Happy to Be a New Yorker on Thanksgiving

With mayhem raging across the globe, I am particularly grateful this Thanksgiving for being an American and a New Yorker.

The root of the terrorism nightmare in Paris and elsewhere is intolerance. The Islamic State looks not only at Christians and Jews, but at the “wrong” Muslims, as infidels who must be destroyed. And on a lesser scale, we still have too many people in this nation who look at those unlike themselves as frightening or inferior.

Not so much in New York. We mingle on a daily basis with people of all colors, religions and sexual orientations. When your face is two inches away from people of a different color or background on the subway each day, it’s hard to generalize about them.

The city of Houston recently voted down a gay rights ordinance because religious extremists stirred up fears about which bathroom transgender people would use. Honestly, do you really care? Half the bathrooms in NYC restaurants are now unisex, and no one blinks an eye. We are too sophisticated for such nonsense.

Tolerance and respecting differences are the hallmarks of a New Yorker. You’re devoutly religious? Good for you. An atheist? Fine with me. New Yorkers see couples of different religions or races, or two men or women in love holding hands, and most of us smile. Don’t try this in Saudi Arabia__or Iran__or, yes, too many backward enclaves in the U.S.,

We feel safe to be ourselves in this town. Yes, we’re aware that we’ll always be a prime target of terrorists, but we don’t let fanatics dictate our way of life. Speaking of which, this might be a good time to salute Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and former commissioner Ray Kelly for making New York City the gold standard for vigilance against such terrorist threats. Thank you.

And while we’re giving thanks, don’t you think Thanksgiving is the perfect time for Congress to show their appreciation to those who made incredible sacrifices for us on 9-11? Renew the Zadroga Act!

This holiday isn’t about gift-giving or setting off fireworks, It’s about family, friends and gratitude. And I’m thankful to reside in a live-and-let-live city of diversity and tolerance. Let’s never take that for granted. Happy Thanksgiving!


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Sorting Out the Homeless from the Hustlers

At my lowest point years ago, I was out of work, owed MasterCard five figures and couldn’t pay my rent. When an aggressive panhandler jumped in front of my friend and me and barked, “Gimme a dollar,” I snapped.

“No, you give me two!” I roared. The startled guy gave me the money, and my friend thought I was Superman. In truth, I was Super Deranged Man, but I actually intimidated the guy. Hmm, maybe I could make a living doing this . . .

Today, some people do, including the guy who bragged to the New York Post he pulls in up to $200 an hour begging in front of Grand Central with his dog.

Make no mistake: There’s a real homeless crisis in NYC, it’s clearly getting worse, and adequate housing must be provided. But those who conflate homelessness with scamming beggars are muddying the waters.

When NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said recently the best way to get rid of panhandlers is to not give them money, the self-righteous had a field day.

“If he thinks the number of people in need is going to diminish because people don’t give, he’s mistaken,” said Mary Brosnahan, an activist for people who are homeless. That’s clearly not what Bratton was saying. He was talking about enabling scamming panhandlers.

Whoever said “beggars can’t be choosers” never met the guy planted in front of my local Korean deli. “Spare change on your way out?” he asks. “I’m hungry.”

“OK, I’ll get you a sandwich,” I offer. “Nah, I’ll get it myself — just give me the money.”

Fat chance. But it wasn’t 30 seconds before a neighbor exited the deli and handed the guy a $5 bill. As the neighbor strolled off, patting himself on the back for his good deed, the panhandler entered the store and bought a Corona six-pack. He’ll never leave this spot now — too many suckers.

If you still have a problem sorting out the scammers from the truly needy, here are the solutions. Offer them food. Direct them to the nearest soup kitchen. Contribute to the non-profits (City Harvest, etc.) that help those in need.

Meanwhile, anyone with eyes knows we have a growing problem with both homelessness and con-artist panhandlers. Time to take concrete steps to deal with both.

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Veterans, Soldiers and the 99.5%

The largest Veterans Day Parade in the nation marches up NYC’s Fifth Avenue today. Do you care?

Years ago, almost everyone had friends and relatives serving in the military. Those days are long gone.

About 2.7 million Americans from all walks of life served in Vietnam. Right after the war, in 1973, the draft ended and the all-volunteer army began. With no one obligated to join, today less than one-half of 1% of the U.S. population serves in the military.

So who is doing the fighting for us? Hint: It’s not the well-to-do, or even the middle class. The economically disadvantaged and those from military families dominate the ranks. They often live in communities separated from the general population. And too often, it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.

When George W. Bush steered us into a war with Iraq after 9-11 (even though that nation had nothing to do with the attack) would you have paid closer attention if you were personally at risk of serving and dying? Of course. When the general population isn’t in danger of being drafted, all presidents have less political accountability.

In 1975, 70% of members of Congress had some military service, compared to just 20% today. For them too, the idea of going to war has become an abstraction instead of something they’ve experienced firsthand.

After more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and the price paid in blood and treasure, the situation is worse than when we began, by any objective standard. But how can we prevent such disasters in the future?

The answer is obvious—bring back the draft. People are less likely to catch war fever when it’s them and theirs that will be doing the fighting. What’s also obvious is that this will never happen. At a time when the left and right see eye-to-eye on virtually nothing, this is one issue where they are in hearty agreement. Yes, they believe in defending their country__as long as it’s not them doing the defending.

The U.S. servicemen and women being honored today served our nation proudly, and saying “Thank you for your service” is the least we can do.

But are we really saying “Better you than me?”

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When You Bash Immigrants, You Bash NY’s Finest

Most of you reading this are descendants of immigrants or you’re immigrants yourselves. Immigrants have always been the lifeblood of NYC. The NYPD has been diversifying its force for years, and now about 25 percent of new recruits are foreign born.

Slain NYPD Det. Randolph Holder was laid to rest in his native Guyana last week, while less than a year ago, fellow NYPD hero Wenjian Liu, a Chinese immigrant seeking the American dream, was also killed in the line of duty.

A disservice to their memory is taking place in the presidential campaign, with immigrant-bashing raising its ugly head, most famously but not solely in Donald Trump’s comment that “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending us their best . . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain expressed distaste for such statements. “I’ve walked into restaurants, and the person who’s been there the longest, who took the time to show me how it’s done, was always Mexican or Central American,” he said on SiriusXM’s “Stand Up! With Pete Dominick.”

Bourdain notes that in all his years managing restaurants, not one single American-born kid ever applied for a job as a night porter or dishwasher, rarely even a prep cook, because, “They’re not willing to start at the bottom.” He said if Trump got elected and fulfilled his promise to deport 11 million immigrants here illegally, “every restaurant in America would shut down.”

According to USA Today, 25,000 non-U.S. citizens are serving in the U.S. military, while law enforcement agencies nationwide facing manpower shortages are increasingly turning to foreign-born people as well. Immigrants continue to solidify the ranks of New York’s Finest, risking their lives for us daily.

They go through criminal background checks, pose no security risk and “only want to serve and protect their communities,” says Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

Meanwhile, too many fake patriots running for office continue to scapegoat immigrants. In memory of Holder, Liu and other foreign-born New York heroes, it’s time to tell these demagogues that the hate pouring from their mouths is what’s truly un-American.

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Does Celebrity Stardust Help a Candidate?

At a birthday bash Sunday evening celebrating Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 68th birthday, the stars were out in force, with a performance by John Legend. A gaggle of New York celebrities supports Clinton’s presidential run, from Robert De Niro to Lena Dunham to Jennifer Lopez.

“Hillary’s paid her dues,” De Niro said, “and has earned the right to be president.”

But do celebrity endorsements help or hurt a candidate? According to a study by University of Maryland economists, Oprah Winfrey’s 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama boosted his campaign contributions, and his total vote by more than 1 million.

An endorsement by someone like Oprah can work wonders. But other celebrity salutes? Not so much.

Photos and words of support from the super-wholesome Duggar family of TV’s “19 Kids and Counting” vanished from GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s website after reports that Josh Duggar molested underage girls, including his sisters.

GOP contender Sen. Marco Rubio recently received a lusty endorsement from porn star Jenna Jameson, who called him “the clear choice” for president. Jameson, who backed Clinton in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, explained her rightward drift by saying, “When you’re rich, you want a Republican in office.”

Will Rubio get a Jameson bump? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, rapper Lil B’s song “Bitch, I’m Bill Clinton”  includes the lyrics “Shout out to Hillary Clinton, you gonna win that presidency, you gonna be president soon, baby!” But he startled Hillary by switching his allegiance to Sen. Bernie Sanders, tweeting, “As much as I want a woman leading the USA, right now it’s all about Bernie. I heard he marched against segregation in the ’60s . . . I love that brave dude!”

Is anyone impressed with the caliber of celebs supporting Donald Trump? Perhaps. The Donald’s list of celebrity endorsements includes rock singer and gun nut Ted Nugent as well as ex-basketball star Dennis Rodman, buddy of psycho North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (“Lil’ Kim”).

Finally, singer Kid Rock told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that he likes “the black guy.” Kelly asked if he could be more specific. “Ben Carson. That guy makes a whole lot of sense.”

Whatever you say, Kid.


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What If We Could See the Future?

Attention, movie geeks: Today is “Back to the Future” day. Yep, Oct. 21, 2015, marks the day that time travelers Marty McFly and Doc (Emmet) Brown arrived here from 1985, according to the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy.

Today most of us are more concerned about the New York Mets moving ahead than McFly advancing in time. Can the Mets hang in and win the World Series this year? Not according to “Back to the Future Part II,” which predicted decades ago that the Chicago Cubs would capture this year’s crown. Boo!

But not to worry. The movie also predicted dog-walking robots.

In “BTTF II,” McFly finds a 2015 world of flying cars, but no cellphones. Back to the drawing board for Doc Brown’s flux capacitor time travel enabler?

Not so fast. U.S. company Terrafugia is working on car-planes, including the four-seat TF-X, which can take off and land without a runway, according to Scientific American. The company’s two-seat Transition, which features foldable wings and fits inside a standard garage, will be available in 2017 for the bargain price of $279,000.

Other “BTTF” predictions, including hover boards and self-lacing shoes, were never fulfilled — at least not yet. But what if McFly arrived in the real 2015? What would he make of the Internet? Dating Naked? 1976 Olympic decathlon champion and “world’s greatest male athlete” Bruce Jenner transitioning to Caitlyn?

If you were offered a similar opportunity to see the future, would you take it? I wouldn’t. One can deal with disasters as they happen, but knowing them ahead of time? No thanks. As playwright Tracy Letts said, “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.”

Nonetheless, psychics continue to do a brisk business, as do marketers of “BTTF” products. Back to the Future Day includes a blitz of merchandise, including a Blu-ray and DVD “BTTF” trilogy package and a “Back in Time” documentary. You can even attend a one-night only showing of “BTTF II” at select theaters tonight. Better get my ticket before they sell out.

Just kidding. I’m staying home to watch the game. As a Mets fan, I have no doubts about the future.

Ya gotta believe!

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It’s Not Easy Losing Green Space

Enjoy the park? Green space is precious in the city, and now we are in danger of losing at least part of one prime neighborhood treasure: Theodore Roosevelt Park on the Upper West Side.

Nestled adjacent to the American Museum of Natural History, the tree-lined park is almost always filled with children playing, elderly people sitting on shaded benches, locals walking their dogs and, occasionally, a bearded writer finishing his column.

But now the museum wants to build a six-story, 218,000-square-foot science center in the park, and the natives are getting restless.

“This park is our village square,” said Sig Gissler, former administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes who lives on West 79th Street and now heads up the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park. He noted the irony of destroying a green space named after President Roosevelt, a conservationist who expanded the national park system.

“The proposed development will destroy trees and create more congestion. We won’t sit still for the loss of precious parkland,” insisted Gissler, “that is owned by the people of New York City.”

But is it? Usually, the museum would require government approval to claim public parkland. But it claims it already has the permission, citing documentation from 1876 that allows the museum to develop the parcel.

Hundreds of Upper West Siders recently attended a town hall meeting at the Fourth Universalist Society on Central Park West, and made their strong emotional attachment to the park quite clear.

When City Council member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the neighborhood, said she supports the development and spoke of “repurposing” the space, angry residents booed.

“I’ve been in similar situations for decades,” said activist Seth Kaufman, who lives near the park, “and learned that only direct action works. Get out on the streets, alert the media and put pressure on the politicians.”

“The museum respects its neighbors and their concerns,” a spokesman later told The Wall Street Journal. “We think it will be an even more productive conversation when we have completed and shared the initial concept design.”

More productive than booing? Let’s hope so.

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It’s Not the End of the World–Or is it?

Enjoying your morning? Savor that coffee, and maybe add an extra bagel or chocolate donut while you’re at it. Because today, October 7, 2015, is Judgment Day__the end of the world!

At least according to the eBible Fellowship, an online Bible study broadcast group.  They believe Judgment Day is a period of time beginning May 21, 2011, lasting for 1,600 days and ending with a bang today.

But that’s not all. Controversial financial forecasters Larry Edelson and Martin Armstrong, who correctly predicted the 1987 market crash, claim the biggest worldwide government economic meltdown in history will take place this week.

Doesn’t it figure that when the NY Mets finally win the pennant, the world would collapse two days before their first playoff game?

Ordinarily I’d scoff at such extreme predictions, and yes, these aren’t the most mainstream sources. But lately, there have been too many ominous signs for even a skeptic like me to ignore.

For example, have you watched the presidential debates? As Stephen Colbert said when introducing Donald Trump, “Someday I may be able to tell my grandkids that I interviewed the last president of the United States.”

Things that were unimaginable not long ago are actually happening. While hell hasn’t frozen over, the ice caps are melting, as sea levels rise. Will NYC soon be submerged? The ten hottest years in the 134-year historical record have all occurred since 1998, according to NASA. Meanwhile, science-denying politicians continue to laugh off climate change.

In fact, many in Congress seem to have gone completely nuts, childishly threatening to shut down our government if they don’t get their way, while here in New York, our governor and mayor barely speak to each other. Globally, the Middle East remains an increasingly dangerous powder keg, as hundreds of thousands of refugees pour into Europe and threaten its stability.

But it’s not all bad news. They just found liquid water on Mars, which may provide us a place to escape. Coincidence? Perhaps.

So will the world end today? Unlikely. And if it doesn’t, maybe it’s time for us to take action and remove from power warmongers, science deniers, and other political whackos. But if it does? Dunkin’ Donuts lady, make that a Dunkaccino and three chocolate Boston Kremes__to go.


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Pigeons and Squirrels and Rats, So What?

The young mother I sat across from in Central Park didn’t look happy when a large rat scurried across the path. But her preschool-age daughter squealed with delight.

“Look,” she said, “it’s Mickey Mouse!”

Lately we have been bombarded with NYC vermin tales, as videos have gone viral showing a rat dragging a full slice of pizza down subway steps and a squirrel pulling a half-full milkshake from a garbage can and diving in.

Do we freak out watching these? Au contraire. We have even given them cute names: Pizza Rat! Milkshake Squirrel! Cheeseburger Pigeon! (OK, I made that last one up, but it’s only a matter of time.)

Why do we delight so much in what others might view with distaste? Maybe it’s a perverse pride of ownership. They’re home-team vermin. Those living in rural areas have their deer, horses and rabbits. We have our pigeons, squirrels and rats.

“When I moved here from Westchester and saw my first city rat, I freaked out,” confesses Victoria Unschuld, a NYC hypnotherapist. “Now when I see a rat, I take it in stride.”

Unschuld’s live-and-let-live attitude is typical of most New Yorkers — but not all. While I’m not thrilled with those who feed pigeons in the park, what bothers me more are kids who chase and try to stomp the pigeons, while their parents sit idly by. It’s no accident that some of these kids grow up to be serial killers, or hedge fund managers.

How can they be so cruel to these feathered and bushy-tailed neighbors? Squirrels will come right up while you snack, with a “Are you gonna eat the rest of that or what?” look in their beady eyes, while pigeons have their own cool, distinctive strut and soothing coo.

And please don’t lecture me about how filthy they are and how they spread disease. They speak well of you. Yes, I talk to the animals — what of it?

A visiting cousin recently saw two rats scurrying around the Herald Square station subway tracks and panicked. When I felt compelled to defend the rats, she looked at me as if I were crazy.

Hey, they might be vermin, but they’re our vermin.

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Showtime Above Ground: One Small Step for Sanity

 “Venom” warmed up the tourist crowd with a slightly off-color joke, then introduced his fellow young street dancers. It’s showtime!

Relax. This wasn’t on the subway. Pole-swinging subway acrobats are not a favorite of most riders, to put it mildly. But now the city’s It’s Showtime NYC pilot program is giving subway dancers a chance to take their talents above ground.

Christopher Brathwaite of Bed-Stuy — dance name “Venom” — told me he used to perform on the Union Square subway platform, but never on the trains.

“It’s a whole lot better outside,” said Brathwaite, 20. “It’s stifling on the train station. You can’t breathe. The people watching here in Battery Park aren’t a scared, captive audience — they actually want to see us dance.”

NYPD Transit Bureau officers offer palm cards to subway dancers that read, “Make money. Avoid arrest. Dance!” The program, run with the Dancing in the Streets organization and the Mark Morris Dance Group, also offers rehearsal space, dance lessons and career-building opportunities in the arts.

I watched the It’s Showtime NYC dancers recently beside Ian Bassin, deputy counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio. Bassin said the program benefits both dancers and riders, getting the dancers off the subway while “providing a leg up for young people who want a career in the arts, but don’t know how to get there.”

But what happens in the winter?

“We are looking at options as far as providing space when the weather turns colder,” Bassin said. “Meanwhile, the cash they make up here in the fresh air is better than the cash and arrests they can expect down on the subway.”

The Saturday afternoon performances in Battery Park, just outside Castle Clinton, will continue throughout the fall.

As Mayor de Blasio noted in a statement about the pilot program, “For many young New Yorkers, the right opportunity can make the difference between a career and a criminal record.”

So why not come down noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and check out the dancers? As Bassin said, it’s a “win-win” for the dancers and the riding public — and we can use a few more of those, can’t we?






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