Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gerald Ford, The Helsinki Accord, and Miami

Reflecting on the death of former President Gerald Ford, historians are giving him credit as a founding father of the human rights movement for backing the 1975 Helsinki Final Act that required the Soviet Union to recognize human and religious rights. Although the "Final Act" legitimized territory the communist state had gained following WWII in Eastern Europe, that human rights clause would eventually lead to the Soviet Union's downfall. Poland's Lech Walesa, Russia's Andrei Sakharov, and the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel used it as a protective shield to stand up and fight the Russian giant. Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said that although the Accord was "no more than a piece of paper" activists "were able to shame their governments into treating people a little bit better."

Which got us to thinking. Miami needs a Helsinki Final Act that will shame our local governments "into treating people a little better" and to protect its people from lying, self-serving, greedy bureaucrats and elected officials.

We are also reminded about the importance of place in creating who we are. Many have acknowledged that the culture of Grand Rapids, Michigan was very much responsible for making Gerald Ford the decent, humble man that he was. There is a culture steeped in what is commonly called and often derided as the "middle-American" virtues of common sense, fairness, self-reliance, and patriotism. We don't see much of that here unless, of course, you talk about a loyal following of vociferous immigrants and the locally elected who have a misguided apoplectic patriotism towards Cuba. Mostly though, if you live here long enough, you begin to see a culture that doesn't live by those virtues found in Grand Rapids. Instead, it seems to be a schizoid culture with misplaced loyalties bent on getting as much as it can in any way that it can even if it means trampling over those middle American virtues to get at the public trough.

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