Wednesday, May 10, 2017

New Project, East86th.org is Born!

East86th.Org

Hey folks, I know it has been a while, and I miss you all! It has been a busy year and a half, if I have the count correct. First, I had a bit of writer's block. Second, I was busy with business. That's not a bad problem to have. I have also been busy with community activism in my local neighborhood of the East 80's on the Upper East Side.

I'm not sure where to start. A Fine Blog, put me on the path to community activism. The following was immense. I've had over One Million unique viewers over the years. The blog gets attention, and I had issues that I wanted addressed. It worked. The blog drew attention to all sorts of issues from crazy rules at Chuck E Cheese's (which eventually ran the viral gauntlet all the way up to Weekend Update on SNL) to piles of garbage on the Upper East Side. The latter, and specifically local sanitation issues, is one that I am uniquely obsessed with. In any case, the blog worked. Local news media picked up my stories and drew attention to my issues and brought them into the spotlight, and forcing them to be addressed. I'll admit, as a blogger, I grew somewhat frustrated. There were several instances where my stories were big hits, but there was zero attribution to the source, A Fine Blog. There were instances where my words on grifted virtually word for word and ended up in local tabloids and claimed by the writer to be his/her own. There were news crews showing up on the same day shooting video of the precise location of a quality of life infraction that I only shot photos of earlier in the day. Again, no attribution. On the other hand, publications like Curbed, The Real Deal, and reporters with integrity, like Tom Llamas, were more than willing to share the source of a compelling story. I guess I have digressed from the story here though. All of this comes with the territory of blogging, and the greater good or purpose of drawing attention to issues was served. On balance, I will settle with this result any day!

So, I went away from the blog, but that didn't mean that I wasn't busy. Actually, I got busier. I started attending Community Board 8 meetings, City Council meetings, meetings with my local (and admirable) Councilman Ben Kallos. I started getting tangible results. I was invited to join the board of the East 86th Street Association, where I serve with pride. My interest in reviving the blog grew, but before I could tackle that project, I had one big project in mind- to completely revamp the website and social media presence of the East 86th Street Association. I started in December and it turned out to be a much bigger project than I anticipated. Sure, I've authored a Blogger-based blog for a decade, but I hadn't built a website from scratch since the early 90's. We are talking way back with Microsoft Front Page, before there was social media! Anyway, it was a beast of a chore, and I could only do it in my spare time. I wanted to build the best community organization website around, which made the task even tougher. I was fortunate for three things- my friend William Mallick, a coder that I hired to help, Squarespace, and a friendly bar with decent wifi and a tolerance for geeks sitting around over laptops on a regular basis.

The end result, East86th.org is alive, and thankfully finished! Well, the base site is finished, it will remain a work in progress as new content is loaded on a regular basis. Items that relate to the East 80's will also appear here. Items that don't relate to my local hood will only appear here. I have also revamped East 86th Street Association's social media platforms- Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, all easily found under the moniker @East86th. Please have a look!

So, next up, an A Fine Blog makeover and reboot. Again, this will be a work in progress, but I hope you enjoy all of the insights and content. It is great to be back!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fed Flash: Rates Increase 1/4 Point For First Time Since 2006

My rate forecast back in March has been fulfilled as the Fed finally, in a widely anticipated move, raised the Fed Funds rate 1/4 of a point today. The current Funds rate is now a target range between .25% and .50%. So, with slight bragging aside, 2016 seems to be far more difficult to forecast than 2015. The economy is relatively healthy, but far from robust. There is very little inflationary pressure, and wages are just now starting to see an inkling of acceleration. GDP forecasts are in the 2.5% range for 2016. Those forecasts would have to be topped for the Fed to do anything dramatic on the interest rate front. From this vantage point, I think the Fed will gradually try to put a couple of bullets back in the holster, so I see a gradual increase in rates for 2016. My forecast, three rate hikes in 2016 of a quarter point each.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

On East 86th Street, Sanitation Improvements and Street Vendor Challenges

86th Street, Before(L), After (R) (A.Fine)
First the good news: East 86th Street is getting cleaner! As we all know, East 86th Street has been a mess the past few years. "Ready, Willing, and Able", the charity that employs homeless to clean while they train to re-enter society, left in 2011 and trash cans have been overflowing into the streets ever since. Until now! I highlighted the problem on March 16th with a post titled "Garbage Problems On East 86th Recall Bad Old Days." That post seemed to have prompted a copycat report on WCBS-TV news the next day: "Residents, Business Owners, Want City To Curb 86th Street Trash Problem." While there was no credit attributed to A Fine Blog, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the point was to get the word out and draw attention to the problem. This had an immediate, but far from long lasting impact. Tickets were written the next few days, and the Dep't of Sanitation quickly cleaned up the mess, but the problem came right back a couple of days later. So, more perseverance was required. I took my complaints to our receptive councilman, Ben Kallos. I kind of feel sorry for him, as I'll admit, I'm persistent, and to this day maintain a healthy back and forth with his office. I complained to Sanitation, the Health Department, Consumer Affairs, 311, the Mayor, the Borough President. And, I have encouraged friends, family, and neighbors to do the same. Finally, we are seeing progress! A week back I noticed that the garbage cans were no longer overflowing, rather, there were full green garbage bags alongside the cans that were suddenly being emptied regularly. As it turns out, Sanitation has partnered with local merchants and the merchants are now helping prevent the mess. The difference is significant. Because the cans are now being emptied more often you can tell that there is a lot less litter on the streets and there is no longer the unsightly "snow cone" of garbage on every corner. Additionally, more and bigger garbage cans are coming to the area.
Big Belly, 86th + Lex
This morning I was heartened to see two brand new "Big Belly" solar-compactor garbage vessels on the SE corner of 86th and Lex. It also comes on good information that lager garbage can trios (includes a regular refuse can, a can for paper, and another can for cans and bottles), should be deployed on or near Third Avenue in the mid-80's. Fingers crossed! Three times the garbage cans will hold three times the garbage! So, that is the progress. 86th Street is looking cleaner. We have a way to go, but I want to thank Councilman Kallos' office for being responsive and actually getting results. I would also like to thank everyday citizens who have joined in the cause to be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease!

86th + Third Avenue, Early Morning
We still have plenty of challenges on East 86th Street. The vast proliferation of Street Vendors is at or near the top of the list. The problem is obvious. They take up an incredible amount of sidewalk space in perhaps the most congested residential areas in NYC. They take valuable parking spaces (all day long) from customers who might otherwise park and shop at rent paying, tax-paying stores in the neighborhood. They have no concern about litter or regulations, and there is no uniformity to their stands. In short, they are a blight. In getting started on this issue, I've read up on the rules and regulations, and I attended my first Community Board (CB8) meeting on the problem. I was stunned at my findings. Among them:

- The City Council is considering increasing the number of vendor permits. Shortly after the meeting, CB8 has come out opposed to these increases.

- The City allows vending in front of residential buildings that are zoned residential with a commercial overlay. In other words, buildings zoned for apartments and stores. Yet, in my book, the commercial overlay relates only to the building use, not the use of the sidewalk!

- Aside from in front of the Metropolitan Museum, no street vendors are allowed on Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue. Hmmm, convenient.

- Apparently, there is a very influential street vendor lobby that both the City Council and CB8 appear to be intimidated by. Who knew?

- There is a widespread myth that street vending is some magical, entrepreneurial path to larger business success. The truth is, that might have been the case on Orchard Street in 1915, but today entrepreneurs can utilize street fairs, flea markets, and that thing known as the internet if they want to start a business.

- The three agencies that are responsible for enforcement (Health, Consumer Affairs, Sanitation) are all understaffed with inspectors combined numbering in the dozens, total.


86th bet Third and Lex
Oddly, it seems that our quality of life and our common space are being held hostage by a very small group- the street vendors. There are only a couple thousand permits for all of NYC, yet they practically own the streets. Personally, I would be perfectly happy if there were none of them. The sidewalks would be clear, parking more readily available for businesses that pay rent and taxes, and the streets would be cleaner, more pleasant and more passable. If we are forced to live with vendors I have a couple of ideas. First, the physical stands should be standardized. Second, there must be enforcement. Did you know that street vendors cannot be within 10' of the edge of a crosswalk, within 15' of a fire hydrant, or within 20' of the edge of a door? There is very little enforcement and hence virtually no compliance. Since the agencies responsible have no man power, perhaps it is time to empower traffic agents with the authority to write tickets to non-compliant vendors. There sure is no shortage of them.

Let this be said. I am not against people trying to make an honest living. I don't even have that big of a problem with food trucks so long as their numbers are limited and they are diligent about keeping the area near the truck clean. Who doesn't like a decent truck Taco here and there? What I do have a big problem with is complete disarray on our sidewalks. The problems are numerous, pervasive, and need to be addressed. The sidewalks belong to all New Yorkers. We should not be forced to live with unsightly filth, and unnecessary congestion in densely populated residential areas. 86th Street is finally making progress, let's make this a trend!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A New Place to Watch Notre Dame Football On The Upper East Side, Gael Pub!


Notre Dame is a big school with big tradition, but no real home to watch the games on the Upper East Side. That all changes this Saturday with the Fighting Irish squaring off vs. the undefeated Navy Midshipmen at 3pm. Noticing the lack of a home on the UES, I helped enlist one of my favorite locals, the Gael Pub (an Irish Pub no less), to be that new home that Irish fans on the Upper East Side have been yearning for. Every Notre Dame Football game will play at the bar on Third Avenue between 82nd and 83rd Streets. There are plenty of TVs, the sound will be on, drink specials offered ($12 bud lite pitchers for example), and they have a tasty food menu as well! As a fan, I couldn't be happier. Way to go Gael Pub! Go Irish!

Gael Pub, 1465 Third Avenue

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Right Wing's False NYC "Crime Wave" Narrative A Threat To City's Economy (Opinion)

We've heard it over and over in the local and national media from nearly day one of Mayor deBlasio's administration- New York City is falling into a state of chaos and lawlessness. Just in the past week, I have seen such assertions on Meet The Press, Morning Joe, in the New York Post from the likes of Chris Christie (like he should talk, ever heard of Newark or Trenton), Rudy Guiliani, and Joe Scarborough to name a few. The talking points are the same- murders are skyrocketing, we are going back to the "bad old days", it's like the 70's all over again. This is patently false.

Let's get to the facts:

- The total number of murders in NYC is within 4.5% of an all-time low, set just last year. Year-to-date there have been 231 murders in NYC vs 221 last year.

- For the past 28 days, murder is down 21.6% vs last year, and last week murders were down 68.8% vs last year.

- Murders are down 1.7% over the past 2 years, and down 38.1% compared to 5 years ago.

- "Major Crimes" are down 3.9% this year and 6.6% over 2 years.

- For a more historic perspective, murder in NYC is down 82.8% vs 22 years ago.

- Murder peaked in NYC in 1990 when there were 2245, last year there were 328.

The effort is pretty transparent to locals. This is political. The last thing that the right wing wants or can afford is the success of a clearly left, progressive mayor. While NYC is largely liberal, our media is not. Ruppert Murdoch alone owns the Post, WSJ, Fox 5, and Channel 9. The effort has been obvious from the day deBlasio was sworn into office. Whether his police motorcade ran a red light, a snowplow missed Park Avenue on the UES, or he was late for something, again- we've heard about it. We get it! Yet, I think the media and right wing pundits are crossing the line when they push a narrative, nationally, about crime in New York City which is blatantly false and misleading. The repetitive bashing of NYC will slowly permeate into the national and international conscience. Not everyone will believe it, but it is certain many will. Do we want your average Joe from Wisconsin to reconsider his Christmas vacation to the city because he's 'heard it's getting pretty dangerous'? Is it worth the risk of tanking a $40 Billion dollar tourist industry for political gain? How about the Real Estate Industry? Banking? Tech? Or, for that matter, the circulation and advertising rates in the NY Post?

The "crime wave" narrative is vacuous, wrong, false, and both ethically and morally corrupt. More importantly, it is an assault on the economy of our city. Call New York and our Mayor what you want, but do not throw the prosperity of the entire city under the bus for political gain. Ultimately, rich and poor, liberal and conservative will all pay the price.

Monday, September 14, 2015

New Hudson Yards 7 Train Station and Park in 17 Pictures!


Entrance (A. Fine 9/2015)
The new 7 train extension to Hudson Yards (34th Street and 11th Avenue) is quite impressive. The station is modern, clean, climate controlled, and sports an extra wide platform, tons of escalators and a couple of elevators that travel at 45 degrees. Above ground is a spiffy park on the new Street, Hudson Boulevard. The park is well landscaped, has tons of benches, fountains, tables and even a lawn. The pictures say it all! 

Entry (A. Fine 9/2015)
Fountains (A. Fine, 2015)
Much more...Just Click "Continue Reading" below the social media sharing doo dad...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Why the New York Giants Will Not Suck in 2015

Alright, alright, it has been a tough couple of years, TC is on the hot seat, and the conventional wisdom is that the Giants are in for an 5-11 year. Guess what? This won't happen. Big Blue has more talent then they are given credit for. Ye of little faith, let me spell out why the NY Giants are not going to suck this year.

T.C. (Courtesy Thesportsquotient.com)

Tom Coughlin

Yes, it is "win or else" for the oldest coach in the league, but we are talking about a brilliant coach with incredible will and spirit, not to mention two Super Bowl victories in the past 8 campaigns. You can dive into every nuance of his personality, changes in coaching philosophy, and so on and so on, but you have to readily acknowledge that this coach is not looking to go out on a down note. TC will also be the beneficiary of a changing of the guard at Defensive Coordinator. Perry Fewell (who was awful) is out and Steve Spagnuolo is back. In 07' and 08' with Spags at the helm the G-Men won Super Bowl XLII and followed that with a 12-4 season. Granted, our personnel is very different this time around, but the defense is going to have to get creative and Spags has far more promise that Fewell ever did.

Eli

Eli enters year two of the Bob McAdoo's West Coast offense. People seem to easily forget that in Year One of this new offense Manning ended up with one of his best years- 30 Td's (a career high) vs 14 INTs, 4410 yards, and a career high 63.1% pass completion percentage. This year he comes in with a strong comfort level and additional weapons, namely scat back Shane Vereen, and a relatively healthy Victor Cruz. And of course, let's not forget Odell Beckham Jr and Ruben Randle. Taken together, the NY Giants have the potential to have the league's most feared receiving corps. This naturally leads us to the question....can the O-Line hold up?

The O Line

The question marks are clearly here. The O line was challenged last year and did a far greater job pass blocking than run blocking. While stalwart Will Beatty is out the first 6 weeks, and despite a weak link at RT in Newhouse, the O-Line this year is stronger than last year. The difference? First round pick Erick Flowers, for one. If early indications prove true, the 6'6", 330 pounder is a beast. Sure, he is learning LT, but so far, so good. You also have a healthy Schwartz (this week at least), a steadily improving Justin Pugh, and Weston Richburg actually playing at his natural position, Center. Overall, looks like the Giants have improved the line vs last year.

The Secondary

When you have lost 3 safeties in one preseason, you know the roster has to be pretty slim. However, if you are looking at the top four guys starting in the secondary they are not looking bad at all. At Corners, you have Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Any complaints there? Not-so-much! At Strong Safety you have newcomer and first round draft pick Landon Collins. This kid has speed and has shown that he covers the field extremely well. The Giants hope he can step in and start effectively. All indications point to him being the real deal. For the Giants sake, let's hope so! Finally you have Free Safety position that looks to be Cooper Taylor with a variety of back-ups including 2 time pro bowler Brandon Meriweather. While the Giants depth is certainly a concern, our current starting line-up is stronger than last year.

Special Teams

Maybe, just maybe, this is the year that the Giants Special Teams, under perennial failure, Tom Quinn, do not stink. Gone is fading (yet revered) Punter Steve Weatherford, in is big leg Brad Wing. Gone is the ineffective return team by committee, in is big money and explosive return man Dwayne Harris. Coughlin, it is clear with his roster cuts, now favors youth in addition to ability to play special teams. Nikita Whitlock, the 5'10", 250lb FB is a great example- part fire hydrant, part spark plug, 100% hustle. One thing is for sure, it is hard not to improve over the past few years.

Young Studs

There are some impact players to watch, that at the least will make games interesting this year. There are the aforementioned Collins and Flowers, but we also have a slew of young studs developing like Devon Kennard, who will get the starting nod at Strong Side LB. The second year player out of USC flashed last year and is widely regarded as one of the steals of the draft in the 5th round, 175th overall. While even whispering "LT" in the same sentence with any Giant linebacker prospect is a no-no, let's just say Kennard has "LT-like" instincts to the ball. He will be fun to watch!Another 2nd year player that could flourish is Jay Bromley, a back-up DT out of Syracuse (3rd round, 74th overall). Scouting Bromley at the Timex Center this summer, all I can tell you is that the man was throwing linemen all over the field like they were children. With other intriguing back-ups on the D Line like freakish, yet still unbridaled talent Damontre Moore and rookie camp sensation Owa Odighizuwa working for playing time at DE, our D line has promise regardless of the status or JPP.

There are plenty of wildcards yet to come. Does JPP come back and can he be effective? Are there further roster moves that will be made to shore up weaknesses at RT, the D-line, or Secondary? Is Will Beatty going to make an impact after 6 weeks on the IR? Will it even matter at that point? While these are all valid considerations, it looks like Eli should have plenty to work with and has the potential to put up career numbers. The Giants D, under Spags, has nothing but upside vs. expectations, and even the special teams are improved. Will Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants make the Super Bowl a quadrennial thing? Well, that seems like a stretch, but a 5-11 team the 2015 New York Giants are not. Do not underestimate Tom Coughlin, he's not going out like that. Given the relatively soft schedule, the Giants should be in the mix for a playoff spot, and as TC has proven anything can happen from there.


Projection: 9-7