[ Don’t want to read? Listen to Tom’s story here. ]
Meet Tom, an average yellow taxi driver in New York City.
Tom makes the median salary of NYC taxi drivers, which is just under $38,000 a year. He works 12 hour shifts, 6 hours a day. Like most cab drivers, Tom doesn’t own his own taxicab or medallion. He didn’t own a taxi because he didn’t have enough money to buy one. But let’s take one step back.
What is a medallion? A medallion is a piece of tin attached to the hood of a yellow cab that makes a driver legally licensed to pick up passengers.
Why doesn’t Tom own his medallion? Because they are mind-blowingly expensive. The average market price for a medallion is over $1 million! Last month, two were auctioned off for $2.5 million. Why? Chew on this: in 1937, facing too many taxis on the street, New York City issued 16,000 medallions to cab drivers to regulate supply – in other words, to make sure there weren’t too many taxis on the street. That system has not changed since, and the number of medallions in circulation has actually dropped to just over 13,000 over the years. In turn, the value of those medallions, sold for the equivalent of $150 74 years ago, has skyrocketed. And the people buying those medallions aren’t drivers like Tom – they’re businessmen who buy medallions and taxi fleets to lease to people like Tom. Many of them are billionaires - in the business, they call these guys hacks. Tom leases from one of the biggest fleets serving NYC, Midtown Operating Corp in Long Island City. The hack that owns Midtown is Ron Sherman, who owns 205 medallions and is a powerful lobbyist in the City, fighting to ensure the safety of his very, very profitable business.
It’s 5PM on Saturday, shift change on a busy night, and Tom’s at Midtown hoping for a car. Because there are three licensed drivers for each available car, Tom has to hope a garage manager will get to him before running out. He leases a cab and medallion for $129, pays to fill that cab with gas, and then pays the toll into the city – starting his shift over $160 in the hole. Once on the road, he’s got a lot on his mind: picking up enough hails to bring home a profit, looking out to avoid the egregiously drunk, drinking enough coffee to stay awake but not enough to have to find a parking spot and a bathroom. He sits for 12 hours. He eats fast food in his cab. He comes out at the end of the day with about $130 to take home.
Tom is an independent contractor, so like over half of NYC drivers, he has no health insurance. Only in the past few months, following the enacted Affordable Care Act, has the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) moved forward to implement a package of mandatory healthcare benefits – Tom will have to pay another $.06 per fare, but will get disability insurance and dental and vision care, as well as help navigating the Affordable Care Act options to find the best health insurance option for him.
But Tom’s life has just changed.
Last year, Tom heard word of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for Boro Taxis, and decided to make a change. Tom was always a yellow cab driver in favor of the other option: driving a livery car in the outer boroughs.
But let’s back up a bit:
What are livery cars? Let’s say you’re at a bar in Brooklyn and want to get back to your apartment in Queens. You won’t find a yellow cab – they tend to stick to Manhattan. Instead, a friend will give you a number for a car service, and you’ll take that private car, often a black Crown Vic with a TLC license, home. The livery car has no TV in the back seat. It has no credit card machine and no medallion. Often the driver will name the price once you reach your destination, and if you’re so inclined, you can haggle it down. It is technically illegal for a livery cab to pick you up if you hail them on the street, but most of them do anyway for extra money. Police tend to turn a blind eye to this. Why? Because this is the only cab service available to most of New York City’s outer boroughs. Consider it the Great Secret of New York. Or maybe the Most Worn-Out Band-Aid of New York.
So when Tom heard rumors of a Boro Taxi system, he took a risk and put his savings into a loan for a Crown Vic so he could start working in Brooklyn for a private car service. The plan he hoped would pass was that Bloomberg would employ TLC to issue 18,000 permits to the existing 24,000 livery drivers that allowed them to pick up street-hails – the license, an alternative to the medallion, would cost just $1,500 and last three years. The Boro Taxis would service Harlem and the outer boroughs, allowed to drop off in Manhattan but not pick up. Those livery cab owners would paint their cabs green, install a credit card reader, and be good to go about $5,000 later in total – with no responsibility to the hacks.
And guess what: it passed! NY Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law in November, and now more than 1,000 of these green Boro Taxis are up and running, with 5,000 to be added by March. Check ‘em out:
Why is this good? According to the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance, here’s why:
“The current plan borne of state legislation and implemented by the TLC brings the labor of thousands of livery drivers from out of the underground economy. The plan does not increase the actual number of vehicles on the streets [so it won’t increase competition]…The street hail livery permits also give a viable alternative to thousands of yellow taxicab drivers who cannot afford a $1million medallion and are tired of the daily back-breaking work of paying high leases.”
But although Tom could scrape together the money for these updates to his car, many other livery drivers cannot. So the downside of this plan sits with the guy who before could pick up a hailing passenger in Brooklyn on the sly – without spending $5,000 on the license, the paint and the card reader, those opportunities are becoming fewer and farther between. This has already led to scuffles between the green cars and existing livery cars, the latter of whom don’t like green cars imposing on their turf.
So after three quarters of a century of stagnancy, a driver like Tom has seen unprecedented change in just the past year, from healthcare to freedom from medallions. But it’s not over, for one reason only: Mayor Bloomberg is phasing out, and Mayor-to-be Bill de Blasio has a different opinion on the policy – that he will “go back to the drawing board and work towards a better plan.” Remember Ron Sherman in Long Island City and his fellow hacks? Remember when I told you they were lobbyists? They donated more than $350,000 to de Blasio’s campaign, making them his biggest backers by far. In turn, de Blasio did a few things: he joined their lawsuit to block the plan. He pledged to replace current taxi commissioner David Yassky, known as an ally to drivers. He claimed lack of oversight in the bill’s passing.
For now, Tom and other taxi drivers can enjoy their newfound representation. But the reality is, we’ll have to wait and see if it lasts.
As they moved through the isolated villages in this region in 1943, systematically killing men in a reprisal for an attack on a small outpost, German soldiers dragged Giannis Syngelakis’s father from his home here and shot him in the head. Within two days, more than 400 men were dead and the women left behind struggled with the monstrous task of burying so many corpses.
Mr. Syngelakis, who was 7 then, still wants payback. And in pursuing a demand for reparations from Germany, he reflects a growing movement here, fueled not just by historical grievances but also by deep resentment among his countrymen over Germany’s current power to dictate budget austerity to the fiscally crippled Greek government.
Germany may be Greece’s stern banker now, say those who are seeking reparations, but before it goes too far down that road, it should pay off its own debts to Greece.”
As Germans Push Austerity, Greeks Press Nazi-Era Claims by Suzanne Daley - The New York Times
This was on the cover of the Sunday Times. Greece’s call for war reparations has been going around for a few years.
Quick overview: in the ’40s, the Nazis invaded Greece, put a Nazi flag on the Acropolis, made the Greek bank “lend” them a ton of money and rounded up virtually all of the country’s Jews for Auschwitz and the like. The occupation affected my dad’s family and most others, and today it is very rare to find an ethnically Jewish Greek. The Greeks are asking for about $220 bn, which is about half of its debt. Maybe it’s a convenient time to ask to be paid back. But the Germans might want to consider a new philosophy, choosing policy that fosters peace and unity.
(Note: this is a piece I wrote for my reporting class at Studio 20. Silly video also mine.)
Foot traffic jammed the first mile of Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue on Sunday as residents and visitors celebrated the 39th annual Atlantic Antic, New York’s largest street fair and a longstanding celebration of Brooklyn culture.
“Atlantic Avenue is really the artery of Brooklyn,” said Christian Haag, an organizer of the Atlantic Antic and Board President of the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation (AALDC). “The Antic represents it all, from an African American hair show to Paul’s Italian Sausage to hipster vendors selling homemade soap. That’s why I live in Brooklyn, that’s why I love Brooklyn.”
The Atlantic Antic, which stretches from Brooklyn Bridge Park to 4th Avenue, has endured through years of significant change to the area. The festival began in 1974 by a group of local merchants. This year, the AALDC estimates that it hosted over 500 vendors and over a million visitors.
Sahadi’s Fine Foods has called Atlantic Avenue home for 65 years. Its owner, Charlie Sahadi, remembers the first year of the Antic.
“It started on a Saturday,” he said. “We drew about 50,000 people. And we thought that was impressive! We used to have a nice parade in the morning, a lot of high school bands and stilt walkers. That’s all changed. It’s become more of a walking festival.”
Over the past few years, Atlantic Avenue has seen major development projects, including the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge Park in 2008 and the Barclays Center in 2012. The borough has also seen a rapid increase in population and housing prices. The US Census Bureau estimates that Brooklyn grew about two percent between 2010 and 2012, the fastest borough growth in New York.
C. Claiborne Ray has been a Brooklyn resident for 45 years. “When they first did the Atlantic Antic, it was to remind people that this wasn’t a terrible slum. It has always been about celebrating the merchants,” she said. “I moved here in 1968 because it was cheap. The developments have done nothing but good for me because I got in on the ground floor. An identical version of my $40,000 apartment just sold for $560,000.”
“We were the first,” said Anna Gaudino, owner of Paul’s Italian Sausage, a longtime vendor and sponsor. “Back then, oh my God was it different. You had to get out quick! But my husband died three years ago, and we’ve always loved it. It’s a tradition. I gotta keep it going.”
I was incredibly sad to hear about the death of one of my favorite journalists today, Michael Hastings. In 2010, CJ Lotz and I finagled a group into an ASME lunch to see him speak about his piece that ousted Stanley McChrystal. I blogged a few times about wanting to marry him. Once he retweeted me. CJ went on to do research for him and they became friends. The loss of such a talented, truth-seeking, relentless journalist is a blow to the many young writers and readers he has inspired. It also makes me even more eager to get back into journalism this fall. Readers need more people like him, true journalists, that are asking important questions for everyone else’s benefit and not letting people off the hook at the expense of the truth. It’s easy to forget that that’s fundamentally a journalist’s job! Profoundly, he never did.
A quote of Hastings’ that I love from an interview after the McChrystal piece:
Look, I went into journalism to do journalism, not advertising. My views are critical but that shouldn’t be mistaken for hostile - I’m just not a stenographer. There is a body of work that shows how I view these issues but that was hard-earned through experience, not something I learned going to a cocktail party on fucking K Street. That’s what reporters are supposed to do, report the story.
Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Yesterday, Obama and Gabby Giffords told me to contact my representatives to be the change, but my representatives are smart people with normal sized hearts. So the only thing I can really do is contact YOUR representatives to add volume to their inboxes. I compiled a list of all the senators who voted “no” to the Manchin-Toomey compromise and their contact info (I couldn’t find this already online). I also wrote a letter (below) and am sending it to each of these douchebags individually. I encourage you to write one and do the same.
*Update: Key senators as pinpointed by the Brady Campaign are in bold. I assume they’re pinpointed because they’re more spineless than they are perverse. Brady has provided phone numbers and the Huffington post has provided Twitter handles.
1. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
2. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
3. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)
4. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
5. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
6. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
7. Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)
8. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)
9. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
10. Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN)
11. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
12. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)
13. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
14. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
15. Sen. Michael Crapo (R-ID)
16. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
17. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY)
18. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE)
19. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
20. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
21. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)
22. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
23. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
24. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)
25. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)
26. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)
27. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
28. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE)
29. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
30. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)
31. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
32. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)
33. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
34. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
35. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
36. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR)
37. Sen. James Risch (R-ID)
38. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
39. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
40. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
41. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
42. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
43. Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
44. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
45. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS)
Some more wimps to contact:
These are the direct email addresses of each “no” democratic senator’s Chief of Staff.
1. email@example.com (Senator Pryor)
2. david_Ramseur@begich.senate.gov (Senator Begich)
3. firstname.lastname@example.org (Senator Baucus)
4. email@example.com (Senator Heitkamp)
My letter. Write your own! Or use mine, whatever, we want volume:
You don’t know me, but you represent me, and I want you to know that this week I lost all of my faith in you and in the system that is supposed to protect me. Your vote was selfish, it was cowardly, and it was small. It was cold-hearted. By slipping a self-serving vote under the rug with a few excuses, you are placing these very real problems outside of yourself. Do you think no one’s watching? Your inbox may suggest that we are. Do you think no one feels betrayed, horrified, and unsafe? I can assure you that we all do. More people will die because of your vote. You cannot wash your hands of that.
You, at the core, are a representative. A representative is a leader that reaches out to her community to ascertain their desires in order to best advocate for them. I can assure you that unless you get your act together and show that you are doing your job to represent the desires, the best interests, and above all the safety of your constituents, you will have completely lost the support of your state.
I had my wallet pickpocketed in December at the Union Square Holiday Market alongside five other small 20-something brunettes who had iPhones snatched, and when I asked the cop whether I’d be financially reimbursed for my claims if they caught the guys, he said, “No, we’ll just arrest them.” The Restitution law suggests that that defendant owes me the money he stole and the cost of everything in my wallet. And my wallet.
Restitution was discussed even though the prevailing view is that technically it isn’t considered part of punishment. Its purpose is to “make the victim whole,” as the legal phrase goes. “Simply put, an innocent victim should not suffer financial losses from a crime — the defendant should make good on those losses,” Cassell said.
That quote’s from a dark article in this week’s NYTimes Magazine called “How Much Can Restitution Help Victims of Child Pornography?”, clearly an offensively more disturbing crime than a stolen wallet. The questions around restitution, how it’s implemented and how it can be with virally distributed content make it worth a read.
The story follows two girls who are victims of rape and subjects of child pornography, the acts done, filmed and distributed by father and uncle, respectively. Now, they’re getting paid back via restitution for their “financial losses” - the cost of psychiatric care, lost income and legal costs. All people who are caught in possession of child pornography faced jail time, and those in possession of these girls’ images, for the first time in child pornography suits, face restitution claims.
This article is dark, and I usually find dark narrative nonfiction a little too sensationalist, like the last article in People Magazine sensationalist where you think “Why am I reading about this one freak murder, it’s scaring me for no reason,” or “Why did I just watch that video of the McDonalds guy hitting a drunk customer with a mop handle, I feel gross for no reason,” but this one’s got some questions worth exploring. Restitution’s used, I gather, pretty widely: bank robberies, mortgage fraud, not paying taxes…Peregrine founder and resident dipshit Russell Wasendorf will pay restitution upwards of $200 million to the clients he stole from over the past 20 years. But it seems there’s been nothing as vague as loss incurred by emotional and psychological damage, especially by the recipients, owners of illegal online content, versus the primary distributor himself. Ultimately, though, if the question is, are you, by owning and perpetuating the availability of a child’s image provided against her will and/or far before her ability to consent, using a global online network, are you actively contributing to her trauma that will add to her financial losses in the form of psychiatric care? I say yes. But in the anonymous world of the internet, many men probably don’t imagine these girls as real people who have been psychologically harmed by the images that are giving them pleasure. And that’s a weird thing about the Internet. Reification of people. We don’t think about the systems in place that got our tube of toothpaste made, packaged, and put on that shelf at Walgreens to buy. On a sicker realm, the increasing distribution of images discourages questions about how that girl got there to turn you on in the first place. It explains why the number of defendants sentenced in federal court for child pornography offenses increased 30 fold in under 20 years, from 61 in 1994 to 1,880 in 2011. And, I think, makes an even stronger case for slapping hearty restitution on as punishment.
Read the article! It’s good.