Pope Francis:  “…you are gay does not matter. God made you like that and loves you…”!

Dear Commons Community,

Pope Francis made headlines two days ago in a conversation with a gay victim of sexual abuse by stating that “..you are gay does not matter. God made you like that and loves you like this and I don’t care. The Pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.”  This is not in keeping with official Catholic dogma that teaches that homosexuality is sinful.  Here is a recap of the Pope’s statement as provided by the Independent:

“A victim of clerical sex abuse has said Pope Francis told him God made him gay and his sexuality “does not matter”.

Juan Carlos Cruz spoke privately with the pontiff last week about the abuse he suffered at the hands of a prominent Chilean priest. 

After his sexuality came up in conversation, Francis reportedly told him: “Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like that and loves you like this and I don’t care. The Pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.”

The comments are arguably the most explicit acceptance of homosexuality publicly spoken by a head of the Roman Catholic church, which teaches that gay sex is a sin.

It is not the first time Francis’ remarks have suggested a shift in attitudes. In 2013, he told reporters: “If someone is gay and is looking for the Lord, who am I to judge him? You should not discriminate against or marginalize these people.”

The subject of homosexuality arose in Mr Cruz’s conversation with Francis because some of Chile’s bishops had sought to portray him as a pervert who was lying about the abuse, he told El Pais.

His abuser, Fernando Karadima, now 87, was found guilty by the Vatican of sexually assaulting children in 2011. He was barred from clerical duties and sentenced to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” but has never faced a criminal trial. 

This week all of Chile’s 34 Roman Catholic bishops offered the pope their resignation over a sex abuse and cover-up scandal that has rocked the country’s churches.

It is not yet clear whether Francis has accepted their offer to step down.

Mr. Cruz said the Pope had personally apologized to him for the abuse he suffered during their meeting this week.

“I was thrilled that he took what we talked about so seriously,” he added. “I felt the visit was not just a matter of protocol, of public relations.”

The Vatican has not yet commented on the Pope’s reported remarks on homosexuality.”

Here in the United States, the Catholic Church has spoken out against same sex marriages.  It will be interesting to see if and how the Vatican clarifies the Pope’s remarks.


U.S. Supreme Court Deals Blow to Workers in Epic Systems Corporation v. Lewis

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision yesterday ruled that companies can use arbitration clauses in employment contracts to bar workers from joining forces in legal actions over problems in the workplace. In other words, workers who are underpaid, harassed or discriminated against will have to press their cases alone in arbitration, rather than with their colleagues in a class-action case, or even with their own lawsuit.  Terri Gerstein and Sharon Block of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, have an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times explaining the ramifications of this ruling and calling on the Congress to enact new legislation. Here is an excerpt:

“This decision, Epic Systems Corporation v. Lewis, would be a blow at any moment, but it’s especially harmful now. The rights of workers are under attack. Wage theft is rampant through violations of minimum-wage laws, refusal to pay overtime and forcing employees to work off the clock. Our crude national discourse encourages all types of discrimination. And we now know better than ever how pervasive sexual harassment is.

In addition, the institutions that can stand up for workers who can’t stand up for themselves are falling short. The proportion of American workers in a union is at an 80-year low. State and local government agencies that enforce laws to protect workers are chronically underfunded. And the federal government is doing everything it can to lend a hand to predatory employers.

Class-action lawsuits are critical for workers to exercise their rights. The courts are supposed to be there to provide a forum for all people to demand fair enforcement of the law. But the courthouse doors are shut to those who are too scared or don’t have the resources to walk through them alone.

That’s why class actions, which enable people with the same or similar injuries to sue as a group, are important. Taking collective action diminishes the fear of employer retaliation and allows workers to pool resources so they can afford to bring their cases and make them more attractive for lawyers to take on.

Even an utterly routine case can cost a lot of money to litigate. Plaintiffs’ lawyers we spoke with estimated that to represent just one worker who is denied minimum wage or overtime would take more than 40 hours of attorney time. In a case like that, a typical settlement for back wages for one underpaid low-wage worker might amount to $3,000 to $5,000, perhaps less. Few private lawyers would take that case. But if a lawyer can represent a group of workers harmed in the same way by the same employer, the economics of a case starts to make sense.

Congress has the power to open the courthouse doors again for workers. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion, said as much in rejecting the argument that the National Labor Relations Act, which encourages collective bargaining, prevents courts from enforcing arbitration agreements.

“The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written,” he wrote, adding that “Congress is of course always free to amend this judgment.”

That’s exactly what Congress should do by prohibiting employers from barring workers from joining together in lawsuits. It should amend the National Labor Relations Act and the Federal Arbitration Act to make it clear that filing class-action lawsuits is explicitly protected under those statutes.

Until there is change on the federal level, states and localities should increase funding for their enforcement agencies so they can step in to vindicate workers’ rights. But government resources alone will never be sufficient, so states should pass laws allowing whistle-blowers to bring cases on behalf of the government in workplace-related cases.

The rule of law is an essential element of our democracy. That means people need a real and enforceable right to demand that laws be fairly applied. The Supreme Court has undermined this principle by saying to the nation’s workers that they get a chance at justice if only they have the means and power to pursue their cases alone. It is up to Congress to make access to justice for everyone real again by affirming the right of all workers to stand together at the courthouse door.’

While I agree totally with Gerstein and Block in their piece, assuming that the present Congress will enact anything that is beneficial to workers over corporate interests is not going to happen anytime soon.



Texas Governor Greg Abbott Continues to Promote Shotgun Giveaway Contest!

Dear Commons Community,

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s re-election campaign has continued to promote a shotgun giveaway contest days after the Santa Fe Texas high school shooting during which ten people were killed. As reported by Politics:

“The re-election campaign of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is continuing to promote a shotgun giveaway days after a shooter, armed with a shotgun and a pistol, opened fire at a Texas high school.

Abbott, a staunch pro-gun advocate, said Friday that lawmakers needed to “do more than just pray for victims and their families” following the Santa Fe High School massacre, in which authorities say a 17-year-old student killed 10 people and wounded 13.

“It’s time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again,” Abbott said at a press conference, where he noted that the suspected shooter used a shotgun and .38-caliber revolver he had obtained from his father.

Still, the “action” suggested by Abbott on Friday did not appear to include pulling a contest offered by his re-election campaign in which participants can enter to win a shotgun.

“Win a Texas-made shotgun!” boasts Abbott’s official campaign website. To enter the contest, which began May 1, those interested are instructed to submit their contact information online.

Abbott’s campaign also printed promotional material featuring the shotgun giveaway to hang on doorknobs. It’s unclear when and where the printed ads for the contest where circulated.

Representatives for Abbott did not immediately respond to requests for comment.”

It is comforting to see that in times of great sorrow our elected officials show deep sensitivity to the families and friends of victims.


Jimmy Kimmel on the Santa Fe School Shooting:  “They sit there with their hands in their pockets — pockets that are full of gun money — and do nothing.”



Dear Commons Community,

Last Friday in Santa Fe, Texas, there was another school shooting where nine students and one teacher were killed by a deranged individual.  It seems like every couple of months another tragedy happens in one of our country’s schools and we are resigned to the fact that it will likely happen again in another couple of months.  Jimmy Kimmel addressing the issue called out our politicians who “sit there with their hands in their pockets — pockets that are full of gun money — and do nothing.” Above is the video of his monologue.  Below is a brief account.

“On Friday night, at the start of “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Kimmel talked about the shooting that killed 10 people and wounded 10 more at Santa Fe High School. He immediately called out Donald Trump, Texas governor Greg Abbott, and members of Congress for not doing enough to prevent shootings from happening.

“Once again, our leaders are sending their thoughts and prayers,” Kimmel said. “President Trump said he is with the people of Santa Fe in this tragic hour and will be with them forever. Except for when it comes time to do something. Then he will not be with them. And neither will any of the Congresspeople or governors, who don’t ever do anything because they are fearful that it will hurt them politically.”

Kimmel was referring to Trump’s tweet about the shooting, in which he wrote, “We grieve for the terrible loss of life, and send our support and love to everyone affected by this horrible attack in Texas. To the students, families, teachers and personnel at Santa Fe High School – we are with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever….”

The video included a series of shots of victims of the shooting telling reporters about their experiences, intercut with politicians announcing their refusal to enact any new gun laws.

Kimmel went on to call out government leaders for being afraid to stand up to the National Rifle Association.

“They know the truth,” he said. “They know this has gone too far. But they’re too cowardly to do the right thing. They care more about the support of the NRA than they do about children. So they sit there with their hands in their pockets — pockets that are full of gun money — and do nothing. They just wait for the outrage to pass. Because it didn’t happen to their children.”


Professor Young Kun Kim Dead!

Dear Commons Community,

Professor Young Kun Kim of Lehman College and the Graduate Center died at the age of 87 today of injuries he sustained during an assault on Sunday.  Newspaper accounts reported that Matthew Lee attacked him  in the lobby of the Citibank on Broadway at W. 96th St and made off with $300 while leaving him for dead.  

Professor Kim served City University for over fifty years.  I was fortunate to enroll in three of his classes while an undergraduate in the 1960s.  I was a political science major and his class on modern political philosophy was one of the best courses I ever had in my life.  He introduced me to Hegel, Mill, Marx and Engels.  He was a kind, generous, and gentle man who had great sensitivity to those of us who had the good fortune to be his students.  In recent years, our paths have crossed a number of times here at CUNY mostly at the Graduate Center were he regularly attended Graduate Council meetings.  We would always talk about what we were doing and he was still encouraging me to achieve and to move forward with my career.  I also remember him saying in the early years of the Vietnam War that it will be a long involved conflict that America could never win.

No one deserves to die the way he did. CUNY has lost a dear member of its family.  I will miss him.


Colleges That Are Richer Than Some Countries!

Dear Commons Community,

There are a number of American colleges and universities which have estimated endowments greater than $2 billion dollars, meaning their wealth not only exceeds that of many large companies, but that of fourteen different nations. As reported by Stacker:

“Using data from the NACUBO 2017 Commonfund Study of Endowments, Stacker compiled a list of the 50 American colleges with the most substantial endowments, each of which exceeds the total wealth of a number of nations around the world.  There are a handful of incredible locations around the world where one can’t help but feel the money that went into sculpting the grandiose ambiance. Though it used to be the case that only the likes of luxurious hotels and restaurants could synthesize these kinds of environments, stepping onto the campus of one of America’s top colleges can now have that very same effect. America’s public schooling system may be in trouble, but our top universities are anything but.  Considering not only the quality of architecture on display in many of our academic institutions, but also the commitment to funding research, investing in advanced technologies, and top-of-the-line amenities available at many colleges, it can be helpful to put some universities’ finances into context to understand the true scale of their riches.”

It will be interesting to see how U.S. Congress’ plan to tax university endowments plays out.



Michigan State University to Pay $500 Million to Settle with Victims of Larry Nasser!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that Michigan State University will pay $500 million to settle with the victims of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, the university announced yesterday in  a news release.

Nassar, a former Michigan State professor of osteopathic medicine and team physician for USA Gymnastics, was convicted of sexually assaulting hundreds of young women and girls, and hundreds of lawsuits, representing 332 victims, were filed against the university.

Michigan State will pay $425 million now and put $75 million in a trust fund for anyone who alleges in the future that Nassar sexually abused them, according to the release.

The settlement applies only to Michigan State and “MSU individuals sued in the litigation,” the release states.

“This historic settlement came about through the bravery of more than 300 women and girls who had the courage to stand up and refuse to be silenced,” said John Manly, a lawyer representing the survivors, in a written statement.

In March, John Engler, the university’s interim president, told state lawmakers that money for such settlements would probably be drawn from tuition and state funds, The Indianapolis Star reported.  But some Michigan lawmakers criticized Engler’s plan to use taxpayer dollars to help pay for settlements.

A university spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an inquiry about where the money for the settlements would come from.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the university’s long-term credit rating this month because of the “heightened financial risk” from the number of Nassar-related lawsuits.

What a sad chapter in the history of this university.


Education Secretary Betsy Devos Visits New York City Schools with Only Religion on Her Mind!

Dear Commons Community,

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent the past two days touring New York City schools but the city’s public schools, with their 1.1 million students, were not among them.  Instead, Ms. DeVos visited two Orthodox Jewish schools, and offered her strongest comments to date in support of public funding for religious schools in a meeting with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and other Catholic dignitaries.   

Ms. DeVos has yet to visit a district-run school in New York, and her choice of institutions to visit drew a terse statement from the city’s Department of Education. “An investment in public education is an investment in the future of our city and country,” the department’s press secretary, Toya Holness, said. “Secretary DeVos is welcome to visit N.Y.C. public schools and see the phenomenal work we’re doing in the nation’s largest school district.”

The trip is the latest effort by DeVos to press what she says is her top priority as education secretary: to expand school choice, including programs that allow public funds to be used for private school education.

DeVos visited the girls school Tuesday, where she spent several hours in classrooms and having lunch with students. Among the officials she met was Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, which is an Orthodox Jewish organization that advocates for public funding of private Orthodox Jewish schools and Hasidic Jewish yeshivas.

On Wednesday, DeVos visited the boys school.

She also delivered a speech at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, which supports charities that work with the children of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. During the address, she quoted Pope Leo XIII to underscore her oft-stated sentiments about government being a problem rather than a solution to problems — in 2015 she said “government really sucks” — and her opposition to virtually any government involvement in how schools educate children.

Like Smith, I believe that the best solutions to public problems are found in the home, between neighbors, in houses of worship and in communities. Those closest to the individual in need are best positioned to serve because they know one another.

Secretary Devos visit to New York underscores how out of touch she is when it comes to public education in this country. 



President Trump – Nobel Peace Prize Candidate – NOT!

Dear Commons Community,

When I left for my trip to the Mediterranean earlier this month, a group of Republican House members were circulating a petition for Donald Trump to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. When I returned last night, the Gaza Strip was the scene again of violent protests on the part of Palestinians.  These protests were fueled in part by President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.  As reported by the New York Times yesterday:

“Across the Gaza Strip on Monday morning, loudspeakers on minarets urged Palestinians to rush the fence bordering Israel, where they were met by army snipers. At least 60 were killed and thousands injured, local officials said — the worst day of carnage there since Israel invaded Gaza in 2014.

Hours later, a beaming Ivanka Trump helped unveil a stone marker etched with her father’s name on the new American Embassy in Jerusalem, keeping his campaign promise to officially acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. An audience of 800 religious conservatives and right-wing politicians from both countries sang “Hallelujah.”

“What a glorious day,” exulted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two scenes, only an hour’s drive apart, illustrated the chasm dividing Israelis and Palestinians more than at any moment in recent history.

For generations, both sides of the conflict have been locked in competing, mutually negating narratives, with only sporadic flickers of hope for peace despite the efforts of a long list of presidents and secretaries of state.

Now, with the militant Hamas movement hanging on to control of Gaza, and Mr. Netanyahu backed by President Trump, neither side is even listening to the other, and the Palestinians have lumped the United States together with Israel as an overt adversary.

Responsibility for the violence on Monday rested “squarely with Hamas,” said Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, for “intentionally and cynically provoking” Israel by urging Palestinians to storm the border fence. “Israel has the right to defend itself,” he said.

In Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, deputy chief of Hamas, blamed the United States for inciting the violence by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, reversing decades of American policy and defying international consensus. “The American administration bears responsibility for all consequences following the implementation of this unjust decision,” he said.

The two sides were in equally different worlds when speaking of how the embassy opening would affect the moribund peace process.

Palestinians, who hope to see the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, see the embassy move as an abdication of any vestige of American impartiality in determining the region’s future. Since Mr. Trump announced the move in December, Palestinian leaders have flatly rejected the idea of peace talks under American auspices.”

I think Mr. Trump has just lost key votes among members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.




Port of Amalfi

Dear Commons Community,

Amalfi may be a case that the best was saved for last as far as beautiful small Mediterranean towns are concerned. Amalfi is nestled in a small mountain chain and its port provides this attractive welcoming to ships. Many houses appear to be just hanging off the cliffs that rise from the center port area.

The major point of interest as it is in so many southern European towns is the cathedral.  In Amalfi, the main square and shopping area forms a piazza around what is referred to as the Complex of St. Andrew in Amalfi. The Complex includes a cloister, a garden, a crypt, a museum, the bell tower, the old and new cathedrals. The buildings combine  Romanesque and Baroque styles of architecture.

This was our last evening of the cruise. We leave shortly on our fifteen hour journey by ship, bus, plane, and car service for home.  My next posting will probably be on Wednesday when I am back in the States.

Ciao, Amici!


Amalfi Cliffside Homes

Complex of St. Andrew of in Amalfi

Garden Adjacent to the Cloister

Sunset on Our Last Evening

Nightfall on Our Last Evening on the Ship