As Connecticut goes, so goes, hopefully, the nation

The State of Connecticut voted this week to abolish the death penalty, making it the 17th State to do so.

Since capital punishment was reintroduced in the U.S. in 1976, 1,290 people have been executed – with Texas leading the sway with 481 executions. 3,199 are presently death row in America’s prisons. This year twelve executions have taken place across the country, a steadily declining number since the highpoint in 1999, when 98 executions took place.

Almost two-thirds of Americans prefer other punishment than the death penalty for murder, according to a survey from 2010, and in the fall voters in California will decide on the death penalty there.

So, maybe, things are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly, and maybe there is hope, that the United States, one day, will move away from the present dubious company of China, Iran, North Korea, and other undemocratic countries, where the death penalty is actively used against their  citizens.

“There is something stunningly disgraceful about the company we (the U.S.) keep on this issue,” columnist Robert Scheer wrote once. It’s also sad.

Oh, those Danes…still the most content

Oh, those Danes…they continue to be the most satisfied with their lives in the whole world, according to the recent worldwide Gallup survey on quality of life in 146 countries. Denmark has had the top spot since 2009.

On average, Gallup asked 1,000 people in each country and divided the responses into three categories, “thriving,” “struggling,” and “suffering.”

Seventy-four percent of the Danes said they “thrived,” according to Gallup, followed by Canada and the Netherlands with 66 percent, and Sweden and Israel with 65 percent. Of the world’s largest countries, the United States landed on 12th place with 56 percent sayng that they thrived, while the numbers for Russia and China were only 22 and 18 percent, respectively.

In 87 countries, less than one quarter of the population said they were satisfied, with Cambodia in last place with 2 percent. In Europe, only 5 percent of the Bulgarians said they thrived. Numbers were also low in Italy (23 percent), Greece (16 percent), and Portugal (14 percent).

The biggest positive change since 2010 has taken place in Ghana, where those answering that they now thrived had increased by 19 percent, while the largest negative change occurred in El Salvador, minus 22 percent.

OK, it was a scare…but come on!

Ok, it was a scare. Earth quakes, I know from my days in California and the Balkans, are not pleasant.

But nothing really happened here in Washington yesterday. Oh, the Washington Monument was slightly damaged and is closed until further notice, and bricks fell from some buildings, but there was really no major damage and, above all, no one died, not even in tiny Mineral, Virginia, at the epicenter of the earthquake.

Still, there was panic. Washington and its inhabitants were simply not prepared for something like this. But there is no excuse, writes Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney today.

“As the nation’s capital, with the memory still strong of the Sept. 11 attacks, we ought to be the world champions of emergency preparedness.”

Couldn’t agree more. And couldn’t agree more about the massive, almost ridiculous, media coverage that the quake produced — all afternoon and all evening – as Daily Beast media critic Howard Kurtz writes. Suddenly, there were no longer any rebels in Libya — “Goodbye, rebels. Hello, pandemonium.”

I had to switch over to Al Jazeera to find out what was happening in Tripoli, the day’s truly big story.

A fight about a mosque in the middle of Tennessee

On my way north during my recent little journey in the South, I eventually came to Tennessee, not really the deep South, but more of a border state, on the map low but wide.

I crossed into Tennessee at Chattanooga – which inspired Glenn Miller’s old hit from 1941 “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and is now the site of a historic hotel by that name – at the southernmost end of the Appalachian Mountains. Here, mountains are high and valleys are narrow. There were no cotton plantations here and much of eastern Tennessee sympathized with the Union, while the rest of Tennessee chose the Confederacy. The result was hundreds of bloody battles in the State during the Civil War. In the 1960s, many hard-fought battles took place during the civil rights movement.

In Murfreesboro today, a university city of just over 100 000 inhabitants in the geographical center of Tennessee, there is a different civil rights struggle taking place. It is not African-Americans fighting for their rights, but Arab-Americans, who want to build a mosque in their hometown.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro can be found on Middle Tennessee Boulevard, almost hidden behind some shops and parking lot. The city’s 250 Muslim families have gathered here every Friday for years to pray, often using the parking lot for the overflow crowd.

Last year, the congregation purchased land in the outskirts of the city to build a proper mosque and eventually a community center. The only neighbor was a Baptist church. No problem. Local authorities said yes. Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution, and it was nothing more to it, it seemed, especially since the Muslims had legally bought the land and there were no zoning problems.

But, conservative activists began to protest, eventually supported by conservative forces from outside of Murfreesboro. The city’s politicians were sued. In spite of support of the Muslim community from various religious groups in the city, opposition to the mosque grew, resulting in vocal protests, even destruction of construction equipment.

“It has been polarizing, creating anxiety and fear in the community,” said Abdou Kattih, who is a pharmacist and originally from Syria, when we talked at the Islamic Center. His car outside carried a sticker, “Freedom of religion, for all”. He described the Muslim community, totaling around one thousand people or one percent of the city’s its population, as deeply rooted in Murfreesboro. He, himself, has four children, all born here, and it is here we want to live, he said.

On the Center’s website, it is written:

“Let us stand together and build bridges rather than barriers, openness rather than walls. Rather than borders, let us look at distant horizons together, in the common spirit of the value and dignity of a shared personhood as citizens in this great nation.”

The Muslim community was encouraged the other day when a local court ruled in its favor, allowing for the construction to begin. But final victory is not guaranteed, at least not yet – the opponents have vowed not to give up and have threatened to appeal.

43 percent more Hispanics and Asians in America

The Hispanic and Asian populations grew the fastest of all ethnic groups in America, both with 43 percent, between 2000 and 2010. The country’s population, now 308 million people, did not increase as rapidly as before – only in the 1930s was the growth rate lower than now, according to the new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau made public on Thursday.

The white population is still the country’s largest, but its growth is the slowest. Hispanics now amount to 50.5 million, or 16 percent of America’s population, making them the country’s largest minority group, well ahead of the African-Americans,  who are 14 percent of the total population, or 42 million people.

Only the Asian population grew as fast as the Hispanics, from 10 million to 14.7 million, also 43 percent.

The white population declined relative to the other ethnic groups and now stands at 231 million, or two thirds of the total population. Between 2000 and 2010, the white population in Texas became a  minority group, just as it already had become
in California, New Mexico and Hawaii, plus in Washington, DC.

Of the country’s geographic regions southern and western United States grew the fastest, or with 84 percent, with the residents of Nevada increasing the most, or by 35 percent, followed by Arizona, Utah, Idaho and Texas. One state, Michigan, lost population.

The populations of the ten largest cities in the country all increased, except Chicago, which is still the third largest city.  Largest are New York and Los Angeles, where one in ten Americans reside, with Houston, now with over two million inhabitants, in fourth place.