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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

If I Were in the Oval Office…

Everyone knows there was a time, not so very long ago, when WASPs – white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants – ran everything. Older Jewish people remember when they were not welcome in certain clubs or communities, and a generation or two prior to that, the same was true of Catholics, especially Irish and Italian Catholics. Indeed, back in the 1780s when the Constitution was written, being Protestant often was a criterion for voting in the new states, along with being male and a property owner. Spanish Florida was the most theocratic: until it became a US Territory in 1821, non-Catholics were not even legally permitted to reside within its borders.

It is a good thing that this mixing of religion and law has changed over time, but it’s not a good thing that so many of us are unaware of a different recent change. My informal polls among educated friends revealed a surprising lack of awareness that there is no Protestant on the current Supreme Court. In a major but largely unacknowledged reversal of American history, we now have a Court composed solely of Catholics and Jews.

Because of the mass for his funeral at Catholic University, people are aware that Antinon Scalia was Catholic – and so are his colleagues Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and one of the three women on the court, Sonia Sotomayer. The other two women, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Elena Kagan, are Jewish, as is Stephen Breyer. Although the nation’s majority still is Protestant (or at least claims to be), there’s not a Protestant anywhere on the highest bench.

Meanwhile the Republican right, which hypocritically prides itself on strict interpretation of the Constitution, have invented a new clause that reduces the presidential terms from four years to three. They are arguing that an election should occur prior to a court nomination – something that is unprecedented and truly unworthy of people who claim to be conservative. As several commentators have pointed out, we had an election: two of them, in fact, both won by the current occupant of the White House. The Constitution gives the president the clear power -- and duty -- to nominate judges, including those at the highest level, and it puts no time limits on that.

As a former professor of constitutional law, President Obama knows this -- and he is being very astute in not replying to the latest obstructionist behavior of the radical right. He’s letting the clowns take center stage, and when he does name his choice, they will have made it clear that they will object to anyone, qualifications and abilities be damned. A saint would not be good enough if he/she were the president’s choice.

The media goes along, giving free reign to the loudest mouths and failing to ask for commentary from real authorities such as the American Bar Association. Unlike the usual situation in cases of job vacancies, the names of potential candidates have been slow to arise. That may change by the time you read this, of course, but I’m going to go fearlessly ahead with my nomination were I sitting in the Oval Office.

That would be our own Martha Barnett of Tallahassee, the second woman elected as president of the American Bar Association. She reached this pinnacle in 2000, more than a century after the first woman was licensed as a lawyer (Iowa, 1869). She grew up in a tiny town near Dade City and went to law school when few women did. The respect that her colleagues have for her is clear in her election to this top position – and I’d love to see how right-wingers could possibly object to her personal and political history, which always has been thoroughly centered in quietly doing the right thing. I’d lay odds that her sweet Southern accent and sensible attitudes would charm at least some of the most bullish of the bullies.

Cuba: Peace and Prosperity

I’m so proud of our Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who recently went to Cuba with other members of Congress who are co-sponsors of the Cuba Trade Act. Because of the patient diligence of such leaders, political ideology has lost to economic pragmatism, and war threats ninety miles off our coast are fading into dim memories. Schoolchildren, thank goodness, no longer practice hiding under their desks because a communist might drop a bomb. Yes, we really did that. The only possible response in retrospect is, “what were they thinking?”

You may remember that my Arkansas sister went to Cuba last fall, and I said that when the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce visits Havana, everything is over but the shouting. Arkansas is the largest rice producing state in the nation, and Cubans eat a lot of rice. They can’t grow their own effectively because they still are operating decades behind the times in terms of mechanization. At the Chamber’s advice, the Arkansans brought small gifts for Cubans, so Margaret went to Big Lots and bought a bunch of pliers, screwdrivers, and other such tools. When she gave some to a farmer, she said, “I thought you could use these to work on your tractor.” He replied, “That’s my tractor,” pointing to a mule. But he thanked her and assured her that the tools would be valuable for other things.

So I was especially pleased to see an Associated Press article – and a few days later, an NPR Radio story – about the first US factory built in Cuba since 1959. With permission from the US Treasury Department, two entrepreneurial guys, both in their seventies and very Southern in their radio voices, are building a plant in Cuba to produce tractors. One lives in Mississippi and the other in South Carolina, but they have done business together for years, and they got in on the ground floor of this new economic opportunity.

Very sensible in their approach, they are designing these new tractors with the model of the 1940 Allis-Chalmbers tractor that revolutionized American agriculture during World War II. Especially in the South, many farmers still plowed with mules and harvested by hand – and like me, these guys are old enough to remember dragging long sacks behind us as we picked cotton in the fall. America produces relatively little cotton anymore, and the fields that you do see inevitably have machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The same is true for rice farms and other agriculture: American farmers simply can’t be in the business without major expenditures for machinery. It’s computerized and modern, as my farmer relatives these days enjoy air-conditioned tractor cabs, comfortable seats, and even surround sound systems while they plow and plant. Knowing that Cuban farmers never could afford the current system of machinery, these two smart guys have gone back to the future and will build the simple tractors that worked for my dad.

I’m really glad that they are, and I’m really glad that President Obama will be going to Cuba to implement more of this sort of thing. Politicians who railed unsuccessfully against Cuba for decades are giving up on this rallying flag, and you no longer see even the most red-meat of Republicans emphasizing the now-trite issue. That ship has sailed, and all of us on both sides of the Florida Straits will be better off because of it.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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