The Pope and the PresidentThe first meeting between President George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI on June 9 in Vatican City was one of many photo opportunities on the presidents quick trip to Europe on the occasion of the G-8 meeting in Germany. Predictably, the president sought to highlight the issues on which his administration supports Catholic positions on life and family matters, as well as the important initiatives the Bush administration has taken to address the H.I.V./AIDS epidemic in Africa. In a private meeting, the pope and the president also discussed issues of international concern, including the continuing conflicts in the Middle East, the fighting in Lebanon and the prospect of genocide in Darfur.
It is understandable that the president would want to emphasize those issues on which his administration appears to be supportive of Catholic positions on marriage and abortion, although these discussions never touch on the fact that the steady decline in the rate of abortions during the pro-choice Clinton administration seems to have reached a plateau under the pro-life Bush. But the people of the United States, as well as the international community, would be well served if the president listened more carefully to the Vaticans concerns about the present violence in Iraq and the dangers of future war-making in Iran. The world would be a much safer place today if the United States had heeded the warnings of the Vatican before the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq in 2003, an unnecessary war of choice that threatens to leave Iraq a failed state and a breeding ground for Islamic terrorism. The unforeseen consequences of war, as the Vatican has frequently warned, are far worse than our imaginations can conceive when proposing war as a remedy for the worlds ills.
Deforesting the Amazon
Destruction of the Amazon rain forest has accelerated as new highways have provided illegally operating loggers, ranchers and growers easy access to previously untouched areas that are home to many indigenous people. Ironically, although the Brazilian government has condemned the deforestation, at the same time it has encouraged the growing of sugar cane there for the production of ethanol as a gasoline substitute. Brazilian Bishop Erwin Krautler, C.Pp.S., warned at a mid-May press conference that the Amazon is at risk of becoming a huge sugar cane field. Other crops being cultivated there include soya, which has become increasingly popular in Europe, where genetically modified soya has caused concerns.
Paulo Adario, director of Greenpeaces Amazon campaign, has pointed to agribusiness and illegal logging as mainly responsible for the ongoing deforestation. He contends that the government should restrict soya plantations to areas already deforested, combat illegal logging more aggressively and implement its own anti-deforestation plan. Like Dorothy Stang, the American-born member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who, as a defender of the indigenous people of the Amazon, was murdered in 2005 at the instigation of a rancher, Mr. Adario has also received death threats. Bishop Krautler made his comments at the press conference just a week after the sentencing of the rancher to 30 years in prison for Sister Stangs murder. The bishop noted that on his arrival in the area 42 years ago, the Amazon rain forest was still relatively intact. But now, he emphasized, its five minutes to midnight, meaning that without strong intervention, the rain forest is doomed.
Injustice to Workers
In quick succession, the Supreme Court has delivered two harsh blows to American workers, and in both cases the weight of the decisions fell heavily on women. First, in a 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled that suits against pay discrimination must be brought within 180 days of the first payment, not 180 days from suspicion of discrimination. Then, in a unanimous decision it upheld a Labor Department ruling that home health care aides hired through home care agencies were exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws. In so doing, the high court overturned the decision of an appeals court that would have allowed overtime protection to the aides.
It is hard to argue with a unanimous decision, even when it rests on the subtleties of labor law, but the courts silence on the stark injustice of the regulation toward those who do some of the most basic and at times undignified work, and incidentally save the nation of billions of dollars in fees for institutional care, is painful. Congress should correct this glaring injustice in this session. Furthermore, the bar and our law schools should examine themselves on what assumptions in their professional education and training led the justices to refrain from comment on this legalized injustice under administrative law. In the pay-discrimination case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the liberal minority weighed in on behalf of affected women professionals, but in the matter of home health aides they held their peace. Is the courts jurisprudence tainted with class bias?