Tag Archives: NYC

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Here’s the Constitutional Amendment We Need But Never Thought About

Image result for public urination

Amendment XXVIII: No law governing a basic human need shall be passed in a jurisdiction whose government fails to provide citizens with the means to fulfill that need.

Start gathering petition signatures.

If you’ve ever had to work for someone else, you’ve probably been presented with a no-win situation of someone else’s making. “Be promptly at your desk at 9 am,” my boss ordered me. “We can’t have customers calling at the start of business with no answer.” Reasonable. But it was a two-man office — him and me — he had the only key and he was often late. When customers complained, he’d yell at me. “What would you have me do,” I’d ask, “break in?” Unreasonable.

A lot of bosses are stupid little tyrants. But government should know better than to pass a law its citizens can’t obey.

Like most cities, New York prohibits public urination. It’s no longer a criminal offense but public pee-ers still risk a ticket and a fine. The NYPD issues 20,000 to 30,000 such summons a year. Yet, as The New York Times noted in 2016, “New York City…is one of the most public-bathroom-resistant places in the world.”

People pee. People poo. A city that chooses not to provide people to pee and poo knows that some folks won’t find their way to Starbucks or other de facto public restrooms before it’s too late.

The city wants people to pee and poo in public.

Experts estimate that properly equipping Gotham’s streets with the thousands of toilets necessary to serve the city’s inhabitants and visitors would cost tens of millions of dollars. “I gave you a pot to piss in” isn’t the legacy most mayors want to be remembered for (though perhaps they should reconsider). Getting NYC to do the right thing by everyone with a bladder would require ratification of my proposed 28th Amendment.

If nothing else, those who answer nature’s call in the streets and avenues could do so without fear.

Some people charged with a crime have successfully used the “necessity defense” that the harm they committed was necessary in order to avoid a greater wrong or harm. If you’re trying to escape from someone trying to kill you, a judge should dismiss the charge that you trespassed on private property to get away.

Yet, even though it defies common sense, American law still permits government to pass laws that are impossible to follow. In June the California Supreme Court ruled on a law requiring gunmakers to microstamp bullets fired from semi-automatic weapons with unique identifying information.

The court’s ruling was complicated but it included this gem: “impossibility can occasionally excuse noncompliance with a statute, but in such circumstances, the excusal constitutes an interpretation of the statute in accordance with the Legislature’s intent, not an invalidation of the law.” In other words, an impossible-to-follow law can be passed and no court can invalidate it. Each individual who wants to be exempted on the basis of impossibility must hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit.

The Impossible Law Amendment (ILA) would ensure that any law deemed impossible for any citizen to follow would be overturned on constitutional grounds.

Impossible-to-follow laws are more common than you might think.

The Affordable Care Act requires people to purchase health insurance from private for-profit corporations or get slapped with a fine when they file their annual tax returns.

The cheapest healthcare plans in the Obamacare marketplaces run around $1600 to $1800 in many counties. One out of four Americans say they can’t afford healthcare. If the United States insists on spending tax dollars on blowing up brown people in Muslim countries rather than caring for its own sick people, that’s a political priority this nation is free to select. But it’s insane to charge people a fee for not buying something they can’t afford. Punishment is immoral if there was no intent or desire to disobey the law.

The ILA would effectively eliminate an entire class of government fines for things people are mandated to buy but must have in order to live: motor vehicle registration fees, smog inspection fees, parking.

On July 27 The New York Times reported that parents, usually mothers, are routinely arrested and have their children taken away from them by child-welfare authorities, because they can’t afford daycare and so are found guilty of such “abusive” behavior as leaving their kid in the car for a few minutes while running into a store.

Children have died of heatstroke in locked cars, so it reasonable for the police to be concerned when they come across a possible case of neglect. But society should not criminalize the behavior of people who have no other choice. Daycare runs about $200 per week per child. Individual average income runs about $500 a week before taxes, or $350 after taxes. Unless the average American goes without food or shelter — which child-welfare authorities will look down upon at least much as leaving a kid in a car — he or she can’t afford daycare. In many other (civilized) countries, of course, daycare is provided gratis by the government.

If and when the U.S. provides daycare for all, it may prosecute parents for refusing to use it.

A government that passes laws that anyone — much less a significant portion of the population — cannot obey, yet imposes fines and jail terms, deserves nothing but contempt. Ratify the ILA!

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

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

Too Fit Not to Acquit

A New York grand jury declined to indict a police officer for the fatal chokehold that killed Eric Garner in Staten Island in part because obesity contributed to his death. You’re on notice, fatties: if you’re not fit, they will acquit — the police who kill you.

9/11 Memory Hole

13 years after the attacks, the 9/11 Memorial has opened at the site of Ground Zero. Among other criticisms, the facility has been drawing fire for an exorbitant $24 admission fee, behind which lie the remains of the victims of the attacks, thus monetizing their deaths. A gift shop will also sell T-shirts.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Calvin, Hobbes and Anthony Weiner

Why We Care About Mr. Mushroom Head

Media coverage and thus most over-the-water cooler and cocktail party chit-chat about Anthony Weiner obsessively focuses on what the scandal — or circus, or freak show, whatever it is — says about him. More interesting, yet utterly ignored, is what it says about us.

The historian Richard Hofstadter began his classic book “The American Political Tradition” by quoting the 19th century journalist-economist Horace White. The Constitution of the United States (and by extension the nation’s Ur political philosophy, White wrote, “is based upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. It assumes that the natural state of mankind is a state of war, and that the carnal mind is at enmity with God.”

Americans assume that people are basically bad. That, left to exercise their free will, people will usually succumb to their basest impulses. As the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, an ardent Calvinist, wrote: “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire.”

If people are scum, it follows that they must be controlled. Americans accept Lord Acton’s aphorism that power corrupts; thus we admire the wisdom of the founding fathers for crafting a system of government based on checks and balances.

A corollary of the assumption that people are inherently bad is that the ability to resist temptation is rare, and thus admirable. George Washington, we are told, stands as a paragon of virtue for retiring, Cincinnatus-like, resisting the siren call of his admirers to stay on as a sort of American king. The perfect American leader is like Washington — self-effacing, self-denying.

When Anthony Weiner, then a relatively obscure, verbally combative New York Congressman, was, um, exposed sending photographs of his genitals via Twitter in 2011, what happened next initially followed a familiar political redemption narrative. He resigned, apologized, and vanished for a while. A little while. Then he gave a pair of carefully crafted interviews that put his attractive wife, and by extension their marriage, front and center.

He apologized again. No more sexting, he promised.

Next he announced his candidacy for the mayoralty of America’s largest city. Though not necessarily a step down in his career, neither was it perceived as an attempt to leap forward.

So far so good. Weiner climbed quickly in the polls, and no wonder: though few people could identify with his proclivity for self-photography, it didn’t seem as serious as actual cheating — boning a young intern in the workplace, for example. New Yorkers are fond of feisty politicians, even more so nowadays when people feel betrayed by a system run by and for the 1%.

As a liberal Democrat, Weiner didn’t face accusations of hypocrisy (c.f., former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, a “family values” right-wing Republican who bashed gays on the Senate floor while cruising for them in the St. Paul airport men’s room). Anyway, New York is the most liberal city in the country, hardly a bastion of Bible Belt self-righteousness. It didn’t hurt that his principal rival, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, was a singularly unattractive candidate, physically as well as politically. Few New Yorkers have forgotten Quinn’s perfidy in using her City Council to overturn term limits — which had been passed by a wide margin on the ballot — so that her ally, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, could run for a third term.

But then a low-rent website, The Dirty (!) revealed that Weiner had continued his old shenanigans. Not only was he sending out more photographs of his junk to random women online, he was carrying on cheesy virtual relationships with them. As Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC, this was something new: lying in the apology. And things got worse from there. It wasn’t just one woman, maybe it was three or six or whatever, who could really count? These days, the man who would be mayor can’t even say that he has stopped.

With the media, Democratic Party establishment, and even his wife’s mentors, Bill and Hillary Clinton, aligned against him, Anthony Weiner is plunging in the polls. It’s hard to imagine how he could recover by next month’s primary.

When you talk to voters in New York, they’re more amused by than disgusted at what Weiner did. Taking photographs of your penis, after all, is silly. Getting sexually aroused, or expecting women to get sexually aroused, by sexting seems kind of juvenile. It’s a boring kink, like a foot fetish. It isn’t gross, but it’s incomprehensibly goofy. Most people react to this sort of thing with a shrug. Whatever, if it makes you happy. And if his wife’s okay with it, why should we care?

What people really hold against Anthony Weiner is his lack of control. Clearly this man has a compulsion. All he had to do to become mayor of New York City was to stop sexting for 18 months. Clearly he couldn’t help himself.

It’s not the sin. It’s not the sexual proclivities, the unusual desires. It’s his lack of stoicism. His inability to suppress his compulsion.

Like all cultural assumptions, we take this one — our admiration for those who know how to play the game and our contempt for those who can’t/don’t — for granted. But it isn’t universal. Former Italian prime minister and media baron Silvio Burlosconi may well be heading to jail for tax evasion, but Italian voters didn’t give a damn about his prodigious sexual appetites, which manifested themselves at his notorious “bunga bunga” orgies, which featured under-aged prostitutes.

It’s easy to see how the inability to resist one’s primal sexual urges might make one a poor candidate for a position that required top-security clearance, for example. But Mayor of New York? I don’t really know the answer.

If the trash gets picked up on time and the subways run faster and the streets get cleaned and the schools improve, would it matter if the city’s chief executive spends his spare time setting up just the perfect shot for his private parts? If poverty is reduced and development is managed intelligently and the city’s budget gets balanced, would there be much harm in emailing dirty photos of himself to Midwestern floozies?

Like I said, I don’t know the answer. But we should be thinking about these questions — about what our societal priorities ought to be — more than about what is going on in Anthony Weiner’s brain.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

In Defense of Carlos Danger

Clearly Anthony Weiner has a compulsion. Even after he got caught sexting two years ago, he continued to do it. The question for us, and for New York voters, is: is having a compulsion in and of itself reason to disqualify someone from public office?

In this case, the societal taboo against sending naked photos of yourself to another consenting adult is obviously stupid.

Who cares? Clearly not his wife. So why should we? On the other hand, we are dealing with a case of someone who cannot control his sexual impulses. Well, is that a problem? American society values self-control. But this is a man who doesn’t have it. Should we care?

What if Anthony Weiner had a compulsion that society did not judge as harshly, say, an addiction to chocolate candy? People would probably just think of it as a lovable quirk. So there is a Puritan aspect to this. The fact that it is sex is what makes it of interest in the first place. But then you have to ask yourself: what the hell was he thinking? He knew that to become mayor he would have to play the game, and the game required him to stop doing what he had claimed to regret doing. This is not as if he had issued a defiant statement pledging to continue sexting.

That would have been a statement of bravery and integrity, and it also would have been suicidal.

I myself am strongly inclined to rebel against the media’s righteous indignation over all this. In an editorial today, the New York Times called for Weiner to step down bow out of the race due to his “sexual improprieties.” But there were no sexual improprieties. These are consenting adults. I also am loathe to punish anyone for their sexual expression, no matter how undignified.

Consider the other major mayoral candidate, Christine Quinn. As far as we know, she’s not guilty of any sexual peccadilloes, but she betrayed the public trust and insulted the voters of New York. Several years ago, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted to run for a third term in violation of a fairly recent two-term term limits law that had been passed by the voters, Quinn rammed through and an end-run against the voters and democracy itself.

Quinn had her New York City Council overturn a law that had been put into place by the voters. It was disgusting, and she doesn’t deserve to hold public office after what she did. No matter where you stand on term limits, if the law was to be overturned, it should have been reversed by the voters themselves again.

Yet you don’t see the New York Times calling for Quinn to withdraw.

In the end, it comes down to that old Bill Clinton question from the 1990s: is it wrong to lie to the voters about something that never should have been their business in the first place?

The Leveraged Buyout of the United States

Mitt Romney bought companies through LBOs: borrowing the purchase price using the target company itself as collateral, then selling off the profitable parts and cutting loose employees to turn a profit. Now he’s pretending to have votes polls say he doesn’t have, trying to convince undecided voters who want to back a winner to climb aboard his ersatz winning horse. It’s the attempted leveraged buyout of the United States.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our F— You System of Government

Anti-Occupy Crackdowns Highlight Lack of Services

Governments are supposed to fulfill the basic needs of their citizens. Ours doesn’t pretend to try.

Sick? Too bad.

Can’t find a job? Tough.

Broke? Can’t afford rent? We don’t give a crap.

Forget “e pluribus unum.” We need a more accurate motto.

We live under a f— you system.

Got a problem? The U.S. government has an all-purpose response to whatever ails you: f— you.

During the ’80s I drove a yellow taxi in New York. Then, as now, there were no public restrooms in the city. At 4 in the morning, with few restaurants or bars open, the coffee I drank to stay awake posed a significant challenge.

It was—it is—insane. People pee. People poop. As basic needs go, toilets are as basic as it gets. Yet the City of New York, with the biggest tax base of any municipality in the United States, didn’t provide any.

So I did what all taxi drivers did. What they still do. I found a side street and a spot between two parked cars. It went OK until a cop caught me peeing under the old elevated West Side Highway, which later collapsed due to lack of maintenance. Perhaps decades of taxi driver urine corroded the support beams.

“You can’t do that here,” said the policeman.

“Where am I supposed to go?” I asked him. “There’s aren’t any restrooms anywhere in town.”

“I know,” he replied before going to get his summons book from his cruiser.

The old “f— you.” We create the problem, then blame you for the results.

I ran away.

In recent days American mayors have been ordering heavily armed riot police to attack and rob peaceful members of encampments allied with Occupy Wall Street.

Like NYC, which won’t provide public restrooms but arrests public urinators, government officials and their media allies use their own refusal to provide basic public services to justify raids against Occupations.

In the middle of the night on November 15th NYPD goons stormed into Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. They beat and pepper-sprayed members of Occupy Wall Street and destroyed the books in their library. Citing “unsanitary conditions,” New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, then told reporters: “I have become increasingly concerned…that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protesters and to the surrounding community.”

Four days before the police attack The New York Times had quoted a city health department statement worrying about the possible spread of norovirus, vomiting, diarrhea and tuberculosis: “It should go without saying that lots of people sleeping outside in a park as we head toward winter is not an ideal situation for anyone’s health.”

So why don’t they give the homeless some of the thousands of abandoned apartment units in New York?

Anyway, according to the Times: “Damp laundry and cardboard signs, left in the rain, have provided fertile ground for mold. Some protesters urinate in bottles, or occasionally a water-cooler jug, to avoid the lines at [the few] public restrooms.”

Of course, there’s an obvious solution: provide adequate bathroom facilities—not just for Occupy but for all New Yorkers. But that’s off the table under New York’s f— you system of government.

Doctors noted a new phenomenon called “Zuccotti cough.” Symptoms are similar to those of “Ground Zero cough” suffered by 9/11 first responders.

Zuccotti is 450 feet away from Ground Zero.

Which brings to mind the fact that the collapse of the World Trade Center towers released 400 tons of asbestos into the air. It was never cleaned up properly. Could Occupiers be suffering the results of sleeping in a should-have-been-Superfund site for two months?

We’ll never know. As under Bush, Obama’s EPA still won’t conduct a 9/11 environmental impact study.

Sick? Wanna know why? F— you.

One of the authorities’ most ironic complaints about the Occupations is that they attract the mentally ill, drug users and habitually homeless.

To listen to the mayors of Portland, Denver and New York, you’d think the Occupiers beamed in bums and nutcases from outer space.

When mentally disabled people seek help from their government, they get the usual answer: f— you.

When people addicted to drugs—drugs imported into the U.S. under the watchful eyes of corrupt border enforcement officers—ask their government for help, they are turned away. F— you again.

When people who lost their homes because their government said “f— you” to them rather than help turn to the same government to look for safe shelter, again they are told: “f— you.”

And then, after days and years and decades of shirking their responsibility to provide us with such staples of human survival as places to urinate and defecate and sleep, and food, and medical care, our “f— you” government has the amazing audacity to blame us, victims of their negligence and corruption and violence, for messing things up.

Which is why we are finally, at long last, starting to say “f— you” to them.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL