2007-01-19 / Editorial/Opinion

From The Editor's Desk

Nobody Asked Me, But …
Commentary By Howard Schwach


… The proof is in the pudding. I have been writing for months that the daily news media does not report on the murder of young black men as it does when a police officer is involved in a shooting incident. The tragic accidental shooting of Sean Bell was certainly worthy of coverage, but so were the three shooting deaths of young black men in Rockaway at the end of last year. Last Monday, City Councilman James Sanders held a march to address gun violence in Rockaway. While the shooting of Sean Bell was all over the front pages for weeks, the three homicides hardly made the inside pages of the daily papers. And, though Sanders sent repeated press releases to the daily papers about his Monday march, not one paper printed a story about the impending event, and then not one television station or daily newspaper covered the march itself. And, while the march was going on, Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Malcolm Smith were sitting next to the Reverend Al Sharpton and talking about the Sean Bell case as if that shooting was an isolated incident, far removed from the question of black on black crime. It is not.

… The President's decision to send more troops to Iraq to fight a war even the people of that region do not want, again brings up the question of restoring the draft. Notice, I did not use the word "nation" when talking about Iraq, because it is not a nation and was one only under the strong hand of a ruthless dictator, much like Yugoslavia of WW II fame, which later fell apart once Tito was gone. Iraq is really three nations - Shia, Sunni and Kurd. No forced action by the United States will turn it into a single, unified people and it certainly will never be a democracy, because the majority of people there, if truth be told, want to live under a Moslem theocracy. Back to the draft (sometimes I get sidetracked). Marc Leepson, the author of several books on America, has a good idea. He wants not only a military draft, but a public service draft. He writes, "Every physically able American, man and woman, should have to serve their country for a year or two after graduating from high school or college. That service could be in the military or another national service job such as the Peace Corps, Americorps or Teacher Corps. Granted, there is a big difference between facing the prospect of combat and, say, teaching in an inner city. But, the common denominator is service: Each doing something positive for fellow citizens. Each doing his or her part to help keep our democracy glued together." Interesting concept and one that should be explored.

… Mayor Mike Bloomberg will soon announce sweeping changes to the public school system. Sound familiar. The mayor has been tweaking the system since he was given control by the state legislature three years ago. They should be ashamed of themselves. While the system has shown some incremental rise in reading and math scores, that move has come at the expense of any rational education in science and social studies. Of course, kids now know how to take tests. In fact, they spend more time on the Kaplan material, learning how to take tests than they do on learning about the U.S Constitution and the solar system. And, still, more schools move onto the state's failing schools list. Bloomberg's big deal is to turn the schools into a business model, but most businesses fail, especially when the manager knows nothing about the business, and many of Bloomberg's new principals were never teachers or assistant principals. His "Empowerment School" idea is one of the worst. He has given absolute power to many principals and he wants to spread the idea throughout the system. He should look at MS 53 and what giving ultimate power to a man who should not even be a principal means to the teachers and students in the building.

… Speaking of the business model, Bloomberg is a fanatic about the success of that model. Two weeks ago, he angered many in the federal legislature by stating unequivocally that politicians who move up through the House and the Senate, or through state legislatures have no skills to be a manager, to govern a state or national government. I like Senator Trent Lott's rebuttal. "I have an equally jaundiced view of executives," the long-time legislator said. When I think of business managers, I think of Enron and the other companies that made millions for their executives and took their workers and customers to the cleaners. That is what Bloomberg is doing with the Department of Education.

… Byron Hurt a renowned black filmmaker, has a documentary coming to PBS that focuses on the seamier side of Hip Hop and Rap Music. What concerns Hurt and others is the domination of the market by the more violent and demeaning songs and videos, a move that brings large corporations and more of a white audience to the music. Last week, we ran a story about a local rapper, True, who believes that rap drives some of the violence that we have seen on the peninsula in recent months. I am in favor of the First Amendment and creative rights, but perhaps the market could begin to show a little restraint when it comes to glorifying the gangsta life and denigrating women as "bitches and hos."

Take a look at what happens when a student complains that a teacher is espousing a religious point of view in a public school classroom. A Kearny, New Jersey teacher told his class, that evolution and the big bang theory were not scientific and that dinosaurs were aboard Noah's Ark. He added that only Christians have a place in Heaven and that, "if you reject [Christ's] gift of salvation, then you know where you belong. If you reject that, you belong in Hell." He told one Moslem student that she would go to hell if she did not accept Jesus. When a nonreligious student complained, the school administration and the local teacher's union immediately defended him, saying that the issue was one of "academic freedom" and not of teaching religion. One teacher wrote to the local paper that the student should not ignore the First Amendment, which gives every citizen the right to freedom of religion. Some parents called for the suspension or expulsion of the student for reporting the teacher. This is not the Bible Belt, people, this is ten miles west of Manhattan Island. What a farce.

… Senator Barbara Boxer's comment to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice last week that Rice didn't have a price to pay in the Iraq War because she is childless has become a flashpoint for discussion on the war and how the Congress should input their feelings into the debate. While there are many who have excoriated Boxer for making that statement, I believe she is right. It is easy to send kids to war if they are not your kids. Boxer was trying to make the point that we should listen more to those who have a dog in the hunt and not so much to the hawks who want to pump up the action but have no personal stake in doing so. I have served my time and my kids are much too old to worry about the draft, but I don't want my grandchildren to have to fight this foolish and unproductive war ten years down the road. Rice's answer was predictable. "I think that being a single woman does not in any way make me incapable of understanding not just those sacrifices, but also that nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice," she said. Understanding is one thing, grieving is quite another and making decisions based on the possibility that a close relative might die is quite another althogether.

...If you ask me, the city's Department of Transportation (DOT) has had more of a negative impact on Rockaway's quality of life in the past year than any other city agency. Look at Shore Front Parkway, for example. First, the DOT painted thousands of white lines that made little sense but restricted parking and took away the valuable turn-arounds that the residents of the high-rise buildings used to get to their apartments. They did that for no reason, because it is clear that there have been no accidents caused by those turn-arounds in recent memory. Then, they removed critical parking on Beach 73 Street, not to mention the bike lanes that go nowhere. Now, they have allowed the closing for construction of almost every east-west road on the peninsula. What comes next?

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