Sheldon Silver: Who Does He Think He’s Kidding?

How’s this for chutzpah: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver thinks Mayor Michael Bloomberg should be doing more to get additional state aid for New York City schools.

You wonder how Mr. Silver managed to deliver this criticism without a hint of shame or embarrassment. After all, it was Mr. Silver who abolished a vital revenue stream—the city’s commuter tax—several years ago in a cynical campaign tactic that was all about winning a forgotten State Senate seat in the Hudson Valley. Abolition of the commuter tax has cost the city about $500 million a year. Talk about expensive elections!

Perhaps Mr. Silver thinks we’ve all forgotten how quickly he sacrificed the city’s interests to those of the Democratic Party. That’s the only way he could possibly criticize the Mayor with a straight face over an issue like school finances. Mayor Bloomberg has done more for this city in four years than Mr. Silver has done in his lifetime of backroom deals in Albany.

Mr. Silver says the Mayor may have cost us billions of dollars in education aid by not attacking fellow Republican George Pataki over the state’s position on school aid. More than a year ago, the State Court of Appeals ordered Albany to pay the city more than $23 billion in school funds over five years to make up for past inequities in education spending. Mr. Pataki has appealed the decision, which, of course, has delayed payment.

Public-school advocates believe that Mr. Pataki should give it up and turn over the money right now. Mr. Pataki believes that there is a constitutional issue in play. He thinks the court’s ruling violates the principal of separation of powers, that the court is acting like a legislature and an executive in devising a school-funding formula.

That is a critical issue, one that deserves the highest level of debate. Should the courts have the power to dictate school spending policy, or is that a matter for the legislative and executive branches only?

The constitutional issue doesn’t concern Mr. Silver. He wants Albany to start writing checks now, and he thinks Mr. Bloomberg should have been hammering Mr. Pataki for the money over the last year. “Had we been able to wage this battle with the Mayor on our team from the start,” Mr. Silver said, “we could have had new schools, smaller classes and better opportunities for all our children by now.”

Imagine how much closer we’d be to those goals if Mr. Silver hadn’t done away with the commuter tax in order to curry favor with the voters of Rockland and Orange counties. Nice work, Mr. Silver.

City’s Imam Sends Dangerous Message

New Yorkers are famously outspoken, and the city’s ready embrace of all manner of opinion, tirade and rant is part of what makes it such a wonderful place to live. But when a New Yorker also occupies a prominent public position, he or she bears a responsibility to keep his or her statements accurate, fair and non-inflammatory.

The head Muslim chaplain for the city jail system, Imam Umar Abdul-Jalil, broke all three of those rules when he spouted a stream of nonsense and bigotry at a speech to the Muslim Students Association in Tucson, Ariz. He stated that the “greatest terrorists in the world occupy the White House,” asserted that Muslim inmates had been tortured in Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Facility, and urged Muslims to stop allowing “the Zionists of the media to dictate what Islam is to us.” One wouldn’t be surprised to hear such comments on a tape broadcast by Al-Jazeera; coming from an influential city employee, they are inexcusable.

While one can perhaps allow Mr. Abdul-Jalil his silly rhetorical flourish of describing George W. Bush as a “terrorist,” his other remarks were tinged with an ugly anti-Semitism and were just plain wrong. Muslims have not been tortured in city jails, and to assert otherwise indicates that the imam does not have a firm grasp on reality. He insults the thousands of city cops and correction officials who conduct their jobs with dignity, compassion and courage.

The imam’s speech was particularly bizarre in light of his decent record as the correction department’s executive director of ministerial services, in which capacity he oversees 40 clergymen of diverse faiths and 500 volunteers. It is hardly reassuring that a man assigned to guide the spiritual lives of our local prison population may hold bigoted, dangerous beliefs. Not only that, but as one of the city’s most well-known Muslim leaders—he was at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s inauguration—and as imam of the Masjid Sabur mosque in Harlem, Mr. Adbul-Jalil has significant influence on the hearts and minds of New Yorkers of the Muslim faith. In a post-9/11 atmosphere, he should be deflating religious tensions, rather than inflaming them.

Mayor Bloomberg suspended Mr. Abdul-Jalil in light of his remarks but has decided against firing him, partly because it is legally tricky to fire a city employee based on something he said, even in a public forum. Moreover, several Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplains have come out in support of the imam.

However, an explanation, and apology, from Mr. Abdul-Jalil is in order.

Does TV Make Kids Smarter?

New York parents infamously enroll their kids in as many extracurricular activities as possible, under the belief that immersion in music lessons, crafts and sports will enrich the child’s mind (and grease the wheels into the private school of one’s choice). When it comes to television viewing, that tends to be on a par with “letting Junior crawl on the window ledge” in parents’ opinions on proper childrearing. A new study, however, indicates that letting the tots watch TV won’t result in dim bulbs.

Economists at the University of Chicago looked at data from television’s early years in the 1940’s and 50’s, when some homes had TV’s and others did not. They found that pre-schoolers who had a TV in the house showed ‘‘very little difference and, if anything, a slight positive advantage’’ in later academic test scores over kids whose families did not have a TV. Particularly in homes where English was not the first language, or where the mom never graduated high school, TV viewing had a positive effect.

The study is hard to swallow: After all, average TV viewing among 2-to-5-year-olds was recently measured at a shocking three hours and 40 minutes a day. And the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 watch no TV, and that preschoolers watch just one or two hours a day.

But if it turns out that TV can’t be blamed for recent trends in lower academic achievement (watch those math and science scores!) and childhood obesity, the responsibility must lie with the parents. And where did they go wrong? They’re probably watching too much TV.