Tuesday, January 27, 2015

International Holocaust Remembrance Day January 27, 2015



In first grade we had three classmates who had been in concentration camps...Adolph, Frances and Maria. We didn't really know what concentrations camps were, we did know that they were bad places. Adolph was older than us, probably around 11 or 12, spoke little English and acted strangely. He'd dive to the ground and cover his head when a plane heading to Idewild buzzed over head. He'd grab an apple core or other food from a garbage can and stuff it in his mouth. The nuns told us that the Nazi's came to his house and lined up his grandfather, father and older brothers and shot them dead in front of Adolph, his mother and sisters. They were then sent to a concentration camp and now he was with us, to learn English. He, Frances and Maria had numbers tattooed on their arms.
When we started 2nd grade Adolph was not in our class and we never saw him again. Frances and Maria...sisters...stayed with us through eighth grade. I do not know what happened to them afterwards. I can always see their faces when I hear or read about concentration camps. I hope they found peace.
Never again, yet genocide has happened and is happening again. Never again is a promise still in need of fulfillment.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Back to school, again.

What had begun as a subtle intrusion on our joy of summer would reach fever pitch this weekend as my Dad would raise the volume on the distasteful, ever repeated, Robert Hall back to school radio jingle. On the first day of school he would raise the flag in the front of the house claiming the day as a national holiday for parents!

As Summer gradually ends and the young begrudgingly trudge off to class what's to stop us from joining in?  A job? An overpacked schedule? A host of other excuses?

Internet classes cut through most of "why I can't possibly go back to school" whines as they enable us to attend class whenever, however we want. Come as you are, sit where you want, no " no food or drinks allowed in classroom" rules. Early morning, late night, measured sane schedule, binge attendance, all nighter--- your choice. Your pace. Your opportunity.

On Labor Day I'm off to Trinity College, Dublin for a five week course in Irish history, 1912-1923.  And the really great thing about this is that i can do this at my own speed, in my own home.  No passport, no Aer Lingus ticket, no tuition.  My God, no excuse not to do it.

Care to join me? Register here, it's not too late.  http://www.futurelearn.com/courses/irish-history

Irish history not your thing? (Shame on you). Find a course on French Cooking, English gardening, Italian art, Indian henna tattoos, African endangered species....whatever tickles your fancy, sparks your imagination, challenges you, invites you, satisfies your itch to try something new, enables you to learn a new skill.

See you around "campus"!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Testimony to NYC Rent Guidelines Board Concerning The Need For A Rent Freeze



My name is Bill Meehan and I am a senior and a resident of Jackson Heights who each month worries about whether I can continue living in the community I love.  

The notion of a rent freeze is anathema to the landlord community  They were extremely quiet when for two years in a row seniors were denied a cost of living  increase in their monthly Social Security checks.  In fact, back in 2009 and 2010 silence was normative not only in the real estate industry but also among local and national politicians, in the print and electronic media and certainly among the lobbies and PAC’s that do the work of their real estate masters. 2011 saw a 3.6 COLA but that decreased to 1.7 in 2012 and 1.5 last year.  COLAs seldom equal rent increases causing an increasing number of seniors into poverty level lives.

“Seniors are used to doing without and a little extra wouldn’t kill them.”  “So what if many had to choose between prescriptions and food.  So what!”  “After all seniors were the ones enjoying rent control and everyone knows that’s what causing the trouble in the rental marketplace.”  Truth be told, rumors about the evils of rent control are simple fabrications.  Seniors in rent controlled apartments receive an annual 7% rental increase and are slapped with monthly fuel sur-charges putting them in financial straits. Seniors in rent stabilized units fear the outcome of this board’s recommendation and what that recommendation will mean to their already stretched budgets

Study after study shows that it costs government less if seniors age in place rather than being in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, yet NYC has invested way too little in Senior housing, way too little political pressure has been exerted in getting senior space in return for government funding, zoning changes or waivers. In Jackson Heights alone there is a 10 year waiting list for senior housing; many senior housing units won’t even take applications.

The obvious need for senior housing has done little to effect change in the real estate market and they have in fact simply turned the major part of their development to luxury units and have ignored senior needs.  Government has done too little to effect change by continuing to fund luxury development and backing off in demands for increased affordable and increased senior housing units.

My name is Bill Meehan and I am a senior and a resident of Jackson Heights who each month worries about whether I can continue living in the community I love.  Like many seniors I sometimes forget things, some days being worse than others but come Election Day I always enjoy clarity of mind, and I am not alone.  In the next few months much money will be expended in GOTV efforts to indentify the 5’s in your area, know that seniors are 5’s squared. Come rain or come shine we vote, we know who has stood with us and who hasn’t, and we vote accordingly.

I urge you to vote for a rent freeze to help senior New Yorkers in need.  I urge my electeds to urge this board to vote for a rent freeze.  A rent freeze is a band aid but it shows all involved that the present lack of affordable senior housing has, and is, causing pain in the senior community and that it needs to be addressed… today with a rent freeze...tomorrow with affordable housing.

Thank you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Brogue Beware

Behind me in a favorite coffee shop sits a man with a thick brogue talking loudly about Padre Pio. 
As a former fellow Capuchin my ears perk up even though the conversation is hard to miss. 
You know he was the only priest to have the stigmata. 
You know he could  bilocate. Something I wished I could do as the conversation turned south. 
You know he once told a man who said he didn't believe in hell that he soon would believe once he was there. 
There are agents of evil, Muslims and Jews, who will try to interrupt his speech. They are driven by the communists. Obama says Muslims are good even if they do bomb. 
They will try to kill the Pope and if they do God will end the world. He has been waiting for something like this to happen so he could. 
That was the tipping point. A younger version of me would have tipped way earlier. 
What to do. Vomit on the table, dramatic but not fair to Sandy the waitress.  Get up, walk back a table or two and tell the pious Catholic with the thick brogue that he's a fucking idiot, effective but not fair to Jorge the owner who, albeit with a smile, would have to ask me to leave. No, neither would do. 
I really wished, like Pio, I could have bilocated, no woulda , coulda, shoulda here. Another life lesson learned.  Skip coffee after a BLT at the sound  of a brogue!



Saturday, July 20, 2013

From 2/21/13 a Night at the Irish Consulate

Last night was one to remember! I attended a reception at the home of the Irish Consul general, Noel Kilkenny and his wife, Honora. The occasion was the naming of this year's Grand Marshals for the St. Pat's For All Parade. For me, the night was one filled with symbolism. A little over a hundred years ago my mother's family emigrated from Ireland to America, my father's family came a generation before. Like the millions that followed them, they came seeking a better way of life for themselves and their families. Like today's immigrants they received a none too warm welcome. And like today's immigrants there was no immediate better way of life. Their immediate lot was menial, low paying and dangerous jobs. Housing was crowded and inadequate. Respect would have to be earned. For all appearances their arrival offered little hope of a better life, and probably to less stronger folk they had made a mistake in coming. But that was not the case. Slowly and surely they worked at improving their lot in life and at the same time they saw that their children took advantage of the City's educational opportunities. Slowly and surely the dream became a reality not because of a miracle but because of determination and hard work; because, at no time, did they lose sight of their dream or their determination to seize it for themselves and their families. My great aunt, Mary Henry, a single lady, knew well the great houses of the City. She was employed as a maid and a cook. She left the comfort provided by her employment to raise my Mom and her four brothers and two sisters who has been orphaned. She never complained about leaving Fifth Avenue for Brownsville. She and all in that generation and the one that followed never let the bumps in the road keep them from turning the dream into reality. I am in this great house tonight night nit as an employee but as a guest. A guest and a grandson fully aware that I am the recipient of that better life, once dreamed and now realized, because of their sacrifices and determination. May the grandchildren of today's immigrants be as lucky as me!

First man on the moon and other journeys.

44 years ago today on a muggy Sunday evening I joined the rest of the world in a mesmerizing moment as we watched Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon. "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The next morning, our usual quiet commute was anything but---the train was abuzz about our common witnessing of history. Well, almost the entire train. Oneman near me raised his head above his folded newspaper and told us it was all a hoax, it wasn't the moon-- it was a back lot in Hollywood, it was a stunt to get increased funding for the space program . We listened for a few seconds, quickly dismissed him and his analysis and excitedly returned to our conversation. There will always be naysayers, haters, deniers of what is so obvious to all but themselves. They will huff and puff and try to blow the house down but they will fail, if not immediately then in a matter of time. Last month the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. A majority of Americans cheered, a daily growing majority. There were others who loathed the moment, who threatened lawsuits, who claimed that God would punish. Indiana---not the entire State, a vocal few-- threatened to make it a felony for a gay couple to even try to apply for a marriage license. At the same time the Attorney General of Pennsylvania announced that she will not defend the State's ban on same sex marriage and the House Republicans said they would abandon their defense of DOMA in existing cases because of the Court's decision in Windsor. The DOMA decision was a game changer and even the majority of the opposition saw that. Voices like those raised in Indiana and other parts have less influence today than they had before DOMA. There is still a long way to go before we reach full equality but hope rather than fear should guide us on the journey ahead. I'll keep an eye on Indiana but I will continue to applaud New York's investment policy and hope that other jurisdictions will replicate it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Testimony delivered 1/14/13 at LaGuardia Community College on the drawing of new Council lines. CITIZENS UNION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK Testimony to the City Districting Commission, Queens Public Hearing January 14, 2012 Good evening, Chair Romano and other members of the City Districting Commission. My name is Bill Meehan, and I am a volunteer member of Citizens Union, a nonpartisan good government group dedicated to making democracy work for all New Yorkers. I am focusing my remarks on Queens, as other representatives of Citizens Union have previously testified at the Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn hearings. I am a resident of Queens and deeply involved in its civic life: I serve as a member of Queens Community Board 3; I am on the board of the New Visions Democratic Club and a member of the Queens County Democratic Committee; I am a Board Member and Treasurer of the Jackson Heights-Elmhurst Kehillah; President of Chapter 991 of AARP based in Jackson Heights; Business Director of Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee and a founding member of the Jackson Heights Dog Run. I cherish and respect the diversity that makes Queens a unique and wonderful place to live. While Citizens Union recognizes that improvements were made in Queens to keep some neighborhoods together, including Elmhurst, Cambria Heights and Maspeth, there are additional neighborhoods that the Commission should again try to keep whole. District 19 does not include all of Bayside or Oakland Gardens, as was requested by the majority of community members in public testimony, which would unite the Asian American community. There has been a 50 percent growth of Asian American Communities in both of these districts, and we recommend that the Commission fully include Bayside and Oakland Gardens in District 19. We recognize that community members have also noted that the residential neighborhood of Broadway-Flushing is now divided, which used to be wholly within District 19. We urge the Commission to seek to address both of these concerns and to publicly document its decision before it votes on final maps. The South Asian community in Ozone Park and Cypress Hill is divided between Districts 37 and 32. While the Commission stated that it could not create another cross-over district between Queens and Brooklyn, as District 34 already does so, it may be possible to shift this crossover to another area. Testimony at several hearings indicated that the South Asian community has requested this change. We urge the Commission to examine whether shifting the crossover district to these districts is a feasible alternative. For all of proposed council districts, Citizens Union recommends that the Commission provide to the public in advance of any vote on final maps a written rationale detailing its decision-making for each district. For example, the rationale should include how the Commission addressed requirements in the City Charter and specifically address how it handled public requests regarding their own districts. This information is essential to ensure that the public has more information about the choices that were made and potentially more confidence in the end result. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Silent Night 2012

It was almost the night before Christmas and too many creatures were stirring and pulling in different directions so that peace on earth and good will to all mankind really didn't have a chance. It was almost the night before Christmas and despite all,the efforts of Hallmark and the Charlie Browns amongst us the emphasis was on gift buying rather than gift giving. It was almost the night before Christmas and there was more concern on the number of hours left to shop than on remembering a Baby born long ago. I'm finding it hard to get into the Spirit of Christmas because there are so many distractions that make it difficult to believe in the wonder of a silent night long ago that heralded the goodness of both man and God. Anne Frank wrote "Think of the beauty still left around you and be happy". I am trying but it's difficult. Angels we have heard on high.....A group of youngsters from PS 69 sang at an AARP meeting I lead, young, strong, hopeful voices filled the room with holiday cheer. Looking at them it was hard not recall that a group just like them in Sandy Hook was slaughtered just a few days before. There was no room for him in the inn.....the Nor'easter Sandy wreaked havoc on our area and added many to our homeless population. Efforts to provide shelter always fall short and meaningful efforts to prevent homelessness sit low on our list of priorities. We find the resources to build prisons but cannot find the funds for affordable housing. A star in the east will lead you......we look to all sorts of distractions to keep from looking within; we heed voices that are devoid of meaning and offer only false promises. We too readily give into our penchant to be led rather that take on the burden of leading. For unto you a Son is given.....too many who should know better, who are called to proclaim the joy of incarnation try to limit God's acceptance and love only to those like themselves, as if God can not handle diversity when it is only their inability and selfishness that is the basis for their excluding others. "Think of the beauty still left around you and be happy" You my friends and loved ones make a difficult time and a troublesome world less fearful and give me hope. Thank you for your friendship. Enjoy the holidays and celebrate your goodness.