Category Archives: In the News

What Mitt….Doesn’t Get

Look! It's a Poor Person.

44 Million. No, it’s not Mitt Romney’s earnings this past year.  It’s the number of Americans living below the poverty line.  According to the 2012 Federal Guidelines, a family of four earning $23,050 a year is considered “poor.”  When considering the poor, however, it doesn’t seem to register for Mitt Romney.

“I’m not concerned about the very poor.”  Those were the words of the man who seeks to be the Republican nominee for President.  He couched his gaffe saying they (the poor) have a social safety net. That was the insult to the injury.

There was a time when the Republican Party — the party I joined as a first-time voter at 18 years of age — was the party of opportunity.  Today though, based upon Romney’s comments, dignity apparently cannot be afforded those 44 million Americans.  Dignity is even further stripped by suggesting the poor simply be reliant upon government.  This isn’t the Republican Party I joined.   

If Romney wants to shed his image as a rich guy out-of-touch with the average American, he should take a page from one of the more forward thinkers of the modern day Republican Party.  I’m speaking of the late Jack Kemp.  The former Congressman, HUD Secretary, and Vice Presidential candidate was a strong proponent of an “Ownership Society.” He believed the way out of poverty was a rising tide created by supply-side economics whereby business would reinvest in capital — both durable goods and human capital.  And as HUD Secretary, home ownership was key to breaking the cycle of multi-generational poverty. 

Jack Kemp pushed the GOP to not concede the inner-cities and the poor.  Sadly, Mitt — in his own words — isn’t “very concerned”  about them.  To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen, “You’re no Jack Kemp, Governor Romney.”

Mitt has shown a chameleon-like ability to be on multiple sides of such polarizing issues as abortion and gay rights.  His latest gaffe, however, will be a difficult one to overcome.  It’s an inevibility the Obama campaign will exploit this issue to show Romney out of touch.  If Mitt wants to be President, he needs to reconsider those 44 million Americans….”The Poor.”

For a look back at my tribute to the late Jack Kemp, please visit:  https://livedifferently.wordpress.com/2009/05/03/jack-kemp-rip/

JDC

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No Need For Discussion….

President Obama's controversial commencement address at Notre Dame

During the Democratic primaries, then-candidate Barack Obama was sharply criticized for his openness to dialogue with the heads of state that have traditionally been anti-American.  Attempts by Senator Hillary Clinton to portray the junior senator from Illinois as someone willing to cozy up to the likes of Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chavez, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fell flat — even though Senator Obama openly stated he would meet with each of these leaders personally.

President Obama is not lacking in political deftness. He skillfully fended off criticism by offering the JFK approach:  “We must not negotiate out of fear.  But we must also not fear to negotiate.”

Obama’s approach, like President Kennedy’s, has merit.  It certainly didn’t hurt the new President to do much more other than “show up” and be somebody else given the unfavorable international view of the Bush foreign policy. 

So what is it that has Robert Finn so troubled? 

You might ask:  Who is Robert Finn and why is he troubled?

He’s actually “Bishop” Robert Finn, the Bishop for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and he is troubled not so much by President Obama’s controversial commencement address at Notre Dame as he’s troubled by one word, in particular, uttered by President Obama during that address.

The word is “irreconcilable.”

President Obama declared he and the Church have “irreconcilable” differences on the matter of abortion.  To Bishop Finn’s point, these words were an admission by the President that he has shut the door on any dialogue.

“As a country we want to see an end to racial prejudice.  We want a more secure peace in the world.  We want sound economic justice for people.  So we can’t give up on working with the administration, ” said Bishop Finn.

Finn sees a genuine role for the Church to work with the Obama administration — which protects abortion — by addressing “many associated elements that have to do with taking care of women in distress, offering alternatives to abortion.”  He added, “We have to work together, discuss and study how best we can provide for the needs of women and families.  How can we reduce the number of abortions?  These are elements for dialogue.”

But can a dialogue even take place given the President’s declaration of “irreconcilable differences?”  Is this because he knows deep in his heart abortion is wrong and he is the one fearful to negotiate?

A frequent — and often justified — criticism leveled at Obama’s predecessor was the prideful and stubborn ways of President George W. Bush which kept him from seeing the larger picture when it came to the war in Iraq and, to some extent, the war in Afghanistan.  The criticism by Obama and the political Left was their assertion that there was little or no room for dialogue, much less dissent.

So what makes President Obama’s firm irreconcilable position any different from President Bush’s

And why is President Obama willing to give time to the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a man who denies the Holocaust and seeks total destruction of Israel — but is completely unwilling to work out differences he has with the Catholic Church and her people? 

A majority of Catholic voters cast their ballots for President Obama in this last election.  But as issues are purportedly “irreconcilable,” will that majority of Catholic voters be there for the President during his re-election?

Source:  CNA (www.catholicnewsagency.com)

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Where God Left His Shoes: Poverty Is For Everyone

 Where God Left His Shoes- John Leguizamo

The apartment was ramshackle.  A tight kitchen accentuated by dirty dishes left in the sink. Non-perishables in the cupboard…perishing.  This depressing environment is only further accentuated by a broken light fixture. 

Equally discouraged and relieved, Frank Diaz spins the broken light fixture and says, “Well, it’s not exactly where God left his shoes…But it’ll work.”

That line becomes the title of a Salvatore Stabile’s indie-film Where God Left His Shoes.  It’s a film mixed with despair and hope.  It’s a film that also stings with an unspoken, ignored reality in our nation.

Frank Diaz, portrayed by John Leguizamo, is happy standing in this substandard apartment because it is much better than the homeless shelter where he and his family have been staying for the last two months.  In that same scene, he pulls his stepson to the kitchen window and excitedly points out Yankee Stadium and verbalizes his wishes for what the two of them will be doing on Opening Day.

Diaz is hopeful, but in a non-saccharin way.  He’s rooted in realism; he just wants what is best for his family.

His circumstance came about with the loss of work.  Like so many hanging by an economic thread, Frank Diaz’s family has been living paycheck-to-paycheck. It has now been a couple months without those paychecks.  The eviction notice arrives and they have two hours to gather their belongings.

After time in the shelter, Frank gets good news:  He and his family have cleared the waiting list and are now eligible for this apartment.  Frank’s relief and measured enthusiasm abruptly departs when it’s determined his work as an “off-the-books” day laborer don’t qualify him as being gainfully employed or having regular income — a requirement of all tenants.

This sets off a sequence of events that provide a glimpse into what it is like to live a life of poverty — a life perpetually on the edge.  I do not wish to give away important details of the story; however, Frank’s obstacles to getting his family out of their situation are palpable.  They are powerful examples that hard-work and determination are not a guaranteed escape from poverty.

Today in America, over 37 million people live at or below the poverty level.  It is estimated that by the end of 2010 the number will rise to 50 million.  This is not a collection of so-called “lazy people” lacking motivation.  As much as we don’t like to think this happens in our prosperous nation, those living in poverty are examples of the serious injustices in our economic and social structures.  Sadly, these injustices make casualties out of people like Frank Diaz and his family….As well as families and individuals in our own communities.

To better understand the impact of poverty — even upon the most-determined people — I highly recommend picking up a copy of Where God Left His Shoes.  Fret not that the film is one of despair.  As I mentioned, this is also a story of hope and there are shining examples of redemption that champion the human spirit in this film.

 For more information, you can also visit the Official Website 

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When 900 Came Knocking….

Immigration Reform, Postville, Iowa

It’s been a year now. 

Few, however, outside of the small town of Postville, Iowa may recall what transpired on May 12, 2008.

Nestled in the extreme northeast portion of Iowa, this town of 2,200 people was visited on that particular day by two helicopters of the federal government and 900 Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents — an amount that’s roughly 40% of the town’s entire population.

The purpose:  Round up nearly 400 suspected illegal immigrants at one of the town’s agri-processing plants.

It’s considered to have been the second largest workplace immigration raid in our nation’s history.  Cost to the taxpayers: $5.2 million.  That amount does not even account for the economic devastation experienced by the townspeople — documented or undocumented.  Suffice to say, this came at a high price.

These raids have more than an economic impact; there’s a societal impact when families are split apart.  And it’s not something exclusive to Postville, IA. It’s seen in places all across the U.S. from Greely, Colorado to Greenville, South Carolina.  Typically, the breadwinner of the family is detained, thus leaving the spouse — and children in many cases —  not knowing that person’s status or whereabouts.  Now what is a single parent to do?

I found myself in the midst of a conversation with a colleague who is very overt about his faith.  For a non-Catholic, he has been a very good supporter of Catholic Charities and our efforts to feed the hungry.  However, he took issue with me about “your church’s social teachings.”  I played along.

This colleague — and very well-intentioned Christian I would add — told me “The law is the law and it must be followed.”  I responded, “You mean, like Roe vs. Wade, correct?  Because that’s law now. Or are you talking about how under our Constitution African Americans were once considered 3/5ths human beings for voting purposes?”  He began to give thought to what I had said. That’s not to say that he wasn’t thinking before he formed his opinion, but there is something to be said about positions formed out of ignorance….They’re typically ignorant.

When I explained to this person that such raids split up families and in most cases forced mothers and children to rely upon government sources and private charity in order to live, his eyes opened up and it dawned on him:  For all of his “pro-family” rhetoric on other societal and political matters, his so-called hard-line approach to illegal immigration was now sounding quite “anti-family.”   It certainly wasn’t “pro-life.”

One of the unexpected heroes during the Postville raids was a rather unassuming Catholic priest. Fr. Paul Ouderkirk was a man looking forward to a quiet assignment as he approached retirement.  Instead, he found himself in the eye of a political storm.  Many of his parishioners at St. Bridget parish were either employees or relatives of employees who were picked up during the raid.  It was the pastor and the parishioners of St. Bridget’s that rallied to the aid of the families separated from their imprisoned spouses/parents.

Not everyone agreed with the actions taken by the faith community:  “I am disturbed that local religious leaders in Postville seem to think it is immoral to arrest people who violated federal laws,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that believes in limiting immigration.

Here’s the rub:  Why did these so-called “law-breakers” break federal law in the first place?  I have not heard a more succinct or reasoned explanation than what I heard from Fr. Dan Groody, CSC — a so-called “religious leader.”  Fr. Groody asks a very simple question:  “How can we expect people to obey Civil Law, yet ask them to disobey Natural Law?”  To further that point, how do people of faith reconcile their Gospel call to “Welcome the Stranger” by vociferously opposing the immigrant’s presence or right to migrate?

As the Director of Notre Dame’s Center for Latino Spirituality and Culture, Groody’s point is this:  Everyone has a right to migrate to support themselves and their families.  His position has authoritative backing in Blessed John XXIII who declared that while the state has a right to maintain its sovereignty and protect its borders, it simply cannot overlook the common good.  Is it any wonder why so many Mexicans who are struggling in abject poverty will risk their lives getting to the U.S. so that they may have a better life?

The economic downturn and the scarcity of jobs has somewhat quieted down the issue of immigration.  Nonetheless, we are still in need of comprehensive immigration reform.  One of the biggest proponents of such reform was President George W. Bush.  Unfortunately members of his own party managed to sabotage any legislation.  There is hope that President Obama will be able to accomplish something given the large majorities of his party in both houses of Congress.

We should not have to wait for another Postville incident — or anniversary of such an incident — that gets us sound immigration reform which protects our borders and simultaneously honors human dignity and looks out for the common good.

For more information and a genuine human perspective on the issue of migration, please check out the work of Fr. Dan Groody at the following:

> Dying To Live

> One Border One Body

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War on poverty: Who’s winning?

Father Larry Snyder - Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Catholic Charities USA president pushes forward bold plan to cut poverty in half by 2020.

Father Larry Snyder admits it’s a daunting challenge: start work to cut the U.S. poverty rate in half by 2020 at a time when thousands of Americans are drowning in debt and organizations that serve the poor are straining to meet their clients’ needs. But not only is Catholic Charities USA, which Father Snyder heads, committed to the goal, he and the organization are convinced that it’s vital for the country.

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Jack Kemp, R.I.P.

Jack French Kemp (July 13, 1935 – May 2, 2009) was an American politician and professional football player.

Late last night I settled into my hotel room here in our nation’s capital and as I’m strolling through the channels I learned the sad news: A man who spent so many years working in this city – for the betterment of our nation — had passed.

Jack Kemp’s enthusiasm was infectious. His enthusiasm wasn’t just for his party and its policies – an area where he sometimes differed with the GOP. Jack Kemp was a man enthusiastic about America and, more importantly, he was a man enthusiastic about people.

Jack Kemp was All-American. Blessed with good looks and tremendous athletic ability, Kemp spent ten years as quarterback for the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers twice leading his teams to AFL championships. He parlayed his celebrity into a political career by serving a decade and a half as U.S. Congressman from western New York.

Kemp was not the stereotypical jock trying to find a place to settle in and ride out his career. He was a key player in the U.S. House of Representatives to advance the Reagan Revolution of the early ‘80’s. An ardent advocate of Supply-Side Economics, Kemp believed by freeing up restrictions on the market (e.g. lowering taxes) all people would benefit which was in the JFK philosophy that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Public policy experts and historians will debate where Supply-Side Economics went wrong. Certainly if government hadn’t overspent the increased revenue it actually received as a result of SSE we wouldn’t have had the deficits we had from that era. (For a better understanding, read David Stockman’s Triumph of Politics.)

Secondly, Kemp genuinely believed that by freeing up the market all areas of the private sector would reinvest in people and provide opportunity to those on the margins of the economy. As we know, that wasn’t always the case. Not everyone in the private sector recognizes – as they should — that with liberty comes responsibility. (John Paul II, Centessimus Annus)

But Kemp never stopped in his effort to promote liberty and an ownership culture…for everybody. This was evidenced during his tenure as Secretary for Housing and Urban Development under President George H.W. Bush, but was ultimately formed during his professional football career as we became a more racially integrated society.

He was a self-professed “Bleeding Heart Conservative” which generated so much enthusiasm for people like me and my political peers during his Presidential candidacy in 1988. Like Kemp, we believed in limited government, respect for life in all its forms (not just for the unborn), a strong defense as a deterrent, and opportunity for all.

Jack Kemp was a person, who in the words of his good friend Bill Bennett, “led the party to the inner-city….He wanted to take the party to everybody.” That did not always earn him praise from party-insiders who sometimes found it to be a political waste of time.

When candidate George W. Bush declared himself a “Compassionate Conservative,” many Kemp supporters such as I thought we finally had our guy. Sadly we all know how that story turned out.

This weekend leaders of the Republican Party are on retreat in Virginia searching for its soul as they undergo their own public “Extreme Makeover.” Perhaps it would behoove the GOP to finally listen to what Jack Kemp had been saying…and to whom he was speaking.

Kemp was never afraid to engage anybody because he believed dialogue was healthy. One of the things I admired so much about him was the project he had recently undertaken with another former Vice Presidential candidate, Senator John Edwards. These two men – of largely differing political views — toured the nation conducting forums on the issue of poverty.

Jack Kemp believed we can have differing political views; however, we should never let them blind us to our common goal as Americans, as evidenced in his Poverty Forums with Senator Edwards.

I shall miss the gravelly-voiced enthusiasm that Jack Kemp brought to the political arena. But I am hopeful we are entering a new political era that is less about bluster and demagoguery and is more characterized by constructive dialogue and a fearless discussion of ideas.

Jack Kemp was probably a man ahead of his time. He was certainly a man ahead of his party.

Thank you for your service to our country and for your love of people, Jack. God bless you. You will be missed.

NOTES: Deepest condolences to Jack’s wife, Joanne, his children Jeffrey, Jennifer, Judith, Jimmy, and his 17 grandchildren. For a glimpse into the character of Jack Kemp, please take a look at this open letter he sent to his grandchildren last November:

http://www.kemppartners.com/about-jack-kemp/column/a-letter-to-my-grandchildren

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