Tag Archives: New York Observer

Summertime Blues

During the dog days of summer, I find out it’s extraordinarily difficult to get the media, or my colleagues, interested in my firing by the LA Times at the behest of the LAPD, who provided them with a tampered tape that wound up exonerating me. Or, perhaps, their silence has nothing to do with summer vacation season.

A Fast-Track Plan for New York

Originally published by The New York Observer:

Dreaming of New Subways

Throughout New York’s history, change has been a constant feature of the city’s transportation infrastructure. Well, it used to be.

Aside from the long-delayed Second Avenue subway, civil engineers haven’t had much work to do in the past five decades. A time traveler from 1961 would find the city’s traffic patterns, street grid, highways, subway lines, river crossings and airports basically the same.

New York’s second-newest major bridge, the Throgs Neck, opened nine days before JFK delivered his “ask not what your country” inaugural address. The Verrazano came in 1964. Then that was it—unless you count the link between Rikers Island and Queens in 1966. Aside from a few extensions on the outer borders of Queens and the minor 63rd Street tunnel, the subway looks much the way it did during World War II. For many New Yorkers, getting to LaGuardia still requires a cab, despite the half-assed AirTrain. Ditto for JFK.

The Center for an Urban Future recently concluded that too much of our “essential infrastructure remains stuck in the 20th century,” posing a barrier “for a city positioning itself to compete with other global cities.”

There is little reason to believe things will improve. Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently announced plan to add some ferry routes launching in 2017, his administration has reduced infrastructure spending from budgets under Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who devoted most of that money to new parks and schools.

New stuff? As the parking sign says, don’t even think about it.

But that’s a choice.

New York could fund big-ticket transportation projects through the imposition of a modest stock transaction tax on the $45 billion traded daily on the NYSE. Some liberal Democrats are floating a 3 basis point (.03 cent) tax on trades. That’s not enough. From 1914 to 1966—while America won two world wars and became the world’s dominant superpower—it was 10 basis points. Precedents include France, which has a 20 basis point tax and Taiwan (10-30 basis points).

A securities tax would generate an estimated $10 billion annually. Enough to pay for a slew of ambitious, and needed, projects over the next decade or two.

Let’s start using this money to expand subways.

The long-awaited extension of the 7 subway may open as early as this month. Nice start, but the old idea of running the 7 out to the Meadowlands to alleviate Lincoln Tunnel traffic and provide an alternative to Penn Station for boarding New Jersey Transit, is just as overdue.

Even after the projected 2019—yeah, right—opening of the Second Avenue line, Lower East Side residents will remain woefully underserved by subways. The MTA should add a train along the Harlem River waterfront to connect Avenue D and East End Avenue to the rest of Manhattan.

A major shortcoming of New York’s current subway configuration is its failure to adapt aspects of the efficient spiderweb or grid patterns urban planners favor in more modern systems like Paris, London, Seoul and Tokyo.

Any transit expert would look at a NYC subway map and ask with puzzlement: Why isn’t there a line running around the city’s outer perimeter along the Westchester and Nassau County borders? To get from the Jamaica section of Queens and to Flatbush, Brooklyn, you have to head halfway to Manhattan to switch subways, or endure long rides on local city buses. That’s stupid.

Huge swaths of Southern Queens, currently off the grid, should be connected via a new line arcing west-to-east through the Bronx, then north-south through Queens and Brooklyn, parallel to and east of the G.

No borough is more subwayless than the city’s redheaded stepchild, Staten Island. But it doesn’t have to be that way. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been blocking the century-old dream of running a subway line under New York Harbor from Brooklyn to Staten Island to New Jersey, but half the idea would still be an improvement. Let’s revive the Staten Island-Saint George tunnel between Brooklyn, which the city abandoned in the early 1920s.

In most major metropolises, rail systems connect directly from the city-center to the terminals. Not here, mostly due to NIMBYism and highway-obsessed Robert Moses. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently floated a proposal to build an elevated AirTrain to link LaGuardia to the subway system, but transportation blogger Ben Kabak would better solve the airport access problem by extending the N along the Grand Central Parkway.

Anyone who drives in New York knows we need to add bridges and tunnels. Crossing the Hudson River during rush hour, as impenetrable as the Berlin Wall back in the day, could become slightly less hellish by executing one or more of the numerous forgotten plans for bridges at 23rd, 57th, 70th and 125th Streets. I’d go with 70th Street, more or less splitting the distance between the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge; either bridge or tunnel would be fine.

Conventional wisdom among liberal transportation types dictates that highway construction begets increased traffic: Build them and they will come. I don’t buy it. Even old-timers who curse Robert Moses for destroying the Bronx recall with a shudder the horror of sitting for hours on Broadway in upper Manhattan, waiting to get to the Bronx as stuck cars overheated, making congestion worse.

Driving from Long Island to Western Brooklyn, and/or on to New Jersey via Staten Island, requires extremely circuitous routes: Via the congested LIE and BQE, or skirting around the bulbous outline of Brooklyn. The obvious solution is to extend the Jackie Robinson Parkway, which currently begins at the Grand Central and Van Wyck Parkways in Kew Gardens. Nowadays, it dumps that highway traffic at Jamaica Avenue in East New York (there used to be a major train station there). We should extend the Jackie Robinson west toward the BQE.

Last but not least, it’s time to replicate the success of forward-looking cities like Dallas, Seattle and Portland, Ore., by bringing back streetcars. They’re relatively cheap. They’re cute. When their tracks run in dedicated, carless lanes, they’re faster than automobiles. There are smart plans for new streetcar lines along the waterfront in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, 42nd Street in Manhattan and Astoria in Queens.

We have work to do. Let’s get New York moving again.

***

Ted Rall is the author of the forthcoming book Snowden by Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Main Street

For America’s New Radicals, a Coming-Out Party—and Brutal Cops

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” —Gandhi

Gandhi lost, but never mind.

#OccupyWallStreet, in its second week as of this writing, is and was important. It is the first major street protest inspired by the economic collapse that began in 2008. It is also the first notable public repudiation of Obama by the American Left. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Canadian “culture jammer” magazine Adbusters asked people to converge on lower Manhattan’s financial district in order to protest corporate greed in general and—in a reflection of the influence of social networking culture—to develop one specific major demand after they gathered.

Several thousand people arrived 10 days ago but were turned away from Wall Street by a phalanx of NYPD officers manning metal barricades. A few hundred demonstrators, dominated by the scruffy white twentysomething college grads known as “hipsters,” wound up at Zuccotti Park, whose private owners granted them permission to camp there.

There they remain, noshing on donated pizza, talking, hanging out, hoping to replicate the magic of Cairo’s Tahrir Square while remaining committed to “absolute nonviolence in the Gandhian tradition,” as Adbusters commanded.

Occupy Wall Street now seems to be fizzling out.

For me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, failure was a foregone conclusion. From the opening words of the magazine’s updates to the participants, which it referred to as “dreamers, jammers, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries,” it was evident that yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.

Michael Moore complained about insufficient media coverage, but this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street’s perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite—in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.

Don’t just occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Main Street. Get ordinary people interested and involved. After all, college kid, it’s not just your struggle.

While a lack of political education should not preclude a person from participating in politics, organizers of a movement seeking radical change should make sure they don’t waste the whole time strumming a guitar and flirting. Zuccotti Park should have offered daily classes and study groups to reduce the odds that an attendee will sound like a moron when she gets questioned by a journalist.

“I’m not for interference [with wealthy people],” The New York Times quoted protester Anna Sluka. “I hope this all gets people who have a lot to think: I’m not going to go to Barcelona for three weeks. I’m going to sponsor a small town in need.” Earth to Anna: Rich people know poor people are suffering. They don’t care.

Also, lose the clown clothes. It’s not the early 1960s; you don’t have to wear a suit like the civil rights marchers did. But how about showing up on national TV looking decent, like it’s Casual Friday?

Revolutionaries should not expect fair coverage by media outlets owned by the transnational corporations they hope to overthrow. They also shouldn’t make themselves so easy to mock. Press accounts reveled in photos of topless women and the dudes on stilts who always show up at these things. So much bad hair, so many colors that don’t occur in nature.

A protest is a stage. All over New York City and around the country, people are watching on TV. Ideally, you want viewers to drop what they’re doing, to come join you. At bare minimum, you want them to approve of you. To identify with you. Maybe even send a check.

You say you represent the “99 percent” of Americans getting screwed by the top one percent. So act like the 99 percent. Dress like them.

Be normal, inclusive and welcoming.

Reporters quoted demonstrators who sounded as ignorant about current affairs as members of the Tea Party, albeit nicer. It was a perfect set-up for hit pieces by the likes of Ginia Bellafante, who called the downtown gathering an “opportunity to air societal grievances as carnival” and slammed the “group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably.”

History has proven that an absolute commitment to nonviolence can never effect radical change. This was shown again on Saturday September 23rd, when police used orange plastic nets to “kettle” and arrest about 80 Occupy Wall Streeters who had been marching peacefully through Greenwich Village. According to numerous witnesses and media accounts, none resisted. Cops went wild, beating several men bloody and macing at least one woman after she had been cuffed.

Sadly, too many people angry at gangster capitalists will look at the YouTube videos of bloodied young faces and say to themselves: I’m willing to suffer for a cause, not a scene.

Back in July, Adbusters wanted the “one simple demand” expressed by Occupy Wall Street to be “that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”

What do we want?

A bipartisan blue-ribbon commission to study the extension of campaign finance reform!

When do we want it?

As soon as the committee completes its work!

Unsurprisingly and rightly, that uninspiring (and easily satisfied) demand has been set aside in favor of something better but hardly worth taking a rubber bullet for: “a vague but certain notion that the richest percentile of the country remains fat and happy as the going-on-five-year-old recession continues to batter the middle and working class,” as The New York Observer put it.

Occupy Wall Street should have demanded something majestic, reasonable and unobtainable, in order to expose the brutal nature of the system. Something like the nationalization of all corporations, equal wages for all workers, or the abolition of securities exchanges.

Some organizers also called Occupy Wall Street “Days of Rage”; along with organization and focus, rage is what is lacking.

The aggregated wealth of the superrich has been stolen from the rest of us. We should not ask them to give some of it back. We should take it all, then jail them.

Which isn’t going to happen nonviolently.

Rich people are bad people. Someone has to say it out loud.

I have no problems with the organizers of a protest deciding that its marchers will remain nonviolent. I am speaking at such an event on October 6th. However, I think it’s unwise to broadcast those intentions to the authorities.

Few people think about it now, but street demonstrations have always relied on a sense of menace. Sure, people marching through the streets of a medieval city might begin by expressing their demands peacefully. But they drank beer instead of water. On a hot day, things might escalate into a riot. The local lord was wise to give in earlier rather than later.

The rich and powerful never relinquish their prerogatives voluntarily. Only violence or the credible threat of violence can force them to give up what they stole through violence and corruption.

Despite the protesters’ many missteps, which were inevitable due to their lack of experience and political seasoning, the Occupy Wall Streeters should be commended. Sure, they did some stupid things. But they have taken a first (tentative) step into history. They have learned lessons. Hopefully they will be smarter next time.

See you in Washington on October 6th, when the October 2011 Coalition will begin the occupation of Freedom Square near the White House. Our demand is simple: We will not leave until the last occupation soldier and mercenary is withdrawn from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL