Last week: Organized librarians and Miami-Dade citizens convinced the County Commission to stop the ill-advised plan to gut the library system by cutting hours and librarians. Budget crisis averted, but [only] postponed. The fact is libraries are not just books on shelves. They’re community centers: children hearing stories, job-seekers using computers, latch-key kids chilling after school, seniors seeking companionship. Next year, the commission should start hearings on community priorities, so that citizens can begin to understand what’s at stake, and that public investments add to quality of life — our commonwealth. It’s not too early for advocates to organize for next year.
Looking ahead: Syria continues to be a complex, thorny issue, with no clear pathway forward. Although we can never fully trust Vladimir Putin — even when he speaks directly to us in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times — there is a glimmer of hope for a non-military solution. Getting Syria to acknowledge even having chemical weapons was a first step. Now there will be negotiations between our State Department and the Russians to see if a dismantling of Syria’s chemical arsenal is possible. Cynics will balk, but we should be cautiously and skeptically optimistic that cool heads will prevail.
Last week: Diana Nyad finally made it on her fifth try. She swam 110 miles from Cuba to Key West, the first person to succeed without benefit of a shark cage. Talk about the triumph of the human spirit! Lessons: you’re never too old (64 is the new 35); if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try again; you can get it if you really want it; and women are mighty, tenacious and tough. Diana is a role model for anyone who strives to accomplish anything. Her feat is a metaphor for whatever it is we aim for.
Looking ahead: The President is right to consult Congress before embarking on the dangerous mission of trying to teach Syria a lesson by taking military action. The country is conflicted and gun shy. For good reason. We’re tired of Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re tired of our money being spent on fools’ errands rather than on education and infrastructure in our own country. But how can we ignore the plight of innocent children being exterminated in their homes? We need the world to join us in our outrage – and the president needs to step up his outreach efforts at home and abroad.
Last week: Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, a candidate for mayor, did something highly unusual and refreshing in today's politics. He took responsibility. He took responsibility for his mayoral campaign's mistakes, which included his campaign workers’ inappropriate handling of absentee ballots. He acknowledged them, he put his priorities in order and he withdrew from the campaign. He did all of this with honesty, humility and integrity. With his intelligence, heart and willingness to learn, Francis Suarez has a bright future. The community can look forward to his continued leadership and seasoning as a commissioner — and to his future in public service.
Looking ahead: Another mayor down in Miami-Dade. This one, Steve Bateman, hails from Homestead and he’s been charged with unlawful compensation for shaking down a healthcare provider for “consulting fees” while he should have been advocating for them as mayor. Will the mounting cases of corruption and political malpractice usher in a new era of responsible, responsive government? At the Good Government Initiative, we have just started Class III, a program of 18 state and local elected officials to learn about serving their communities with competence and integrity. There was great energy and passion at our opening retreat, and I’m hopeful.
Last week: Twenty Florida children died by beatings, torture, neglect and unspeakable abuse. Thanks to Florida Sen. Eleanor Sobel for convening a town hall meeting to draw attention to the need for serious reform by the Department of Children and Families. Interim secretary Esther Jacobo is on the right track by investigating the fatalities. But there are some obvious wrongs that must be made right. Unqualified, underpaid workers should not be in charge of vulnerable children. Social work is a profession. Only trained, qualified and adequately compensated social workers should be given the responsibility of assessing children’s needs and acting on their behalf.
Next week: The extermination of Syrian citizens, including innocent children, by chemical means – as though they were vermin – should bring a new level of outrage from the international community. As elusive as the facts are, they must be found. And there has to be a unified international response. To do nothing is to tolerate the intolerable.
Last week: The FBI reports on the arrests of a pair of mayors and a pair of lobbyists in Miami-Dade County read like a Carl Hiaasen novel — without the humor. It's always astonishing that people will risk their careers and their reputations for next to nothing — not principle, not the common good, just a few bucks. The public trust is fragile and the venality of a few makes it difficult for those hard-working public servants who do their best every day on behalf of their constituents.
Looking ahead: As school starts, there will be more discussion about accountability and how to measure it. Isn't it time that we recognize the obvious? Affluent kids do better in school than children who are impoverished. Once we start working on income inequality, education quality will follow.
Last week: The State of Baseball in the Summer of 2013, 125 years after “Casey at the Bat” was written (with apologies to the author):
Somewhere men are laughing (all the way to the bank?)
And somewhere children shout (“Shame!”)
But there is no joy in Mudville
Mighty A-Rod has struck out
Looking ahead: For four generations, the Graham family stewarded the Washington Post with intelligence, journalistic excellence, integrity and courage. With its sale to Jeffrey Bezos, the entrepreneurial genius behind Amazon, only time will tell what it means for the future of journalism. Will Bezos have the character and heart, along with his financial savvy and creativity, necessary to sustain a trusted American institution? Newspapers are bought and sold, standards are built up and watered down. But in our rapidly changing and complex world, reliable information is more necessary than ever.
Last week: From a local perspective, it would be callous not to acknowledge the mass murder in Hialeah as the story of the week. It has become a classic tale – a socially inept and isolated male with pent-up anger uses a gun to vent his rage on six innocent bystanders. Now they're dead. They all had meaningful lives, people who loved them and unfinished business, along with hopes and dreams for the future. Their devastated families and friends are left to grieve and ponder the utter senselessness. America's loss to gun violence continues unabated.
Looking ahead: With five simple words, "Who am I to judge?," the Catholic Church's new and often refreshingly candid leader, Pope Francis, rocked the world with his lack of condemnation of gay citizens of our world. This departure from the vilification of gays by previous pontiffs has infuriated the conservatives in the Church, and given hope to those who view all people as worthy of love and respect regardless of sexual orientation. For the faithful, it signifies leadership by one who believes in a beneficent diety. The disgruntled will either have to practice mercy or persist in their lack of compassion. WWJD?
Last week: Last week’s theme: Men in Government Who Have No Shame. The most egregious is former Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins. Five innocent Florida children died under tortuous conditions while in his lack of care as head of an agency dedicated to caring for them. And the U.S. Justice Department had to step in to sue the state for warehousing disabled children in nursing homes, denying them the opportunity to live to their fullest capacity. Yet all Mr. Wilkins could muster upon his abrupt departure was that he was leaving ‘to pursue opportunities in the private sector.’
Looking ahead: Men in Government Who Have No Shame, Part II: Cringe-inducing Anthony Weiner, former New York Congressman who resigned because of his compulsion to photograph his genitalia and text random women, re-emerged as a Big Apple mayoral candidate, then had to admit that he had a sexting relapse. But he still wants to be mayor. Creepy San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has been accused of sexually harassing female staffers, including inviting his deputy chief of staff to work without her underwear and dragging her around in a headlock. He doesn’t see this as any reason to resign. Shame on both of them.
Last week: The Zimmerman verdict was sobering, disheartening and frustrating. But given the “Stand Your Ground” law, it was not surprising. The unjust law was what prevented justice from being served. The verdict followed logically from the law. When society has a law that allows a citizen to respond with deadly force to a threat that may exist only in his mind, it empowers that individual to act with impunity. Justice requires that the law be repealed.
Looking ahead: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez came so close to doing the right thing — minimally raising the tax rate to allow for worthy public investments in libraries, fire stations and the voter-approved (but alas, non-binding) referendum to increase taxes, thereby rescuing animals from certain death. The rise in property values certainly supported it. All it took for him to reverse course were some emails, phone calls and the ubiquitous Greek chorus of local radio. What if those of us who supported those investments had contacted our mayor and commissioners? There may have been a different result.
Last week: Immigration reform seems remote as the House digs in its heels to thwart anything that resembles amnesty. Or anything that smacks of compassion or human decency. For those of us in South Florida who understand that our economy, especially construction, agriculture and tourism, relies on the labor of immigrants (and let’s face it, not only those with papers), the intransigency is dismaying. Our region’s future depends on human talent, including that of the Dreamers. But House members in pure conservative districts have no electoral consequences to fear, and no vision to make them act for the good of the country.
Looking ahead: As the end of the Zimmerman trial approaches, the jury has to weigh the facts of the case, which are difficult to discern since one of the two witnesses is dead. And the rest of us are left to grapple with not only the facts, but the emotions of the families involved, the cultural and social context of the altercation, the “Stand Your Ground” law, and the grim realization that we are not living in a post-racial society. Whatever the verdict, it will be difficult to determine that justice was done.
Last week: Nineteen brave firefighters died determined to protect their fellow citizens from a raging, uncontrollable blaze in Prescott, Arizona. In other words, 19 government employees gave their lives in service to fellow Americans they didn’t even know. And then, with full realization of the terrible risks involved, hundreds more public servants of unwavering commitment willingly and courageously went right back to that fire. As we celebrate Independence Day, I am struck by the fervent dedication of our first responders and deeply appreciative of the sacrifices they make so the rest of us can have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Looking ahead: Next week we’ll consider the global, national and local impacts of the story that got buried this week: President Obama’s announcement on his administration’s planned actions on climate change. South Floridians are beginning to wake up to the reality of sea level rise and its implications for our property, public infrastructure, insurance rates and quality of life. Even those deniers of climate change — the “flat earth society” — will have to reckon with the impacts we’re all experiencing.
Last week: The momentous Supreme Court decisions this week remind us of the power of the third branch of government to dramatically affect people’s lives. Gay and lesbian Americans — and their allies — are cheering about this latest step in the journey toward full equality. Voting rights advocates are concerned about the looming obstacles to exercise a precious right. And those who care about local governments’ rights to regulate land use, thereby protecting the community’s interest in sustainable development, have cause to be nervous about more power granted to developers. Significant history is in the making.
Looking ahead: Coming up are significant U.S. Supreme Court rulings on civil rights. The court will rule on the constitutionality of California's gay marriage ban and the Defense of Marriage Act, and we will learn whether or not there will be full or piecemeal marriage equality. Regardless of the outcome, U.S. history, unlike the history of many countries around the globe, has shown that when it comes to civil rights, there is no going back, only forward. As increasing numbers of Americans acknowledge the humanity and contributions of their gay brothers and sisters, it’s just a matter of time.
Last week’s headline: By allowing women to serve in critical combat positions, top military brass are finally acknowledging that it’s time to adjust their views of women to conform to 21st century reality. Those women who are physically and intellectually prepared – and willing -- to serve our nation in the most hazardous situations should not be held back by their gender. Now the military should seriously turn its attention to eradicating women soldiers’ unconscionable workplace hazard -- rape by their presumed comrades in arms.
June 16, 2013
Last Week: The NSA leak by the employee of a government contractor and the revelation that so many of our day-to-day communications are being collected, if not monitored, gave pause to everyone paying attention. While I have prided myself on being a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I was also forced to reckon with my staunch belief in the rule of law and the role of our government. No activities that whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed were illegal; our 535 member of Congress in our post-911 country took responsibility for allowing this policy. Snowden committed a crime by violating his contract requiring confidentiality.
But that's not a satisfying analysis and the question doesn't end there.
Some of the literature I read as a young adult -- Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451 -- I considered gospel as critical cautionary tales. So should I be deeply suspicious of my government for this intrusion? Or should I trust the democratic process I hold dear?
I'm not sure this can be resolved, but it's time for rigorous and tough conversation with our elected leaders. They need to carefully explain the justification for their Orwellian policies and we need to be satisfied with the explanation. Or else the policies have to be changed.
Looking Ahead: We will be wringing our hands about the NSA leak and all its ramifications for some time. Political alliances are torn asunder and this discussion has fostered some strange bedfellows. From the Tea Party to the ACLU, from those crying "traitor!" to those stocking up on automatic weapons, America must decide if we're going to sacrifice some measure of liberty for some measure of security. It's a distasteful and daunting task.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun