Jimmy Carter Brings Shame to America

I wish I could say something different about Jimmy Carter’s recent trip to Cuba. It would have been great, as Aramis Perez wrote in a Fox Latino piece, if President Carter would have boldly and correctly announced his desire for free and fair elections, his unwavering support of the peaceful dissident movement in Cuba and a strong, assertive and uncompromising demand for the release of Alan Gross.

After all, we can dream, can’t we?

Yes, he met with a few dissident leaders. Yes, he met with the regime concerning Alan Gross. Yes, he expressed a desire for Cuba to “allow more freedoms” to its people.

To quote Shania Twain: “That don’t impress me much”.

If it would have stopped there, the trip would be long forgotten the minute Carter’s plane left Havana.

However, what sets this trip apart from so many others by foreign dignitaries and what will make it indelible in my mind is the cowardly caving in of the ex-president to the demands of the castro regime regarding Alan Gross. To ask for the release of the “Cuban Five”, tried and convicted of espionage in a U.S. court by American citizens like himself, as a sort of “exchange” is nothing short of a huge embarrassment to the United States and to freedom and justice. I would categorize this as one of the most shameful acts by an important American figure in recent history, if not history PERIOD.

I’m not surprised Carter would try to do this, but to actually see it happen still shocks and stuns.

President Carter, I hope you enjoyed spending time with your “old friend”.

TINO

Some days ago I posted on two columns in the Miami Herald concerning same-sex marriage, one by Archbishop Thomas Wenski defending traditional marriage and the other by a gay journalist rebutting the Archbishop. There are few topics that will bring out true intolerance and hatred like same-sex vs. traditional marriage, much of it from the side that pretends to be the tolerant, progressive and compassionate ones, but often are anything BUT. In other words, Tolerant in Name Only (TINO).

Want evidence? Well, Thomas Peters of CatholicVote.org points out another rebuttal to a Abp Wenski column, the same one published this time in the Sun-Sentinel. This rebuttal comes from Brandon K. Thorp of the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, titled Archbishop Wenski & The Pedophiles. Yeah, it’s just as bad as the title suggests it’s going to be. While Charles Perez was able to contain some of his anger in his Herald rebuttal piece, Thorp practically becomes unhinged.

Fortunately, Thomas Peters did a great job of deconstructing Thorp’s silly grade-school level arguments dressed up as sophisticated journalism (wonder if Thorp is yet another sad example of the poor catechesis in America of the past few decades which has contributed to a virtual non-understanding of Sacred Scripture and Tradition, or just another progressive for whom the Bible is an archaic story with no application to our advanced, modern society). Anyway, check out Thomas’ piece here.

Those Crazy Fundamentalists in Tallahassee

There’s so much to dissect in Daniel Shoer Roth’s latest mind-boggling column that I will break it up into parts instead of roll out the whole thing. The title: Gov. Scott Pushing Florida Toward Fundamentalism, should give you a quick hint at what’s to come:

Florida is on its way to fundamentalism. Gov. Rick Scott and some of our ultraconservative legislators are determined to get there despite the human cost.

On the one hand, they aspire to minimize the government’s involvement in people’s life in crucial areas like public education and social services for those in need. On the other hand, they support the government’s meddling in Florida residents’ personal decisions.

OK…a little translation is in order before we dig deeper into the column. Crucial areas = things ultra-liberals like Roth think are so important that the ever-powerful and all-knowing government ought to have near-absolute control over. Government meddling in Florida residents’ personal decisions = things ultra-liberals like Roth think are not important enough for government to protect and preserve (i.e. the life of an innocent human fetus).

Tallahassee is a mess. Last week the governor signed a package of radical bills, which tie teacher contracts and pay in large part to the performance of students on standardized tests like the FCAT. The new law also phases out so-called teacher tenure, a protection teachers have against quick firing. It seems that conservatives’ goal is to see Florida’s teachers fleeing the state.

It’s a terrible way to penalize teachers in poor neighborhoods — those teachers tend to be the most dedicated — and their disadvantaged students. It’s ludicrous to equal the performance of a child who had a good breakfast amid loving parents to that of a child who could not sleep all night on an empty stomach listening to quarrelling parents.

No, tenure ensures that bad teachers leave. And every other job performance metric out there is tied to results, except apparent in the public school teaching arena. It is fair to argue the method of performance evaluation (the only point I’ll give Roth some credit for making), but he seems to want to protect the sensibilities of bad teachers at the expense of students and parents.

There are also some 20 bills in Tallahassee that would put an array of new obstacles in the paths of women seeking abortions, which would take us back decades in social development.

And take us back decades to a time when the life of a human fetus had more value than a heart-breaking decision to terminate it for sake of selfish convenience.

Women who wish to terminate their pregnancy — even at an early stage — would be forced to subject themselves to a medically unnecessary ultrasound test. Another bill would ban abortion altogether, challenging the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling and, inevitably, paving the way for a dangerous illegal abortion market.

Abortion is a sensitive issue that prompts passionate arguments from two sides: one defends the right to life of a fetus and considers abortion in virtually all instances a crime, and another believes a woman should have authority over her body.

Yet not all is black and white. There are specific areas of gray: victims of rape or incest; pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother; fetuses with congenital defects.

It IS black and white, Mr. Roth. Fifth commandment. And the only authority over our bodies and lives (and those of others) is our Creator who made us in his image as living creatures.

Many of these bills fail to include even exceptions for such cases. Nor do they include measures to reduce the abortion rate, which would be the only solution after heavy-handed policies have failed.

New legislation should focus on giving better access to information and birth-control methods; strengthening crime prevention and thus reducing the number of rapes; offering more medical services to mothers and children; and improving and emphasizing sexual education programs.

Better access to information, apparently, only means access to information detrimental to life. When it involves ultrasounds that are intended to show the living, dependent creature inside the womb of a mother considering abortion, it’s not considered better information, it’s considered “meddling”.

Gov. Scott has nonetheless proposed cutting 10 percent in public education funding — $1.7 billion — a threat to subjects like physical education and health, which include the sexual education curriculum.

Wouldn’t it be more effective to teach these subjects in order to reduce unwanted pregnancies, either by abstinence or contraceptive plans, instead of banning abortions after the teens are pregnant?

But who can understand Scott and his Tea Party supporters?

They propose to cut funds for drug rehabilitation programs, which help keep thousands of people out of jail, reduce crime, and save millions of dollars of taxpayer money, while they want to force public employees to take a drug test every 45 days, a measure that would cost taxpayers a fortune.

Another fundamentalist insanity comes from two bills the purpose of which is to protect Florida courts from a supposed infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines such as the Islamic Sharia law, a code of behavior that in some Arab countries discriminates against women. But no court in America has ever used Sharia to rule in a case. This is simply a manifestation of Islamophobia that does not contribute to creating jobs or balancing the budget.

Indeed, the only “Sharia laws” that would affect Floridians are those that Scott and his ultraconservative legislators wish to impose on us.

Oh, boy.

Up to now, Daniel Shoer Roth’s columns have been sensible enough to overcome and overlook his far-left tendencies. With this column, and in particular his parting shot that amounts to little more than a temper tantrum directed at Rick Scott and “his Tea Party loons”, he really “se la comió” (Cuban slang for “he really went over the edge”).

My parting shot: if fundamentalism means protecting innocent human life and ensuring that Sharia law doesn’t rear its ugly, bigoted head in Florida and the rest of the country, then we need more of it. Pronto.

Obama’s Flip-Flop

Larry Elder chimes in on President Obama’s decision to participate in military actions against Libya without the consent of Congress, despite the president’s past objections to military actions without Congressional approval. Elder also points out the lack of consistency in the arguments of the virulent anti-Bush left regarding this latest action:

The non-unilateralist Nobel Peace Prize laureate Obama, unlike Bush, sought no congressional war resolution. Obama, therefore, ordered military action against Libya “unilaterally” — without the congressional approval that he once argued the Constitution demanded.

As Obama further explained in his December 2007 statement, “In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.” So a president, according to Obama, does not need congressional authority — provided the action involves “self-defense” or “stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

What is the “actual or imminent threat” to America posed by Libya?

Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, spooked bleep-less after our invasion of Iraq, surrendered his WMD. The dictator admitted Libya’s complicity in the bombing of the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie and paid financial settlements — after which the U.S. removed Libya from the list of terror-sponsoring states. The U.S. imports less than 1 percent of its oil from that country. What threat to national security?

Fast-forward to March 2011. Rebels threaten to topple Gadhafi’s brutal regime. But the dictator fights back, and unless stopped by outsiders, his military appears poised to put down and slaughter the rebels. Enter Obama. “We cannot stand idly by,” he said, “when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy.”

Obama thus approves this act of war — for humanitarian purposes.

But Iraq’s Saddam Hussein created a far greater humanitarian nightmare. “The Butcher of Baghdad” slaughtered, at minimum, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — far more people than were killed in Bosnia and Kosovo, where President Clinton ordered military force for humanitarian reasons. Yet, when weapons hunters found no stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, the dwindling number of pro-war Democrats turned against the war — never mind the sickening sight of thousands of Iraqis found in shallow graves.

Read the entire article here.

Pray for Priests

You don’t have to be a priest or be related to one to understand why we should include priests and other religious in our daily prayers. However, this need has rarely been illustrated as clearly as in this article by the outstanding Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.

It was only the third time it had happened to me in my nearly thirty-five happy years as a priest, all three times over the last nine-and-a-half years.

Other priests tell me it has happened to them a lot more.

Three is enough. Each time has left me so shaken I was near nausea.

It happened last Friday…

I had just arrived at the Denver Airport, there to speak at their popular annual “Living Our Catholic Faith” conference.

As I was waiting with the others for the electronic train to take me to the terminal, a man, maybe in his mid-forties, waiting as well, came closer to me.

“Are you a Catholic priest?” he kindly asked.

“Sure am. Nice to meet you,” says I, as I offered my hand.

He ignored it. “I was raised a Catholic,” he replied, almost always a hint of a cut to come, but I was not prepared for the razor sharpness of the stiletto, as he went on, “and now, as a father of two boys, I can’t look at you or any other priest without thinking of a sexual abuser.”

What to respond? Yell at him? Cuss him out? Apologize? Deck him? Express understanding? I must admit all such reactions came to mind as I staggered with shame and anger from the damage of the wound he had inflicted with those stinging words.

“Well,” I recovered enough to remark, “I’m sure sorry you feel that way. But, let me ask you, do you automatically presume a sexual abuser when you see a Rabbi or Protestant minister?”

“Not at all,” he came back through gritted teeth as we both boarded the train.

“How about when you see a coach, or a boy scout leader, or a foster parent, or a counsellor, or physician?” I continued.

“Of course not!” he came back. “What’s all that got to do with it?”

“A lot,” I stayed with him, “because each of those professions have as high a percentage of sexual abuse, if not even higher, than that of priests.”

“Well, that may be,” he retorted. “But the Church is the only group that knew it was going on, did nothing about it, and kept transferring the perverts around.”

“You obviously never heard the stats on public school teachers,” I observed. “In my home town of New York City alone, experts say the rate of sexual abuse among public school teachers is ten times higher than that of priests, and these abusers just get transferred around.” (Had I known at that time the news in last Sunday’s New York Times about the high rate of abuse of the most helpless in state supervised homes, with reported abusers simply transferred to another home, I would have mentioned that, too.)

To that he said nothing, so I went in for a further charge.

“Pardon me for being so blunt, but you sure were with me, so, let me ask: when you look at yourself in a mirror, do you see a sex abuser?”

Now he was as taken aback as I had been two-minutes before. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Sadly,” I answered, “studies tell us that most children sexually abused are victims of their own fathers or other family members.”

Enough of the debate, I concluded, as I saw him dazed. So I tried to calm it down.

“So, I tell you what: when I look at you, I won’t see a sex abuser, and I would appreciate the same consideration from you.”

The train had arrived at baggage claim, and we both exited together.

“Well then, why do we only hear this garbage about you priests,” he inquired, as he got a bit more pensive.

“We priests wonder the same thing. I’ve got a few reasons if you’re interested.”

He nodded his head as we slowly walked to the carousel.

“For one,” I continued, “we priests deserve the more intense scrutiny, because people trust us more as we dare claim to represent God, so, when on of us do it – even if only a tiny minority of us ever have — it is more disgusting.”

“Two, I’m afraid there are many out there who have no love for the Church, and are itching to ruin us. This is the issue they love to endlessly scourge us with.”

“And, three, I hate to say it,” as I wrapped it up, “there’s a lot of money to be made in suing the Catholic Church, while it’s hardly worth suing any of the other groups I mentioned before.”

We both by then had our luggage, and headed for the door. He then put his hand out, the hand he had not extended five minutes earlier when I had put mine out to him. We shook.

“Thanks. Glad I met you.”

He halted a minute. “You know, I think of the great priests I knew when I was a kid. And now, because I work in IT at Regis University, I know some devoted Jesuits. Shouldn’t judge all you guys because of the horrible sins of a few.”

“Thanks!,” I smiled.

I guess things were patched-up, because, as he walked away, he added, “At least I owe you a joke: What happens when you can’t pay your exorcist?”

“Got me,” I answered.

“You get ‘re-possessed’!”

We both laughed and separated.

Notwithstanding the happy ending, I was still trembling…and almost felt like I needed an exorcism to expel my shattered soul, as I had to confront again the horror this whole mess has been to victims and their families, our Catholic people like the man I had just met…and to us priests.

On Truth and Scandal

A quote to ponder today, especially for those who are quick to judge without due consideration for a person’s true thoughts; this one from the great G.K. Chesterton:

“There is a case for telling the truth; there is a case for avoiding the scandal; but there is no possible defense for the man who tells the scandal, but does not tell the truth.”

Time For Meaningful Change

In the wake of last week’s recall of Carlos Alvarez and Natacha Seijas, I expressed a desire that real, meaningful change has to go well beyond the removal of a mayor and a county commissioner. In doing so, I expressed some doubt that our current system can be changed so easily, especially when not everybody has deep pockets like Norman Braman or when only 17% of the electorate goes out to vote for the recall of a standing mayor.

Nevertheless and for what it’s worth, it’s good that Myriam Marquez is on board with what truly needed in Miami-Dade County.

A 17 percent voter turnout does not a mandate make, but the 88-12 percent landslide vote last Tuesday to “kick the rascals out” of Miami-Dade County Hall was indeed the tsunami of discontent that recall architect Norman Braman predicted a month ago.

Tyranny of the minority?

Only if you believe that the 83 percent of registered voters who stayed home did so because they were bound and gagged by a billionaire. Let’s face it: Even the county’s 28,000 workers couldn’t get their friends and family to vote for the status quo.

Adios, Carlos and Natacha. We won’t cry for you, but we will wish you well. I’m not among the voters who want to deny the pair — or, for that matter, County Manager George Burgess, who resigned a day after the recall — their pensions. They made whoppers of bad decisions, but there was no proof they were crooked. Besides, former Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas didn’t create the system of giveaways on the backs of taxpayers, they just benefited from it as thousands of public servants have from Pensacola to the Keys.

We need to come up with a new 21st century term for public “servants,” something closer to the reality of six-figure salaries. Public royalty? When a mayor has two drivers and a third luxury car to drive on his own — covered by the taxpayers — that’s regal in a county with a 12 percent unemployment rate.

So you want to fix the system? Start with the Miami-Dade County charter.

I’ve been hammering away at this issue way before Braman took up the cause, but thankfully he has, and voters should thank him for his leadership. Others have been clamoring for charter changes, too, including a political action committee called 1896, named for the year that Dade County was created. Charter review commissions have come and gone, but little has changed except that commissioners, who earn $6,000 a year — a salary set in the 1950s — want to earn a full-time salary. Nine times, voters said No.

Now the recall offers an opportunity for true reform: for salaries that are commensurate with full-time work, but also an end to the outside jobs that cried out for ethics reform, like Seijas’ work for a nonprofit that also received a hefty sum of cash from county government. A salary of about $92,000 — the going rate for county commissioners in Florida — may seem hefty, but not if you cut the size of the commission from 13 to 11 and get rid of each commissioner’s million-dollar slush fund, which they now can use for office expenses and to dole out to constituent groups. Seijas tried to pull that little giveaway the day of the recall election. Talk about walking money.

A few commissioners are now jockeying to be mayor — some, like Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, want to run now; others, like Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, are eyeing 2012. Whatever they do now will be viewed by many voters through a skeptical prism.

Yet both men — along with several other commissioners like Rebeca Sosa — have voting records to show they haven’t been part of the spending spree. They voted against property-tax-rate increases in last year’s budget, raised questions about county contracts and have tried to bring up bills on ethics reform and charter reform.

On Thursday, the 12 commissioners left will meet to decide what to do. The charter requires they meet within 30 days of a recall then set an election for 45 days after that meeting — unless they decided to appoint an interim mayor, which most have been wise to say will not happen.

If the Gang of 12 wants to show Dade residents they are part of the solution, they will take up charter reform first at Thursday’s meeting. Fast-track the charter, hold the required public meetings (60 days to discuss and vote on charter changes to be put before voters). Then come back in a couple of weeks to set a date for an election for mayor, commissioner and charter changes, all on the same day.

The $5 million an election will cost will be well worth it.

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