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The challenge to remain free begins today
Hey there! It’s Tuesday, January 3, and I wish I could say that we had five uplifting pieces of information for you this morning. We don’t. That’s why we’re putting pretty pictures, or at least entertaining ones, with today’s 5 Things You Should Know. You need a bit of beauty and laughter if you’re going to get through this day. Already, 4 have died in tornadoes in Alabama overnight1. Much of the South and Midwest is looking at more rain today and Northern Plains states are getting snow.
We don’t have enough room for everything worthy of conversation this morning. We’re skipping over the bombings in Baghdad that claimed several lives2 and the prison riots in Brazil that have killed approximately 60 people there3. As important as those matters are, events overnight force us to take a look at domestic situations instead. We expect this to become normal, unfortunately. As Congress and the incoming President try to sneak things past us, our 5 Things You Should Know becomes that much more critical.
Republicans abandon ethics
I think we all can agree that ethics are kind of a big thing in the world of politics. Corruption is a problem and simple things such as not revealing a financial interest in a new law can have serious consequences. Even as I’m writing this, Israeli police are asking some serious questions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about accepting gifts from business people with interests in how he governs4. We take these matters seriously. That’s why, when House Republicans wait until the middle of the night to completely gut the Office of Congressional Ethics5, it’s kind of a big fucking deal.
The new rules, which are scheduled to be voted on by the full House this afternoon, change the name to the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, a body under the misnamed and mismanaged House Ethics Committee, which has proven to have absolutely no teeth and little motivation to actually hold the members of the House accountable for their actions. The Office of Congressional Ethics was non-partisan. The House Ethics Committee is not. Therefore, the opportunity to “punish” the minority party while ignoring complaints regarding the majority was just swung wide open.
Even House leadership, including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) were against the change and the vote shows just how little control they have over their members. What Republicans are telling us with this first move of the new Congress is that they can’t be trusted. There is no intention to play fairly or follow the rules of good governance. They don’t want ethical oversight because they, like unruly children, don’t want any form of discipline for their misdeeds. This is how a country begins to fall.
Bishops told of zero tolerance policy
Speaking of discipline, the Vatican released a letter yesterday that was sent to Catholic bishops around the world last week, telling them that there would be zero tolerance for any instance of sexual abuse among the clergy6. This comes as critics of the church and victims advocacy groups complain about the slow pace of change within the Vatican and the lack of official policy changes that would hold bishops accountable for the priests under them.
In the letter, Pope Francis tells the bishops, “I would like us to renew our complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst. Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated.” The letter is the Pope’s most comprehensive statement on the issue yet, but still falls short of enacting any real policy change.
The public release of the letter comes as the Diocese of Springfield revealed yesterday that the first bishop indicted in the US for a sexual-abuse claim has died7. Former Bishop Thomas Dupre died Friday at an undisclosed location. Dupre was defrocked by the Vatican in 2006 after being indicted on sexual abuse charges in 2004. That case was dropped because prosecutors determined the statute of limitations had expired, but the former Bishop was later indicted on other charges as well. The ongoing issue of abuse within the church remains one of its most public problems.
Puerto Rico to file for statehood
Let’s shift our attention now to Puerto Rico, the United States’ most overlooked territory. At the ceremony swearing in its new Governor, 37-year-old Ricardo Rossello, the push was made once again for the struggling island to be made a full state8. Puerto Rico became a Territory following the Spanish-American War in 1898, and its residents became US citizens in 1917. It has been a US Commonwealth since 1952. However, its persistent requests to become a full state with full representation in Congress has been repeatedly denied.
Gov. Rossello said in his address yesterday, “The United States cannot pretend to be a model of democracy for the world while it discriminates against 3.5 million of its citizens in Puerto Rico, depriving them of their right to political, social and economic equality under the U.S. flag. There is no way to overcome Puerto Rico’s crisis given its colonial condition.”
What stands in the way between Puerto Rico and statehood, though, is its $70 billion in debt which the US would assume should Puerto Rico become a state. The severe financial crisis of the country has already caused some 200,000 Puerto Ricans to leave the country and move to the mainland, according to the Governor. Still, Rossello plans to have the country elect two Senators and five Representatives in their push for statehood. Unfortunately, no one expects him to receive a warm welcome from the Republican-controlled Congress or the incoming administration.
Judging the American dream
There have been numerous times in our country’s history where it seemed impossible for women to get ahead. Even more challenging has been the advancement of women from many different religious and ethnic groups. Starting today, though, at least one person can claim a victory for women as Rachel Freier becomes the first Hassidic Jew to become a publicly elected judge9. The married mother of six won a three-way Democratic primary and the general election in a swath of Brooklyn that includes the heavily Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood.
At her swearing-in last month, Freier said, “My commitment to the public and my commitment to my religion and my community — the two can go hand in hand. This is a dream. This is the American Dream.” Hasids represent an extremely small portion of the total Jewish population in America, something slightly less than six percent. They are known for being ultra-Orthodox in their belief system, often separating women from men in public. Mrs. Freier’s ascent to the bench is seen as a victory not just for women, but particularly for Hasidic women who struggle to find a public identity within their religion.
Mrs. Freier already has a bit of a reputation for bucking the system. When she attempted to join an all-male volunteer ambulance corps, aiming to aid fellow women during childbirth or gynecological emergencies, she was turned away. Her response? She helped women launch their own volunteer service and joined it herself. In fact, she was taking her turn on call this past weekend. We wish her well and hope her example encourages others.
And finally …
We’ve all known people who just can’t seem to resist dressing up their pets, especially during the winter. Personally, I’m not one of them. In fact, I’m pretty sure our brood would not respond positively to any attempt at putting clothes on them. However, three members of a Florida family had to be hospitalized after attempting to dress their dog, a pit bull mix named Scarface10.
First off, we need to be very clear that the dog’s reaction has nothing to do with its breed. The manner in which the dog was approached and its fear of being confined were what prompted its violent reaction. From that point forward, the dog was simply trying to defend itself, especially after one of the sons in the family tried stabbing the dog in the neck. This dog absolutely, positively did not want to be wearing clothes for any reason.
Naturally, animal control was called in an attempt to subdue the now-agitated dog. A tranquilizer dart had absolutely no effect and officers used a bean bag gun and eventually a stun gun to gain control of the dog. There is no word as to the current condition of the dog or its owners. However, this should probably be a lesson to everyone who thinks that dressing their dog, especially a large breed, is cute. It’s not. They don’t like it. Don’t do it.
That’s all we have space and time for at the moment. Be sure that we’re staying on top of changing developments and will do our best to sort through all the mess to find the things you should know. We would love it if you would consider sponsoring our efforts here, subscribe so that you don’t miss anything, and share so that we can grow. As always, be careful out there and we’ll all be back tomorrow.