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editorial

One of the best parts of our job is providing an outlet for readers to express their beliefs and passions on the Letters to the Editor page. Knowing what is on the minds of community members is always valuable to us and to the rest of our readers. This is a platform for releasing passions.

That’s why we’re hoping a few readers who called us last week will take pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and write us a letter. After the Jan. 10 editorial criticizing the extended government shutdown over a proposed wall on the U.S. and Mexican border, we received a few calls from readers who were unhappy with our opinion. Some went as far as to say they would no longer read our papers. Even though they want to end their relationships with us, we appreciate their calls. We wish they would have taken the time to write a Letter to the Editor, because that’s one of the purposes of the page — for a reader to let the newspaper staff and readers know that they don’t agree with an editorial or even an article.

We encourage and appreciate letters from all our readers no matter where they stand, even when it comes to politics. Also, we would love to see more letters from those who voted for and support President Donald Trump (R) as well as those who don’t. We want readers to tell us what they like and don’t like about the president — we appreciate hearing from all sides. We think our readers do too.

Speaking of Trump and national issues, many have asked why they don’t see more letters about local topics. When we receive them, we gladly publish them. We would love to hear more about what our readership thinks of political decisions on the town and village levels as well as our local elected officials. 

These letters to the editor can create much-needed conversations, but a few readers have commented there’s too much back and forth between some individuals in some of our papers. We always do our best to give people an equal opportunity to respond to each other, but some of that back and forth would stop if we received more letters about a wider variety of topics.

So, if you’re reading this editorial right now, don’t be shy. We accept letters with opinions about local, state, national and international issues. Whatever is on your mind, we want to hear from you. Take action. Keep in mind that letters are edited for length, libel, style and good taste — the letters page is not a place for foul language or personal battles. Letters should be no longer than 400 words, and we don’t publish anonymous letters. All submissions must include an address and phone number for confirmation.

On a side note, here at TBR News Media we go by “The Associated Press Stylebook” to edit our articles, letters and editorials. One reader pointed out in last week’s edition we didn’t refer to Trump as president. But we did. In the first reference we wrote “President Donald Trump (R),” but following AP style, on subsequent references used only his last name. 

We hope this editorial gets you to write or email, leading to more diverse and productive conversations in the future —  waiting to hear from you at [email protected] (Village Times Herald/Times of Middle Country), [email protected] (Port Times Record/Village Beacon Record), [email protected] (Times of Huntington and Northport, Times of Smithtown). 

A couple at an immigration rally in Huntington Station in July 2018. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Imagine if your week’s paycheck were hung on a hook from a high ceiling, dangling there within sight but not within reach, all because your boss wanted something the rest of the company said he couldn’t have.

The federal government has not had a spending bill pass the House of Representatives for approximately three weeks, and for that stretch of time, hundreds of thousands have been furloughed, been sent home or have had to work without pay as of press time. That includes thousands of Transportation Security Administration officers at airports and air traffic controllers. 

It’s hard to estimate how many Long Islanders have been affected by the shutdown, but they are certainly out there. Recently, the Suffolk Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced it would provide free pet food to government workers who couldn’t afford it due to the shutdown. Long Island Cares, a Hauppauge-based nonprofit food bank, said Jan. 4 it was reaching out to federal employees affected by the shutdown to provide food assistance.

This is the third government shutdown in the past decade and the longest running. There are 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay because of the shutdown, and experts have said there may be a multiplier effect the longer the shutdown goes on, considering the family members of those government workers going without pay. The problem may even impact the larger local economy, harming businesses whose customers must cut back on spending, along with the tourism and travel industries with reports that thousands of TSA officers are calling out sick rather than work without pay.

This latest shutdown has been caused by a laser-targeted policy decision, namely $5.7 billion in funding for a wall on the U.S. and Mexico border. This policy has been near-singularly championed by one official, President Donald Trump (R).

Trump got on national television Jan. 8 to explain to the nation his reasoning on why the U.S. needs a border wall. He made a number of points that have already been fact checked by other news organizations, but suffice it to say he claimed, “The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: Because Democrats will not fund border security.”

This is simply untrue. Democrats put up a $1.3 billion funding bill for border security measures, including additional surveillance and more fortified fencing. The president would not sign it. It didn’t fund a 2,000-mile border wall.

And that’s what it comes down to — a wall — whether the U.S. will spend billions of dollars on a wall.

This is hostage politics. The Democrats in Congress simply won’t support a wall. The exact specifications for the wall aren’t even set down on paper, and the president is asking the American taxpayer to foot the bill for something immigration experts have outright said will have limited effect on border crossings.

Long Islanders should tell our representatives like U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) to pressure the president to end this dispute, otherwise the effects of a government shutdown will only multiply.

As a country, we have gotten over shutdowns before, and we will get over this one, but while we at TBR News Media feel it is imperative that the border be policed, we believe in bridges, not walls.

We, the taxpayers of Suffolk County, believe that as a whole we’ve been pretty good in 2018. Many of us have been busy working long hours, sometimes in multiple jobs, to make ends meet and provide for our families given the high cost of living on the Island. Suffolk police report violent crime and hate crimes are down — we’ve been doing our best to behave. 

This holiday season we’re asking you, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), to double, no, triple check the list we know you’ve been diligently drafting up in Albany as to who’s been naughty or nice. We understand that you have nearly 20 million residents to look out for, but we have a holiday wish list we’d like you to consider before announcing your budget for the 2020 fiscal year: 

● Increase state aid to our public schools. School taxes make up the largest portion of our property tax bills. President Donald Trump’s (R) Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is about to hit this April, which limits homeowners to a $10,000 deduction of their state and local property, income and sales taxes. By increasing school funding, it will hopefully help keep future school budget increases low. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

● Consider proposals to reconfigure Long Island Power
Authority. Long Islanders pay among the highest rates in the Northeast for their electricity; and any reorganizational measures or changes that could bring relief would bring financial relief. 

● In the alternative, push through legislation that would
allow municipalities and school districts who lose a tax base from utilities, such as LIPA, to access reserved state funds to
offset the impact on Suffolk taxpayers. 

● Provide more state funding and grants for alternative
energy. Our environment is sensitive from being on an island, and increasing our renewable energy resources would help
ensure clean water to drink, safe land to live on and, hopefully, lower costs of producing electricity. 

● Lay out state funding for sewers on Long Island. Many of our downtown areas are hurting financially, as business districts are struggling to consider growth without sewers. In addition, providing grants to help homeowners with the costs of transitioning from old-fashioned cesspools to modern systems should improve the area’s water quality.

● Set aside more money to repave and reconfigure our heavily traveled state roadways, such as Route 25 and 25A. Driving along these congested roadways brings several perils, including large potholes, inadequate street lighting and sections that flood in heavy rainstorms. Funds could be used to re-engineer troublesome spots that repeatedly cause accidents and repave sections that are in disrepair. 

In addition, we understand that you have plenty of elves, your fellow elected officials, who can help enact changes and allocate funds to help make the rest of our holiday wishes come true: 

● Start construction on the Rails to Trails project from Wading River through Mount Sinai. The project is much anticipated, but some funding and consideration must be made for neighboring property owners who want privacy of their homes and yards. 

Sure, we have quite the holiday wish list this year. But we hope you can see the gifts we’re asking for will benefit all.

Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset is the only state-supported school in Suffolk County for more than 50 preschool children who are deaf or profoundly hearing impaired. It has become apparently clear to us the state assistance it does receive doesn’t seem to be nearly enough.

As a parent pointed out, Cleary’s full-time students ages 3 to 7, despite being young, are keenly aware that they are different from their peers. While facing the challenges of learning how to overcome hearing loss, often in combination with visual impairments and other disabilities, they are separated from peers.

This is a classic case of separate but not equal. Cleary School for the Deaf was forced to take down its 30-year-old wooden playgrounds and has taken to GoFundMe to raise the money needed to replace them.

Young children have a natural desire to want to run, jump and play outside. A playground provides them with the opportunity  not only to get exercise and build gross motor skills as they try to negotiate the monkey bars, but a chance for social interaction as well. In taking the risk of asking another child to play, they learn how to negotiate making friends and, unfortunately, deal with rejection. It can also be a chance to be creative by playing make believe.

Parents researching various preschool and kindergarten programs have every reason to want to know what activities and resources will be available to their children — including what opportunities will be available for play.

Katie Kerzner, principal at Cleary, said she’s already faced the difficult questions from parents such as “Will my preschool or kindergarten-aged child have the same opportunity as those at public schools? The opportunity to play on a playground?”

The answer, we all know, should be an unequivocal “Yes.” Unfortunately, the future isn’t so clear. The state-supported school’s staff say enrollment has boomed in the last five years and state aid isn’t keeping up.

Parents of Cleary’s students have launched a GoFundMe campaign in an effort to raise the funds necessary to build a playground. In addition, the school hosted fundraising breakfasts and raffles while local businesses and community members have stepped forward to help, but it’s not yet clear if their fundraising efforts will be enough.

New York State officials need to get on this, provide support and do more. It’s not right to have children who already feel different as they fight to overcome disabilities left out on a fundamental part of growing up.

Our Long Island schools, both public and state-supported, need to receive their fair part of state funding. It’s a battle cry we hear from teachers and school administrators at the start of every budget season in January. This time, we’re sounding the rally cry early for Cleary and its students.

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President Bill Clinton visits George H.W. Bush last year

We join the nation in mourning the passing of former President George H.W. Bush (R), the 41st president of the United States who died Nov. 30 at the age of 94.

Like all who serve in political office, Bush had his adversaries, but in the end we hope he’ll be remembered for the request he made for a kinder, gentler nation when accepting his party’s nomination for president, especially in these divisive times.

Bush was well prepared when he first took over as president Jan. 20, 1989. The World War II combat hero’s political résumé included two terms as a U.S. congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China. He also served as CIA head and is credited with turning around low morale at the agency. After he lost the 1980 Republican primary to Ronald Reagan, he was appointed by the future president to be his running mate for two terms as vice president.

While some may remember Bush’s only presidential term as ending in a recession and others may criticize how he didn’t do enough to fund HIV/AIDS education programs and prevention, there are those who applaud his approach toward foreign policy while in office. Many will remember him as a strong leader who helped oversee a smooth transition after the fall of the Soviet Union and for being the commander in chief who orchestrated quick success in the Persian Gulf War. On the home front, he was responsible for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Clean Air Act Amendments, both in 1990.

What we find most impressive about Bush’s achievements is after his term as president he took to heart in making the nation a better country by helping others.

He is most known for his charitable work with fellow former President Bill Clinton (D), with whom he teamed up in January 2005, after his son President George W. Bush (R) asked the two to help figure out how to administer aid to the coast of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand after a devastating tsunami. Later in 2005, the pair joined forces again and set up a joint nonprofit, raising millions for victims of Hurricane Katrina that had struck New Orleans.

The philanthropic partnership led to a friendship between the two former political opponents and shows how two people from different political parties can get along and even be friends. The two served as a prime example of what can be done when people are willing to reach across the political divide to work together for a common cause.

And when it came to achieving a kinder and gentler nation, Bush knew that goal started in his own home with the love he had for his wife of 73 years, Barbara, who died in April.

We hope Bush 41 is remembered for his quest for kindness, gentleness and lack of divisiveness, attributes that are most needed now.

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This week, the nonprofit organization ERASE Racism, of Syosset, and the Stony Brook Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy will hold the first of a series of five forums meant to start a public dialogue about structural and institutional racism on Long Island.

We applaud these two entities for coming together to advance an obviously vitally important discussion. Professor Christopher Sellers, the director of the SBU center, and Elaine Gross, president of ERASE Racism, each said separately in interviews the goal in hosting the first event and the subsequent forums is to begin a regionwide discussion about barriers certain groups face in their daily lives, not in some far-off time or place, but here and now close to home.

They each also referenced the misnomer that race-related issues are a thing of the past in this country, and that the Civil Rights movement or election of our first African-American president of the United States somehow delivered us to an end point in creating a just and fair place for all to live and prosper.

Gross stressed that the point behind hosting the forums and the desired byproduct is not a finger-pointing or shaming session intended to label people as racists, but rather it’s an educational opportunity meant to present attendees, and hopefully by extension the larger community, with a look at life through the lens of those who are part of racial minority groups.

According to ERASE Racism, today three out of every four black students and two out of every three Hispanic students attend school districts where racial minority groups make up more than half of the population, a phenomenon the nonprofit likens to modern-day segregation. Both figures represent a more-than 50 percent increase compared to 2004, meaning Long Island’s schools are becoming more racially segregated as time goes on.

“It is embedded — it doesn’t require that all of the players be racist people, or bad people, it only requires that people go along with the business as usual,” Gross said of structural racism.

On top of that, according to a report released by the FBI Nov. 13, hate crimes increased by 17 percent in 2017 compared to the prior year, a jump exponentially higher than any of the previous two years, a trend all Long Islanders and Americans should be inspired to stop and consider when reading.

We are glad to hear such an important discussion is not only taking place but being spearheaded in part by our hometown university. We hope that those who can make a point to attend, and those who can’t, do their due diligence to find out what it is all about.