish state was to confiscate half or three-quarters of Palestine. That judgment does not deny the reality or the enormity of the Shoah. It does deny that the Shoah gave the Jews or the UN an entitlement to do what was done to the Palestinians.

Of course, the Palestinians and their sympathizers have made it a point to inflict some pain on the United States and Western Europe for their role in the Nakba. But a real resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be possible until all of the parties stop denying the two atrocities done to Jews and Palestinians and the West's heavy responsibility for both of them. The way forward must compensate both Jews and Palestinians equitably and the compensation must come in some major way from the West.

Ruther sees the way forward foreshadowed by Khaled Muhameed, a Muslim Palestinian who has opened his own small Holocaust museum in Nazareth. It has pictures of Jews suffering in Europe during the Nazi era. It also has pictures of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948-49 war. Only when other Palestinians and Jews honestly acknowledge the suffering of both peoples can a real peace process begin.

Ruther's closing paragraph states the case exactly: "Clearly what is needed is a break-through to a compassionate sense of co-humanity in which Israelis and Palestinians can mourn each other's disasters and refuse to use one disaster to justify another."

Friday, April 04, 2008

Chertoff Breaks 34 Laws to Build Wall Against "Criminal Activity at the Border"

I applaud the Houston Chronicle's editorial Bulldozing the laws, which calls on Congress to act at once to reverse the "irresponsible grant of power" it gave Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff "to bypass all laws deemed obstacles to the expeditious construction of a security fence along the southern border with Mexico."

The editorial exposes the utter stupidity, arrogance and hypocrisy of those who see no higher priority than halting every "illegal" immigrant trying to gain access from our impoverished neighbor to the south--even if Chertoff has to violate 34 other federal laws to do so. Let's promote our blessed respect for the law by violating 34 of them! Let's trample decades of environmental protections, wildlife conservation projects, property rights statutes and court rulings to protect the sovereignty of the United States! Shouldn't that tell us how wrong-headed and dangerous the wall idea is?

I would add just one thought to the editorial: if Congress does not act quickly, impacted parties should seek an emergency restraining order against Chertoff in federal court, on the grounds that he is wildly exceeding the legislative intent of the waiver Congress allowed him for one specific space on the border. The editorial follows:

When Congress passed the Real ID Act three years ago, it included a little debated provision, section 102, giving the Homeland Security secretary extraordinary power to bypass all laws deemed obstacles to the expeditious construction of a security fence along the southern border with Mexico.

As is becoming increasingly obvious, it was an irresponsible grant of power by people elected to respect and defend the Constitution and our system of laws. They should have known better.

In his fourth exercise of the waiver provision, on April Fool's Day, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the broadest assertion of authority yet, declaring that 34 federal laws would be ignored in order to complete nearly 500 miles of fencing that will impact environmentally sensitive areas in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The move will allow authorities to proceed with fence construction without issuing final environmental impact statements for which millions of taxpayer dollars have already been spent.

"Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation," stated Chertoff. "Congress and the American public have been adamant that they want and expect border security. We're serious about delivering it, and these waivers will enable important security projects to keep moving forward."

The waiver was initially promoted by congressional supporters as a limited exception designed to give federal officials flexibility in speeding the completion of a segment of fencing across environmentally sensitive wetlands near San Diego.

Unfortunately, as with so many other instances in which the Bush administration has asserted the right to ignore laws it found inconvenient, the waiver now is being used as an all-purpose bludgeon to flatten dozens of environmental and property rights statutes.

Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, chairman of a coalition of Texas border community officials, says the decision to override existing laws indicates that those incomplete environmental studies would have documented serious problems created by the fence construction, because "otherwise, the federal government wouldn't have to resort to such drastic measures." A spokesman for Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne confirmed that under existing legal requirements, the agency could not grant approvals to allow DHS to construct infrastructure on Interior Department border lands.

Earlier this month, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy director Kenneth Stansell warned in a letter to the executive director of the federal Customs and Border Protection agency that a new design for fence segments in Hidalgo County in South Texas would undermine a quarter-century of work in creating a 300-mile wildlife corridor. That land has helped conserve more than 20 endangered species that migrate between the U.S. and Mexico. According to Stansell, substituting an impermeable 16- to 18-foot wall built atop flood levees for a wildlife-friendly structure that allows small animals to pass through will impair the purpose of the wildlife corridor. Invoking the waiver stifles legal opposition to that reasonable alternative plan.

Already, managers of two South Texas nature refuges, the Sabal Palm Audubon Center and the Nature Conservancy Preserve, say the waivers will effectively close their facilities because their property would be isolated in a zone between Mexico and the fence.

The multibillion-dollar plan to erect a wall on the border was flawed from the beginning. Its folly now is being compounded by a calculated effort to undermine the precious system of laws that provide our real bulwark against tyranny. Congress should never have granted such power, and it must act promptly to minimize the damage by repealing the Real ID Act waiver.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Vatican Says Muslims Outnumber Christians--Unless Catholics Include Non-Catholics

Catholic News Service reported March 31st that a Vatican official agrees that today's global population has more Muslims than Catholics. This has been the position of the World Almanac and other sources for several years.

Msgr. Vittorio Formenti, head of the Vatican's statistics office, said that based on Rome's count "tabulated methodically" and Muslim estimates transmitted to the U.N., at the end of 2006 Muslims were 19.2 percent of the world population, while Catholics were 17.4 percent.

It was unclear if the good monsignor took comfort from another factoid he reported: that if other Christian denominations are taken into consideration, the global Christian population is about 33 percent of the total.

The importance of the numbers is questionable. But if Catholicism is going to keep track of them, Rome might at least acknowledge that counting non-Catholic Christians almost doubles the Christian population of the world--or, to put it another way, that only half the Christians on the planet pledge allegiance to Catholicism.

Shouldn't that make the Vatican a lot more cautious about declaring that non-Catholic Christian congregations and denominations are not churches? Shouldn't the Vatican be a lot more respectful of non-Catholic Christians and their leaders, who remain unconvinced that the Roman Catholic model is the only church structure inspired by Jesus Christ? Shouldn't the Vatican be a lot more humble and a lot more collegial before it attempts to tell Muslims and Jews what Christianity believes?