Article Archive

Reflections on a Senator
Caught in Water Closet,
What Would Idaho Do?
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

  "I read the news today oh boy,"
What I  noticed was how much news consists of lies. Bruno v. Spitzer, Roger Stone.  Who knew what when?  And the fire tragedy - who cut the standpipe, who stopped the inspections, who approved the gangsters, who ignored DOI, etc.?  
The most recent lie, however, may have been told by U.S. Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, who insists he is not gay.

Iraqis Who Helped Us
Denied Entry into U.S.
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Monday, August 27th, 2007
On rare occasions, we hear a story so upsetting that we want to let everyone know about it.   Last night 60 Minutes aired a report on Iraqis, some of whom are now refugees, who were employed by the United States forces as translators, guides  and in other positions. They now fear they will be murdered when U.S. forces leave Iraq.  To us, this issue is independent of whether you approve of the war in Iraq or the way it was conducted.

John Galt Shrugged,
How Could He Know
What Was Going On
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Thursday, August 23rd, 2007
The John Galt Corporation was the major subcontractor at the Deutsche Bank (formerly Bankers Trust Plaza).
Why does that name sound familiar?
Because John Galt, a fictional character, was the hero in an Ayn Rand novel, Atlas Shrugged.   He was an engineer who could do anything.  Except demolish a building, apparently.
The John Galt Corporation is a shell, operating out of the same office as Regional Scaffolding and Hoisting Company, 3900 Webster Avenue, Bronx.
As much as is known about the scheme is described in today's Times, OBSCURE COMPANY IS BEHIND 9/11 DEMOLITION WORK by two of its top reporters, Charles V. Bagli and David W. Dunlap. The third reporter, William K. Rashbaum, may also be very good, I am simply unfamiliar with his work. The Daily News and the Sun also covered this story, with the News, SHOCKING LACK OF INSPECTIONS AT DOOMED SITE, by  Kirsten Danis, Jonathan Lemire and Corky Siemaszko and the Sun's SUBCONTRACTOR AT BANK TOWER IS LIKELY TO BE FIRED by Sarah Garland.
Yesterday, Bovis Lend-Lease, the general contractor (successor to Lehrer-McGovern)  declared Galt in default.  Who cares if they are in default?   They are a dummy corporation.  In law school we used to call their operators straw men.  Today they might be called virtual corporations.  But they are without virtue.
Now none of this would be an issue if two firefighters had not died Saturday when their oxygen supply was exhausted in an out-of-control blaze in the building under demolition.  It was subsequently discovered that the main pipe supposed to bring water to the 17th floor, the site of the fire, had been disconnected and a twenty-foot section removed.
As is often, and appropriately, the case after a tragedy, there are multiple investigations to find out what happened, why, and what can be done to prevent future disasters.  Here are some of the questions which should be explored.
1. Why were there so many firefighters on high floors of the building?   There could easily have been many more than two fatalities. Last time there were 343.
2. Who disconnected the water line, and why was that done?   Who knew the line was not functioning?
3. Why was it considered necessary to risk lives to fight a fire in an unoccupied building that was under demolition?
4. What was the Fire Department's plan for dealing with the fire?   Who prepared it?  Who was in charge of the operation at the scene?
5. Who approved a fictional company to undertake a major demolition project?   Why was no other responsible bidder  found for the job?  Who knocked out the other bidders, if there were any?
6. The principal agencies responsible appear to be the Fire Department, the Buildings Department, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. What level of officials were involved, what decisions did they make with regard to awarding the contract, and who was in charge of overseeing the demolition?
7. Who, if anyone, should be held responsible for the deaths of the firefighters?  To what degree?
8. If a firefighter repeatedly calls MayDay, the emergency appeal for rescue, should there not be a GPS attached to his helmet, so he can at least be located?
9. Why is this work being done in the sixth year after the destruction of the World Trade Center.  Didn't that provide enough time to get safety measures in place?
10. Is death an inevitable aspect of firefighting, and should we simply bury the dead, pay the widows and orphans, and move on to the next event?  If not, what can we do to see that this does not happen again?
These are ten questions that occur to us, we are certain that experts will find many more that should be asked.  We trust that they will be. In inquiries like the one being undertaken, one usually finds witnesses trying to insulate themselves from responsibility, and place the blame, if any, on others. One gets a tangle of information and misinformation, disingenuous responses that stop just short of perjury.  It will take a long time to sort out the pieces, it always does.

This does not mean that John Galt, whomever it may be, necessarily did wrong.  That is why a thorough, diligent and competent inquiry is needed, and not a self-serving glossover by those responsible for the tragedy.  Whatever papers were signed, we  assume that  LMDC and the other authorities involved knew the reality of the situation. It is public agencies who should be held substantially accountable for the disaster.  If untrained and unqualified people were appointed to lead these agencies, we are entitled toknow why.  If people in the private sector lied to public officials, those lies must be uncovered and the liars prosecuted
It is easy to find a scapegoat.   Today's Post editoral, SCOPPETTA MUST GO..., unjustifiably calls for Commissioner Scoppetta's dismissal.  Mr. Scoppetta is an honorable public official, who has served many mayors with distinction.  He is not a professional firefighter, his skills are in management and human relations.  More of today's Post coverage of the story can be found in FDNY BRASS IN TRAGIC BUNGLE, by Leonard Greene and Chuck Bennett and JAIL SWINE THAT KILLED THESE MEN by Steve Dunleavy. The Daily News also covered this story in IF ONLY THEY HAD LISTENED TO ME by Alison Gendar and in its editorial, ACCOUNTABILITY FOR FDNY.

The Fire Department has been known over the years for hostility between labor and management, antagonism to the mayor, and instances of crude, boorish and drunken behavior.  At the same time firefighters demonstrate great courage and self-sacrifice, taking enormous personal risks to rescue civilians. It has a management structure in which civil service examinations are administered for the highest positions in the agency, thus limiting the commissioner's authority to change personnel.  This can be either good or bad, but usually is an impediment to change and reform..

Many privileges of firefighters are protected by the State Legislature, with whom firefighters' unions and lobbyists have long been cozy.  The combination of union power, archaic civil service regulations and legislative interference circumscribes the authority which a commissioner should rightfully exercise.  We do not believe Mr. Scoppetta is at fault in this tragedy, and we trust Mayor Bloomberg will not offer him up as a sacrifice.
As for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, we were quite unfamiliar with Avi Schick, who was appointed chairman of the LMDC board, a position formerly held by John C. Whitehead, who had been co-chairman of Goldman Sachs and Deputy Secretary of State under Secretary George Shultz. 

On April 22, 2005, Whitehead wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, titled MR. SPITZER HAS GONE TOO FAR-POST-9/11 NY CANNOT AFFORD TO DRIVE AWAY CORPORATE INVESTORS, criticizing Spitzer for publicizing allegations of financial misconduct against Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, then chairman of AIG (American International Group, an insurance giant).   On reading the article, Spitzer telephoned Whitehead in Texas and said, according to Whitehead's notes, "Mr. Whitehead, it's now a war between us and you fired the first shot.  I will be coming after you.  You will pay the price.  This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter."  The conversation became public on December 22, 2005 when Mr. Whitehead apparently fired his second shot in another opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled SCARY.

Avi Schick, 40 year old attorney, has written articles about school vouchers, the Bill of Rights and religious discrimination.  On behalf of attorney general Spitzer, he argued the case in the Appellate Division against Richard Grasso, former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.  He graduated from the Mirrer Yeshiva Central Institute and Columbia Law School.  The Sun reported that he was Mr. Spitzer's unofficial representative to the Orthodox community.  Schick fights for tax credits for religious school tuition as an alternative to private school vouchers.

Mr. Schick also argued in the tobacco settlement case.  He knows separation (or non-separation) of church and state.  He does not, however, appear to have a professional background in major real estate development, construction supervision, demolition or fire protection. Nor has he dealt with captains of industry or finance, as Mr. Whitehead did.  

By appointing him to fill Secretary Whitehead's position on LMDC, Mr. Spitzer may have believed that he was making a point.  In fact he made a point, but perhaps not the point he intended.

Competence tops revenge.
The End

#405  8.23.07  1413 wds

NOTE:  We have a few shorter items to call to your attention.  First is an observation, second a correction and amplification, third a brief disquisition, and fourth a service note to our readers.  Here goes.


Roger Stone reminds me of Oliver Stone, who reminds me of Oliver North.

They have similar issues with credibility


Mr. Justice Harlan appointed in 1955

On August 17, in an article about the Quinnipiac poll and public opinion on race-based school assignment,  we wrote that Justice John Marshall Harlan joined in the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, overruling an 1896 case in which is grandfather, who had the same name,  had been the sole dissenter.   We have since learned that Justice John Marshall Harlan took his seat on the high court in 1955, one year after the Brown decision.  Harlan was appointed by President Eisenhower, on the advice of Attorney General Herbert Brownell, to succeed the late Justice Robert H. Jackson, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1946.  We are indebted to Prof. Arthur S. Leonard of New York Law School and Ernest Rubenstein, Esq., who was law clerk to Justice Tom C. Clark at the time, for calling this matter to our attention.


MR. JUSTICE CLARK, and sundry Justices of the past

 Justice Clark was induced by President  Johnson to resign from the bench in 1968 so that his son, Ramsay, could be appointed Attorney General and represent the executive branch at the high court. For the last 39 years, in a varied career, Ramsay Clark has been referred to as "the former Attorney General of the United States."  This explains how he attained that honor.  LBJ appointed  Homer Thornberry, a Texas friend, to the Clark vacancy.

President Johnson had, in 1965, persuaded Justice Arthur J. Goldberg to resign from the court to become Ambassador to the United Nations, on the ground that only he could bring peace to the world. Mr. Justice Goldberg believed that. LBJ then appointed his own lawyer, Abe Fortas, to fill the Goldberg vacancy, which was for the seat that had been held by Mr. Justice Felix Frankfurter from 1939 to 1962.  Frankfurter, a CCNY graduate who becane a professor of law at Harvard, had recommended many young graduates to serve under President Roosevelt during the New Deal.  Roosevelt appointed Frankfurter to succeed thae late Justice Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, former judge on the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, appointed by President Hoover, who served from 1932 and 1938.  The first Jewish Justice of the Supreme Court, Louis D. Brandeis, was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and served until 1939, when he retired.  He was succeeded by William O. Douglas, who was on the court for 36 years.

A NOMINEE TO THE COURT,  who declined to be considered.

Although Brandeis was the first Jew to sit on the Supreme Court, he was not the first to be nominated.  That honor wemt to United States Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana, (1811-84), who was nominated in 1853 by President Millard Filllmore.  Benjamin declined the nomination, and in 1861 became the first attorney general of the Confederate States of America.  He was later their secretary of war and secretary of state.  After the War of the Rebellion ended, Benjamin fled, first to a plantation in Florida, and then under an alias to England, where he resumed a successful career at law, becoming a Queen's Counsel in 1874 by appointment of H.M. Queen Victoria.  He died in Paris and was interred at Pere Lachaise Cemetery under the name of Philip Benjamin.  

#406  8.23.07  575 wds

NOTE: We are sending you two articles today.  The first (1413 words) is about the tragic fire at 130 Liberty Street.
The second is a miscellany of  shorter items (575 words).  Enjoy.

World's Smartest Man
Gets Self into Trouble
By Blaming the Help
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Monday, August 20th, 2007
Day One.  Everything Changes.
Day 232.   "Oh what a tangled web we weave
                  When first we practice to deceive."    Sir Walter Scott, 1808
The dream that began on January 1 in Albany is turning into a nightmare.
Like Nixon after Watergate, the Spitzer administration is compelled to defend itself against a horde of insects biting away at the Governor. It is difficult to conduct state business when one's principal concerns are preventing your own impeachment and avoiding possible perjury.
What is ironic about all this is that nobody stole anything, nobody was bribed, there was no violence. In fact no conventional crimes were committed. The initial offense alleged sounds like a video game, "Grand Theft Chopper".   Yet the copter wasn't stolen, it was just borrowed, and since there were no written rules on what it could be borrowed for, the free rider, Senate Leader Joe Bruno, could not be faulted legally.  

Bruno's actions in politics, not his policies, are considered by many to be unethical.  To make them illegal, crimes must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  Using a state plane for politics is the least of his alleged sins.  In any event, the federal case against Bruno was being made by the United States Attorney, a high-ranking official of the US Department of Justice.   But can anyone with sophistication reasonably believe that our Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, will prosecute the senior surviving Republican in the State of New York? 
It is not unreasonable to us that the Governor tried to document Bruno's misuse of the state plane by having agents following him around.  If this is to be done, the State Police are the obvious people to do it.  Should the Governor be required to hire private detectives or bounty hunters to see that State resources are not being used for illegal private purposes?  After all, what are the police for?  To catch criminals and prevent crime.  If someone stole the state copter, they would try to get it back.  Inappropriate and illegal use is short-term stealing, equivalent to a teenager taking someone else's car for a joyride without the owner's permission.
Feeding the story to the press, in this case the Albany Times-Union, is no big deal either.  A good number of stories about government are leaks, either by insiders or by outsiders who want to overthrow the current insiders.  If every press secretary were sworn to tell the truth at all times, probably very little would be said.
In this case, the problem began when, after the news of the troopers watching Bruno's travels was published,  Spitzer said it was a  mistake by Darren Dopp, his press secretary, and that he knew nothing about it.  That is a preposterous fabrication, as anyone in politics knows.  There are e-mails from Dopp to Richard Baum, the governor's principal deputy and alter ego.  The idea that these key staff members would have hatched such a dangerous plan and risked such negative exposure without telling their boss is contrary to human nature and the way public business is conducted.   The only point of fact genuinely in doubt is whether Spitzer concocted the scheme, or simply consented to it.
The governor should have stood up and said, I was in on it, it was well-intentioned but inappropriate and I'm sorry.  Instead he apologized for what happened, but only faulted himself for having command responsibility.  We urged him to tell the truth back on July 24, the first time we wrote about the matter.  "Our advice to the governor is simple: tell the whole truth immediately, and hope you will be allowed to make a fresh start. 

On July 27, under the headline, "All We Are Saying Is Give Truth A Chance,"  we again called on him to be candid, but without much hope.  "The governor didn't take the advice we offered [three] days ago....Instead, he went to the editorial board of the Daily News with a limited denial that seemed calculated to avoid the perjury trap."  We concluded: "It is unfortunate that the high hopes of Day One turned into a squalid squabble by Day 207.  For responsible people, resuming real work cannot happen too soon.  But knowing human nature, we believe the spectacle will continue until the last shred of the governor's reputation has beeen tattered, or until he seizes the initiative by telling the truth."
The most recent ploy in the burgeoning scandal was reported by Michael M. Grynbaum in Saturday's Times (Aug 18).  ETHICS PANEL SUBPOENAS REPORTER IN SCANDAL.  The lede: "In an extremely rare move, the State Ethics Commission issued a subpoena this week to a reporter involved in the ethics scandal surrounding Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a signal that a full investigation into actions of the governor's staff is under way.  The subpoena calls for James Odato, a Statehouse reporter for The Times Union of Albany, to appear before the commission next week.  A lawyer for the newspaper said it did not plan to cooperate."
In  our judgment, in this case the Times Union is right.  It is one thing to compel a reporter to name sources when the safety of our nation is at stake.  It is totally different to break the bond of confidentiality between reporter and source when the subject of controversy is no more than a local political squabble.  An attempt to use the subpoena powers of the State Ethics Commission in this manner is, almost unethical.  If reporters are to be compelled to rat out their sources on every story, it would be impossible for anybody to complain about genuine evils and injustices without fear that their identities will be disclosed and that they will be subject to retribution.
However, that is just the tip of the iceberg in this mare's nest.(mixed metaphor).:Rule 29-E: "Everybody wants to get into the act."   Between the State Attorney General (and gubernatorial aspirant) Cuomo, the Albany DA (and Hevesi-killer) Soares, the newly created State Ethics Commission and the State Senate, there will be a multiplicity of inquiries as long as newspapers are willing to report on them.   And with all these sources using staff time and resources to look into a situation, there will be a deeply-felt need to indict someone, simply to show that their investigation was not a waste of money.  Since Scooter Libby and Scooter Rizzuto are no longer available, the gumshoes and the wannabes who employ them must find other targets for their prosecutorial zeal.
While these dramas take their course, it is highly unlikely that the principals will be able to transact much state business.  Just as the pace of national affairs slowed during the Watergate proceedings, the Three Men in a Room will be unlikely to reach substantive agreements if two of them are trying to send each other to jail. It is enormously sad that the high hopes of Day One have turned to ashes by Day 232. 
The situation was thoroughly discussed in an article by Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin and Cooper Union history professor Fred Siegel, both urban intellectuals. Their article appeared in, of all places, the Weekly Standard, a magazine published by the new owner of the Wall Street Journal.  The essay, called Troopergate, New York-Style, Eliot Spitzer's Character Problem is dated August 20.  Its 4017 words comprise a devastating indictment of the governor's character and judgment. Read it and weep.  But never forget that in most of us there is opportunity for correction and growth.
We write from the point of view of building things up.  Sometimes bad things must be torn down before good things can be built.  Sometimes redemption is possible. What is apparently happening is that the governor hopes that only his closest aides, who have a stake in his future, will be able to cause him perjury problems.  Rule 911: "Plausible deniability."

Meanwhile, press secretary Darren Dopp, suspended without pay, has a mortgage to pay and kids to educate.   We hope he gets a decent job so he can have an income.  No man's or woman's children should go hungry because a caper intended to be in the public interest did not work out as planned. Certainly not if his boss had any idea of what he was doing.

This article is written in sorrow, not in anger. Many of us supported Eliot Spitzer for Governor, believing that he provided the best chance for reform in a generation.  It hasn’t worked out that way.  What we would like to do is restore the momentum he requires to lead effectively.   For this to happen, his cooperation is needed.  Hopefully he will survive this assault, if only because the alternatives are unappealing.  We want him to pull through.  Others may not, we do.

There is an issue.  As he told Michael Goodwin, "I'm the governor of the state.  I'll be Lyndon Johnson.  I'll craft the deals and I'll get the job done.  You will write and I will do.  That's why you're here and I'm there."   That attitude is part of the problem.  If  you have such thoughts (and some of us do), keep them to yourself.  If the governor fully understands the problem, his friends can help him find the solution.  And it shouldn't take twelve steps.

#404  8.20.07  1535wds 

Poll Indicates Majority Opposes
School Placement on Race Alone
But No NY Paper Prints Results.
WaPo Would Give More Facts,
Or Perhaps Load the Question?
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Friday, August 17th, 2007
A Quinniapac University poll has shown that a 3-1 majority of Americans support the June 28 decision of the Supreme Court that pupils cannot be denied admission to a public school solely because of their race.  The court decision was 5-4, with the four liberal justices (Stevens, Souter, Breyer and Ginsburg, JJ.) dissenting.  Judge Anthony M. Kennedy provided the swing vote, as he often does in today's divided court.  He joined Chief  Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito in the result, but not in their entire opinions.

Warn Public If You Can
Before Disaster Strikes,
By Cell Phones, Landlines.
Questions for Engineers
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Wednesday, August 15th, 2007
Today is Day Six (or Seven), depending on when you started counting) of the 30-day period that Governor Spitzer has given the MTA to account for what went wrong with regard to wet Wednesday, the August 8 inundation of the subway system, and what thebeleaguered transit agency proposes to do about such events in the future.

The first requirement for a public debacle is a name, preferably ending with gate. Two names leap to mind: Sewergate, because the rain-clogged sewers could not handle the overflow from the inundated tunnels, and Floodgate, which is probably most apt.  Since we know there are more floods coming, so perhaps Floodgate Alpha, in the style of hurricanes.  The Greek alphabet has 24 letters, so it will be many years before we reach Floodgate Omega, and then go to Sanskrit.

Digression: There are two slogans from the advertising business in the 1940's which have stayed with me because I read them as a child. In testing a new idea or slogan, advertising men (in grey flannel suits) would say:  "Let's put it in a saucer and see if the cat laps it up," or "Let's run it up the flagpole and see who salutes."  The book was probably "The Hucksters," by Frederick Wakeman.  BTW, the late Mr. Wakeman was the father in law of a well-regarded New York City commissioner (identity on request)..

We return to the flood, which, we are told, was an act of God, although the Lord seems to stir relatively frequently in the case of subway tunnels or low-lying land. And, although I am no engineer, certain questions do occur to me, and I ask them in this column in the hope of receiving answers from professionals.

1) What good would it do to double the capacity of the pumps so that they would handle three inches of rainfall in an hour (their capacity is now said to be l.5 inches per hour), if the sewer system does not have capacity to carry away the water that is now pumped into it at the slower rate?

2) How much would a new pumping system cost, and what impact would that have on fares? How often is it likely that a new system would be put into use.

3) Since water seeks its own level, why not dig a hole in the bottom of the subway, and pipe the runoff into the nearest water body or combined sewer overflow facility (like the one under Flushing Meadows- Corona Park)?

4) If subway floodwaters are cleaner than regular storm or sanitary sewage, what, if anything, is wrong with mixing them?

5) Why not use the four parts of the Second Avenue Subway where tunnels were excavated years ago to store the waters until they subside, or are pumped out into the sewer system?

We are hopeful that the engineers and technicians will think of better questions and offer answers in the 22 remaining days allotted to them by the governor, as well as the months or years that will follow before final decisions are made. We fear that the MTA engineers will not just dust off their old plans and double or triple the cost estimates to account for increases in labor and material prices, which are currently rising at between one and two per cent per month.  One of the reasons we were stuck with the $450 million South Ferry station boondoggle is that  MTA engineers had drawn plans for it.


One suggestion that occurred to us appears, perhaps in our naivete, to be sensible and practical.  Here it is:

We must attach a reverse 911-type messagest system to all cellphones  and land lines, so that emergency messages, oral or text, can reach the general public as soon as possible. If people knew that the subways were flooded before they left their homes, a great deal of  trouble and confusion could have been avoided.

And, if there were a terrorist attack, instant awareness of the  danger could give more people an opportunity to survive. To us it is ridiculous that this has not already been done. After all, we do have a Department of Homeland Security. With all the technology and resources invested in cell phones for taking pictures, playing video games, downloading music and other erotic and time-consuming diversions, we have no idea why this important public-service feature has not been provided. Maybe corporations don't see any profit in it. Maybe the authorities are sleeping.

For change to take place, many people must pick up on the idea. It will certainly not happen simply because New York Civic suggests it. In fact, it will probably come after the idea is appropriated by someone with a louder trumpet. That's life.. Instant two-way 911, or whatever number or signal is chosen to sound the alarm,  must become a priority. (This is an obvious opportunity for Mayor Bloomberg, the technology mayor, who gave us 311, to take national leadership. We hope that he will, and we suggest it to him.

At the push of a citizen's button, the appropriate level of government should be able to reach all telephones, cellular and land-line, with a spoken or text message about what is now euphemistically called an event (cf. a cardiac event). We are not recommending the "If you see something, say something" messages that we hear endlessly on subway public address systems, or see whenever advertising space be sold.

We request specific, appropriate, safety messages: "Stay out of the subways," "Close your windows," "Remain indoors," "Don't drink the water," "Get out of town"- important bulletins relating to a particular imminent danger  Some day the fact that this type of communication was once unavailable in time of crisis will be difficult to believe. The sooner that day comes, the better.

It is an ill wind that blows no good. (A proverb, not a Rule.)  Hopefully, the subway flood of August 2007 will do some good if it stimulates public and official demand for instant communication with the public in emergencies. Whether by voice or by text messaging, we want to know what is happening as soon as possible.  Isn't that reasonable?

#402  8.15.07  1032wds

NOTE:  This article, as edited, was published on page 9 of  today's New York Sun.  For the idea proposed to be accepted, it needs wider circulation, and we appreciate the Sun's finding that it is newsworthy.

PERSONAL NOTE:  My wife and I  are delighted at the marriage of our son the doctor, Kenan, on Sunday, August 12..
The event was reported in the Sunday Times and, surprisingly, in Monday's Gawker.  If you care to, you can link to each.

The Prophet Didn't Foresee
Myriad Problems Affecting
His Eponymous Academy.
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Tuesday, August 14th, 2007
The flap over the Kahlil Gibran International Academy - in fact a proposed New York City public school on Sixth Avenue in Brooklyn, starting with 6th grade pupils - has taken a turn from an ideological dispute to an issue of incongruity.

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) was born in Lebanon into a Maronite Christian family.  He came to America in 1895, and was known as a poet and artist.  He studied art in France under Rodin. Gabrin wrote about Christianity, and exposed corruption in the eastern churches.  His major work, "The Prophet", published in 1923, is comprised of 26 essays, which describe various aspects of life in an uplifting manner.

  His writing can be compared with that of Norman Vincent Peale, both inspiring to believers and satisfying to infidels. Nonbelievers are not threatened with decapitation or worse in his poetry or prose.  His early work expressed anti-feudal and anti-clerical sentiments.  Gibran died at the age of 48 of cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis. He was buried in his native Lebanon by his sister, Mariana, and a devoted supporter, Mary Elizabeth Haskell.  He was not a Muslim.

The Department of Education's description of the school states that its "mission is to prepare students of diverse backgrounds for success in an increasingly global and interdependent society.  Our focus is on holistic student development and rigorous academics.  Through our multicultural curriculum and intensive Arabic language instruction, students graduate with the skills they need to become empowered independent thinkers who are able to work with cultures beyond their own.  Students graduate with a deep understanding of different cultural perspectives, a love of learning, and a desire for excellence, with integrity preparing them for leadership in today's constantly changing global world."

It would not take a Holden Caulfield to recognize that language as completely phony. You could substitute any language for the word Arabic, and use the same boilerplate to describe the school.  Whichever staffer or consultant at Tweed wrote it receives our grudging credit.  S/he should next try spinning straw into gold. His/er writing is fantastic.

For better or worse, controversy struck the as yet unborn school last week after the principal-designate, Debbie Almontaser, saw some  "Intifada NYC", T-shirts, which were being sold by an Arab women's group with whom she shared office space downtown. When reached by the press, Ms. Almontaser defended the use of the I-word. She said it was non-violent and meant to inspire girls to shake off "oppression".  Intifada is the word used to describe the Arabs' terrorist campaign against Israel which followed Yasser Arafat's rejection of the Oslo accords in 2003.  It carries the spirit of the word "blitzkrieg" or the phrase "Arbeit macht frei."

Under pressure from an international conspiracy, Ms. Almontaser recanted her support for the T-shirt slogan the next day, but her volte face was not enough to save her principalship, and she "resigned" Friday, with a letter to the Department of Education that is so hot that Tweed is keeping it secret.  They should be reminded that the Freedom of Information Law applies to the Department of Education as well, and that they should release the letter promptly, before concocting another version. It is assumed that the letter will give some indication as to her actual sentiments.

.Monday, the Department of Education named a new principal for the Gibran school. She is Danielle Salzberg, 35, a program officer at a nonprofit which funds school programs.  She is Jewish, and does not speak Arabic.  How a non-Arabic speaking principal can serve the school's mission as defined in their mission statement is not clear to us.  She doesn't have to be an Arab, but at least she should be able to talk to the kids' parents..

When I was a youngster attending P.S. 152 and J.H.S. 52 in upper Manhattan, my parents thought that I too should learn about the language and customs of my tribe, even though we were living in America.   So they sent me to a place where I could do that. It was called HEBREW SCHOOL.  It met at 3:30, after the public school day ended. Classes were held in synagogues or community centers.  The teachers were paid very modestly by the schools, and there was a small monthly fee for the students, which could be adjusted for children whose family income was low.

Most of the the Catholic kids also went for religious education.  They went to churches, as I recall, one afternoon a week (now Wednesday). They left at 2 p.m. under what was called "released time".  The Jewish boys and girls usually stayed until 3 p.m.  The released time program was the subject of controversy, but all the Catholics got was an hour off once a week to learn the catechism and various prayers. 

If your parents wanted you to have a Catholic education,they could send you full-time to CATHOLIC SCHOOL, which was run by the church If one wanted a thoroughly Jewish education, there were private day schools which one could attend.  If one wanted a secular Jewish education, there were Workmen's Circle schools which taught Yiddish. There were no separate public schools for Jews or Christians in those bygone days. In fact, we were at war with people who wanted to kill the Jews and enslave the Christians.

Some Jewish and interfaith leaders originally endorsed the Gibran Academy to demonstrate their fairness and lack of prejudice. After all, Gibran was something like the Deepak Chopra of his day, a reassuring figure.  He was from a different culture but he liked us.   Supporters wanted to make the point that in a free country different cultures could be taught, which is, of course, in striking contrast with the Muslim world. 

 A few former allies have now backed off, saying that Ms. Almontaser's remarks and the controversy surrounding them make it unlikely that the school can succeed as a non-political cultural institution.  If the school educates Arab teenagers who have chosen to attend specifically because of their Arab identity, it is quite likely that the school will be swept along in the passions of the day.

The same would apply to a German-speaking school in the 1930's, which students would specifically select because of their interest in the Fatherland and its culture. The educrats would call this a cultural inclination, but it would be most unlikely for the school would specialize in the poetry of Heinrich Heine, although they might cover "Die Dreigroschenopera".   The school could become a Petri dish for whatever ideology was part of German identity at the time.  For the New York City school system to pour millions of dollars into such an institution would be a serious error, and it is likely that the great majority of taxpayers would feel that way.

If you wanted a school specializing in Norwegian culture, or in the islands of Polynesia, or someplace without political consequences, that would remove some objections to ethnic segregation.  But it would be wiser for the schools to give Norwegian courses in a few selected locations in late afternoons, rather than taking children out of their neighborhood schools so that they can cluster with their parents' friends' children from the old country.

The entire venture seems to us to be based on misapprehension of what public schools are about. They are not intended to isolate New York City students by ethnicity or national origin.  Schools should help bring people together.  In the 19th century the public schools were referred to as common schools.   There must be variations in program offerings in education since not every child has the same needs.  We need gifted education, special education and a variety of programs for different abilities and conditions.  But race, color, religion or national origin should not be factors used to promote division and fractionalization of the student body; not here, not anywhere.

The New York dailies have covered this situation quite well and extensively. We give you links to a few of the principal stories on the Gibran matter. You can link to them if you wish further informatio and some fascinating detail. You will find one by Ms. Almontaser, who so far has been the protagonist in the drama.

Here are some links from the first week of the story:.

The New York Post was the first to cover it on August 6 with CITY PRINCIPAL IS 'REVOLTING' by Chuck Bennett and Jana Winter;


An autobiographical article by Ms. Almontaser appeared in the Gotham Gazette under the title: NOT ALWAYS AS SWEET,

On Saturday, August 11, the New York Times carried Julie Bosman's story, headlined: , HEAD OF CITY'S ARABIC SCHOOL STEPS DOWN UNDER PRESSURE

In today's Post (August 14) a strange headline TAKING A JEW TURN, accompanies a large photograph of Ms. Salzberg, with glasses and wild wavy hair, her fingers on a computer. An inset shows Ms. Almontaser, wearing a hijab (a headcovering worn by devout Muslims), as she always does. Under the Salzberg photo is the subheadline, "New principal 'Chosen'." The story, by Chuck Bennett, leads: "A Jewish educator who can't utter a phrase of Arabic has been tapped to head the city's controversial Arabic-themed school, officials announced yesterday. (Monday).

We have clearly not seen the last of this educational experiment.

#401  8.14.07  1555wds

Massive Subway Flooding
Follows Overheated Day,
Thunderstorms at Night.
MTA Is Not Informative.
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Wednesday, August 8th, 2007
Apres moi, le deluge.  -- Louis XV

God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time  --   James Baldwin

Yesterday, it was the moist and stifling heat which caused widespread discomfort for many  New Yorkers.  August 7 was a very unpleasant day for those who ventured out to either to go to work or to seek pleasure..

Senate, DA Pursue Spitzer.
Bruno Pal Loses in Court.
Son Loves Vicious Mom.
"Arrogance of Rectitude"
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Friday, August 3rd, 2007
The Minnesota bridge collapse has driven the Albany surveillance scandal and the Queen of Child Abuse off the front pages.  This shows that the best outcome following accusations of misconduct is the passage of time.  Other mishaps will take place, and less attention will be paid as older traumas recede into history.  Rule 19-T: Time heals most wounds. (But not all.)
Of course people and agencies will do their best to pick at the scab left by unfortunate events. New players have an interest in inserting themselves into notable controversies.  The best example of this behavior is New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who said he had solved the Kennedy assassination.

Queen of Child Abuse
Did It For the Money
That Came From Us.
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Wednesday, August 1st, 2007
Every once in a while a scandal is reported that dwarfs the ordinary misdeeds of criminals, while revealing huge gaps in government supervision.
The most recent outrage, and it is truly horrifying, is the discovery in St. Lucie, Florida,  of a 62-year-old woman, who had gotten hold of about a dozen children, most of them handicapped, and was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to care for them.  In fact, she starved, tortured and beat them, but that never stopped the paychecks from coming in.