Friday, June 20, 2008

Multiple Signs of the Times: Some Raise Hope, Some Call for Action

Several developments in recent days are note-worthy as significant signs of the times. The first three covered below are quite encouraging. The rest call for corrective action.

State sued over Christian license plates. On behalf Christian and Jewish clergy and a local Hindu group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has sued South Carolina over a new state law that instructs the state to produce and promote license plates that feature a Christian cross in front of a stained glass window and the slogan “I Believe.” The plate was approved over the objections of the ACLU and the American Jewish Congress. Charging that approval of the plate signaled that “Christianity is the preferred religion of South Carolina,” the suit seeks to prevent the state from even producing it. As usual, Americans United is doing a commendable job upholding Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state.

Cardinals duel over prominence of old Latin mass. Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet has challenged a Vatican official who claims that Pope Benedict XVI wants to see the old Latin mass celebrated in every Catholic parish. Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, president of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei," which works with separated traditionalist Catholics, expressed his opinion at a press conference in London June 14. Initial coverage did not stress strongly enough that Castrillon was mainly trying to please separated traditionalist Catholics, who would really like the pope to declare the old Latin mass the best Rome has produced and the one by which all others should be measured. Cardinal Ouellet, by contrast, correctly understands that the pope explicitly did not do this when he made the old mass more available a year ago. In fact, the pope made post-Vatican II eucharistic prayers in local languages the standard by which the old Latin mass should be evaluated, and he said that no priest could refuse to offer the newer liturgies and give preference to the old Latin mass alone. Kudos to Cardinal Ouellet!

Columnist questions McCain’s attack on Supreme Court ruling that Guantanimo detainees have the right to request habeas corpus hearings. Since Will generally rails against judicial activism, it is quite significant that he disagrees with McCain’s claim that the 5-4 decision was “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” Will notes three other decisions he considers much worse: Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), which concocted a constitutional right to own slaves; Plessy v Ferguson (1896), which endorsed legally enforced segregation; and Korematsu v. United States (1944), which approved of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Will says the question of the detainees’ rights, and the government’s, is one intelligent people of good will can debate. But Will says habeas corpus took centuries to achieve before it was finally enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. He agrees with “the conservative and libertarian Cato Institute (which) argued in its amicus brief in support of the petitioning detainees” that when and whether habeas corpus can be suspended is a separation of powers issue between the executive and the judiciary, and that “the executive cannot be the only judge of its own judgment.” It’s not often that Will stands against the position of Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia. In this case, it’s refreshing that he did.

Hispanic workers in U.S. are at highest risk of heat related death. The Centers for Disease Control reported June 19th that it reviewed 423 heat-related deaths in the United States from 1992 to 2006, and that 71 percent of the dead were Hispanic in the period from 2003 to 2006 (the only timeframe when it knew the nationalities of all the workers). The most heat-related deaths were in construction, which of course is increasingly dominated by Hispanic workers. The highest rate of heat-related deaths was among crop workers: .39 percent per 100,000 workers annually, vs. .02 percent for other U.S. workers. North Carolina was worst with a death rate of 2.36 percent, then Florida at .74 and California at .49. There are no federal regulations to protect workers from heat and California is the only state to do so. It is evident that effective federal and state controls are needed urgently, before employers exploit any more Hispanics to death.

Earth adds a billion more people in 13 years. The U.S. Census Bureau says the world’s population will reach 7 billion in 2012, despite the planet’s inability to provide basic necessities for the 6.7 billion people already plundering it today. With 304 million people, the U.S. ranks third behind China and India. By comparison, the earth did not reach 1 billion inhabitants until 1800, nor 2 billion until 1930. But by 1999 it was 6 billion, and it’s taken only 13 years to add a billion more. I have commented on the planet’s birthing disorder in several previous posts.

Martin Luther King sculpture improved? The second model of a 28-foot statue of Martin Luther King Jr., planned for a monument in Washington D.C. next to the Tidal Basin and across from the Jefferson Memorial, won Juneteenth approval from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Last April the commission criticized the first model, by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin, as too confrontational and too much like political statuary in totalitarian regimes. The new model has “a less furrowed brow, a softer mouth and more detailed rendering of the hands.” The sculptor, refuting critics who said King never stood with his arms folded across this chest, gave the commission a photo of King in that position. Personally, I’d say the sculpture still needs work. The artist has transformed a statue reminiscent of Mao or Lenin into what looks a lot like a slightly weightier Ray Nagin! That just won’t do.

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