Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Great Divide

The following quote is from The Great Divide, a New York Times series about inequality. The Great Divide discusses the haves, the have-not's and everyone in between — in the United States and around the world, and the implications of the divide for economics, politics, society and culture.

Politicians across the political spectrum herald “job creation,” but frightfully few of them talk about what kinds of jobs are being created. Yet this clearly matters: According to the Census Bureau, one-third of adults who live in poverty are working but do not earn enough to support themselves and their families.

A quarter of jobs in America pay below the federal poverty line for a family of four ($23,050). Not only are many jobs low-wage, they are also temporary and insecure. Over the last three years, the temp industry added more jobs in the United States than any other, according to the American Staffing Association, the trade group representing temp recruitment agencies, outsourcing specialists and the like.

Low-wage, temporary jobs have become so widespread that they threaten to become the norm... MORE

We encourage you to read the entire article, and welcome your comments here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Well, now we know who Mitt Romney has selected to be his Vice Presidential running mate: Congressman Paul Ryan. We know Congressman Ryan from his draconian budget proposals that include his plans for cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, veterans’ programs, and a host of other safety net programs.

What we may not know is what the New York Times reported on Congressman Ryan’s close ties to “the Tea Party and to its $400 million political machine, financed by a network of conservative and libertarian donors…” The Times report says that “Mr. Ryan is one of a very few elected officials who have attended the Kochs’ biannual conferences, where wealthy donors sit in on seminars on runaway government spending and the myths of climate change.”

As social workers we have reason to be very concerned with Congressman Ryan’s vision for America. His 2010 "Roadmap for America's Future" and the more recent "Path to Prosperity" in 2012 point to a future that would diminish the role of the U.S. government and slash all federal entitlement programs.

As social workers we are dedicated to helping individuals, families, and children in need, so we need to be very concerned that Paul Ryan wants to throw out 75 years of social services in this country. Should he and Mitt Romney win the White House, they would be poised to fundamentally alter programs that have helped people who need those programs the most.

In the coming months I will be writing more about the Republican ticket’s vision for America. I invite you, through the NASW-NJ Blog, to join with me in an ongoing, respectful discussion of the issues of this campaign.

Walter Kalman

Thursday, June 28, 2012


We are very pleased that the Supreme Court today upheld the individual health-insurance mandate that is at the heart of President Obama’s landmark health-care law.

This was a major victory for the administration and will affect the health-care choices of millions of Americans.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sided with the majority in voting to uphold the law, which is expected to eventually extend health-care coverage to more than 30 million Americans who currently lack it.

We join with social workers and all those we serve in celebrating the Supreme Court's validation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Let us know your reaction to the decision.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The statement below addresses the sentencing of ex-Rutgers student Dharun Ravi. We mourn the death of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi and we shake our heads at the thoughtless act that led to this tragedy. Now the perpetrator, seemingly remorseless,  has been sentenced – and we still shake our heads in disbelief at the brief incarceration he has been given in light of the jury’s verdict and the judge’s disregard of the sentencing guidelines. We all can hold different opinions on this event; I invite you to share your thoughts here.
Walter X. Kalman, NASW-NJ Executive Director  

 “Judicial Nullification”
by Mary Jean Weston, LCSW
Assistant Executive Director, NASW-NJ
with assistance from David Barry, J.D., MSW

The sentencing of Dharun Ravi this week by a judge in New Brunswick has shaken those of us who believe in the American Justice System to our core. After a difficult trial in which the uncomfortable and painful facts were revealed, reviewed and endlessly repeated, this young man – stoic or unremorseful (depending on your perspective) – was found guilty on charges of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering arrest. What the charges and verdict cannot fully characterize are the many and complex injuries inflicted upon the victim of Ravi’s escapade.

Ravi invaded the privacy of his roommate. But this “invasion” was not the equivalent of reading someone’s diary or peeking into the shower to see someone naked. No. Ravi inserted himself, as well as others (through social media – the latest fashionable trend), into the most intimate moments of another man’s life. The fact that Ravi sought to expose a young gay man as he explored his new world only highlights the vulnerability of LGBT youth.  Was this actually bias intimidation or just a student prank? I guess we’ll ever know for sure. But the jury – who heard all the testimony in this case – believed that Ravi’s behavior showed serious disregard for his roommate’s privacy and person, and was clearly more than just some college fun.

The facts of this case are well known. I won’t repeat them – they make me sick. The fact that the victim of these crimes committed suicide soon after the criminal activity occurred is tragic, but it is not the issue here.

What is at issue is this: the judge in this case has sentenced Dharun Ravi to one month in jail.

Established sentencing guidelines in New Jersey call for up to 10 years in state prison for the combination of crimes for which Ravi was not only charged but convicted.

Now – let me be clear.

  • I do not think Ravi should be deported, although he could be. He is not a traitor. I do not believe he poses a threat to the United States of America, or even to most of its citizens. 
  • I don’t even think he should spend 10 years in prison. He made terrible choices and should pay for them. But he did not work to create a plan that would leave Tyler Clementi dead.
  • And yes, I understand he will also receive 3 years probation, and work 300 hours of community service, and pay $10,000. Yes, indeed, as he should.
But one month in jail?! ONE MONTH??!! REALLY??

Here are some facts:  In the state of New Jersey:

  • In the state of New Jersey, if you shoplift goods valued under $200 you can spend up to 180 days in jail for your first offense. There is a minimum mandatory jail sentence of 90 days if you are a repeat offender (NJSA 2C:20-11(c)(4)).
  • In the state of New Jersey, if you drive while intoxicated you are subject to up to 30 days in jail for your first offense. You are subject to up to 90 days for a second offense, and you shall spend 180 days in jail for the third offense (NJSA 39:4-50).

But now, in the state of New Jersey, it seems that if you invade someone’s intimate and private moments, intimidate them by publicizing personal aspects of their life, tamper with witnesses in a court case against you and hinder your own arrest – now, you pay a lot of money, and spend time in community service, and spend less time in jail than if you were a small time shoplifter or were convicted for drunk driving. What kind of justice is that?

Given that Judge Berman took pains to note that he had found Ravi’s actions “cold, calculated and methodically achieved,” the contrast between Ravi’s jail sentence and those given to other New Jersey residents for conduct that has none of those characteristics is startling. How can an educated professional, trained in the complexities of life and the law, believe that one month balances the invasion, the hurt, the humiliation and mortification of having your most intimate moments watched by your peers?! Think about it. Put yourself in the victim’s place. If your kisses had been the ones observed by others on the web cam, would a month do it for you?

Furthermore, I find it instructive that the prosecution, which should be celebrating a victory in this case, is now appealing the judge’s sentence. Even the winners think this is wrong.


As any serious fan of Law & Order knows, there is a concept in the law known as “jury nullification.” Because I am not a lawyer, I quote here from Burton’s Legal Thesaurus (2007): Jury Nullification (noun): “disregard of the law by a body of jurors.”

In jury nullification, the jury makes its decision without regard for the law or instruction from the judge. Their verdict is reached to make a point by reinterpreting or simply disregarding the law. I believe that the sentencing of Dharun Ravi is – essentially – “judicial nullification.” The gravity of the jury’s verdict was clearly set aside – effectively nullified – by the trivial sentencing handed down in this case.


For all of us who work with hurt, intimidated, invaded, compromised, injured, threatened and abused individuals, this sentencing is an outrage and must be challenged. Once Dharun Ravi’s sentence has been appealed, I would recommend that our Board of Directors ask NASW National to review this case and provide an Amicus Brief in support of the prosecution’s recommendation for a harsher sentence. NASW-NJ will be able to join that Brief as well. We will update you here as we move forward in the pursuit of justice in this case.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

President Obama, in commenting on the death of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, said:
“If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon.”

With this in mind, I would like to cite a comment made by NASW member Phillipe Copeland, a social worker and adjunct professor at Simmons College and Boston University. The article in which Copeland was quoted is entitled: "Trayvon Martin Could Have Been One of My Kids."

Copeland said: "We are incredibly vulnerable to violence in all its forms... the state-sanctioned violence of stop-and-frisk...'trigger-happy policin',' as Marvin Gaye once sang...and the psychological violence of white denial have all contributed to the problem. You begin to feel that you can never really be safe anywhere."

I invite you to share your thoughts on the Trayvon Martin incident. Is there a place for self-defense gun laws in our society? What role did race and profiling play in this shooting? And what, if anything, do you think social workers can do to effect change?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

In my message last week I noted the Governor Christie's nomination of Bruce Harris to the State Supreme Court. If confirmed by the state Senate, Harris, who was elected mayor of Chatham Borough last November, would be the third African-American and first openly gay justice named to the state Supreme Court — and the seventh openly gay justice in the nation. [The Governor also nominated Phillip Kwon, who worked under Christie when he was U.S. attorney].

Following closely on the heels of this announcement, the Governor proposed putting same-sex marriage on the ballot in November. Again, advocates across the state spoke out, this time challenging the Governor's call for a public vote to settle the topic. Why? Because they believe that it's not fair to let voters decide this issue, just as voters didn't decide on other civil rights issues at the ballot box.

And while recent recent polls have shown the majority of New Jersey voters support allowing same-sex marriage, the ballot issue would be a costly and divisive fight, and advocates know the odds are against them.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Remembering Gabe Zimmerman, MSW

It was January 10, 2011 that Gabe Zimmerman, MSW, a much respected aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Chairperson of PACE of NASW, Arizona Chapter, was killed in a mass shooting in which 19 people were shot, six fatally, and the congresswoman injured.

Zimmerman was community outreach director for Giffords and had worked for the congresswoman since she took office in January 2007. He was the first congressional staff member in the nation’s history to be killed in the line of duty. In his memory, Gabe's friends and associates held a six-mile hike on South Mountain near Phoenix, Ariz. He was an avid outsdoorsman and his friends thought a hike was an ideal way to honor him.

Click here to read NASW's January 10, 2011 press release on the loss of Gabe Zimmerman.

You can leave your thoughts on this tragic loss here.


Walter Kalman
NASW-NJ Executive Director