Category Archives: LCG Blog

If it’s capitalism, why not teach financial literacy?

Even though I am the president of this pr firm, I will admit that, before opening this business, I had little practical knowledge about the business side of running a business.

And, although I know how to balance a checkbook and have enough money in accounts to keep things “in the black,” no elementary or high school course ever taught me “financial literacy.”

Oh sure, there were courses on things like making a budget or shopping for the best food bargains, but no one actually explained the nuts and bolts of capitalism and how it works.

And I know I am hardly alone.

As a result, the ins and outs of capitalism are left to the “experts” whose job, in part, is to “tell” us what to do. No one ever explained, for example, that this “credit rating” thing could actually ruin a business or someone’s chances of getting a loan, or a mortgage, or an apartment. People marry and have families, and no one explains that the way you deal with your finances can seriously affect your ability to have the home and the life you want.

We have to deal with capitalism every day, but, for most people, it’s a high concept that’s really fuzzy and seems unrelated to what we do.

Of course, there are some courses in college that can be taken, and sometimes, local government provides courses too.

I’m bringing this up now because we worked with the BrooklynSpeaks community groups a few years ago on the new deal that will bring the promised Atlantic Yards affordable housing online ten years earlier. People will be able to apply for the housing through a lottery system. (More on that here.)

What many people don’t know is that simply showing that you need the housing and can prove it – through providing tax returns, etc. – is not enough. You have to be able to show that your household is financially capable of paying the rent in a timely manner every month. And that requires that your household’s finances are in tip top shape. Of course, ironically, a large percentage of the people who really need this kind of housing won’t qualify because they are unaware of this requirement and, since they are often scrambling just to make ends meet, they simply haven’t focused on their own financial fitness as calculated by the “outside” world.

Some non-profits, like Brown Community Development Corporation, are trying to address this problem by holding sessions about the lottery, and these sessions include advice on getting finances in shape.

But it shouldn’t have to come to this. Why don’t we include financial literacy from elementary school through high school? Perhaps it’s because if people really understood capitalism, those in power would have to face an educated voter base who’d be less likely to stand for some of the financial shenanigans we’ve seen.

It still comes down to this: If we have to live in this world of capitalism, we need to understand it. That goes for everyone.

Gunning For Change: Gun Safety in America

Whatever one’s feelings about the 2nd amendment, individuals’ gun rights should not supersede the health and safety of the American people.

I was in middle school when the massacre at Columbine happened. Everyone was devastated and appalled – those kids were only a little bit older than we were! What if it had been us? Our school officials took that reaction to its next logical step and started preparing us for such an eventuality with “lockdown” drills. We turned off the lights, closed the shades, and hid – scrunching along the wall that bordered the classroom door to avoid scrutiny from the door’s window. We were told not to let anyone in, regardless of who they were or how much they begged and pleaded. Anybody could be a potential shooter or hostage. The exercise was equal parts terrifying and surreal.

That was 17 years ago and what scares me more than the possibility of my own demise is how commonplace such carnage has become in our country. The actions that shocked us in their gruesomeness have now become almost banal in their regularity. Reports on the number of mass shootings vary depending on sources’ definitions and available information, but tend to agree that that number has increased in recent years. The American Journal for Public Health (AJPH) published a report on the matter:

By most estimates, there were fewer than 200 mass shootings reported in the United States often defined as crimes in which four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events between 1982 and 2012. [27, 28] Recent reports suggest that 160 of these events occurred after the year 2000 [29] and that mass shootings rose particularly in 2013 and 2014. [28]

As frightening as such occurrences are, people killed in mass shootings make up less than half of 1 percent of the people shot to death in the United States. Gun violence, including suicide, kills some 30,000 Americans every year. According to Snopes, toddlers actually kill more people (accidentally) than potential or suspected Islamic terrorists within the US. And yet, the frenzy of fear surrounding the latter group has fueled infinitely more federal and state action.

Vivek Murthy, served as the 19th and 21st Surgeon General of the United States under President Obama and President Biden. was clear in his opinion that guns have become a public health issue. In fact, many cite the NRA’s lobbying efforts against him as the reason his nomination took over a year to receive approval. It makes sense, though, that he would be concerned about something that has such a profound effect on the safety of the American people.

“Guns are a consumer product. We’ve taken a public health approach to reducing product-related injury for every other product, from automobiles, to toys, to airplanes. Every product is regulated from a health and safety perspective with the goal of reducing accident and injury. The only exception is guns,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center.

 Comic relief: SNL’s take on the safety of consumer products.

 

Certain politicians enjoy passing this off as a mental health issue, reasoning that it’s not the guns, but the crazy people holding them that we have to control. It’s not actually that simple – most people who have mental illnesses pose no harm to themselves or others.

… surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum, [25] less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness. 26 (AJPH)

Believe it or not, you don’t actually have to be “crazy” to want to hurt someone (or act on that thought). Not only that, but the same politicians who use the mentally ill as scapegoats refuse to pass legislation that would actually benefit their wellbeing. Yes, we do need reform on how we treat people with mental illness, but that’s not the question at hand.

The real issue here is that we need to get serious about reforming our gun control laws. This isn’t even a radical idea – the vast majority of Americans agree that at the least, we need more background checks and enforcement of existing regulation.

Chris Rock has famously said that we would be better served regulating bullets (pricing them at $5,000 each) than guns. Maybe he’s right. In any case, we need to start looking into creative and common sense ways to fix this problem.

Trump Bans Journalists; Will They Respond with Blackout?

The *President’s Problematic Censorship Needs Appropriate Reaction

Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan and…the US?

Those first six countries are listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the countries that are the worst offenders when it comes to censoring journalists.

Will the US join the list?

It’s not as crazy as it might seem. If current practice is any indication, a Trump presidency might well put the US on that shameful list.

You see, Trump has already banned an enormous number of news organizations from attending his events.  Seasoned journalists say they have never witnessed anything like it before in this country.  Occasionally, a journalist will get bounced from a presidential candidate’s airplane or bus, but this is on a scale that’s unprecedented.  The current list of banned media organizations (which, by the way, continues to grow) includes the Washington Post, Politico, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Gawker, Foreign Policy, Fusion, Univision, Mother Jones, the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Des Moines Register and the Daily Beast.

And journalists cannot even find out why or what criteria are used to justify their banishment. According to this story, it would seem that a journalist gets banned when Trump reads something written about him or his campaign with which he disagrees and then throws what can only be described as a hissy fit.  This hissy fit is apparently key; after the throwing of the fit, Trump’s so-called campaign press secretary, Hope Hicks, playing the role of enforcer, makes sure whoever wrote the piece is banned.

Imagine now that this sort of behavior is carried into a Trump White House although, in this CNN story, Trump denies that he’d continue the ban if elected.

The Washington Post, one of the Trump-banned media organizations, has suggested that all of the press corps stop playing Trump’s game and join in a blackout on Trump coverage. WaPo opinion writer Dana Millbank gets more specific:

“I don’t mean an outright ban of Trump coverage. That would be shirking our civic responsibility. But I suggest an end to the uncritical, free publicity that propelled him to the GOP nomination in the first place:

  • No more live, wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s rallies and events; this sort of “coverage,” particularly by cable news outlets, has been a huge in-kind contribution to Trump.
  • No more Trump call-ins to TV shows; this enables him to plant falsehoods with little risk of follow-up.
  • Rigorous use of real-time fact-checking, pointing out Trump’s falsehoods in the stories in which they’re reported. That’s not injecting opinion — it’s stating fact.”

Sounds like a good idea to us.

“A democracy ceases to be a democracy if its citizens do not participate in its governance. To participate intelligently, they must know what their government has done, is doing and plans to do in their name. Whenever any hindrance, no matter what its name, is placed in the way of this information, a democracy is weakened, and its future endangered. This is the meaning of freedom of press. It is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”

Walter Cronkite; Broadcast journalist 

First Amendment Defense Act: An Assault on the Constitution and Civil Rights

FADA: The Wrong Way to Protect our Rights

Orwell’s 1984 was even more frightening when I reread it during the Bush administration. Amidst freedom fries and the Patriot Act, I saw traces of his infamous doublespeak: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Now, in the wake of Trump’s win and in a climate of increasing intolerance, those traces seem to be more like guidelines. Latest case in point: the First Amendment Defense Act  (FADA). The First Amendment is specifically meant to guarantee freedom of speech, religion, and the press – among other things. It is perversely fitting, then, that FADA aims to override these protections with a law that restricts civil rights in the name of religious freedom, especially given that it promotes one religion’s values above all others.

More than just eroding the separation of church and state, FADA wants to bore a hole straight through it. Ironically, FADA protects people from government “discrimination” against their “right” to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. It is a direct assault on the landmark Supreme Court marriage equality win. Indeed, the act’s promoters care little for non-Christian beliefs and actively state that it is meant to reassert the enforcement of their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

As S.E. Smith on Truthout says:

FADA isn’t about protecting people of faith, but about legitimizing discrimination. The question isn’t “can I deny service to someone who doesn’t like same-gender marriage” but “can an employer fire someone for being in a same-gender marriage” or “can I refuse to rent a hotel room to an unmarried heterosexual couple.” The answer, under FADA, could be “yes.”

… That [also] means the government couldn’t revoke tax exempt status from organizations — like churches — that discriminate against LGBQT people. Nor could it set anti-discrimination policies for federal contractors.

Of course, this is not strictly a new development; it is instead a continuation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), and its more recent follow-up, the Supreme Court’s infamous Hobby Lobby decision which allowed a person (and therefore a corporation) to discriminate against people based on religious beliefs – including letting a Christian company refuse to provide its employees insurance coverage for morning-after pills and birth control methods despite Obamacare’s guarantees.

Unsurprisingly, Trump has pledged to sign FADA should it pass in Congress. Moving forward in the wake of the presidential election, it is vital that we remain vigilant in protecting both the Constitution and the civil rights that our forebears fought so hard to guarantee. We must not slide backwards; halting FADA and everything it stands for is a good place to start.

Fact or Faction

The Sticky Truth

The election is right around the corner and the world is in a tizzy about the outcome. News sites and Facebook feeds are brimming with analyses of the latest Trump gaffe, the panic surrounding the “new” Clinton emails, and what they mean about the polls. But to what extent does new information actually filter through our consciousness to influence our system of beliefs?

I’ve discussed America’s difficult relationship with the truth before. The media certainly shapes the way that the public interprets information – whether or not viewers believe the news being reported is true. Of course, that’s assuming that they actually care if something is true. In the case of Trump, for example, his supporters view him as a truth-teller even though he continues to spout easily disproven lies. Some have actively claimed that they would support him regardless of whether he is telling the truth. Meanwhile, Hillary “enjoys” a persistent aura of untrustworthiness in spite of having lied significantly less than her competitor.

We are in an age where many Americans proudly proclaim their disbelief in science. How do you get through to people who are so enamored of their own convictions that they will not accept anything that proves them wrong? A study in 2010 showed that “misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs.”

Part of the solution is changing tactics. No one likes to be patronized and hitting someone over the head with dull and dry statistics certainly is not a winning strategy. Scientists and communicators have had to tackle these problems when trying to fight the uphill battle against climate change denial. A great blog called Skeptical Science first introduced me to this interesting approach to debunking myths: fight sticky ideas with stickier ideas. Use humor, snappy soundbites and unexpected metaphors to make the truth circulate. Hey – who doesn’t love a good meme?

Truthiness: How Hard Can the Windbags Blow?

Truth, Fact, Interpretation, Misdirection – In An Age of Liars, We Need A Decoder Ring

Think about this: we know the difference between truth and lies. Presumably, we form our opinions from the information given to us. Certainly, this ought to be the case for things like policy decisions. Shouldn’t our elected officials be able to incorporate relevant facts and factors into their plans of what to do next? Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness” is alarmingly relevant right now.

When I was in college, I took a tremendous class from well-known writer Francine Prose, called “Language, Literature, and Lies.” Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a great primer for my work in PR. One of the most lasting exercises was to read the same big news story in three major outlets (The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Guardian). We pored over the articles, picking out how the authors referred to their subjects (e.g. President Obama, Barack Obama, Obama, Mr. Obama, the president, etc.), which snippets of quotes they chose to cite, how they framed an issue, and who they gave the last word. Subtle choices conveyed biases. As humans, it is nearly impossible for us to describe happenings completely objectively – the nature of language is that it necessarily filters everything through our own lens; our own version of truth.

That said, while most media outlets use specific language to shape their version of events, they still stick to the same basic facts in news. That’s something we expect; why read or watch news if none of it is true? So it is jarring to note that when it comes to picking candidates for the presidency, many voters are keen to disregard flat out lies so long as they serve a particular agenda. The author of Wag the Dog recently wrote a biting op-ed about this in Al Jazeera, and multiple papers have referenced Politifact’s “Truth-O-Meter” with regards to candidate claims (it ranges from true to pants on fire).

I’m a big proponent of free speech, but I do believe that there is a difference between fact and opinion. Facts are, by nature, true. They are true whether you believe them or not. The converse is not the case. Unfortunately for some of us dreamers, simply believing something very fervently does not magically make it true. There is a danger to pandering to that falsehood. We can handle the truth, and we must if we expect to do anything helpful or relevant in life.

Stephen Colbert: Truthiness

Climate Change Scientists Take Nantucket Sleighride

Take Your Own Nantucket Sleighride: How Old Whaling Ships Are Helping in the Fight to Stop Climate Change

In the wake of the recent UN climate change conference in Paris, there’s lots of discussion about the subject. Some argue that the accord that was reached is historic and a huge step in the right direction, while others argue that the accord doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Meanwhile, there are scientists and others who get up every day and fight the battle against climate change as best they can, accord or not.

And so, one on-the-ground tidbit that got very little attention in all the hubbub about the Paris conference was this, as reported by the Associated Press: “Maritime historians, climate scientists and ordinary citizens are coming together on a project to study the logbooks of 19th-century whaling ships to better understand modern-day climate change and Arctic weather patterns.”

This fascinating project called Old Weather: Whaling will comb through approximately 2600 whaling logbooks, dating from 1756 – 1965, because they can yield valuable information about longitude and latitude measurements, weather conditions, the presence of icebergs and the edge of the ice shelf. This can help climate scientists compare weather and ice conditions, then and now, and can also help create advanced computer models that, based on the information from the logs, might be able to predict future conditions.

According to the AP story, Kevin Wood, a climate scientist with NOAA’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere at the University of Washington and a lead researcher on the project calls this a “virtual time-traveling weather satellite.”

“We can build an enormously detailed reconstruction of the conditions at the time … and we can we can understand how the climate has been changing over a longer period of time,” Wood said.

The Old Weather: Whaling project is led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The New Bedford Whaling Museum (Massachusetts) is, “transcribing and digitizing its own logbooks, as well as original data sources from the Nantucket Historical Association, Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, and the New Bedford Free Public Library.”

The digitized logbooks are being placed online and the public is asked to help sift through the thousands and thousands of pages of material. There are already 20 whalers’ logbooks online.

So here’s something you can “do” about climate change. You can actually participate in a project that will advance climate research. Check out Old Weather: Whaling to learn more. Meanwhile, have yourself a good Nantucket sleighride! (While you’re at it, go ahead and listen to Mountain’s “Nantucket Sleighride.”)

CupGate and the Art of Stealing Your Attention for Nonsense

The latest idiocy to hit the American consciousness is the kerfuffle over Starbucks’ plain red cup for the “holiday season” which, in its simplicity, apparently is contributing to the “war on Christmas.” Some are referring to this as “CupGate.”

This ridiculous idea is just one of a number of feints perpetrated by ultra conservative rightwingers in an attempt to get us all to stop thinking about the real issues.  That’s all it is.  In this case, CupGate can be traced to just one, conservative guy who calls himself a Christian and is famous for his outrage-and hate-filled videos that tend to go viral.  I won’t even name him because he doesn’t deserve one more microsecond of acknowledgement. The internet just loves those kinds of videos; hate and controversy sell online.  And, unfortunately, it’s much easier for people to talk about a cup than to tackle the real issues.  Plus a red cup makes a nice picture for social media, no? Ellen DeGeneres nailed the insanity of this one in a bit she did on her TV show.

How about for the holiday season – and beyond – everyone stops promoting these awful and, ultimately, stupid “controversies” and sticks to discussions about the real issues:  immigration, poverty, workers’ rights, climate, change…the list goes on.  No, these matters cannot be summarized easily or made into a slogan that fits on a red cup.  But we can try harder to keep our focus where it belongs.

Clarity in Communication

How many times have you asked a friend where to find something in their house, only to have them point in a general direction and say, “It’s over there”?  What about a boss who gave you a job, but didn’t outline the specifics of what exactly you were supposed to do or how to do it? Nike’s “just do it” doesn’t always apply to everyday life.

A lot of people are confused about what we do in the communications industry, but so much of it comes down to being able to get our point across efficiently. Just as Linda mentioned in an earlier blog, there’s a difference between texting for fun and texting for information. So too, there is a distinction between talking and communicating.

When I was in middle school, I was on the Science Olympiad team. There were various events that ranged from rote memorization to designing and carrying out experiments to building Rube Goldberg machines. One of the events taught me a valuable skill that has stayed with me all these years later. It was called “Write It, Do It.”

The event was for a team of two that was split up into the writer and the doer. The writer was given something that was already built with Legos, K’Nex, Tinker Toys or some other building toy, and was tasked with describing it to his or her partner with enough detail that the doer could replicate it when given a set of matching materials.

As we practiced for the competition, we switched off between the tasks, developing strategies and vocabulary to explain various materials. We also learned to be incredibly specific. How many pieces? What colors? What shapes? How far apart are they? Which way do they each face? Being on both ends of the instructions meant a better understanding of what sort of direction was needed.

People like recipes because they are clear, concise, and will talk you through each step until you reach your final outcome. We learned to write such recipes for any given task, first asking then answering the relevant questions. Also, unlike the polarizing Ikea manuals, we used our words.

This ability has come in handy countless times, but has also caused me endless frustration when I realize how rare it is . As I mentioned before, it is a key tool for any managerial position, because unless you know what someone wants, it’s next to impossible to deliver it—but you don’t need to be a boss to know how to give clear orders. All that’s needed is a moment to focus and organize your thoughts.

Next time you have to tell your friend which shelf holds your plates, make it a point to clarify exactly what you mean and don’t just point!

Then and Now: Home Ec

So, we’re trying something new on the LCG blog: an occasional piece which takes a subject and looks at it through my eyes (old person) and through the eyes of an LCG associate (young person). When we started looking at some of these subjects, it occurred to us that some of the concepts had changed radically – often, but not always, for the better – over the course of the last 40 years or so. We thought it might be interesting and fun to see what this clash of decades might produce.

 

Then (Linda Cronin-Gross)

 

Today, we’re tackling a subject that always used to make me shudder – Home Economics.

If you were a girl who went to school in the US during the 60’s and early to mid-70’s, you’ll know that those two words often struck fear and loathing in your heart. It meant sewing, and maybe cooking, as part of your high school curriculum.

Of course, Home Ec – short for Home Economics – was pretty much only the domain of girls. If you were a boy, you’d probably get some kind of woodworking or “shop” class. Because, you know, girls can’t understand things like saws and hammers. And manly men don’t need to know how to cook or sew; that’s what a wife is for, no?

I pretty much hated Home Ec, which was required in my all-girls high school. I remember making a Pepto Bismol-pink corduroy shift dress with matching beret. Unfortunately, I can still picture those items – ghastly.

Believe me, I would have much preferred making a birdhouse, but that kind of class simply wasn’t offered. At that time, it wasn’t unusual for this programmatic gender divide to exist.

Of course, it’s a good thing to know how to cook and sew, but no one was preparing us to be Vera Wangs or Julia Childs (or would that be Julia’s children?). Home Ec’s real objective was to prepare us girls for marriage.

I am happy to report that I never made another shift (the design world really should thank me), but did learn how to cook from my mother, whose father was a chef by profession.

But the idea of learning how to run a home, to be able to cook, sew and generally take care of daily chores is good one. Managing a home was quite a job back in the day when there were few modern appliances. When Home Ec was introduced, it was seen as a kind of science; in addition, many women were able to access college specifically because of the Home Ec track.

But as things evolved, both politically and scientifically, Home Ec sort of devolved into a training program for potential brides.

 

Now (Sonya Landau)

 

Unlike my counterpart, I never took the dreaded course, but it always seemed to me that the idea had potential. I was lucky enough to grow up with parents that taught me both how to cook and how to build stuff, and was the odd child who balanced tomboy tendencies with a desire to learn sewing and knitting (I treasured my dolls and toy cars equally). Again, I was privileged with the means and the personal drive to pursue learning about my chosen topics.

The part that always interested me about the class was the “Economics” in the title. Looking around at my generation, which graduated college just at the height of the Recession, I know I’m not the only one who would have benefited from financial literacy. As young adults, we are met with a barrage of predatory schemes from banks, credit card companies and others that are well aware we know next to nothing about money.

Our educational system does not place any emphasis on preparing us for adult life when we are released into the real world. That is equally true for those who continue to higher Ed and those who enter the workforce directly. Any tips on money management often come either from personal trial and error or as cautions from family and friends. Not only that, but few of us have even the smallest amount of knowledge about taxes. If we can’t make informed decisions about how to spend and save our budgets, we can’t expect for the decisions we make to be good ones. How can we make choices when we don’t know our options?

It’s no surprise that our country is renowned for its percentages of debt – credit card debt, student loan debt, payday loan debt, the list continues. Granted, most of that blame lies on the enormous corporations that regulate loans and influence tax codes, but a lot of this could be avoided if consumers (and students) had a better understanding of the ins and outs of the system.

Nor is it impossible to get this information across in an engaging and empowering way. Our new favorite show, John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” has tackled issues like income inequality, wealth inequality, payday loans, student debt, and the IRS. He has garnered international attention and support for his well-researched, educational and entertaining programs.

Obviously, I don’t envy Linda her Pepto Bismol dress, and I don’t advocate a return of the ubiquitous class in the form of housewife training, but I do think that we could all benefit from a thorough education on actual home economic skills. Oh, and learning how to make something more than ramen and toast couldn’t hurt either.

Status Report: Reporters

Those of us who have worked either in the field of journalism or alongside it for at least a couple years have seen a dramatic shift in structure over a very short period of time. Papers don’t sell like they used to, especially when everyone expects information to be readily available and free (and advertisers don’t want to pay for something that not many people see), so the business model has had to change with the times.

Over the last three years, just about every major news outlet in New York City has effectively gutted its staff. The New York Times, the New York Post, The Village Voice, and WBAI radio, each fired at least a third of its staff, and the list continues. The New York Daily News, once renowned for its coverage of local stories, dissolved each of its bureaus situated in the outer boroughs. So what does that mean for reporters? Is journalism a dead profession whose practitioners are SOL, or is there more to the story?

I’ve debated this with friends, colleagues and media contacts alike. Some see the future as relatively bleak: without the large papers, etc. providing job security, writers are forced to scrape together an existence piece-meal as freelancers, with meager earnings for individual stories. On the other hand, this phenomenon has also given rise to countless blogs and websites – often specific to certain topics. Some of them act just the same as a brick and mortar outlet, minus the paper. It’s a whole wide web out there, and we are learning to adjust our perception of where we go for our news.

Meanwhile, we hold our reporters accountable for a lot more than we did previously. Not only does the internet’s never-ending clamor for information mean that we want our news NOW, 24/7, which sort of rules out a regular-hours kind of gig; we also assume journalists will constantly update their social media pages at the same time. Our impatience means that many outlets are no longer willing to let their employees spend the time and resources on long-term investigative reporting (this is less recent than some of the other changes). What would have happened if Woodward and Bernstein couldn’t do the research needed to back up one of the biggest national stories of the 20th Century because they had to live tweet a celebrity event?

Ironically, while we expect a lot from our news sources, all this pressure – the financial stress, the extra duties for full-time reporters, the tighter deadlines, and the global marketplace – has led to a common response: cut back on both the quantity and quality of their product. After all, it’s quicker and cheaper to stream headline feeds from other outlets than to focus on (wo)man-on-the-street stories.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who bemoans this loss, and some fields have seen a resurgence in thorough reportage. New York Magazine, for instance, just published the horrific story about Bill Cosby’s victims, in which it interviewed each of the women – not a trivial task when 35 of them have come forward to speak.

There are still jobs for enterprising writers and quality information is still out there, you just have to look harder – and know what you’re looking for. It’s less likely that you’ll stumble across a serious exposé about such and such as you fold your paper to make room for your breakfast and coffee, but hey – given how much time we spend collectively browsing the internet for interesting tidbits and “sharing” them, maybe all hope is not lost.

Warning: Are Parks and Open Spaces Up for Grabs? Are We Slowly Taking the Public Out of the Public Trust?

We’ve been working with the many groups and people opposed to NYU’s ridiculous, bloated and unneeded expansion plan for some time now. Our main client, NYUFASP, represents hundreds of professors and faculty within NYU who are also against the plan; this, in itself, speaks volumes about what an awful plan it is: one that will crush the Village and abolish some much needed green and open spaces with it.

There was a lawsuit filed in 2012 against the plan. One of the main aspects of the lawsuit was that the green spaces that would be bulldozed by the plan are public parks, and, therefore, under the tenets of the Public Trust Doctrine, cannot be simply “given away” for development. That doctrine, which dates back to the time of the Roman Empire, is a crucial part of America’s common law tradition. According to the Doctrine, the government holds the titles to certain waters and lands in trust for the people; this has evolved to extend protection to scenic resources, open space in general, energy generation, preservation of ecosystems and historical sites.

In New York State, if an entity wishes to develop or remove a parcel of parkland from public ownership and use, it must follow a legal process called “alienation,” which, among other conditions, requires approval from the state legislature.

This lawsuit wound its way through the court system and, ultimately, came before the state’s highest court, the NYS Court of Appeals. A few weeks ago, we found out that we’d lost the case.

Reading the Court’s decision left me wondering whether we had somehow travelled to the “doublespeak”-laden parallel universe of Orwell’s 1984. Although it’s true that some of the parks in question never “formally” became part of the Parks Department, at least a couple of them did, in fact, have parks department signage, were maintained by the Parks Department, and were listed on the Parks Department’s website. In addition, one of the parks was actually dedicated – about two decades ago – by the Parks Commissioner at that time, Henry Stern (who, by the way, gave our side an amicus brief detailing the fact that, yes, that’s really a park). This would mean that they were, quite obviously, implied parkland, and that they’d be protected under the Public Trust Doctrine. Not only would they be protected, but they couldn’t be given away for development unless approved by the state legislature. Even then, the developer would have to “give back” to the community the same amount of open space as was taken.

Importantly, the whole community has used those spaces as parks, some for decades. But, apparently, if it looks like a parks, acts like a park, and is used like a park it’s….not. Here’s just part of what the court said, “That a portion of the public may have believed that these parcels are permanent parkland does not warrant a contrary result.” This means that although the public (and, really, not just a part of the public, but ANYONE passing by these parks would think they’re parks) actually thought these were parks, it does not mean that they were/are. Huh? If the Public Trust Doctrine is there to protect public lands, including parks, and if the public has used those lands as parks, and believed them to be parks – for decades – how could they be declared NOT parks? This is a scary precedent.

In better news, however, the folks in Queens fighting the erection of a shopping mall in Willets Point, next to Citifield (home stadium of the Mets), successfully used the Public Trust Doctrine in a lawsuit to stop the mall. The land that developers wanted to build on is public land that was specifically slated to be used only for stadium purposes; clearly, a shopping mall is not consistent with that usage. The lower court ruled in favor of the petitioners – Willets Point shop owners, the City Club of New York and State Senator Tony Avella (D-Queens). “Today’s decision sends a message loud and clear — our parks are not for sale,” said State Senator Avella. You can read the full story here.

We wish that Senator Avella’s words were true. Apparently, in the rush toward unfettered development in this city, public lands are, indeed, in jeopardy, and the courts can’t be counted on to side with the public. What’s worse is that, although many elected officials sided with the public in both the NYU case and the Citifield/Willets Point case, the City of New York itself, in both instances, sided with the developers. In the NYU case, the City continued to oppose the public’s stance even when the suit went to the Court of Appeals. Now the question is whether or not the City will be part of the inevitable appeal that developers will file in the Citifield/Willets Point case.

Under the guise of “controlling” City owned property, the City is clearly attempting to violate the Public Trust Doctrine, and is taking away one of the few protections that the public has to save public spaces, parks, and waterways in a time of rampant development. To say that it’s disappointing is an understatement.

Meanwhile, more evidence has arisen that even when developers are ordered to keep their hands off public spaces, they don’t always comply.

In Monday, July 14th’s NY Times column, “The Appraisal,” journalist Matt Chaban uncovered how Donald Trump is now selling Trump wares in a part of his Trump Tower in Manhattan that is supposed to be a dedicated public space. Mr. Chaban explains that, as part of a deal to let developers build larger buildings back in 1961, the City required that a certain amount of the developed space be open to the public. If Trump is in violation of his deal, I wonder how many other developers have done the same. Advocates have tried for years, to get the Trump situation fixed, but clearly, there is no real enforcement against these kinds of encroachments onto public spaces. Trump was fined $2500 for the infringement back in 2008 (a trifling price for Trump), but no other action ensued. You can read Chaban’s excellent piece here.

What does this all mean? I think it’s clear that public spaces are increasingly up for grabs. This is especially true now, when developments – mostly for the wealthy – are overtaking just about every neighborhood in the City. It’s also obvious that the City is clearly disinterested in angering developers, since the City is hoping it can persuade developers to build more affordable housing. (And that’s a subject for another day…)

While, of course, all developments aren’t bad, this slow erosion of the Public Trust Doctrine – with the City’s hearty assent – coupled with little or no enforcement when developers fail to comply with public space agreements, potentially adds up to fewer parks, gardens, and green and open spaces for the people of New York City. In a city where developments are rising higher and higher, blocking out the sun and dwarfing other buildings, and where the ratio of open space to people is among the worst of America’s big cities – 4.6 acres per 1,000 residents (Trust for Public Land 2014 City Park Facts), we can ill afford to let this trend continue.

Shocking Report by Professors at New York University Reveals University Education As Just Another Commodity with Exorbitant Rates, Price Gouging and All

I remember a time when providing a good, reasonably priced education for all was an ideal that everyone believed in; it wasn’t particularly left or right wing. Thus, we got terrific public universities like the CUNY system here in New York, which, when I went was free – yes, free, except for a $65/semester fee to cover some processing costs.

Slowly but surely, however, conservative forces in government began slashing funding for public higher education, making it impossible for those colleges to function without having to impose fees and tuition.

Private universities also began to ratchet up tuition and fees, slowly.

Within the last ten years or so, the price of a college education has skyrocketed. It’s become just another price point in the marketplace, with really scary numbers. The College Board reports that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college for the 2014–2015 academic year averaged $23,410. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $46,272.

What this means, for most folks, is that we’re sending our young people into a form of indentured servitude, where they will be paying off their college loans for, quite literally, the rest of their lives. And it means that the bottom line is now more important than the quality of the education itself, since the price you pay for college seems to have no relationship to its cost. As a matter of fact, it seems that a lot of the money that’s paid for tuition goes to bloated college administrative functions and salaries, but not to professors or academic endeavors.

This was really brought home to us here at LCG because we work with a group of NYU professors who are trying to stop the university from spending billions on an unwanted and useless expansion in Greenwich Village (NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan) while NYU students pay one of the highest tuitions in the nation – $71,000 per academic year.

NYUFASP and other faculty recently issued a truly jaw dropping report on how NYU bilks millions from its students to finance real estate and pay for its top executives.

The blistering 14,000 word report on how NYU has been gouging its own students (and their families) to raise billions for gratuitous real estate transactions and lavish compensation packages for NYU’s own top executives.

Concerned about their students’ ever worsening financial plight and wild spending by NYU’s Board of Trustees, the professors spent this past academic year researching NYU’s financial practices. Interviewing scores of students, both undergraduate and graduate, and studying the fine print in NYU’s own documents, the professors “followed the money” to reveal: students going hungry regularly, becoming homeless, and signing up for “dating services” to pay tuition, fees and insurance; out of control real estate acquisition; millions of dollars in compensation and personal loans for top NYU execs, but tiny raises for faculty.

Here’s Part I of the full report. It’s in three parts, and the other parts can be found through that link as well. It’s not short, but well worth the read.

The report is also mentioned in an article in the June 9th edition of Salon. The article, “Massive endowments, massive tuition, massive debt: Our colleges are out of control and crushing students,” gives an even broader and more frightening view about the college crisis in America.

The NYU professors who penned the report are demanding more transparency and accountability from NYU’s administration. That needs to happen at colleges all across the country, and we need to demand it right now.

Warning Signs: Inoculation Against Action

We all do it. Your mom tells you to clean your room, or take out the trash. You say, “Yeah, I’ll get to that,” then promptly forget to do so. She tells you again; you agree again. Eventually you stop actually listening to her. “Yeah, yeah, OK.” The problem is that we apply these same habits when it comes to bigger problems and the stakes are higher than a tongue lashing or grounding.

Climate change, police brutality, student debt, wealth distribution… these are all big issues that are confronting our world today, each of which has disastrous consequences for our present and future. How many times have you heard about them recently? How many articles, pictures and petitions have you seen go by on your Facebook feed? Now be honest: do you actually read or pay attention to each of these? When someone gives the rallying cry of “We are the 99%,” does it still bring your blood to a boil the same way that it did when you first heard that 1% of the world’s population owns almost half of its wealth? Or do you roll your eyes and say, “We already knew that”?

The media does the same thing. As a pr professional, I see it more keenly because I’m constantly trying to get outlets interested in certain stories. When you’re dealing with an ongoing issue – even when it’s important, affects a lot of people and has a heart-rending human element to it – after a while, the reporters get sick of covering it. They want to know what’s new. It’s called news, after all.

Pretty soon, the message that climate change is happening, the ice caps are melting and we need to take immediate action starts to sound an awful lot like the notices you get that your subscription to such and such service is expiring and you must “Act Now.” This is dangerous on a lot of levels. While it’s true that out of sight is out of mind, the converse seems to be the case as well; the over-coverage makes these issues nothing more than background noise. Of course we care, but much in the same way that we are more likely to donate money at the onset of a natural disaster than later on in the recovery process, our impetus to act fades away. And yet, in order to make an actual difference, we need to hold on to our outrage and remind ourselves that we need to do something about these issues and it has to be more than once.

On Earth Day: Remembering the First Earth Day and Honoring Its Legacy

I remember the very first earth day in 1970.  Although my memories are vague, it made an impression on me.

I was a senior in high school, and I remember going down to Earth Day’s NYC headquarters in advance of the event.  It was not that big, and was crammed full of papers, flyers, hand written to do lists and people were coming and going constantly.  I spent some time with friends making signs for what would turn out to be an incredible first Earth Day turnout; the crowd was estimated at about a million. The mayor at the time was John Lindsay, and he agreed to shut down Fifth Avenue for the march, in addition to allowing people to flow freely through Central Park.  The main organizers of the NYC event – Fred Kent, Pete Grannis, and Kristin and William Hubbard – got a lot of help from the Mayor’s office, even using some of the Mayor’s own staff to help with the huge organizing task.

Many people who participated, even in a small way, in the first Earth Day were changed forever by the experience.

NYC Earth Day organizer Pete Grannis, for example, went on to become a Democratic member of the NYS Assembly from Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island (for about 30 years), where he was always an environmental advocate.  After the Assembly, he became Commissioner of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation where, in May 2007, he instituted a new Climate Change Office. He left behind this remembrance of the first Earth Day on the NYS Office of DEC’s online magazine NYS Conservationist.

As for me, I can’t say for sure what specific impact this event had on my life, but, here I am today, heading up this progressive pr firm and helping, among other worthy organizations, people and causes, an incredible Climate Change scientist, Professor Micha Tomkiewicz.  He writes a great, science-based blog on Climate Change called Climate Change Fork.  Here’s his latest blog, focused on Earth Day.

For me on this Earth Day, I’ll reminisce about that first Earth Day for a bit, but I’ll continue to honor its lasting legacy by making sure that Professor Tomkiewicz’s  voice – and the voices of those who know that we must act now on global warming – get heard loud and clear.  What will you do for Earth Day and beyond?

4/27 – Don’t Miss This Great Event – Three Women Transforming Healthcare: From the Battlefield to Veterans and Beyond; Using More Than Western Medicine to Achieve Optimal Wellness

A conversation with Amy Coleman, MD, Robin Carnes, and Peggy Huddleston, moderated by Tournesol’s Carey Davidson.

Creating institutional change isn’t easy. When will medicine be integrated with a vision for our highest selves?

Our medical care is defined by how it is administered in hospitals, the armed forces and to veterans. Sit with us and learn from these three women visionaries who are actively bringing yoga, mind-body techniques and inspiration-driven medicine to these three profoundly important institutions.

Event details:

Date:   Monday, April 27, 2015

Place:  Impact Hub NYC, 394 Broadway (between White and Walker Sts.) NY, NY 10013
Phone: 646-395-1114
Time: Doors open at 7pm; Discussion begins at 7:30pm.
Tickets:  Early Bird tickets (before or by April 20) are $30; after April 20th, tickets are $40. Buy tickets here.

A portion of this event’s proceeds will go to Warriors At Ease.

Produced by Tournesol and Body Local. Sponsored by GLOW Beauty, Health and Wellness Magazine


About the Speakers:

Amy Coleman, MD is President of Wellsmart, which empowers patients with inspiration-driven action plans and resiliency training. Dr. Coleman served as a Flight Surgeon for the U.S. Air Force where she was selected as primary physician for General Officer Staff, Special Forces Teams, NASA Shuttle support missions, and F-16 Fighter Squadrons. She was also appointed as the youngest and first female Commander of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Clinic. There, she guided global medical missions and built creative clinic systems including those employing complementary care methods still employed today throughout the U.S. Air Force.

Robin Carnes is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Warriors At Ease (WAE), which trains yoga and meditation teachers (and other mind/body professionals) to teach safely and effectively in military settings. Since 2009, WAE has trained over 500 yoga professionals in their trauma-sensitive, culturally-informed and evidence-based approach.

Peggy Huddleston is the author of Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster. She developed five steps to prepare for surgery using mind-body techniques. Research studies show her method significantly reduces anxiety, use of pain medication and speeds healing. Patients having colorectal surgery and knee-joint replacement healed faster, leaving the hospital 1.3-1.6 days sooner than the control group. Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster Workshops are offered for free to patients at hospital including NYU Langone Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital.

Carey Davidson is the Founder & CEO of Tournesol Wellness. Tournesol is an integrative medical center in midtown Manhattan providing personalized holistic and integrative care through its 40 vetted specialists and more than 30 modalities. Tournesol’s Live Well and Stay Well programs identify and treat all variables that contribute to a resilient body and mind. Carey also serves as the Co-President of the Manhattan Chapter of the Holistic Chamber of Commerce building the visibility and viability of holistic businesses.

 

Women on Money…No, Really, Women ON Money

I have to admit that it was something I had not noticed until it was pointed out; there are no women on US paper money.  There’s Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea on $1 coins, but when was the last time you even saw one of those?

So it’s appropriate that during this Women’s History Month, Barbara Ortiz Howard has started a campaign to get at least one women on a 20 dollar bill by the year 2020.  That year will mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The campaign, called Women on 20s, has whittled down the number of prime “candidates” to 15, and asks that people vote for their favorite three.

The unofficial start of this campaign can be traced back to July 2014, when a young girl wrote a note to President Obama, asking why there are no women on our paper money.  Obama publicly proclaimed that he thought it was a good idea.

The 20 was picked, by the way, in part, because it seems that Andrew Jackson, who is one of the men who currently resides on a 20, should be easy to dump since, among other things, he is the one who helped get the Indian Removal Act passed, which he then signed.  It forced the relocation of thousands and thousands of Native Americans, many of whom died during this horrific Trail of Tears.

There was a time in our history when, briefly, two women did appear on paper money. According to the website Wise Geek, “…, only two women have appeared on US paper money. Martha Washington, the wife of the first US president, George Washington, appeared on the series 1886 and 1891 $1 US Dollar (USD) silver certificates. She also was on the series 1896 $1 USD silver certificate, along with her husband. Pocahontas was featured on the series 1869-1878 $10 USD notes, with the image coming from an engraving of a painting by T.A. Liebler.”

It’s not clear why women disappeared from paper money after that time.  Perhaps a good historian will be able to fill us in on that.

In any event, it does feel like a notion whose time has come.

Everyone here at the office has already gone online and voted.  I admit to being a bit biased, since we have done work over the years for the Shirley Chisholm Project.  Ms. Chisholm, who was from our own hometown, Brooklyn, was the first black woman elected to Congress and the first black person to officially run for President of the United States.  She definitely got my vote.

Of course, for every campaign there are naysayers, and this one is no different.  That right wing pundit Stephen Colbert is against putting women on our paper money and like Stephen Colbert and I think I will let him have the last word.

Science and Politics: When Feelings Trump Facts

Looking back on it, there was a time when the US was set on making science a priority in learning. Advancing our technology and teaching our children to strive toward excellence in math and science put us ahead in the Cold War and we desperately wanted to catch up with and surpass the advances made by other countries. The US made major progress – we even became the first nation on earth to land people on the moon!

By its nature, science is constantly growing and evolving (see what we did there?). We know more now than we did before – DNA, genes, the solar system, cancer research, etc.

So when did it become not only politically expedient, but popular to deny science? Science has long faced opposition from religious sources/forces, but more recently, it has been filtered most often through the lens of politics. Cases in point: we hear about climate change, evolution and vaccinations, and can immediately conjure up the last time we saw major opponents to their acceptance. These people are shown prominently in mainstream media, but more than that, are in charge of policy. Here’s where it becomes a problem.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica science is:

…any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.

The key word in that definition is “unbiased.” That means science should be an impartial resource that is equally relevant and accessible to those with myriad political opinions.

LCG has touched on this topic before, specifically with regard to news coverage of hot debate:

For us, it brings up the journalistic idea of balance wherein journalists try to get “both sides” of a news story. But what if there is no balance? Certainly, while part of the climate change story does include the fact that there are some people who deny that humans are helping to cause global warming, the deniers, by and large, are basing their claims on right wing political views, not real science. Should journalists feel compelled to include that in their stories? Currently, the jury’s out on this one, but we certainly don’t think so.

While it’s true that not everyone is a scientific genius, that does not excuse deliberate scientific illiteracy. We have professional scientists worldwide who have studied these issues extensively for decades and reached almost unanimous consensus. Not only that, some of the most important aspects have national and global consequences. Vaccination, for example, is vital to maintaining public health (as we recently saw with the measles outbreak); opinion does not counteract fact, and the ramifications of ignoring that truth can be catastrophic. Similarly, this applies to climate change. 97% of active climate researchers and the Academies of Science from 80 countries agree that humans are causiJng climate change. Of course, there should be room for political debate, but it should be over how to act, not whether to bother. For the record, it is possible to be a Republican climate scientist.

Many of us learned about scientific reasoning and methodology in school. Our society’s development owes so much to this field of study (think what would happen if we were still debating the morality of electricity instead of using it!). We are doing a disservice to ourselves and our country to turn our backs on science.

We remember past generations for their progress in this field; how will our descendants look back upon us; upon our actions and inactions? Can we really afford to make science a partisan issue?

The ever fabulous John Oliver illustrates our point.

Or, to put it differently, there’s this:

Have an Intern You’re Not Paying? It’s Wage Theft.

When our economy began to tank sometime around 2007, and jobs became more and more scarce, there appeared an incredible spate of “internships.” I use those quotation marks because these “internships” – for all kinds of jobs, in both the corporate and non-profit sectors – were unpaid. I know many people, especially young people in their 20s, who took these internships because there were so few other, paying jobs. Even though our economy is doing better, this practice of non-paying internships continues.

Unless the internship is truly that – a position that is more about education, and that doesn’t take the place of “real” work or a “real” worker – not paying interns is wage theft, pure and simple. It shocks me that companies and organizations – especially ones who deem themselves “progressive” – could engage in such a sickening practice.

As a small business owner myself, I completely understand all of the stresses that come along with a bad economy, and keeping good staff and being able to pay them properly is a big concern. But even when we were in an economic crunch, we never, ever, had unpaid interns. I believe if you can’t afford to pay someone at least minimum wage – which in NY is now $8.75/hr – don’t hire interns. Simple.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for unpaid internships, which provide a true learning experience for the intern.

But that’s not what’s going on here.

What seems to be happening is that we are turning the workplace into some kind of neo-feudalistic society (That’s a phrase coined in our office by Senior Account Executive Sonya Landau.). Or, if you prefer, a form of indentured servitude; not quite slavery, but sure feels close.

It’s gotten so bad, that there have been lawsuits filed by interns and a website, Intern Justice, that’s maintained to keep track of them all.

One notable case was brought by two Fox Searchlight interns, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, who worked on the movie “Black Swan.” According to the website ProPubica, the judge in that case, William H. Pauley III ruled in favor of the interns on June 11, 2013, arguing that, “the interns had essentially completed the work of paid employees – organizing filing cabinets, making photocopies, taking lunch orders, answering phones – and derived little educational benefit from the program, one of the criteria for unpaid internships under federal law. Pauley also ruled that the plaintiffs were employees and thus protected by minimum wage laws.” The case was so significant that it was also noted by the WageTheft website, which does, indeed, consider non-payment of interns, in most cases, to be wage theft.

ProPublica has also provided a run-down of the legalities involved in hiring interns in a piece titled, “When Is It OK to Not Pay an Intern?”

Bottom line: most of what passes for unpaid internships these days are, in fact, illegal wage thefts. If you are doing this, then you are a thief. Stop it.

Virtual Water: With Concern About Future Availability of Fresh Water Worldwide, How Are We Using the Water We Have Now?

Wow, that strawberry shortcake you’re eating sure is delicious. But do you know how much water it took to get those ingredients into the delicacy on your fork? You don’t?

If you pay any attention to science news – or even if you don’t, you probably know at least the basics about climate change. We associate it with the upsurge in global temperature, the rising ocean levels and the escalation of both size and prevalence of extreme weather events. That said, one of the most immediate issues that is increasingly dire is the availability of fresh water for crops, livestock, drinking and myriad other daily uses.

One new system aims to keep better track of the water delegated to each task, raising awareness of just how much water we use for everything we interact with on a day-to-day basis. Virtual Water documents the so-called water footprint generated by everything from specific items (e.g. 33 gallons of water/1 apple or 1lb of strawberries, 2060.5 gallons/1lb of chocolate, 660.4 gallons/1 cotton t-shirt) to an individual’s direct and indirect usage (the average global water footprint of an individual is 48911ft³ per year) to an entire country.

The next step in that logic is to look into the way countries with more or less available fresh water buy/sell/trade items that require more water. In other words, is a water-poor country exporting water-heavy products? If so, how can the country maximize its efficiency without sacrificing its earnings?

Meanwhile, in addition to turning off the tap while we brush our teeth, we could all stand to be more conscious of how much of the precious resource we use. There are several apps available, for instance, that will let you know the information behind what you’re buying, eating, using, and throwing out.

Also, if you want to learn more about water as a commodity and how its shortages relate to climate change, you can read this excellent entry on Climate Change Fork, written by our client, Prof. Micha Tomkiewicz.

More Resources:

The Virtual Water Project

Water Footprint Network

Virtual Water.Org

Apps:

Waterprint App

Virtual Water App

Fear of Ebola or Fear of Telling the Truth?

The biggest word in the news right now is Ebola.  Of course, the right wing has taken despicable advantage of this epidemic to try to strike fear into the hearts of Americans by saying, over and over, that the US is in jeopardy.  However, as someone recently said on twitter, “More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola.”  While Ebola is a definite concern, since we should always be concerned when any other nation’s people suffer and the world’s health is in jeopardy, it’s clearly not an epidemic that will have an enormous impact here in the US.

Conservative forces have been successful, once again, in playing a game of three card monte with us; they are showing us the hand that isn’t doing the trick, distracting us from what’s really going on.  And, what’s really going on?  Aside from the obvious attempt to paint the current administration as incompetent and uncaring, they are masking their own major failure to protect our health; they have held up, for more than a year, the appointment of a Surgeon General. (And yes, the Surgeon General’s office does more than print those warnings on the side of cigarette packs.) There’s an acting Surgeon General who is not actually confirmed, so he has no power.

Oh, you say you didn’t know that?  You are not alone.  This fact has been well buried.  As reported in Politico, the nominee – Dr. Vivek Murthy – has had his confirmation held up by Republicans and conservative red-state Democrats because of his outspoken views on gun violence and public health.  It was apparently this tweet that sent right wing forces over the edge:

 

 

So it turns out that the real “fear” here is that the new US Surgeon General will openly make the case that rampant gun violence constitutes a major public health threat and that, in turn, will unleash the NRA’s public relations machine which, in turn, will try to defeat any Republican or Democrat who votes to approve Murthy’s nomination.

Unfortunately, fear does tend to work.  So, while spineless elected officials try to hold up the appointment of the Nation’s leading doctor for fear of not be re-elected, Americans are being told to fear a disease that is not killing them.

A confirmed Surgeon General would not only help focus American attention and resources on the real threats to American health – including gun violence – but would obviate the need for a so-called Ebola czar and create real US leadership on the issue.

Demand that Congress confirm Dr. Murthy now. NOW.  As a matter of fact, if you go here, you can sign a Credo petition that asks for the Senate to do just that.

A Park is a Park, is a Park, or is it? In NYC, the Answer Might Be, “NO”

For the past three years or so, a large swath of New York University’s professors (who have formed a group called NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, a group we proudly represent) and the Greenwich Village community have been in a protracted and fierce struggle over NYU’s plan to expand enormously in the Village.

No one, it seems – other than NYU’s administration, especially its president, John Sexton – wants the monstrous 2 million square foot, multi-billion dollar development plan. The local community board voted unanimously against it, and 39 departments within NYU itself have voted against it. There have also been votes of no confidence passed against Sexton by a number of NYU’s schools. NYU’s own Stern School of Business – where at least two of its professors have earned Nobel Prizes in economics – voted against the unneeded, bloated and expensive plan.

It is unfortunate that in America today, many universities have become nothing more than big business, where the bottom line is most important, and education takes a back seat.

NYUFASP and other community groups have struck back hard, filing a lawsuit that would prevent NYU from implementing its plan. The groups won a big victory in court when it was ruled that NYU could not build on three strips of parkland – LaGuardia Park, LaGuardia Corner Gardens and Mercer Playground – because they are actually, well, parkland. (If you click on the link for Mercer Playground, you’ll see that it’s listed as actually part of the Parks Department!)

In NYC, not every green space is an official part of the parks department. Other agencies, like the Department of Transportation, often have authority of some of these spaces. But, fortunately, what really matters, legally, is how those spaces are used. And, in this case, some of these spaces have been used as parks for decades. In essence, NYC “gave” those parks to NYU illegally. Public parkland can’t simple be given away. In cases where the City does want to have parkland developed by a private developer or institution, there’s a legal process that has to be gone through, called “alienation,” and the City didn’t do that.

This throws a real wrench into NYU’s expansion plan, since those parks – which would be crushed – are needed for its scheme.

So, not surprisingly, NYU is appealing the decision.

What is somewhat surprising is that the City of New York is standing with NYU and appealing the ruling too. Mayor Bill de Blasio has fashioned himself as a progressive champion of the people, and that’s the basis upon which he was elected. He has shown himself to be progressive in other policies, so people are both confused and angered by the City’s response.

The appeals court appearance happened on September 24th, and, before the hearing, the NYU community, Village residents and those concerned about green spaces and overdevelopment held a rally in LaGuardia Park. Over 200 people attended, and many elected officials, including the City’s Public Advocate, Tish James, came to show their support. There was also an incredible performance by the internationally known, East Village-based group STOMP.

One of NYC’s former Commissioner of Parks, Henry Stern, supplied an affidavit for the case, saying that he tried – for 14 years – to get those pieces of parkland officially turned over to the Parks Department, but NYU blocked all attempts. He came to the rally to show his support and he also wrote a blistering editorial that appeared in the Saturday, October 4th edition of the Daily News, asking City Hall to drop its appeal.

The bottom line…everyone is still hoping that the City will come to its senses and drop the appeal. It’s not too late, and would, in fact, be the right thing for a progressive Mayor to do.

If It’s Capitalism, Why Not Teach Financial Literacy?

Photo from Google Image Search, courtesy of World Financial Group

Even though I am the president of this pr firm, I will admit that, before opening LCG Communications, I had little practical knowledge about the actual business side of running a business.

And, although I know how to balance a checkbook and have enough money in accounts to keep things “in the black,” no elementary, middle or high school class ever taught me “financial literacy.”

Oh sure, there were courses on things like making a budget or shopping for the best food bargains, but no one actually explained the nuts and bolts of capitalism and how it works.

And I know I am hardly alone.

As a result, the ins and outs of capitalism are left to the “experts,” whose job, in part, is to “tell” us what to do. No one ever explained, for example, that this “credit rating” thing could actually ruin a business or someone’s chances of getting a loan, or a mortgage, or an apartment. People marry and have families, and no one explains that the way you deal with your finances can seriously affect your ability to have the home and the life you want.

We have to deal with capitalism every day, but, for most people, it’s a high concept that’s really fuzzy and seems unrelated to what we do.

Of course, there are some courses in college that can be taken, and sometimes, local government provides courses too.

I’m bringing this up now because, just recently, we worked with the BrooklynSpeaks community groups on the new deal that will bring the promised Atlantic Yards affordable housing online ten years earlier. People will be able to apply for the housing through a lottery system. (The project has now been re-dubbed “Pacific Park.”)

What many people don’t know is that simply showing that you need the housing and can prove it – through providing tax returns, etc. – is not enough. You have to be able to show that your household is financially capable of paying the rent in a timely manner every month. And that requires that your household’s finances are in tip top shape. Of course, ironically, a large percentage of the people who really need this kind of housing won’t qualify because they are unaware of this requirement and, since they are often scrambling just to make ends meet, they simply haven’t focused on their own financial fitness as calculated by the “outside” world.

Some non-profits, like Brown Community Development Corporation, are trying to address this problem by holding free sessions about the lottery, and these sessions include advice on getting finances in shape.

But it shouldn’t have to come to this. Why don’t we include financial literacy education from elementary school through high school? Perhaps it’s because if people really understood capitalism, those in power would have to face an educated voter base who’d be less likely to stand for some of the financial shenanigans we’ve seen.

It still comes down to this: If we have to live in this world of capitalism, we need to understand it. That goes for everyone.

Texting for fun or for information? It’s different!

I have to say that I am a fan of texting.

Texting allows me to stay in touch with my family, clients and colleagues easily.  While texting can never replace an actual phone call or personal interaction, it’s a way to let people know that you are thinking of them and that you want to stay connected.

There’s different kinds of texting, though.

If you’re texting for fun or to just stay in touch, almost anything goes.

However, if you are texting to get or to give information, you need to be more careful.

For some of you, I know that this seems really obvious.  But for many, it’s not.

This was underlined for me recently when a friend was texting with another friend in an attempt to get together later in the evening to go hear some live music.  They ultimately did not get together, but not because they didn’t want to; it was because the texts – on both sides – were unclear.

The exchange went something like this:

Friend1: Was hoping to get together later to go see some music – r u available?

Friend2:  Uptown now, will be down in Union Square later.

Friend1:  Cool.  I’m all ears.

And then, there were no more texts for a couple of hours until Friend2 actually called.  By then, it was too late and they agreed to go out another time.

The problem:  Neither friend asked for enough specific information to make the get together happen.  Friend2 assumed that Friend1 understood that she wanted to meet in the Union Square area.  Friend1 thought that by saying, “I’m all ears,” Friend2 would provide a time and place to actually meet.

Moral of the story:  When you need “real” information – a time and place to meet, e.g. – don’t assume that your cute or unique way of texting will get that for you.  The other person might not understand your implications.  Be direct.  Of course, to avoid all misunderstandings when it comes to meetings, etc., just pick up the phone.

 

 

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When Will They Learn? How Big Development Projects Get Green Lighted Even Over Community Opposition

I was meeting with a client the other day, and we were bemoaning – yet again – another mega development project that did not deliver on promises made to the community.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s same stuff, different day and my client heartily agrees.  The both of us just sighed.

It is confounding to me that the same “drill” occurs, over and over again, and, yet, people don’t seem to get what’s happening.  Or, even worse, they do, but they just don’t care or are part of the problem.  This applies specifically to elected officials who continue to vote for these giant projects without changing the format – and for those of you unfamiliar with the format, here it is:

Developer wants to build a big project of some sort which will inevitably disrupt a neighborhood, take away green space, use public assets and/or financing, force lower income residents out, drive up rents, etc. – you can pick one or all of these.  Developer also claims great benefits for the community – it will stimulate the economy! Create hundreds or thousands of jobs! Bring needed services/space to the community! Etc!

They quite purposely make the project larger than they know will be approved and are very careful to include a list of so called “community benefits.”

Project goes to the local elected officials which, here in NYC, is the City Council.  The project goes to a specific committee where there is debate and “public comment,” before a vote. Some council members ask good questions.  Developers come with charts, power point presentations, people in suits.  There are the promises to the community, including jobs and a shot in the arm to the local economy, two promises that developers know elected officials cannot seem to oppose. There is sometimes even heated debate, especially during the public comment part.  Some Councilmember or other makes a big deal of telling the developer to scale back the project.  Project is scaled back (slightly), Council committee votes its approval and it’s on to a vote with the whole Council where the project is declared a win-win for everybody!

The same general “process” is used when the project involves state government too.

Perhaps I have oversimplified the situation, but that’s more or less it, unfortunately.

This is not to say, however, that there should never be any development projects or that they are all bad.  Since New York City real estate continues to become more and more valuable, many of these projects are really nothing more than a land grab in disguise and/or a way to get valuable public funding dollars for private projects.

Two NYC projects come to mind – one already mostly built, and the other on the drawing board.  The Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is almost complete except for – you guessed it – the affordable housing part that was promised to the community as part of the deal.  Some local officials did try to get the housing built along with the main project, but the move was turned down.

In Greenwich Village, NYU concocted an enormous, multi-billion dollar expansion plan that it said it needed for academic purposes.  Turns out even NYU’s faculty doesn’t buy this reason and has called NYU administration out on it.  There was a lawsuit filed by many groups and individuals in the Village, and the Court has ruled that three strips of important parkland that NYU wanted to destroy for its plan cannot be used because they are “real” parks. (NYU tried to argue that, since they weren’t “officially” part of the Parks Dept, that they aren’t really parks, even though some of those green spaces have been literally used for decades as parks.)  We’re hoping for a better outcome on this development plan, and the judge’s decision has been very encouraging.

No matter what you think of the two instances I cited, I think everyone should be able to agree that the process that leads to approval of these projects is woefully inadequate and needs to change.

Now to find some brave elected officials who are up to the task.