Archive for the ‘New York City’ Category

The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am


Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.


A victory for Hip Hop’s birthplace

In Economic Justice, Housing, Music, New York City, Urban Planning / Space on March 4, 2008 at 11:38 am

2 posts in one day???  It’s been a while since i’ve done that……

Anyway, good news for housing activists and hip hop historians today.  Allhiphop reports the following:

Efforts to save the birthplace of Hip-Hop culture proved successful as the New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) rejected a proposed sale of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue to a developer Mark Karasick. According to Sen. Charles Schumer, the HPD cited the fact that current rents could not be sustained if the sale of the property had gone through. The decision is the latest chapter in the struggle for Sedgwick Avenue tenants to preserve their building. Tenants enlisted Hip-Hop co-founder DJ Kool Herc last year to help save the property after word got out that the 100-unit apartment building’s owner planned to leave an affordable housing program. The building has also been deemed eligible to be listed on national and state registers of historic sites.

article appears here.

Let’s Be Frank (furter)

In Election 2008, Food Justice, Misc., New York City, US Politics on March 4, 2008 at 10:35 am

I saw this in a NYtimes blog and just couldn’t pass it up.  Classic!

A 7 Mile March to the Polls in Texas (2008)

In Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Direct action, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, US Politics on February 20, 2008 at 4:05 pm

An incredible story popped up on Crooks and Liars today describing a beautiful answer to a disgusting act in an escalating primary battle:

Early voting starts today in Texas. In Waller County, a primarily rural county about 60 miles outside Houston, the county made the decision to offer only one early voting location: at the County Courthouse in Hempstead, TX, the county seat.

Prairie View A&M students organized to protest the decision, because they felt it hindered their ability to vote. For background, Prairie View A&M is one of Texas’ historically Black universities. It has a very different demographic feel than the rest of the county. There has been a long history of dispute over what the students feel is disenfranchisement. There was a lot of outrage in 2006, when students felt they were unfairly denied the right to vote when their registrations somehow did not get processed.

1000 students, along with an additional 1000 friends and supporters, are this morning walking the 7.3 miles between Prairie View and Hempstead in order to vote today. According to the piece I saw on the news (there’s no video up, so I can’t link to it), the students plan to all vote today. There are only 2 machines available at the courthouse for early voting, so they hope to tie them up all day and into the night.

Yes, we’re talking about this election – 2008 – where black students are forced to these lengths to exercise their rights and draw attention to these abuses. This is early voting in a primary, mind you, I can’t wait to see what these kids will do for the general election. By the way, don’t think Yankees are invulnerable to this, either. A little publicized story in the New York Times has uncovered a drastic underreporting of Obama votes in several counties in New York’s primary – in some cases, not registering a single ballot cast in his favor. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an Obama man, but these are problems that have persisted since the clusterfuck of the 2000 election. No matter who you’re voting for, your vote deserves to be counted and no one – not Obama, not Clinton, not McCain and certainly not appointees to local election boards – should be allowed to destroy or steal them. Federalism has its place, but shouldn’t there be some sort of standard in national voting and election oversight? Shouldn’t we at least use the same machines and meet the same requirements to use them? How can the world’s most successful democracy tolerate these kinds of problems? If there are aspects I am ignoring, please, educate me.

Bill O’Reilly’s Blissfull Ignorance

In class warfare, Culture jamming, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Race, US Politics on September 26, 2007 at 12:33 pm

In one of the funnier stories of the last few months, the fair and balanced people at the Village Voice recently reported that after visiting the famous Harlem soul food eatery, Syliva’s, the pugnacious pundit, Bill O’Reilly, remarked at the amazing similarities between blacks and other people:

“I ‘couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patronship. It was the same,’ O’Reilly said on September 19 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program...

everybody was—it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn’t any kind of craziness at all.”

I mean, come ON. He’s almost making it too easy for us. I wonder, with the first mention of the word “Harlem”, what exactly popped into that tiny, narrow mind of his? Was he expecting watermelon hanging from every iced-out grill, people shooting their “gats” up in the air like they just don’t care, booming voices alternating chants of “black power” and profanity-laced rants against “crackah-ass whitey”?

Obviously, Bill has a long way to go to make it into this century, and he has a looooooong list of making an ass out of himself in regards to race in general, but if I may, I’d like to propose something that will probably get me crucified by all seven people who read this blog. Though this statement is obviously as offensive as it is hilarious, I can’t help but think it’s just a little inspiring. Listening to the full excerpt helped give some perspective.

Firstly, he went up to Sylvia’s to take Al Sharpton out to dinner – could you imagine seeing those two walk in, sit down, and share some corn bread? And in the man’s defense, it was probably the first time he’d ever come to Harlem and actually gotten out the car. I doubt he’s ever experienced regular black folk up close and personal, just sittin around having dinner instead of in some music video, BET, or battling with him on his show or some other forum. I bet all he knows about these Americans is what he heard/read/saw in the conservative media he helps create. It doesn’t make it right that he says shit like this, obviously, but in the absence of experience and knowledge, is it surprising that ignorant, cliched and racist assumptions have been allowed to fester? No.

Behind the “culture wars” and the media machine that perpetuates it exist communities of regular people and I’m glad Billy got to get himself some meatloaf, chill the fuck out for an hour and hear Al tell some James Brown stories. For him to come away feeling good about Harlem, to be able to relate Sylvia’s to his own experiences in his most-likely gated community, that is a powerful thing.  Granted, this won’t bring him to Abyssinian Baptist chruch or the NAACP anytime soon, but it’s a step in the right directin.  If you’re never exposed to other people, you’ll inevitably harbor misconceptions about them. They obviously won’t be as wacked-out and crazy as O’Reilly’s, but one look at how most America has been treating racial issues of late – profiling of Muslims/anyone who looks like Muslims, immigration, etc. – it’s pretty obvious that eating dinner together every once in a while can’t hurt. O’Reilly has definitely been an enormous jackass as long as I can remember, but I’ll cut him some slack on this one, eventhough I doubt he’d do the same for us.

Welcome to the NEW (york)

In Land rights, Misc., New York City, Urban Planning / Space on May 10, 2007 at 11:32 am

It has been a while since I have been able to post, and though there has been a great deal happening throughout the world, I wanted to ease back into the game with something closer to home. A recent article in New York Magazine touted the history, progress and virtues of the soon-to-be realized Highline – a brand new park being built atop an abondoned elevated railway that will turn these ruins into an oasis floating a couple stories above the fray, snaking it’s way through 20 or so blocks of Manhattan’s westside. It’s an amazing concept, a first in public spaces, and something everyone is looking forward to next summer. More importantly, like everything involving land/real estate in this town, it will change the character of the neighborhood. The existing tracks, though, are too decrpit to be built on, so they will have to be removed and replaced with new material. A passage describing the consequences got my wheels turning:

What you’ll get, in other words, is a thoughtfully conceived, beautifully designed simulation of the former High Line—and what more, really, do we ask for in our city right now? Isn’t that what we want: that each new bistro that opens should give us the feeling of a cozy neighborhood joint, right down to the expertly battered wooden tables and exquisitely selected faucet knobs? And that each new clothing boutique that opens in the space where the dry cleaner’s used to be—you know, the one driven out by rising rents—should retain that charming dry cleaner’s signage, so you can be reconnected to the city’s hardscrabble past even as you shop for a $300 blouse? And that each dazzling, glass-skinned condo tower, with the up-to-date amenities and Hudson views and en suite freaking parking, should be nestled in a charming, grit-chic neighborhood, full of old warehouses and reclaimed gallery spaces and retroactively trendy chunks of rusted urban blight? Isn’t that exactly what we ask New York to be right now?

There were 2 great places I used to go to all the time, and they were both the kind of lovable shit-holes that drew me here in the first place. One of them was called Smalls. It was a tiny, basement Jazz club in the West Village that had sets running from about 6pm to 6am. The only people I knew who “worked” there were the 2 guys who took your cover charge – $10 for as long as you felt like stayin – the bands that set up their own equipment and sound before each set, the owner who cruised around chatting up the crowd and the musicians, and his white dog named Snow who was usually relaxing by the stairs. All the mix-n-match furniture was most likley drug in off the street, but was worth it’s weight in gold on the weekends when lines regularly wrapped around the block to get in – the place was the size of a closet, and people crammed into every crevase of the place, so to keep distractions to a minimum they only allowed people in before or after each set. Best of all, they didn’t have a liqour license so it was all BYOB. Most of the bands who came and played their sets were exceptional, but the real shit came during the jam session between the hours of 2-6am, when everyone was runnin off of alcohol and balls. The crowd, too, was something special. Jazz-holes are typically arrogant, pretentious fucks, but most regulars at Smalls were inviting and intellectual, but God help you if you decided to carry a loud, drunken conversation or make some other type of noise during one the sets. I often thought this is what it must’ve been like when the jazz greats of old roamed the streets, ducking in and out a smoke-filled stages, pushing their craft to the break of dawn in front of attentive and demanding crowds.

The other was a dive on 7th Street called “Bar 81”, but the real name was “Verchrovnia”, and it was one of the many Ukranian places in that part of the East Village. Walkin by it on the street, it looked just like anywhere else, only dirtier. I ventured in one night because the bar adjacent, Blue & Gold, was full of annoying fucks – including the bartender – and I felt like a change of pace. This new bartender was excellent and attentive, giving buy-backs every 4th drink and doin the whole small-talk thing they’re so good at. The crowd was all locals and their friends, some lived in the building upstairs, but most on the block or the surrounding ones. Like Blue & Gold, they had a pool table with questionable flatness, except here it was respected in a way that every bar table in the city should’ve been. No one put a drink near the thing, no matter how drunk; the crowd waited for the shot before walking in front of/behind the shooter, and they always gave enough room to make a comfortable shot regardless of the crowds in the rest of the bar; and most importantly, the sign-up list was law. Playing a game of pocket billiards in any other bar usually involves heated, tedious, and ultimately futile discussions on who is next to play with everyone getting pissed and no one getting to play, but not here. You sign your name, the whole place knows and anyone trying to jump in gets the treatment. At midnight on Mondays they locked the door, took buy-ins and played a long, tournament-style money game called Killer that went until god knows when, and anyone who got knocked out got a free drink. All the regulars were exceptional players, even the semi-crazy guy D-Mon, and I took great pride the one time I beat the reigning master, Al, at a game of 8 ball. The money you saved with the cheap drinks was always swallowed up by the juke-box which had one of the finest selections I’ve ever seen anywhere, and no matter how crazy it got, you could somehow always hear the music.

Bar 81 took it on the chin a few years ago when their rent doubled. The last time I walked by, the place was something of a posh bistro, though Blue & Gold – and it’s asshole bartender – have stayed strong. Smalls had a much more complicated couple of years. They got shut down just before the smoking ban for “underage drinking” and the jazz moved down a couple blocks to pool hall/venue/ping-pong joint the owner had called Fat Cat. It reopened about a year or so later, but got cleaned up, charged $20 at the door, $6 a drink at the shiny new bar, and they cut their early mornin jams. Just a few months ago, Fat Cat was forced to close, I guess theres only so much room for jazz in this town these days.

I am obviously romanticizing the shit outta these memories, and there are places like these in cities all over, I’m sure. But the fact remains that reliable, affordable, and experimental live music is in decline, and East Village dives are turning into lounges and clubs, destination hot spots with velvet ropes and bouncers with attitudes. As an NYU alumn, I can’t help but blame myself for some of this. I helped feed the insatiable monster that is NYU’s board of directors – the majority of whom are, you guessed it, real estate developers. They’ve been driving up rents and building over history for years, and have, without question, changed the character of the neighborhood by letting stupid kids from the suburbs like myself run around with their parents’ money. But now they are being joined by fleets of cranes erecting gleaming glass and steel condos on every corner. Bowery is a sight to see these days, and it’s merciful that CBGBs got out of there. Could you imagine if that place stayed? 3 years from now it’d probably be wedged between a Whole Foods and a Jamba Juice.

And yes, I wasn’tborn here, so I really have no right to speak on what is and what isn’t New York. When I go back home to Virginia, I’m regularly refered to as “The New Yorker” despite my many objections. Firstly, one has to live here 10 years to get that moniker – I’m going on 7 at the moment – and even then, I don’t think it’s something any transplant can really earn, no matter how long you live here. “New Yorkers” to me are the one’s who were born, raised, and continue to live in the 5 boros, any transplant can attest that city kids are different and locals have something about them that can’t be gotten in any other fashion. That being said, I have been here for a long enough to develop attachments and loyalties, deep ones at that, and have grown old enough to begin shitting on the coming generations.

I went to places like Small’s and 81 because they were authentic places, dedicated to the services they provided, and were bereft of attitude, judgement and – for lack of a better word – bullshit. I find it quite confusing when these places are driven from our neighborhoods to make way for some newer, more expensive joint trying to imitate their personalities and become what they used to be. I feel no desire to trudge out to the latest over-crowded IT lounge that has been christened by the Hipster scene becuase Hillary Duff threw up there, nor do I want to spend $15 to hear another band trying to channel the rebellious and pissed off soul of NYC’s grand old punk scene with their $150 haircuts and impeccibly pre-stressed, nut-hugging jeans. “Isn’t that exactly what we ask New York to be right now?” No. No matter how good the impression is, no matter how hard they try to replicate what New York was, it’ll never be that again, and that sucks.

The city – like the country it represents – has an amoebic identity that shifts with the tides of prosperity and immigration, and I guess we’re seeing the water drift further toward the horizon. Progress – read: gentrification – is unstoppable to some extent, look at Williamsburg for God’s sake, things inevitably must change with the passage of time. But with each step towards a new and better future, we run the risk of turning our surroudings into simulacrum, a theme park based on a dead fantasy, a copy with no original. My home town in Virginia is going through a similar transition now. With the promise of more jobs and better pay, more and more people flood into an area unpreppared for the consequences of its own success. People came for the trees and the solitude only to find strip malls and townhouses, stacked one atop another like some never-ending lego land. We sit in a sea of traffic and breath the exhaust. Some people are drawn to New York by the myth of the artistic, bohemian lifestyle that engenders individuality and creativity beyond all else. But it’s difficult to hone your craft and make your share of a $2500 a month rent and even harder to fight the tide of homogeonization that it comes with. The city has always been drenched in exorbidant prices, and it would be a shame if Manhattan – after such a storied and singular history – ends up in the hands of a single class of people. New York has become safer and cleaner than ever, standard of living is exceptional, public services are effecient(ish), and it is still one of the greates, most diverse places on the face of this Earth. More than anything, I hope that last part never changes. The Highline will be a beautiful, beautiful park. One wonders, though, what kind of a city it will be overlooking.

Wireless New York and Global Commuincations

In Netroots, New York City, Technology on March 1, 2007 at 6:48 pm

There is a movement out there that is pushing for a long-term plan to improve the broadband infastructure in New York city. Personally, I hope to see this movement taken to the extreme so that we can have complete broadband wireless access citywide. This would be amazing for so many reasons – and it’s not just about me trying to avoid paying Cablevision each month. It’s amazing because it would even further everyone’s ability to communicate and compete on a global level. This includes everyone from corporate employees, to university students, to grassroots activists, to low income individuals who have limited or no access to the internet (aka victims of the digital divide).

Don’t think its possible? Well my wife told me about the internet infastructure in Mauritius Island, and they are doing just that. According to an (outdated) wikipedia posting, she is correct. Maybe I should see if conservapedia has a better posting on the subject. In the meantime, see the following:

A plan by ADB Networks calls for Mauritius to become the first nation to have coast-to-coast wireless internet access. The wireless hot spot currently covers about 60% of the island and is accessible by about 70% of its population. By the end of 2006, antennas should provide access to 90% of the island.

For those interested in joing this movement in NYC, I found an article and event listing over at the Civil Defense blog. Here is some of what he posted:

These local broadband projects are so critical because we have no national broadband strategy. France, Holland, South Korea, and Japan have all blown past the US in connection speeds and prices because they have made broadband construction a national priority and have developed strategies to get the job done.

As a result, decisions about local investment in broadband infrastructure – all of these local muniwireless battles – will determine the way we communicate for the next 100 years. Because we have no national broadband strategy, these decisions are being made at the local level, by mayors and city councils, and that is where we need to act.

So I encourage everyone in New York to attend the first public hearing of the NYC Broadband Advisory Committee on March 30, from 9 AM – 11 AM, in the rotunda of Bronx Borough Hall, 851 Grand Concourse.

Here’s the full announcement…

Broadband Advisory Committee

Co-sponsored by the Office of Adolfo Carrion, the Bronx Borough President and the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBRO), the Broadband Advisory Committee will hold its first public hearing on March 30, from 9 AM – 11 AM, in the rotunda of Bronx Borough Hall, 851 Grand Concourse. Sponsored by Council Member Gale Brewer, Local Law 126 (http://nyccouncil.info/issues/intros_act.cfm?intro=Int%200625%2D2005) created the Broadband Advisory Committee to advise the Mayor and the City Council on how bring affordable broadband to all New York City residents, nonprofit organizations and businesses. The Advisory Committee is comprised of 15 members — 7 Council appointees and 8 Mayoral appointees. At the hearing, the Committee will hear testimony from selected elected officials and policy experts. After that, the general public is invited and encouraged to testify. The Committee would like to hear from the public about the availability and affordability of broadband in their neighborhoods. Additionally, we would like to get input from the public why they use broadband and what they use their high-speed Internet connection for. Does broadband help your children do research on the Internet for their homework? Do you use the Internet to find a job? If you run a small business, how does broadband help your business reach your customers? The hearing in the Bronx will kick-off a series of five public hearings that will be convened in every borough of New York City. Based on these hearings and with the help of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Committee will report their findings and recommendations to the Mayor and City Council.

For about information about Local Law 126, the Committee and its structure, and broadband policy, please contact Jeff Baker (jeffrey.baker@council.nyc.ny.us / 212-788-9193), Counsel to the Committee on Technology in Government.

For information regarding the Committee’s public hearing schedule, event details and how you might get involved in providing community outreach, please contact Ryan Merola (ryan.merola@gmail.com).

If you are a member of the media and would like more information about the Committee and/or the public hearings, please contact Bruce Lai, (bruce.lai@council.nyc.ny.us), Chief of Staff to Council Member Gale A. Brewer.

Redistricting Prisoners

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, The War On Drugs, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 11:21 am

Another one that isn’t a new conversation, but good to see Schneiderman keeping it on the table…

Where prisoners are counted as population for redistricting purposes is an urgent issue for New York to deal with before 2010 Census redistricting, especially considering the Community Service Society of New York reports that,

“Approximately 80% of New York State’s prison population consists of Blacks and Latinos from New York City’s predominately Black and Latino communities, including Harlem, Washington Heights, the Lower East Side, the South and East Bronx, Central and East Brooklyn, and Southeast Queens. When released, the majority of the former prisoners return to these communities.”

This, from today’s Albany Times Blog,

Eileen Markey’s article in City Limits alludes to another parallel. The majority of our state’s prisoners come from downstate (New York City), but virtually all the state’s prisons are upstate. More importantly, those prisoners are counted as “residents” of upstate towns in the decennial census, but they are unable to vote. Thus, for the purposes of reapportionment and redistricting in NY, prisoners are like seat fillers at the Oscars: they give districts the appearance of being full, but they have absolutely no clout.

This practice has meaningful economic and political consequences. The resources diverted to districts upstate do little to aid prisoners, while the actual residents get a disproportionately large slice of the pie. In turn, less money is directed to downstate districts that already lack resources and support returning prisoners upon their release. Politically, this method has favored Republicans, who are heavily concentrated upstate. By allocating prisoners up north, redistricters respecting one-person/one-vote doctrine must create more districts upstate; these puffed-up districts have tended to elect GOP candidates.

There are simple ways to change New York’s method of counting prisoners. Some states simply do not count prisoners when redistricting. Others, including Sen. Eric Schneiderman have proposed creating a database with the last known addresses of prisoners, and counting them there. Either proposal would bring more fairness to the system and help end the current practice in NY which heaps insult onto injury: not only are prisoners being used for partisan gain, but their home districts suffer as well. Or, put another way, not only are they little more than nominees with no chance at a statue, they’re left without the coveted swag too.

Givin Up Food For Funk

In Food Justice, Music, New York City, Race on February 21, 2007 at 1:09 am

This Thursday, come out to M1-5 in Manhattan for the second edition of 432 Thursdays.  This time we’re dedicating the night to James Brown, with an evening full of his performances, writings, productions, samples, and covers.  Not only was the “Godfather of Soul” one of the most important figures in all of modern music, but he also often included some important lyrics in terms of social, racial, and political commentary with songs like “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “I’m Paying Taxes, but What am I Buyin?” and many more.

We’re also taking it one step further by playing music that samples him and his affiliates, which leads us to a large selection of hip hop from the late 80’s and early 90’s – one of hip hop’s most socially concious periods.  Groups like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions have albums that would sound entirely different without the foundation of James Brown and the JB’s drumkicks, horn hits, guitar licks, and of course, grunts.

We’re also bringing back the food drive porion of the party, just like we had at our kickoff event.  At the first party, people donated about 3 big boxes worth of canned and dry food for City Harvest.  Let’s try to outdo that this time.  Please show up with non-perishable food items in hand and give up some food for funk (also a reference to a James Brown lyric).

soul power

Some Brooklyn News

In Housing, Land rights, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Urban Planning / Space on February 20, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Being a Brooklyn resident, I thought that I would share some information that I received from the Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn newsletter.  It’s a good website for keeping up with Brooklyn development (i.e. Atlantic yards/Ratner), so go check it out.

First is a report about a recent court hearing:

Federal Judge Hears Eminent Domain Oral Arguments; Case Could Derail “Atlantic Yards”

An overflowing crowd of Brooklyn residents and reporters (some late arrivals had to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV in the courthouse’s cafeteria) filled the courtroom of Federal Magistrate Robert Levy on February 7th, as the judge listened to initial oral arguments in the eminent domain lawsuit filed by property owners and tenants whose homes and businesses lie in the footprint of the proposed “Atlantic Yards” development.

The hearing, in the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, was held in response to a motion to dismiss the case, brought by the defendants, who include the Empire State Development Corporation, Forest City Ratner, former Governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The defendants are fearful of the case going to trial in Federal court, where the fate of Bruce Ratner’s “Atlantic Yards” project would rest solely on the law – and with a politically independent, impartial judge.

If the case proceeds to trial – and many courtroom observers believe that Judge Levy’s demeanor and his line of questioning indicate there’s a good chance it will – it would derail Ratner’s plans to erect an arena and a superblock of high-rise buildings in Prospect Heights. If the plaintiffs win, the project will have to go back to the drawing board, or be scrapped altogether, because the arena cannot be built, nor can streets de-mapped, without the plaintiffs’ homes and businesses.

During the nearly four hours of sometimes-fascinating, sometimes-technical courtroom back-and-forth, Judge Levy seemed largely unmoved by the defendants’ arguments; at one point, he interrupted ESDC lawyer Douglas Kraus to tell him “you and I have very different ideas about the law.” For more on the courtroom blow-by-blow, we recommend the coverage at the always-excellent Atlantic Yards Report, and this story from The New York Sun.

Judge Levy is expected to make a recommendation to presiding Judge Nicholas Garaufis on the defendants’ motion in the next few weeks. If he denies the motion (and we’re optimistic he will), the discovery process will begin, leading to a trial some time in the next few months.


Secondly, here are some screening dates and locations for a movie about the proposed development projects and the “antics” behind them.  I haven’t seen the movie, but it looks good, and i might go try to check it out.  It’s definitely an issue that people need to understand more about.

Brooklyn Matters,” local filmmaker Isabel Hill’s documentary chronicle of the shenanigans behind Bruce Ratner’s full-court press to erect his massively scaled, massively subsidized “Atlantic Yards,” is a must-see – and it’s coming to a location near you.

“Of all the protesting voices and hundreds of thousands of words in opposition to the proposed Atlantic Yards development, nothing is as convincing as Isabel Hill’s excellent film.”
– Stuart Pertz, FAIA, former member of the New York City Planning Commission

Brooklyn Matters is a remarkable film that slowly, quietly, calmly reveals the extreme ugliness at the heart of one of the most ill-conceived mega-developments in New York history.”
– Francis Morrone, architectural historian and author

The next two Brooklyn showings are as follows:

February 21st, 7:30 p.m.
Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, Auditorium
357 Clermont Avenue (between Lafayette & Greene)
Fort Greene
Presented by the Fort Greene Association & The Society for Clinton Hill
Complimentary refreshments will be served beginning at 7:00 p.m.

February 27th, 7 p.m.
Fifth Avenue Committee
621 Degraw Street (between 3rd & 4th Avenues)
Park Slope
Presented by the Fifth Avenue Committee

Both screenings are free and open to the public. The running time of the film is approximately 55 minutes.

For up-to-date information on additional screenings, and to view a trailer, please visit www.brooklynmatters.com.

NYC Grassroots Media Conference Selections

In Direct action, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Netroots, New York City, Progressive Politics, Technology on February 19, 2007 at 7:38 pm

The fourth edition of the NYC Grassroots Media Conference schedule has been released and there are plenty of great workshops. Sessions I’m eyeballing include…

Beyond Googling It: News and Government Information “Web 2.0” style

Do you feel like you have to check 50 websites just to keep up with a single news item? Do you ever hear about a pending bill, send off a letter to your legislator, and then wonder what became of the issue? Just what DO people mean when they talk about “Web 2.0”? Come explore approaches to using the Internet to monitor, track, share, and manage information. This presentation will demonstrate how so-called “Web 2.0” tools like RSS, news aggregators, and social tagging can help you get organized online and be a more effective independent journalist or community activist. Librarian volunteers from the collective Radical Reference (radicalreference.info) will give real-life examples of how journalists, researchers, community organizers, and informed citizens are using these technologies to track information from around the globe—and how you can too. Rad Reffers will give the basics of each tool, introduce websites and sources, take questions from the audience, and provide detailed handouts.

Talking to Mainstream Media

Indy media isn’t always enough—sometimes we want to look for mainstream press coverage, and sometimes they come looking for us. Be prepared!! This workshop will help you get ready to deal with mainstream news media, telling your story, and “managing” your message. It is NOT a workshop on the mechanics of organizing a p.r. campaign or how to write a press release—it WILL help you understand how the media works and what they look for in news stories, so your campaign can be successful. This workshop is back by popular demand.

The Impact of Mainstream Media Ownership on the Ethnic Press in New York

In September 2006, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, bought out Courier Life Publications, a group of black and Caribbean newspapers in the city, including Caribbean Life, Brooklyn-Courier, Brooklyn Heights, Flatbush Life and Fort Green Courier. Two months later, an inside source said that a representative of Mr. Murdoch came to the office of Manhattan Borough community publications in the city. We can only wonder what impact Murdoch will have on the editorial content of the ethnic and immigrant communities. Chinese, Russian, Filipino, Black and Spanish-language newspapers tell their stories from their point of view. In fact, they don’t care if English speakers cannot read their papers. If Murdoch’s buy spells the beginning of a trend, what effect will this consolidation of ownership have in shaping public opinion among immigrant and low-income communities? Are the media avenues that immigrants use to air their views to policy-makers in danger? What measures can be taken to ensure that that this media sector continue to thrive? Hear representatives of the ethnic press take on these issues.

New York’s Wireless Future
New wireless technology provides an efficient and affordable way to deploy new broadband infrastructure. You can use it to turn your local park into a hotspot or to give affordable access to all of your neighbors. Across the country, local governments are considering whether to build – or to let corporations build – wireless networks that cover an entire city. New York City is just beginning this process. This is the best chance in a generation, if not a century, to come together as a community to decide what we want and need from our communications infrastructure. This panel will bring you up to speed on the discussion.

Also of note: Josue Guillen of May First/People Link will lead US Social Forum 2007 – Exploring Media Opportunities

The first ever US Social Forum will take place in Atlanta, GA from June 27 – July 1, 2007. Because it brings together so many activists from so many diverse movements and highlights different struggles that are worth covering, it will be a unique opportunity for progressive and alternative media people to meet each other, strategize together and cover a major event. This discussion will provide insights on the current plans of the National Planning Committee and challenge participants to help this event have even more impact.

Keep the case for Sean Bell alive….

In Civil Liberties, Music, New York City, Policing, Race on February 18, 2007 at 4:33 pm

NY1 posted a story today about the end of a 50 day long vigil for Sean Bell. I wasn’t able to make it out to this vigil, but I definitely respect the cause. Everyone must keep this case, and any others like it, in the public conscious. We can’t simply let it slip away and allow things like this to continue to happen. Speaking of this, I want to express a big THANK YOU to Mos Def for mentioning Sean Bell at his concert at Brooklyn’s BAM the other night (as well as for having the entire band wear those excellent So Fresh, So Clean Barack Obama shirts, and putting on an amazing show.)

Here’s the story from NY1:

The two-month vigil by friends and family of police shooting victim Sean Bell comes to an end tomorrow.

The group, which held a rally Saturday, has been stationed outside the 103rd Precinct stationhouse in Jamaica, Queens for 50 days: the number of shots fired by officers at Bell the night he died.

They want the officers who fired the shots held accountable, and want to make sure there is never another case like Sean Bell.

Bell, 23, was shot and killed by police on November 23rd as he was leaving his bachelor party at a Queens nightclub. He was to be married the next day. Two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were also injured.

The group offered support to those impacted by police brutality, which they say has become a “nationwide epidemic.”

“We decided that it would be important to have an event like this which centered on other parents whose children have been killed by the police, coming here to the vigil, standing in solidarity with the Bell family, showing their determination for justice for Sean Bell,” said Carl Dix of the October 22nd Coalition, a group to stop police brutality.

“I feel very passionately, and I feel very strongly about the incident with Sean Bell because it could be my nephew, my son,” said another protestor, Eia Louis-Ferguson.

A grand jury is still weighing evidence in the case to determine whether police officers involved will face criminal charges.

Picture the Homeless, Longest Night of the Year

In class warfare, Direct action, Economic Justice, Land rights, Misc., Music, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on December 20, 2006 at 6:16 pm

NYC’s Picture the Homeless will be hosting a great event tomorrow night.

We wanted to remind you that tomorrow, on the longest night of the year, we will be holding our annual Homeless Memorial Service, to come together to remember homeless New Yorkers who passed away in 2006–and stand together to promote justice for homeless New Yorkers still living! This is a powerful, deeply moving event, and we encourage all friends and allies to come join us!
Thursday, December 21 at 6 p.m.

Judson Memorial Church

55 Washington Square South (SW corner of Washington Sq Park)

After this amazing event readers are welcome to join two of LiftWhileClimbing’s moderators and many of our allies at downtown’s M1-5 for a party, which will be collecting food for NYC’s City Harvest.

Brookings’ 10 Noteworthy Trends for 2006

In Economic Justice, HIV/SIDA, Housing, Immigration, Labor, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on December 20, 2006 at 10:06 am

Brookings Inst:

  • For the first time in 2005 there are more poor residents of suburbs than central cities.
  • Six percent of the population of large U.S. metropolitan areas lives in exurbs.
  • More than one-third of the nation’s loss of manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2005 occurred in seven Great Lakes states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
  • America’s older, inner-ring first suburbs make up 20 percent of the nation’s population and are more diverse and older than the nation as a whole.
  • The average U.S. household spends 19 percent of its budget on transportation, rendering household location a key component of housing affordability.
  • Nationwide, more than 4.2 million lower income homeowners pay a higher than average APR for their mortgage.
  • The leading refugee destination metro areas have shifted away from traditional immigrant gateways, like New York and Los Angeles, over the past two decades to newer gateways—such as Atlanta, Seattle, and Portland.
  • The fastest growing metropolitan areas for minority populations from 2000 to 2004 now closely parallel the fastest growing areas in the nation.
  • Middle-income neighborhoods as a proportion of all metropolitan neighborhoods declined from 58 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 2000, disappearing faster than the share of middle class households in these metro areas.
  • Of the $109 billion in federal appropriations dedicated to Gulf Coast funding In the first year after Hurricane Katrina, only $35 billion, approximately, went toward the long-term recovery of the region.
  • An opportunity to give to charity and have fun….

    In Misc., Music, New York City on December 19, 2006 at 10:55 am

    I’m helping to organize a benefit party for City Harvest this Thursday. See the details below:

    Bring your friends, bring your family, and bring your coworkers…………

    The 432 Thursdays kickoff event:
    Holidaze @ M1-5
    Thursday, 12/21/06,
    6pm until it gets shut down

    A benefit for City Harvest with DJ Knomad and DJ Kinetic playing an eclectic mix of hip hop, reggae, funk, soul, disco,rock, 80s, bmore, house, and more….

    Please bring your non-perishable food items for donation to City Harvest (not required for entry). See www.cityharvest.org for guidelines.
    This event will be sponsored by Corazon Tequila with the Corazon girls offering giveaways and drink specials. Also featuring $4 mixed drinks, $3 domestic beers, $2 shots all night OR an optional $40 top shelf open bar from 8-11pm.

    We’ll have a dancefloor, holiday movies playing on a big screen projector, a pool table, and more…

    432 Thursdays was born out of the idea that we couldn’t find a fun but affordable party on Thursday nights. A place that people could go and chill after work with a drink, or a party they could stay at late into the night and dance. Where drinks are cheap and entry is free, but doesn’t have that dive bar feel. An after work party with good music, good people, and the occasional special event.

    M1-5 is located at 52 Walker St. between Broadway and Church. It is two blocks below Canal St and easily accessible by the N, Q, R, W, 6, A, C, E trains.


    NYC’s domestic partners face unfair choice – be cold or be alone

    In Civil Liberties, Economic Justice, Housing, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Progressive Politics, religion & politics, Sexuality, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on December 13, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Send an e-postcard to NYC Dept. of Homeless Services because Commissioner Hess can change this.

    Selling Candy: The Urban Job Market of Tomorrow

    In Blogs we like, class warfare, Economic Justice, International Trade, Labor, New York City, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on December 8, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    From Working Life:

    More than a month ago, I posted a short item about the mad scrum that erupted in Times Square when a few thousands people lined up for 65 jobs–at M&M’s new store. Well, actually, it turns out I underestimated the insanity. According to the Daily News yesterday, 12,800 people filled out applications for the 198 jobs (beats me why the difference in numbers on the jobs…I’ll chalk it up to bad reporting but I also didn’t check up on this independently so bad on me, too).

    Anyway, these jobs pay $10.75 an hour “plus health and other benefits,” according to the article–but there’s no description of the health benefits. Mark me down as skeptical that the benefits are anything more than a bare-bones plan with high deductibles and skimpy coverage. As for the store:

    M&M’s World offers themed clothing, dishware, piggy banks, watches and of course, chocolate. New York’s largest candy store has a two-story wall of M&M’s with 22 different color choices.

    Hey, I have a real bad sweet tooth so I’m not dissing the great societal benefit that M&M represents. But, these are the jobs that thousands of people are going bonkers to grab.  This is the great economic miracle we can look forward to.

    Photos from Protests for Sean Bell

    In Civil Liberties, Direct action, New York City, Policing, Race on December 8, 2006 at 10:39 am


    I wanted to post some photo galleries I found of recent protests surrounding the police killing of Sean Bell.  Unfortuneately, I was unable to make it, but it looks like things went fairly well.

    Photos from protest at NYPD Headquarters on 12/6/06 (courtesy of Fred Askew photgraphy)

    Photos from prtoests in Queens with New Black Panther Party (indymedia)

    Hey, what happened to the food theme?

    In Economic Justice, Food Justice, Immigration, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Urban Planning / Space on December 6, 2006 at 11:30 am

    This month we originally planned on bringing you articles about food justice, access to food, and healthy eating. However, certain incidents (1, 2, 3)  have slightly shifted our direction over recent weeks.

    While that other stuff is more important, and very worthy of the distraction that it brings, I thought I could lighten the mood a little this morning by returning to food for a minute.

    I found the following article in the NYTimes about a food market that I never knew existed on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Based on what I learned from this article, it sounds similar to the Chelsea Market in that it rents space to small independent vendors, including farmers from upstate NY. It is also interesting due to the fact that it is quite large (15,000 square feet) compared to most stores in the area, and that it caters to people from a variety of social backgrounds (not just to the gentrifying population). Here is some of the article:

    Some months ago, a friend told me about the Essex Street Market, the 15,000-square-foot enclosed food hall on the lower East Side of Manhattan, and I felt as if I were a soprano hearing the name Donizetti for the first time.

    The market has been in continual operation for the past 66 years. But it is thriving today as it never did, making available both the world of the bodega and the universe of the gourmand…That the market itself is shaped like a giant shoebox only adds to the sense that it has become a diorama of the city in demographic miniature. Hasidic men and Latina women come, as they always have, and they are joined now by young people of indeterminate sexuality, vocation or coiffure.

    Five years ago the market was only 60 percent full, said Jose Figuereo, one of its overseers. But because of low rents and an influx of more prosperous neighbors, 26 vendors now occupy every square foot of selling space.

    The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which runs the market, receives applications for new tenants on a weekly basis and, in a change from the past, will now rent only to food vendors. It leases space to vendors at $27 a square foot on average, less than a third the standard price food retailers pay in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn….

    While the market has welcomed purveyors like Ms. Saxelby, it has not given itself over entirely to epicurean gentrification. The indoor stalls are a good place to encounter yautia, a root vegetable that looks like the love child of a soup can and a coconut.

    In addition to yautia, and its cousins batata and apio — all root vegetables used in Hispanic cooking — it is still possible to find kosher wine here, at Schapiro’s, which has kept a presence on the Lower East Side since 1899.

    “There are people from the housing projects across Delancey who come in for milk religiously,” she said. (Ms. Saxelby’s comes from a small dairy in upstate New York and she sells it for $2.99 a quart.) “This tosses out all your assumptions about who people are and what they are going to like,” she added. “You don’t know who anyone is, really. Some people who you’d think are young hipsters, artist types, show up with E.B.T. cards,” she said. Ms. Saxelby sells Trillium, a Vermont cheese made from hand-ladled goat curd for $24.99 a pound, and she advertises her acceptance of electronic benefits transfer cards, the replacement for food stamps.

    The Essex Street Market exists as an urban planner’s vision of commercial utopia — the sort of retail space now all but non-existent in New York, where increasingly segregated social classes come together to share if not the actual experience of affluence, then the readily purchasable signifiers of it….

    While the market has welcomed purveyors like Ms. Saxelby, it has not given itself over entirely to epicurean gentrification. The indoor stalls are a good place to encounter yautia, a root vegetable that looks like the love child of a soup can and a coconut….

    In addition to yautia, and its cousins batata and apio — all root vegetables used in Hispanic cooking — it is still possible to find kosher wine here, at Schapiro’s, which has kept a presence on the Lower East Side since 1899….

    If Fiorello La Guardia arrived at the market today though, one imagines he would be quite pleased with what greeted him. Mayor La Guardia established the enclosed market — along with La Marqueta in East Harlem and the Arthur Avenue market in the Bronx, both still running — to eliminate the street peddler culture he found so odious. About half the pushcarts in the city were on the Lower East Side, said Suzanne Wasserman, director of the Gotham Center at the CUNY Graduate Center and a scholar of lower Manhattan history.

    La Guardia sought to regulate the markets rigorously. Among the rules stipulated by the Department of Markets, in the 1930s, was a ban on shouting, hawking and the “use of abusive and lewd language.”

    The point of the markets, Ms. Wasserman explained, was to sanitize mercantile life in New York and divorce it from immigrant folkways.

    “La Guardia was half Italian and half Jewish, and he had a thing about explicit displays of ethnicity,” she said…..

    The Essex Street Market opened on January 10, 1940 with 475 stalls and 1,000 applications for them. Initially it did not do well because the Jewish and Italian immigrants to whom it catered preferred to shop on the street. It began to thrive as pushcarts disappeared and flourished in the 1950s with the arrival of a Puerto Rican population to the Lower East Side. For years before the current real estate boom though, the market was largely derelict.

    Jeffrey Ruhalter is a fourth-generation butcher who has spent the better part of the last four decades observing the changes in the market and the shifting demographics of the neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Essex and Delancey Streets. Mr. Ruhalter’s great-grandfather Aaron Ruhalter opened a butcher shop on Orchard Street in 1923, one his grandfather moved to Essex Street Market when it opened….

    His father, he said, used to buy pigs’ feet in 100-pound buckets. “We were a poor man’s butcher for a very long time, because this was a very poor neighborhood,” he said. “In the ’80s if it had not been for food stamps we would have been out of business.”

    Though Mr. Ruhalter carries some hormone-free beef now, and strip steak and duck sausages to cater to customers who come to him from all over the city, he makes his living, he said, from the less glamorous offerings of a carnivore’s table: chicken, sirloin, stew meat.

    While I can’t say that I agree with LaGuardia’s sentiments of “Sanitizing mercantile life in New York and divorce it from immigrant folkways,” I must say that it’s great to see places like the Essex Street Market in existance. Not only are they interesting in terms of urban planning, they also provide great economic opportunities and access to good quality food, both of which are increasingly lacking (at least for those that can’t afford high priced grocers or don’t have grocery options available in their neighborhood).

    Read the entire article here.

    Memorial Ride for Eric Ng; Saturday, Wash. Sq. Park, 1pm

    In Direct action, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, New York City, Policing, Progressive Politics, US Politics on December 5, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    I need to be out of town this weekend, so I will unfortunately miss this.

    Please, if you are in the NYC area, are an activist, biker, punk, or just have some time and can show support and love for a good guy and the community he loved, please try to make it to Washington Square Park on Saturday.

    More about Eric here and there.

    And the question on my mind regarding Eric, Brad Will, Sean Bell, and others is discussed: What the fuck is going on?