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Category: Opinion


A story published last week in The Observer misstated the school district where former Lyndhurst school administrator Nicholas Coffaro now serves as superintendent. It is North Haledon. The Observer regrets the error.

Home for the holidays


With the holidays fast approaching, I know I speak for all my colleagues at The Observer when I wish all our faithful readers, subscribers and advertisers the very best of New Year greetings.

And, if we can manage to take a breather from frenzied, last-minute holiday shopping expeditions, let’s also consider those among us who are less fortunate, those who’ve fallen on hard times and are still struggling to stay afloat.

I’m thinking of the families in Kearny and elsewhere, doing all they can to meet obligations for basic necessities, whether it’s managing to keep a roof over their heads with monthly rent or mortgage and utility payments, medical bills, food and clothing.

But it’s certainly shelter that’s got to be at the top of the list because without that, you’ve got nothing. Living in a car, on the street or in an emergency shelter (assuming you can find one), you’re at the mercy of the elements or those who prey on others.

Homelessness can only lead to instability at best and degradation at worst. And if children are involved, the potential for harm is heightened even more.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nationwide advocacy group whose mission is to prevent homelessness, reports that, “In January 2014, there were 578,424 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States.

“Of that number, 216,197 are people in families, and 362,163 are individuals. “

About 15% of the homeless population – 84,291 – are considered ‘chronically homeless’ individuals, and about 9% of homeless people – 49,933 – are veterans.”

These figures are based on “point-in-time counts,” which are conducted by volunteers in each community on a single night in January every other year. The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development requires communities to submit the data to HUD to qualify for federal homeless assistance funding.

Obviously, a lot of people end up being homeless because they can’t afford the rents or property taxes being charged in their communities and there’s a lack of “affordable housing” where they live.

Here in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie – who could be in a position to dictate national housing policy by 2017 – hasn’t demonstrated much concern for helping the homeless in the Garden State. In fact, he has pushed for the dismantling of the N.J. Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) which had mandated that developers set aside a certain percentage of dwelling units to accommodate those with lower incomes or donate a one-time payment to a community’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Since 2010, when Christie issued an executive order to squash COAH, the council has been rendered impotent and enmeshed in litigation.

At the same time, the Christie administration has loosened building, zoning and environmental regulations to help expedite construction of big ticket housing developments, along with a smattering of some “affordable” projects for older folks.

Recent examples are the newly completed 15-unit Harrison Senior Residence and the senior citizen building with 137 apartments now under development in Belleville.

While the economy may be showing signs of recovery, the National Alliance points out that, “homelessness is often described as a ‘lagging indicator,’ meaning it takes time for economic and housing trends to impact trends in homelessness.”

National commentators note that while the percent of unemployed may have dropped in the last year, based on jobless claims filed, that may likely mask the fact that many people have simply given up looking for work and, therefore, remain uncounted.

While the Alliance acknowledges that the number of homeless counted fell from 633,782 to 610,042 between 2012 and 2013, does that offer much consolation to those still out there pounding the pavement?

I can reliably report, just by driving to and from Jersey City and Kearny, having seen more people begging along the road at the convergence of Rts. 7 and 1&9 in the past few years. Initially, I would see the same individual who would sleep under the overhead highway. Of late, however, I have seen increasing numbers – men and women – walking somberly and politely alongside cars stopped at the traffic light, hoping for a handout.

When I present an “offering,” it is invariably accepted with a humbling response of “God bless you!” and “Drive safe!” – a fitting greeting for any season. Even better are the words from Dickens’ creation, Tiny Tim, when he exclaims:

“God Bless Us, Everyone.”

– Ron Leir 



Through the years I have always been interested in Belleville’s school children and schools.

I am a member of the BUC (Belleville United Coalition) and will continue to be interested.

I’m an old timer. I graduated BHS in 1946 and stayed involved and acted as lead in our seven class reunions.

Our last one with 75 (39 classmates) attending was held at the Forest Hill Club for a 65th. And the money not used for an open bar was used for scholarships and one tree was planted by the flag for our 50th reunion celebration.

You see, then, there are even older people in the town that have never given up. With recent obstacles that are being looked into, we pray for a recovery and look to people like yourselves to help with the recovery.

My love of Belleville is unending and the crisis it has been in for too many years is disturbing to me as a resident and property owner.

With that said, I wish to acknowledge how pleased I was to see [in a weekly newspaper] the pictures of the young adults at their latest event for the 2015 graduation class. How wonderful to see the beautifully dressed seniors.

I have tried for years to get our school personnel to advertise our kids more.

It is important that our kids get seen to the residents as active.

Just a reminder that since our township and school system is trying to recover from a bad era, may we all work together for better times.

Thank you..

Eleanor Strollo 


Thoughts & Views: A time for remembrance


Do you know anything about the S.S. Leopoldville?

That’s a rhetorical question, because odds are you don’t. As Christmas Eve nears, I wanted to share the story because this Dec. 24th marks the 70th anniversary of a tragedy that cost the lives of 763 American soldiers but was an official secret for many years.

I first learned of it in 1999, from a retired New York City police lieutenant, Allan Andrade, when I was working for the N.Y. Daily News.

The column I wrote then is available online, but also available, and of greater import, is the book Andrade authored, “S.S. Leopoldville Disaster: December 24, 1944.” You can find it on Amazon.

At risk of plagiarizing myself, I’m repeating the story for Observer readers because those 763 men deserve to be remembered.

The U.S. Army troops were members of the 262nd and 264th Regiments of the 66th Infantry Division who were being transported across the English Channel, from Southampton to Cherbourg, for deployment in the Battle of the Bulge. In all, there were 2,235 soldiers, including some British forces, aboard the Leopoldville, a former Belgian passenger liner converted into a troopship.

As the ship approached the French coast, it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank. More than 500 of the Americans are believed to have gone down with the vessel. Another 248 died of injuries, drowned or froze to death in the frigid Channel. In all, 493 bodies were never recovered.

Those who were found were piled on a Cherbourg pier. Andrade provided me with a quote from his book, from a Linden man, Robert Hesse, who had witnessed the scene. “Live ones were stacked up with the dead ones. Some were so frozen, they could only move their eyes, but that was enough to save their lives.”

For whatever bureaucratic/ diplomatic reasons, the story of the Leopoldville was kept secret and remained so long after wartime censorship could be used as the explanation. Survivors were ordered not to discuss the sinking. The families of the victims were given scant information. The telegrams sent by the Army read, “Missing in action.” Or, “Killed in action in the European area.”

The U.S. Army records were not declassified until 1959; the British files, not until 1996.

(An interesting sidelight, although it may be apocryphal since the sources have not been verified: As the story goes, for decades, the French Navy used the sunken wreck of the Leopoldville as a training site for divers. This supposedly ended in the late ‘90s when they finally learned the facts about the ship.)

In 1997, a 66th Infantry Leopoldville memorial was finally erected at Fort Benning, Ga. It is inscribed with the names of the dead, including 24 from New Jersey. Among them are two local men: Pfc. Malcolm B. Christopher of Nutley and S.Sgt. Gilbert J. Steuble of Belleville.

For a complete list of the victims — which, coincidentally, was complied by Andrade — visit leopoldville.org.

That’s one of the benefits of the internet. Things that had been lost to history are now being rediscovered. The dead can become, as they should be, the honored dead.

And now, I will deliberately plagiarize myself, paraphrasing the words I used to end the column I wrote for The News:

Come Christmas Eve, you might acknowledge the supreme sacrifice of the Leopoldville victims. With a silent prayer on a holy night.

 – Karen Zautyk 

Thoughts & Views: The real lesson of Thanksgiving

Well, another Thanksgiving has passed and another U.S.A.-made myth has been celebrated about how the Pilgrims made nice with the Native Americans, and with their help, learned how to plant corn and other crops and thereby got through the first winter in the New World.

I don’t know what the current school books say about that early 17th century adventure – nor do I know how the new PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College & Careers) test measures American students’ knowledge of the event.

But I believe it’s safe to say that the sanitized, spoon-fed version of the Puritans’ voyage to America is nothing more than a dressed-up fairy tale of how the English colonists actually behaved.

An exploration of, for example, Howard Zinn’s classic study, “A People’s History of the United States,” first published in 1980, reminds us that, “When the Pilgrims came to New England … [t[he governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a ‘vacuum.’

“The Indians, he said, had not ‘subdued’ the land, and therefore had only a ‘natural’ right to it, but not a ‘civil’ right. [And a] ‘natural’ right did not have legal standing.”

They also used the Bible (Psalms and Romans) to justify their belief that they had a right to take the land from “heathens” who, if those creatures resisted, must expect to “receive to themselves damnation.”

And so, the new Americans set out to destroy the Indian tribe of New England, the Pequots, by burning their wigwams, destroying their crops and killing as many as they could, Zinn notes.

Naturally, the Indians tried to defend themselves – after all, they were the legitimate residents – but as the years advanced and the numbers of marauders from Europe increased, the odds were against them.

We know how things turned out: Like other oppressed peoples, they were subjected to genocide and the remnants of once proud tribal nations were forced onto federal reservations and miserable living conditions.

What lessons can we apply from the “Plymouth Adventure”?

It seems that, having taken a cue from the once imperialist Brits who sought to extend their dominion by seizing other distant lands and exploiting their resources over centuries, the U.S. has sought to surpass its motherland by becoming the pre-eminent world power.

To that end, we don’t hesitate to dictate terms to other countries in return for financial or military support.

We send our Navy SEAL teams, CIA contractors and drones on covert missions to kill people whom we and our allies wish out of the way, no matter the cost (casualties/ deaths) to the local population. Frequently, to justify those missions, we label those targets as part of a blanket, world-wide terrorist organization.

But, like the Puritans before us, we engage in this violence on the assumption that we are always in the right because the people overseas cannot possibly run their affairs without our help. And it’s only fair that if we’re taking the risks, we should get something back for our trouble, whether that’s “strategic security in the region” or cheaper oil from OPEC, or some corporate cut of the action.

It could be that – by supporting puppet regimes for so long or by penalizing countries that trade with Communist Cuba — we have contributed to the circumstances that have triggered insurgencies which we now call “terrorist” actions.

Of course that doesn’t excuse the kidnappings and slaughter of civilians – mostly women – in northern Nigeria by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram or the beheadings of journalists in the Middle East or the killing of anti-polio health care aides in Pakistan by Islamic extremists.

Maybe other countries, as suggested by recently departed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, do look to the U.S. to take the lead in remedying horrific situations around the globe – and we have generously contributed to worldwide efforts to relieve hunger – notably, for ever-increasing Syrian war-torn refugees.

But we need to rethink our policies – foreign and domestic – in how we approach political issues.

So when desperate folk from Mexico, Central America and elsewhere leave their native lands to try and make a better life for themselves and their families in America, we should, as Emma Lazarus urged, open that “golden door” a bit wider for those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Here is the great lesson to be learned from the Pilgrims’ insular vision: The path to opportunity should be open to all, for diversity is what can make us great again.

– Ron Leir 

Thoughts & Views: ‘Phishing’ season is year-round

Basic RGB

In my spam folder, there are currently 15 emails: two ostensibly from EZPass telling me I owe toll money; four alerting me to a FedEx delivery/ shipping notice; one, to a U.S. Postal Service delivery; one, for a UPS delivery; two notices to appear in court, and five messages from a company of which I have never heard but which wants me to confirm my address and my credit card payment.

I have opened none of them, and as soon as I finish writing this, they will all be deleted. I kept them on file for tally purposes only.

They are all bait used by scamsters who are “phishing” — attempting to lure the email recipient into providing personal information (name, address, account info, etc.). Info they can then use to steal your identity.

Sometimes, you don’t even have to reply. Merely by clicking on a link in the email, you could download a computer virus that will allow the crooks access to all sorts of data.

Even worse, is something called a “Trojan” (as in the horse, okay?). As described by Scambusters.org, when you click on an icon or link, “It installs a downloading program that then fetches and installs at least two more files on your system. These may disable your firewall, look for and steal credit card and bank account details, make screen snapshots and allow hackers continued access to your machine.”

I am so wary now that I won’t open a suspicious email, much less click on anything.

I wrote about the “notice to appear” scam earlier this year. Back then, I did open the missive, out of curiosity, but luckily there were no repercussions. It gave me a date and time when I was scheduled to appear for my “hearing” in “the court of St. LouisTampa” and if I did not show up “the case may be heard by the judge in your absence.”

It also told me to download and read the “copy of the court notice . . . attached” to the letter.

If the non-existence of a place called St. LouisTampa wasn’t enough of a clue, the instructions to download something screamed, “DANGER! FAKE!”

I hoped that the column would alert some gullible, trusting readers to dangers lurking on the web. Which is the same reason I’m writing this one.

FedEx, USPS and UPS scams — and the ones allegedly from individual retailers — are still spreading, and I fear that as we enter the holiday shopping/ delivery season, recipients might fall for them.

Just delete the damn things. If you are truly concerned about a supposed missed delivery or whatever, contact the company directly — but NOT via any phone number provided in the email, no matter how legit the letterhead/logo appears. Look up the number for yourself.

The EZPass notice of unpaid tolls or overdue account payment is fake, too, and spreading.

Don’t open it. If its mere arrival has you worried, call Port Authority EZPass customer service directly to find out if there really is a problem with your account. (Odds are, there isn’t.) Again: Obtain the phone number for yourself.

Below is more advice, as posted by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, on how to spot scams. Some may be repetitive, but better repetition than being ripped off:

• Don’t believe what you see. Scammers make emails appear to come from a reputable source. Just because it looks like a “usps.com” address does not mean it’s safe.

• Be wary of unexpected emails that contain links or attachments. As always, do not click on links or open the files in unfamiliar emails.

• Beware of pop-ups. Some pop-ups are designed to look like they’ve originated from your computer. If you see a pop-up that looks like an anti-virus software, but warns of a problem that needs to be fixed with an extreme level of urgency, it may be a scam.

• Watch for poor grammar and spelling. Scam emails often are riddled with typos.

• (Be wary of a warning that) immediate action is necessary. Scam emails try to get you to act before you think by creating a sense of urgency. Don’t fall for it.

Personally, I also no longer open any emails from senders I do not recognize. If you’re that eager to get in touch with me, contact The Observer. And identify yourself.

– Karen Zautyk 

Thoughts & Views: Playing the name game


What’s in a name? Plenty if it happens to be Avery Fisher, for example. That’s the name that – for now at least – is seen by visitors to the Lincoln Center hall where the New York Philharmonic plays its home games, in the world of musical spheres.

The music philanthropist gifted Lincoln Center $10 million more than four decades ago to keep the venue going and now, as The New York Times recently reported, the home team is reportedly proposing a $15 million buyout in hopes of snagging a bonus baby that’ll give the hometown crowd something to really roar about.

Maybe they’ll use the extra dough to put in reclining seats, more concession stands, bigger bathrooms, a special booth for the organist.

And maybe they’ll sew numbers on the back of the musicians’ tuxes – with a roster listing in the programs – so the patrons can either cheer or razz ‘em, depending on how they play on any given night.

Whatever the L.C. brain trust decides, fans of Avery Fisher will be glad to see that “Buck” Fisher won’t be forgotten: He’s getting a “League of his Own,” with a special wing of exhibits, photos and remembrances.

Yes, naming rights can be tricky. No doubt, people in Houston were mighty upset when Enron – whose moniker was tacked on to the Astros’ baseball field – went bust and the team’s owners, thirsting for a new benefactor, came up with Minute Maid Park.

Looking for University of Louisville’s basketball arena? Just watch for the sign reading: “KFC Yum! Center.”

In keeping with the culinary theme, the Corpus Christie Hooks minor league baseball team in Texas welcomes fans to home games at the Whataburger Field.

And the owners of the minor league team in Manchester, N.H., offer their fans a name they can really sink their teeth into: Northwest Delta Dental Field.

Here at The Observer’s home base in Kearny, where the mayor often laments that there aren’t enough tax dollars to go around, it’s a wonder that the town hasn’t tried to market its Municipal Building, the South Kearny Fire Station/Police Precinct or the Kardinals gridiron stadium to someone with a fat wallet looking for a tax write-off.

How about building a new Town Hall in the redevelopment area on the west side and naming it … you guessed it … Trump on the Passaic. Add on a floating casino and just like that, you’re all set.

Harrison, which – like Kearny – has a state monitor checking its finances, already has the Red Bulls but it should take advantage of its school nickname, the Blue Tide, and explore the possibility of a naming merger with the detergent.

No one has approached me, as of yet, but I’m open to all comers. For a long-term deal, at say, five bucks a week, maybe some town would be willing to put my name above a basement closet door?

You could use it as a repository for all present, past and future columns and keep them under lock and key. For my own protection. Thanks for listening.

– Ron Leir 

Thoughts & Views: The debt we owe is forever


The poem that accompanies this column was found among the papers of the late Luke A. Kenney of Nutley. I recently wrote about him after his daughter, Pat Rush, donated the former Army sergeant’s World War I uniform to the Nutley Museum.

Rush is not certain her father composed the verse, but I have not been able to find any evidence of another poet.

In any case, when I read it, I knew I wanted to use it for Veterans Day because, although written specifically about the veterans of World War I, it is — unfortunately — timeless.

On Tuesday, small groups will gather at various war memorials to remember American vets, living and dead, and to thank them for their service. But the number of those paying honor will, sadly, be minuscule. How quickly we forget.

Worse, over the generations, we have tended — after the welcome-home parades were over — to ignore the needs of those who served. Some vets never even got that parade.

As Kenney’s post-WWI poem notes, “future care” was promised. But the pledges were abjured, recanted, retracted. If you think that criticism is no longer valid, consider the recent scandal surrounding the VA medical system.

Today, veterans’ organizations have launched their own programs to offer counseling and job support to the men and women returning from deployment, and groups like Wounded Warriors are doing yeoman work. But despite all this, I wonder how many do not seek help, and who see themselves as “discards.”

The Great War troops, who came home to adulation, were eventually selling apples on the streets. There is one story that personalizes the “discards” description as it applied to them:

In 1918, during the Meuse- Argonne offensive, Lt. Col. George S. Patton lay gravely wounded in a battlefield shellhole. Braving heavy German machine-gun fire, a soldier named Joe Angelo dragged him to safety, saving the life of the future four-star general. For his heroism, Angelo (who hailed from Camden, N.J.) was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Patton later said that Angelo was “without doubt the bravest man in the American Army. I have never seen his equal.”

In 1932, Joe Angelo was among 43,000 people — 17,000 of them World War I veterans — who marched on Washington to demand payment of bonus money the government had promised the vets, most of whom were unemployed and struggling with Great Depression poverty. The Bonus Army, including the men’s wives and children, set up camps in the capital, where they lived for several weeks. But then these were destroyed in an infamous action by the U.S. Army.

Infantry and cavalry led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, himself a veteran of the Great War, drove the men, women and children from sites and burned their shelters and belongings. MacArthur’s troops were supported by six tanks, commanded by Maj. George S. Patton.

The following day, in an attempt to plead the case of his fellow marchers, Joe Angelo personally approached the officer whose life he had saved. Ordering his minions to take Angelo away, Patton declared: “I do not know this man.”

When I read that account, I immediately thought of Peter.

“But he began to curse and to swear, saying, ‘I know not this man . . .’” (Mark 14:71,72)

According to biographer Stanley Hirshson, Patton later told his fellow officers that, since the war, he and his mother had often given Angelo money and “set him up in business several times.” He explained his conduct thusly:

“Can you imagine the headlines if the papers got word of our meeting here this morning? Of course, we’ll take care of him anyway.”

I hope that was the case.

Peter repented. Did Patton?

– Karen Zautyk  



To the editor: 

Children who start their school day without a healthy meal are much less likely to have the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn. With growing poverty in New Jersey, “breakfast after the bell” is one of the most effective ways to battle childhood hunger.

Last school year, Hudson County jumped from 14th to fourth place in the state school breakfast participation rankings. School leaders in districts like East Newark and Harrison are all serving more than half of low-income children breakfast at school – and increasing the federal dollars their districts receive to feed hungry students. We applaud their efforts.

We encourage districts that have yet to switch to “breakfast after the bell” — especially Kearny — to implement this simple change. Districts that have implemented “breakfast after the bell” routinely report that logistical challenges are easily overcome and classroom breakfast becomes part of the morning routine. Not only do hungry children benefit, but the entire school community reaps the rewards of ensuring that every child begins the school day with a full stomach.

Nancy Parello 

Advocates for Children of New Jersey, Newark 

Co-chair of the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign 

Thoughts & Views: We can all walk that tightrope

This past Sunday evening, a global audience tuned in to the Discovery Channel to watch the aerialist Nik Wallenda tackle another death-defying stunt.

On this occasion, Wallenda – of the Flying Wallendas circus family – would walk along a tightrope linking two 500-foot-plus high skyscrapers in Chicago – the Windy City – sans harness or safety rope.

And (drum roll, please) he would do part of the walk up an incline and another while wearing a blindfold.

This is the same fellow who, two years ago, strolled across Niagara Falls. (ABC insisted he wear protection for that one.)

“If I want to inspire others, I feel like I have to continue to push myself,” Wallenda told The New York Times in its Saturday edition. “I thought a blindfold would be very exciting.”


To me, exciting is managing to get out of bed in the morning without tripping over my own feet. Or pitching a softball without getting whacked by a line drive back through the box. Or performing on stage and not forgetting my lines.

Why push it?

Well, obviously there are some among us for whom life just ain’t worth living unless you do all you can do – however that translates in your own universe.

If you happen to be an entertainer on a world stage like Wallenda, I guess it’s the notion of rising to ever greater challenges that keeps you going.

Some people might see that as ego satisfaction – and there’s probably a pinch of that influencing the man on the wire – but if we are to accept his words, “inspire others,” as truthful, then we can look beyond personal acclaim to the idea that he’s taking us mere mortals along with him on his perilous journey.

That he’s putting the notion in our heads that we, too, have it in us to rise to the occasion, to be all that we can be, in the noblest and finest way in serving our fellow creatures.

Take, for example, the health care professionals – like Doctors Without Borders and their attending nurses like Kaci Hickox – who have put their lives on the line to work with the unfortunate victims of Ebola in West Africa.

There is the great courage of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani girl shot and nearly killed by the Taliban in October 2012 for daring to advocate for a girl’s right to an education in her country and continuing to speak out in the face of persistent death threats.

Let us not forget the contributions made by test pilots, like co-pilot Michael Alsbury, who was killed this past Friday in the crash of Virgin Galactic’s experimental Space- ShipTwo in the Mojave Desert, and pilot Peter Siebold, who was seriously hurt after parachuting from the plane. And, before them, of course, Amelia Earhart and countless others who risked their lives … yes, probably for fame, but also for the advancement of aviation.

Let’s not forget Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the Mississippi Freedom Fighters who were an inspiration to the cause of civil rights.

Yes, they all walked their own type of tightrope because they believed that in pursuing something bigger than themselves that the world would be better for it.

– Ron Leir