By LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
December 31, 2007
Vivian Mansfield, of Cullom, Ill., and Tom Guzzo of West Hartford, Conn., found final success recently when Congress adopted a measure that permanently erased an old and obscure rule that said any grave with a privately purchased headstone was not eligible for a bronze plaque the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs gives to those with VA-issued headstones.
That rule, which dated to the Civil War era, prevented Mansfield from affixing a bronze plaque identifying her husband of 55 years a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack. She and Guzzo found partial success in 2001 when Congress passed a temporary change, which was due to expire in December.
Now, the families of as many as 20,000 veterans a year will have a permanent right to the benefit.
Big victory for the Christian Coalition of America and allied forces, who harangued Congress into ordering that "In God We Trust" be displayed prominently on new $1 presidential coins.
The U.S. Mint design had relegated the phrase to the edges of the coins honoring the first four presidents, where critics said it was barely visible. President Bush just signed a bill that puts the motto on the face of the silver-colored coins, which will honor four presidents each year.
Even so, controversy over the phrase is not over. Still pending is a federal lawsuit by a California atheist who says its presence on U.S. currency violates his First Amendment rights.
Historical note: The phrase first appeared on coins in 1864, after ministers lobbied then-Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase to put a reference to God on the country's coins. The motto didn't grace paper money until 1957.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects there will be 303,146,284 of us ringing in the new year from sea to shining sea. That population estimate is up .9 percent -- or 2,842,103 people -- from last year. The bureau calculates there the U.S. population now increases by one person every 13 seconds, taking into account births (about one every eight seconds), deaths (one every 11 seconds), and migration (one every 13 seconds).
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, convinced the House to spend $5 million on a pilot program to eradicate what he calls the "tactical cover" that grows on the banks of the Rio Grande River in Texas. What the rest of us would call "weeds" can reach 15 feet high, providing a handy hiding place for those trying to sneak into the U.S. from Mexico by crossing the river, he said.
He noted that the weed-removal project would have other benefits: helping to stem the tide of invasive plants into our country and to replenish the Rio Grande once the especially thirsty weeds are killed.
A first-ever Congressional Bowl might be coming to Washington next year. Neither a new athletic perk for those on Capitol Hill nor a game in which lawmakers serve as pins, this would be an annual college football game between one of the nation's military service academies and a civilian university, probably from either the Big East or Atlantic Coast Conference. The District of Columbia Bowl Commission is preparing a proposal to the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Navy has tentatively agreed to host the first bowl game.
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