Stopping Cluster Bombs
“Civilian” is the key word in the title of an important new bill before Congress, the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act. Introduced on Feb. 11 by Senators Patrick Leahy (Democrat of Vermont) and Diane Feinstein (Democrat of California), with companion legislation in the House, it prohibits all use of cluster munitions in areas where civilians would likely be present. Commenting on the bill, Senator Feinstein noted that “cluster bombs have been used around the world: Vietnam, Cambodia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East.... These indiscriminate weapons of war continue to endanger the lives and limbs of innocent men, women and children long after conflict has ended.... A disproportionate number of its victims have been civilians, not armed combatants.” For his part, Senator Leahy said that the bill ensures that “when cluster munitions are used or sold, they are subject to strict controls so they do not pose unacceptable risks to civilians.”
Many bomblets fail to detonate on impact and become miniature land mines, maiming mostly farmers as they cultivate their fields and curious children who pick them up. Last December in Oslo, Norway, 95 nations signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The United States did not (see America 12/1/08). Though as a senator, President Obama voted for restrictions on the use and export of cluster bombs, he has not yet taken a position on whether the United States should finally become a signatory. We hope he does. In the meantime, his backing of the Leahy-Feinstein bill would be a move toward that goal.
The threat by prelates to deny Communion to Catholic public servants who vote for legislation that seems inconsistent with the pro-life legislation favored by the bishops is a heavy-handed gesture that risks compromising the ability of the bishops to influence public policy. Moral doctrine permits legislators to choose other means of restricting abortion where stringent measures are not feasible.
Church authorities should recognize that legislators’ decisions are not made in a context of utopian clarity. As the bishops have counseled in other areas, men and women of good will can often differ in the conclusions they reach about what will more effectively promote the public good.
Individual bishops have the right and responsibility to participate in this public debate, but the style of their participation will inevitably condition their actual influence. At a time when the credibility of the Catholic bishops and of the U.S. bishops’ conference as an organization is being challenged on several fronts, ill-considered actions by individual bishops can be an embarrassment to the conference and compromise its ability to shape more effectively public opinion and public policy.
A Recession Index
2009 stimulus package: $787 billion
Oprah Winfrey’s income, 2007: $350 million
Years it would take Oprah to pay for 2009 stimulus package: 2,249
Centuries it would take a median-income household to pay for stimulus: 157
Failed U.S. banks in 2008: 25
Failed U.S. banks so far in 2009: 9
Total number of U.S. banks: 8,400
Number of banks that have applied for TARP money: 415
Amount they have received: $263.6 billion
Amount received by the top six: $160 billion
Amount received by the bottom six: $4.2 million
U.S. jobs lost over the last 3 months: 1.8 million
…since the economic collapse began: 3.6 million
…at General Motors in the last month: 47,000
Total number of troops assigned to Afghanistan: 45,000
“Toxic assets”: overvalued financial instruments that poison the asset pool
“Vulture investors”: investors who prey on stocks whose value is crashing
“Zombie banks”: half-dead banks allowed to continue existing and infecting others
“Financial Götterdämmerung”: growing likelihood of Eastern European countries defaulting on their debt
Venture capital raised for Twitter in the last year: $55 million
Venture capital raised for Twitter in the last month: $35 million
Employees of Twitter: 34
Current revenue of Twitter: $0