Karl Grossman


OpEd: Memories of Cold War Missle Silos

cold war
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. (Getty Images)

As Thanksgiving 2021 comes near, thanks should be given for something that never happened decades ago: the use (as planned) of bases built on Long Island armed with Bomarc and Nike Hercules nuclear-tipped missiles.

It was the 1950s and ‘60s, and the U.S. feared Soviet bombers might strike major American cities and various strategic targets. So, a scheme was hatched to deploy nuclear-tipped missiles.

These were early anti-aircraft missiles and seen as unable to score direct hits. Thus, the plan was to have the nuclear warheads on the Bomarc and Nike missiles detonate when the missiles reached a formation of Soviet bombers, blowing the formation apart.

But these were short-range missiles and if they detonated near Long Island, radioactivity would likely drift to Long Island, and if they detonated over Long Island, radioactive fall-out would certainly rain on Long Island.

The nuclear warheads on the Bomarc and Nike Hercules missiles had massive power. The tips on the BomarcS had the equivalent of 10 kilotons of  highly explosive TNT. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the power of 13 kilotons. The Nike Hercules warheads ranged up to 30 kilotons.

In a TV documentary I wrote and presented for Long Island-based WVVH-TV, titled Avoiding Nuclear Destruction: By the Skin of Our Teeth, I stood on one of the missile silos at what had been the three-missile Nike base in Rocky Point to explain what had existed. (It’s just off Route 25A, west of William Floyd Parkway, and is now used as an Army Reserve Center.)

Then I went to what had been a Bomarc base along Old Country Road in Westhampton.

Each of the 56 Bomarc missiles that had been in Westhampton had its own building. The roofs of the buildings would open, the missiles would rise and be fired. The buildings remain, along with the machinery in them to open the roofs. (What had been the base is now the property of Suffolk County government, which utilizes some of the buildings for storage.)

With the shift by the Soviets to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the Nike and Bomarc bases were closed. Long Island was not the only place to have Nike Hercules and BOMARC bases. Such bases ringed several inland U.S. cities including Chicago.

The story of the Long Island Nike Hercules and Bomarc bases is featured in a book I co-authored with Christopher Verga, who teaches Long Island history at Suffolk County Community College: Cold War Long Island, just published by The History Press.

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David Starr: Legendary Long Island Press Editor in ’60s, ’70s

david starr
David Starr

The Long Island Daily Press started 200 years ago as the Long Island Farmer—indeed, in 1821, Long Island was a place of agriculture—and it ceased publication on March 25, 1977 before the title was revived in 2003.

It was founded by Henry C. Sleight who was raised in Sag Harbor.

“The Press closes, TODAY’S ISSUE IS THE LAST,” declared the announcement on its front page that day. “It is with great personal sadness and regret that we are forced to announce the closing,” said the piece, written by the editor David Starr. “We are proud that it has been a good and respected newspaper that cared about the interests of its readers. We are proud that it has been a leader in many campaigns to improve our schools, to build colleges, to protect the civil rights of citizens, to create parks, to enhance the arts, to nurture wildlife, to elect the best people to public office.”

That very much mirrored Starr’s views. 

Dave was the editor of the Long Island Daily Press from 1969 to 1977, managing editor from 1962 to 1969. 

He hired me as a reporter in 1964. And, a month before the newspaper went under, he tipped me off that it was going down. Indeed, I only learned officially of the demise of the newspaper driving past The Whalebone, a store ironically in Sag Harbor, where that last issue was posted on its newsstand.

Dave, who died in 2019 at 96, came to the Long Island Daily Press as a copyboy in 1939 when he was 17. 

“It was the luckiest break in my life,” he would later say.  

He was hired by Norman Newhouse, a younger brother of S.I. Newhouse, the founder of Advance Publications. 

Dave grew up in Brooklyn and Queens. He was the youngest of eight children of immigrants from Poland. As was reported in an article in The Republican, the Newhouse newspaper in Springfield, Mass. that Dave went to as publisher after The Press folded, “he sat ‘on a little stool’ at his father’s candy store and ‘I’d read every paper we had…I intended to be a newspaperman literally in the fifth grade.”

In Army intelligence in World War II, he was in a unit which “got to arrest the chief judge of the Austrian court system, several mayors and high-level Nazi bureaucrats,” noted The Republican piece. “His biggest arrest was Pierre Laval, the Nazi sympathizer wartime premier of France.” 

“It was an enjoyable job for a Jew from New York City,” said Starr.

After the war, he returned to the Press as a reporter, covering the police beat, and became a rewrite man and copy editor. 

“Norman sort of adopted me,” said Dave.

Dave was also the national editor for decades for all the Newhouse newspapers—thus being one of the most powerful editors in the U.S. 

Dave hired me to cover cops-and-courts at the Press and, in 1969, I was advanced to writing a weekly column in its Sunday edition and also did investigative reporting.

A criticism of Dave through the years was his being quite the civic booster. As he explained in The Republican article: “Many editors are uncomfortable with the thought of participation. They do not want to be—and they certainly should not be—mere promoters. But it’s my thesis that once an editor has examined the problem and decided that the proposed solution is a good one, then he does not lose his editorial prerogative by joining the effort.”

I corresponded with Dave in his later years and he was delighted that in 1978, the year after the Press folded, I began as a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury. He related how he “worked with the Rockefeller people” in the establishment of SUNY/Old Westbury. Nelson Rockefeller was New York’s governor. Dave’s involvement in education included being a trustee of Nassau Community College and also the State University of New York.

In February 1977 I went to Jamaica, where the Press was based, after months of hearing rumors from old hands at the newspaper, victims of the closings of other papers, about the possibility of it shuttering. I told Dave about what I was hearing. I said I’d stay if the Press were to continue. He asked me to shut the doors of his office and asked me “not to tell the people out there,” but it might be wise to depart. Then, just a few weeks later I saw that last edition.

Dave, as The Republican reported, “was a charming man who loved newspapering, bow ties, birdwatching, fine food, wine, classical music, the arts and, above all, his wife and college sweetheart, Peggy. They were married for 76 years.” She passed away last year.

Got a story about the Long Island Press that you’d like to share to help us celebrate our bicentennial? Email tbolger@longislandpress.com

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Pandemic Not The First Time NYC Residents Escaped To Long Island

Intersection at Main Street in Southampton.

For many New York City residents, the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred their escape to Long Island and other less-congested, greener pastures. 

Fierce competition for properties on LI — especially in the Hamptons and elsewhere on the East End — made it difficult for some renters to find a place to stay. For families with children, schools outside the city are seen as a refuge.

“I think the biggest factor is everyone’s mental well-being,” one Manhattan father of two who moved his family to their East Hampton weekend home full time told The New York Times.

Moves east from the city to the Island are not new. Suffolk County in the late 19th century became a getaway for New York City people. Historic centuries-old communities became, in part, also summer communities as the Long Island Rail Road extended eastward. 

And Long Island, as we’ve known it in modern times, is largely a result of the post-World War II migration of people from the city. But that occurred in a matter of years, not like this new movement going on — in a matter of months.

There’s been almost a doubling in enrollments at the private Ross School in East Hampton, and Avenues: The World School, based in Chelsea in Manhattan, has set up a satellite campus in East Hampton.

It’s not just the Hamptons that are being impacted by city people seeking escape. The North Fork real estate market has already heated up. Moreover, a regional phenomenon is at hand. 

“Although tracking region-wide relocations is difficult, existing data and anecdotal evidence suggest a clear COVID effect,” the Times reported. “If people do head for greener pastures, residents and brokers suggest, it may be because the city can seem, at least for the time being, like a shell of its former self. Indeed, they say, activities people once took for granted, like strolling in parks … have become difficult or impossible.”

The East End-based Express News Group newspapers noted that the East End has seen this before, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

“Schools rapidly accepted new students,” they reported. “And the region was noticeably busier — until it wasn’t … Little by little, some families did trickle back to the city, while others established new homes for themselves. Whether the same will happen post-COVID-19 is impossible to say.”

That would be the question after a — hopefully! — successful vaccine or an effective treatment for the virus becomes reality.

Karl Grossman is an investigative journalist and professor of journalism.

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New Deal 2.0 Could Cure Pandemic’s Economic Symptoms

Physician Aliea Herbert administers a test for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to a patient at Interbay Village, a village of tiny houses managed by the Low Income Housing Institute, at a mobile testing site run by Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, U.S. April 29, 2020. REUTERS/David Ryder

From the U.S. Heartland to its largest urban area has come the call to recreate the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the New Deal to address the massive unemployment nationwide caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to resolve important environmental needs.

Jon M. Hunter, publisher of the Madison Daily Leader in South Dakota, wrote that the nation should respond the same way as when the country entered the Great Depression, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the CCC in 1933. A decade later, more than 3 million participants in “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” had planted more than 3 billion trees, built hundreds of parks and wildlife refuges, and completed thousands of miles of trails and roads, Hunter recalled.

“We’re facing an intersection of high unemployment and environmental needs,” Hunter wrote, noting that environmental needs are different, but the solutions may be similar. “Here’s a bonus: Many young people are passionate about saving the environment … There is important work to be done and we have young, enthusiastic people to do it.”

Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, noted that nearly 7.7 million American workers younger than 30 are now unemployed. 

“There’s one fix that will put millions of young Americans directly to work: a 21st-century version of the Civilian Conservation Corps,” he wrote in The New York Times. 

The New Deal also established the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which built roads and public buildings, many of which can be seen today on Long Island and in New York City. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has emphasized that we must “supercharge the reopening” of the U.S. economy through “major infrastructure projects.” Such projects were “desperately needed 30 years ago,” he said. “Build them now.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) have introduced legislation to create a U.S. Health Force based on the CCC and WPA models. It “would recruit, train and employ thousands of Americans in order to provide public health capacity” to focus on COVID-19 and “prepare for future public health care needs, and build skills for new workers to enter the public health and health care workforce,” they said.

“In the face of this unprecedented crisis, Congress must harness American patriotism, resilience and ingenuity by establishing a Health Force,” Gillibrand said.

“We need ideas as big as the challenge we face, and the Health Force meets the test,” Bennet said. 

New Deal programs were central to getting America out of the Depression. We need the same kind of innovative job-creating programs today.

Karl Grossman is an investigative journalist and professor of journalism.

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Protesters Call for Removal of Robert Moses Statue

Robert Moses
Robert Moses

While all over the United States protests have been held demanding the removal of statues commemorating individuals who were racist — notably Confederate figures — nearly 100 people demonstrated for the removal of the statue of New York public works and parks czar Robert Moses in Babylon. 

The protesters marched down Main Street in Babylon holding signs reading “Robert Moses Was a Racist” and chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Robert Moses has to go,” before reaching the 1,500-pound, 7-foot-high statute in front of Babylon Village Hall.

The action in Babylon on Saturday was precipitated, as have weeks of demonstrations on Long Island and across the United States, by the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.

There was an earlier focus on Moses and racism last year with the introduction of legislation by a Commack native, Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), to change the name of Robert Moses Park on western Fire Island because of Moses’s racial bias. The measure by O’Donnell — which has not advanced in the New York State Legislature — declares that “Robert Moses repeatedly abused his power to entrench racial and economic segregation.” 

Examples cited were how when Moses built Jones Beach State Park “he intentionally ordered the overpasses of the connected parkway too low for buses, so that poor people, particularly African-American families, could not access the beach.” Also, Moses “built most public parks, playgrounds far from Puerto Rican and African-American neighborhoods.” And, says the measure, he “pursued the systematic displacement and segregation of families of color” to build Lincoln Center and “effectively allowed for the discrimination against black veterans and their families in the Stuyvesant Town development.”

The demonstrators in Babylon mirrored these charges. A flyer for the protest said the Moses statue memorialized Long Island’s “history of segregation, racism and racial violence.”

Demonstrators were called on to contact the office of Babylon Mayor Ralph Scordino and demand that the Moses statue be removed.

The racism of Moses, who was a Babylon resident, was spotlighted in a book published last year, Saving Fire Island From Robert Moses: The Fight For a National Seashore by Christopher Verga, who teaches Long Island history at Suffolk County Community College.

In it, Verga, of Bay Shore, details how the bridges on both the Southern State and Northern State Parkways, projects of Moses, were built low because, he says, Moses didn’t want buses to pass under them taking African-Americans and Latinos from the city to Jones Beach and other parks on Long Island. Writes Verga: “He was very biased.”

Robert Caro, of East Hampton, who wrote The Power Broker, the 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Moses for which he interviewed Moses at length, has described Moses as “the most racist human being I have ever really encountered.”

Defending Moses in the face of the effort to remove the statue of him is Wayne Horsley, a former Suffolk County legislator and until last year general manager of the Long Island State Park Commission, the Long Island base in North Babylon for Moses. He held the title of chairman of the commission. Moses had run for New York governor in 1934 and lost in a landslide. He thus exercised power as head of commissions and authorities throughout the state.

Horsley, according to a Newsday story on the protest of the statue, “argued that Moses’ work help transform” to a place that “was more accessible to a much wider swath of New Yorkers.”

The legislation introduced by Assemblyman O’Donnell, an older brother of TV personality, actress and author Rosie O’Donnell, says: “The state of New York needs to begin the process of accounting for the historic harm done to communities of color by people like Robert Moses, whose actions still affect many African-American and Hispanic New Yorkers to this day.” It provided for creation of a commission “to choose a new name” for the 875-acre Robert Moses State Park. 

The statue of Moses was put up in 2003. He died in 1981.

Meanwhile, the American Museum of Natural History will remove the statue of Theodore Roosevelt “flanked by a Native American man and an African man, which has presided over” the Manhattan museum’s entrance since 1940, The New York Times reported. The museum’s president, Ellen V. Futter, was quoted as saying, “Over the last few weeks, our museum community has been profoundly moved by the ever-widening movement for racial justice that has emerged after the killing of George Floyd.” 

The story said “Ms. Futter made clear that the museum’s decision was based on the statue itself — namely its ‘hierarchical composition” — and not on Roosevelt himself, whom the museum continues to honor as a ‘pioneering conservationist.’”

Roosevelt, born in Manhattan, lived much of his life there but, for nearly 30 years, his family’s primary residence was Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay in a home that also served as the “Summer White House” when he was president.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said following the museum’s decision: “President Theodore Roosevelt was a son of Nassau County whose boldness of vision and significant accomplishments still set the standard for great American leadership. Teddy Roosevelt established the United States as an enduring world power, introduced consumer protection as a critical function of government, pioneered our national park system and the cause of environmental conservation. There will be no change to the name of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building [the capitol of Nassau County government], and the statue erected in his honor will stay right where it is.”

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Nassau, Suffolk Reliance on Sales Tax Spells Fiscal Trouble Amid Pandemic Slowdown

The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to cause havoc with the sale tax-focused budgets of Nassau and Suffolk County governments.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has just released an analysis reporting that sales tax income for Nassau County dropped by 38.8 percent in May compared to receipts in 2019—from $91 million to $60.3 million. Sales tax income for Nassau dropped 26.1 percent in April with the reduction from $91.1million to $67.3 million, said the analysis. For Suffolk, the decrease was 33.5 percent in May—from $109.7 million to $72.9 million. In April, the drop was 26.7 percent compared to 2019, from $111.4 million to $81.6 million.

Now, some counties in New York State had even worse drops. The drop in Sullivan County, for example, was 41.1 percent in May compared to sales tax receipts in 2019—but the money involved was a fraction of what the Long Island counties collect. For Sullivan County, it went from $3.7 million to $2.2. million in May. In upstate Tioga County, the drop in May was 41.5 percent, from $2 million to $1.2 million compared to 2019.

The big fiscal wrinkle for Nassau and Suffolk involves their moves that began years ago to collect more and more of funds for their county governments from the sales tax considering how much money was involved. Other New York counties began shifting more and more to sale tax dollars to run their government, too, but the shift for Nassau and Suffolk involved far more money than any other of the 62 counties in the state.

Thus, a sales tax shortfall presents a larger fiscal problem for Nassau and Suffolk.​

In releasing the figures, the office of DiNapoli, a Great Neck Plaza resident, issued a statement saying that sales tax revenues overall “fell 32.3 percent” in the state in May “compared to the same period last year.” The sales tax revenues for counties and cities in May totaled $918 million, or $437 million less than 2019, it said.

“The sharp decline in revenues was widespread around the state, ranging from a drop of 19.5 percent in Westchester County to a 41.5 percent decline in Tioga County,” it continued, “Nearly every county in every region of the state saw a large drop in overall collections. New York City experienced a 31.9 percent decline, amounting to $196 million in lost revenues for a single month.”

DiNapoli commented: “We anticipated that sales tax revenues would continue to drop because of COVID-19 but the May sales tax figures show just how deep it is cutting into municipal finances. Sales tax revenues are vital funding not only for the state but for municipalities like counties and cities as well. The federal government needs to step up and provide financial help to states and local governments hit hard by this virus to avoid severe cuts to critical services.”

The problem with depending on the sales tax to run government is that the sales tax is unreliable. In good economic times, sales tax receipts are flush. But with economic downturns, sales tax collections suffer a corresponding decline.

As the Budget Review Office of the Suffolk Legislature said in its review of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposed budget for 2016: “The number one issue from a fiscal perspective is sales tax. The county relies heavily on this source of revenue and of late, collections have been coming in at levels that could be … short.” It stated: “The recommended budget will require the legislature to make difficult choices regarding tradeoffs between service provision and fiscal reality.”

There was a time when the local revenue that financed Nassau and Suffolk County governments was based on property taxes and fees. Increasing property taxes was perceived to be a problem for Long Island elected officials since residents didn’t like opening their tax bills and seeing a large increase. This is despite the fact that the county property tax has always been a minor portion of the property tax bill.

The biggest portion was — and continues to be — school taxes. The slice of the property tax bills in the counties for schools is from more than 60 percent and up to 70 percent.

Still, for elected officials, trying to finance government mainly through the sales tax has been considered less of a potential affront to voters.

About 40 percent of Nassau government’s income now comes from the sales tax. In Suffolk, the figure is 50 percent.

New York State first imposed a sales tax — initially 2 percent, now 4 percent — in 1965. Four years later, the state allowed counties and cities to also collect sales taxes. Like the state sales tax, county and city sales taxes have gone up and up. The total combined sales tax today in Nassau and Suffolk counties is 8.63 percent.

In New York State, counties have become “the class of government that is the most dependent on sales tax revenues, and this dependence is growing,” said a report titled “Local Government Sales Taxes in New York State: 2015 Update,” done by the state comptroller’s office. “Historically, counties received the largest share of their revenues from the property tax. In recent decades, however, sales tax revenue has become more and more essential for funding county governments, taking over the largest share status from the property tax.”

The report said: “However, while the property tax is generally a stable source of revenue, the sales tax can be fairly volatile.”

When financial trouble has struck, some county governments in New York have moved to raise their local sales tax percentage. Alternatively, what Patrick Halpin did after he was elected Suffolk County executive in 1983 was, because of Suffolk fiscal difficulties, arrange a county property tax increase. The result was outrage by Suffolk property owners when their tax bills came. Democrat Halpin (now chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority) was tagged with the moniker “High-Tax Halpin” by Republican Robert Gaffney, a former state assemblyman who ran against him for county executive and won with the property tax hike central to his campaign.

Will, as DiNapoli seeks, the federal government “step up and provide financial help to states and local governments hit hard by this virus to avoid severe cuts to critical services?”

Stay tuned. Maybe the expanded “reopening” of businesses in both counties will result in bringing back hefty sales tax receipts for Nassau and Suffolk.

Or maybe not.

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Silver Lining Of Pandemic: An Opportunity To Make The World A Better Place

What is to follow this horrific COVID-19 pandemic?

Indian author Arundhati Roy wrote that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “portal” — a “gateway” — to a new world.  

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew,” she wrote. “This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

“We can choose,” she continued, “to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our … dead ideas, our dead rivers, and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through … ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” 

We can, indeed, hope that somehow this global health calamity might lead to a better world. More importantly, after all the deaths, the profound misery we need and must work for a better world. And there are forces seeking to prevent that outcome.

The pandemic has made clear the oneness of the peoples of the world, as former U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

“Seen from space, the Earth has no borders,” he wrote. “The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart. All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be. One of the side effects of seeing Earth from the perspective of space is feeling more compassion for others.”  

Kelly, who spent a year on the International Space Station, wrote: “I’ve seen humans work together to prevail over some of the toughest challenges imaginable and I know we can prevail over this one if we all do our part and work together as a team.”

“Oh, and wash your hands — often,” he concluded.

The disaster surely underlines the folly of humans battling with each other — the horrible human proclivity to war, the folly of pouring national treasuries into armed conflict.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is appealing to warring parties on Earth to pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity, silence the guns.

“It is time,” said Guterres, “to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

Susanne Grabenhorst, leader of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, agreed.

“The virus drastically demonstrates both the mutual global dependencies and the irresponsibility of military conflict,” she said. War, she emphasized, has “massively weakened” health systems “and made millions of people particularly vulnerable to the current pandemic.”

IPPNW, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is “demanding that military resources be redirected…for the service of health and peaceful life.” 

Another Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Mikhail Gorbachev, declared in an essay in Time magazine: “Many are now saying the world will never be the same. But what will it be like? That depends on what lessons will be learned.”

“What we urgently need now is a rethinking of the entire concept of security,” wrote the former Soviet president. “Over the past few years, all we’ve been hearing is talk about weapons, missiles and airstrikes … War is a sign of defeat, a failure of politics.”

“The overriding goal must be human security: providing food, water and a clean environment and caring for people’s health,” he continued. “To achieve it, we need to develop strategies, make preparations, plan and create reserves. But all efforts will fail if governments continue to waste money by fueling the arms race.”   

In recent times, a nuclear Armageddon has gotten closer. The “Doomsday Clock” of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was reset in February to 100 seconds to midnight — the closest to midnight since it was initiated in 1947.

Nuclear war, with an exchange of some of the more than 14,000 hydrogen and atomic weapons existing today, many on hair trigger alert, would be an atomic COVID-19 for the people of the Earth. 

“Why not,” asked State University of New York Professor Emeritus Lawrence Wittner, “work cooperatively to save humanity from massive global death and economic collapse” rather than “waging wars and engaging in vast military buildups with the goal of slaughtering one another.” 

Is a world at peace a pipe dream? I know something about conflict and war from being a 20-year member of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution, and Peace of the United Nations and the International Association of University Presidents. The vision of the commission was reducing, perhaps someday ending, the conflict that mires the globe.

The same intensity with which humanity has studied and practiced war through the millennia must be applied to peace. I traveled the world with the commission, coordinated conferences. It developed courses used internationally on conflict resolution and peace. It also brought people from all over the world together for retreats — people from where conflict brewed. 

It was amazing that after a couple of weeks, getting to know each other personally, these folks who otherwise would be at each other’s throats, had become friends. Nations can, through diplomacy, engendering trust and communicating, do the same. Peace is possible.

“The concept of ‘security’ must be redefined, or at least expanded,” wrote Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, and DePaul University Professor Barry Kellman, wote in Newsweek. “For a long time, it has been defined singularly in nationalistic terms, measured by military strength. Many trillions of dollars continue to be spent on weapons to defend nations against threats they pose to each other.

“Vast institutions have been created around these weapons, and outstanding intellects are dedicating their brilliance to strengthening these institutions and designing strategies for using these weapons — all in the name of national security,” he continued. “But as this pandemic spirals around the world, and as militaries lie helpless before it, it’s appropriate to ask whether we would be better off if more resources and attention were pooled and devoted to addressing threats to human security.

“It is an existential imperative we need to prioritize now,” he added. “It is essential to combatting pressing global threats, including climate change and nuclear weapons, as well as pandemic diseases. Our thinking and actions must reflect the reality that we are one human family.”

As to the link between COVID-19 and climate change, some of the same groups and political figures deny both. As DeSmog, the information center on global warming disinformation, has exposed: “The climate science denial machine created by the fossil fuel industry is now a major source of COVID-19 disinformation. Deniers have deployed many of the same tactics they have used to attack climate scientists and delay action to downplay the severity of the coronavirus outbreak and sow distrust in the response efforts of governments, scientists and the medical community — with deadly consequences that are now unfolding before our eyes.” 

Canadian physician Dr. Courtney Howard, in an interview in Yes, said the coronavirus crisis “at first seems unrelated to climate, but it has a lot of consequences for the conversation around climate and health … The whole coronavirus outbreak is a giant wake-up call in terms of planetary health because what it’s saying is, ‘Hey, there’s a lack of care at the intersection of humans and the natural world, and that’s what allowed a zoonotic virus to make a jump into humans.’ Essentially, we’re in a generational tipping point,” she said. “Things have been disrupted, so now we have this opportunity: how can we apply the lessons that we’ve learned to saving lives this century and into the next?” 

Professor Dieter Helm of the University of Oxford in England said: “The coronavirus crisis will come to an end even if coronavirus does not … What will not be forgotten by future historians is climate change and the destruction of the natural environment … There is a broader lesson here … and a really great legacy of this crisis would be that we learn it.”   

World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, declared: “Whilst COVID-19 has caused a severe international health and economic crisis, failure to tackle climate change may threaten human well-being, ecosystems and economies for centuries. We need to flatten both the pandemic and climate change curves. We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against COVID-19. We need to act together in the interests of health and welfare of humanity not just for the coming weeks, but for many generations ahead.” 

As The Guardian, out of the U.K., began an article on the climate crisis: “Drowned cities, stagnant seas; intolerable heat waves; entire nations uninhabitable … and [with a global population of] more than 11 billion humans. A four-degree-warmer [four-degree Celsius is 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit] world is the stuff of nightmares and yet that’s where we’re heading in just decades.” 

As with the COVID-19 virus situation, action on the climate crisis has been slow.

The climate crisis, as with the COVID-19 pandemic, must be taken on forcefully with the world together. Totally delinquent has been the Trump administration withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement with Trump calling climate change — like he called the coronavirus pandemic — a “hoax.” Ending the burning of fossil fuel — the chief cause of global warming — and a conversion to green, renewable energy would deal with this enormous threat. 

As “we go from today to tomorrow,” commented Gov. Andrew Cuomo, this is “an opportunity where after this horrendous period that we have gone through on every level, after the exorbitant cost of this, the personal pain of this, the death … this has to be one of those moments in time when we look back where we say society transformed.”

“It was a learning and growth and transformational period where growth and evolution were accelerated,” he continued. “Society took a terrible blow, but it became a moment of reflection where all sorts of new reforms and innovations happen. That’s what we have to do with this period. So our goal is not let’s get up and turn the machine back on and keep going the way we were. No. How do you make the changes now that you’ve been talking about in some cases for years … but … never had the political will to do it? Or … it was too difficult. We talk about environmental changes that we’re going to make, but we never really do it. We talk about issues of income inequality, but we never really get there. We talk about changes to our public transit system, but it’s too hard, it’s too controversial.” 

“All right,” said Cuomo, “well now you have an opportunity in this window to really make changes and reforms and improve things in a way you haven’t. And by the way, if you went through this and you went through this pain and aggravation and suffering and you didn’t learn, well, then shame on us.” 

Jamie Metzel, formerly with the U.S. State Department and a White House fellow and a UN human rights officer, said: “The world is not going to snap back to being exactly like it was before this crisis happened … We’re going to come out of this into a different world.”

And he warns: “Our democracies are going to be challenged.” 

An immediate political effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been leaders in a number of countries moving their nations toward authoritarianism.   

“There will be change,” said social critic, historian, linguist, and MIT Professor emeritus Noam Chomsky. “The question is: what kind of change.” He asks: will the COVID-19 pandemic provide an opening for “more repression?” 

There is a drive afoot, says Chomsky, of figures “working to institute the kind of change they want.” They’re “carefully constructing” a push “encompassing the most reactionary states in the world” to use the COVID-19 pandemic to foster authoritarian rule.

“Will there be counter-pressure?” he asked. People need to understand that it is not enough to just show up on Election Day, says Chomsky. They must be “all the time working, pressing, making changes — that’s the way things are done — and it has to be done on an international scale.”

Will out of this calamity come a better world? Or will the world go through this gateway “dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our…dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies…”

We can create a new and better world — but we must fully commit ourselves to it and work for it, “pressing, making changes.” 

Karl Grossman’s just-released TV program on the COVID-19 pandemic, “A ‘Portal’ to a Better World?” can be viewed at youtube.com

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Climate Change Remains A Growing Threat

A new inlet that Superstorm Sandy cut through Fire Island remains years later. (FINS photo)

“A good thing to remember as we enter a new decade is that we’ve waited far too long to take action on climate change,” said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island. “Now we have just a small window left to act.”

Raacke was speaking as much of Australia was burning largely due to climate change, while its national government leadership remains in denial about the issue. The major reason for climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, and Australia continues to be dependent on coal-fired power plants. 

“Australia’s leaders … defend the fossil fuel industry, a big donor to both major parties — as if they were willing the country to its doom,” wrote Australian author Richard Flanagan in a recent piece in The New York Times headlined “Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide.”

The nation’s prime minister (like America’s president) insists climate change is a hoax. It’s no hoax. Among its other impacts, climate change “takes moisture out of the ground and vegetation, so it’s much drier” — thus the fires all over Australia, explains Raacke.

For Long Island, the main impacts are sea-level rise and more intense hurricanes, their power heightened by the increasingly warmer ocean waters on which hurricanes feed, says Raacke. 

As for sea-level rise, Kevin McAllister, founding president of Sag Harbor-based Defend H20, has noted that over the past 40 years, waters surrounding LI rose by 4 inches, and now, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation predicts because of climate change, in the next 40 years “we can expect they’ll rise by 11 to 30 inches.” 

People on the Island, like those in Australia, need to call for strong action to be taken to deal with the causes of climate change, notably demanding alternatives to fossil fuels. For Long Island, the program spearheaded by New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo to harvest wind off our shores is a great advance. It’s among the abundant green energy alternatives to fossil fuels. 

The state Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, passed last year, aims for a 100 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with the stated goal of “exercising a global leadership role on greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation.’” The word “leadership” in its title is telling. 

“As Washington turns a blind eye and rolls back decades of environmental protections, New York turns to a future of net zero emissions,” Cuomo said. 

Karl Grossman is an investigative reporter and professor of journalism.

SUNY College at Old Westbury: A Model of Diversity

SUNY College at Old Westbury.

Long Island is the 10th “most racially segregated metropolitan area” in the U.S., says Elaine Gross, founder and president of the Syosset-based organization Erase Racism. That’s a result of racially restrictive covenants — banned by the Supreme Court in 1948 — and racial steering by real estate agents, sending whites to certain areas, minorities to others. That’s illegal, too, but still common.

But there is an island of diversity on Long Island, a remarkable exception to this pattern, a place where people mix: SUNY/College at Old Westbury. Experiencing diversity is a major part of the educational process at the college. 

It has to do with the numbers 30:30:30:10. The vision has been to be college with a student body of 30 percent African-Americans, 30 percent white, 30 percent Latino and10 percent Asian-American, Native American and foreign. This is inclusionary, not exclusionary. If the percentage dips in any group, there is an effort to up it.

The college was established in the 1960s as an innovative, indeed experimental, SUNY campus. John Maguire became its president in 1970. He came from a family representative of the segregationist South. His grandfather was lieutenant governor of Alabama. 

“You could not imagine a more conservative, racist man,” he recounted when I interviewed him when he returned to Old Westbury to be the commencement speaker several years ago. 

As a sophomore at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, he saw a sign posted about a conference in Pennsylvania for prospective ministers. It was a chance to go to the North, where he had never been. 

When he got to the Crozer Theological Seminary he was advised that he would room with a Crozer student “from Atlanta, Georgia…You’ll like him…He’s already been named the president of the student body.” 

The other young man was Martin Luther King, Jr. And that began “a long friendship and it was a glorious friendship,” a “transformative element no doubt…in my life….We became wonderful, fast friends.” 

Maguire became deeply involved in the civil rights movement and was a Freedom Rider. When he came to SUNY/Old Westbury he and the faculty developed a plan to thoroughly mix people — based on 30:30:30:10. The concept was, explained Dr. Maguire, “no one would feel left out, but it wasn’t so big that one group ruled the other.” The students “came together” and began “to say, ‘he’s not so bad, she’s not so bad,’ and sure enough friendships developed, and it was…remarkable.”

It still is.

I’ve been a professor at the college since 1978 and I marvel watching the students come together and develop understandings and friendships. When a new academic year begins, some African-American students from Wyandanch might sit together and several Latinos from Brentwood might sit together and a couple of Chinese-American students from Flushing might sit together and several white students from Plainview might sit together.

But by the following week, an African-American student is sitting next to a Latino student, a Chinese-American student is sitting next to a white student — indeed all the students have mixed together. Many had never before gotten to know those of other ethnicities and races.

“Old Westbury is rightfully celebrated as a college community that brings people of all races, creeds, and socio-economic backgrounds together,” says Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, who recently retired as president of the college after 20 years. “Being designated among the top diverse campuses in the country …. reinforces that Old Westbury is at the forefront of cultivating intercultural understanding and global citizenship in its students.”

In its SUNY Old Westbury Magazine in 2018, the college reported that the prior year’s entering class was 31 percent white, 27 percent African-American, 25 percent Latino, 12 percent Asian-American and 5 percent “international and other backgrounds.” The two-page spread was headed, “In the Spirit of ’30:30:30:10.’” It ended with: “The model founded in those earlier days continues…and prospers.”

The faculty, administration and staff are also fully diverse.

It’s an extraordinary model needing to be replicated — on Long Island and elsewhere.

Taking A Page From The Old Daily Long Island Press

It’s a thrill writing a column for the Long Island Press again after all these years. For it was at the original Long Island Press where I started writing a column decades ago.

I was hired as a reporter for the Long Island Press in 1964. I was given a column in 1969. Because the paper ceased publication in 1977, there are very few of us from the original Press still practicing journalism after 43 years. 

With the original Press going out, I took an alternative career highway: becoming a professor of journalism at SUNY/Old Westbury, continuing to do investigative reporting but on TV, radio, in books, magazines, and newspapers, too, and in recent years on the Internet.

The Press was an easy place to work. It was a friendly place. But also a quirky place.

For example, after being hired I was told I would not exactly be working for the Press but for ABC News Service. I was instructed to leave the Press building in Jamaica, walk a block to Jamaica Avenue, and there would be a kosher butcher and above it ABC News Service.

Up a flight of stairs from the butcher was what looked like a stage set for a show about journalism in the 1920s. There were booths with antique phones and not a reporter at those booths now. 

But there was a most affable fellow, Barney Confessore, who put me on the payroll of ABC News Service—through which I would work for the Press.

What was involved was a scheme through which the Newhouse family, which owned the paper, were able to avoid putting people on its unionized payroll.

There were some Press reporters, such as all those who covered Queens, on it. This was because of the clout of the Newsday Guild of New York City. But reporters who worked in Nassau and Suffolk Counties were on the ABC payroll. I was told as the years went by that the Newhouse family commonly did this.

After I received journalism awards and it became problematic for The Press to publish a story about me as of ABC News Service receiving an honor, I was shifted to the Press payroll and said to be the only reporter in Nassau or Suffolk on it.

I quickly learned at the Press about the influence powerful people have over some media. Robert Caro in his book The Power Broker on Robert Moses told of how Moses had New York City newspapers in his pocket. Before the Press I spent two years at the Babylon Town Leader challenging the four-lane highway Moses pushed to build on Fire Island.

On my first day at the Press as a cops-and-courts reporter, I was called by an editor who said I should understand I was never to write a story about Moses or a commission or authority he headed. I asked what should I do if there was a fatal auto accident on Southern State Parkway. 

“Give it to another reporter,” I was told.