Commentary & Opinion

Although William Ross Wallace may have coined the most ardently honest description of Mothers’ Day, before the malediction of American Marketing made a mockery of it, his brief citation still exudes a reality most humans wish was true:  “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

Last week, new data was released from the American Cancer Society.  It showed a staggering increase in melanoma cases in New York State.  Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.  According to the analysis, over the past ten years the number of melanoma cases has increased by 72 percent. 

 

I recently presented a paper at a Hofstra University conference spotlighting the 50th anniversary of the New York Mets. My subject was “The Mets in the Movies” and I chronicled the various celluloid references to the Amazins, from Bill Mazeroski, the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer, hitting into a triple play against the Mets in the screen version of Neil Simon’s THE ODD COUPLE to Billy Crystal’s wearing a Mets baseball cap while running with the bulls in Pamplona and herding cattle in CITY SLICKERS.

 

At long last an attempt is being made to curtail blatant anti-Semitic commentary at American universities. The Israel Law Center warns that universities “may be liable for massive damage” if they fail to prevent anti-Semitism on campus.

The center sent hundreds of letters to university presidents drawing a line in the sand. This Israel civil rights center is carrying out this campaign in response to an alarming number of incidents against Jewish and Israeli students at U.S. universities.

 

Students are choosing where to go to college. A college education is expensive but too many graduates come out of college without a skill set. What do they need from higher education?

From the outset of this anomalous experiment in government of, for and by its people, vocabulary has been an essential ingredient; the distillate of how things are accomplished.  Out of its need, grew the absolutely necessary First Constitutional Amendment that ensured freedom of expression.  Today, that freedom is an endangered species.  An explicit word, once a cornerstone of the experiment, has been banned.  The word is: “ETHICS.”  As an act of civil disobedience, this commentator will now repeat it:

 

The nation has made tremendous progress in reducing the number of cancer deaths.  But a new trend is developing – cancers caused by the American lifestyle.

 

There is a movie, currently in release, which tells the story of a young man who finds himself in a life-threatening situation. All that sustains him is the found photo of a beautiful woman, whom he has never met. He survives but finds himself lost and frazzled, and unable to function in the everyday world. So he sets out to find this woman-- and make her real.

On April 17, the front page of the New York Times had an article about two economists.   No, it was not about Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan who are very well known.

Instead, the two economists are academics – academics who are not household names.

These two economists, Thomas Piketty and Emanuel Saez, have done path-breaking research to document the incredible increase in inequality that has occurred in the US since about 1980. 

Total student debt in America has hit the $1 trillion mark, exceeding, for the first time, national credit card debt.  Yet at this very moment, the airways and media outlets are alive with stories and opinion pieces regarding the imminent doubling of the interest rate on new Stafford Subsidized Loans to undergraduates.  While in college at least half-time, students holding such need-based, federally guaranteed loans pay no interest; rather, the government pays the interest which accrues during that time.

Total student debt in America has hit the $1 trillion mark, exceeding, for the first time, national credit card debt.  Yet at this very moment, the airways and media outlets are alive with stories and opinion pieces regarding the imminent doubling of the interest rate on new Stafford Subsidized Loans to undergraduates.  While in college at least half-time, students holding such need-based, federally guaranteed loans pay no interest; rather, the government pays the interest which accrues during that time.

Total student debt in America has hit the $1 trillion mark, exceeding, for the first time, national credit card debt.  Yet at this very moment, the airways and media outlets are alive with stories and opinion pieces regarding the imminent doubling of the interest rate on new Stafford Subsidized Loans to undergraduates.  While in college at least half-time, students holding such need-based, federally guaranteed loans pay no interest; rather, the government pays the interest which accrues during that time. These loans, currently at a  3.4% interest rate, represent a critical element in the to

 

For as long as I can recall the Port Authority has been a mystical institution with enormous responsibility and with an overhang of patronage and soft money allegations. In a recent audit the Port Authority was described as dysfunctional and running up billons in cost overruns. Most significantly, the audit spoke to “insufficient cost controls” and “a lack of transparent and effective oversight.”

 

The AP recently revealed a spying operation by the New York City police on Muslims and Muslim institutions. What should we think about that?

Several years ago I arranged to teach a course on Privacy Law because I wanted to figure that out. I read, studied, corresponded with experts in the field and chaired a committee to come up with solutions. Here is some of what I’ve come up with.

For those public broadcasters who always ask the question: “Is classical music dead or doomed?” in interviews before every concert they air, this commentator has a simple coherent answer: “Only if you will it!”  Most Public Broadcasting execs seem privately convinced but too chicken to say, what they already believe.  So they ask the question, praying someone else will intone the answer they seek.  Theirs’ is a suspicion fallaciously raised, ever since ‘Classical Music’ was born.  In truth, as the inimitable ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong used to put it:  “There’s only two kinds of music… Good and Bad

 

We love to complain about the lack of a coherent national energy policy. It’s a perennial complaint no matter who is in the White House or which party controls Congress. We blame the oil and gas companies and their hold on our politicians. If Congress had the people’s interests at heart, the story goes, we’d have a rational energy policy in this country that would emphasize efficiency, wean us off the dirty stuff and shift us to clean renewable energy.

In the beginning, the country’s public radio stations decided they needed an organization to provide them with world and national news. Probably based on As It Happen from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio (NPR)’s All Things Considered was started.  If the member stations all kicked in, it was theorized, together they could afford a formidable news-gathering operation.  Today, WAMC alone pays the network more than $800,000 a year. That’s a lot of money.  It’s worth it, but it’s a tremendous burden considering all the other things we do here.

Despite the ever-shrinking number of smokers, cigarette use is still a top public health priority.  And despite the incredible gains that have been made, the carnage caused by smoking still takes an enormous physical and financial toll.

Into this debate comes a product that advertises itself as a way for smokers to reduce the harm caused by cigarette use and a way for smokers to comply with smoking bans in work and public places.

That product is the “electronic cigarette” or e-cigarette.

Lately, I’ve been seeing and savoring quite a few foreign language films: titles that have not enjoyed across-the-board theatrical releases in the U.S. This lack of theatrical exposure is not because these films are lacking in quality. They are in fact engrossing and provocative.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1980s, at a time when HIV/AIDS was decimating the gay community. AIDS has since been rendered a chronic but manageable illness with the development of effective antiviral drugs (at least for those who can afford them), but at that time a diagnosis of AIDS was considered to be a death sentence.

 

Writing in the New York Times (4/8/12) Ross Douthat argues “that religious common ground has all but disappeared.” The existence of a Judeo Christian center that helped bind the teeming nation together is in retreat, he claims. In a nation as divided as ours, religious polarization is inescapable as the race to the presidency has already suggested.

Tasked with helping draft a constitution for India after World War II, B. N. Rau traveled abroad speaking to jurists. In Washington, Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter advised Rau not to include a due process clause in the Indian Constitution. Instead India should have a clause simply requiring that no one be charged with a crime but by the law of the land. That was the meaning of the Magna Carta in 1215 which said:

No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned … or in any way destroyed … except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

In 2001, after receiving a solicitation letter in the mail and then viewing a TV interview of Walter Cronkite, Honorary National Chairman of the Interfaith Alliance, this commentator became a member.  The idea of religious and lay leaders of many faiths joining together to ensure utmost support for the constitutional certainty of both religious freedom and church/state separation was an irresistible inducement.  When I later learned of the formation of an affiliated unit, in New York State, I became an avid supporter.

 This past week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued final regulations to require oil and gas drillers to capture harmful air pollutants that escape from wells during drilling operations, and from natural gas storage facilities and pipelines.  The final rule is a first, and it's good news. But the new rules take 2 and a half years to become effective. New York can and should do better.

Cigarettes cause cancer.  Each pack has a warning label that tells us that.  Tobacco smoke not only hurts the smoker, but the smoke also harms non-smokers.  That’s the reason why laws were passed banning smoking in all work places and public places. 

When the most recent Iraq war began, I was serving as student rabbi at a wonderful little synagogue in New England.  One of the regulars at our monthly Torah study was a World War II veteran – let’s call him Sam.  Sam would always bring consideration and deep insight to text study.  But more than that, Sam was – and is – a mensh.

BULLY, a new documentary whose title tells you all you need to know about its subject matter, has been earning reams of publicity– and deservedly so. For one thing, the Motion Picture Association of America, the organization charged with rating movies, originally slapped BULLY with an “R” rating. This designation would prevent countless young people who need to be educated about the effects of bullying from seeing this important film. (Happily, the MPAA has indeed changed the film’s rating to “PG-13.”)

The numbers are in for March auto sales and lo and behold, electric vehicles and gas-electric hybrid vehicles had their biggest month ever.  According to the Associated Press, consumers bought a record 52,000 gas-electric hybrids and electric vehicles in March, up from 34,000 a year ago. The higher numbers come –not coincidentally—as gasoline prices return to around $4 a gallon.

There have always been many good reasons to choose to drive the most fuel-efficient vehicles:

It has been widely reported that the Chinese government is providing loans and outright grants to Latin American and African nations for the construction of schools, clinics, power plants, and even soccer stadiums. The Chinese have flexed their economic prowess across the globe generating approval in many quarters and raised eyebrows and concerns in some diplomatic circles.

There was some big news for New York’s uninsured last week.  First, a report was released that examined the characteristics of those upstate New Yorkers who lack health insurance coverage.  Using data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the health insurer Excellus released a profile of those who lacked health insurance in upstate New York.  Here are some of them:

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