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Category: Opinion

Thoughts & Views: Maybe a Hollywood set crew could help

The U.S. Secret Service wants $8 million from Congress to build a fake White House so its agents can practice guarding the real place against outside threats.

Good luck getting it. Good luck getting anything from Congress these days. You can’t even get a free ride; in fact, that’s the one thing you know they won’t cough up. Anyway, you can’t really blame the new director for trying. Judging from the recent lapses that have been spotlighted in the national press – (so much for the “secret” part of their service) – it sounds like those agents of his must have a lot of time on their hands.

So having a place to practice should be a good thing because it will keep those agents occupied doing the secret things they do.

And, what’s more, if I were the director, I certainly wouldn’t stop there.

I mean, think about it: Part of the mission of the Secret Service (yes, I looked at their website to verify this and they didn’t make a secret of it) is to guard and protect our embassies overseas.

Well, we’ve got a whole bunch of embassies around the globe so the director should be asking for replicas of those embassies, too. Like the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, for example, where in 2012 we lost an ambassador and foreign service employee, and another location there where two CIA contractors were killed.

Of course, this is not to say that even if we had been more vigilant about protecting these facilities and representatives that extremists still wouldn’t have found a way to carry out their deadly missions.

Maybe we still need more communication between and among our federal agencies set up to detect and penetrate those groups who are actively seeking to do harm to our governments and representatives. There still seems to be too much territoriality exercised by our security agencies and lessons that were supposedly learned from 9/11 probably have been forgotten.

The Secret Service seems to have been snake-bitten, literally from the day President Lincoln signed the legislation on April 14, 1865, which happens to be the day he was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth.

But don’t blame them for that outcome: the Secret Service was created as a creature of the U.S. Treasury to combat counterfeiting – then a scourge of the war-disrupted country.

An inept cop, John Parker, was assigned to guard Lincoln that night at Ford’s Theatre if you can believe the website todayifoundout.com which reports that Parker left his post at the president’s box to get a better view of the play and, during intermission, visited a nearby saloon, which probably didn’t help.

But the Secret Service did manage to thwart a counterfeiting gang’s scheme to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom in return for the release of a convicted counterfeiter.

After 1990, as its own website chronicles, the Secret Service widened its net to investigate any kind of threat, civil or criminal, to federally-insured financial institutions, including cyber-crime.

That, in turn, has led to several successful investigations including, notably, the arrest in 2004 of 24 suspects from various countries on charges of identity theft, computer and credit card fraud that caused the loss of more than $4 million to banks.

And in 2009, harking back to its original mission, the agency arrested nearly 3,000 counterfeiting suspects, nearly all of whom are convicted, and confiscated more than $180 million in phony U.S. currency.

Apparently, they did it without practicing on a currency replicator.

– Ron Leir 

Thoughts & Views: ‘Great gift of faith’

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(Editor’s note: Earlier this month, preceding its St. Patrick’s Parade, the Nutley Irish-American Alliance held its annual Mass at St. Mary’s Church in that township. This year, Msgr. John J. Gilchrist of Kearny was the guest speaker. In honor of March 17, The Observer would like to share a portion of his homily, and its local history lesson, with our readers. ) 

This annual parade has two great purposes. The first is, of course, to give glory to God and show gratitude to the Lord for sending St. Patrick to us to bring the great gift of faith.

Secondly, all of us who carry the Celtic DNA want to pay tribute to our forefathers and to those who brought us to this great country and especially to those who settled in this beautiful area that was once known as Avondale, then Franklin, and that we now call Nutley. And so, we represent faith, heritage, and gratitude to those who went before us.

You know the Irish came to this area as refugees from famine and persecution.

Once they arrived here, they needed work. The Dutch and English who preceded them had discovered that this beautiful river valley contained copper that could be mined, then brownstone that could easily be cut into building blocks for housing, and the running water in the rivers that turned wheels for mills.

So the Irish followed the river and came here to settle and make a living mining, cutting blocks, and working in the mills of the area.

It was a hard and difficult time. The single men lived in barracks, and families lived in shanties. The men and women worked six days a week from sun-up till sundown in all sorts of weather.

Until 1880, there was no Catholic church in Avondale, as Nutley was called in those days. Catholics went to Mass in St. Peter’s in Belleville from 1838 until 1877 when Father Hubert de Burgh came and took up residence here.

I would like to tell you a story that my mother uncovered. She was a member of the Belleville Historical Society and in the 1950s she wrote a history of St. Peter’s Parish.

She wrote of a Mission that was held during Lent in the 1850s. The Irish families from the quarries, mines and mills rose long before dawn that year and walked in the dark beside the river along Main St. to Mass at 6:30 a.m.

They then walked back to Nutley to grab a bite of breakfast and then went to work until sundown at night. They filled the church each morning for the nine days of the Mission.

I have to tell you that, on these frigid cold mornings, with the snow all around, I think of those faithful Catholics. By the way, in those days the Passaic River froze over and the Irish from Kearny and Arlington walked across the river on the ice to attend Mass.

I want to leave you with that image. On these winter days, consider what religion meant to those good men and women who endured so much to find their God in the Holy Mass.

My dear friends, if you would honor these saints, for holy they were, imitate them by giving God glory by practicing the Faith that meant so much to them.

May you have a great and glorious parade.

May God bless you all.

– Msgr. John J. Gilchrist 

Let the games begin … again!

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Money generally means power. And so it is with the American financial system.

Just take a look at what’s happened since we experienced our national financial meltdown in 2008.

Through the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, the government spent billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out Ford, Chrysler and GM, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the banking industry and American International Group (AIG). Read more »

Thoughts & Views: Dressed to kill (my brain cells)

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Unless you have been hibernating with the groundhogs, you recognize the photo that accompanies this column. However, for the few of you who have just stuck your heads out from the burrow, I shall explain:

Last week, a woman in Scotland posted that picture on the internet. She had attended a wedding, and that was the dress worn by the mother of the bride.

Within hours, it became a worldwide sensation. Not because of the design, but because of the colors. Or more specifically, because of how the colors were perceived. Read more »

WE’VE GOT MAIL

‘A COWARDLY ACT’

To the editor, 

My family and I are deeply saddened and offended by a flyer that was recently distributed via U.S. Mail to the residents of Lyndhurst by cowardly individuals who implied that I am one and the same as mass murderer, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian Adolph Hitler. Never in my political career have I ever witnessed an attack that rises to this level. I consider it to be defamatory and criminally biased in nature, not only to myself but also to Commissioner DiMaggio.

The flyer makes reference to Hitler’s SS and Secret Police and their tactics, drawing a direct comparison to the affairs of my administration. In addition, the flyer makes reference to me facing criminal charges, which is a ridiculous allegation.

I have made numerous statements over the past seven months since my forced redesignation as Commissioner of Public Safety dealing with suspicious lawsuits being filed naming the Township and myself as the defendants, and issues related to the Joint Insurance Fund (JIF). Read more »

Thoughts & Views: It happens every spring

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In case you hadn’t noticed, pitchers and catchers have reported for the annual ritual of spring training.

By April, the baseball season will have begun and every team can dream of winning the pennant and the World Series.

But, as T.S. Eliot liked to say, “April is the cruelest month,” because while it theoretically offers the possibility of rebirth and hope, by the time October rolls around, it means that all but two of the teams in the American and National Leagues will have to “wait ‘til next year” for their chance at all the marbles.

Still, now is the time of year when we can all dream big with our favorite team – yes, even the woeful Cubbies who haven’t won the Series since 1908 when they knocked off Detroit and Hall of Famer Ty Cobb.

That team featured pitching ace “Three Finger” Mordecai Brown who had six seasons with 20 or more wins plus a double play combination made famous by poet Franklin Pierce Adams: Tinker to Evers to Chance. Funny thing was Tinker and Evers didn’t talk to each other after, it is said, Evers grabbed a cab to the ballpark one day, stranding his teammate.

You can look it up, fans.

Baseball, which is still our national pastime, has survived despite all forms of cheating – even a World Series fix in 1919 by that other Chicago team, the White Sox – and the infamous “reserve clause” famously challenged by Curt Flood and racism, successfully smashed by Jackie Robinson. I grew up in Jersey City where Jackie played for the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals farm team against the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Stadium in April 1946, a year before moving up to the parent club in Brooklyn and broke the color line.

Don’t bother looking for the stadium; like the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field before it, that baseball relic was swept aside to make way for a residential development.

Luckily, the “Friendly Confines” of the Cubs’ home, Wrigley Field, still stands, as does the venerable Fenway Park in Boston (pictured above).

Remarkably, over more than a century of diamond history, there has been only one player fatality on the field. That happened in 1920, when Yankees submariner Carl Mays beaned the popular Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman and not long after that, the baseball establishment mandated the use of helmets and outlawed the spitball (although it grandfathered in veteran pitchers who had been using the pitch).

Aside from expansion and a few rule changes, the game – with a dubious myth about its origins – has pretty much stayed the same, with its central premise being that it is a contest played at its own pace – unlike other sports — without concern about the passage of time.

Until now, that is.

In an effort to speed up the game, the baseball commissioner has decreed that the major leagues will now be on the clock for pitching changes and inning breaks and batters won’t be permitted to step out of the box willy-nilly.

And, based on experimentation with the Arizona Fall League last year (as noted by The Star Ledger) there could be more rule changes coming, like restrictions on managers’/ catchers’ visits to the mound, no-pitch intentional walks and more.

Naturally, baseball purists will be upset but it doesn’t bother me and I’m a lifelong baseball addict who tried out (unsuccessfully) for my college team when it was coached by onetime Cub utility infielder Norm Gigon and, as consolation, I play Sunday softball doubleheaders in Central Park.

I’d prefer to see these changes:

• The American League should eliminate the designated hitter and let the pitcher bat.

• Let fans watch batting and fielding practice. It’s part of the game. Fans can come early, relax, catch part of the pregame ritual and bond with the players.

• Stadiums should stop blasting loud music at us every chance they get. It’s annoying, harmful to the ears and takes away from the pleasure of watching the game.

• Team owners really need to re-think how they design their ballparks. AT&T Park in San Francisco, with a seating capacity of 41,000, has great sightlines and feels just right. Camden Yards in Baltimore is another good example.

• Get the Yankees to have open tryouts for a backup third baseman behind Chase Headley just to shake up ARod. Play ball!

– Ron Leir 

Thoughts & Views: Have you seen this woman?

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This week’s column is more accurately a public service announcement. The other day, we read a press release from the Newark Bureau of the FBI regarding something that happened nine years ago.

We were not familiar with the case, the crime did not occur in The Observer coverage area, nor was the victim from any of our towns. But it happened not far away. And maybe, just maybe, one of our readers knows something, or suspects something, or has heard something. Something that might help authorities find a missing woman — or at least find a lead on what might have happened to her.

This is the story of Carla Vicentini, who came to New Jersey from Brazil as an exchange student on Jan. 19, 2006. She was 22 years old.

According to the press release, Vicentini promptly found employment at a White Castle Restaurant on Route 46 in Ledgewood, and for a couple of weeks she resided at the Roxbury Motel in that town.

Then, on Feb. 5, 2006, she and a roommate, also an exchange student, began renting an apartment on Ferry St. in the Ironbound section of Newark, the neighborhood just over the Jackson St. bridge from Harrison.

Vicentini’s roommate worked as a waitress at the Adega Bar & Grill, located at 130 Ferry St., and “during the early morning hours of Feb. 10, 2006,” Vicentini went there to visit her friend, the FBI said.

At approximately 2:30 a.m., Vicentini left the bar with an unidentified white male she had apparently met in the Adega lounge.

According to investigators, she “told her roommate she was going to look at a photograph in the automobile of this individual and would meet her at their apartment, only a few blocks away.”

“Vicentini,” they said, “was never seen or heard from again.”

The FBI said the man was described as white, of unknown nationality, having a fair complexion, light eyes, and short salt-and-pepper hair. He was approximately 30 years old (nine years ago), about 5-foot- 8, weighing 200 pounds, with a stocky build.

Vicentini, a native of Brazil, spoke Portuguese and limited English. She was described as about 5-foot-7, 140 pounds, with brown eyes and blonde hair.

She has multiple body piercings and three tattoos: a gray angel on her back, a red and yellow chameleon on her left hip, and a “tribal tattoo” on her lower back.

She is listed by the federal agency as a kidnapping victim.

Although this might be considered a cold case, investigators continue to pursue leads.

And last week, on the ninth anniversary of her disappearance, the Newark Division of the FBI announced it is offering a reward of up to $20,000 “for information leading to the location of Carla Vicentini or information leading to the identity of the person(s) involved in her disappearance.”

In addition, the agency is launching a multi-media campaign to publicize the new reward. As well as notifying the news media, it will place digital billboards “across the Newark area,” and Vicentini’s photo “will be sent out on various FBI social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.”

Hoping against hope, until and unless a body is found, somewhere, there is still the chance that Carla Vicentini may be alive. Somewhere.

But if she is not, the least her family in Brazil deserves is some form of closure.

And in either case, the person responsible for her disappearance deserves to be brought to justice.

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Carla Vicentini is urged to call the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Newark Division, at 973-792-3000.

– Karen Zautyk 

Thoughts & Views: Don’t gamble on park’s future

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Okay, Gov. Christie, Assemblyman Prieto and Sen. Sweeney, I call your collective bluffs. It’s time to put all your cards on the table.

Look, it’s practically a done deal … a casino in Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

And maybe another gaming hall in the Hackensack Meadowlands. After all, you guys emptied out the Izod, so it’s ready for a new customer, right?

You marked the deck by adding 11th hour amendments to the Sarlo bill that pitched the merger of the N.J. Meadowlands Commission with the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority.

One of those last-minute changes inserted into the final version of the bill – recently signed by the governor – gives the new state creature (the Meadowlands Regional Commission) the potential to alter the fate of the 1,200 acre passive park, which lies just 2,000 feet from the Statue of Liberty.

As the bill states, that commission can “evaluate, approve and implement any plan or plans for the further preservation, development, enhancement or improvement of Liberty State Park.”

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop was quoted as insisting that allegedly, legislative protections will be put in place – at some unknown time – to secure the park in “its pristine condition.”

But civic activists like the Friends of Liberty State Park, led by Sam Pesin – whose father, the late Morris Pesin, is credited with spearheading the creation of the park in June 1976 – are skeptical of the state’s motives, suspecting that some form of privatization is contemplated to squeeze revenues from a protected natural site.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has reported losing money in its operation of the park, which has 300 acres accessible to the public but which derives revenue from leases to two upscale restaurants and a 500- slip marina and is home to the privately-run Liberty Science Center.

So, as The Record has reported, DEP is paying the nonprofit New Jersey Future planning group $120,000 to come up with options for development opportunities within the park and the company head was quoted as saying that the study is not targeting environmentally sensitive areas and is not recommending “50-story” high-rises or casinos.

But neither New Jersey Future nor DEP will release the report.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that the state has eyed private development for the waterfront park with its grand views of New York Harbor, the Manhattan skyline and other points of interest.

In fact, not long after the park was opened there were proposals for a theme/amusement park, golf course and residential condominiums.

Ultimately, a PGA-sanctioned course was developed outside the park’s boundaries, as was a stock car racing course. And, thus far, the park’s open space area which fronts on the Hudson River, has remained, as has the old historic Central Railroad Terminal at the park’s north end. Ferries depart from the park to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. There are also paths along the river for walking and biking. And there’s a picnic area for families.

On hot summer days, the ample parking lots at the park’s southern end are often filled with the cars of residents and tourists who choose not to fight the traffic headed down to the Jersey shore.

Still, who knows how long the preservationists can fight off potential plundering of one of the few remaining green riverfront treasures left to ordinary mortals like you and me.

Should we trust that there are enough tree huggers among those that control our natural resources who will take someone like Teddy Roosevelt as their guide? I’d like to think so.

Here’s a thought: The folks in charge now can’t even manage to maintain a small, simple privately-operated concession stand at the park. If they can’t even do that, how the heck are they going to successfully secure and take care of a major revenue producer?

– Ron Leir 

Thoughts & Views: The world must never forget

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Last Tuesday marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I am embarrassed to admit that I had not realized that. But then, the local media didn’t exactly highlight the news. They were too busy providing weather reports on the blizzard that wasn’t.

In any case, I eventually heard it mentioned somewhere, and over the weekend, C-SPAN carried footage of commemoration services held at the site of the infamous extermination camp in Poland.

It was on Jan. 27, 1945, that Russian troops liberated that hell. But even then, there apparently was sparse attention paid on this side of the Atlantic.

I’ve just read a JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) article that states that “at the time the camp was liberated . . . it was given virtually no press coverage, at least not in the American media.” Read more »

Thoughts & Views: Mars? Tempting but focus on Earth first

After listening to President Obama’s most recent State of the (Dis) Union speech last Tuesday night, I couldn’t help thinking, I’d sure like to be Scott Kelly.

Just to remind you (since none of the TV commentators bothered to point this out), Kelly has been picked to become the first U.S. astronaut from NASA to spend a year in space – possibly a prep for a future voyage to Mars.

Remember NASA? That’s the National Aeronautics Space Administration, although you wouldn’t know that from a quick perusal of the NASA website. But I don’t blame them. Our space agency has lost much of its hype since our government forced it to reinvent itself after discontinuing funding of human flights beyond our atmosphere, although that could change soon.

But I digress.

Kelly will be blasting off in March, appropriately enough, the month we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and for our man in space, it will be the very tip “top of the morning” when he goes on his way.

Ironically, as noted by the website space.com, Kelly “is scheduled to launch on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station” where “he and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will live and work on the orbiting outpost for one year.”

I wonder what Comrade Putin has to say about this. I certainly hope the leader of all the Russias (including Crimea) was at least consulted. Given the Kremlin’s expansionist policy, let’s hope that Putin doesn’t extend the Russian empire’s grasp to holding the Space Station – and the American within – hostage. Remember, the U.S. government’s policy is no ransom payments.

Despite the potential risk, I’d still trade places with Kelly because he’s in the forefront of what the President characterized in his address as being in a “race for the kind of discoveries that unleash new jobs … pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay (my emphasis).”

This means colonization, folks. No question about it.

Obama and his advisers are firm believers in global climate change and they know that the timeline for Planet Earth is rapidly winding down, thanks to out-of-control development, coupled with overpopulation and the widening of income inequality.

That’s why Obama is subtly reversing course – abandoning all pretense of developing a domestic policy once aimed at eradicating poverty and enhancing our quality of life – and turning now toward conquering the Final Frontier … Space.

Mars is now our Destination of Choice and I want to be part of the vanguard that will, undoubtedly, be re-shaping the Red Planet as our new home. I don’t know if I’ve got The Right Stuff to make it there but maybe, at the very least, I can become the First Journalist in Space.

Forget about “middle class economics” – how does not charging for community college do anything really to change the high dropout rate? The whole thing is just a smokescreen for the President’s real intent: to create the Great Space Society.

After all, you didn’t hear any mention of gun control, did you? Nothing about immigration reform or the willful emasculation of Frank-Dodd by bank lobbyists. He’s caved on everything – all the remedies for fixing the ills here on this planet.

I’m sure that the Koch brothers, Dick Cheney, Jamie Diamon and probably even Bill Clinton, have their reservations already secured for that expedition to Mars.

But, despite everything, I believe Bill and Melinda Gates will still be down here, giving it their all for this world.

Which, I suppose, is where all of us should be engaged, after all.

– Ron Leir