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editorial

Rita J. Egan — Editor

On occasions like Father’s Day, my thoughts turn not only to my dad, but also to his parents and my uncles. My father passed away in 2004, and I always picture him reunited with his parents. Ten years ago, his brother, my Uncle John, died and a few years later my Uncle Jimmy. I often wonder if, after death, one gets to hang out with those they knew on Earth. I’d like to think they are talking about the old days in the Bronx and Astoria, hopefully with a few cold beers on hand. Most of all, I always hope that my grandparents know that my cousins and I benefited from their sacrifices — leaving Ireland when they were young adults to seek a better life. I also hope my father and uncles know how much they have influenced me and my cousins. For this, I carry them all in my heart. Happy Father’s Day in heaven to all of them. 

Kyle Barr — Editor

I didn’t know what to say to you the night you came home after learning your mother had passed away.

To be perfectly honest, she was never close to me, and it was hard for me to place my emotions, but I knew you were doing your best to deal with the shock and the grief. I saw you hop on a plane the very next morning after working nine hours the day before. I didn’t know how to say I’m sorry you went through that, and I know when I spoke to you on the phone, I must have sounded close to a narwhal trying to approximate human emotion.

But I saw how you were when you came back. You caught up with your sister. You had a new plan, and though you were leaving me to move into her old house, you could now say you were moving on.

You need to know how proud I am that you’re my dad.

David Luces — Reporter

On Father’s Day, I would like to highlight two father figures in my life growing up. One was my grandfather and the other my uncle. Both men were instrumental in my upbringing, and as a young man, they were individuals to whom I definitely looked up. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve been able to have with them as a kid, whether it’s going to my first Yankee game or hours of playing catch in the backyard.

My grandfather unfortunately passed away in 2012, but the lessons he taught me remain. His guidance over the years has molded me into the man I am today. The same could be said for my uncle, as he has always been there for me and continues to be. I’ve been lucky to have these two great men in my life. I want to thank them for everything — it has meant so much to me.

Leah Chiappino — Intern

Every time I turn on the car or reflect on the education I received, I have my dad to thank. The son of a mechanic and restaurant waitress, he fought to pull himself through college, working 80-hour weeks at Howard Johnson’s and attending classes at community college after working the graveyard shift, funded by his own pocket. A successful public servant, he has fueled my passion for politics, philosophy and sports my entire life. This Father’s Day, I will probably be debating one of these topics with Dad, who taught me to have an opinion on and to question everything.

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Dante Lombardo in uniform. Photo from Lombardo

Mental health is often a topic people prefer to avoid discussing, but thanks to Dante Lombardo, a young former Marine who shared his story last month with TBR News Media, we now have the opportunity to emphasize the importance of mental health and wellness.

Give an Hour is a national network of professionals who extend free mental health care to support veterans and communities impacted by tragedy. After reading Lombardo’s story, they’ve asked him, as he and his high school friends embark on a cross-country bike excursion, to join the global campaign, Change Direction, which aims to raise awareness to help change the culture surrounding mental health issues.

We are thrilled that our newspaper is bringing people together and want to do our part to help open the public discussion on the topic. As listed on Give an Hour’s website, www.giveanhour.org, here are the five signs of emotional suffering that indicate someone may need help:

Personality changes: People in this situation may behave in ways that seem different or don’t seem to fit their values.

Uncharacteristically anxious, agitated or moody: People in more extreme situations may be unable to sleep, may explode in anger at a minor problem or have difficulties controlling his or her temper.

Withdrawal: Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities that used to be enjoyable. In more severe cases, the person may start failing to make it to work or school. Not to be confused with the behavior of someone who is more introverted, this sign is marked by a change in a person’s typical sociability.

Neglecting self-care and engaging in risky behavior: Someone may let personal hygiene deteriorate, or the person may start abusing alcohol or illicit substances or engaging in other self-destructive behavior that may alienate loved ones.

Hopelessness and overwhelmed by circumstances: Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can’t find anything about which to be hopeful? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. People in this situation may say the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.

If you recognize someone suffering with these symptoms, the professionals from Change Direction encourage you to reach out, to connect, to inspire hope and to offer your help. They say it’s important to show compassion and to display a willingness to find a solution when a person may not have the will or drive to do it alone. The campaign organizers emphasize that it may take more than one offer, and you may need to reach out to others who share your concern about the person who is suffering. The bottom line is that if everyone is open and honest about emotional health and well-being, together we can prevent pain and suffering and those in need will get the help that they deserve. You can learn more about this topic at: www.changedirection.org.

If you missed Lombardo’s story, you can find it online at: www.tbrnewsmedia.com/tag/dante-lombardo/.

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Despite the hours we work to consistently get this paper into your hands and the local news to your eyes and your ears, we cannot be everywhere at once. Our budgets are ever-more limited, and our attention is pulled to all parts of our coverage areas. News outlets having to cut staff and resources means there are gaps of information. We do our best, and we hope you agree it is well worth the buck you paid for it, but perfect coverage is impossible in this day and age.

Something will move in to fill the gap — it’s the nature of these things. Surprisingly, that hole has been filled with something that was once used for college kids to learn who was dating whom, that being Facebook.

It’s amazing how much information is parsed and spread through individual Facebook pages, along with both private and public groups. You have community pages, moms pages, VFWs, even small municipalities like fire departments and villages all using their pages to get messages out. For us journalists, Facebook has become a tool to gather stories, sources and even occasionally to conduct interviews.

But for residents, Facebook is a razor-barbed rose. Disturbingly, to professional journalists who do their absolute best to get to the heart of the truth, the opposite is regularly proliferated through these same Facebook pages. Rumors fly across social media faster than any one person could hope to actually investigate each post.

At meetings, we often hear officials complain about the rumors spread online, though we journalists condemn any elected official who should ever truly complain about a community becoming engaged, looking at the overall low polling numbers across the spectrum. However,
this activism on the community’s side is not helped with false facts.

Taking journalism classes in college, students are often first made to take a media literacy course, which helps students identify false information when it’s presented to them. One phrase, which became a tagline at the media literacy course at Stony Brook University, was “open the freezer,” relating to a media report back to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans back in 2005. One broadcast claimed the bodies of those who died during that traumatic storm and its aftermath had been stacked in a walk-in freezer as they were waiting for transport. However, the news report was false, there were no bodies in the freezer. The problem? The reporter never bothered to open the freezer and see
for themself.

Don’t take what is on Facebook for truth automatically, as each one of us can be a little journalistic even without a degree. Try researching online, try calling the people referenced in these stories. Don’t take any information presented for you at its face value. Skepticism is healthy for the eager news junkie.

Never let what you read on Facebook be the end to a story. Be sure to take a peek inside that proverbial freezer.

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Editorial cartoon by Dale Neseman/NYPA

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically protects the practice of religion in this country. While there have been few exceptions to this rule, mostly in cases where a religion may lead to harm, it has constantly and clearly protected the rights of people to practice in the way they see fit.

When a recent story by TBR News Media broke on social media, based on several readers’ comments, it looked like many people were confused when it came to freedom of religion.

The article reported on a Stony Brook University graduate wearing a turban, who was refused admission into a Port Jefferson restaurant because the establishment has a no-headgear policy on Friday and Saturday nights. The manager was allegedly sticking to the restaurant’s policy, while either being unaware or ignoring the unconstitutionality of refusing a person service based on religious attire. The customer in question practices Sikhism, where males wear turbans as articles of faith in public.

While the restaurant owner said he would change the rule, the event and comments on social media showcase a particular ignorance of the most foundational law in the U.S. Unfortunately, many readers have said they thought the manager had the right to make the call and refuse the graduate service.

They are wrong. Our Constitution protects our expression of religion, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin — or religion. Whether a Sikh is wearing a turban, or a Jewish man is wearing a yarmulke, they cannot be asked to remove their head covering in order to get a drink or something to eat, just like service can’t be denied to a nun in her habit or a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

Freedom of religion in this country even protects employees of that restaurant and other businesses when it comes to practicing their religions. State and federal laws, unless causing undue hardship on the operation of business, require employers to make accommodations, within reason, for workers whether they need a break to pray or take a day off to observe their Sabbath or celebrate a religious holiday. The employer may ask them to make up the hours, but they can’t deny an employee time off for religious reasons unless it will be detrimental to a business, for example, due to a small staff. So, whether a Christian can’t work Sundays, or a Muslim needs to take a break to pray, an employer cannot dissuade them from doing so.

Employers must also allow dress and grooming practices that employees follow for religious reasons, including not only head coverings but certain hairstyles or facial hair such as the Sikh beard. So, as Americans, whether it’s as a customer or an employee, we are free to practice our religions.

Sikhs have been active in the U.S. Armed Forces, where they have been given special exception to wear turbans, while remaining as dedicated as any other service member. As we celebrate Memorial Day, May 27, remembering those who died to protect our rights, let us also not forget the principles that are being protected.

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Mark your calendar: May 21 is election day! And according to New York State law, so is the second Tuesday in July for most Suffolk County fire departments. The third Tuesday in March is also election day for many village trustees and propositions. Election day for state and local primaries, well that’s June 25 this year. When do you vote on library budget? Each local library has a different day for its election. So, why then do we call the first Tuesday in November election day as if there’s only one day when citizens vote?

Election days can be tough to track. It’s like the nutty old Abbott and Costello skit “Who’s on first, what’s on second, and I don’t know is on third.” Yet elections are no laughing matter.

Collectively, all of these elections amount to increased spending, which overtime adds up. It’s not easy getting it straight — not only these dates, but also all the spending.

In recent years, large and seemingly extravagant multi-million-dollar public projects have been both approved and declined by popular vote with lower voter turnout throughout our circulation area. The $14.9 million bond for the new Setauket Firehouse was approved on its third try with just 580 people voting out of a population of several thousand in the fire district. Last year, a bond presented by the Mount Sinai School District was voted down with a 664-428 tally against the project. Mount Sinai has a population of over 12,000.

If one or two days each year were designated election day, it would be easier to hold elected officials accountable by enabling taxpayers to see a broad overview of taxation on one ballot.

At TBR News Media, we would support consolidating elections into one or two universal election days each year. Make it a national holiday, so people are more keenly aware of their obligation. Maybe turn Columbus Day, a federal holiday, into election day? With one or two annual election days, citizens could more easily track spending and stay abreast of community affairs.

But until this happens, as we said, mark your calendars. All elections are important: They determine where our money will go and how much of it.

On May 21, Long Islanders will vote on board of education members and school district budgets, which account for a significant majority of our local tax bills. It’s a crucial vote that typically gains support from parents with children in school, while retirees or people with more limited income, who may have different priorities, make a point to show up at the polls to say no.

That’s the system we have now, so be sure to exercise your right to vote May 21.

Reporter David Luces with his mom Ruth

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. It’s a time to celebrate the most important people in our lives, the women who made us who we are. As is tradition, the editorial staff at TBR News Media has written short letters so that our moms know we are thinking of them.

Kyle Barr’s mom Deborah

Kyle Barr — editor

My mom is scared of being apart from me. She is sad she will leave her house behind, the one she helped raise me in for over 20 years.

Like many, they’re leaving because of Long Island’s high property taxes, and without the SALT deduction, it’s proved infeasible to remain. But still, to her, the house was the lodestone of her life for so many years. She decorated it with attention to detail, even dragging me to the attic to take down decorations for every New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July and on and on until Christmas. 

Now she is leaving her temple behind, and I feel for her. She can’t bring everything. Things will have to be sold or given away, and as she struggles with a bad back, picking out the leaves from the bushes in the front yard (all despite my pleas to let me do it instead). I see the frown set into her face like a jagged crack in the pavement.

Feel better, Mom. You may be away from me, but — hopefully — you won’t find a way from my words.

Rita Joy Egan with her mom Rita

Rita J. Egan ­— editor

Mother’s Day brings with it a slew of memories. My mother and I have been through the best of times and the worst of times together, and that’s OK, because we are still here to tell our stories. There are the not so fun times to remember, such as walking around a Queens apartment wrapped in blankets to keep warm in the winter months because the landlady was too cheap to turn up the heat and tears shed over boys who didn’t deserve them during my younger years. But also, there are the memorable vacations, celebrating milestones and catching the concerts of both of our favorite celebrities from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to New Kids on the Block. So cheers to memories of all types and happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

David Luces with his mom Ruth

David Luces — reporter

She’s been there all my life. Someone I can always count on. She’s my role model. She sacrificed so much over the years for my brother and me so we could go to college, and it’s something I am grateful for every day. I don’t say it enough but thank you, Mom, for everything you do. I know I could be a pain when I was younger, but I’m thankful for the lessons you’ve taught me. As I’ve gotten older and matured, I’ve realized the importance of your messages. So, on this Mother’s Day, I just wanted to give my appreciation to the greatest mom and friend a kid could ask for. 

The house on Lower Rocky Point Road in Sound Beach, a relatively quiet, two-lane road that parallels the North Shore coastline is somehow indicative of comfortable, suburban living. The house is quaint and the front yard is loaded with lawn ornaments. Now there’s something hauntingly disturbing at the sight of it.

On April 25, the Suffolk County district attorney announced a multicount indictment of a resident of that Sound Beach house, Raymond Rodio III, for allegedly keeping over 20 women in a cycle of drugs and prostitution over several years, often using that basement for activities related to that prostitution. The parents said they didn’t know. Comments from community members online were similarly flummoxed. Nobody expected a story like that to come from such a neighborhood.

Nobody ever does.

Everyone knows about the opioid epidemic. It’s said you don’t have to stick your arm out too far before you brush against someone who has been impacted by the crisis. For years it has ravaged Long Island, and only with concerted and multiyear efforts from community activists, journalists and policymakers are we finally starting to make efforts from the ground level up. Local legislators and school districts continually host Narcan training courses to aid overdose cases, and with the New York State budget, an expanded access to medication-assisted treatment has become available in both the hospital and jail settings.

Residents have commented online there are houses they suspect are involved in drug dealing, but why would anybody expect that this case also has allegedly been involved in human trafficking?

That’s just the thing — perhaps people need to be more alert to prevent these crimes.

Rodio was allegedly operating this illicit scheme for five years or maybe even longer. He got away with it for that long only until thankfully during an unrelated traffic stop an officer recognized that the woman passenger in Rodio’s car showed signs of being in a forced prostitution situation. 

Prostitution? On the North Shore? Yes, it does happen here, and it doesn’t just take place in seedy motels or in illicit massage parlor operations. It happens at reputable hotels, and online, through well-known websites like craigslist or on dating apps like Tinder. It’s likely that people as young as 15 years are involved. These sex traffickers often recruit online through social media or find young women with poor family lives or with existing drug problems.

It can happen anywhere. The case in Sound Beach more than proves it.

It’s time for parents and teachers to learn about this issue, one that has only grown with the opioid epidemic. Children need to learn the dangers beyond drugs, and adults should learn the warning signs to notice young women who might be involved in these truly horrific situations.

Many North Shore communities have continued to step up in the overwhelming face of the opioid crisis. We can take a stand against this issue as well.

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We can’t help but notice while commuting to work or on the road to cover a story that many people aren’t yielding the right of way to emergency vehicles which race to help our neighbors. It’s a complaint we’ve heard from our fellow drivers as well as the men and women who dedicate their time to making our communities a safer and better place to live.

Whether on a congested road or one where traffic is flowing freely, not yielding to a fire truck, police car or ambulance with their lights flashing and sirens blaring could lead to firefighters not being able to rescue the occupants of a burning house or a heart attack victim not being saved.

For decades, the main rules have remained simple — slow down and pull to the right of the road parallel to the curb and stop when you see an emergency vehicle with its lights and siren on near the vicinity of your vehicle. Don’t merge back into traffic until all emergency vehicles have passed, unless a police officer if present tells you otherwise. Of course, rules suggest motorists keep clear of any intersection and not tailgate a fire truck in hopes of bypassing all the other drivers who are trying to merge back into traffic.

For years now, in New York state, drivers must also be mindful of emergency or hazard vehicles, such as tow trucks, that are parked, stopped or standing along the side of a road. Called the Move Over Law, drivers are required to slow down and move over a lane away from the vehicle if it’s safe to do so.

Of course, many people are familiar with the laws, and others may not necessarily be breaking them on purpose. Car cabins today are made to keep outside noise to a minimum, so it was no surprise to us when we learned that many local fire departments are using horns with a deeper bass feature so drivers can feel them in addition to hearing them — if they hear them.

Sometimes, it comes down to being more mindful while sharing the road with both other vehicles and the people in the big red-and-white trucks with lights flashing.

Not hearing these sirens can also be attributed to car stereos or from people enjoying their music with earbuds. There is also the case of drivers distracted with their cellphones or when texting, even though it’s illegal.

As the weather gets warmer, and more people will be out on the road trying to enjoy all the Island has to offer, we encourage our readers to reacquaint themselves with the rules of the road or pay closer attention to other vehicles. If you’re already well versed in the laws, have a conversation with others in your life, especially younger ones who are not as familiar with the rules.

The main goal is to make it easier for our emergency workers because if it were our house or life they were saving, or that of a loved one, we would want them to get to us as quickly as possible.

The approved $175.5 billion 2019-20 New York State budget Monday brought some good and bad news for Long Islanders.

That bit of good news came in the form of up to $4 billion over five years for the Long Island Rail Road, making the possibility of improvements to the mass-transit system more promising than ever. However, we believe Long Islanders will need to keep an eye on these funds and make sure they are used for the improvements that mean the most to them.

From everyday commuters to city day-trippers, many can attest that a ride on the train is no picnic, and the transportation system is in desperate need of improvements. From overpacked train cars during rush hours to numerous delays, many Long Islanders opt to take their vehicles into the city instead of dealing with noisy, dirty trains.

A new congestion pricing program in Manhattan will enable LIRR to receive 10 percent of the revenue generated, which will allow funds to be used for capital improvement projects for trains and stations. The program, which will go into effect by 2021, will implement tolls for vehicles passing through Manhattan at 60th Street, with exclusions including FDR Drive, West Side Highway and Battery Park underpass.

While legislators have plenty of ideas for the LIRR, including more ADA compliant stations, electrified rails and more train cars — so when there is a problem with a car a replacement is available — this is the time for residents to speak up and let their concerns be heard. Not only do we urge our readers to notify their legislators with what they would like to see improved on the LIRR, we also appeal to the Metropolitan Transit Authority to hold public forums to allow passengers to air their grievances. With the amount of money being pumped into this, it cannot be squandered.

On the municipalities side of the budget, however, it’s not all good news. Long Island will see less in local aid and road repair funding. Multiple Brookhaven town officials have sent us opinions and letters about this loss. The town is losing $1.8 million in local aid and almost another $700,000 in road repair funding, a 15 percent decrease in its state highway aid.

The permanent 2 percent property tax cap, we hope will allow more Long Islanders to remain here, and not only survive but also thrive. However, it doesn’t compensate for the recent federal capping of SALT deductions, which has meant that many people were unable to claim their entire property tax on their federal taxes. Cost-of-living issues on Long Island are no joke, and while there is certainly a fair amount of political hand-wringing over budgets, more needs to be done on the state’s side to bring down the cost of living. The additional $1 billion in school aid helps, any loss in local funding does not.

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It’s spring, and at this time of the year, as the ground thaws and the trees and flowers begin to bud, grass finally grows again. Grass — notorious grass.

Long Island’s suburbia is covered with manicured lawns, acres of it. According to a 2015 study conducted by NASA and several Colorado and Montana state universities, lawns take up over 63,000 square miles of land in the United States. It is the largest single crop in the country.

The tranquility of our suburban landscape will soon be filled with the screams and revving of lawn mowers and weed whackers as thousands groom their grass to a perfect 3 inches in height.

What are we doing? Why have we all agreed that 3-inch, cut grass should be the norm for American lawns? Why has this become the norm?

One could assume it’s a status symbol, as it was historically for English and French aristocracy, who were looking to emulate the green rolling hills found in Renaissance art.

But actually, when Europeans brought their grass to America, the proliferation of the product became popular only in the last century, when grass became a utilitarian way to create uniformity.

Here’s the rub: Grass, used as American lawns, creates acres of useless plants. An American homeowner will, on average, spend 70 hours a year cutting grass. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated U.S. homeowners use 7 billion gallons of water each year irrigating their lawns. While we on Long Island have less of an issue with the prospect of running out of water, so much of our water bills ends up being pumped onto pointless grass.

That grass is cut short before it begins to seed, so we fertilize and water the lawn to make sure it doesn’t die. Normally, small creatures or insects could feed on the seed. Instead, these landscapes have become arid land or a dew collection system.

The larger problem, more than merely being a waste of time, keeping a suburban lawn provides practically no assistance to the larger ecosystem. In a 2018 TBR News Media article, beekeepers called these landscapes “green deserts” because pollinating insects have no interaction with them. Lawns take up valuable space that could be used for plants that bear fruit or flower. Just think, a pound of honey takes about 2 million flower visits, and with bee colonies declining at a record rate, we need more pollinating plants, not less.

Well, what can one do?

Most neighborhoods certainly expect a green lawn. So, instead of spending time mowing and caring for lawns, try planting some relatively low maintenance, beautifying shrubs or ornamental grasses or beds of clover and moss.

If Long Island is the prototypical suburbia, perhaps it can also be the place that starts a small revolution and upends the green grass tyranny that has held American homeowners for too long. Maybe it will also stop the annoying buzz of lawn mowers reverberating throughout the North Shore.

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