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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

Thoughts & Views: Ensuring they get ‘the best years of their lives’



As the nation prepares to remember America’s war dead on Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, a veterans’ advocate group in Kearny is continuing its efforts to aid and comfort our living members of the military, both active and retired.

Realizing that many veterans and their families are struggling on the homefront, VOICE (Veterans Outreach Information Community Education) – the brainchild of American Legion Frobisher Post 99 Auxiliary President Maryallyn Fisher – is marshaling a host of resources to get them back on their collective feet.

Researching records in the Kearny tax assessor’s office and using the Open Public Records Act, “we’ve identified 352 military families living in Kearny,” Fisher said. “We want to thank them for their service to our country and we want them to know we’re here to help at the American Legion.”

So far, over the course of several months, according to Fisher and outreach coordinator Bill Sweeney, VOICE has gone to bat for 19 local vets in various stateside campaigns: getting copies of service discharge papers, getting veterans’ benefits, getting hearing aids, getting legal help to document service-connected disability ratings, making medical referrals to the V.A., getting answers on a military spouses’ life insurance policies, getting housing assistance and more.

Two area veteran centers in Bloomfield and Secaucus have been particularly friendly and helpful, Sweeney said.

To deal with those returning vets who may have been traumatized by wartime experiences, VOICE has arranged to get many locals and others trained online in an intervention technique, “Question/ Persuade/Refer,” to talk to troubled vets.

So far, 15 members of the Kearny Fire Department, 10 in the Police Department, 15 at the Board of Education, Health Officer John Sarnas and about 60 employees of the Passaic public school system – where Fisher works – have done the training.

“We’re willing to train local business people,” Fisher said.

Recently, Post Commander Tony Capitti organized a local workshop conducted by the state Attorney General’s Office on its civil law military initiative. “They’re trying to fast track cases of local veterans looking to regain jobs lost because of possible discrimination,” Fisher said.

Through the Hudson County Clerk’s Office, which sponsors a veterans’ discount card program for honorably discharged vets, Post 99 held an open house on April 24, inviting local vets to apply for the card, which is accepted by certain stores in the area. “We issued 55 cards that day for discounts county-wide,” Sweeney said. “And now we’re trying to expand the program by getting more stores to participate.”

The post has scheduled another discount card drive for those who weren’t able to attend the April event for Thursday, June 6, from noon to 3 p.m., at post headquarters, 314 Belgrove Drive, opposite Veterans Field.

For those returning veterans looking for work as civilians, Sweeney said the post hopes to partner soon with Goodwill Industries in Harrison. “Goodwill will donate a suit to any vet going on a job interview,” he said.

On its website – kearnyamericanlegionauxiliary.com – VOICE has posted a host of local, state and federal referral resources available to local veterans, who are also invited to call the post Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or Wednesdays, from 6 to 8 p.m., to talk to a VOICE representative. The contact number is 201- 991-6919.

We applaud their efforts.

– Ron Leir


‘Hail to the chief’

To the Editor:

A page in the history of the Borough of East Newark will be turned on June 1, 2013, when the chief of the East Newark Police Department, Kenneth M. Sheehan, retires after 28 years of honorable and meritorious service to the residents. It is with this bittersweet feeling that we bid farewell to the chief. Of course, we are congratulating him on his retirement but on the other side, we know how much this man will be missed on a day-to-day basis by the mayor, Borough Council and most importantly the residents.

This writer had the honor and pleasure of meeting Chief Sheehan 22 years ago in the borough and we developed a strong rapport and solid relationship through the years both on a professional basis within official capacities and on a personal friendship basis. The chief carried out his duties with the utmost honesty, integrity and knowledge of the myriad regulations but most importantly in a kind, caring manner. And yes, when possible, the Irish wit was an added ingredient that made working with him a pleasure, not a task.

It is to be noted that Chief Sheehan is respected by all the police chiefs in Hudson County and he has also the respect and admiration of the county, state and federal authorities that he has interacted with over the years. He has the respect of the officers under his command and all who work for him state he is a “cop’s cop” standing by them.

We wish Chief Kenneth M. Sheehan and his family all of the best of health and happiness in the years to come and as he makes his last rounds on May 31 we know that he left the Borough of East Newark a safe, secure and wonderful place to live.

Robert B. Knapp

Jersey City

Thoughts & Views: Still seeking answers, 4 decades later

Steven Soden

Steven Soden

It sounds like something from a “CSI” episode, but it’s not fiction. And though the story has no (apparent) link to the area The Observer covers, you never know. Over the course of 40+ years, people can move aound a lot. Old memories can resurface. Maybe someone knows something; something they didn’t even realize was important.

In any case, the story is a fascinating, what-are-the-odds saga, and it has brought some amount of closure to a Washington State woman who once lived in a New Jersey orphanage.

In April 1972, that woman, then a young girl, and her 16-year-old brother, Steven Soden, were among 18 children from a Paterson orphanage who, along with four adults, were on a weeklong camping trip in Bass River State Forest, on the eastern edge of the Pine Barrens.

On the night of April 3, ‘72, Steven and another boy, Donald Caldwell, 12, disappeared from the campsite without a trace. In the words of law enforcement, “never to be seen or heard from again.”

Nearly 30 years later, in 2000 — and, coincidentally in April — an off-duty N.J. state trooper hiking in the park found a piece of a sneaker and several bones. These were sent to the State Police Forensic Lab, but could not be identified.

Meanwhile, detectives from the Cook County (Ill.) Sheriff’s Office have been continuing efforts to ID victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was executed in 1994 for the murders of (at least) 33 young men and boys. His rampage apparently began in 1972.

Last October, Steven’s sister, on the off-chance that her missing brother was among the Gacy victims, submitted a DNA sample to the investigators, but there was no genetic link found.

However, the forensics experts at University of North Texas Center for Human Identification put the sample in their database, found an apparent match and contacted the N.J. State Police lab and the Burlington County Medical Examiner’s Office to confirm the identity.

Steven Soden had been found.

But exactly what happened to him is still a mystery. As is the fate of young Donald Caldwell.

Is Caldwell still alive somewhere or did both boys die? Were they the victims of foul play? Of an accident or an animal attack? Or did they just get lost and die of hunger or exposure?

Bass River State Forest covers 23,563 acres, and it’s not likely two boys from urban Paterson had the wilderness skills to survive in that vastness. We don’t know if they even had a compass. And early-April weather can be unforgiving if you’re not equipped to deal with it.

Last week, New Jersey authorities announced that the State Police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children “are continuing the investigation in an attempt to locate additional evidence” in the 40-year-old cold case.

State Police detectives “are asking the public’s assistance with any information about Donald Caldwell, Steve Soden, and the Paterson Orphanage group.”

Anyone with any information is asked to call 1-800-THE-LOST.

Yes, the odds against solving this are enormous. But so were the odds against finding and matching those bones and identifying Steven.

The ending to this story may not have been written yet.

– Karen Zautyk

Thoughts & Views: Hold government’s feet to the fire

A couple of major news stories that made headlines recently made me wonder where the United States is headed as a force for change in the world.

First, there was the devastating fire at the fertilizer plant in Texas that laid waste to much of the host town, West, and the puzzlement over what, if anything, to do about it.

Then there was the globally alarming development, reported in last Saturday’s New York Times, about the record level of carbon dioxide the world is producing through the burning of fossil fuels.

Both issues should raise concerns over what Americans stand for and how America can try to use its geopolitical power to effect positive outcomes for our planet.

In the aftermath of the tragic fire April 17 at the West Fertilizer Co. plant that killed 14 – mostly emergency first responders – and injured some 200, both Lone Star State Gov. Rick Perry and West Mayor Tommy Muska weren’t pushing for more aggressive regulation of fire codes for these facilities, of which there are said to be several hundred in the state, according to reporting by The Times on May 10.

Texas even outlaws rural counties from implementing fire safety codes. Its largest city, Houston, the Times noted, doesn’t even have zoning laws.

Maybe when you have a state with such wide open spaces, you figure you don’t need restrictions telling folks how they can live.

Texas being a super business- friendly place, I guess it makes sense that its officials would ease off pressuring factory owners to put in expensive fire sprinkler systems and provide other safety precautions.

Couldn’t Lyndon Johnson have used the same persuasive techniques he was famously associated with in the White House to push through his “Great Society” legislation to corral Lone Star lawmakers to afford their citizens more protection?

Maybe it’s all about the votes and the money.

That’s “states’ rights” for you.

But official government neglect extends to the national sphere, too.

As the Times reported on May 11, two agencies that monitor carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego – announced that the gas had reached an average daily level of about 400 parts per million.

That’s a level that, scientists say, the earth hasn’t seen in perhaps 3 million years when the planet was a lot hotter.

The time isn’t far, those same experts fear, when the ice caps will continue to melt at such a pace that the oceans and waterways will flood cities all along the coast.

All because countries around the globe – including the U.S. – aren’t doing enough to push the development of alternate technologies – like the electric car – to significant reduce the volume of that heat-trapping gas.

Yes, some nations have subscribed to international treaties pledging to get that done but where is the U.S. around this goal? Why isn’t our President sounding the alarm with more alactrity? Why isn’t the United Nations reacting? Do we just keep putting this issue off like Congress has done with sequestering?

We can’t afford to wait until we’re carried off to oblivion. Act now and don’t leave this terrible legacy for the next generation.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Ferreting out the furry facts

This is not a poodle

This is not a poodle



Okay, enough with the serious stuff. It’s time for another column of absurdities, or another absurd column. Your call.

Animals are always good copy so let’s start with the creature pictured to the right. You may already know the story because it broke last month, but in case you didn’t hear about it, I am here to enlighten you. Besides, no matter how many times I look at that photo, I laugh.

This animal is supposed to be a “toy poodle.” That’s what the man who bought it at an Argentine bazaar thought. It turned out to be a ferret on steroids.

Apparently dishonest “dog” breeders in Argentina have been feeding the growth hormones to baby ferrets, bulking them up to resemble (vaguely) a canine. Then the ferret’s fur is fluffed up like a poodle’s.

We do not know how the buyer discovered he had been duped. When his “poodle” wouldn’t bark? When he couldn’t teach it to sit up and beg? When it showed no interest in fire hydrants?

Personally, we would have kept the ferret. It’s adorable.

Looking for other critter-related news, I moused on over to the website of the journal Nature to find out more about a story on fish communicating with each other, and I encountered the following headlines:

“Pyroclastic passage zones in glaciovolcanic sequences”

“Self-sustained oscillations of a torsional SQUID resonator induced by Lorentz-force back-action”

“Genomic deletions disrupt nitrogen metabolism pathways of a cyanobacterial diatom symbiont”

About the only words I understood were “in,” “by,” “of” and “a”. But then, I learned my headline-writing craft at the newspaper that, in 1975, gave the world the classic “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

I can just hear my old copy desk chief growling, “’Glaciovolcanic’ is not a headline word!” “Headline words” refer to short, catchy ones that pack more info into one lline and that will grab readers’ attention.

“Chief Executive to Metropolis: Expire Immediately” would not have had the same punch.

But I digress.

The news about fish is that certain species apparently communicate with each other via head movements to indicate where among the rocks and coral other fish (the ones they feed on) are hiding. Also, I have learned, some fish use eels as helpers: They direct the eels to the hiding places; the eels, being squirmier, can get inside the crevices, chase or pull out the prey, and everyone shares the feast.

And you thought the apes would inherit the planet.

Speaking of headlines. A headline on a story on nationalgeographic.com reads:

“Why Some Poison Frogs Taste Bittersweet When Licked”

Make up your own comment for that one.

– Karen Zautyk


Ag-Gag Laws and Freedom of the Press

Dear Editor:

“Despicable, unconstitutional, ridiculous, immature, idiotic, and mendacious.” And that’s just how Tennessee newspapers characterized the state’s “ag-gag” bill now awaiting the governor’s signature.

“Ag-gag” bills criminalize whistleblowing that exposes animal abuses, unsafe working conditions, and environmental problems on factory farms.

Instead of encouraging whistleblowing and preventing these violations, ag-gag laws ensure that consumers and regulatory authorities are kept in the dark.

Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and Utah have enacted ag-gag laws, but such bills were defeated in eight other states, thanks to a strong outcry from the public and newspaper editors. In 2013, new aggag bills were introduced in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wyoming. The language has been invariably drafted by the infamous anti-consumer American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Thirty newspapers and 60 national animal protection, workers’ rights, civil liberties, public health, food safety, and environmental conservation organizations have recently gone on record as strongly opposing ag-gag bills.

Our government must never restrict our right and obligation to know where our food comes from. For a recent update on the status of ag-gag bills, visit mfablog.org/2013/04/state-of-the-aggag- 2013.html.

Cory Baker


Thoughts & Views: We all need to be vigilant today

Some weeks ago, after completing my work at The Observer after 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, I drove to Kearny High School to take some photos of the stalled construction project.

I parked my car on Devon St., close to the main entrance, and proceeded to take some shots of the classroom trailers on the school’s front lawn and some additional shots of the King St. side of the school. Read more »


To the Editor:

In recognition of May as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, I’d like to encourage Nutley motorists and motorcyclists alike to commit to “sharing the road” during the month and all year long, in a collective effort to reduce motorcycle death and injuries.

Motorcycles are among the smallest and most vulnerable vehicles on the road and riders are at greater risk of death and serious injury than other vehicle operators if they are involved in a crash. According to the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), per vehicle mile, motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to die in a crash than occupants of cars, and five times more likely to be injured.

Read more »

Thoughts & Views: Running with a story – and stumbling

On Monday, April 15, being otherwise occupied and not one of those people who tweet or Facebook, I had not been online, or near a TV, all day, so I was oblivious to what had happened in Boston.

I returned home and flipped on the television, and there on the screen was President Obama addressing the nation and stating, “We will find out who did this and bring them to justice” (or words to that effect).


Of course, the story was all over the news and I soon found out about the bombings, the coverage of which I followed all week.

On Friday, I awoke to the clock radio and a live feed from a press conference, with some official stating, “The entire city of Boston is in lock-down. People are being asked to shelter in place.”

WHAT? Apparently, I had gone to sleep the night before just prior to when the news broke about the shootout between police and the terror suspects.

For much of the day, I was glued to the TV, following, as best I could, the dramatic events unfolding in Watertown, Mass. I flipped from channel to channel and was struck by the same thing I had thought during the week: How misinformative much of the coverage was.

This is partly due to the desire to scoop the competition (something I touched on in last week’s column about the feeding-frenzy for sound bites). But it is also because, when you’ve got nonstop coverage, you’ve got to fill the airtime with something. So straight, factual reporting can take a backseat to the “yadayadayada” of the talking heads. And, worse, to errors.

A prime example was CNN’s now-infamous report Wednesday that “sources” had informed them of an arrest of a suspect in the bombings. It took them about an hour to confirm this was not so.

On Friday, Scott Pelley on CBS started to report that Connecticut police had issued a BOLO for a green Honda sedan with Massachusetts plates. But before he went any further, he interrupted himself. He was getting new info. And he immediately made a correction: No such alert had been issued. Good for you, Scott.

At least a half-hour after that, another network announced that Connecticut police were looking for a green Honda . . . which still was not true. Disgusted, I changed the channel, so I don’t know how long it took them to correct their mistake. I might be wrong, but somehow I doubt it was immediate.

This is dangerous territory because we all make mistakes (which is why The Observer puts corrections on this page when warranted), but mistakes are most egregious when they involve a high-profile story about which the entire world is awaiting accurate information.

Too often, in the race to be first, what is sometimes reported as fact, isn’t fact at all. There has long been an in “joke” among journalists about how bad the reporting can be when someone not completely on the ball is covering a breaking story. We’re aware of it. You should be, too.

This is not deliberate carelessness. It is explicable. But it is still not excusable. Suggestion: You might consider keeping a few grains of salt next to your remote.

– Karen Zautyk

Thoughts & Views: Sportsmanship? ‘Show me the money!’

So the sword has fallen on the head basketball coach and athletic director at Rutgers, our premiere State University, in the wake of the release of videos showing abusive actions and homophobic barbs by the coach toward his players.

Should we be shocked that (a) nothing happened until the videos came to public light, (b) that higher-ups knew about the coach’s aberrant behavior well before we did or (c) that lawsuits (whistleblower and otherwise) are resulting?


Maybe y’all may remember a little scandal, not so long ago, that happened at Penn State University. A different scholastic sport, a somewhat different alleged behavior pattern by a coach, but the facts were known beforehand.

Welcome to America, boys and girls.

Maybe some of you watched the recent CBS’ “60 Minutes” episode and caught the segment on “Linsanity.” Remember the former Harvard hoops standout and later, New York Knicks guard, who exploded as a scoring star and, not long after, abandoned Madison Square Garden to blast off with the Rockets for a more lucrative deal in Houston?

It’s all about the money.

Lin told interviewer Charlie Rose that he had the support of his parents to go for the gold, rather than pursue a career as an engineer or doctor – an anomaly among more traditional Asian-Americans. And the adulation adoring fans from both the U.S. and China shower on him Lin seems to take as validation of that pursuit.

Of course, the big bucks he’s getting from Rockets’ management is also comforting, no doubt.

For American student athletes intent on edging their way into Division 1 colleges and universities, with the expectation of being scouted by pro teams, no matter what the sport, the insidious pressure – self-imposed or from outside sources – is enough to corrupt even the most pure.

So much so that many are willing to overlook the kinds of abuse foisted on them in the belief that it’s a necessary evil to make the grade.

If they can manage to do that, then it’s all worth it.

Bottom line: It’s not the value of learning to be a team player and using your talents for the best interests of you and your teammates. No. It’s all about ME and breaking the individual basketball scoring record or busting the quarterback’s head or slamming a record number of homers to attract the cheers and cashola.

Win one for the Gipper? Hell no, bro’. I’m winning this so I get picked among the top 10 in the draft.

Sure, you hear professional coaches talking all the time about “teamwork” but, to me, that’s just “trash” talk.

– Ron Leir