Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bullying Must Be Confronted To Curb Abuses (originally published April 28, 2011)

Most of us have been bullied as children, adolescents and, perhaps, even as adults. Adults, however, should be mature enough to handle a situation and sensibly deal with it. But for young children and teenagers, especially when they’re too scared to inform a parent or teacher about such a situation, it can be psychologically damaging, even when it’s not the physical kind.
Bullying used to be considered an act of an incorrigible child or a harmless rite of passage of growing up. Regrettably, episodes of bullying have become more common in recent years, yet they sometimes receive inadequate attention until one or more students unreasonably annoy their peers or — worse — when it becomes a painful physical experience. Several incidents led to tragic results, which forced bullying to center stage.
There’s a saying that kids can be cruel, but that cruelty is often the result of ignorance and lack of knowledge. Furthermore, studies show that bullying, like prejudice, is often behavior learned from or practiced by an adult, particularly a parent or relative. The same analyses indicate that young bullies, who are not suitably dealt with, often grow up to be abusive adults.
A few months ago I saw a TV news magazine segment about bullying at a Midwestern middle school, which attempted to transform two female bullies. After confronting the students, who paired to harass another student, one of the girls realized what she did was wrong when asked to put herself in her victim’s place. Her accomplice, however, refused to admit any wrongdoing. When the second girl’s mother was told about her daughter’s conduct, she also refused to own up to any offense, attributing the behavior to “children being children.” As a result, the second student was suspended for a brief period, which her mother angrily disputed on camera. Guess the second apple didn’t fall too far from that tree.
Several incidents over the last decade have had tragic results that propelled bullying to center stage. That became quite evident last month when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at a White House Conference on Bullying Prevention last month. The meeting, attended by over 150 students, parents, teachers, advocates and policymakers, revealed that nearly one-third of school-aged children — about 13 million — are bullied each year. Students involved in bullying, it was noted, are more likely to have problems in school, abuse drugs and alcohol and are likely to develop mental and physical health issues.
The First Lady put bullying in the proper perspective when she said, “It breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, the playground and online.”
Cyberbullying on social networking Web sites has become the latest method for non-violent cruel behavior and is on pace to dethrone face-to-face harassment. After all, once it becomes an Internet posting, it’s there for the world to see, which can create untold humiliation for a victim that could be more awful than one-on-one cruelty.
In just the last few years, there have been dozens of stories about children — some younger than 10 — who have been bullied on the Internet. From race and ethnicity to disabilities and physical appearances to clothing and other insults, a bully or gang of bullies can’t wait to text, twitter or tweet nasty news using high-speed technology. Once the information is posted, classmates, neighbors and acquaintances see it, which can only aggravate the shame. Parents must also be vigilant. As they caution children about sexual predators and the Internet, they also have an obligation to educate them about cyberbullying, whether they’re the victim or the instigator.
While public schools primarily exist to educate children, they also serve to teach morals and ethics. Bullying too often passes under the radar of scrutiny, but as we have seen and learned all too often, it can be harmful — even deadly.
When children interact with each other they should not have to deal with harassment. Not only must they learn that they do not have to tolerate cruel behavior — even when it’s only verbal — but, more importantly, children should be taught to report an incident of bullying, even under the threat of retaliation.
The only way to stop harassment is to speak up and not tolerate bullying, the same way they are trained to inform on someone who molests them. It is also essential to make attackers recognize that while they enjoy being cruel, it is unacceptable and may be considered assault under the law.
Only by openly confronting bullying — and those who bully — can it be effectively addressed and prevented.

For Constitution's Sake, Keep Religion Out Of Politics (Jan. 3, 2008)

Today's Iowa caucus and the traditional first primary next Tuesday in New Hampshire may - or may not - impact the 2008 presidential campaign, which, for the first time in 56 years, lacks, an incumbent president or vice president. After five more January primaries and Super (Duper) Tuesday on February 8, when voters in more than 20 states, including New York, cast ballots, the pack of presidential hopefuls could be pared to a handful of candidates in both parties.
However, Republican Mitt Romney, despite outspending all of his opponents, according to recent estimates, may have sealed his current White House bid a few weeks ago when he decided to address a major concern - his Mormon religion - that had dogged his campaign for months after being criticized by Evangelical church leaders.
He basically said that if he was elected president next November his devotion to the Mormon faith would have no influence on his decisions as Chief Executive. Many likened the concept to John F. Kennedy's 1960 campaign speech when he assured voters his religion would not make him beholden to the Vatican if he won. As it turned out, Kennedy's faith had no bearing on his abbreviated presidency.
Regardless, Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, demonstrated he is no JFK. Actually, the only things the two have in common are a Harvard education and serving the people of Massachusetts. When Sen. Kennedy went public he gave a succinct background on Catholicism, to clarify his faith, which, at the time was being practiced by some 35 million Americans. Romney, on the other hand, generalized his faith and barely alluded to Mormonism, a religion practiced by less than six million Americans and likely misunderstood or unknown by twenty times that number. Therefore, his words were wasted on the uninformed seeking some clarification.
The fact that Romney was compelled to defend his faith demonstrates the adverse effect fundamentalist zealots have on politics and how they have corrupted a basic tenet of American democracy - freedom of religion. Though it's still early, religion seems to have suddenly emerged as a vital trend in the 2008 presidential race when it should be nothing more than a lesser concern.
In fact, it is evangelists and their favorite son, Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, who have fomented the movement by criticizing Romney's faith, resulting in an unexpected rise in some polls for the former Arkansas governor. Earlier this week, Romney had regained some ground in the Iowa polls.
Several decades ago fundamentalist Christian leaders judged the course of American society and culture was headed to heck (their prudish preference, not mine), so they figured the best method to pursue change was to use their influence in the political arena to repeatedly support a candidate they believe is Mr. Right - a term with multiple implications. With a substantial voting bloc, these holy rollers aggressively exerted pressure and only embraced candidates whose religion was suitable to their liking, which, every so often prevailed over domestic and foreign policy issues. That religious fervor seems to have peaked with the current presidential campaign.
Apparently, freedom of religion means little to Christian conservatives and evangelists - particularly if you don't practice their religion and their self-styled family values. Oh sure, they may respect religious liberty, but when a candidate wants to be president, he/she had better fall in line with their beliefs or be shunned.
A recent survey revealed that only 40 percent of Americans regularly attend religious services, yet 70 percent want a leader with strong religious faith. Therefore, candidates must now make a public confession of their faith, if not pander to religious groups for which they seek backing.
Christian fundamentalists may commit extended portions of the Bible to memory, but it's obvious they ignore segments of the Constitution regarding religious freedom. (Is that against their faith?)
The Founding Fathers established religious freedom knowing many colonists fled persecution of their beliefs when they came to America. Consequently, they established a government free of religious pressures and without putting any restraints on personal faith.
Let's not forget the opening words of the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
For over 200 years this nation has progressed and survived under the principle of the separation of church and state, but evangelicals decided to deviate from that concept, hoping to transform the U.S. into a Christian nation to suit their specific taste. Regrettably, all they've really done is intensify the polarization of America.
I'm hardly a Romney fan - not because of his faith, but rather his stand on most issues - but some of what he said should, once and for all, close the issue on any political candidate's faith: "When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath (to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution) becomes my highest promise to God."
There's a reference to God, but not a specific religion. Hallelujah and Amen!
For all their preaching, fundamentalist hypocrisy was evident when evangelist Pat Robertson endorsed lapsed Catholic Rudolph Giuliani, an adherent of gay rights, gun control and abortion, not to mention the thrice-married man was a philandering husband. Aren't those philosophies - or sins - for which Robertson and his ilk have condemned the rest of us? Guess good ol' Rev. Pat didn't mind turning the other cheek a few times for America's mayor.
In our secular democracy, it should be essential for voters to have faith in the president rather than be concerned with the faith OF the president. After all, when the former is breached, even a devout Chief Executive's leadership comes into question.
Candidates - and anyone else for that matter - should practice their faith as they see fit, but for Constitution's sake, keep it out of politics.

Windshield Flyers Could Be Gone —With the Wind (Published Dec. 31, 2003)

Windshield flyers, bah-humbug! Those annoying 8"x11" handbills drivers occasionally find under car windshield wipers promoting some local merchant are absolutely one of life’s minor nuisances. They drive me and, I’ve no doubt, other car owners, craaazzee!
Sadly, after a barrage of these commercial flyers are placed on cars, they often end up as wind-blown litter on city streets or when aggravated drivers crumble them into a wad and carelessly toss them to the ground. (I’m guilty of doing it.)
There oughta be a law prohibiting this frustrating quality-of-life abuse.
In case you’ve been caught up in the flurry of holiday season activity, a revised statewide regulation banning the distribution of handbills and flyers on windshields of motor vehicles recently went into effect. It became law November 1 throughout the state in cities with a population over one million. Needless to say, New York City is the only municipality in the state affected.
If the law is appropriately applied, it should either result in limiting subsequent handbill distribution or supplementing the city’s depleted treasuries through fines.
For a while after the law went into effect, flyers seemed scarce. In fact, for four-to-five-weeks I didn’t find any on my car, nor did I see any on cars near mine. But, in the past week, they were back!
Along with the other quality of life laws that are being given emphasis, this revised law is a welcome addition, but it will only carry weight if it is enforced to the same extent as parking rules and other sanitation regulations.
Previously, only police officers were authorized to issue windshield flyer summonses. And then only when they actually caught someone placing the flyer on a car. Somehow I doubt it was even rarely, if ever, enforced. But the law has been amended to include permitting Department of Sanitation enforcement officers to issue violations that presume "any person or group whose name, telephone numbers, or other identifying information" appearing on the handbill to be held responsible and, therefore, accountable for its distribution.
Fines range from $75 for each handbill. Therefore, when ten flyers are found on vehicles in a one-block stretch, the distributor can be fined $750. Repeat offenders may subsequently be fined up to $150 for each flyer.
For small businesses, such as Laundromats, auto repair sites, car washes that resort to this mode of advertising it could be very costly. But again, the law has to be upheld to mean anything. Some merchants claim they hire a company to distribute fliers in particular areas, but can’t control where 
the fliers eventually are placed. Now, it is their responsibility to make sure the handbills are not illegally posted.
Banning windshield flyers is reasonable, but if it’s ignored, like lazy drivers who flout double-parking rules, which are necessary to maintain unrestricted traffic flow, and get away with it time after time, it’s pointless.
Brooklyn Republican Marty Golden, whose district includes several south Brooklyn communities, including Marine Park, sponsored the measure in the State Senate. Brooklyn Democrat Joan Millman sponsored the measure in the Assembly.
Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty welcomed the amended law saying it gave his department "real teeth in confronting and enforcing" an annoyance that causes excess litter.
Now let’s see if they can take a bite out of minor crime that has grown into a major annoyance.

Friday, September 16, 2011

When I "Moonwalked" With the King of Pop (first published July 2, 2009)

   The sudden death last week of arguably the world's most recognized entertainer sent shock waves across the globe and instigated a frenzy of communications via the Internet and mainstream news outlets. As generations of fans mourned the pop icon, I summoned up memories of working for Michael Jackson 25 years ago.
As his reputation soared, Michael Jackson announced he would tour with his brothers one last time. Ironically, the five-month event was called "The Jacksons' Victory Tour," named to spotlight "Victory," the brother's latest recording, yet none of that album's songs was performed during its 55-shows. In 1984, the tour was the most expensive, most lavish ever produced and became the most lucrative with an estimated gross of $50 million.
After the spotlight on The Jackson Five faded, Michael embarked on a solo career while brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Randy languished in the shadows. As Michael emerged with two smash solo recordings and his compelling stage presence matured, the "Victory" tour catapulted him to megastardom while his brothers were merely supporting players and onlookers. Jermaine did have a nightly solo set during the tour, to support his solo album, but it was a short-lived fling at stardom.
As news of the upcoming tour snowballed in the spring of 1984, I paid little attention. I was aware of Jackson's escalating popularity and increasing accomplishments, but I was blasé about his music and persona, even after seeing his funky, innovative footwork during "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," the 1983 television special that stunned most of the 47 million people who tuned in and triggered the King of Pop's juggernaut career.
As that summer began, I was laid off from my public relations job at Radio City Music Hall, but one vice president arranged an interview for me with the man handling public relations for the "Victory Tour." My yearning to work on a concert tour, and the opportunity to be part of the biggest one ever put together, prevailed over my nonchalant attitude about Michael Jackson.
With the tour scheduled to kick off on July 6, my potential employer was headed to Kansas City, so he interviewed me at Kennedy Airport as he waited in line for his ticket. After a brief conversation, he hired me as one of two Publicity Coordinators. I caught up with the tour two weeks later in Jacksonville, Florida.
In each city along the way, away from the prying eyes of the media, Jackson would frequently fulfill the wishes of terminally ill children who requested to meet him through organizations, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Those instances were my only encounters with the sheltered star. One of my tasks was to escort the youngsters and family members to Jackson's hotel suite where the singer spent time with the youngsters. In his familiar hushed tone, he always expressed his gratitude to me after he introduced himself to the youngster and parents as Michael's manager looked on.
My other responsibilities were basic. Before each show, I distributed press credentials and tickets to approved print and electronic media representatives. Most of them also requested pre-show venue access to see the massive stage set up. I'd accompany them in, around and out of the stadiums. Once the concert began I coordinate the set-up for video crews to connect to the production's video feed and get footage from the first two new numbers for use on local news broadcasts.
When the TV crews departed I hovered near the stage vigilantly looking for unauthorized photographers in the front rows. The guilty ones had no choice but to surrender the illicit film if they wanted to stay for the remainder of the concert.
At every performance I was amazed at how females — and a few males — responded when Jackson first appeared on stage. I recalled archival footage of Frank Sinatra's swooning bobbysoxers, Elvis Presley fanatics and passionate Beatles fans' reactions, but watching pre-pubescent girls, teenagers and adult women scream, as tears streamed down their cheeks, was mind-boggling.
Aside from the excitement of the tour and the long hours I put in most days, an unusual incident occurred in, of all places, the City of Brotherly Love. The Jacksons held a closed-door luncheon with sickly local children in the Philadelphia hotel where they stayed. I was posted nearby to handle press inquiries. A local television crew arrived, but I reminded them the media was barred. The crew, nevertheless, proceeded, so I backed up a few steps, stretched my arms across the narrow hallway and warned them to stop. They kept coming, so I gently placed my hand on the camera. Suddenly, the cameraman struck me in the forehead with his camera. I was briefly stunned then realized I was bleeding. I yelled for assistance and hotel personnel came to my aid and escorted the TV crew out. I was taken to a local hospital emergency room where the small laceration was closed with several stitches and a dressing placed over it.
When I arrived backstage before concert time, several stagehands came over and promised to "take care" of the TV crew if they showed up that evening to cover the show. The tour press contingent huddled and decided to alert the station's assignment editor not to send the same trio in order to avoid another incident.
The "Victory Tour" was seen by over two million people in 21 cities across the United States and Canada, nevertheless, while ticket demand was overwhelming at the start, scheduled shows in Phoenix and San Francisco later in the tour were canceled due to insufficient ticket sales. Regardless, fans at all the shows went wild from the opening number to the last note.
Over four decades, the trailblazing entertainer demonstrated an incomparable talent that sparked early, burned brightly and left a musical legacy, the likes of which few performers ever achieve. To adoring fans, Michael Jackson's music and concerts will remain foremost memories; however, the allegations, accusations and odd behavior that poisoned his later life, and made him a recurring target of absurd tabloid rumors and occasional fodder for stand-up comics, stain the genius and accomplishments of an innovative pop icon.
The pressure of life in a fishbowl generated a string of pain and shortcomings that hampered Michael Jackson's glory and lingers in the wake of his premature death. As the vultures start to pick at his assets, hopefully, he will rest in peace after a life of ecstasy and agony.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tea Party Crosses the Line With Threats & Attacks – April 1, 2010

   If you’ve been following recent events in national politics you know Tea Party currently refers to a unsettling anti-government movement, connected — in name only — to the American history event when colonists rebelled against British rule in 1773 by tossing tea into the harbor that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party.
Last Saturday’s Tea Party rally in Nevada, just days after the historic health care vote, drew a crowd estimated at 10,000. Some inappropriately called it the Conservative Woodstock, but I doubt anyone who was there would ever want to be associated with the 400,000 who attended the famous “music and peace festival” that took place 41 years ago over three days in upstate New York.
Activists from that generation were at the opposite end of the political spectrum from contemporary Tea Party supporters, yet the newer group reiterates similar complaints heard from their grass roots movement predecessors, such as excess government (anti-establishment back then) intrusion, excessive taxes, destroy the corrupt ruling authority and giving power back to the people, as well as tactics like rowdy mass rallies and protest marches.
Protesters back then were branded unpatriotic for opposing the Vietnam War. There were those who supported the war because they believed it was the patriotic thing to do, yet condemned opponents as ‘Commies’ and suggested they had two choices about their country — love it or leave it.
Agitated Tea Party radicals these days spew comparable anti-government venom, but it isn’t unpatriotic now and it wasn’t then because criticism of the government is one of the advantages of living in a democracy — unless the attacks are augmented with violence. There were, unfortunately, incidents of violence, including bombings of government buildings, connected with the demonstrations staged generations ago.
The modern Tea Party has become more — much more — than your basic clash of East and West coast cultures versus the rest of the country. At some recent rallies there were reports of racist, anti-gay and anti-Semitic epithets in threats directed at several legislators who voted for health care reform. Close to home, Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Queens office received a threatening letter that contained a white powder that turned out not to be hazardous.
At one demonstration protesters verbally abused a man with Parkinson’s disease, chiding him to get a job as they threw dollar bills at him for supporting health care reform.
Threats of physical violence cross the fine line between civility and criminality. At least 10 Democratic Congressmen were given extra security following threats linked to their votes on the Health Care Reform bill. It’s wholly acceptable — and lawful — to peaceably dissent, but it’s another to stand by as agitators engage in acts of vandalism or demonstrate while toting unconcealed loaded weapons.
Before wholly embracing the Tea Party movement, moralizing and responsible members of the Republican Party should condemn the goons and urge responsible citizens in the group that while protests and demonstrations are the American way, using harassment and threats of violence to convey their message is like playing with fire. And remind them that their anger should be expressed with ballots, not images of a weapon’s cross hair to identify Democrats targeted for removal.
These angry people taking unrestrained passion to the lowest level possible have every right to protest and express their utter dissatisfaction with the government in a law-abiding fashion, but with the hard-line reactionary faction making headlines, it seriously questions the movement’s credibility and direction – just as it did when the anti-Vietnam War movement and other protests at that time were sometimes overzealous and violent.
When the landmark Civil Rights Act was passed, there were those across the country who didn’t want to see equality given to blacks. Once again, in today’s heated political climate, the Tea Party refuses to recognize the impact that important legislation could have on the nation.
Political issues have divided the nation for more than a decade. It is unlikely to change as the Tea Party Movement’s influence grows and conservative Republicans follow. But if the bitterness is not reined in, someone’s gets hurt or killed if the vandalism and the threats of violence get out of hand.

Baseball’s Just a Game in the Eyes of the Young

(First published in April, 1999)   
   The baseball season began this week and New York Yankees' fans of all ages are optimistic, anticipating that by the time the leaves of autumn start falling, the most successful and legendary franchise in the history of professional sports will win its second straight and third World Series championship in four years, giving them their 25th championship in 76 years.
   Last year's record-setting 125 victories, while not entirely unattainable again, will be difficult to duplicate. Nonetheless, there have been relatively few roster changes, therefore it's reasonable to expect if the veteran players stay healthy, they can repeat as champs — something no Yankee team has done in over 20 years.
   Despite one major change, the acquisition of five-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Roger Clemens, which compensates for the loss of maverick David Wells, the Yankee pitching staff remains somewhat suspect, due to age, durability and temperament, plus the absence of a competent left-hander. No baseball team has ever been a champion without a strong southpaw and unless the Yankees acquire one before early summer, they may have to disprove the theory that it is impossible to go all the way without the requisite strength of a left-handed hurler.
   As a lifelong fan, I've devoted considerable time engaged in the New York Yankees' annual fortunes and misfortunes from April to the end of the season, which, in my lifetime, too often concluded in September rather than October. However, in recent years, I have viewed the Yankees' triumphs from the pure perspective of two little boys—quasi-nephews, if you will — Jacob and Noah.
   Now 12, Jacob, who prefers to be called Jake, is the youngest son of good friends who live upstate New York. Noah is the 7-year-old son of friends who live in Florida. Though the boys have never met, nor do their parents know each other, I initially connected and grew extremely fond of both kids, essentially through our mutual affection for baseball, especially, the New York Yankees.
  In the wake of the strike that subsequently forced the cancellation of the World Series a few years ago, the multiplying greed that had dominated America’s pastime repelled me, along with millions of other disgusted fans. Though baseball I, and every other professional sport for that matter, is primarily a business, most fans are drawn to it as unsuspecting youngsters for pure entertainment value and sheer enjoyment, not yet aware or tainted by the self-serving attitudes of profit-minded -owners and egotistical players.
  My pessimistic attitude towards baseball was gradually transformed when I heard or occasionally saw how Jake and Noah, due mainly to youthful naivete, freely delighted in and absorbed the game. That innocence allowed them — and rekindled for me — sandlots and neatly trimmed amateur baseball fields, teaming the basics of hitting, catching and throwing. Their first contact with the financial impact of the sport probably comes when parents start buying the essential equipment — bats, gloves, uniforms, and assorted accessories. It is several years before these youngsters realize the degree of money that's involved in the profession on the major league level.
   What is striking about both "nephews" is that while each possesses individual and unique athletic determination, plus headstrong personalities, they are, in spirit, brothers in baseball and, like many of their peers, derive elementary joy from the sport with childlike simplicity, seeing the game exclusively for its competitive suspense, not the underlying business it actually is.
   Both youngsters, coincidentally, also extract a vast amount of statistics and minutiae continuously aired television shows, such as ESPN's Sports Center, that, in conversation, they eagerly relay to me. I'll patiently listen and often am more astonished by their limitless ability to acquire what, for me, is essentially trivial, but, for them, is crucial information.
My interest at their respective ages, though avid, was never as potent. I regularly followed the Yankees' annual pennant chase as a youth, but I recall being more concerned about the latest dilemma facing Howdy Doody and the weekly exploits of Superman, rather than batting averages and last nights' highlights, which, back then, were only available in newspapers or briefly on evening news shows.
   Jake, Noah and I had been anxiously awaiting the start of the 1999 baseball season and  hoping our Yankees can do it again. Now that the season has commenced, I envision inevitable conversations with them about Derek Jeter's latest amazing throw from the shortstop hole, Clemens' 10-strikeout shutout, Bernie Williams' four homers in two games, Tino Martinez' multi-game hitting streak or Paul O'Neill's recent clutch, game-winning RBI.
   My friends and I periodically talk about the Yankees and the 'state of the game, but it's an insignificant, detached segment of our discussion. Consequently, I'm indebted and grateful to two special boys  Jake Richman and Noah Gatsik  and their parallell exuberance for helping me recapture the passion and providing me with a refreshing outlook as I watch baseball played by the Boys of Summer.
   Seeing my nephews’ wide-eyed, animated excitement for the sport made me realize, and appreciate, that for younger fans, baseball is as it should be — simply just a game.

Ariel Sharon’s Historic Reversal Could Pave Road to Peace (Jan. 19, 2006)

Earlier this week it was reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opened his eyes for the first time since his recent disabling stroke. While expectations for even a partial recovery for the respected, charismatic statesman are dim, Sharon was prudent enough to open his eyes — and his mind — about his nation’s predicament last year when he called for the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip, a tract of land gained following the triumphant 1967 Middle East War.
After years of engineering policies to thwart a Palestinian state, Sharon, who’s been a forceful presence in Israel for decades, apparently came to the conclusion that continuous retribution against Palestinian aggression merely resulted in limitless warfare and set aside his longstanding hawkish outlook. To that end — and with persuasive nudging from the Bush Administration — the statesman created a new political party and subsequently ordered the removal of the settlements, a key concession for which the Palestinians insisted. The decision was undoubtedly a painful sacrifice and greeted with some opposition, though a majority of Israelis, apparently drained and frustrated by living in a constant state of fear, surprisingly supported the plan.
At the time he defended the strategy, Sharon said, “It is out of strength, not weakness, that we are taking this step…The responsibility for the future of Israel rests on my shoulders.”
Now that’s a leader who knows how to do what’s best for the future of his nation, rather than follow his personal interests!
The Bush Administration would be wise to heed the advice for peaceful coexistence it gave to Sharon and consider the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as soon as possible.
Anyone familiar with Israel’s brief history and geography knows it’s entirely unlike that of the United States. Since it became an independent nation in 1948, Israel has had to perpetually defend itself against neighboring enemies. The U.S. has not faced that kind of circumstance since it defeated Mexico in the 19th century. Nonetheless, Israel has managed to defeat its enemies in several major conflicts, but left to suffer considerable death and destruction over time.
When America got two terrible doses of terrorism in New York City in less than a decade, it was obligated to establish necessary — and questionable — changes to insure its safety, thus getting a taste of what Israel has endured for more than half a century.
Now it is time for the U.S. to follow Israel’s gamble and seek a prudent, sensible strategy for ending its unnecessary, unprovoked entanglement in Iraq. Besides, with the nuclear situation in Iran escalating into a major international crisis — and with Israel in its cross hairs — the U.S. must not react irrationally again or the consequences could be globally grave.
It is unlikely that Ariel Sharon will ever be healthy enough to lead Israel again. Nevertheless, long before he was stricken Sharon realized that Israel’s survival and self-interests were more essential than territorial sovereignty that sustained an atmosphere of perpetual hatred and struggle. It remains to be seen if anyone who succeeds him will ever receive the same respect and authority he earned. More significantly, it will be interesting to see if the Palestinian Authority honors the agreement for a commitment to non-belligerence that the Israeli prime minister brokered.
Yet, whatever the outcome, Ariel Sharon should be remembered as a warrior, once called “the Butcher” by some enemies, who became a shepherd who followed his vision to lead his nation down the jagged path to practical and permanent peace.

Texas School Board Trying to Rewrite History (first published March 25, 2010)

There’s a old cliché that they do everything bigger in Texas. After reading about the state’s Board of Education recently approving significant changes to portions of social studies and economics curricula that will lead to conservative revisions in textbooks used in state public schools, I’m convinced some Texans’ heads may be too small for their ten-gallon hats.
This year alone, the school board, which is made up of ten Republicans, seven of whom are considered social conservatives, and five Democrats, has passed more than 100 amendments that alter courses in history, sociology and economics, including such far right ideas that casts doubts on the theory of evolution and that our Founding Fathers preferred this nation to be guided primarily by Christian principles, not the concept of the separation of church and state, as outlined in the Bill of Rights amendments of the Constitution.
Yes, that Constitution. The Law of the Land for the last 234 years!
The conservative faction has argued that some members of academia tend “to skew the facts to the left.” The changes, they maintain, are an attempt to balance the facts put forth by “a liberal bias” among the teachers who planned the core curriculum.
The new standards, which are reviewed every ten years, are available for public comment for the next several weeks with a final vote scheduled to take place in May, though the vote could be postponed until next January when two ultraconservative board members will finish their terms after being ousted in the last election.
Granted there are Judeo-Christian principles — do unto others as you would have others do unto you comes to mind — that are the basis for many of our laws, but they are the core for moral behavior, not religious values. America is not, and should never be, guided by a single religion.
As part of their strategy, they also want textbooks to downgrade the influence of Thomas Jefferson — one of the author’s of the Constitution — because he originated the phrase “separation of church and state.”
Apparently these Texans prefer to overlook the historical fact that many who first settled this nation were persecuted in their homelands because of religion. They set out on a voyage of thousands of miles across a harsh ocean and faced countless hardships to establish a society that became a melting pot of diversification. Any scheme to alter those facts to infer that the United States was conceived as a Christian nation is absolutely preposterous.
After ignoring historical facts, these narrow-minded conservatives also refuse to accept massive research and tangible scientific evidence that substantiates Darwin’s theory of evolution. They repeatedly debunk evolution and the fact that Man has simian ancestors, as they prefer the highly speculative biblical version of Creation — known as Creationism or Intelligent Design (an oxymoron if there ever was one).
For devout millions who cherish their religions, faith is the driving force that inspires them — without substantial evidence of how a Supreme Being created the universe. With the introduction of any theory there is a risk it will be proven false, however, over the years more and more evidence has been amassed to support Charles Darwin, while the theories presented in the Bible are merely strengthened by a belief system adhered to by those devoted to their religion.
Centuries before Darwin, Galileo put science and religion in the proper perspective when he said: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use.”
Our nation has become strongly divided on matters of politics in the last 25 years, causing a distinct division of red (conservative) and blue (liberal) states, which has led to a rift in the nation’s politics. But now that divide could seriously influence education if these right-wing modifications affect future editions of textbooks in other red states.
The fact that a small faction wants to rewrite history to satisfy their political beliefs is not only detrimental to our educational system but also a danger to our society.
Until there is concrete evidence that the proposed changes are valid, it is utterly inappropriate for any group to undermine accurate historical accounts supported by distorted political principles.
The ideas for changes in textbooks for the second largest school system in the nation (California is first), prompted by an influential group of Christian fundamentalists elected to the state’s Board of Education, are more suitable at a Sunday Church sermon rather than any public school classroom.
If the proposed changes lead to revisions of textbooks, let’s hope this sort of ideological mind-control, based on religious dogma not scientific fact, doesn’t spread beyond Texas borders, since it’s well known that a mind is a terrible thing to waste — especially when the information is unsubstantiated.

Tampering Will Only Result In Social Insecurity (March 24, 2005)

While attempting to resurrect America’s tattered image abroad by appointing longtime adviser Karen Hughes as America’s Public Relations point person, President Bush has embarked on a barnstorming domestic tour, that one reporter described as “resembling a Texas auctioneer pitching private accounts,” to bolster his proposed bold overhaul of Social Security.
Though it’s merely seven weeks into his second term, he’s off to a rotten start.
Bush and the free-spending, deficit-increasing, GOP-dominated Congress are turning their backs on the people who elected them only to reward, protect and take care of their wealthy friends. Politicians elected every two, four or six years, whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, are supposed to represent the interests of all the people, not just those who bankrolled their campaigns. But politicians tend to ignore the interests of anyone who can’t benefit them.
A recent poll indicated that less than one-third of Americans believes that private accounts, or personal investments, for Social Security are viable. No wonder, the only ones likely to benefit — in the long run — are typical Republican factions — corporations and big business — that will have access to the millions of available dollars if the plan is approved.
Then there’s a new, lower ceiling for awards in class action lawsuits that basically limits the liability of large corporations when their unquestionable blunders lead to injuries, permanent disabilities and death. (Auto manufacturers, insurance, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies must be thrilled.)
The Senate recently passed the Bush-backed overhaul of bankruptcy laws. However, the change only restricts individuals seeking to get out from under a mound of debt, while big businesses can restructure their way out of bankruptcy with few restrictions.
It’s the same GOP whine in a brand new bottle! Making laws to support business interests, not individuals. You could call this latest Republican strategy — No Business Left Behind.
During last fall’s campaign, President Bush referred to Social Security reform in vague terms. Now, the president’s attempting something Conservatives have wanted to do for 70 years — dismantle Social Security, a sure thing Americans have counted on, like breathing and taxes, since 1935 when President Roosevelt called it “laying the foundation for individuals to build their own security and give some measure of protection…against poverty-ridden old age.”
About 47 million people currently receive monthly Social Security benefits. Nevertheless, with the baby boomer generation — 78 million of ‘em — gradually approaching retirement that figure is expected to soar. Consequently, it is estimated that in twenty years, there won’t be enough workers to support the fund’s disbursements.
Bush supporters say Social Security fund’s surplus will be a deficit by 2017. To remedy that, it’s been suggested younger workers open private investment accounts with a small portion of future benefits because their “money will grow over time at a greater rate than the system can deliver.” That may be, but will unsophisticated investors realize the greater the rate of return, the higher the risk? Furthermore, the amount invested will subsequently be deducted from future benefits. Plus, as more divert funds, the more the Social Security pot will be reduced, leading to problems sooner than later. In addition, in the case of a prolonged bear market assets could shrink, upsetting one’s retirement reserve.
Advocates say younger workers don’t want to pay into a system for “old strangers,” but those same empty-nest geezers are still required to pay education taxes for strangers’ children!
Opponents, including most Democrats and the AARP, the lobby for Americans over 50, claim that Social Security is not in crisis and can pay 100 percent of benefits until 2042. The program must be strengthened, they acknowledge, but not immediately or haste with a solution that’s worse than the problem.
Private accounts would leave those who invest vulnerable to the roller coaster effect of financial markets with varying degrees of risk. Personal investing also means gambling inflation-protected, guaranteed payments for benefits that are not secured. Furthermore, those accounts would be subject to inflation and job loss. It’s not a risk worth taking — unless you’ve got a secure nest egg alternative.
Politicians have no problem debating retirement benefit changes — or discouraging a sensible national health care policy — because it doesn’t affect them. Elected representatives have comfortable, publicly-funded reserves, not to mention health care, the rest of us envy. Therefore, whichever way the debate goes, they’ve got nothin’ to lose. If all politicians were on Social Security, they’d likely have a different approach about tampering with it.
Every time Congress votes itself a raise, it should simultaneously increase Social Security payments. After all, future recipients work as hard — if not harder — as elected representatives.
There’s no reason for self-serving politicians, who’ll no longer have the Social Security surplus available to divert to other government operations, to transform a program that’s been fail-safe for 70 years into Social Insecurity just to add a chapter to one man’s presidential legacy. The outcome would merely tarnish the golden years for some seniors.

“The 60s” Has New Meaning For Baby Boomers (from Jan. 5, 2006)

For the generation that was labeled Baby Boomers — due to an unparalleled number of births that continued from 1946 and 1964 — the phrase “the Sixties” will take on a fresh connotation beginning this year.

Up until now “the ‘60’s” conjured memories of a tumultuous decade when the eldest Boomers reached adulthood. Baby Boomers went on to revolutionize culture and fashion, politics and almost every facet of daily life ever since. From this day forward, however, it will start becoming their age!
This year will be a landmark for nearly three million Americans born after World War II. In 2006, the first wave of post-WW II babies celebrates its 60th birthday. (Unfortunately, about 17 percent of Baby Boomers never made it to their 59th birthday.)
In the years to come, tens of millions will celebrate their 60th birthday. A small percentage of boomers has already retired from full-time jobs. In a few years, some will be eligible for Social Security and Medicare, plus other benefits for senior citizens.
Among the first celebrities to reach the auspicious number was actress Diane Keaton. She became an icon for her generation through several memorable movie roles, particularly the free-spirited, title character in Woody Allen’s classic “Annie Hall.” Other notables who’ll reach the big 6-0 this year include First Lady Laura Bush, billionaire Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner, “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak, singers Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli and actors Sylvester Stallone and Tommy Lee Jones.
More health conscious and exercise-minded than their predecessors, some boomers appear younger than previous generations did at their age. Nonetheless, about 30 percent are considered obese by health experts, which could shorten their lives and result in excessive medical costs. Some, luckily, seem to be aging more gracefully, no doubt with the help of cosmetic surgery and a glut of products aimed at maintaining youthful appearances. No matter what one looks like, when you reach 60, it’s the autumn of life.
 Some boomers quietly became AARP — American Association of Retired People — members, when the lobbying group solicited them after they reached 50 and were years from retirement. AARP even dropped the name of its monthly magazine — Modern Maturity — which sounded like it was for “older” people. It is now simply called AARP—The Magazine.
Older boomers are no longer the most sought after consumers as they had been for decades most likely because the responsibilities of family and careers have replaced free-spending binges of youth.
Boomers seeking a suitable movie these days find it as difficult as unearthing a needle in a haystack since most films are exclusively marketed to the under-30 crowd.
Changes in the media also reflect a neglect of baby boomers. Classic rock, which became the soundtrack to many boomers’ lives and an FM radio staple for more than 20 years, is practically non-existent, except on satellite radio, which likely won’t attract budget-conscious boomers.
Disappointingly, some cherished classic rock songs are now used to hawk dozens of products. I’ve been especially conscious of late of a flood of television commercials that employ classic rock and roll music. Nevertheless, those songs, which became signposts for some Boomers, no longer hold that special nostalgic sensation. It makes me cringe!
For the generation that once vowed not to trust anyone over 30 to be entering their seventh decade is, indeed, a milestone, especially considering the free-and-easy lifestyles a few of them lived. Some vowed — and tried — to change the world, insisting they would never adhere to society’s conventions, but consistently wore similar, uniform-like attire. Regardless of the image they’ve left, most boomers watched as the world changed and events shaped their lives. Yet, as they aged, for an overwhelming majority of baby boomers the idealism of youth transformed into maturity and the necessity to conform to some of society’s traditions.
It’s estimated that every 10 seconds a Baby Boomer will turn 60. One wonders when they get together with friends to celebrate the momentous birthday, will they reminisce about the prevalent openness and trust in vogue during the ‘60s or where they were when they first heard about the decades’ landmark events?  Or will these sexagenarians don reading glasses to look at old photographs and discuss their latest ailments, aches and pains?
Whatever the decade of the ‘60s meant to Baby Boomers, the number will now be part of their next 10 birthdays as they become Senior Sensations.

Dealing With Three New Rs — Republicans, Redistricting & Robocalls (Sept. 15, 2011)

   For the first time in almost 90 years, voters in the heavily Democratic Ninth Congressional District that spans neighborhoods from southern Brooklyn to Queens elected a Republican to replace former Rep. Anthony Weiner who resigned under pressure last June following a sex scandal.
In a rerun of last fall’s election results, the Republican Party and some analysts interpreted this victory as a referendum of escalating voter dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the state of the nation.
Greenhorn politician Bob Turner, a retired television executive, credited with creating the Jerry Springer and Rush Limbaugh shows, defeated hand-picked Democratic candidate David Weprin, a state legislator and former city councilman, in Tuesday’s special election.
Regardless, Turner’s victory gives the GOP momentum and something to boast about heading into the 2012 presidential campaign. But, his single vote in Congress will have little consequence with Republicans already holding a clear majority.
In recent weeks Turner had overtaken Weprin in polls and the margin by which he won was close to the difference in one survey released the day before Tuesday’s election.
Nevertheless, Weprin, who came off as a lackluster campaigner, appears to have been a sacrificial lamb in a district that may be on the chopping block next year when state legislators are forced to eliminate two districts statewide. To make matters worse, as Weprin’s lead dwindled as the election neared, desperate Democrats poured cash into the race and sent in VIPs, like former President Bill Clinton and Governor Andrew Cuomo who recorded supportive telephone messages, to try to salvage Weprin.
Turner, already had big guns hawking for him ex-mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani so Democrats must have figured they needed big shots, too.
Meanwhile, as he campaigned, Weprin had little choice but to advocate Obama’s unpopular economic policies while attempting to spotlight his independence and questionable ties to the community.
Until they chose Weprin, who few voters even knew of a few months ago, to fill Weiner’s seat, there were few takers, but the vacancy had to be filled. Unfortunately, in doing so, our political system offers was skirted. Instead of scheduling a primary and giving voters a slate of candidates from which to choose, Brooklyn and Queens Democratic leaders got their heads together and picked the candidate. Not exactly the ideal process our Founding Fathers had in mind.
The process also felt blemished in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election,  as voters were bombard with campaign literature and automated phone calls — known as robocalls in the current lexicon — with promoting, defending or criticizing either candidate.
On Monday and Election Day, I received well over a dozen robocalls from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., promoting either candidate, from several states according to my caller ID including Oregon, Wisconsin, Indiana and Mississippi. About a third delineated reasons to vote against Weprin without mentioning Turner’s name, though others did.
That was in addition to a prior week of calls and dozens of pamphlets promoting or condemning either candidate stuffed in my mailbox for either candidate.
Once the election is over let’s hope there’s at least one bold state politician to take a stand in the next legislative session to end the annoying automated calls and propose legislation to print campaign materials must be produced with recycled paper.
When the government established its “Do Not Call” registry several years ago, to thwart the bombardment of mushrooming complaints from consumers about unwanted and unsolicited calls from telemarketers, political matters were disqualified. When the rules were being written, self-interested legislators apparently preferred to be excluded because it would remove a convenient outlet when campaigning. So, while residents can opt out from uninvited phone calls from unsolicited merchants and advertisers, particularly at dinner time, politicians conveniently remain in the mix whether we want them or not.
Our cherished two-party system is alive and well and, for the most part, in good health. But, there are those moments, like the Ninth District election, when political leaders prefer to take matters in their own hands, leaving voters as pawns in the process.