Obama Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline, Says US Must Lead on Transition to Renewable Energy

People's Climate March, September 2014: Environmentalists are hailing President Obama's decision to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline, in favor of promoting infrastructure supporting clean, renewable energy © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
People’s Climate March, September 2014: Environmentalists are hailing President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline, in favor of promoting infrastructure supporting clean, renewable energy © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

In a statement on Friday, Nov. 6, President Barack Obama declared that the State Department, under Secretary John Kerry, made the determination that “Keystone would not serve the national interests of the United States… and I agree.”

Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, President Obama said the Keystone XL pipeline would contradict America’s efforts – and its global leadership – to transition to clean, renewable energy in order to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change before communities are rendered “inhospitable” and even “uninhabitable.”

“Today, the United States of America is leading on climate change with our investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.  America is leading on climate change with new rules on power plants that will protect our air so that our kids can breathe.  America is leading on climate change by working with other big emitters like China to encourage and announce new commitments to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.  In part because of that American leadership, more than 150 nations representing nearly 90 percent of global emissions have put forward plans to cut pollution.

“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change.  And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.  And that’s the biggest risk we face — not acting.

“Today, we will continue to lead by example [to prevent] a large part of this earth from not only becoming inhospitable but inhabitable in our lifetimes.

“As long as I’m President of the United States, America is going to hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold the rest of the world.  And three weeks from now, I look forward to joining my fellow world leaders in Paris, where we’ve got to come together around an ambitious framework to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.

“If we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change before it’s too late, the time to act is now.  Not later.  Not someday.  Right here, right now.:

The President took to task how Keystone was being used as a “political cudgel.”

“For years,” he said, “the  Keystone pipeline occupied an over-inflated role in political discourse – a symbol, a campaign cudgel rather than a serious policy matter.

“This pipeline was neither a silver bullet for the  economy as promised by some, nor an express lane to disaster as implied by others.” Ultimately, he said, the State Department rejected Keystone XL because, “it did not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy.”

But, he said, if Congress were serious about creating jobs, “this was not the way to do it. What we should be doing is passing bipartisan infrastructure bill that would create more than 30 times the jobs each year than pipeline, and create long-term benefits.”

Indeed, in the absence of the Keystone XL pipeline, the United States added 271,000 jobs in October, the fastest pace so far this year as the unemployment rate declined to its lowest level since April 2008. 

Our businesses have now added 13.5 million jobs over 68 straight months, extending the longest streak on record,” reported Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. “The unemployment rate ticked down to 5.0 percent in October—its lowest level since April 2008—with stable labor force participation. Wages continued to rise; average hourly earnings for all private employees have now risen 2.5 percent over the past year, the fastest pace achieved since 2009…Overall, our economy has created 8.0 million jobs over the past thirty-six months, the fastest pace since 2000.” 

But if Congress were serious about jobs creation, President Obama continued, “This Congress should pass serious infrastructure plan and keep those jobs coming. That will make a difference. The pipeline would not make serious impact on those numbers and the American people’s prospects for the future.”

Moreover, he said, Keystone would not have lowered gas prices for the American consumer. On the other hand, “gas prices have already been falling steadily: 77c over a year ago – a $1 over 2 years, $1.27 over 3 years ago. Today in 41 states, you  can find at least one gas station selling for less than $2/gallon.”

Shipping the oil  from Canada’s tar sands, the dirtiest form, would not contribute to America’s energy security, either, Obama said. “What has increased energy security is decreasing our reliance on dirty fossil fuels imported from other parts of the world.”

He noted that three years ago, he set a goal of reducing America’s dependence on importing foreign oil, and that goal has been met five years early. “We now produce more oil than we buy from other countries.”

“The United States will continue to rely on oil and gas as we transition, but we must transition to a clean energy economy.”

That transition is happening “more quickly than many anticipated.

“Since I took office, we have doubled the distance we can go on a gallon of gas, tripled power from wind, multiplied the power we get from the sun 20 times over. Our biggest and most successful businesses are going all-in on clean energy. Thanks to the investments made, power from wind and sun is cheaper than conventional.

“The old rules said we couldn’t promote economic growth and protect our environment at the same time.  The old rules said we couldn’t transition to clean energy without squeezing businesses and consumers.  But this is America, and we have come up with new ways and new technologies to break down the old rules, so that today, homegrown American energy is booming, energy prices are falling, and over the past decade, even as our economy has continued to grow, America has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.”

The President said, “Today, we’re continuing to lead by example.  Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.

“I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish together.  I’m optimistic because our own country proves, every day — one step at a time — that not only do we have the power to combat this threat, we can do it while creating new jobs, while growing our economy, while saving money, while helping consumers, and most of all, leaving our kids a cleaner, safer planet at the same time.

“That’s what our own ingenuity and action can do.  That’s what we can accomplish.  And America is prepared to show the rest of the world the way forward.”




FACT SHEET: Continuing to Drive Growth in Solar Energy Across the Country-Administration Announcing More than $120 Million to Scale Up Clean Energy in 15 States


FACT SHEET: Obama Administration and Private-Sector Leaders Announce Ambitious Commitments and Robust Progress to Address Potent Greenhouse Gases

FACT SHEET: White House Announces Commitments to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge


FACT SHEET:  Obama Administration Joins with Public and Private Sector to Increase Access to Off-Grid Clean Energy and the Deployment of Innovative Technologies Globally


FACT SHEET: Obama Administration Announces New Efforts to Promote Sustainable and Climate-Smart Agriculture


OMB: Obama Would Veto 2 Laws Proposed by Senate Republicans to Weaken Clean Water Protections

Capitol Building, Washington DC © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Capitol Building, Washington DC © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

President Obama would veto two laws coming out of the Senate which would weaken federal Clean Water Act protections, according to The Office of Management and Budget. The OMB has issued Statements of Administration Policy regarding S. 1140, the Orwellian named “Federal Water Quality Protection Act” sponsored by Sen. Barrasso, R-WY, and 46 co-sponsors) and S.J.Res. 22 – Disapproving EPA/Army Rule on Waters of the United States being proposed by Sen. Ernst, R-IA, and 49 cosponsors, that state the President would veto the laws if they make it to his desk.

 S. 1140″Federal Water Quality Protection Act”

The Administration strongly opposes S. 1140, which would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Army) to withdraw and re-propose specified regulations needed to clarify the jurisdictional boundaries of the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The agencies’ rulemaking, grounded in science and the law, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking  from the Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.  The final rule has been through an extensive public engagement process.

Clean water is vital for the success of the Nation’s businesses, agriculture, energy development, and the health of our communities.  More than one in three Americans get their drinking water from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs that are at risk of pollution from upstream sources.  The protection of wetlands is also vital for hunting and fishing.  When Congress passed the CWA in 1972 to restore the Nation’s waters, it recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need to protect the smaller streams and wetlands upstream.

Clarifying the scope of the CWA helps to protect clean water, safeguard public health, and strengthen the economy.  Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 focused on specific jurisdictional determinations and rejected the analytical approach that the Army Corps of Engineers used for those determinations, but did not invalidate the underlying regulation.  This has created ongoing questions and uncertainty about how the regulation is applied consistent with the Court’s decisions.  The final rule was developed to address this uncertainty.

If S. 1140 were enacted, any revisions to the CWA regulations would require the agencies to define waters of the United States in a manner inconsistent with the CWA as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in more confusion, uncertainty, and inconsistency.

S.1140 would require the agencies to expend scarce resources to duplicate the transparent rulemaking process just completed, which involved extensive public outreach and participation, including over 400 public meetings, and 1 million public comments.  The agencies met with States, municipalities, small businesses, farmers, ranchers, miners, foresters, conservation groups, and many others to solicit input and reflect that input in a final rule.  A regulation as prescribed in S. 1140 would raise costs for landowners and businesses seeking a CWA permit and increase delays in the permit process.  S. 1140 also would reduce protection of the Nation’s water quality and result in higher drinking water treatment costs, increased contamination of fish and shellfish, loss of recreational opportunities including hunting and fishing, and more frequent algal blooms that choke rivers and lakes and make waters unhealthy as a drinking water source or to swim and fish in.  Wetlands serve as a natural buffer to reduce flooding, and by ignoring this important role, S.1140 also would lead to more frequent and more damaging losses from floods.  Families, communities, and businesses will have no choice but to pay for increased flood protection that natural wetlands currently provide for free.

If the President were presented with S. 1140, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

S.J.Res. 22 – Disapproving EPA/Army Rule on Waters of the United States

The Administration strongly opposes S.J.Res. 22, which would nullify a specified Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Army) final rule clarifying the jurisdictional boundaries of the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The agencies’ rulemaking,  grounded in science and the law, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from the Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.  The final rule has been through an extensive public engagement process.

Clean water is vital for the success of the Nation’s businesses, agriculture, energy development, and the health of our communities.  More than one in three Americans get their drinking water from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs that are at risk of pollution from upstream sources.  The protection of wetlands is also vital for hunting and fishing.  When Congress passed the CWA in 1972 to restore the Nation’s waters, it recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need to protect the smaller streams and wetlands upstream.

Clarifying the scope of the CWA helps to protect clean water, safeguard public health, and strengthen the economy.  Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 focused on specific jurisdictional determinations and rejected the analytical approach that the Army Corps of Engineers used for those determinations, but did not invalidate the underlying regulation.  This has created ongoing questions and uncertainty about how the regulation is applied consistent with the Court’s decisions.  The final rule was developed to address this uncertainty and it should remain in place.

If enacted, S.J.Res. 22 would nullify years of work and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.  EPA and Army have sought the views of and listened carefully to the public throughout the extensive public engagement process for this rule.

Simply put, S.J.Res. 22 is not an act of good governance.  It would sow confusion and invite conflict at a time when our communities and businesses need clarity and certainty around clean water regulation.

If the President were presented with S.J.Res. 22, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.



OMB: Obama Administration Would Veto ‘Retail Investor Protection Act’

The Office of Management and Budget has issued a Statement of Administration Policy regarding HR 1090, the “Retail Investor Protection Act” sponsored by Rep. Wagner (R-MO) and 34 co-sponsors, because as is typical of such bills that have come from the Republican Majority, their title is the very opposite of their actual intent:

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1090 because the bill would derail an important Department of Labor rulemaking critical to protecting Americans’ hard-earned savings and preserving their retirement security.

H.R. 1090 prohibits Labor from issuing a rule to protect investors until the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) acts.  It also impinges on the SEC’s ability to move forward with its own rulemaking by requiring the SEC to take the misguided step of providing definitive findings before promulgating a rule.

Further, the bill ignores the fact that significant study has already been conducted by both agencies and that Labor has had extensive engagement with the public, industry, and numerous stakeholders in its rulemaking process.  This includes more than 140 days of public comment period, four days of public hearings, and approximately 100 meetings with stakeholders after the proposal was published in April.  Moreover, Labor and the SEC are already working closely to ensure the smooth operation of the proposed safeguards, and this legislation would hamper effective coordination between the two agencies.

Under existing, outdated rules, savers cannot count on receiving the unbiased advice that they need and expect.  This bill would effectively block action to protect working and middle-class families from the harmful conflicts of interest that lead to biased advice.  The Council of Economic Advisers estimates that these conflicts cost savers $17 billion every year.

The Administration is committed to ensuring that American workers and retirees are able to receive advice about how to invest their money in safe, secure, and transparent financial products that are free from harmful conflicts of interest.  Labor’s ongoing rulemaking is designed to protect the retirement savings of millions of workers and retirees by ensuring that paid advisors and other entities do not place their own financial interests over those of their customers.  This legislation puts a roadblock in the way of preventing such harmful conflicts, which hurts businesses, consumers, and retirees and their families.

If the President were presented with H.R. 1090, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.



MomsRising to Florida Tourism Industry: Families Will Think Twice About Vacations in Florida if State Approves Open Carry Law

Families leaving the Magic Kingdom, DisneyWorld, Orlando, Florida after firework. Tourism is a key industry for Florida but families may think twice about vacationing in the state if it approves open carry law, says MomsRising.org © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
Families leaving the Magic Kingdom, DisneyWorld, Orlando, Florida after firework. Tourism is a key industry for Florida but families may think twice about vacationing in the state if it approves open carry law, says MomsRising.org © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

by Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Florida, which calls itself “The Sunshine State,” and is one of the most popular family vacation destinations, may soon be far less family friendly. State lawmakers are considering giving gun owners with concealed carry permits the right to openly carry their firearms in public places, even allowing them to hold their guns in their hands as they walk around. [“Open-carry law would create anxiety, not safety: Editorial,” Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 15. 2015.]

With Disney World, Universal Studios, miles of pristine sand beaches, and world-class shopping and dining, Florida is the ultimate vacation destination for many families in the United States and around the world. But imagine going on vacation with your kids and loved ones to a place where any stranger standing inches from you in line, or just passing by on the street, could be displaying or handling a deadly weapon.

That’s the message that MomsRising, an organization that advocates for sensible gun regulation, MomsRising is circulating. The group is urging families to sign a petition telling – or rather warning – the Florida Commission on Tourism that families do not want to vacation in a state where people are openly carrying their weapons.

“The open carrying of firearms serves little purpose but to intimidate the public, which is why even major retailers like Starbucks and Target don’t want guns in their stores,” [“7 Companies That Don’t Want Guns In Their Stores,” Andrew Lord, Huffington Post, July 17, 2015]  the organization stated in a message to supporters. “Why would anyone want to feel intimidated, especially while on vacation?”

Indeed, open carry is just another way for the gun lobby (which is really the gun manufacturers) to roll back gun safety laws. But studies have demonstrated the “weapons effect,” where the mere presence of firearms encourages aggressive behavior. [“Mere sight of a gun makes police – and public – more aggressive, experts say,” Andrew Yuhas, The Guardian, Aug. 5, 2015.] This was certainly the case for a family Tennessee now mourning the loss of their 19-year old at Tennesee State University over a dice game (three female students just passing by were also shot). [Fatal Tenn. campus shooting started over dice game, USA Today, Oct. 23, 2015]

“Open carry would make the presence of firearms that much more visible in public, raising the likelihood of dangerous outcomes. Who wants that on vacation?,” says MomsRising, an organization that supports sensible gun regulation.

“No family wants to be intimidated and feel at risk of gun violence, especially when we are supposed to be relaxing and having fun. Tell the Florida Commission on Tourism that families do not want to vacation in a state where people are openly carrying their weapons!”

With more than 97 million people visiting the state, bringing $72 billion a year to the economy, the tourism sector is a powerful voice in Florida and can influence state policy on gun safety. The Florida Commission on Tourism and other leaders in the tourism industry will not like to hear that allowing the open carry of firearms may lead people to start looking elsewhere for that perfect family vacation.

MomsRising.org is urging people to sign their petition and will deliver the message and your signature to the Florida Commission on Tourism, as well as to Disney World, Universal Studios, regional tourism boards, and other key members of the Florida tourism community.

Tell the Florida Commission on Tourism to oppose open carry in the Sunshine State, because families do not want to vacation in a state where people are openly carrying their weapons!”

“Stopping open carry in Florida will help keep this terrible idea from becoming law in other states that also rely on tourism dollars. Together, we are a strong voice for safer families and communities,” stated MomsRising.org.

Let’s not forget that Florida was the birthplace of Stand Your Ground, giving anyone with a gun a license to kill and later claim they feared for their life, as was the case for a self-appointed neighborhood watch who was acquitted in the murder of black teen Trayvon Martin. After being adopted in Florida, ‘Stand Your Ground,’ written by ALEC’s gun manufacturer members, was exported to 22 other states.


See also:



© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com,  email [email protected]. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Rebellion Grows Against High-Stakes Testing Intrinsic to Education ‘Reform’ Accountability Movement

AFT President Randi Weingarten at the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative announcing an AFT initiative to apply $100 million of pension funds towards a new fund to help cities build childcare centers, will serve on Gov. Cuomo's new Common Core Task Force. © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
AFT President Randi Weingarten at the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative announcing an AFT initiative to apply $100 million of pension funds towards a new fund to help cities build childcare centers, will serve on Gov. Cuomo’s new Common Core Task Force. © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Statewide and in some New York districts, a sizeable number of students opted out of the high-stakes assessment tests – 20% statewide, as high as 32% in Roslyn – which puts into question whether New York State will be eligible to receive billions of Race to the Top federal education dollars and what penalties the State Education Department will impose on districts who defied the mandate. It was the desire to get those dollars that was the basis for twisting public education into pretzels to cater to the Accountability & Privatization movement that is the basis for  No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top.

Only 10% of Great Neck Public School students opted out of the ELA and 15% on the Math. Of those that took the test, 30-40% fell into that dreaded “Level 1” or “level 2” category, meaning that they “lacked proficiency” or “mastery” of the subject, and were in jeopardy of not graduating “college ready.” That is actually the same result as in 2013, the first year of the high-stakes tests in which the State Education Department targeted a 30 percent failure rate, and lo and behold, exactly a 30 percent failure rate.

Great Neck that year scored among the highest in the state on the ELA, with 60-70 percent of students achieving “proficiency” on the high-stakes ELA and Math tests, newly configured for the Common Core standards which had yet to be fully implemented in the curriculum. It was the same this year, with Great Neck ranking among the best in the state and among the 56 Nassau County diostricts. What is odd is that a district that also had a 70% “proficiency” rate was rated as performing “highest.” How could that be?

On the Math test, 73 to 80% of students scored as “proficient” or “mastery.”

Great Neck is a district accustomed to 80 to 90% of students achieving proficiency or mastery, but the results on the state’s high-stakes tests, which now require academic intervention for as many as 40% of students, would suggest these students in jeopardy of failing to make the grade for college and career.

Did the students – who graduate and go onto colleges at the enviable rate of over 95% – suddenly get stupid? Did Great Neck teachers who year after year have provided the stellar education that produces such high rates of achievement, suddenly become inept?

Great Neck Public Schools steer $1 million into academic intervention services. Actually, the district had always provided academic intervention to students deemed to need it, but now there are students who are mandated to receive such services based on a test that even the Governor admits is flawed. (Besides the test being flawed in that it asks students what they haven’t been taught, the scoring is not based on “right” and “wrong” answers, but a pre-determined “curve.”)

So, in a system that mandates budget caps (2% or the CPI, whichever is less), and also issues a score of unfunded mandates (pension and health contributions, for example) and does not make any accommodation for increases in student enrollment, or the population requiring special services, that means that limited resources have to go into academic intervention, rather than, say, to enrichment programs.

And because the tests have become truly high stakes for the students who are held back from promotion and for teachers to keep their jobs or get raises, that means more time and money pouring into test preparation rather than music, theater, sports, clubs and anything that is not, well, mandated.

It is one of the thorns of contention that progressives have with the Obama Administration, though Education Secretary Arne Duncan (who is being replaced by New York State’s Commissioner John King) has attempted to walk back the “one-size-fits-all” and the “teach-to-the-test” regimentation that is implicit in standardized testing and actually contradicts the overarching goals of Common Core, to get students to learn how to problem-solve, think for themselves, and be creative. (I’m not sure that “love of learning” enters into the equation, but what is true is that schools function more and more like prisons.)

That is the irony of the backlash against Common Core: Conservatives hate that the curriculum seems to come from on high (when it was developed by the states and with actual teachers) and that it is supposed to teach broader skills that, theoretically at least, would be more suitable to the Workplace of the 21st Century. What that means is that there are jobs that will exist by the time our children enter the workplace that don’t exist today, and jobs that exist today that would have become obsolete and people need the skills to adapt.

But Conservatives love the idea of using test results (so-called Accountability) to beat back teacher unions and justify privatization of schools (charter schools, testing services, home-school curricula) as well as channeling public money to faith-based/religious organizations. (New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would literally like to punch teachers in the face.)

Progressives on the other hand actually appreciate the notion of a more rigorous curriculum but abhor the practical impact on students, teachers and parents alike of having so many high-stakes, high-stress tests. Just the time spent in test-prep and test administration alone means that there is less time to do interesting projects or activities that cultivate “the whole person” (like music, theater, art). They say that standardized testing, in which you are teaching the student to come up with an answer to satisfy the scorer, defeats the whole objective of raising confident thinkers who can come up with novel solutions and innovative inventions. And they hate that the practical impact of the Accountability Movement has been to browbeat teachers and undermine unions.

The irony of the Accountability movement is that the beneficiaries – charter schools operated for for-profit and so-called nonprofit, but nonetheless highly profitable; test-making companies; tutoring services – aren’t accountable at all, at least, not immediately, when it would matter. They don’t have to justify the tax money spent, but are allowed to exploit new, non-union teachers who typically move on after just a couple of years, before they actually have the skills of a professional.

The movement is being driven by the Billionaire Class (like Mark Zuckerberg who donated $100 million to “reform” Newark public schools, only to have the whole thing blow up) which has made School Reform their pet (they used to buy hotels and before that, magazines and newspapers and before that made movies).

At its core, Common Core is intended, in fact, to inculcate key skills of problem-solving, creative thinking, collaborative thinking. But the effect of the obsession with high-stakes standardized testing teaches a different lesson entirely: there is a right answer.

The fact of the matter is, we’ve had 14 years of No Child Left Behind/Accountability – an entire generation of students who have lived every day of their school careers under NCLB/Race to the Top regimen – and yet there are the exact same complaints about how terrible public education is.

To justify the Accountability movement, the so-called “reformers” have cited statistics which put the United States as a middling to awful performer on international tests of language skills, math, and science. The United States ranks below the OECD average in every category on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and despite the fact No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top has been implemented for the entire school careers of current graduates, has slipped in all of the major categories in recent years.

So it is interesting in this context – ironic even – that China, whose students rank #1 in Math, Reading and Science on the PISA, is changing its curriculum.

“China is a big manufacturer, but we want to innovate in China. This requires a big change in educational system,” Yang Lan, Chairman, Sun Media Group and Sun Culture Foundation, said at the Clinton Global Initiative’s session titled, “From Education to Entrepreneur: Linking SME Success with Human Capital.”

“Chinese kids perform great in international assessments, but we are questioning ourselves in the level of critical thinking, independent, innovative thinking, collaborative thinking, risk taking” that the curriculum promotes.

Indeed, Jack Ma, widely hailed for his genius at creating Alibaba, boasted that he failed his exams three times, and it took 10 tries to get into university.

Hanne Rasmussen, Chief Executive Officer, The LEGO Foundation, indeed, criticized the lack of focus on early-childhood education, and even the new stress on academic rigor instead of play, having deleterious impact on the child’s development, and ultimate success as an adult.

“Investing in children pays off in massive returns over time, achieving income equality and social mobility later in life,” she told the Clinton Global Initiative’s panel examining Escalators of Opportunity. “Children who participate in early childhood programs have improved learning outcomes, increased social competency, are more likely to succeed in school. Play is correlated with resiliency, problem solving, emotional well being and other essential functions, a strong foundation for learning and navigating their lives.”

“Play is so important that the right to play is listed in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Child.

“But many throughout the world do not prioritize early childhood learning – and many who do make it a priority, focus on formal education at an earlier age rather than whole child development. Traditional viewpoints on academic achievement often (discourage) parents from concentrating on the role of play. But there is evidence that academic, didactic, formal education at a young age may slow cognitive development, increase stress and hamper a child’s ability to learn.” In other words, put away those flash cards.

“We have to make sure children everywhere are equipped with the skills of lifelong learners. At LEGO Foundation, we believe learning through play is one of best ways to insure success,” Rasmussen said.

Studies show that every $1 spent on early childhood education returns $8 in benefits. What are these benefits? Better achievement on the part of the student, requiring less funding for remediation (otherwise known as academic intervention services), discipline problems, the likelihood of graduating high school and college and earning substantially higher salaries, and ultimately in terms of achievements that benefit society.

Indeed, the American Federation of Teachers, Amalgamated Bank and National League of Cities’ Early Childhood Institute for Youth, Education and Families, are taking matters into their own hands, with a plan to apply $100 million from the pension fund to create an Early Childhood Expansion Infrastructure Fund – in effect, providing an alternative bonding stream to cities to build facilities. The fund plans to start by providing funding for 250 new classroom facilities that will serve 36,000 children in Baltimore over the next three years.

But in the United States, the dollars have gone to private contractors for test writing, test preparation, test scoring, tutoring to the test, academic intervention after the test, and to shift resources to for-profit charter operators and parochial schools, rather than to early childhood education, where the dollars would do the most good.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo, who while minimizing the legitimacy of the standardized tests to evaluate students has continued to insist they be used to a greater degree in evaluating teachers, has just convened a new Common Core Task Force.

“Governor Cuomo believes that the learning standards should be strong, accurate and fair, because having the highest standards is critical to ensuring that students are educated and prepared for their futures in college or the workforce,” the statement describing the task force said. “However, the Common Core program’s flawed rollout by the State Education Department has caused disruption and anxiety that must be fixed, including testing aligned to the standards.”

The Task Force is charged with reviewing and reforming the Common Core state standards; reviewing the state’s curriculum guidance and resources; developing a process to ensure tests fit curricula and standards; examining the impact of the current moratorium on recording Common Core test scores on student records, and recommending whether it should be extended; examining how state and local districts can reduce quantity and duration of student tests, and developing a plan where parents can review the local tests; and reviewing the quality of the tests to ensure competence and professionalism from the private company creating and supplying the tests.

“The Governor has directed the Task Force to conduct its process as transparently as possible and to solicit and consider input from regional advisory councils comprised of parents, teachers and educators across the state. A new website (ny.gov/CommonCoreTaskForce) has been launched to encourage participation, allowing visitors to submit comments and recommendations to the Task Force. The Task Force’s report will be issued publicly by the end of the year so that it can be reviewed by all and changes can be implemented quickly and effectively.”

The Task Force includes representation from a broad group of stakeholders, including educators, teachers, parents, State Education Department officials, teachers’ union officials, and bipartisan legislators from the Assembly and Senate. It is chaired by Richard Parsons, Senior Advisor, Providence Equity Partners Inc. and former Chairman of the Board, Citigroup Inc., who chaired the Governor’s New NY Education Reform Commission. Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, is also on the task force.

“Like other people nationwide, our students, teachers, administrators, and parents are confused and anxious,” Cuomo said. “The evidence of failure is everywhere. Today many teachers and superintendents across the state will rightfully point out errors in the program. They will point out that they did not receive enough support to fully understand and implement this dramatic transition. It is time to overhaul the common core program and also the way we test our students.

“As a parent I believe our education system tests our students too often and for too long, and we should relieve the unnecessary pressure on our children that detracts from the time spent learning. There is no doubt that tests or assessments have a role in education – I understand that – but I think the number of tests should be reduced, including the number of local tests.

“Last year, to lessen the anxiety of students, last year we passed a five year moratorium on test scores because we didn’t want artificially low scores recorded on our student’s academic records. We passed a law to improve transparency by directing SED to release the tests to the public and end the secrecy around the system and to make sure that teacher evaluations accounted for the different demographics of our schools – we have schools with different poverty levels, different types of students, different types of language proficiencies, et cetera. Now, I believe these were all good changes, but they weren’t enough and we must do more to reform the system because there is still too much disruption, anxiety and confusion.”

Cuomo added, “I believe teaching is an important and a hard job. At the same time we must maintain accountability in our system. Teaching is a hard job. Now, don’t be confused by what you have heard from disagreements with Albany lobbyists. There’s no doubt I have my differences with the lobbyists. I have for a long time but that is a different story and that has nothing to do with how I feel about the state’s teachers. My mother was a school teacher. I have the greatest respect for the occupation and the dedication teachers have for their students and their craft. I believe teachers who are performing well should be incentivized and should be given bonuses. We are enacting the first teacher bonus system in the state. This January I will propose giving teachers tax credits for the money they spend on classroom supplies out of their pockets. It is also critical that teachers who need assistance should be given the support they need. While the teacher evaluation systems are nationally recognized as a step in the right direction, I believe it must be done correctly and fairly. It is critical that teacher evaluations support teachers in improving their practices, not punish them. At the same time we should ensure all students have access to high quality teachers.

“This year’s transition has weighed especially heavy on the teacher in the classroom, so by law we have directed SED to implement a new teacher evaluation system that doesn’t force the teacher to teach to the test but rather tests the student on what they learned in the classroom. The evaluation should be fair to the teacher and the student and should include observations of the teacher’s classroom performance from other trained educators. SED’s evaluation process will also provide the teacher with the right to appeal an evaluation under circumstances where the evaluation is flawed or unfair. No one – no one – wants an evaluation system that is inaccurate or unfair,” Cuomo said.

At the first Great Neck School Board meeting of the 2015-16 academic year, the conversation was about how the district is allocating more money to the various school buildings in order to meet the demand for the robotics clubs. The school district had been allocating $1000 to each school building, and there were wait-lists for students to join the clubs. This year, the board is allocating an additional $1000 per building.

You can no longer take such things for granted.

Meanwhile, among the long list of items that Congress has refused to do anything on, fixing No Child Left Behind is just one. When NCLB was first enacted, the singular item of George W. Bush’s tenure, it mandated that by 2014, 100% of all students would have achieved mastery, including special needs children. As if students are a fixed production item, like a widget, and you only have to tinker with the machinery to finally produce a perfect widget that can be replicated over and over and over again. By that measure, every school district in the nation, including Great Neck, would be considered failing and lose federal funding.

Everyone hates NCLB, yet Congress has not acted.

“New research shows that Americans want more focus on school funding and less on high-stakes testing, that 63 percent of Americans oppose vouchers and that 78 percent say student engagement is a better measurement of learning than test scores,” Randi Weingarten wrote.

“That’s why America’s students, parents and educators need a new law that ends the failed policies of No Child Left Behind, including high-stakes testing and mandatory school closings; preserves equity; and helps ensure a high-quality education for all our children.”

© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go towww.news-photos-features.com,  email [email protected]. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin


Epidemic of Gun Deaths Embolden Dems to Call for Universal Background Checks But More is Needed

Congressman Steve Israel (D-Long Island) is one of the Democrats stepping up calls for Congress to vote on a bill mandating universal background checks to obtain a gun © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Congressman Steve Israel (D-Long Island) is one of the Democrats stepping up calls for Congress to vote on a bill mandating universal background checks to obtain a gun © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Gun violence prevention advocates won one victory in May – Oregon passed universal background checks – but suffered a bigger loss, as Texas voted to allow concealed carry of guns on campuses of public colleges across the state. This is despite the fact that the most famous thing to happen at the University of Texas-Austin was the first mass shooting in America, on August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman climbed the University of Texas Tower and used a sniper to kill 16 and wound 31.

Ironically, Oregon, which allows concealed carry on college campuses, just this month was the setting for the latest campus massacre.

Also this month, a six year old murdered his three-year old sibling with his father’s gun, kept loaded, atop their refrigerator.

Indeed, roughly every week, a toddler is killed or kills with a gun. How many more are added to the list, provided in mid-April by Colette Martin, of Moms Demand Action, which had already produced 11 children under the age of 15 who had been shot accidentally so far that month.

“It’s shocking to me – as I investigate laws at states – because the federal is useless – depending on zipcode, leaving a loaded gun on a coffee table is either a crime or nothing,” Martin told a Gun Violence Prevention forum at Temple Beth-el of Great Neck, “That’s why we read stories every day that a child is shot accidentally. We are not talking suicide or domestic violence.”

Her list included 5 year olds shooting 2 year olds; a 15 year old in Brooklyn who shot himself in the chest; in Houston, a 5 year old was shot by 4 year old (the fourth in 3 weeks); a mom’s boyfriend, cleaning his gun, accidentally shot a 9 year old.

“The NRA won’t tell you but two children a week will die this way, through accidental gunshot wounds – many more hurt, life changing injuries – a pattern so predictable. Over 100 kids a year will be dead because someone didn’t store gun properly.

“Is there any product that kills that many kids that we’re not regulating?

“It should be a crime to leave a loaded gun accessible to children –a punishable crime. That is a glaring omission from New York’s Safe Act,” she says.

That’s also the basis for a proposed law in New York, Nicholas’ Law – named for a 12 year old killed by playing at friend’s house where unsecured loaded gun and friend shot him, accidentally.

Other legislative actions that need to happen nationally:

Repealing laws that ban pediatricians from raising questions about guns in the home and recommending they be locked up (such as in Florida).

Repealing Stand Your Ground (aka “License to Kill”), another law written by the NRA and ALEC (a front for the Koch Brothers) and spread like cancer among the states, starting in Florida under then-Governor Jeb Bush.

Changing the requirements to purchase and possess guns. Norman Siegel, a New York civil rights lawyer and former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a letter to the New York Times in December proposed a nationwide state registration program, similar to motor vehicle registration. “Every two years the owner of a gun would be required to bring his or her weapon in for inspection and re-registration. If the owner no longer possesses the weapon, he or she should be required to explain what happened to the gun. Perhaps under such a program we, as a nation, can realistically ameliorate the problem of guns winding up in the hands of lawbreakers and/or the mentally ill.”

And for those who charge that gun registration is somehow violating 2nd Amendment rights, look to the oppressive Voter ID and registration requirements being passed around the country which effectively put barriers in front of citizens’ right to vote.

Moreover, gun rights fanatics have no problem cancelling out the First Amendment’s freedom of speech in banning pediatricians from discussing gun safety with their patients’ families.

Gun violence is not a 2nd amendment issue. It is a public health issue, and should be treated in the same way. And if anything violates the founding premise of this country, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” it is the outsized weight given to so-called gun rights which never actually existed.

“This family’s only child is gone. It’s not just a legislative change, it’s part of the cultural change – the social norming that has to happen as with drunk driving,” she says, referring to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the way they insinuated a kind of moral code into everyday life.

Governor Cuomo seized upon the massacre Sandy Hook Elementary School as a rare moment when he could pass Safe Act.

But other states – the gun happy ones, the free-range ones, the Live Free or Die ones (and so they die) – have gone the other way – in Florida, doctors are banned (no matter the inconvenient First Amendment guaranteeing free speech, or even the Hippocratic oath) from even asking parents if there is a gun in the home, in order to urge safe storage to prevent such tragedies as Nicholas’ and the others, a move that is being copied by other states, prompting New York Times columnist Charles Blow to raise the question, “Has the NRA Won?”

And the real challenge is the latest move by the NRA in the bought-and-paid-for Congress: to force states with gun regulations to have “reciprocity” – essentially to make a gun permit like a drivers license – with states that have virtually no restrictions (and in the case of one Georgia town, which mandate every family have a gun) – in a blatant disregard of states rights, in yet another instance when hypocrisy rules the day if it is convenient.

“We have to fight reciprocity,” State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel said during the forum. “Every state has their rights – who can own a gun. New York has strong laws, but in Vermont, you only need to be 16 years of age and have a drivers license and you can have a gun.” What reciprocity means is that if you have a gun permit in one state, you can have a gun – transfer guns, drive interstate (now illegal) – scary for someone like NY.” So if a state like Texas allows concealed guns everywhere (except the State House) with no questions asked, even a person with a mental condition, a veteran with PTSD or a domestic abuser, can bring their gun to New York.

As the level of gun violence has only escalated, the NRA has come back with more and more absurd statements (such as the time after a tragedy is no time to consider what to do about it), or a move to ease access to guns.

If anything gives lie to the absurdity, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” and the even more absurd statement that the way to reduce gun violence is to make guns even more prevalent, it is the fact that gun violence kills 2500 children each year. You can also look to the murder of police officers, who are clearly “good guys” whose guns could not stop the bad guy who shot first.

In Chicago, just over Memorial Day weekend, 40 people were shot including a 4 year old girl, with nine dead, including,a 15-year old boy, Nation of Change reported.

“So far, there have been 18,760 gun incidents this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, resulting in 4,830 deaths and the death or injury of 249 children.”

There are practical things that can be done to significantly reduce the more than 30,000 gun deaths a year – that’s equivalent to a 9/11 a month – having nothing to do with violating the 2 nd Amendment or taking guns away from the ostensibly “law abiding” people (isn’t it odd that people are “law abiding” until they aren’t?)

But before we get into the long list of commonsense steps that should be taking immediately, without having any impact whatsoever on the so-called “law abiding” gunowners, there is this:

Gun Manufacturers Profit Incentive: Smart Guns

Much is made of the fact that the NRA, which is such an outsized powerhouse scaring the beejeebees out of politicians, serves the interests of gun manufacturers, not the ordinary members (a majority of whom support universal background checks and other commonsense measures).

In fact, the NRA was in favor of universal background checks until they were against them, and now, whenever there is a massacre, they call for more guns – armed guards at schools and churches, concealed carry at college campuses, in fact, everywhere but in Congress and Houses of Legislature.

So just like the corruption in FIFA won’t be rooted out politically, but when Nike and other sponsors exert their power, gun manufacturers have to see profit in being more socially conscious.

Jeb Bush speaking to 30,000 at the NRA convention, said Obama should be disarming ISIS rather than law-abiding Americans – the problem is that terrorists in the US have a clear shot at obtaining military-grade weapons and high-capacity ammo clips- while, in fact, DoD has radiofrequency controls in its military weapons so they can locate guns gone missing into the wrong hands. (Jeb! casually dismissed the Oregon shooting as “stuff happens”.)

Question is: why aren’t there ‘smart guns’ like ‘smart phones’ that can only be used by the person whose hand print is identified with the gun? Or, for that matter, a locater as a smart phone has when it is stolen, and can be located and disarmed remotely?

If the gun manufacturers would see themselves as, say, Apple Computers, coming out with the newest, latest gun that replaces the older gun, they could see big profits in sensible gun measure: namely, the same ID access that smart-phones now have: make the gun so that it can only be used by the owner. If the gun-owner is in fact law-abiding, they would have no problem with that, and would relish the idea of a gun not being snapped up by the “bad guy” (or a child) and used to kill their loved ones.

Think of the increased profits, if 100 million guns had to be replaced! Gun dealers could offer those nifty trade-in deals!

Change Tactics

The gun nuts have also long ceased being credible in arguing for “self-defense” and the “homespun, family values sport of hunting” when they refuse to allow a ban on military-grade assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that kill dozens in a blink of an eye. This is about the fantasy of being able to take down the government – something that the 2nd Amendment never envisioned, since it was intended to provide a defense for the fledgling democratic government in the absence of a standing army -like a National Guard.

It’s been 15 years since the Million Mom March in Washington DC (remember how they said if George W Bush were elected, there would be an office in the West Wing for the NRA? They were right.) Things clearly went downhill from there – for example, allowing the 1994 Assault Weapons ban to lapse.

Despite the rise of organizations like Moms Demand Action, Moms Rising, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Everytown and scores of others (typically, tragically, by family members like Richard Martinez whose lives have been forever destroyed by gun violence), Congress, in the pocket of the gun lobby, has refused to budge, and in the states, the reaction to what was considered the most heinous tragedy of all, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was to free up, not tighten, gun restrictions (New York’s Safe Act was the exception).

It’s time to change tactics and the dynamics.

Abortions are constitutionally protected but the anti-choice movement has been able to put all sorts of legal and financial impediments that make it impossible for women to exercise their Constitutionally protected rights.

The gun violence prevention advocates should adopt some of these methods. For example:

State requirements: Just as California laws regarding automobiles and the chemicals industry have forced those industries to change their manufacture to be more environmentally friendly, states could impose requirements on gun manufacturers that every gun be a smart-gun; increase taxes on ammunition (like they do on cigarettes) and fees on gun permits (like voting IDs)

Make gun manufacturers and dealers liable when their product is inappropriately used (as so many other manufacturers are – gun manufacturers are somehow exempted.)

Require gun owners to take out liability insurance so that victims’ families can be adequately compensated.

Institute laws making parents/guardians responsible for safe storage, and criminally liable if a child commits a crime with their gun. For example, no one questioned where the 15 year old Jared Michael Padgett, of Portland, Oregon, obtained the gun he used to kill freshman Emilio Hoffman and wound teacher Todd Rispler before killing himself. Or where 14 year old Jaylen Fryberg, a popular student at Marysville, Wash. high school,, got the .40-caliber handgun he used to kill a girl and strike four others in the head before turning his gun on himself and committing suicide. There were no consequences for whoever obtained the guns that these minors used to murder innocents.

Put a fee on ammunition and gun purchases to support a victims fund.

Boycott college campuses that allow guns: Parents should contact colleges and ask if guns are allowed, and if so, tell them you won’t allow your child to apply there.

“I am, a huge believer that the American people can fix this,” Martin says. “I’ve lost faith in Congress, lost faith in the federal government, lost faith in the NRA – I was never much of a fan, my father tore up his NRA card in1980s, it was apparent to him what they were about: politicizing, a money racket, they are not standing for his ideals.

“Most gun owners are not in NRA… 90% of legitimate legal gun owners don’t support NRA. Who is supporting the NRA? The gun manufacturers – Smith-Wesson, Baretta. It’s no mystery that’s who they serve – the NRA is a front for gun manufacturers.

“Their job is to fend off, violently, any regulation that will impact the sale of their product – every gun that ends up on the street, used in a crime, begins as a legal gun –it was first sold as a legal gun – no illegal gun manufacturing plant anywhere.”

(And every criminal or maniac who uses a gun starts off as a noncriminal, non-maniac. Actually, you could add that whenever there is a massacre – the more heinous that it is – gun sales go up because LaPierre warns that the government will finally confiscate guns.)

Colette adds, “I’m a gun owner and here’s the impact [the NY Safe Act] had on me (she gestures, zero). I don’t have AR 15s in my basement – New York by any measure has done a great job keeping its citizens safe -the illegal street variety and more difficult gun violence.

“I am here today to deal with children’s and guns –standard, practical storage protocols. If you have children and guns in house, lock one of them up,” she said, drawing a laugh.

“1/3 of families own at least one gun – it behooves us to ask how it is stored at home.”

But in the absence of law, there are more practical actions parents should take: “Before you allow your child to go for a playdate, ask are there guns in house That’s not political, but safety. That’s a house I don’t want my kid playing unattended

It’s no more offensive than asking if there is a pool, or a dog. It’s not easy to plan a funeral for a 12 year old – that’s inconvenient.

“How many of these parents whose kids were shot this month would do anything to go back in time and ask that question. It’s not political, not offensive- not out of order to ask about the safety.”

Martin also refutes the claim that safe storage of guns at home will somehow interfere with the ability (rare) to defend from an intruder. She says that evidence shows that it takes a gun owner “fractions of seconds” to get a gun out of a safebox and load it.

In August, Fox & friends did 5 part gun safety series and part 3 featured expert marksmen, firearms dealer and trainer Rob Pincus, who did a live demo showing how long it took in an incidence of home invasion. Someone banged the door down downstairs, he went to the gun safe’s numeric keypad taking a half second to open it, she said.

On the other hand, the incidence of home invasion is so minimal, as are the instances of a gunowner actually foiling an intruder.

“The FBI did a study of home invasions and found that 68% of home invasions happen between parties that knew each other.”

What is more likely is that believing you are defending yourself against an armed intruder, results in accidentally killing your 19 year old who comes home unexpectedly from college at 3 am.

See also:

Congressman Israel Presses Boehner to Bring Universal Background Checks Bill to Vote

© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go towww.news-photos-features.com,  

Congressman Israel Presses Boehner to Bring Universal Background Checks Bill to Vote

Congressman Steve Israel came to Great Neck South Middle School to urge the House to vote on a bill mandating universal background checks to obtain a gun, joined by Great Neck Schools Superintendent Prendergast, Nassau County Acting District Attorney Singas Janina Bandi, of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Assemblywoman Schimel (not shown) © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Congressman Steve Israel came to Great Neck South Middle School to urge the House to vote on a bill mandating universal background checks to obtain a gun, joined by Great Neck Schools Superintendent Prendergast, Nassau County Acting District Attorney Singas Janina Bandi, of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Assemblywoman Schimel (not shown) © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Could it be that Pope Francis’ visit which brought Jon Boehner to tears, will inspire the House Speaker to show some courage and allow a vote on a bipartisan bill requiring universal background checks and closing the gun show loophole before he exits? The man who tears up at the drop of a hat, can show himself to be a man of fortitude, a real hero.

Boehner has it within his power to bring a bipartisan bill calling for commonsense gun regulations – supported by the vast majority of Americans – that would call for universal background checks and keep guns out of the hands of felons, terrorists, domestic abusers and the mentally ill.

Congressman Steve Israel did not exactly pose the question that way but, appearing on the steps of Great Neck South Middle School last Friday, flanked by the schools superintendent, Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, Nassau County Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas and Janina Bandi, chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, he noted that it was within Boehner’s power to allow a vote on the bipartisan bill, HR 1217, introduced by none other than  Republican Peter King of Long Island and Democrat Mike Thompson (CA) (who proudly wears his NRA button in his lapel). The bill already has 182 cosponsors (it would need 218 votes to pass).

Congressman Israel chided his colleagues in Congress for their moments of silence over what has become twice-monthly mass shootings, but stalwart inaction.

“Exactly one year ago, the entire country was swept up about fear of Ebola – 2 people died. Yet, the entire US Congress demanded immediate action – hospitals reconfigured, the White House engaged and there was action – as there should have been – to save lives against the threat,” Congressman Israel said.

“In one year, 30,000 have lost their lives to guns. Two to Ebola. 30,000 to guns. But in the year since, there has not been one hearing, not one committee meeting, not one bill, not one finger lifted in Congress to deal with gun violence.

“About every week, we’ve had a moment of silence, memorializing Americans killed in mass shooting. Enough silence. It’s time for action. American people have had it with inaction.

“Two people from Ebola. 88 Americans will die today as a result of gun violence. 30,000 in a year. There are been 300 mass shootings this year alone and it isn’t yet finished.

“Why I’m so frustrated? We know what we have is not working. We know what will work: commonsense reforms like universal background checks, which 90% of Americans support. It’s not hard. Even in this polarized environment, 90% supporting something is rare. Yet the NRA lobby is stopping action on what 90% – and the vast majority of NRA members- support.

“Too many of my colleagues are silent. We should make it harder, not easier for the mentally ill, terrorists, people on the do-not-fly list, to obtain guns. But for every day there is a moment of silence and not action, we are making it easier.  That is an abysmal failure of responsibility…

“If only Congress responded with as forceful power as it did on Ebola, this school would be safer.”

That point was driven home by Great Neck Schools Superintendent Dr. Teresa Prendergast, who described the lock down and table top exercises, an entire security apparatus including single point of entry to buildings, cameras, assembly programs for the youngest grades. “It’s reflective of the times,” she said.

How much does securing our schools against a madman who can so easily acquire a military-grade weapon cost? Dr. Prendergast said that the school district spends $1.8 million on security (not counting the expanded bus transportation program that was put into effect to increase security for children who would otherwise walk to school).  In an era of budget caps, she remarked, “Every dollar that is taken for security comes out of the classroom. We would we love to have that money for academic programs.”

New York has some of the toughest gun control laws in the nation – thanks particularly to the SAFE Act which was passed shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Ct. – and while New York State is one of 21 states with tighter background check laws, without a comprehensive federal law many guns used illegally in New York are trafficked from states with less prohibitive gun laws. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives nearly 70 percent of firearms recovered and traced in New York State came from out of state.

“In Nassau County, one out of five crimes involve firearms. Nassau County is one of the safest counties, but is not immune, said Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, a member of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence. A national tragedy can be avoided with a little commonsense courage to take action. We are doing everything we can but legislative leaders in Washington need to have courage to stand up, support commonsense measures like background checks, adjudicated mental illness, straw purchases.”

Background checks are effective: The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which was signed into law in 1993, created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and required federal background checks on firearm purchasers in the United States. Since its inception in November 1994, roughly 2.4 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers have been prevented because of background checks. But presently, there are huge loopholes in the system , for firearm sales made at gun shows, over the internet, or through private sellers, which fails to prevent the mentally ill, domestic abusers, or criminals from purchasing firearms.

But criminals know they can go to another state and buy with no questions asked.”

As Janina Bandi, the volunteer Chapter Leader for the New York Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, noted, 32 states don’t require any background checks (only 18 do). But when there is sensible regulation, 46% fewer women are shot and killed by intimate partner; 48% fewer people are killed when guns not easily accessible.

“Requiring background checks on all gun sales is the single most important thing we can do to reduce the gun violence in our country that kills 88 Americans every day and injures hundreds more. We don’t have to choose between protecting the Second Amendment and saving lives — we can do both.”

There is absolutely no reason at all while the Aurora shooter, who murdered so many innocents in a movie theater in Colorado was able to buy 4,000 rounds of ammo – no questions asked – over the internet. The dealer did not even know (or care) if he was a minor.

Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, who has battled for sensible gun measures for more than 20 years in and out of government, evoked John Lennon and Carolyn Maloney’s husband, who was murdered by the LIRR shooter. “Enough. Churches, schools, movie theaters, restaurants. Am I next? We need universal background checks. New York passed SAFE Act and has the fourth lowest gun death rate in the nation.

Former Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, sent a statement saying,  “I know all too well the heartbreak and loss families of gun violence go through. words no longer enough. Sending our thoughts and prayers to the families affected by gun violence is no longer enough. We need substantial change in the way we approach this epidemic because saving lives should never be a partisan issue. Until we pass commonsense gun legislation in this country, I will continue my mission to fight for the families like mine that were forever changed by gun violence.”

And the Republican shell-game of placing the blame for the violence caused by easy access to highly lethal weapons and high-capacity magazines on mental illness, is contradicted by New Jersey Governor and Republican Presidential hopeful Chris Christie  recent veto of a bill that would have included local law enforcement officers in the process of deciding whether a person with a documented mental illness could apply for a gun permit.

Rep. Israel is a co-sponsor of H.R. 1217 the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act, also known as the bipartisan King-Thompson legislation, which expands background checks by closing gun sale loopholes and requiring comprehensive and enforceable background checks on all commercial gun sales. Additionally, Rep. Israel is a co-sponsor of H.R. 3411, the Fix Gun Checks Act, which was originally introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy before she retired. This legislation would expand background checks, close gun sale loopholes including person-to-person sales, and makes it harder for the mentally ill to acquire guns.

Introduced in March by (amazingly) Peter King, R-LI, the preamble to HR 1217 says, “To protect Second Amendment rights, ensure that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and provide a responsible and consistent background check process.”

In fact, it is an incredibly modest, stripped down proposal which only addresses background checks and closing the gun show loophole (www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1217/text). You would think that the most ardent gun rights advocate would be happy to pass it, just to shut down any further, meaningful gun regulation by tossing these few crumbs which are wildly popular.

“Nobody really believes by passing legislation to close gun show loophole we would be repealing 2nd Amendment,” Congressman Israel said at the press conference on Friday. “That is an absurd argument. I will not support taking guns from law-abiding gun owners. This is about criminals, terrorist, mental illness. (Donald Trump opened a South Carolina rally by saying that President Obama is planning to sign an executive order taking everyone’s guns away.)

“Remember air raid drills? We don’t worry about that but have mass shooting drills. We are in a climate where we have to keep us safe not from nuclear weapons but a deranged person with a gun.”

I note that this proposal to make background checks universal is a great first step, but what about restoring the assault weapons ban that George W. Bush allowed to expire in 2004 (count up how many mass shootings in the blink of an eye have taken place since then and how many lives lost), and large capacity ammo?

“No where,” he said with resignation that is why so many people are fed up with government dysfunction. “They not only have refused the assault weapons ban and ban on large capacity magazines, but put a rider on a bill that prevents the CDC [Center for disease Control] from even studying the relationship and statistics showing gun deaths, gun violence and public health.”

“I am hopeful that before Boehner leaves, he will allow bringing it to the floor for a vote. Then members can vote yes or no. We are asking for Boehner, as one of his last acts before leaves, to give us a vote.

“I guarantee that if it gets to the floor, it will pass House. What happens in Senate is another issue – I would guess would be filibustered. But we should do our job.”

In other words nothing would be done – the action would simply be a sop.

What about smart guns? You would think that gun manufacturers would jump at the chance to replace 300 million obsolete guns, much as Apple gets their I-phone users to replace their I-phones. They could do imaginative trade-in deals.

“We actually thought about that,” Congressman Israel told me. “The biggest purchaser of guns from manufacturers is the federal government. We can set standards by requiring it in the specs.

Congressman Israel seems to be settling for very modest goals, leaving out a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammo clips, or making the gun manufacturers and gun dealers liable when their weapons. As Secretary Hillary Clinton noted during the Democratic Presidential Debate, why should the gun industry singularly be exempt from any accountability among all industries?

Why can’t the gun-sense lobby take up some of the tactics of the anti-woman’s rights lobby and make it more cumbersome, more expensive to obtain such lethal weapons?

When I raised the issue of why gun manufacturers can’t see their own self-interest in producing smart guns – that can only be used by their registered owner – Congressman Israel noted “We actually thought about that,” Congressman Israel told me. “The biggest purchaser of guns from manufacturers is the federal government. We can set standards by requiring it in the specs.”

But in the likelihood that this Congress would never impose anything on private companies, why can’t the President, by executive order, require guns purchased for the federal government be smart guns, just as the president has mandated a minimum wage and paid family leave for government contractors? Such standards from a big customer have the ability to transform industries – just as California’s Clean Air standards of automobiles transformed the auto industry.

Similarly, every police department in the country could set a standard requiring smart gun technology.

Maybe that toddler would have been alive if his 6 year old brother hadn’t been able to fire his father’s gun while playing cops and robbers. Indeed, hardly a week goes by where a toddler isn’t the shooter or the victim.

The Chicago shooting is the latest in a seemingly incessant string of American kids being killed by guns, often shot by other kids. This summer, another toddler was fatally shot by her 7-year-old brother in Washington. Earlier this month, an 11-year-old boy in Tennessee was charged with first-degree murder after shooting his 8-year-old neighbor with a shotgun after an argument over puppies.”

Parents should be prosecuted when their guns are used by their children. (Instead, Florida has a law that prevents pediatricians from discussing safe storage of guns in a home.)

Also, President Obama could sign an executive order closing a loophole that allows many gun sellers to avoid licensing (and therefore the obligation to perform background checks) by requiring any dealers who exceed a certain number of firearms sales a year to obtain a federal license and perform background checks.

What is more, the progressive organization Credo says that there is a way around the National Rifle Association’s grip on Congress that so far has blocked any gun control bill from getting a vote. “Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi can use a parliamentary tactic called a ‘discharge petition’ to force a vote on a gun control package, even if pro-NRA politicians in the House refuse to act,” writes Monique Teal of Daily Kos. That means that Jon Boehner wouldn’t even have to lose face and still do the right thing.

“Even if we don’t win an up-or-down vote, we can use a discharge petition to force a vote in the House and force members of Congress to pick a side. They can either stand with the American people who are ready to take action to reduce gun violence in America or they can stand with the NRA.” (You can sign a petition at www.dailykos.com/campaigns/1474?detail=action)

If this tool is available and Democrats don’t use it, it shows that they, for all this new-found bluster, are not really serious about the most significant public health policy this nation faces, either, and that it is only for the cameras in a district so solidly in favor of sensible gun regulation.

There are signs that people are actually rising up: in California, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsome is pushing for a “direct democracy” referendum that would require background checks in order to purchase ammunition.

And parents can let college campuses (and states) know they are opposed to allowing guns on campuses by demanding to know the college’s (and the state’s) policy, and refusing to allow their child to apply to those campuses.

Meanwhile, just this week, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld NY SAFE Act.

“Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld what we have long known to be true – that the core provisions of the NY SAFE Act do not violate the Second Amendment. Today, common sense prevailed.

“When we passed the SAFE Act, just days after the tragedies in Newtown and Webster, New York proved to the nation that it is possible to enact sensible gun control that coexists with the Second Amendment. We showed that it can be done with bi-partisan support from both urban and rural communities. And we took a fundamental step forward to help end the stream of senseless killings by keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.

“This case validates a simple, fundamental truth about gun control: that it is possible to have strong laws that keep our communities safe, while at the same time respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. New York has set the example – and it’s far past time for Washington to follow suit and pass a sensible national gun control policy.”

© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com,  email [email protected]. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin