Letters to the Editor
To The Editor:
I am usually hesitant to attend academic conferences, but I was told the Columbia Business School 2011 Social Enterprise Conference was worth the trek to Morningside Heights. So the day after my birthday (which I celebrated with copious amounts of red wine and good food at Domaine Wine Bar and Testaccio Ristorante in Long Island City), I got up early and was on campus by 7:45 a.m. Scanning the program, I saw that the luncheon keynote speaker was Leymah Gbowee. I recalled reading about her as a political activist from Liberia and wondered about her connection to socialenterprise ventures. Seconds later, the red light on my BlackBerry lit up with an email from CNN. She had just been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
I muddled through the academics and talking heads at the morning sessions. Smart and well-intentioned, but face it, they would be eaten alive at any Queens community board meeting. At noon, everyone rushed to the main hall. Gbowee strode onto the stage to tremendous applause. She won us over immediately by saying: “This was on my agenda before I was notified about the prize, and I am keeping to my schedule.” Then, she wondered out loud if she would still be able to buy street food in Ghana without too much media attention.
For the next 20 minutes we were all transfixed by Gbowee’s story. She grew up in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, with dreams of becoming a pediatrician, but the long and horrible civil war changed everything. A few years into the unrest, she was an unwed mother of three, with little education and no hope for the future. Her transformative moment came when she realized that the armed conflict was preventing her, and every woman, from climbing out of the abyss. Her plan was to reach out to women from every tribe, clan, and religion to protest the war and demand peace. Through persistent organizing, she convinced thousands of women that they had the power and therefore the strength to change the situation. It took many years and a great deal of personal sacrifice, but after more than a decade, her efforts contributed to ending the conflict in Liberia.
It was awe-inspiring. Her simple suggestion to stay focused applies to any person or movement wanting to make a positive change. And by that she also meant ventures designed to help and assist people to transform their lives.
At our little social enterprise venture, the Entrepreneur Space, our clients are focused on building their businesses. And in partnership with Accion USA, a socialenterprise venture that provides funding, four of our clients recently received microloans averaging $8,000 each. Maybe not a lot of dough to a one-percent Wall Street tycoon, but enough for Sweet N Salty by Design to update its Web site; enough for Morris Kitchen to purchase new machinery; and enough for Samios Foods and Yolanda Pesto to buy containers and labeling equipment. Our clients had ideas, and now they are taking them to the next stage and, by doing so, they are hiring more people. From one can come many.
I cannot compare Gbowee’s trials and tribulations to anything I, or any of our clients, experience as we transform our lives. But it is always important to be reminded of the power of the human spirit, the quest to do good and the will to succeed in spite of insurmountable obstacles.
Queens Economic Development
Corporation Executive Director
To The Editor:
Upon decorating my home for Halloween last night, I saw a strange ghost who claimed to be none other than Alexander Hamilton. Old Hamilton, an American politician, financier, and founder of the Federalist Party “was as dead as a doornail” (Dickens, A Christmas Carol). Hamilton’s ghost sat down on my lounge chair, and so I asked “Mr. Hamilton, could you assess the United States this Halloween 2011?”
His “ghost so transparent” (ibid) responded, “America is presently the greatest and most powerful nation in the world, in economic and military terms. This was precisely my vision for America granted the foundation of a free market (capitalist) economy, a vigorous national government, and weapons for the general defense and security. It is inevitable that a politically strong federal government, particularly with energy in the Executive branch, coupled with national policies and programs supportive of new and precarious capitalist projects (government loans, tax incentives for the rich and tariffs on foreign imports) shall lead to the great destiny of American economic prosperity. This is because the confidence of capitalist is stimulated (for example Bill Gates and Steve Jobs), leading to the development and expansion of new products, services and industries through capitalist finance (Wall Street) and marketing. Further, emigration from abroad of factory workers, trades people, professionals and foreign capitalists has provided the American economy with a continuing supply of new hands, creative ideas and finance capital. A strong American economy had led to a strong military, which in turn, has contributed to America’s role as a hegemonic force in post-colonial globalism. The United States has triumphed over the arrogant pretensions of Europeans, either as market economies of the European Union, or as socialist economies of the U.S.S.R. and Soviet bloc of nations. America is presently the greatest nation because it implemented the principles of the political economy and constitutional interpretations in The Federalist Papers, rather than the ideas of Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin. Neither the President nor the Congress of the United States should interfere with the free market economy of America’s financial and industrial institutions. Amendment V of the Constitution guarantees the right to private property through due process. In fact the Supreme Court struck down some of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and laws precisely because they violated private property clauses of Article One, Section 10, and of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.”
“Mr. Hamilton, what do you have to say to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators?” Hamilton’s ghost said “Listen, I attended and graduated King’s College (now Columbia University) and saw a radical ilk in the 1960s protesting and occupying buildings at my beloved Alma Mater, thereby interfering with the educational process. Now you occupy public and private areas in New York City as Jeffersonian wannabes, and mouth cacophonies against the very financial system that I built and made America great! Yet, even the radical voices of Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles in the 60s disagree with you hooligans of OWS, “You say you’ll change the Constitution. Well, you know, we all want to change your head” (“Revolution”).
Joseph N. Manago
Is This Democracy?
To the Editor:
The Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) is a city agency that hears land use requests from developers, builders and architects. Many of the cases involve variance requests, which allows an applicant to develop a site by bypassing some established zoning regulations. There are conditions that must be met in order for a variance to be granted.
The Board is headed by five commissioners who are appointed by the mayor. They are the ones who make final decisions following public hearings of the various cases. There is no appeals process to decisions made by this Board unless a costly lawsuit is pursued by either an applicant or those who may oppose the granting of a variance or other application.
On October 18, the BSA unanimously approved a variance that will allow a second house to be built on a property in Bayside Hills where one house now stands. A variance had to be sought, because the R2A zoning that exists in this area would prohibit the construction of a second house due to the small size of the plot on which this house is to be built. This plot is currently a small garden.
This is a precedent setting case. Other properties, especially corner properties, will be susceptible to such inappropriate development. This will threaten the character of our communities for years to come.
The Bayside Hills community came out in full force in opposition to this variance. Headed by Civic President Michael Feiner, huge numbers of local residents showed up at Community Board 11 and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall’s office to protest the granting of this variance. The community board voted unanimously to oppose the variance and the borough president, likewise, came out in opposition, in order to support the community.
When the hearing was held at the BSA in Downtown Manhattan, a busload of local residents attended and stood up and testified that they did not want this type of development in their neighborhood. Many felt that the owner of the property created a self imposed hardship and should not be rewarded with a variance to build the second house. They were supported by their civic association, all local elected leaders and many other community people.
Despite this impressive display of community unanimity, the BSA chose to grant this variance, this privilege, and ignored the will of the people. Five people, who are not elected, are determining the destiny of a community. That’s democracy?
Another instance, a gas station on Northern Blvd near 204th Street in Bayside neglected to renew its variance for over ten years. Civic leaders and the community board notified BSA of this fact. The station had brought attention to itself because it had been storing trucks illegally overnight on its property. Finally, the executive director of the BSA wrote the owners of the gas station a letter stating that they had 60 days to renew their variance or be forced to start the process all over again from the beginning, which is very costly. The gas station took 11 months to file for renewal. Did the BSA follow up on their promise to deny an extension of the current variance? No.
The gas station was granted a variance renewal. The rules were waived and the owners got away with being so egregiously late.
It is painfully obvious that the BSA is an agency in need of reform on a number of levels. Councilmember Daniel Halloran has proposed legislation that would require the BSA to send out renewal notices when variances come due, with penalties to those who ignore these requests.
He also has proposed legislation that would set up an appeals process through the City Council if a BSA decision contradicts the community board’s and/or the borough president’s recommendation to deny approval.
To his credit, state Senator Tony Avella had proposed similar legislation when he was in the city council, but was thwarted in his efforts to seek sensible reform of this agency. Let’s hope that Halloran will prevail.
Everyone Needs To Pay
To The Editor:
There are other alternatives to “Schumer’s Tax Plan” (I On Politics by John Toscano—October 12) as a means to fund President Obama’s proposed $447 billion American Jobs Recovery Act. President Obama’s proposed tax increases supported by Senator Schumer continues to give a free pass to the 46 percent of Americans who pay no Federal income tax. Our most wealthy fellow citizens who represent one percent of Americans already pay 40 percent of overall tax revenues. Increasing taxes on earners is just more redistribution of wealth from the haves to so-called have nots. Why not ask ten million Americans who pay no federal income tax to contribute $1,000 each? That would raise $10 billion. Asking another 10 million to contribute $500 each would raise $5 billion. If another 10 million contribute $100 each that would raise $1 billion. Start collecting on the hundreds of billions in outstanding unpaid student loans and back taxes owed by deadbeat individuals and corporations. Save tens of billions by closing down military bases abroad, along with ending foreign aid to nations who take our money but refuse to help us. Obama and the Democrats are clearly engaging in class warfare reminiscent of “free bread and circuses” for the masses in ancient Rome. That society collapsed under a similar economic crisis to what we face today. Sincerely