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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

Thoughts & Views: In harm’s way around the world

Anja Niedringhaus

Anja Niedringhaus

These days, when we’re used to getting our news so easily on the internet, we tend not to think twice about the degree of difficulty that may have been involved for the news-gatherer to get that story or photographer to snap that image.

Especially if the coverage of that particular event is being done in countries where guarantees of press freedoms are unheard of and journalists are targeted for threats or physical confrontations.

Such was the case last Friday, April 4, when an Afghan police commander shot and killed Anja Niedringhaus, a 48-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the Associated Press, and badly wounded AP reporter Kathy Gannon as they were preparing to cover the national elections in that country.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide and which has tracked attacks on news employees, has logged 703 journalists murdered globally since 1992. Read more »

Thoughts & Views: Once there was a ‘debris field’ in N.Y.



As the mystery and media feeding frenzy over Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continue, I have been thinking about another aircraft disaster, this one closer to home and a long time ago.

When I was with the N.Y. Daily News, I wrote about it for a New York City history series the newspaper was running. If you’re interested in that article, you can find it online; the headline is, “Red Snow: The Brooklyn Air Crash, 1960.”

At the risk of plagiarizing myself, I’m going to write about it here, because it affected me deeply.

That’s because I grew up in Down Neck, Newark, directly under the flight path to nearby Newark Airport, and back in those days air crashes were more common, so I felt that what happened easily could have happened in my neighborhood. Read more »


Last week’s story about Barbara Gangi, the beloved North Arlington waitress who was tragically killed while crossing River Road, misidentified the funeral home that handled the arrangements. It was the Parow Funeral Home, North Arlington. The Observer regrets the error.

Thoughts & Views: Today, it’s Crimea, tomorrow, who knows?

Students of world history and geopolitics are likely burning the midnight oil these days, following the exploits of Russian President Vladimir Putin as he redraws the world map with the annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.

And the map’s contours could change even more, nervous Western observers note, if those thousands of Russian troops staging along the eastern border of Ukraine should happen to invade.

Perhaps Putin wants Russia to directly benefit from the tourism revenues from Crimea’s Black Sea resorts or perhaps Putin – with help from one of his loyal oligarchs – has picked out a prominent place on the coastline to build a posh hotel and fitness center where he can stay.

Frankly, with the rest of Ukraine’s economy reportedly in the tank, I’m not entirely clear why Putin is butting in, if for no other reason than to prevent the European Union from partnering with Ukraine and, of course, to gain control of the large Navy base in the region.

And he well knows how deeply many of the Union’s member countries like Germany and Poland and the Netherlands are dependent on Russia for their energy needs.

So Putin can afford to snub his nose at the sanctions that President Obama has mustered to try and deter his aggression against Russia’s neighbor.

Even Ukrainians themselves – the ones who haven’t declared themselves pro-Russian – haven’t seemed to kick up much of a fuss about being occupied and, apparently, being forced to relocate if they don’t wish to accept conditions of occupation.

Ill-equipped Ukrainian defense forces have folded quickly, offering little resistance to the masked intruders demanding their ouster and getting it.

One exception reported in a recent New York Times dispatch – which stirred memories of a famous scene in Rick’s Café in the movie “Casablanca” – was of a group of Ukrainian naval cadets who dared to sing their country’s national anthem in defiance of their “masters” who then ordered their allies to top them by vocalizing the Russian anthem even louder.

Somehow I don’t think this Crimea adventure portends a “beautiful friendship” between Putin and Chancellor Merkel of Germany in a new alignment of convenience. Perhaps, instead, it foreshadows new five year plan for Ukraine, with all the attendant hardships.

Did you read about the Weehawken teenager who managed to sneak through a hole in a construction fence, amble into the new One World Trade Center tower and take the elevator to the top?

It’s not exactly reassuring to know that the new symbol of America’s determination to stand up to terrorism and start over is so easily subject to such an embarrassingly simply “invasion.”

With the countless millions of dollars this country has spent on Homeland Security since September 2011, it is humbling to realize that simple human error – attributed to a lax security guard – opened the door to an enterprising youth’s indiscretions.

So you’re newly installed Knicks President Phil Jackson and you’ve watched your team come perilously close to blowing a huge lead to Phily after your coach clears his bench with five minutes to go in the game and then you see your team blow another big lead and lose to an injury-depleted Cleveland team after your coach allows the Knicks to sleep-walk through the fourth quarter.

Hey, Phil, the only system that you should be thinking of installing with this bunch is the Bermuda Triangle.

Good luck.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & View: ‘Hereby you are notified . . . .’

Uh-oh. I’m in deep trouble. The following letter popped up in my email the other day:

Notice of appearance,

Hereby you are notified that you have been scheduled to appear for your hearing that will take place in the court of St. LouisTampa in April 19, 2014 at 09:45 am.

You are kindly asked to prepare and bring the documents relating to the case to court on the specified date.

The copy of the court notice is attached to this letter, please, download and read it thoroughly.

Note: The case may be heard by the judge in your absence if you do not come.

Yours very truly,


Clerk of court

I’m supposed to appear in court and I have no idea what I have done.

What documents am I to prepare and bring?

And to which court? St. Louis or Tampa? Or is there a place called St. LouisTampa of which I am unaware?

I need to make flight reservations. I need to get a lawyer!

Or not.

This is a scam.

(One of the clear giveaways — as in a lot of scam emails — is the abysmal English.)

Even though I recognized it for what it was, I was dying to know what the attached “court notice” could possibly say, but no way would I open the attachment.

It and the original email have been deleted.

Part of me is worried simply because I opened the email, but hopefully, hackers would gain access only via the download. Because hackers are exactly who are behind this con job.

I Googled “court appearance email,” and up popped links to various news stories, including one that ran in the N.Y. Daily News in January. Aside from the court date, place of appearance and name of the “clerk,” the scam missive it quoted is word-for-word the one I got.

Apparently, this relatively new scam mail was launched late in 2013 and is now infesting computers nationwide. And the big danger is the attachment. The News notes, “ . . . those who click out of curiosity or concern download a virus that can crash their computers.” (Ha! My instincts were correct! For once.)

The article also explains: “The malware attached in the email strike . . . reportedly subjects victims to having their passwords and files stolen and can turn a computer into a ‘botnet’ machine that spreads viruses far and wide unbeknownst to its owner.”

I have no idea what a “botnet” is, but I know I don’t want one.

I must also note that my email provider is a lot sharper than I. It automatically sent the letter to the spam file.

Email scamsters are forever coming up with new tricks. There is much info on the internet regarding how to recognize the phonies, so you can educate yourself if you are not email savvy.

Among the informational sites is http://www.us-cert. gov/, the webpage of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Term, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. It has pages of advice, so I’ll quote just one bit, which can apply to all the scams:

“Regard Unsolicited Email with Suspicion”

“Don’t automatically trust any email sent to you by an unknown individual or organization. Never open an attachment to unsolicited email. Most importantly, never click on a link sent to you in an email. Cleverly crafted links can take you to forged web sites set up to trick you into divulging private information or downloading viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.”

Scamsters, evil creatures that they are, prey upon the trusting. Be aware. And ever wary.

– Karen Zautyk


A story in the March 12 issue of The Observer misidentified Joseph Longo as president of the Belleville Board of Education. Longo is a member of the board. John Rivera is the board president. The Observer regrets the error.

Thoughts & Views: Time is overdue for an accounting

Photo by Ron Leir Kearny High School in transition.

Photo by Ron Leir
Kearny High School in transition.


In July 2013 the Kearny Board of Education – spurred on by then-Superintendent of Schools Frank Ferraro – hired the accounting firm D’Arcangelo & Co. of Rye Brook, N.Y., for $75,000 to perform a “construction risk assessment” of the KHS Façade & Noise Abatement project.

At the time, Ferraro said the firm was being asked “to confirm whether what we’re doing [on the job] is right.”

It was also going to find out whether the school board would have enough money from the millions of dollars budgeted for the project by the Federal Aviation Administration, Port Authority of N.Y. & N.J. and state Department of Education to finish the bedeviled job which started in 2010 and was supposed to be finished in three years.

But the general contractor was “terminated for convenience” in March 2013 and the board has been trying to pick up the pieces ever since, hiring another contractor to complete work on the south building of the high school and slated to receive bids for the north building on April 8.

Ferraro said he expected to get the report from D’Arcangelo within six to eight months.

Well, six months have passed. We hear unofficially that the board has received some preliminary information from the accountants which it has reportedly discussed in closed session. The Observer filed an Open Public Records Act request for the report and was told it hasn’t yet arrived.

Meanwhile, the politically divided school board has placed Ferraro on an involuntary paid leave and, at last week’s meeting, voted 6-3 to hire a private investigations firm, Check-M-Out of Newark, headed by retired Newark Police Det. Lt. James O’Connor, for up to $5,000 to look into several issues related to the superintendent’s office during Ferraro’s brief tenure in the post.

Since no written resolution was presented to the board when it was asked to vote on the measure, The Observer asked board attorney Kenneth Lindenfelser to explain what issues would be examined. He declined further comment.

When the members of the board’s new majority were elected last year, we heard avowals of transparency and straight dealing with its constituents. That sounded good at the time.

Now it’s time to stand and deliver on that promise.

It was disheartening to read in the Sunday New York Times how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to follow up on consumer complaints about an allegedly defective ignition system in six models of cars sold by GM – which we the taxpayers gifted a $10 billion bailout – and that the alleged defect, which caused cars to suddenly stall out, has been connected to 13 motorist fatalities since 2003.

GM is now recalling more than 1 million of these models worldwide, the Times reported.

Despite a pattern showing an increasing number of complaints each year, the NHTSA said it found “insufficient evidence” to warrant a safety check of those models.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised inasmuch as the Federal Railroad Administration didn’t bother pushing the MTA to install an automatic braking system in both the pushing locomotive and in the control car of its Metro North line, leading to the tragic derailment in the Bronx this past December, killing four and injuring more than 100 riders.

If we can’t rely on the federal government to keep us safe on the roads and on the rails, can we really expect President Obama and the Congress to protect the sovereignty of the Ukraine against the incursions of the Putin brigades?

I prefer to put my money on the Knicks making the NBA playoffs. That’s a safer bet, I think.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Get the drift? I love snow!

Created by Sabrina Walker The official Observer snowman

Created by Sabrina Walker
The official Observer snowman


As I write this, the snow has begun to gently fall, once again blanketing streets and lawns and turning our world into a magical wonderland.

I know what you’re thinking: “She’s now going to turn that observation into some snarky remark about the weather.”

Wrong! I mean every word of it. I have loved this winter, and every storm the season has brought. This is what winter should be, and what it hasn’t been in many years. Snowfall after snowfall after snowfall. I have lost count.

Unlike what appears to be 99% of the population, I am not sick of the weather. I’m sick of the interminable weather reports. Yes, people want to know what the forecast is, but must the weather be the lead “news” story every night? It is becoming farcical.

Last week, when things were going to warm up a bit, the following actually happened on one of the local TV stations:

As the 6 p.m. news broadcast began, the hosts offered a couple of video clips and teasers about the upcoming stories. A vicious mugger preying on women in Queens. An update on Ukraine. But first, this Weather ALERT! Which turned out to be, “We’ve had rain all day, but the weather is improving.”

I am not making that up. It is a quote.

That stupidity was trumped Friday night on another station, which had one of its newshounds doing people-on-the- street interviews about (of course) the weather.

Since even TV has concluded we are all fed up with “breaking news” stories about shoppers seeking rock salt and shovels, the reporter decided to focus on more crucial matters. Approaching a woman about to enter a supermarket, he asked, “What do you buy when you’re shopping before a storm?”

She answered, with long pauses, “Uh, meat …. chicken …. rice.”

“Things you eat?” he said.


End of report.

I am not making that up either.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so feeble. I can grasp the need for weather news, but we have become obsessed by it. News12 New Jersey has “Weather on the Ones,” meaning weather reports every 11 minutes. Year-round. Every season. Even when all is sunshine and roses. Do we think the weather changes every 11 minutes?

I long for the snows of yesteryear, which crept up on us unheralded. Or just about. Unless there was a hurricane or actual (not social-media rumored) blizzard pending, the weather report was at the tail end of the nightly news. Where it belongs.

Have we had one real blizzard this winter? I can’t recall. Every dusting is treated with the same media overkill.

I long for the mornings of my childhood, when I awoke to the jingly sounds of tire chains on the street below. That’s how I knew it had snowed overnight.

And if the storm had been bad enough, school would be closed. But we didn’t sit inside texting each other all day. We went out. And built snowmen. And snow forts. And had snowball fights. Or maybe just plodded through the hip-high drifts pretending we were trying to reach the South Pole.

(Google “South Pole,” children, if you are confused. You might also Google “tire chains” while you’re at it.)

On that warm day last week, yet another reporter was out on the sunny streets of a suburban town, interviewing passers-by — about the weather, of course.

A mother with two young sons expressed her delight at finally being able to allow them out of the house to play.


When we were young, you couldn’t get us into the house after a snowfall. We’d succumb only when our mittens were so wet, or frozen, we had to change them.

But sometimes even that didn’t deter us.

In Down Neck Newark, St. Aloysius Church vestibule, which was always open, had lovely steamy radiators with metal covers, upon which we could dry those mittens, or at least melt the ice that coated them.

We could warm up at the same time.

But we never stayed long. There was too much adventure waiting in the snowy streets. In a world that had become a magical wonderland.

–Karen Zautyk

Thoughts & Views: On the road again … and again … and again…

Photos courtesy Facebook Chris Christie (l.) and Cory Booker

Photos courtesy Facebook
Chris Christie (l.) and Cory Booker


So 2016 could see two New Jerseyans vying for the highest office in the land.

That would be the current N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and Sen. Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, a Democrat.

As head of the Republican Governors Association, Christie already has a national platform – and an excuse to fly to places like Chicago, Florida and California to raise money for like-minded Red Staters.

And when he was the Brick City chief executive, Booker was not one to let the dust settle, as demonstrated by a Star Ledger survey which reported on July 15, 2012, that the mayor “was out of state and the New York City area on at least 119 days since Jan. 1, 2001,” although Booker’s aides noted that their boss often returned the same day he went out of town.


The point is that the wanderings of both Christie and Booker have proven distractions that shoved local priorities to the back seat in favor of personal aspirations for operating on a wider political stage.

In Christie’s case, his administration has to, at least, share part of the blame – with the feds – in failing to ensure that the “tens of thousands” of New Jersey residents left homeless by the ravages of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 got storm recovery aid.

As folks continued struggling to reclaim homes and businesses ruined by Sandy, our governor spent a comfortable weekend vacation with his family recently in San Juan. I guess he needed to recover from all the jet lag he’s experienced flying around the U.S.

Then, of course, there’s Bridgegate, where the jury of public opinion is still out, awaiting the results of investigations by the legislature and the Port Authority. Apologies notwithstanding, if Christie didn’t order the Fort Lee lane closures, how come he wasn’t paying attention to what his appointees were doing at the GWB?

Same can be said for former Mayor Booker who recently condemned the actions of the former Newark Watershed Conservation & Development Corp. who, according to report issued by the state comptroller, allegedly plundered its coffers for hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal gain, as reported by The Star Ledger last week.

Booker told The Ledger he was relying on the city business administrator to keep tabs on the Watershed and that’s why he didn’t attend any of that agency’s meetings. Maybe the business administrator wasn’t in Booker’s Twitter phone book.

At a “Town Hall” meeting last week in Port Monmouth – the 110th such public meet and greet for Christie – a woman who identified herself as “Debbie from Brick” trying to get Sandy recovery aid told the governor, “I just wanna go home.”

Maybe that’s what Chris from Trenton needs to do: Stay in New Jersey.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Moments of triumph



Among the happy events associated with Mayor Raymond McDonough and his beloved Harrison in recent years are, clockwise, from top right, a press conference last summer, attended by Gov. Chris Christie, marking a ceremonial groundbreaking for the long awaited Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s upgrade of its Harrison PATH station which figures to coincide with development of the town’s waterfront redevelopment area; Mayor McDonough at his home away from home, Harrison Town Hall, where, even as, technically, a part-time employee, he logged full-time hours and beyond; the mayor with the man he called “my new best friend,” Gov. Chris Christie, when McDonough became the first Democratic mayor in the state to endorse the governor for re-election last year as the pair exchanged greetings at Tops Diner in neighboring East Newark; and McDonough taking the oath of office as he was sworn in for his newest four-year term as the town’s chief executive by his lifelong friend, then-Municipal Court Judge John Johnson.

McDonough View_web