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president joe biden

The White House. METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Dear President Biden,

In an ideal world, everyone would be rooting for you. After all, as the leader of the country, your success is our success.

That’s certainly how the late George H.W. Bush (41, not 43) felt when he left a supportive note for Bill Clinton, the politician who defeated him.

We don’t live in that world. People are actively rooting against you, many of them American and many of them eager for power, influence and opportunity. Against that backdrop, I’m sure it’s challenging to get out in front of any story or narrative. You can’t control gas prices, right? You can’t control the weather, the global economy, the war in Ukraine or anything else that’s casting a pall over the nation and the world.

And yet, your job requires a certain level of messaging, communicating and leadership. You might not feel you can do much about the litany of problems you face — Republicans won’t let you, inflation is cutting everyone’s pay, and Covid continues to make people sick.

But here’s the thing: you need to get out in front of something. You need to step up and tell us how things will get better. We want to believe you because everyone wants happier days.

That starts with you. In the midst of some heated tension with the Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan offered the country the kind of reassurance that you haven’t provided. Despite the collection of nuclear missiles pointed at us, Reagan suggested that we were safe and should sleep well.

Look, I get it. People pounce on every syllable you say that might be a bit hard to follow. You’ve had a long history of verbal gaffes. But you can’t let fear of saying the wrong thing keep you from saying anything. Americans see you periodically, but you rarely tell us anything memorable or offer us a digestible helping of hope.

Your administration as a whole seems to be following your lead. No one in your cabinet has given us the sense that things will get better soon or, for lack of a better phrase, “you got this.” You have the largest bully pulpit in the world. The press follows your every move. Use that to your advantage. Seize the narrative. Give us a Project Hope or a positive message. Celebrate Americans doing good for their country.

The talking heads on both sides have given Americans an enormous dose of anger every day. It’s become an outlet for their energy and a way to keep Americans glued to their screens, waiting for the latest outrage and the newest opportunity to be disgusted by the other side.

When you ran for office, you assured us that we would return to normalcy and that you’d bring some measure of civility and decency back to the oval office. Here we are, the clock is ticking, and the anger machines from our two parties are in full gear.

Show the kind of leadership the situations demand. You don’t have to solve everything at the same time, but give us a regular update or an idea of what you know will work.

We need you to show us you have ideas we can support and that you have a plan you’re putting into action.

I understand your plan is to run for office in 2024. Why? How would that help the country? We know Republicans in the house, outraged on behalf of the two impeachments of your predecessor, may launch a host of investigations into you and your son if, as expected, they take the majority in the upcoming midterms.

When that process starts, being angry and outraged will only throw your own fury on the fire. We, and you, need positive and effective leadership now. Talk to Americans, share your plan for a better today and tomorrow. We need you to succeed. While what you’ve done so far might be undervalued and undercovered, we need visible wins. Break this pattern and give us reasons to believe in you and in the future.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Whenever a new president arrives at the gates of the White House, much attention is given to all the members of the First Family, pets included. This year, all eyes have been on President Biden’s two German shepherds, Champ and Major. Major holds the special honor of being the first presidential pet rescued from an animal shelter.

Co-author Jamie Silberhartz

Jamie Silberhartz has had dogs her whole life, from her childhood on Long Island to her busy life now as a California actor and mom. She also has a passion for helping dogs get out of shelters and into their forever homes. Silberhartz and her longtime friend Erica Lee were touched by Major’s story, and set out to write a tale of their own for kids. 

In Major: Presidential Pup, the dog tells his rags-to-riches story in his own words, sharing the adoption process and a message of kindness. Coupled with realistic, sweet illustrations by Tran Dang, this book should be well-liked by young animal fans.  

I recently had the opportunity to interview Silberhartz about her new children’s book.

What was your childhood like? Did you grow up on Long Island?

I lived on Long Island for my entire childhood! I was born and raised in Stony Brook and graduated from Ward Melville High School in 2000. Long Island is the most beautiful place in the world. I have so much love for it.

What did you want to do when you grew up, and what did you end up doing for work?

I always really enjoyed writing as a child — I loved writing stories and poetry. I went to Emerson College in Boston, where I studied writing and acting, but I mostly focused on screenwriting for TV and movies. Emerson has a Los Angeles program, so I was able to move out to California right after I graduated. Acting has been my main profession since college, mostly doing commercials and television shows. I’ve been on shows like “Dexter,” “Without a Trace,” “Private Practice” and “Criminal Minds.” I also did one of the first ever Web-based series for the show “Lost” on ABC. The writing side really took a back seat until recently. 

I imagine the pandemic has been tough on you as an actor.

Yes, it’s been interesting. Fortunately, it did give me time to write a lot more, which wouldn’t have happened if not for the pandemic. Hollywood shut down briefly, but they were considered essential workers in this area. I’ve been home writing and spending time with my two girls, who are 7 and 3. It’s so lovely. We were doing “Zoom school” for a long time — bless all of our teachers! It was also great to have my older daughter around to bounce ideas off of in real time while we were writing this book. Some things you write might not make sense to a child, so that feedback was really great.

Have you always been an animal lover? Have you had pets of your own?

I grew up with Labs. My parents were big lovers of animals and they shared that love with me from an early age. A close friend of our family had a pit bull rescue when I was younger, and they were just big, lovable babies. But it wasn’t until I moved to LA that I actually set foot in an animal shelter. The shelters here are always full, and many of the dogs are owner surrendered. The pandemic has brought out both sides of that situation — some people lost their jobs and felt they could no longer support their dogs, while others saw being home more often as the right time to adopt a dog. 

Is this your first book? What inspired you to write this book?

Yes, it’s our first book! At the heart of it is dog rescue … I’ve been involved with dog rescues here in LA for a long time now, helping to get dogs out of shelters and raising awareness that you can adopt any kind of dog you want. We have a huge population of homeless dogs out here that end up in shelters and in bad situations. 

I had read about Joe Biden fostering and adopting a dog, and then when he won the presidency, that this dog who was brought off the streets as a sick puppy was going to the White House. I thought it was such a cool story with  a great message about how you can rescue any dog. It’s also a metaphor for being able to accomplish anything. I thought it would be great for more people to hear Major’s story. 

Co-author Erica Lee

Tell us about your co-writer, Erica Lee.

Erica is a movie producer that has also never written a book before. She’s produced all the “John Wick” movies along with many others. She and my husband grew up together in Florida, and we’re very close. We both have rescues of our own and loved hearing about Major. 

We are constantly brainstorming together, and we thought it would be great to show his story from the beginning, along with the whole process of fostering and adopting from start to finish. Our president had to take all of the same, normal steps that anyone else has to take when they decide to adopt a dog, and that’s pretty cool.

Many presidents have had dogs or other pets. Was there something particular that drew you to Major?

There have certainly been a lot of presidential pets, and I’ve known and loved them all! They are my own favorite “celebrities.” But there was something about Biden having these big, delicious puppies living a pretty normal life in Delaware.

It was easy to picture them just hanging out, and when Biden was vice president, he would give out little German shepherd stuffed animals. I feel like we know more about Major and Biden’s other dog, Champ. We’ve seen so many pictures of them through the explosion of social media in the last decade.

What was the writing process like for you? Did it take a long time?

When we first started the book, it was totally different from the finished product that’s out now. None of it rhymed. I love reading things that rhyme, and my kids really enjoy that. As someone that oversees stories as they’re being written, Erica was great about identifying lines that weren’t necessary and we each had a part to play.

It was a pretty fast process. We started writing at the end of November 2020 and the book was published on Feb. 10. We self-published because we wanted to keep costs down in order to donate the profits. We also wanted to move quickly to capitalize on the recent inauguration — traditional publishing can take quite a while. Our hardcover publisher was IngramSpark, and we used Amazon for paperback. 

Who illustrated this book? How did you connect?

Our illustrator, Tran Dang, lives overseas. We found her online through the website Fiverr, where we were able to look at some of her other work. It was important for us to work with another woman and for this project to be an all-girl crew, and we just loved her stuff — she’s done a lot of projects with animals that were so sweet. She did an amazing job.

What was it like for you to see the finished product?

It was incredible. Seeing our story come alive exactly how I pictured it was the coolest feeling, and so exciting,

What is the target age group for this book?

I would say that it’s best for kids ages 4 to 8.

What do you hope kids will get out of reading Major’s story?

One of the main themes is that Major isn’t like anybody else; he’s just himself, and his family loves and accepts him just as he is. He leads with kindness. I hope kids read this and know that they don’t have to be someone they’re not, as long as they are kind and try to make the world better.

How are you using your book to support animal welfare?

All of the proceeds from this book are going to benefit dog rescues in Los Angeles, including Dogs Without Borders. I have two dogs of my own from there. We’re not making any profits for ourselves at all. Depending on how the sales go, we would be interested in supporting rescues in other parts of the country, including the wonderful organizations on Long Island. Our main goal is to see more dogs getting out of shelters and into homes. We use the social media pages for the book to promote local dogs in need of homes as well — that’s actually led to a few adoptions already, which is exciting.

How can people get involved with helping dogs in their area?

Aside from adopting and volunteering with local groups, many places are always looking for dog beds and food. I like to donate old comforters. That’s a great way to help out.

Are you thinking about writing more books in the future?

For sure. I’m finishing up a screenplay right now, and looking forward to writing more books about dogs and supporting more shelters and rescues!

Major: Presidential Pup is available at Book Revue in Huntington and online retailers including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To keep up with Jamie and Erica, their book and animals in need, visit http://linktr.ee/MajorPresidentialPup.

Photo courtesy of SCCC

Education prepares people for the future, helps them achieve their goals and increases their odds of living a life where they not only survive, but thrive.

As blues musician B.B. King is famously quoted as saying, “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”

President Joe Biden (D) gets that concept, and last week he asked Congress to enact legislation that would allow Americans to attend community colleges for free. Under the American Families Plan, $109 billion would be slated to make two years of community college free for all students. There would also be an $85 billion investment for expanding federal Pell Grants, which is awarded to undergraduate students who display financial need and have not earned a degree. This is one important way to help our young people who are unprepared for the workforce after high school.

For many, a community college has given them an advantage that they may not have had otherwise. From those whose grades were less than ideal in high school to those whose can’t afford to attend a four-year university or are undecided on what they want to do with their lives, a community college provides a stepping stone that is local and affordable for most. 

Here at TBR all three of our current editors attended Suffolk County Community College, which in turn paved the way to making obtaining bachelor’s degrees at other institutions more manageable.

According to the website joebiden.com, approximately six out of 10 jobs require education beyond a high school diploma. To succeed in a world where the economy is globalized and technology driven, people are going to need more than 12 years of education.

The website also goes on to say that one can do a lot with an associate degree. 

“Today in the United States there are an estimated 30 million quality jobs, with an average salary of $55,000, that don’t require a bachelor’s degree,” according to the site.

Free college tuition for community colleges would mean even more young people being able to achieve the American Dream. It can also keep college-aged students in the area, frequenting local stores, which stimulates the local economy. And in the long term, with less student debt to pay, it may increase the odds of people staying on Long Island and settling down.

Two years can make a difference and transform a life. Our sincere hope is that Congress will take this proposal from the president seriously.

At the same time, we hope a better look is taken at our current public school system in America. Even before the pandemic, American children were not receiving an equal education from state to state as many schools are funded through local taxes. The more affluent an area a person lives in, the better the education tends to be. Also, there is a need for more pre-K classes across the country to provide children a head start in learning, both academically and socially. Most of all, everybody should be required to complete 12th grade and not be able to drop out of school at 16.

The education system in the U.S. needs a lot of fine-tuning. Let’s start by providing high school graduates a chance to get the skills they need in today’s competitive world.

Stock photo

By Chris Cumella

On a conference call with New York college students last month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) presented his plan to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for federal student loan borrowers.

The plan is derived from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), who proposed national debt forgiveness as a promise in her presidential campaign. Both Warren and Schumer’s joint plan involves using a presidential executive to nullify student debt up to $50,000.

“College should be a ladder up,” Schumer said during the call. “But student debt weighs people down, it is an anchor, and we have to do something about it.”

President Joe Biden (D) has the executive authority to substantially cancel student loan debt for students through the Higher Education Act, according to Schumer. This would also bypass the requirement to present the motion to Congress.

Biden has said that he supported alleviating students of loan debt up to $10,000, and now the call to action is being echoed loudly by his fellow Democratic Party members. 

On his first day in office, the president addressed the ongoing dilemma regarding student debt, where his plan was to extend the pause on federal student loan payments and keeping the interest rate at 0% through the end of September.

The United States national student loan debt has accumulated at an alarming rate. An Experian survey indicated the total amount reached a record high of $1.57 trillion in 2020, an increase of about $166 billion since 2019.

Nearly 2.4 million New Yorkers owe $89.5 billion in federal student loans as of March 2020, Schumer said. The average New Yorker owes $34,600 in student loans, greater than the national average of $32,700.

To relieve loan borrowers of their debts, Schumer mentioned that if the federal government forgave debts up to $50,000, it would greatly bounce the economy. He detailed how instead of repaying their loans, people can instead allocate their money for other immediate and urgent payments, as well as leisure spending.

Schumer told conference attendees that the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes roughly $2.6 billion for New York’s colleges and universities, with half of the allocations distributed as financial aid to students in addressing hardships brought about by COVID-19.

Some of the local institutions benefiting from the American Rescue Plan for “estimated minimum amount for student grants” were listed by Schumer during the conference call: City College $23.6 million, CUNY Queens College $25.8 million, Syracuse University $15.4 million, SUNY Buffalo $31.7 million and Stony Brook University $26.8 million.

Schumer also made an urgent request for the call participants, primarily college students, to stay informed by reading local and student-run newspapers. He likewise reinforced the importance of those attending the conference to take a call to action to write, call and email Biden and get their friends and family to do so to spread awareness.

“Student loan payments are on pause, but they are not going away if we don’t do something once the pandemic is over,” Schumer said. “These debts are just going to keep piling up.”

Stock photo

They said the American flag belongs to everyone — not a single party or point of view. 

With the recent events at the United States Capitol and the riots that ensued from pro-Trump groups, local residents are joining in a national campaign to Take Back Our Flag.

Beatrice Ruberto, a Sound Beach resident, said the campaign, which started online around the 2020 election, implies that the American flag has become a symbol of President Donald Trump’s (R) beliefs.

“We started searching the internet, wondering how the American flag was being used,” she said. “We saw that over the past four years, it became shorthand for MAGA.” That’s Trump’s campaign slogan of Make America Great Again.

During her research, she found that after the election, many people on all sides of the political spectrum were ready to take it back. 

“We want to make the flag a unified symbol rather than a one-sided symbol,” she said.

So now, Ruberto and many members within the community, are looking to make sure the flag stands for its initial emblem, a symbol of We the People.

Ruberto and her group are hoping to persuade all people to hang their American flags outside their homes the day of the U.S. presidential inauguration, next Wednesday on Jan. 20.

“This is not a message of division,” she said. “It’s a message of inclusion.” 

After making its rounds online locally and nationally, Ruberto said the feedback so far has been generally positive, although some has been otherwise. 

But the message is simple, Ruberto noted. “Fly the flag,” she said. “Continue flying the flag, no matter what your point of view is. Everyone should be flying it.”