Social Issues

Milk, Bread and Snowstorms

Engaging in social media also means engaging with the weather, most notably, inclement weather. Perhaps the most notable are those videos, memes and news stories that detail coming snowstorms and the supermarket freak-outs where everyone is trying to buy milk and bread. Where did this come from? Why do people in modern industrialized urban areas act almost panicked for what is essentially a cyclical occurrence? Snow is ubiquitous in New York City!

1daily newsI grew up in Manhattan near three supermarkets. However, my parents were those people that made sure we were stocked up for ‘the big storm.’ I once asked my father about it and he noted the massive snowstorm of 1969. I was a year and half old at the time and we lived in Jackson Heights and the city neglected the entire borough of Queens. According to The New York Times, 42 people died in that storm, half of them in Queens.

“For days, the streets were impassable, and residents were all but barricaded inside their homes.”

For first-time parents with a young child this made a lasting impression.

After I moved away from home, my parents continued to ask if I was prepared for ‘the storm.’ For me, preparing meant not having to go out and having a great movie to watch. In fact, I have a tradition in my home during a snowstorm that requires me to watch the ultimate snowbound film,  The Shining.

I didn’t quite understand my parents until I experienced Hurricane Sandy. I had a hole in my roof and was without electricity for nine days. Because I was disconnected, I didn’t see the shocking images of Rockaway, Lower Manhattan and New Jersey until much later. Most shocking were the petty politics perpetuated by conservative politicians.

Since Sandy, I  walk around with a portable charger for my devices and I also keep batteries and flashlights ready to go. Since that experience I have become very familiar with New York’s Emergency Management website. I recommend you do the same. Even if you don’t reside in New York City, many of the recommendations are applicable. I think Benjamin Franklin said it best, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Final Thoughts On Election 2016

The tweet detailed below embodies my feelings regarding this election. I am already seeing reports of violence against people of color; individuals dressed in KKK garb proudly marching around and general unrest.

I am going to point a finger at the DNC, The New York Times, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile for imposing Clinton on us. The hate train for Clinton has been at full steam since the 1990s and when you factor in her thin and flawed service record (e.g. in the Senate, she voted for the invasion of Iraq and for the Patriot Act as well as its re-authorization; as secretary of state, she was a very active in promoting fracking), she was always going to be a difficult sell.

I did vote for her, but we missed a real opportunity to elect a true progressive in Bernie Sanders. Poll after poll showed him easily beating Trump, while those same polls had Clinton in a close race (as we witnessed last night).

I’ve decided to limit my social media use for a while because it was the medium that gave rise to Trump. At the outset, he didn’t really spend a lot of money to promote himself: he had the media doing that and they likely based their reporting on what was trending. A Twitter joke that turned into a dark reality: the reality television “star” with zero experience as a statesman is now President. Instead, life imitates art as the world depicted in the dark comedy Idiocracy seems to be at its dawn.

I want to encourage you from this point forward to use social media responsibly. Allowing Trump to trend planted the seeds of his victory. Don’t just post something because you agree with it. Make sure it is valid and don’t just go by the headline. Make sure it is the truth. Otherwise you are just as bad as Fox “News.”

Return to Sender

I want to vote for Dr. Jill Stein, but have some reservations.

Let me start with this disclaimer: I am in no way supporting La Trump. Interestingly, about a year ago, I wrote that La Trump was a necessary evil in that he would highlight the worst of the Koch-funded conservative candidates. This was supposed to be a good thing because conservatives would never listen to these issues coming from someone like Bernie Sanders. It bizarrely worked. I also erroneously noted that no RATIONAL voter would vote for this reality “star” with zero experience as a statesman. Instead, life imitates art as the world depicted in the dark comedy Idiocracy seems to be at its dawn.

This blog entry is more of an exploration, a sort of brainstorming. I am actually still trying to figure out whom to vote for. I have been a Bernie Sanders supporter since day one. However, the DNC played fast, loose and unfairly with this election and essentially imposed Hillary Clinton on us. If La Trump wins, you can blame the scheming Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Poll after poll had the scandal free Sanders easily beating La Trump with double digits.

My next disclaimer: I am not a misogynist. Like some almost surreal and bizarre knee-jerk reaction, any time I mentioned my support for Sanders, I was immediately accused of misogyny for not automatically supporting Clinton. Really? The fact is Sanders has way more experience as an ELECTED official. And as for Clinton’s achievements, before her senate election most of them were tied to her husband. Her accomplishments, if any, as an elected official and an appointed one are very thin.

Let’s take a brief glimpse at her record since being elected senator and appointed secretary of state.

In the Senate, she voted for the invasion of Iraq and for the Patriot Act as well as its subsequent reauthorization. Clinton also co-sponsored legislation that would make any true progressive cringe. For example, in 2005, she joined a bipartisan group of senators in signing onto the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which, according to the ACLU, would have essentially legalized discrimination.

As secretary of state, she pushed for the 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan and the intervention in Libya and was also been a very vocal proponent of the drone war that has led to the deaths of 2,400 civilians. She was also very active in promoting fracking worldwide through the Global Shale Gas Initiative. Via the State Department, and sometimes personally, she lobbied on behalf of companies like Chevron who wanted to expand fracking (most notably in Bulgaria and Romania). Since stepping down as secretary of state, Clinton continued to express support for fracking, which she outlined in a 2014 speech to the National Clean Energy Summit. She has also remained silent on the Keystone pipeline.

Let’s talk about her running mate, Tim Kaine. On July 18, Kaine was one of four senators signing a letter sent to the Federal Reserve, the FDIC and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency asking that they exclude large regional banks from the “significant burdens” of reporting risk on a daily, rather than monthly, basis. It also called for them to revisit the amount of capital these banks must hold over a 30-day period to cover emergency situations. The senators’ request was undoubtedly deregulatory and irresponsible: SunTrust, one of the banks that would fall under this exclusion, paid $1 billion to settle mortgage fraud allegations.

The Democrats are now the Republicans, circa 1970. From DOMA to the crime bill’s “superpredators” (her word), the former Goldwater girl (again, her own words) has a history of supporting discrimination. And even though Sanders has pushed the party to the left, Clinton the war hawk will keep us in a perpetual state of undeclared war. This is why I am no longer a Democrat, but an Independent voter. I want intelligent dialog on pushing a progressive and inclusive agenda. CLINTON HAS TO EARN MY VOTE. So far, she has not.

Once Sanders was out, I began to explore other candidates. My preference, to date, is Dr. Jill Stein. True, like La Trump, she does not have experience as an elected official, but she has lead initiatives to fight environmental racism and injustice. She has also helped win victories in campaign finance reform, racially just redistricting, green jobs, and the cleanup of incinerators, coal plants, and toxic threats. A stark contrast from La Trump, who once bullied an elderly Scottish woman so that he could build a golf course.

My reservations are not with Stein, but with the Green Party. And it has nothing to do with what they support—in fact, they literally support everything that I support. The problem is that they do not have a lot of people elected into office. According to their website, there are at least 135 Green Party politicians in 15 states currently holding elected offices; all very local and none at the federal level.

We desperately need a third party. Third parties can force progress on political issues. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, they forced the major political parties to pass significant anti-monopoly legislation among other things. But today’s Green Party simply does not have that power. They certainly do not have the power to elect a president YET (though it is interesting to note Gary Johnson’s rise in the polls as well as third party candidates in senate races.)

I despise having to vote for Clinton simply because she is not La Trump. The right choice is hardly the easy choice. Thankfully, I still have time to decide.

P.S. On the back of the envelope pictured above, I wrote: You have Wall Street’s money. You don’t need me.

With Omar Mateen By Proxy

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On June 12, 2016, a mass shooting hate crime occurred inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The shooting resulted in a total of 102 casualties including 49 deaths. The massacre was deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in United States history. It was also the deadliest incident of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people, as well as their allies, in the history of the United States, surpassing the 1973 UpStairs Lounge arson attack. President Obama described the massacre as an “act of hate.”

This massacre didn’t happen in a vacuum. Omar Mateen was fostered by a toxic combination largely rooted in religious absolutism, self-hatred, mental issues, media illiteracy and easy access to semi automatic weapons.

In allegiance with him, by proxy, are people and organizations like:

Are you seeing pattern?

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You can believe in God and still be a tolerant individual.

It is not your responsibility to persecute in the name of God.

You can also believe in God and still be a critical thinker.

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Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus at the University of Idaho has noted that Jesus says nothing specific about the sin of homosexuality anywhere in the Gospels. Sodomy as a term for sexual sin began to be commonly used only in the 11th century. Early religious commentators attributed Sodom’s problems with God to many different causes, including idolatry, threats toward strangers and general lack of compassion for the downtrodden. Ezekiel 16:49 advocates that Sodomites “had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, is an Abrahamic religion. Jesus is mentioned in the Qur’an as a prophet. The Qur’an provides the basis of Islamic beliefs and law, yet does not provide clear answers to questions surrounding homosexuality. Homosexuality existed in Pre-Islamic, Arab society, not unlike Ancient Greece, and played a vital role in some of the early religions. Nicole Kligerman, in the Macalester Islam Journal, noted that Islamic repression of homosexuals may not have always been prevalent and that Western influences may have created a greater social stigma against homosexuality.

William Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, brilliantly noted that, “the devil can cite scripture for his purpose.” If you believe that a person is going to hell because they identify as LGBTQIA, then that is their business and let God deal with it. An infinite and all-powerful God of love should be able to protect himself and continue to thrive. Whenever religion and violence collaborate, no human being is safe.

First Stop in Brooklyn Reusable / Green Bag. Designed by Edwin Roman

Reusable / Green Bags in New York City

Plastic. Whenever I hear that word, the first thing that comes to mind is that hilarious scene in The Graduate where party guest, Mr. Maguire, declares to Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin, “I just want to say one word: plastics.”

How wrong you were Mr. Maguire! Plastic has shaped the modern world in numerous ways that undoubtedly make life easier, BUT it comes at a great cost.

Plastic has left detrimental marks on the environment and human health. David Barnes, a researcher for the British Antarctic Survey, noted, “One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics. Within just a few decades since mass production of plastic products commenced in the 1950s, plastic debris has accumulated in terrestrial environments, in the open ocean, on shorelines of even the most remote islands and in the deep sea.”

Earlier this week, the New York City Council voted to require some businesses to charge a fee on each paper or plastic bag. There are several exceptions that include:

  • restaurants, including those that deliver and serve takeout;
  • street vendors;
  • plastic bags used for produce;
  • small paper medicine bags at pharmacies
  • bags used at state-regulated liquor stores;
  • bags used by soup kitchens;
  • and individuals buying groceries with food stamps.

I cheered! This legislation was long overdue especially when you consider the efforts being made the Department of Sanitation’s recycling program and the MTA’s recent innovations in sustainability.

The New York Times noted, “The vehemence of the opposition could perhaps be traced to plastic bags’ daily presence in the lives of New Yorkers, who often shop for groceries spontaneously and then lug the crinkly bags home to be reused as trash-can liners or to pick up after pets. “ (Take note of the photograph that accompanies this article of a plastic bag stuck in a tree.)

I have actually been using reusable/green bags for about nine years and would like to offer a few tips to my fellow New Yorkers looking to adapt. Believe me, it is easier than you think.

  1. I have experimented with several types of bags over the years. The best of them has been the Micro Chico Bag like the one pictured above that I designed and sell via my website. The Chico Bag folds up on to itself and easily fits in your pocket. They are also quite durable and can be hand washed.
  2. If you eat meat and dairy, be sure to set aside bags exclusively for this and wash them often. Also, be sure not to store this bag in the truck of your car.
  3. Reusable/green bags utilized for groceries should not be used for other things.

One reusable/green bag can replace hundreds of single use plastic bags over the course of its lifetime. The next time you go to the market and the cashier asks, “Plastic or paper?” why not support the environment and say, “No thanks, I’ve got my own bags.” Once you get into the habit of carrying reusable / green bags you will not consider it an inconvenience. I promise!

Additional reading:Reusable Grocery Bags: Keep ‘Em Clean While Going Green” by Laura Gieraltowski, PhD, MPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

High End Housing being built right on top of the 7 Train, which likely has homeless riders on it.

Dramatic Increase in Homeless on Streets of NYC (PBS MetroFocus Video PLUS)

Everyday, during my commute from my home in Queens to my workplace in the Bronx, I am awed by the numerous apartment buildings being constructed in Long Island City, Harlem and the South Bronx for “high end” renters. The featured image of this blog entry depicts this construction in Long Island City during the summer of 2015. If you want to see the physical route of gentrification in NYC, simply take out a subway map. Concurrently, I am awed and saddened by the numbers of homeless people I see in the subways EVERYDAY.

33rd Street Homeless Man

33rd Street Homeless Man

Until 2005, New York City’s primary resource for addressing homelessness was to give these families and individuals priority for federal housing programs (public housing and/or Section 8). For 25 years, these resources had been a proven way to move families out of shelters, off the streets and into long-term, permanent homes. In 2005, the billionaire mayor, “king” Mike Bloomberg, changed this and homeless families and individuals were given CITY-funded short-term rental subsidies known as the Advantage program. These short-term subsidies were ineffective and wasteful. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, more than one of every three formerly-homeless families returned to the shelters after their Advantage program subsidies ended. The Bloomberg administration then terminated the Advantage program in 2011 and refused to replace it with the successful federal programs ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/michael-bloomberg-homeless-population/ ). For the first time since modern homelessness began in the 1980’s, there is no housing assistance in place to help homeless families move from shelters to permanent housing.

Mary Brosnahan, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless, discusses the current state of homelessness in New York City with MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman. Click here to watch the video: Dramatic Increase in Homeless on Streets of NYC

Keeping in mind my daily commute, also watch this video where Bill Moyers explores how the changing skyline of Manhattan is the physical embodiment of how money and power impact the lives and neighborhoods of every day people.

Also keeping in mind what I mentioned earlier in this blog entry about the route of gentrification, read this previous blog entry where I discussed “The Gentrification of a Subway Station” : https://theartistworks.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/gentrification-of-a-subway-station/

This is What Trickle Down Reaganomics Looks Like… 

Most people are a paycheck or two away from being homeless. 

Homelessness is all-consuming.  It is not easy to get out of this situation.

How does this happen in the richest country in the world? 

35 years of trickle down Reaganomics.

It is not working. 

In February, the number of people sleeping in New York’s municipal shelters was the most since the Great Depression. I can’t imagine what is going on in other cities. Yet corporations are earning record profits. 

Be an informed voter.