Wednesday, January 26, 2011


It was just another day at P.S. 22 in Staten Island, NY, if there ever is ‘just another day’ at this school. This was the day the school choir would perform its annual holiday concert. If you haven’t heard of the P.S. 22 choir, you will. In fact, as a surprise, actress Ann Hathaway showed up for the concert with a big announcement. Hathaway, who is co-hosting the 83rd Annual Academy Awards this year with James Franco, actually came with an invitation. The kids in the choir, most of whom have never been on an airplane or away from their parents overnight, are invited to perform at the Oscars. Here is how it all went down:

If you want to know how a bunch of kids from an elementary school have gained this much notoriety, go to YouTube. The choir is all over YouTube, and once you start listening, it’s addictive. These kids, led by the colorful “Mr. B.,” Greg Breinberg, love their music and it seems they love their growing national popularity. For his part, Breinberg, 35, is the teacher we all wish we had had somewhere along the way. He’s funny, always upbeat, sort of an overgrown kid himself and determined the kids in his choir develop a true love of music. To make that happen, he encourages them to sing popular music. There is no way to measure how greatly Mr. B is helping these kids enhance their self esteem.

Lady Gaga sung by 10-year-olds? Yes, please. And you never know who will drop by. Gaga’s been to P.S. 22 to see the kids, as has Beyonce, Randy Jackson, Tori Amos (Mr. B’s favorite), Kylie Minogue, Ne-Yo and many others. Oprah has given them a shout out on her show, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have both featured them on their pages, and now….the Oscars. If you’re wondering why they are such a phenomenon, watch and listen to what happened when Queen Latifah and Common stopped by PS 22 during rehearsal:

"GLEE" has nothing on these kids. This is the real thing.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Congress: Killing the American Dream

How many journalists on how many talking head programs since November have asked the same question: “Okay, GOP, you say you’re going to trim the federal budget. But what exactly are you going to cut?” Today, Congress revealed its answer, and guess who emerged as the biggest losers – poor Americans. In a word, the proposal put forth by Congress today is unconscionable. There are a lot more cuts than what are listed here, and you can read all about it at your favorite news and information site, but here are a few examples of what came down from on high today:

Legal Services Corporation would be eliminated. LSC is the government’s largest provider of legal aid for the poor.

HOPE VI Program would be eliminated. This program runs the The Office of Public and Indian Housing, charged with providing decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.

THE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT FUND would be eliminated. Here is their mission statement: “The CDFI Fund's mission is to expand the capacity of financial institutions to provide credit, capital, and financial services to underserved populations and communities in the United States.”

TITLE X would be eliminated. Title X provides public funding for family planning and preventive health screening services for women and low income citizens.

THE APPALACHIAN REGIONAL ADMINISTRATION would be eliminated. This commission provides economic development, infrastructure assistance and job creation/training for some of the poorest American citizens.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ADMINISTRATION would be eliminated. The EDA provides jobs and job training for some of the most economically distressed areas of the U.S.

THE NATIONAL AND COMMUNITY SERVICES ACT funds programs to help communities address poverty, the environment, education, and other unmet human needs, according to its original wording. It would be elmininated.

It bears mentioning that while the proposal does cut spending on Federal offices, government travel, Congressional printing and binding, and Federal vehicles, it does not touch Congressional salaries, benefits or pensions. The current salary for members of Congress is $174,000 annually. The Speaker of the House is paid $223,500. Retirement benefits are generous, and dependent upon years of service. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median income for an American household in 2010 was $46,326.

The cuts proposed by the House of Representatives today would negatively affect tens of millions of American citizens in the areas of health care, family planning, employment, environmental issues, credit, housing, disability assistance, care for the elderly and equal access to legal assistance. If you’re a family guy who’s been out of work for a year or two, look out. If you’re a single mother trying to keep food on the table, you’re in trouble. If you’ve got kids in school in rural areas of the U.S., their education, already lacking, will not improve in the foreseeable future. If you’re on a list waiting for promised public housing, this plan will squash that dream. If you live in a high teen pregnancy rate area, expect more of your children having babies.

This is your U.S. Congress at work. Start writing those letters. Click here for the easiest way to email your representatives.

Friday, January 7, 2011


Owen P. Honors, Jr. has caused quite a national stir, in case you haven’t heard. He is the recently dismissed commander of the USS Enterprise. Honors, who has served in the U.S. Navy since 1983, was relieved of his command because of videos like this one:

The videos in question were made a few years ago and broadcast on closed circuit television on the Enterprise. At the time, none of the people serving on the ship complained to authorities about the content, and supposedly no one in the Navy outside of the Enterprise knew about the videos. Honors was second in command, and a big question now is how it is even possible that his commanding officer, Admiral Lawrence S. Rice could not have known about this. It is also unclear how the videos surfaced years later. With scenes showing simulated masturbation, simulated eating of feces, a simulated rectal exam, anti-gay slurs and a pair of men and a pair of women showering together, it is surprising none of the 6,000 who served aboard the ship at the time came forward to complain when the videos were shown on board.

More surprising, however, is how polarizing this incident has been, nationwide. On Facebook, almost 25,000 people have joined the page titled, “Support Captain Owen Honors – USS Enterprise, (left) and most of them are outraged at his dismissal. Here is a typical comment from the page:
“Until we can remove far left loons from positions of power and send political correctness, which is nothing more than an assault on free speech in America, to the bottom of the ocean where it belongs--others will be unfairly subjected to a similar fate.
We need men like Captain Owen Honors in our military period end of ...story!”

And there are a lot of postings like this:
“To all the trolls... We don't care about you and your disgust for a situation you know NOTHING about. You've seen one side of the story. I bet if you saw all the footage, about 10% of it would be offensive... Because that's all we saw. We don't have access to the entire archive and I'm pretty sure that overall, it's very entertaining for those on board.”

The Virginian-Pilot newspaper first reported this story and has received comments like this one:
“Capt. Honors [right, in a scene from one of the videos]
was not an officer and a gentlemen in his behavior. It's one thing what you say and do in private with your peers. It's another when you are charged to be the leader and set the example for our forces. His college fraternity pranks days were over a long time ago and totally out of order for a man of his stature and position. Very poor judgment and demeaning for someone of his rank. Sad to lose the talents of this high ranking officer but it was a self inflicted wound.”

Most comments on the Facebook page from Navy personnel or even from those who served on the Enterprise under Honors are highly complimentary of him as a Naval officer. It is generally agreed he did a good job.

So, why all the fuss then? The fuss has to do with the sophomoric way Honors chose to “entertain” his crew. Yesterday, a friend of mine on Facebook who is in the military posted this:
“I don't think the rest of America can have a say in the Navy USS Enterprise videos. Let the Navy sort it out. Stop making it news. I've watched the video; it is an amazing representation of lewd military humor.”

I wrote back to him:
“The rest of the U.S. is making efforts to eliminate things like sexism and the Navy immune from these efforts somehow? When "humor" is used to denigrate entire segments of the Navy's population, the rest of the U.S. needs to speak up. Military organizations are not separate societies. They are part of American society.”

That is really the issue here. Do we continue to consider the military a highly separate microcosm of the larger society, or do we get real and hold military personnel accountable to the same standards as the rest of us? If Honors worked for IBM or Shell Oil and produced these videos, he would be fired so fast he would not know what hit him. If Honors worked for a university and produced these videos he would be gone so fast his head would spin. So, why is it that in the military, where discipline and order are supposed to reign supreme, it is somehow okay for a commanding officer to produce videos that are not just lewd, but insulting to entire population segments? It is not okay. It just is not.

This is not about “political correctness” or the “far left” or the “liberal media” or how tough conditions are on a ship that is out to sea for eight months at a time. This is not about whether Honors humor appealed to a lot of people on board. This is about social change. Our society is suffering the raw growing pains that accompany the climb to a more civil, humane culture. As a society, we have decided not to call each other fags and niggers. We have decided to incorporate minority populations into the mainstream majority. We are working toward respecting people for who and what they naturally are. If young men and women enter the military and see just the opposite of this, how will they possibly assimilate themselves into the larger society once they are discharged?

Honors is probably the good man that many have come forward to say he is in the past week or so. He probably did an admirable job in the service. He just did a really stupid thing, and every stupid thing has consequences. I support the Navy’s decision to relieve Honors of his command, even if they did it simply as PR move to save face with the American public. It is not business as usual in America. We are shifting, radically, and for the betterment of us all. The protracted growing pains required for the shift will be worth it in the future. We will be bigger and better. I, for one, can’t wait for that day to come.