Tuesday, January 25, 2011
As Americans were commemorating the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's inspirational inaugural address last week, one of the principal keepers of the "Ask not" motto was breathing his last: Sargent Shriver.
Shriver, Kennedy's brother-in-law, was the founding director of the Peace Corps, which has since carried on the message of the following sentence in Kennedy's inaugural speech: "My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."
The millions who have volunteered for the Peace Corps during the last half-century have carried out that tradition, for the most part. In recent years, however, a number of those volunteers have been betrayed not only by citizens of the countries they serve, but also by the leadership of their organization.
Almost two weeks ago, the ABC News program "20/20" featured an investigation of rapes of more than 1,000 female Peace Corps volunteers, and looked at the murder of one volunteer who accused another Peace Corps worker of raping schoolgirls.
The response of the agency's leaders, even during Brian Ross' report, was basically to circle the wagons. Deputy director Carrie Hessler-Radelet showed almost no emotion as Ross questioned her.
The next questions should come from Congress.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has oversight of the Peace Corps, should publicly force Corps leaders to account for what they didn't do to protect the women - and how that will change.
For the thousands of current volunteers and for the legacies of President Kennedy, Sargent Shriver and the millions more who have served the Peace Corps so well, it must change.
Monday, January 24, 2011
More officers outgunned, and now dead. Two in Miami last week. Two in St. Petersburg this morning. And four officers injured in a police precinct in Detroit yesterday.
In all cases, there are plenty of questions to be asked about security (especially in Detroit, where the precinct has no bulletproof glass), procedure, and in the case of the Miami shootings, a decision to sentence the eventual shooter to administrative probation - the unsupervised kind.
There is also the reality that the increasing love affair between Americans and guns is leaving an extremely bloody trail. Police know they are in a dangerous profession. But they are still overpowered because of the weapons - many semi-automatic and automatic - flooding the streets.
The repeated complaints of both police and residents in inner cities have fallen upon deaf ears. Sadly, many of the deaf are nationally elected officials who don't want to stop the financial gravy train from the National Rifle Association and others with a Wild West mentality. Even the tragedy in Tucson hasn't changed many minds.
Better security and improved decisions by judges on defendants are necessary - but they go only so far. Safer streets with less access to high-powered weapons are a must.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
So it has come to this: As Haiti commemorates the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake, an unwelcome blast from the past returns: Baby Doc.
Jean-Claude Duvalier, nicknamed "Baby Doc," who followed his father Francois - "Papa Doc" - as Haiti's dictator for so many years, has returned to that island. President Rene Preval should keep the promise he made four years ago to arrest Duvalier and bring him to trial for crimes against the country.
Preval may need a push from the rest of the world. Indeed, Haiti does need a worldwide intervention - not just for the aid that's been coming since the earthquake, but also for putting itself back together.
The upcoming presidential runoff not only won't solve the crisis, but may keep it going. Plenty of Haitians are already angry about who is in - or who isn't in - the runoff, and having a winner won't settle the issue.
Haiti is in the same condition as Europe after World War 2, with infrastructure and government all but destroyed in the earthquake. Haitian landowners have a stranglehold on their property, hindering efforts to clear the rubble and begin to rebuild.
The Marshall Plan, named for American general and Secretary of State George Marshall, helped rebuild Europe. Haiti needs a similar plan, perhaps with former U.S. President Bill Clinton overseeing it.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
So far, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hasn't even been good enough to make the cut at training camp.
Ross messed up the coaching situation last week, leaving Head Coach Tony Sparano dangling on a string while he went around the country trying to find a better alternative. To his credit, Ross has apologized.
But he's also goofed on an old story - efforts to get public money to spruce up what's officially called Land Shark Stadium, but what I still call Joe Robbie Stadium. (Speaking of Robbie, when is Miami-Dade County going to give him a fitting and permanent public honor?)
Even though former Dolphins' owner H. Wayne Huizenga refurbished the stadium several years ago, that's not good enough for the National Football League. The NFL has told Ross that future Super Bowls won't be coming to South Florida unless there is still more work done on the facility. (Wonder if they'll change their minds if the 2014 Super Bowl, scheduled for the Meadowlands in New Jersey, is hit by the same kind of blizzards that tied up the Northeast during Christmas.)
South Floridians are weary of the new sports edifices and public payment for renovations of the old ones during the last two decades. They're even more weary of rich sports owners continuing to ask for the public to support the construction and fixes.
They reached the height of their anger after the approval of the financing plan for the Florida Marlins' ballpark - especially after it was revealed that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was not forthcoming about how much money the team made.
St. Rep. Erik Fresen of South Miami plans to file a bill with the Florida Legislature that would attach funding for stadium upgrades to convention center funding. Convention center upgrades are certainly needed, and public money should be used for them.
But Stephen Ross should pay for any stadium upgrades himself.
Monday, January 10, 2011
"How do you fire this gun, Chino? By pulling this little trigger!? How many bullets are left, Chino? Enough for YOU? Or YOU? All of you!! You ALL killed him! And my brother! And Riff! Not with bullets and knives! With HATE! Well, I can kill now too, because now I have hate!!! How many can I kill, Chino? How many....?"
Maria, "West Side Story"
How many more senseless deaths and injuries, such as those that took place in Tuscon last Saturday, are needed to convince this country that the path we've been taking for the past decade-and-a-half with our microphones and our politics is poison?
What's needed to convince the media executives, television and radio announcers and politicians who have been profiting through angry words that it's not just a game or a chance for them to make money or gain votes?
Three decades' worth of U.S. presidents, members of Congress and telecommunications agency workers in both major political parties deserve an equal share of the blame during the last three decades for loosening the bounds that prevented inciteful and hateful talk from taking over the airwaves. Then, they blamed the wrong sources for the coarsening of society.
While they were fussing about rock stars cursing on awards shows, they were ignoring outright lies, insults and threats directed towards elected officials.
While they were beside themselves over a singer's bared breast, they were ignoring the rise of cable television and commercial radio networks and personalities in the political propaganda business.
They were ignoring the fact that our debates about serious national issues such as health care were turning into Civil War redux.
Quite a few doing the ignoring then, particularly in Congress, are now the very same politicians cowering behind their office walls, in fear for their lives after the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 17 of her constituents - six of whom died.
Some of them are also the same politicians who have been inciting people to angry words and actions - all for their own political and financial profit.
Does the angry atmosphere have to do with Saturday's shooting? The fact that the question has to be asked means the answer is "Yes."
On a much happier day more than 17 years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, who would himself fall to an assassin's bullet, said, "Enough of blood and tears. Enough!"
Enough of the hatred that's been poisoning this country. Enough!
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
It's interesting that Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado is hesitating to call for the firing of Police Chief Miguel Exposito, despite Exposito's clear lack of qualifications for the job and recent comments to the press.
There's a good reason for that: If Exposito is let go - a responsibility of new City Manager Tony Crapp, Jr. - Regalado would essentially have to admit he made a mistake in promoting Exposito's hiring and nudging his predecessor, John Timoney, out the door.
Regalado was so eager to get rid of Timoney that he didn't do his homework on whether Exposito was the right person for the job. After improving community policing and relations during his seven years as police chief, Timoney was pushed out almost as soon as Regalado was elected mayor.
What's resulted since is a return to the bad old days of Miami's police getting negative headlines for being trigger-happy, and for shootings in the city's African-American communities.
How bad are things? Former Miami Police Chief Ken Harms - fired after a police shooting triggered riots in Overtown in 1982 - is defending Exposito. With friends like that.....
Crapp, who just took the job, does need a chance to review the events of the past year before he makes a decision on Exposito's future.
But the major responsibility for this mess belongs to Regalado. Whatever Exposito's fate, Regalado needs to own up to his part.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Dear CEO Scott:
Yes, I know; officially, the title should be "Governor." But I'm writing this letter in the language you seem to know best: business-speak.
You seem to regard the state you're overseeing as a business - Florida, Inc. I'm a lifelong investor and stockholder - in layman's terms, a native Floridian.
I have a bit of knowledge, then, about Florida, Inc. Given that you've been here just a tad longer than the minimum requirement you needed to meet to run for governor - sorry, CEO - some historical data might be useful.
The first people to do business here came long before the state - sorry, company - ever got its name from Juan Ponce de Leon. They were Native Americans who learned to trade what they had with each other - animals, birds, fish, plants, shells and stones for food, clothing, medicine, tools, jewels and other basics of life. They included the Tequesta, Calusa, Timucua and many more.
They've been followed by the Spanish (twice), French, British and Americans (and for Key West, the Conch Republic, but that's another story). Florida was one of the 11 states that temporarily became part of the Confederacy during the Civil War, but, as usual, more people were coming here to escape than to fight.
Fortunately, we've had quite a few people who came here not to escape, but to serve the state's citizens. In your language, they were good administrators. In my language, they were and are the ultimate public servants, who put Florida's interests above their own, even when it came to working with the opposition. People like Claude Pepper, who served in both houses of Congress. And Bob Milligan, the state's commerce secretary for a number of years.
Some of them served in your job: Reubin Askew, who opened the government doors and records to the public in an unprecedented manner; Bob Graham, who improved education and cleaned up the Everglades; Lawton Chiles, who put the needs of Florida's most vulnerable residents first; Jeb Bush, who did a top-notch job of managing the state through eight hurricanes in two years.
And LeRoy Collins, known as the greatest of them all. After being elected as a segregationist, while his fellow Southern governors were still barring the way for blacks, Collins called segregation "morally wrong."
He sacrificed his political career, but gained a lot more. All because he saw human beings being treated badly.
Mr. Scott, we Floridians - all 18 million-plus - are also human beings, whether we've lived here all our lives or arrived yesterday. We all have equal voices, whether we voted for you or not.
And you are going to hear them, whether you like it or not.
Listen to those opposing voices instead of calling them "special interests." They are not. They are your constituents.
Feel free to change your views once in a while. For you to be successful as this state's governor (or even CEO), that's important. For Florida's future, it's imperative.
A Lifelong Investor In Florida
Monday, January 3, 2011
Contrary to what too many people think, the problem is not seeing Dick Clark on New Year's Eve.
The problem is that we don't get to see enough of him the rest of the year.
Clark survived a stroke in 2004. Besides short appearances on his "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" specials, he still produces numerous programs, including the American Music Awards and the Golden Globes telecast.
In other words, he's still a functioning human being, just like actor Kirk Douglas and the other stroke survivors - more than 6 million - in the United States.
Since the stroke, Clark doesn't have the golden voice that was his hallmark as a television and radio host. Apparently, that offends some people.
That's unfortunate, because Clark's voice as a stroke survivor is more important now than it ever was when he hosted "American Bandstand."
Every New Year's Eve that America sees him is a hallmark for fellow survivors and their families.
Happy New Year, Mr. Clark - and Mr. Douglas, and the rest of the 6 million plus. You've all earned it.