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60th Wedding Anniversary

parkchester times,parkchester

Fr. David

Richard and Maureen Condon were married at St. Helena Catholic Church, Bronx on July 19, 1958, and on Sunday they renewed their wedding vows during the 10:30 AM Mass. The Condons were classmates in second grade at St. Helena School, and they re-met each other at a St. Helena Dance. Maureen graduated in the third graduating class from St. Helena High School for Girls. Richard was a police officer, and they have three children and three grandchildren. Congratulations.

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“DESTINY IS A DECISION NOT DIVINE”

“DESTINY IS A DECISION NOT DIVINE”

STEMDUP ERA

 

The single most important element for a person, neighborhood, town and a nation to thrive is good education. However there won’t be good public education without good educational infrastructures. And there can’t be good infrastructures in the absence of strong commitment to public safety.

We’ve painfully learned so well in the Bronx that deterioration of law and order have contributed to the regrettable regressions Bronxites are accustomed to and sadly normalized.

Poor communities (such as ours) and nations (some of us come from) continue to be poorer for lack of prioritizing good education in a scientifically and technically rapid changing universe around them.  And for those mightily striving for socioeconomic development in the midst of privation, they have to own the ‘know hows’ and the tools of development since sustainable development can’t be outsourced permanently.

Furthermore, in terms of public safety, we all have recognized the fact that post-September 11 expenditures on local, national and international public safety aren’t prudent, sustainable or worst yet being able to alleviate hateful global violent attacks and conflicts.

So, because of our government’s wrong priorities with our tax dollars concerning peace and conflict, towns such as the Bronx have been neglected by the federal government who’s irresponsibly preoccupied dumping our finite resources into its endless and easily containable global Wall Street conflicts.

It is time to permanently end poverty, violence and normalization of failures in our neighborhoods in the Bronx and beyond. We said it is for STEMDUP ERA.

 

What is STEMDUP?

STEMDUP is the combination of our Wall Street, School System, Public Safety, and Peacebuilding expertise packaged into an innovative educational program bound to permanently transformed the unacceptable status quo of poverty, educational failures and hateful violence that too many of our peoples have unconsciously normalized as divine fate.  When it is absolutely not!

We are honored to inform you all that Bronx will be piloting a bilingual STEMDUP ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL, K-12, starting in the academic year 2019/20, followed by other counties and countries. #stemdupera #stemdupschools #stemdupacademy #stemdupinstitute #stemdup

For further information about STEMDUP ERA, please inbox us at: admin@stemdupacademy.org. Thank you!

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Political crisis in Ethiopia and the risks of ripple effect humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa

Political crisis in Ethiopia and the risks of ripple effect humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa

 

By:Nick Ogutu

Refugee and Immigrant Rights Activist, Executive Director of Columbia University based Initiative, Safari Yangu Immigrant Stories, President, Amnesty International Bronx New York. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

Nick Ogutu
Mr. Nick Ogutu

Ethiopia, with more than 100 million people, is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria. It hosts the headquarters of the African Union and its geographical location makes it a strategic resource for the Western powers in their counterterrorism efforts. Ethiopia maintains very strong support from foreign donors despite its deteriorating human rights record (New York Times, 2016).

Ethiopia is currently under a state of emergency due to recent protests and violence. This violence has caused widespread internal displacement. In addition to its own internal turmoil, Ethiopia plays a crucial role in the region as a host of refugees itself. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 2018), “Ethiopia is host to the second largest refugee population in Africa, with over 847,200 refugees from nineteen countries, the majority originating from neighboring South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan”. The political crisis in Ethiopia cannot, therefore, be told in isolation. Ethiopia is part of the Horn of Africa, the easternmost extension of African land, comprised of the countries mentioned above, and Kenya. These countries share a long history and many diverse communities live across the region. Due to political instability, the region has seen many conflicts and is very fragile. This article will examine the complex relationships between Ethiopia and its neighbors in order to understand the risks of a multi-country humanitarian and refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa.

The Ethiopia and Eritrea Conflict

Following many years of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea and at some point, involving Italy as well, Eritrea was formally recognized as an independent country after the 1993 referendum. Eritrea believes that Ethiopia is constructed of different nationalities that were forced together during the imperial scrambles for Africa, and is therefore held together with weak, artificial alliances. Therefore, the Eritrean opposition’s approach has been to conduct sharp, well directed military offenses in the hopes that Ethiopia will collapse. Hence, they identified south-eastern Ethiopia, inhibited by Ethiopians of Somali origin, as the weakest point of Ethiopia. For more than 30 years, escalation of conflict has continued along borders killing many people, displacing many people from their homes and adding to the regional refugee crisis (Axel Borchgrevink & Jon Harald Sande Lie, 2009).

The hostility between these countries has adversely affected the Somali communities that live along the common border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. According to a Human Rights Watch report (2018), the Somali region security forces’ intolerance for dissent by the Somali community extends beyond the border into Eritrean territory, targeting families with relatives across the border. Hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced since.

Ethiopia’s Long Border with Somalia & The Somali Diaspora
(Photo credit: Nick Ogutu) Ethiopia’s Long Border with Somalia & The Somali Diaspora

Somalia has almost one million citizens living in the diaspora, many of which are refugees and asylum seekers. Any conflict in Ethiopia would result in a grave situation in Somalia, given the long, unmarked border that Ethiopia and Somalia share. In fact, Ethiopian military has in the past crossed its southeastern border and intervened inside Somalia (New York Times, 2011)

Somalia is one of the most unstable countries in the region at the moment. Since the former president Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in a bloody civil war in 1991, Somalia has not had a stable government. Parts of the country have either seceded or are run by different warlords. Some militant groups like the Union of Islamic courts, which later evolved into the now infamous Al-Shabaab, have been labeled as terrorist organizations.

More than 10 peace conferences were held throughout the 1990s to address the sources of conflict and possibilities for peace in Somalia, but they were largely unsuccessful. (Axel Borchgrevink & Jon Harald Sande Lie, 2009). Since then, other efforts followed, and Somalia is now governed under the Federal Government of Somalia, a government which is not widely accepted and has faced constant opposition and threats from different militant groups. The fragile government is protected by the African peacekeeping forces, AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia).

Ethiopia’s southern Kenya Border & Regional Refugee Hosting Challenges

Kenya is one of the most stable countries in the region, with a diverse economy and vibrant democracy, civil society, and press. However, Kenya has faced its own human rights challenges. Just like Somalia, Kenya shares common ethnic and geographical similarities with Ethiopia. The upper eastern province of Kenya is predominantly Oromo and Somali ethnic populations, ethnic groups that also reside in Ethiopia and Somalia. Apart from the recently arrived refugees, many of the Oromo and Somali ethnic populations have lived in Kenyan for decades and are Kenyan citizens.

The Kenyan government has long supported the Ethiopian government, showing a blind eye to the human rights violations it is accused of.   Ethiopian refugees face so many challenges in Kenya. It takes months if not years to get official recognition as a refugee, a status you need to access any benefits from the host government or UNHCR (United National High Commission for Refugees). Kenya has an encampment policy, which requires refugees to stay in the camps at Dadaab and Kakuma. These camps presently also house refugees from Sudan and Somalia. The two camps are the biggest in the world and cannot accommodate any more refugees. Refugees in Kenya who choose to not stay in the camps faces arrest and prosecution by the Kenyan authorities. Amnesty International Annual report (2018), explains how the Ethiopian government has taken advantage of that loop-hole in Kenya refugee policy to harass their own citizens in Kenya. The Ethiopian Embassy in Nairobi has recruited spies and bribed the Kenyan police to target the Oromo refugees in Nairobi and other cities (Human Rights Watch, 2018). Many of these refugees have been either killed, tortured, or deported back to Ethiopia.

Kenya has gone through its own internal economic and social challenges that have had negative effects on the refugee populations it hosts. The economy is shrinking, and the country is divided along tribal and regional lines due to political upheavals. For a number of years, Kenya has threatened to close down the refugee camps (UNHCR, 2015) and repatriate the refugees back to their countries of origin, citing security fears and the economic burden. Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps remain open only due to a court order and international pressure. UNHCR (2017) while urging the government to reconsider their decision, issued this statement, “UNHCR works closely with the Government of Kenya and we understand well the current regional security situation and the seriousness of the threats Kenya is facing. We also recognize the obligation of the government to ensure the security of its citizens and other people living in Kenya, including refugees.” Kenya is concerned about terror groups using refugee camps as recruitment centers, especially after the Garissa university terror attack (Kenya Daily Nation, 2017). The terror suspects were found to be operating from the Dadaab refugee camp.

Current Ethiopian Political Concerns

If the Ethiopian crisis escalates, it could spiral into a regional catastrophe affecting more than six countries. When the former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his draft of reforms that included the release of thousands of political prisoners (Human Rights Watch, 2018), there was a sense of relief among civil society and the international community that finally the government was serious about addressing some of its political issues. However, his resignation weeks later shocked many, and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency (Reuters, 2018). Some of the recently released prisoners have since been re-arrested (Amnesty International, 2018) and then released on bail, and many people live in fear.

Ethiopia Prime Minister
(Photo credit: Nick Ogutu: Ethiopia Prime Minister)

Since the state of emergency was declared in Ethiopia, almost one million Ethiopians have been internally displaced, and thousands have crossed the border into Kenya. Activists have also sounded the alarm on the rising incidences of rape and other gender-based violence, allegedly committed by the police and the military (Amnesty International, 2018). Last month’s election of the new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, a former lieutenant-colonel in the army and the first Prime Minister from the Oromo community, has not definitely quelled any fears from the general public.

The Ethiopian situation is a time-bomb that the international community must take an active role in to ensure stability. With a population of over 100 million, the current refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa risks meeting the levels of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Iraq, and the Congo. With so much instability in the region, including the ongoing war in South Sudan, most of the countries neighboring Ethiopia are terrified.

There has been evidence of victims of slavery and human trafficking in Libya are refugees from the horn of Africa (The East African, 2018). Any further escalation of violence Ethiopia and instability in the region will push more refugees to attempt the already dangerous journey to Europe through North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

Reforms Required: A Call to Action

The political opposition, civil society, and the press must be given a respected space and a voice in Ethiopian society to ensure transparent governance. The Ethiopian democratic space must be opened and widened as the political landscape is quickly shifting. It will have to accommodate the people’s demands, especially the most vulnerable such as displaced populations, if the current ruling party wants to govern equitably.

As a key western ally receiving billions of dollars from the U.S., U.K., Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada, the West must use that leverage for reforms before instability in Ethiopia have widespread repercussions across the region. All political prisoners should be released, responsive and representative government formed, end state of emergency, compensate victims of violence and perpetrators of crime to face justice.  Without these urgent reforms, unrest in the country could have a domino effect in what is an already volatile part of the African continent.

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Gang Free Zone

gang free zone

PRESS CONFERENCE TO ANNOUNCE A $5000 DONATION TO ‘COMMUNITY PUBLIC SAFETY PARTNERSHIP’ IN SUPPORT OF ITS WEEKLY ‘PEACEMAKERS DINNERS’ FROM THE YEMENI BRONX BUSINESS OWNERS.

 

Event: Press Conference

Date: Monday, July 9, 2018

Time: 11:00-12:00 PM.

Venue: Steps of Bronx Courthouse Building

Location: 851 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY 10451

Contact: 718-822-5555 or info@peacepatrol.org

 

Re: Gang Free Zone initiative

 

We would like to take this momentous opportunity to express our profound gratitude to you all for your commitment to our New York ‘Gang Free Zone’ initiative.

Gang violence, according to NYPD, has consistently been the single largest contributor to overall devastating crime rates.  While too many folks look at these (mostly) young perpetrators with disgust and avoidance, we, on the other hand, see them as naïve victims failed by societal protective pillars. Another word, we see them as victims as much as we abhor their activities.

Although the Big Apple remains the safest big city in the nation, gang violence has nonetheless continues to rob too many families of their loved ones, devastate our communities, and deprived us of any sustainable socioeconomic progress in our affected neighborhoods.

So since gang violence is the single most urgent public safety challenge faced by New Yorkers, especially those in low income neighborhoods, Community Public Safety Partnership, through its weekly Peacemakers Dinners, has been very effective in countering gang recruitments. “It takes a village to protect our neighborhoods.”

In conclusion, we’re deeply indebted to our New York City Councilmember, Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr., State Senator Luis Sepulveda and State Assembly Victor Pichardo for their willingness to sponsor this historic and life-saving ‘Gang Free Zone’ legislature in New York.  We also thank the Yemeni business owners for their generous donation. It is our position that restriction of gang activities in certain venues must be vigorously enforced and violators severely punished.

Please contact Rev. Diaz, Mr. Sepulveda and Mr. Pichardo and thank them for their leadership on this noble piece of legislature. God bless you all! #gangfreezone #nycpc #revdiazsr #luissepulveda #victorpichardo #nyc #nys #nypd #justiceforjunior #iamjimenez #cpsp

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A Gross Example of What Fake News Looks Like

A Gross Example of What Fake News Looks Like

You should know that recently I personally experienced a case of “Fake News”.

As you know my dear reader, I am the Chairman of the newly created “Committee on For – Hire – Vehicles” at the NYC Council. This committee deals with all for hire vehicles and companies such as Uber, Lift, yellow Cabs, Black Car, Livery, Green, Para-Transit, etc…

Councilman Fernando Cabrera and I introduced a piece of legislation {Intro., # 958} to deal with excessive fines given to Livery Taxi Drivers when committing a traffic violation such as picking up a hailing passenger. This is called an “Illegal Street Hail”.

For Illegal Street Hails drivers, specifically (Livery Drivers), who happen to be Black, Latino, and immigrants are being severely punished with hefty fines as high as $10,000.00 and face having their (T.L.C.) Taxi and Limousine Commission’s License suspended.

It is important for you to know that our Legislation {Intro., #958} deals exclusively with the mentioned hefty fines imposed on drivers for “Illegal Street Hails”, and NOT for refusing to pick up passengers of color. But surprise, surprise; according to Dana Rubinstein a Reporter for “Politico” on Tuesday June 26th wrote that these fines “are designed in part to deter the widespread and persistent problem in this city of trying to hail a cab while Black.” This is False, False, False, and False reports.

Dana Rubenstein failed to mention in her report that the $10,000.00 fines, imposed by the TLC are NOT for livery drivers refusing to pick up passengers, quite the contrary. These fines are given to livery drivers because they picked up passengers in violation of the “Illegal Street Hail” which is a city ordinance. Ms. Rubenstein also failed to report that these fines are given only to Livery drivers who happen to be Black, Latino, and from immigrant communities.

Another case of “Fake News” appeared in the New York Post on June 26th. It was reported that “ Two City Council Members introduced a bill so racially charged that the NAACP testified against it.” Both the New York Post and Politico journalists, intentionally or unintentionally forgot or refused to mention the hefty fines as high as $10,000 imposed on livery drivers, members of communities of color. Both these reports failed to mention that the fines are imposed for picking up “Illegal Street Hails”, and not for refusing to pick up street hails.

Both these journalist should know the difference between drivers wanting to pick up “street hails”, but are not authorized. As a result they get a hefty $10,000 fine for doing so. The majority of these drivers receiving fines are Black, Latinos, and immigrant drivers. These drivers are not the same as a driver’s who are authorized to pick up street hails, but refuse to pick up a passenger based on racial discrimination. There is a big difference and as journalists they should know that.

These reporters should also know that those who are refusing to pick up street hails are NOT Livery Vehicles. It is the Livery drivers that are asking for equality and justice. The Livery drivers are only asking for fair, equal treatment and for the opportunity to pick up street hails without being penalized with these outrageous fines and punishment for trying to earn a decent and honest living.

Our bill stipulates that those excessive fines should be lowered. Obviously, said fines are outrageously high not befitting the violation.

These are the facts. This is the truth about said legislation, yet both these two reporters from “Politico” and the “New York Post” on Tuesday June 26th both grossly distorted the facts, and reported a gross example of “Fake News”. Hmmmm, could this be a failure to check their facts? I invite you to read our bill {Intro., # 958} and you decide my dear reader what is real (truth) and what is fake (false).

Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered the police not to arrest and send to prison marijuana smokers, those who skip the tolls of trains and those who urinate publicly in the streets, because according to the punishment is too great for the crime they make.

Then I asked: Why penalize the drivers of the liveries with fines of up to 10,000.00 for just picking up passengers on the street, in order to honestly earn bread for their family?

This is Councilman Rev. Ruben Diaz, and this is what you should know.

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NYC Excessive Heat Warning

NYC Excessive Heat Warning

WITH PROLONGED HEAT CONTINUING INTO THE WEEK NYC EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AND THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND MENTAL HYGIENE URGE NEW YORKERS TO TAKE PRECAUTIONS TO STAY COOL 

Excessive Heat Warning in effect through Monday morning

Cooling centers remain open through Wednesday 7/4. To find the nearest cooling center call 311 or visit www.nyc.gov/beattheheat 

Parks department will extend daily NYC pool hours to 8 p.m. through Tuesday 7/3 for Olympic and Intermediate pools

   With high heat and humidity continuing to affect New York City into the week, the New York City Emergency Department and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are urging New Yorkers to continue to take steps to beat the heat. The National Weather Service has issued an Excessive Heat Warning for New York City in effect through 6 a.m. Monday, 7/2. An Excessive Heat Watch for New York City will be in effect from 6 a.m. through 9 p.m. Monday 7/2. According to the latest National Weather Service forecast, temperatures today are in the upper 90s, with heat index values in excess of 100 degrees.  Temperatures are forecast in the mid to upper 90s through Wednesday, with heat index values in the mid to upper 90s.

An Excessive Heat Warning is issued when a combination of heat and humidity is expected to make it feel like it is 105 degrees or greater. New Yorkers should use air conditioning to stay cool at home or go to a place that has air conditioning. New York City cooling centers will remain open throughout the five boroughs through Wednesday, July 4. Cooling centers are air-conditioned facilities such as libraries, community centers, senior centers, and NYCHA facilities that are open to the public during heat emergencies. To find a cooling center, including accessible facilities closest to you, call 311 (212-639-9675 for Video Relay Service, or TTY: 212-504-4115) or visit the NYC Cooling Center Finder atwww.nyc.gov/beattheheat.

“The hot weather will continue into the week and we urge people to keep safe,” said New York City Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito. “Drink plenty of water, use air conditioning or go to an air-conditioned place, and avoid strenuous outdoor activity during the periods of intense heat.”

“Hot and humid weather like what we’re experiencing this weekend can cause heat illness, and even death,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “If you have air conditioning and you have not used it up until now, now is the time to turn it on. Setting it to “low” or 78 degrees Fahrenheit will keep you cool and keep your bills in check. For those without air conditioning, especially older adults and people with chronic health conditions, we urge you to seek an air-conditioned place in your neighborhood or go to a NYC Cooling Center. As always, we urge New Yorkers to Be A Buddy and check on your neighbors, family and friends who may be at greater risk for heat illness and make sure they are safe and cool.”

Extreme heat is defined by temperatures that hover 10 degrees or more above the average high temperature for the region, last for prolonged periods, and are accompanied by high humidity. The New York City Emergency Management Department urges New Yorkers to take steps to protect themselves and help others who may be at increased risk from the heat. Those at increased risk are people who do not have or use air conditioning AND:

  • Are 65 years or older;
  • Have chronic medical, mental health, or cognitive/developmental conditions;
  • Take certain medications, which can disrupt the regulation of body temperature;
  • Are confined to their beds, have limited mobility, or are unable to leave their homes;
  • Are obese; or
  • Misuse alcohol or drugs.

CHECK ON THOSE PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TO THE HEAT:

  • In New York City, most heat-related deaths occur after exposure to heat in homes without air conditioners. Air conditioning is the best way to stay safe and healthy when it is hot outside. Encourage at-risk New Yorkers to use air conditioning. Help them get to an air-conditioned place, even if for a few hours, if they cannot stay cool at home. Make sure they are drinking plenty of water.
  • Get to know your neighbors.  During extreme heat, call or visit at-risk neighbors, friends and family, such as older adultsand anyone with a pre-existing medical condition. This small but crucial gesture can help ensure that we all have a safe and healthy summer.
  • During extreme heat, the Department of Social Services (DSS) issues a Code Red Alert, initiating enhanced outreach efforts. During Code Red periods, shelter is available system-wide to accommodate anyone who is reasonably believed to be homeless. Homeless individuals experiencing heat-related discomfort are also able to access the designated cooling area at any shelter; and transportation to cooling centers is available via DSS outreach teams, who are out 24/7/365, checking on and engaging vulnerable clients with greater frequency.
  • The Parks department is extending general swim hours to8 p.m. at all outdoor Olympic and Intermediate pools beginning through Tuesday 7/3. City beaches are open and will operate on a normal schedule from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. Parks has more than 600 spray showers, which will remain available until sundown, or later if actively in use by the public. Free SPF 30 sunscreen is available at all City pools and beaches.

ADDITIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY TIPS FOR PROTECTION AGAINST THE HEAT:

  • Stay out of the sun and avoid extreme temperature changes.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Drink fluids, particularly water, even if you do not feel thirsty. Your body needs water to keep cool. Those on fluid-restricted diets or taking diuretics should first consult their physician.
  • Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies. Avoid beverages containing alcohol and/or caffeine.
  • Eat small, frequent meals.
  • Avoid strenuous activity, especially during the sun’s peak hours:11 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.
  • If possible, go to an air-conditioned location for several hours during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Cool down with a cool bath or shower.
  • Participate in activities that will keep you cool, such as going to the movies, shopping at a mall, or swimming at a pool or beach.
  • Cover all exposed skin with an SPF sunscreen (15 or above) and wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and head.
  • Never leave your children or pets in the car.

For more information, visit www.nyc.gov/health

FACTS ABOUT HEAT ILLNESS:

Heat illness is serious. Prolonged exposure to the heat can be harmful and potentially fatal. The added stress caused by heat can also aggravate heart or lung disease even without symptoms of heat illness.

Know the warning signs of heat stress. If you or someone you know feels weak or faint, go to a cool place and drink water. If there is no improvement, call a doctor or 911.

Call 911 immediately if you have, or someone you know has:

  • Hot dry skin.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Confusion, disorientation, or dizziness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

 

KEEPING YOUR PETS SAFE

  • Avoid dehydration: Pets can dehydrate quickly, so give them plenty of fresh, clean water.
  • Exercise early and late: When the temperature is very high, don’t let your dog linger on hot asphalt. Your pet’s body can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can burn.
  • Know when your pet is in danger: Symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor, or even collapse. Animals with flat faces like pugs and Persian cats are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. They should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.
  • Keep cats safe by installing screens in your windows: Unscreened windows pose a real danger to cats, as they can fall out of them often during summer months.

IMPROPER FIRE HYDRANT USE:

The improper opening of fire hydrants wastes 1,000 gallons of water per minute, causes flooding on city streets, and can lower water pressure to dangerous levels and hamper the ability of FDNY to fight fire safely and quickly.

Properly used “spray caps” reduce hydrant output to a safe 25 gallons per minute while still providing relief from the heat. To obtain a spray cap, an adult 18 years or older with proper identification can go to his or her local firehouse and request one.

For more information, visit NYC.gov/beattheheat. New Yorkers are encouraged to sign up for Notify NYC, the City’s free emergency communications program. To sign up for Notify NYC, download thefree mobile application, visit NYC.gov/NotifyNYC, call 311, or follow @NotifyNYC on Twitter

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The Deadly Scandal at NYCHA

The Deadly Scandal at NYCHA

By Robert Golomb

 

The United States  Declaration of Independence guarantees every American the “Right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Tell that to the more than four hundred thousand mostly poor and working- class tenants of New York City Housing Authority buildings, many of whom live in apartments containing dangerous levels of exposure to lead paint poisoning.

Such exposure, medical research has found, can cause severe medical problems across all age groups. A woman’s exposure to lead paint during pregnancy has been proven to be among the greatest risk factors for the premature birth of their newborns; a child’s exposure to lead paint poisoning from their infancy to the age of 6 has been shown to be linked to lower mental and  physical development and impulse control problems,  sometimes leading later to failure in school and even violent criminal activity;  an adult’s exposure to it increases the chances that he or she will suffer from high blood pressure, joint and muscle discomfort and memory loss.  For people of all ages, extremely high levels of such exposure can result in death.

This, though, is far from a new problem, for the dangers associated with lead paint poisoning exposure for people residing in all public as well as private housing units built prior to 1978 (the year that the use of lead paint, the most common cause of lead poisoning, became prohibited by federal law in all newly built private and public housing) have been known by physicians, other health care providers and scientific researchers for years prior to 1978.

However, there had been few reported public outcries blaming elected officials or their appointed health and housing commissioners for not solving the problem. Rather, most were seemingly given the benefit of the doubt by the media and the public, which, realizing that most public housing units were built before 1978, viewed lead paint poisoning as a health concern, rather than as a political issue.

Yet, as was documented in an 80- page complaint which was issued recently by the United States Attorney of the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman against the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), there is sadly a highly political component intertwined with the health issue of exposure to lead paint poisoning.  Politics, of course, is not a vice, and many politicians are virtuous. But as Berman made clear in his report, which came after a 2- year investigation, the political environment surrounding the running of the NYCHA under the watch of both the current Mayor Bill de Blasio and his predecessor Michael Bloomberg became a breeding ground for deception and corruption.

That deception and corruption, detailed by Berman in the complaint, involved a systematic scheme in which NYCHA officials actually instructed their staff on how to hide signs of lead paint exposure from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigators during their yearly inspections of city public housing sites. More disheartening still, as Berman was aware from the outset of the investigation, this scandal actually went to the top of NYCHA chain of command- to now former NYCHA chairwoman, Shola Olatoye.

Appointed to her position by Mayor de Blasio 4 years ago, Olatoye had prior to 2016 been the subject of an investigation from the New York City Department of Investigation (DOJ), which later formed the basis of Berman’s federal complaint.  The DOJ investigation culminated this past April with a report that found that Olatoye had on several occasions issued false reports to HUD, citing dates and times of NYCHA inspections, while knowing such purported inspections had never occurred. It came as little surprise, but no help to the tenants who were the victims of her deceit, that she resigned from her position at NYCHA shortly following the release of the DOJ report. It did come as a surprise to many NYCHA tenants and some in media that Mayor de Blasio refused to acknowledge the harm that she had caused to the residents of NYCHA by falsifying reports about lead inspections.  But the lies did not end here.

The plot to deceive federal inspectors, Berman also found, was not restricted to covering up lead paint exposure which is the most lethal, but far from the only health hazard faced by families living in public housing.  He discovered that through a “Quick Fix Tips” list they covertly developed, NYCHA officials instructed their managers, mechanics and other staff on how to hide other serious health and safety related hazards-  including roach and rodent infestations, infectious molds, malfunctioning elevators, water leaks and heating outages- from federal housing inspectors.

Fortunately for the beleaguered tenants of the NYCHA, the daily ordeal of living under these horrid conditions appears to have ended along with the corruption that caused it.  With Berman’s report staring them in the face, NYCHA officials had no option but to accept responsibility for their unspeakable conduct and agree to sign a federal consent decree as part of a legal settlement with the federal government.  Losing their former autonomy over public housing, NYCHA will now under the provisions of the decree have to answer to a court appointed monitor. With that, the days of NYCHA tenants being deprived of basic services due to false reporting by NYCHA officials have seemingly ended.

NYC tenants will also benefit from the financial obligation that the decree placed on New York City, separate and apart from NYCHA.  Found by Berman to be critically underfunding public housing, NYC under the decree must allocate from the city’s budget an additional $ 2.2 billion dollars to NYCHA- a believed significant but undisclosed amount of which will go to pay for the damages awarded to 19 children who incurred serious medical damage due to their exposure to lead poisoning.  NYCHA also agreed to pay $ 200 million for a minimum of one year after. With that, the days of NYCHA tenants being deprived of basic services due to the frugality of the NYC government elected officials have seemingly ended.

Still the harm already suffered by many tenants cannot be undone. The monetary settlement given to the 19 children who were the victims of lead paint poisoning cannot, of course, restore  their health to them.  And tragically they might well be just a small percentage of the actual number of the victims.  According to the finding of Berman’s investigation, there are likely to be many more children suffering from exposure to lead paint poison who remain undiagnosed because, due to the cover up of NYCHA officials, they were never tested for it.

If somehow these officials who perpetuated this horrible deceit are still able to sleep at night, that might end if Berman, as he suggested he is considering, files criminal charges against them.

There are two reasons why Mayor de Blasio, who has a long record of missing public events due to oversleeping, has probably not allowed the harm caused to these children to interfere with his own sleep.  For one, he knows that he himself does not face criminal charges concerning the scandals at NYCHA, for indifference to the suffering of the citizens he swore to serve is not a crime.

Secondly, de Blasio has seemingly exonerated himself from his own moral and political responsibility in this scandal, instead placing the blame on the state and federal governments for what he claimed were their “decades of divestments” in the NYCHA.  However, upon hearing de Blasio’s claims, Berman responded that it was not the feds or the state who bore the blame but rather the cause was that NYCHA was “a dysfunctional operation … fundamentally flawed and engaged in a culture of false statements and concealment.”

Thankfully for the good men, women and children living in NYCHA buildings, Geoffrey Berman has finally ended that sorrowful culture.

The Deadly Scandal at NYCHA

 

 

Robert Golomb is a nationally and internationally published columnist. Mail him at MrBob347@aol.com and follow him on Twitter@RobertGolomb

 

 

 

 

 

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Br. Ricardo Professes Solemn Vows at St. Helena

Br. Ricardo Professes Solemn Vows at St. Helena

Br. Ricardo David Rivera Ortiz of the Face of Jesus and St. Joachim professed his perpetual, solemn religious vows during a nearly two-hour, bi-lingual Mass on June 23 before the Superior General of the Piarist Fathers at St. Helena Parish in Parkchester.  All Piarist Fathers profess religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, as well as a special fourth religious vow to educate youth, especially the poor.

Br. Ricardo has just completed his third year of seminary studies at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.  He is the third of five children of Dr. Hector and Zelideth Rivera of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico.  He began his discernment with the Piarist Fathers in 2006 and in 2011 graduated with a BFA and a concentration in painting from the University of Puerto Rico.  He did some professional modeling before joining the Piarist Fathers, and he was sent to Miami to study philosophy.  He graduated with a BA in 2013 from St. John Vianney Seminary and was then sent to Mexico City for a year for his novitiate.  He then made temporary vows and was sent by his religious superiors to Puerto Rico to complete his teaching certification, which he did in 2015 at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, and he was then sent to St. Helena Parish in the Bronx for his theological studies.  He enjoys singing and is a first tenor with the St. Joseph’s Seminary Schola Cantorum.

Br. Ricardo’s family flew in for the event.  Also present were priests from the seminary, over 100 parishioners, and over 30 members from the Piarist Fathers Province of the United States and Puerto Rico who attended the solemn profession, which was made before the Piarist Superior General, the Most Rev. Pedro Aquado, Sch.P. who flew in from the Piarist Generalate in Rome for the occasion.  Solemn vows are taken publicly and are received by a religious superior in the name of the Church.  Temporary vows are taken for a fixed period of time while perpetual vows never expire.  Only the pope can dispense a person from solemn vows. A religious community of men whose members profess solemn vows is called a religious Order, and its members are called “regulars.” The formal name of the Piarist Fathers is the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Pious Schools.  Founded by St. Joseph Calasanz in 1617, The Piarist Fathers is the only religious order of men whose members profess a religious vow to educated youth.  In 1597, St. Joseph Calasanz opened the world’s first free public school in Europe.  There are now 1,400 Piarist Fathers teaching in 36 counties around the world.

Br. Ricardo Professes Solemn Vows at St. Helena
Br. Ricardo Professes Solemn Vows at St. Helena

 

Contact:  Rev. David Powers, Sch.P. 718-892-3232