Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Yesterday's Christmas celebration is followed by today's observance of Christmas as a work holiday for most employers. Enjoy this Holiday Season and be safe.

In honor of the spirit of Christmas, we reprint an article from last week that focused on the generosity of the members of the Harlem YMCA.

Generosity - Harlem YMCA

The past couple of Christmases haven't been good for Taisheba Smith and her young family.
She has had to deal with the struggle of not being able to find a decent job and then a bout of depression. And with the birth of 17-month-old Zoe and two-month-old Miko, she hasn't been able to give her oldest son Xavier, 8, as much attention as she used to.
So when Xavier gave her his Christmas list — including requests for a Nintendo 3DS and Sketcher sneakers with lights — and she didn't have the money to fulfill it, Smith wasn't sure what to do.
But then the Harlem YMCA, where Xavier attends afterschool programs, told her about its Angel Giving Tree initiative. With the help of corporate supporters and individual donors, the Harlem YMCA delivered hundreds of gifts Tuesday to 32 families who might have otherwise gone without.
The total was more than double the 15 families who received gifts last year.
"It means so much. Xavier is going to be like 'Where did all these gifts come from?'" Smith said, after Harlem YMCA Executive Director Tiffeny Forrest delivered a bag full of presents to her apartment at Taft Houses.
In addition to the 32 Harlem families that will be receiving gifts, more than 400 kids in the YMCA's afterschool programs will receive a present.
"The need was already so great, but now we are seeing an even greater need," said Forrest. "We are seeing people now who were never in need of services in the past."
To raise the [money] to make the gift-giving a reality, major corporations such as Coca-Cola, the Colgate-Palmolive Company, the local Fred E. Samuel Democratic Club and members of the Harlem YMCA and its staff chipped in.
"We are the face, but there are a lot of people behind making this happen," said Forrest, who launched the initiative when she arrived in Harlem from Michigan four years ago. "We knew if we got the word out people would step up, and they did."
The gifts are delivered already-wrapped and with an Angel Giving Tree tag that parents have the option of removing so that they can present the gift to their child.
"We have a lot of parents who are busting their butts and making the right choices for their families but may not be able to provide gifts because of their economic circumstances," Forrest said.
Karen Sprauer, site director of the YMCA's afterschool program at P.S. 57 said delivering gifts to Xavier was especially satisfying. The boy has a sweet disposition and is always writing notes to his camp counselors.
He even wanted to use the little bit of money he had saved this year to buy his mother a present.
"Xavier is so appreciative of everything we do. You can tell he was raised with strong values," said Sprauer.
"He already understands the essence of Christmas at such a young age, so we want him to feel special like any other kid and come back to school chatting about what he received this year," said Forrest.
As she arranged the gifts under her tree, Smith said she couldn't wait to see the look on Xavier's face when he arrived home from school.
"Last Christmas was not a good Christmas but I'm so happy this year," said Smith, beaming. "This Christmas is going to be all about Xavier."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Obesity Declines in NYC Schools

For a change, there is good news regarding health and nutrition trends amongst our city's youth. Obesity has declined in our schools.

Childhood Obesity

In our country, obesity is rising far too fast. The last 20 years have resulted in a massive increase in obesity levels in the United States. In 1990, no state in the US had more than 15% of its population counted amongst the obese. Today, no state in the US has less than 20% of its population weighing enough to be considered obese.

Obesity plays a major role in harming health in our country and results in lost wages as well as reduced quality of life. Obesity shortens lives and destroys opportunities.

All of these problems are much worse for obese children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.
  • In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
Immediate health effects:
  • Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
  • Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes.
  • Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.
Long-term health effects:
  • Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
  • Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
With these horrible stats and trends as well as the horrifying impact of childhood obesity, we are excited to see NYC public schools reverse the trend toward more obesity.

Bloomberg's Calorie Count and Other Efforts

In NYC, Mayor Bloomberg has led the way on empowering consumers to make smart choices about their food by requiring chains of restaurants to list the calorie counts for their foods on their menus. Many of the most popular foods contain many more calories than most people assume. The listing of calorie counts allowed New Yorkers to take control of their nutritional lives, even when they were eating in a restaurant. There was a positive impact from the Mayor's calorie initiative.

Also, under Bloomberg, our city's schools improve nutrition, increased physical activity time, and swapped whole milk with 1 percent and skim milk in 2005. School nurses also were trained to identify kids with weight problems and to educate the community. These changes may have already started reversing the obesity trend.

Reversed Trend

For the first time, New York City public schools have seen a statistical decline in the rate of obesity amongst students.

A study of New York City public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade found obesity rates fell from 21.9 to 20.7 percent between the 2006-2007 and 2010-2011 school years.
The decline in NYC was the largest decline in childhood obesity in a large US city. NYC officials estimated that the decline experienced in our state translates into 6,500 fewer obese children in our schools.

No one is sure whether the changes implemented in 2005 have allowed our schools to reverse the trend toward higher obesity rates, but the achievement is worth studying in order to find answers. With obesity rates skyrocketing in schools and amongst adults, any decline should become a cause not just for celebration but also for scrutiny and replication.

African American Children Left Behind

White children in New York City experienced a 12.5 percent drop in obesity during the 2006 to 2011 period, Asian/Pacific Islander children (a 7.6 percent drop) and Hispanic (3.4 percent) children experienced less improvement. African American children in our city's schools did experience less obesity, but their improvement was least of all of the ethnic groups and was less than one-sixth as much improvement as was achieved by white children. African American children enjoyed only a 1.9 percent drop.

In addition, lower income areas experienced the least decline in obesity rates.

Therefore, while the areas that most needed to improve obesity rates experienced the least declines, all ethnic groups and all income levels benefited from a reduction in obesity. One of the most stubborn and terrifying public health trends of the last 20 years seems to be reversing in front of our eyes in NYC. We are all responsible for helping to continue the new trend toward better health and better lives from children in our city.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cuomo Achieves Bipartisan Tax Deal

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo successfully pushed through a measure to prevent the expiration of the so-called "millionaire's tax" as he seeks to reduce future budget deficits.

Millionaire's Tax?

In 2009, prior to Governor Cuomo's election to his current post, the New York State Legislature adopted higher taxes on “high earners” ($200,000+) in the form of a temporary surcharge that applied only to high earnings.The net effect of the surcharge was an increase of more than 30% in the highest effective rate for personal income taxes. The tax was due to expire at the end of 2011.

The surcharge was called a "millionaire's tax" despite the fact that more than three-quarters of those paying the tax were earning less than $1 million per year.

Many have argued that the "millionaire's tax" reduces economic growth, penalizes small businesses, and does not create enough tax revenue to make up for the economic burden it imposes.

Others have argued that in an era of huge budget deficits, we need to require the highest earners to pay higher taxes in order to avoid raising taxes on those with modest incomes.

With a $3.5 billion deficit looming for next fiscal year, Cuomo sought (and obtained) an extension of the tax surcharge.

Tax Increase or Tax Reduction

The extension was accompanied by other tax changes, and those changes raise questions about whether we should view the recently adopted tax changes as a tax increase or a tax reduction for high earners as well as for every level of earner in NYC.

Opponents of the tax surcharge see it as a tax increase. The tax surcharge would have expired at the end of 2011, and therefore, its extension is an increase in tax rates for high earners versus what those high earners would have paid without an extension.

Supporters of the surcharge see it as a tax reduction. Because of the changes in the tax rules that accompany the extension of the surcharge, every level of earner who pays New York State personal income tax will experience a reduction in tax liability in 2012 versus what was in place in 2011. 

Cuomo 2016
The tax deal that Cuomo engineered in New York State by achieving virtually unanimous support from the Republicans and Democrats in the State Legislature, Cuomo establishes himself as one of our country's few bi-partisan leaders and links his name to one of very few bi-partisan success stories.

Cuomo contrasted his Albany achievement with the gridlock and failure in Washington DC in his video explaining the tax deal. He now starts to look like a potential top-tier candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2016. If he can win a second landslide in 2014 and maintain his streak of bipartisan successes, Andrew Cuomo will emerge as an obvious contender for the top of the national ticket in 2016.

Cuomo has not proven that he can win the enthusiasm of African Americans, but he has proven that he can lead a large state, earn the support of Republicans and Democrats, and speak directly to the voting public with great effect.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Quinn Seeks Distance from Bloomberg on Homeless Rules

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn seems to be having a change of heart related to her undying loyalty to Mayor Bloomberg.

Homeless Shelters

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has supported Mayor Bloomberg through thick and thin. She led the fight to give him(and herself) an additional term in office - in direct opposition to the will of the people of New York City as expressed in two referenda. She has remained quiet as Mayor Bloomberg has defied federal courts and worked tirelessly to avoid racially integrating the Fire Department of New York. She has provided her tacit approval of his race-based policing approach (more on that is discussed below). 

But, after Mayor Bloomberg decided to require single adults to prove that they have no alternative place to live before they can enter a homeless shelter, he was opposed by Speaker Christine Quinn. She led the New York City Council to oppose his change in homeless policy. The City Council sued the Mayor for the first time in Speaker Quinn's tenure.

It is a good sign. Although she should not have waited until the Mayor implemented as absurd a policy as requiring homeless people to prove that they are homeless, Christine Quinn should be commended for opposing the Mayor in this case. One wonders how a homeless person proves he or she is homeless. Is it a letter from every friend and family member? Is it an eviction notice. Perhaps the best evidence of a lack of other options is the presence at a homeless shelter. Perhaps the Mayor will ask patients in emergency rooms to prove that they don't have friends who could save their lives outside of the hospital.

Stop and Frisk Record Pace

After all of the controversy surrounding Mayor Bloomberg's racist stop-and-frisk approach, this year, his Administration will set a new record for the number of stops. In fact, more than four million stops have occurred under the racist Bloomberg approach since 2004. Nearly all of the stops are stops of people of color, and very close to all of those stopped are completed innocent and are never given a summons or arrested.
Despite a lawsuit against the department claiming the stop-and-frisks discriminate against minorities (in 2008, 80 percent of those stopped were black or latino) and a call from city officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, for the federal government to investigate the program, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne defended the practice this week as a success in curbing crime.
Based on Mayor Bloomberg's record at the FDNY and his approach to policing, he should resign immediately. There is no place for his type of policy approach (skin color defines all outcomes and determines rights and opportunities) in 2011. In fact, our country rose up and outlawed his style of governing in 1964 . . . nearly 50 years ago.