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Last Build Date: Sat, 10 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500


This Week in Politics: From Wrestlemania to Trump's Cabinet

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

As President-elect Donald Trump continues to make appointments, one thing is clear: this will likely be the richest cabinet in American history. And one of his latest picks is another member of the billionaire's club.

Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, has been selected to run the Small Business Administration.

WWE produces over-the-top spectacle on a grand scale. But before McMahon's wrestling empire became a global juggernaut, it all started as a small business. On This Week in Politics, we dig into her history and her relationship with Donald Trump.

Host David Furst is joined by Daniela Altimari, statehouse reporter with the Hartford Courant, who covered both of McMahon's failed campaigns for U.S. Senate in Connecticut, and by David Fahrenthold, who has extensively covered the dealings of the Trump Foundation for the Washington Post and reported on gifts made by the McMahons to the foundation.


This Week in Politics: From Wrestlemania to Trump's Cabinet

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Review: 'The Babylon Line' Looks at the Secret Vibrancy of Postwar Long Island

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

I've long been a fan of playwright Richard Greenberg. Even when his plays are firmly grounded in reality (like last year's Broadway show "Our Mother's Brief Affair") there's something slightly magical about them, a nostalgic whimsy fueled by swooping monologues. This is definitely true about his latest work, "The Babylon Line," now at Lincoln Center Theater. It's 1967 and a group of Levittown housewives (and a couple of men) have stumbled into a creative writing class almost by accident — their first choices were filled up. The teacher, Aaron Port (Josh Radnor) is kind of there by accident, too, or at least he'd rather be anywhere else. He's a writer who reverse commutes in from Greenwich Village and has so little respect for his students that he has no lesson plan. They can write what they want, and he'll comment — but as briefly as possible. The one bright spot in class, at least for the teacher, is housewife Joan Dellamond (Elizabeth Reaser). She's shut herself away from the town and is looking, like Sleeping Beauty, to be woken up — maybe through writing, maybe through a kiss.  Reaser plays Joan like a lesser Tennessee Williams character. She has a slight drawl, a seductive shimmy, and a yen to seduce the teacher. She wants to feel something, to be admired. Aaron does indeed admire Joan, but they don't spark much heat. He's a mouse. She has a slight undercurrent of brutality (she may or may not have kicked a baby). We're never worried the married teacher might end up with the married student — which stalls the narrative engine of the play. Happily, it doesn't much matter, because Greenberg's eloquence and sly wit translate into scenes of biting beauty when the students start reading their writing. Most notably, Anna Cantor (a sharp Maddie Corman) describes how mowing a lawn  — that is, taking an action she wasn't expected to take — changes her life. It is the first step to other, bigger transgressions. (Theater fans may get a thrill from knowing that she is the same Anna Cantor — the mother — in "Our Mother's Brief Affair.") But the real star of this show is the sublime Randy Graff as Frieda Cohen, Levittown's queen bee and the keeper of its values of community and decency. She rules her neighborhood through pointed questions and sly jokes. When Frieda meets Joan, she circles her like a panther. Why hasn't she seen her before? Why hasn't she come to any PTA meetings? If she doesn't have children, why would she live in Levittown? Joan is flustered, but doesn't balk. They are equally matched: the haunted outsider and the woman whose own sorrows prod her to keep everything (and everyone) she meets under her control. The character of Frieda  — and the sparse, deep beauty of the writing — make this Levittown a more complex and less repressive place than it originally appears to be. We're used to thinking of the suburbs, especially the suburbs in the 1960s, as cookie-cutter places filled with white women who suffer under "the problem that has no name."  Bur Frieda helps us see things differently. In her eyes, the suburbs are a place where people build community through casual conversation, and use that community to construct a place of mutual help, where neighbors attend PTA meetings together, and walk with each other through the snow to class. Frieda believes in creativity — she's famous for her garden — she's not trying to squelch it. Instead, she is upholding norms of decency as a shield against the memory of Pogroms and the Holocaust. This is not necessarily how the play would have read a few months ago, before the Presidential election. But now, after it, Joan's world of the outsider — who, when she's released from self-imposed exile, says and does whatever she wants, from physical violence to seduction, who operates, she says, entirely from fear  — no longer seems that appealing. We are beginning to understand what a world without social norms looks like; and it is not the gentle place of 1967 Levittown.   The Babylon Line By Richard Greenberg, dire[...]

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Bars Brace for SantaCon

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

Bars across the city are bracing for Saturday's arrival of the Santas, as part of the annual SantaCon pub crawl.

WNYC's Shumita Basu took a walk around the East Village to see how local bartenders are preparing.

Bars Brace for SantaCon

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Mmmm, Tastes Like...Fraud

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 15:00:00 -0500

The documentary “Sour Grapes” investigates a massive fraud perpetrated on wine collectors. Filmmakers Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas look at the case of Rudy Kurniawan, who was known for having an uncanny palate to identify wines. He applied his talents to creating fake bottles that created a sensation in the auction market until collectors like Bill Koch uncovered his deception and sought revenge.

— Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen

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For more information, click here to visit the official film web site. 

Mmmm, Tastes Like...Fraud

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Latest Newscast From the WNYC Newsroom

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 05:34:00 -0500

Latest Newscast From the WNYC Newsroom

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Review: Thinking about the Art World Post-Hillary

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

A confession: It took me years to warm to the virtues of identity art.

In the 1990s, when identity politics began infiltrating the art world, I saw them as a distraction. It seemed odd to want to label the makers of magical art objects as female artists or black artists or artists who were gay or transgender – wasn’t art supposed to rise above such special interests and speak its secrets to all of humankind?

Yet over time, art about identity proved to be some of the strongest art of our time. Moreover, its ascendancy corrected for past exclusions and turned the art world into a far more equitable place. Just this week, wandering around New York in a state of post-election melancholy, I was heartened by the abundance of first-rate shows by women. I admired Cecily Brown’s inordinately accomplished figurative studies at the Drawing Center in SoHo, and Carol Bove’s monumental welded-steel sculptures at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea. And then there is “Pretty/Dirty,” the edgy and intelligent Marilyn Minter retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum.

Minter, a Shreveport-born New Yorker who is now 68, came of age in the early years of the women’s movement and is known for luridly colored paintings that poke holes into airbrushed ideals of beauty. Often she depicts facial features in breathy and discomfiting close-up. Eyes, mouths and tongues are set at unsettling angles and encrusted with all kinds of goo. If this sounds disgusting, it kind of is, but disgust is a necessary ingredient of any discussion of contemporary culture and Minter wins the prize for candor. Plus, she is saved by her essentially Rubens-esque love of depicting skin.

The Minter retrospective is one of ten shows that the Brooklyn Museum has planned for the coming year, under the rubric “A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism.” It is intended as a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the museum’s on-site Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

This is a worthy undertaking, especially since multi-culturalism has gotten a bad rap lately. In the past month, in trying to explain Hillary Clinton’s defeat, Democrats have accused their party of pandering to long-beleaguered groups – women, immigrants, gays – at the expense of the white middle-class, which supposedly feels marginalized and under-represented. It is facile, I think, to blame multiculturalism for the failure of Democratic politics. Its gains have been inspiring, especially in the art world. Museums and galleries are far more inclusive than they were a generation ago, and no election can undo that.

Review: Thinking about the Art World Post-Hillary

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The MTA's Proposed $3 Subway Ride Comes Under Fire

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

The MTA is holding eight hearings for the public to weigh in on two fare hike proposals.

One would hold the fare at $2.75, but reduce the MetroCard bonus. The second option would increase the cost of a single ride to $3 and increase the bonus when you put $6 dollars or more on the card.

Both plans call for the unlimited 30-day card to increase to $121, a $4.50 increase.

At a hearing at Baruch College on Thursday, many of the three dozen speakers were there to lobby the MTA to introduce a half-price MetroCard for low income New Yorkers. They told hard luck stories. 

"There are times when I have to decline taking a job because I can't afford the fare on that particular day," said Harlem resident Leslie Wells, who's a substitute teacher. "There are other times I take the bus just so I can rely on the kindness of a driver to let me on without paying fare."

Bronx resident Germaine Lewis voiced a complaint that many in the room had: that there's a price increase, but not an increase in quality. She pointed to poor weekend service.

"I don't see why am I waiting 19 minutes for a train, and I have to pay more money for this? That's ridiculous."

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he's looking at the half fare proposal, but would need buy-in from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The commuter advocacy group Riders Alliance is calling on the governor to contribute the $8.3 billion share promised to the MTA's capital plan. A spokesperson for Riders Alliance said the MTA wouldn't need to increase fares every two years if the state followed through on that promise. 

Another group that advocates for riders, TransitCenter, said the MTA isn't addressing the "ailing bus system."

"Therefore, fare hike is asking bus riders to pay more for service that continues to decline," TransitCenter spokesperson Hayley Richardson, said.

The next public hearings on fare hikes for subways and buses — and Metro North — will continue this month in the Bronx, Suffern, Brooklyn, and in Westchester.

The MTA's Proposed $3 Subway Ride Comes Under Fire

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City Promises Full Investigation into Death of Two Toddlers in the Bronx

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 18:22:35 -0500

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is conducting a "full, rigorous" investigation into a radiator malfunction that led to the deaths of two toddlers in an apartment in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx.

At City Hall on Thursday, officials described an incident with the radiator's valve, which released a large amount of steam, severely burning the girls, ages one and two. "What we know so far suggests an extraordinary and unprecedented accident," the mayor said. "No one that I've talked to so far in any agency has ever seen anything like this."

The children and their parents were placed in the apartment on Hunts Point Avenue by the Department of Homeless Services. It was a so-called "cluster site," a private unit contracted by the city to house homeless families. In January, the city pledged to phase out the cluster site program by 2019 because of the expense of the units and poor conditions reported in some of them.

The apartment in question had been inspected by multiple agencies, including the Monday before the radiator malfunctioned. Officials also said the apartment building's boiler was relatively new, and an inspection the day after the incident turned up no issues.

WNYC's Mirela Iverac and WNYC's Brigid Bergin spoke with host Sean Carlson about how the city is responding to the tragedy.

City Promises Full Investigation into Death of Two Toddlers in the Bronx

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Former Astronaut, Senator John Glenn Dead at 95

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 16:07:32 -0500

John Glenn, whose 1962 flight as the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth made him an all-American hero and propelled him to a long career in the U.S. Senate, died Thursday. The last survivor of the original Mercury 7 astronauts was 95. Glenn died at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where he was hospitalized for more than a week, said Hank Wilson, communications director for the John Glenn School of Public Affairs. John Herschel Glenn Jr. had two major career paths that often intersected: flying and politics, and he soared in both of them. Before he gained fame orbiting the world, he was a fighter pilot in two wars, and as a test pilot, he set a transcontinental speed record. He later served 24 years in the Senate from Ohio. A rare setback was a failed 1984 run for the Democratic presidential nomination. His long political career enabled him to return to space in the shuttle Discovery at age 77 in 1998, a cosmic victory lap that he relished and turned into a teachable moment about growing old. He holds the record for the oldest person in space. More than anything, Glenn was the ultimate and uniquely American space hero: a combat veteran with an easy smile, a strong marriage of 70 years and nerves of steel. Schools, a space center and the Columbus airport were named after him. So were children. The Soviet Union leaped ahead in space exploration by putting the Sputnik 1 satellite in orbit in 1957, and then launched the first man in space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, in a 108-minute orbital flight on April 12, 1961. After two suborbital flights by Alan Shepard Jr. and Gus Grissom, it was up to Glenn to be the first American to orbit the Earth. "Godspeed, John Glenn," fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter radioed just before Glenn thundered off a Cape Canaveral launch pad, now a National Historic Landmark, to a place America had never been. At the time of that Feb. 20, 1962, flight, Glenn was 40 years old. With the all-business phrase, "Roger, the clock is operating, we're underway," Glenn radioed to Earth as he started his 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds in space. Years later, he explained he said that because he didn't feel like he had lifted off and it was the only way he knew he had launched. During the flight, Glenn uttered a phrase that he would repeat frequently throughout life: "Zero G, and I feel fine." "It still seems so vivid to me," Glenn said in a 2012 interview with The Associated Press on the 50th anniversary of the flight. "I still can sort of pseudo feel some of those same sensations I had back in those days during launch and all." Glenn said he was often asked if he was afraid, and he replied, "If you are talking about fear that overcomes what you are supposed to do, no. You've trained very hard for those flights." Glenn's ride in the cramped Friendship 7 capsule had its scary moments, however. Sensors showed his heat shield was loose after three orbits, and Mission Control worried he might burn up during re-entry when temperatures reached 3,000 degrees. But the heat shield held. Even before then, Glenn flew in dangerous skies. He was a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea who flew low, got his plane riddled with bullets, flew with baseball great Ted Williams and earned macho nicknames during 149 combat missions. And as a test pilot he broke aviation records. The green-eyed, telegenic Marine even won $25,000 on the game show "Name That Tune" with a 10-year-old partner. And that was before April 6, 1959, when his life changed by being selected as one of the Mercury 7 astronauts and instantly started attracting more than his share of the spotlight. Glenn in later years regaled crowds with stories of NASA's testing of would-be astronauts, from psychological tests - come with 20 answers to the open-ended question "I am" - to surviving spinning that pushed 16 times normal gravity again[...]

New EPA Pick Could Damage Already Weakened NJ

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:00:00 -0500

New Jersey is home to the largest number of Superfund sites, the federal program that cleans up the most toxic places in the country. It has skies polluted by power plants that would have to reduce emissions under Obama administration rules. And 11 cities in New Jersey have a higher proportion of children with dangerous lead levels than Flint, Michigan, does. 

All that could change under a Trump administration. Host Richard Hake discusses Scott Pruitt, the president-elect's choice for head of the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection with WNYC's Nancy Solomon

"Seven years of a Chris Christie administration has weakened environmental regulation," Solomon says. "He pulled the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Emissions compact. He closed the state’s Office of Climate Change and Energy. The EPA has been the backstop in the state to provide protection where the state no longer does."

New EPA Pick Could Damage Already Weakened NJ

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Hate Crimes on the Rise, But Still Lower Than 2012

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 06:26:36 -0500

It seems everyday there's another story in the news about a local hate crime or bias attack, which is fueling a narrative that such incidents are on the rise. Many, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have attributed the apparent increase to Donald Trump's election victory.

But figures obtained by Politico New York show 2012 had more reported hate crimes than 2016, at least so far.

According to Politico, there were 403 hate crimes reported in New York City in 2012, which was also an election year. This year, 360 hate crimes have been reported. There were also more hate crimes (379) reported in 2010.

"The spike in hate crimes following the election is absolutely a news story," says Politico New York's Azi Paybarah. "Every single victim is one whose story should be taken credibly. But New Yorkers need to understand in what context this is happening. We're seeing a rise, but this is a rise that's seeing us return to near 2012 levels, which is around the time that these accurate records were being kept."

Paybarah spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake.

Hate Crimes on the Rise, But Still Lower Than 2012

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Final Trip to Cuba, 68 Years Later

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

Cuba has been in the news a lot lately, both for the recent death of Fidel Castro and for the steps taken by the Obama administration to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. 

Like many Cuban Americans, New York-based pianist and bandleader Arturo O’Farrill has been watching the developments, especially as he plans to take his father's remains back to the island this week. He spoke with John Schaefer, host of WNYC's Soundcheck about Cuba, his father, jazz legend Chico, and what it means to bring his father back home.

Final Trip to Cuba, 68 Years Later

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Investigators: Radiator Leak May Be Responsible for Toddlers' Deaths

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 21:28:19 -0500

Two sibling toddlers died after suffering steam burns in a New York City apartment, according to authorities, and investigators are looking into whether a radiator malfunctioned.

The New York Police Department said 1-year-old Scylee Vayoh Ambrose and 2-year-old Ibanez Ambrose were taken at around noon Wednesday from a Bronx apartment to a hospital, where they were pronounced dead.

The medical examiner will determine what caused their deaths. However, fire officials said both children had severe burns apparently caused by a steam leak from a malfunctioning radiator.

Investigators said the children were placed in the apartment by the city's Department of Homeless Services. The location is one of the city's "cluster sites," where homeless families are placed into apartments owned by private landlords. Back in January, officials said they would stop using cluster sites within three years because the city is paying a lot of money for apartments that are often in bad condition. 

The city said the apartment passed an inspection just last month. The building is registered to Moshe Piller, a notorious landlord who appeared on the city's "worst-of" list as recently as last year.

 With reporting from WNYC's Mirela Iverac.


Investigators: Radiator Leak May Be Responsible for Toddlers' Deaths

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City Will No Longer Keep Personal Data of IDNYC Applicants

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 19:27:13 -0500

The de Blasio Administration decided it will no longer keep the personal records of New Yorkers who apply for the city's free municipal ID card — but more than 900,000 people already have the ID, and the fate of their documents is unclear.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the city just wants to protect the confidentiality of IDNYC card holders.

"We're going to do everything in our legal recourse to do that," Mark-Viverito said. "If that means changing procedures to accommodate additional protection for those who seek the ID, then that's what we're going to do."

Following Donald Trump's election, Mayor de Blasio vowed to protect cardholders' personal records from the federal government and immigration authorities, regardless of their immigration status.

But Monday, two Republican State Assembly members sued the city saying that any plans to destroy existing documents would violate the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

"This is something that we believe is illegal,” said assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis. “And we're confident that the court is gonna rule in our favor and in the favor of protecting the people of the city of New York."

Malliotakis, who filed the suit alongside assemblyman Ron Castorina, said the new policy could make it impossible to track people who may have used fraudulent documents to get the card. The courts have barred the city from erasing the records until a hearing later this month.

Disagreement Over Bus Terminal Leaves Port Authority Board Paralyzed

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 17:09:21 -0500

For three years, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has been talking about building a new bus terminal to replace the aging, functionally-obsolete existing terminal. But arguments over cost, location and design have delayed the project, and now, they threaten to paralyze the Port Authority's board all together.

For more on the discord at the Port Authority, WNYC's Jami Floyd spoke with Patrick McGeehan, who covers transportation and infrastructure for The New York Times.

Disagreement Over Bus Terminal Leaves Port Authority Board Paralyzed

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New Yorkers Pay For Trump Tower Security — For Now

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:01:00 -0500

New York's police department estimates it will cost the city $35 million to protect President-elect Donald Trump's midtown tower until Inauguration Day on January 20th.

But Congress is offering to reimburse the city just $7 million.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says it's unprecedented to ask the city to pay for protecting the president-elect — at one of the country's busiest intersections.

"We have such an exceptional situation here that the Congress should have stepped up and acknowledged it from the beginning," de Blasio said on his weekly segment with WNYC's Brian Lehrer.

The money is part of a short-term funding bill unveiled Tuesday night that will keep the federal government running until April 28.

Democrats said they had little control over what House Republicans put into the bill.

" 'That's the way it is,' " New York Rep. Nita Lowey said she was told when she asked why Republicans didn't include the full $35 million request. Lowey is the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations committee that wrote the spending bill.

"I've certainly explained how disappointed (I am) that the majority included just $7 million," she said. "But they're not moving on it."

Democrats said it's unlikely House Republicans will allow any amendments to the bill. And they said the House plan to pass the bill and leave town just before federal funding expires Friday means the Senate won't be able to add more money either.

De Blasio and Lowey said their next chance to recoup the rest of the security cost is probably April, when Congress will have to approve another spending bill.

"I'm not going to stop pushing for it," she said.

Congress has fully reimbursed local police in the past for protecting president-elects, including in Chicago and Kennebunkport, Maine.

New Yorkers Pay For Trump Tower Security — For Now

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Former Citicorps Center Is New York's Latest Landmark

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 12:12:47 -0500

The former Citicorp Center has been added to the city's list of landmarks.

Its 45-degree slanted roof and its base of four stilt-like columns have made the skyscraper into one of the most recognizable sights in the city.

The distinctive architecture came out of necessity. Structural engineer William LeMessurier elevated the base of the building with 114-feet high columns to make room for Saint Peter's Church. The former Saint Peter's had to be demolished to make way for the skyscraper. The church agreed to the plan on the condition that a new structure would be built on the same site.

But was it stable? An undergraduate at the time talked to William LeMessurier's office to say....maybe not. And she was right. 

Happily, Diane Hartley's call (she now heads a real estate consulting firm in Washington, DC) encouraged LeMessurier to make critical changes.

The building was finished in 1977 and formerly housed the headquarters of Citibank. It is now owned by Boston Properties, which renamed the skyscraper as 601 Lexington Avenue in 2009.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission said that this designation brings the total number of individual landmarks in Midtown East to 50.


AG Schneiderman: New York's Laws Amount to 'Legal Voter Suppression'

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 19:21:22 -0500

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has released a package of bills aimed at improving what he says are “arcane” and “ridiculous” laws that bar many potential voters from the ballot box. Schneiderman began an inquiry after his office received a record 1,500 complaints about lack of voter access during the April presidential primary. His office is also conducting a separate, ongoing investigation into a massive voter purge in Brooklyn, first uncovered by WNYC last spring. “In New York we have what amounts to legal voter suppression,” Schneiderman said Tuesday at an announcement on the second floor of the state Capitol in Albany. In a new report, he detailed what he called “profound and widespread” issues, including disappearing polling places and poorly trained poll workers who turned away voters seeking affidavit ballots. Many polls that were open saw long lines and reduced hours. He said the existing laws have resulted in New York having the third-worst voter participation in the nation. Schneiderman’s recommendations include shortening the lengthy six-month window to change party enrollment before a primary. That rule prevented even Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s own children from voting for their father in the April primary. He's also proposing early voting, and allowing voters to obtain and mail in absentee ballots without having to provide a reason. He also wants eligible voters to be automatically registered — as well as same-day voter registration. The Attorney General was joined by numerous government reform groups. The state legislature has in the past resisted changes to voter access, and Schneiderman acknowledges that current laws benefit  incumbents, who may find it easier to win with fewer unknown new voters. But he says the Senate and Assembly are changing, and its members may be more receptive to reforms — especially with all of the national attention that voter access is now receiving. “There’s been a huge generational shift in the makeup of the legislature,” he said. During the April primary, many supporters of Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders complained that New York’s strict laws shut them out of the ballot box.  Schneiderman said his report found no evidence that if his proposed changes were in effect, the outcome of the primary vote would have been any different. He said Hillary Clinton had a lot of support in the state. But he said if the changes resulted in doubling the amount of regular voters in New York, it could “transform” election outcomes in the future. Later that same day, lawyers from the Attorney General’s office were in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, defending the very sections of state election law Schneiderman is proposing to change. Attorney Mark Moody was arguing on behalf of plaintiffs who claimed they were shut out of the presidential primary because of the deadline to change party affiliation. While a judge dismissed the motion, Moody said he plans to appeal. When he learned about Schneiderman’s proposed reforms, Moody said, “isn’t it ironic, don’t you think.” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office said, “The AG proposed key reforms to New York's laws that would make it easier to participate in our state's elections, including changing the party enrollment deadline.”  She added, “As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, the current law is not unconstitutional — which is an entirely different question from whether it's a good law.” [...]AG Schneiderman: New York's Laws Amount to 'Legal Voter Suppression'

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Christie Vetoes Solitary Confinement Bill, Drawing Ire of Civil Libertarians

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 18:38:27 -0500

Civil liberty advocates are criticizing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for vetoing a bill that would have strictly limited the use of solitary confinement in the state's prisons and jails.

The bill would have reduced the time inmates could spend in solitary confinement to 15 consecutive days, and would have prevented the practice for vulnerable populations like the mentally ill, the elderly, inmates under 21-years-old and pregnant women.

Christie's decision comes as proponents of prison reform across the nation are challenging the practice of placing prisoners in isolation, which is known to cause severe psychological and physical harm to inmates. 

In a harsh veto message, Christie denounced the bill as an "ill-informed, politically-motivated press release" from lawmakers who "legislate by bumper sticker slogans." He said his administration doesn't use isolated confinement as outlined in the bill. Instead, Christie used the term "restrictive housing," and said the state Department of Corrections has taken "major steps" to limit its use of that practice.

But critics said the administration's definition of "restrictive housing" qualifies as solitary confinement all the same, and is still damaging to an inmate's health.

"We absolutely have solitary confinement in New Jersey," said Alexander Shalom, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. "The only way you could think we didn't is if you took an obscure definition of solitary confinement that ignores the reality of how it's defined all throughout the country, and indeed in this very bill."

Shalom said solitary confinement is usually defined as keeping an inmate in a cell alone or with a roommate for 22 or more hours per day. He said many New Jersey inmates are placed in isolation with a bunk mate, but that is still considered "solitary confinement."

"Restrictive housing is another word for solitary confinement or isolated confinement," said state Sen. Ray Lesniak, who was one of the bill's primary sponsors. "It has the same effect on inmates regardless of what you call it. It's still isolation."

"The governor is just playing with words to use as an excuse for not signing this legislation," Lesniak said, adding that around 1200 New Jersey inmates are currently held in some form of isolation.

Christie Vetoes Solitary Confinement Bill, Drawing Ire of Civil Libertarians

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Yankees to Retire Jeter's No. 2, Last Single Digit

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 10:48:13 -0500

Derek Jeter's No. 2 is being retired, the last of the New York Yankees' single digit jersey numbers.

The Yankees said Tuesday the number will be retired on May 14 before a Mother's Day game against Houston, and a plaque in his honor will be unveiled in Monument Park during the ceremony.

Jeter's number is the 21st retired by the team. He won five World Series titles and was a 14-time All-Star during a 20-season career that ended in 2014. He ranks sixth in Major League history with 3,465 career hits.

Jeter's No. 2 will join the previously retired No. 1 (Billy Martin, 1986), No. 3 (Babe Ruth, 1948), No. 4 (Lou Gehrig, 1939), No. 5 (Joe DiMaggio, 1952), No. 6 (Joe Torre, 2014), No. 7 (Mickey Mantle, 1969), No. 8 (Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey, 1972), and No. 9 (Roger Maris, 1984), along with 12 other Yankees whose retired jerseys ran into double digits.

Trump's Inauguration Unlikely to Improve Sidewalk Barricades and Traffic Gridlock

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 10:27:41 -0500

While President-elect Donald Trump hasn't indicated how often he'll return to the city after the inauguration, experts and city officials expect he'll be back frequently. This vexes cab driver Syed Raza. He says since Trump was elected, "traffic is always gridlocked. It's unbelievable." One might have seen this coming. Just over a week after the election, Trump decided to travel to his Bedminster, NJ, golf course by car — on a Friday afternoon. There were reports of delays up to an hour in and out of the Lincoln Tunnel because of his motorcade. So is this what the city can expect for the next four years? Well, maybe not the tunnel part. "After January 20, if he wants to go out to Bedminster he'll end up flying out there," said Jonathan Wackrow, the executive director of the firm Risk Assistance Network + Exchange. "Utilization of tunnels for a president is not preferred at all." Wackrow, who was a member of the Secret Service for 14 years, said the agency is in the process of making Trump Tower as secure as the White House. "If you decide you want to go to dinner at Trump Tower or go to the restaurant or any of the businesses there, you're going to have to be vetted in advance," he said. "You're going to have to be screened going into the facility, and you'll have limited access throughout the building." There are also extra costs for security — an estimated $500,000 a day, according to the city. Mayor Bill de Blasio sent a letter to the Obama administration this week seeking a total of $35 million in reimbursement for protecting Trump from Nov. 8 to January 20. The mayor said he'd prefer if Trump ran his transition elsewhere. "Obviously if it's a jump ball I'd say go to that beautiful golf course in New Jersey," he told reporters Monday. "But we really have to respect that each individual making decisions at that magnitude has to be in the setting that works right for them and that has ramifications for all of use as New Yorkers and Americans." Traffic expert Sam Schwartz predicts that whenever Trump returns to the city after the inauguration, it's going to be a nightmare. He estimates there will be delays of 30 minutes to an hour whenever Fifth Avenue is temporarily shut down. So why not do something proactive? "Let's take advantage of this crisis, make it a bus-only street," he told WNYC, adding that there are about 140 buses an hour that travel down Fifth Avenue. "That's like almost having a subway system with eight minute or seven minute headways on Fifth Ave in an hour. And that's silly to have those buses mixing with all the other traffic and I think the Secret Service would be delighted." Since Trump was elected businesses near Trump Tower have also suffered. On 56th Street the NYPD has set up a command control trailer and other police cars are parked on the closed street. "It's like a ghost town on that street, because people look at and it looks like a war zone," said City Councilman Dan Garodnick, whose district includes Trump Tower. "And people don't generally stroll through war zones." Raza, the cab driver, is resigned. "We have to suffer for at least four years." Trump's Inauguration Unlikely to Improve Sidewalk Barricades and Traffic Gridlock [...]

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Beyonce Leads 2017 Grammy Award Nominations

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 08:57:36 -0500

The Grammy Awards are sipping all of Beyonce's lemonade. The pop star is the leader of the 2017 Grammys with nine nominations, including bids for album of the year with "Lemonade," and song and record of the year with "Formation." The singer, who already has 20 Grammys, is also the first artist to earn nominations in the pop, rock, R&B and rap categories in the same year. Behind Beyonce are Drake, Rihanna and Kanye West, who scored eight nominations each. Like Beyonce, Adele is also nominated for album, record and song of the year. For album of the year, "Lemonade" and "25" - which has sold 10 million copies in a year - will compete against Drake's multi-hit "Views," Justin Bieber's redemption album "Purpose" and surprise nominee "A Sailor's Guide to Earth," the third album from respected and rebellious country singer Sturgill Simpson. Beyonce's "Formation" and Adele's "Hello" are up against Rihanna and Drake's "Work," twenty one pilots' "Stressed Out" and Lukas Graham's "7 Years" for record of the year. "7 Years" is also up for song of the year - a songwriter's award - battling Bieber's "Love Yourself," co-written with Ed Sheeran, Mike Posner's "I Took a Pill In Ibiza," as well as Beyonce and Adele's songs. Beyonce's nine nominations include best rock performance ("Don't Hurt Yourself" with Jack White), pop solo performance ("Hold Up"), rap/sung performance ("Freedom" with Kendrick Lamar) and urban contemporary album ("Lemonade"). With 62 nominations over the years, Beyonce is the most-nominated women in Grammy history. "Artists are feeling emboldened and courageous and just wanting to step out of the predictable boundaries of what they have done. Of course, (Beyonce) is the poster child for that," Recording Academy CEO and President Neil Portnow said in an interview with The Associated Press. Adele, who has five nominations, is up for best pop vocal album ("25") and pop solo performance ("Hello.") The Grammys will be presented in Los Angeles on Feb. 12, 2017. David Bowie, who died from cancer in January, earned four nominations for his final album "Blackstar," including best rock performance, rock song, alternative music album and engineered album, non-classical. "I think this is beyond sort of the sympathy vote, because sometimes you'll see those kinds of things happen just `cause people feel sorry about it. But listen to (his) album - it's quite extraordinary," Portnow said of Bowie. This year the Recording Academy allowed streaming-only recordings - released on paid-subscription platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal but not for sale on iTunes - to be eligible for nominations, giving Chance the Rapper a fair chance. The breakout performer scored seven nominations including best new artist, pitting him against country singers Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini; singer-rapper Anderson Paak; and pop-EDM duo the Chainsmokers, whose recent hits include "Closer" and "Don't Let Me Down." Chance the Rapper earned three nominations for best rap song: His hit, "No Problem," is nominated, and he has writing credit on the Kanye West songs "Famous" and "Ultralight Beam." West will compete with himself in three categories: best rap song, rap performance and rap/sung performance. Chance's "Coloring Book" and West's "The Life of Pablo" are nominated for best rap album along with Drake's "Views," De La Soul's "And the Anonymous Nobody," DJ Khaled's "Major Key" and Schoolboy Q's "Blank Face LP." Sturgill, who had been nominated for best Americana album at the 2[...]

Report: New York and New Jersey Must Prepare for 'Permanent Flooding'

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 08:10:32 -0500

Teterboro Airport could be permanently flooded with as little as one foot of sea level rise, according to a new report from the Regional Plan Association. “Under Water: How Sea Level Rise Threatens the Tri-State Region” details the possible consequences of sea level rise in New York City and its surroundings. The expected effects include:

-       Three feet of sea level rise (possible by the 2080’s) would imperil much of the infrastructure in the New Jersey Meadowlands, which includes important road and rail lines, Met Life Stadium, and the American Dream megamall (now under construction).

-       With six feet of sea level rise (possible early in the next century), 619,000 people would be displaced, and 280 square miles of land would be submerged.

-       Among the communities with the largest numbers of people at risk: Hoboken and Jersey City in New Jersey, and Oyster Bay, Hempstead, and New York City in New York.

The report says local governments have begun to plan for more severe storm surges, like Sandy, but too little has been done to prepare for permanent flooding.

“The 2015 international Paris agreement to limit future greenhouse gas emissions must be implemented if we are to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic effects from sea level rise,” the report says. President-elect Donald Trump said, when he was a candidate, that he would withdraw the United States from the agreement.

Report: New York and New Jersey Must Prepare for 'Permanent Flooding'

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Trump Administration Welcomes Goldman Sachs

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

Goldman Sachs became the country's punching bag following the 2008 financial crisis — and the White House went from filling top jobs with veterans of the firm to being wary of hiring anyone connected to the bank.

Now, the bank is making a comeback when it comes to high-profile government jobs.

Although Goldman Sachs shunned Donald Trump as a businessman and candidate, the president-elect is filling key positions of his administration with former employees from the firm. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, spent many years at the investment bank; Steve Mnuchin, Trump's pick for treasury secretary, spent 17 years at the bank; and Gary Cohn, a top Goldman executive, has been reported to be in the running for a top job.

William D. Cohan, author of the book "Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World," spoke to WNYC's Richard Hake about the Trump's embrace of the bank.

Trump Administration Welcomes Goldman Sachs

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One Microbiologist's Quest to Fight the Flu

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

At Icahn School of Medicine, a bunch of ferrets may be getting a better version of the flu vaccine than you are. The ferrets are part of a lab run by Dr. Peter Palese, a microbiologist who has dedicated his career to fighting influenza.

Palese said he knows all too well how hard it is to create a perfect vaccine. The current flu shot is nowhere close to 100 percent effective. Last year, it was about 20 percent effective.

Palese has been developing an alternative which avoids the main challenge presented by the flu virus, the fact that it knows how to go incognito. Dr. Palese compared the flu to a man who kept changing his hat: “So the guy can constantly change his hat into a pink one, a purple one a mauve one a green one. But the pants are very much the same.”

Palese's proposed vaccine would focus on those pants. It primes the immune system to recognize a part of the virus - the stalk - that stays the same.

“It works beautifully in animals,” Dr. Palese said of his vaccine. The big test comes when he can give it to humans; he said he’s hoping to start clinical trials in time for next year’s flu season.

Until then, Dr. Palese had one piece of advice: get that flu shot. For now, it’s the best we’ve got.

One Microbiologist's Quest to Fight the Flu

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What Should You Do if You Witness a Bias Attack?

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 21:37:03 -0500

Authorities say hate crimes and bias attacks have shot up across the country and in New York since the election, prompting debates about how bystanders should respond. On Sunday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said it's "disgraceful" that no one came to the aid of Yasmin Seweidi, a young Muslim woman who says she was attacked by three men in the subway as they shouted anti-Muslim slurs. So what should you do if you witness a bias attack? We turned to experts.

Should straphangers have simply shouted down those guys on the subway?

Not necessarily. They could've turned to the victim and said, "Hey, how can I help?" [as this Buzzfeed video demonstrates]. Show that you're on the victim's side, that they're not isolated anymore. Alternately, maybe you DO engage with the attackers, but instead of being aggressive, consider using tact, persuasion, even a sense of humor.

Wait. As in jokes? 

More like charm. Self-defense instructor Elena Waldman runs Artemis Defense and recently witnessed a very large man harassing a woman on the 7 train. She physically inserted herself between the two.

"And then he pushed up against me, and I turned around like 'What's goin' on, man? We're cool right? We're cool. Because you're a gentleman, I'm a gentleman,' she laughed. "Because it left a place for his ego to go."

So the point is you shouldn't just humiliate an attacker?

Sometimes it's more important to de-escalate the situation than try to 'win.' 

Are there risks to getting involved?

Potentially. The attacker could be mentally unstable or violent.

"People are rightly concerned about their own safety," said Lauren R. Taylor, who runs Defend Yourself in Washington, DC and has taught more than 20,000 people over the years. "And that always has to be the first thing that you keep in mind when you're thinking about intervening. People are afraid how they'll look. Whether they'll be embarrassed, whether they'll be humiliated. Whether they'll be wrong in their reading of the situation."

I want to be prepared. What's my next step?

Attend a bystander intervention training, and if you can't find any, demand one from your elected officials. Queens Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said nearly 250 people have expressed interest in a December 14 workshop in Sunnyside on self-defense, de-escalation and bystander (or 'upstander') tactics. Waldman also has a training coming up in Jackson Heights. And this page lists several workshops across Manhattan.

Taylor in DC said she's "getting a much bigger call for bystander intervention skills, mostly from white people who want to do the right thing."

What Should You Do if You Witness a Bias Attack?

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What Trump's HUD Pick Could Mean for New York City

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 17:35:54 -0500

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to be the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Carson had expressed some reservations about his experience to run a vast government agency with a nearly $47 billion budget. But he has since accepted the nomination. 

Nearly half a million New Yorkers live in the city's 328 public housing developments, making this a critical cabinet position for the city. HUD provides more than 75 percent of the New York City Housing Authority's funding. But NYCHA says it needs more to address persistent problems such as leaky roofs, mold infestations and crumbling infrastructure. 

Carson grew up in subsidized housing, but little is known about his views on the subject.

In this interview, WNYC's Jami Floyd talks with WNYC's Urban Policy Reporter Cindy Rodriguez and WNYC's Economic Development Reporter Janet Babin about HUD's role in NYC housing, and Carson's nomination to lead the department.

What Trump's HUD Pick Could Mean for New York City

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Mistrial Declared in Black Motorist's Shooting

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 16:11:13 -0500

A South Carolina judge has declared a mistrial after a jury deadlocked in the murder trial of a white police officer charged in the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist.

Circuit Judge Clifton Newman declared a mistrial in the case after a jury said it could not reach a verdict after deliberating more than 22 hours over four days.

Former patrolman Michael Slager was charged with murder in the April 4, 2015, shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott. The judge had said the jury could also consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Cellphone video taken by a bystander that showed Scott being shot in the back was broadcast widely on TV and the internet. It shocked the country, inflaming the national debate about how blacks are treated by law enforcement officers.

After the video went public, Slager was fired by the police department and charged with murder. Scott's family called for peace in the North Charleston community. Their calls for calm are believed to have helped prevent the kind of violence that erupted elsewhere when black men were killed in encounters with law enforcement.

It's the second time in recent weeks a jury has deadlocked in an officer-involved shooting. A mistrial was declared Nov. 12 when a jury in Cincinnati couldn't reach a verdict in the case of a former campus police officer who was also charged with shooting a black motorist.

Scott was pulled over in North Charleston for having a broken taillight on his 1990 Mercedes and then fled the car, running into a vacant lot. Family members have said he may have run because he was worried about going to jail because he was $18,000 behind on child support.

The prosecution argued that the 35-year-old Slager let his sense of authority get the better of him.

The defense maintained that the two men wrestled on the ground, that Scott got control of Slager's stun gun and then pointed the weapon at the 35-year-old officer before the shooting. The defense also contended there was no way the officer could tell if Scott was armed.

Much of the testimony at the trial centered on the cellphone video, which at times was blurry and shaky. The jurors saw the video numerous times, including several times frame by frame.

Last year, the city of North Charleston reached a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott's family. In the wake of the shooting, the city also asked that the U.S. Justice Department conduct a review of its police department policies with an eye toward how the department can improve its relationship with residents.

Slager also faces trial next year in federal court on charges of depriving Scott of his civil rights.

Mayor de Blasio Seeks $35 Million for Trump-Related Security Costs

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 11:50:23 -0500

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he's asking the federal government for $35 million to cover costs related to security for President-elect Donald Trump.

De Blasio said Monday that the request was made in letters to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders.

The security includes a New York Police Department detail at the president-elect's home on Fifth Avenue, Trump Tower.

WABC said the amount sought by New York City covers security costs between Nov. 8 and Jan. 20.

The mayor also said he has called Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin.

He said there will be other calls and meetings with members of the Obama administration and Congress.

Investigation Finds Race Affects Which Inmates Get Parole

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 08:50:36 -0500

The New York Times has published a startling report on the racial disparities in New York State's parole system. An analysis of thousands of cases finds that fewer than one in six black or Hispanic men were released after their first parole hearing. That's compared to one in four white men who were released after just one hearing.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the disparity. Chief among them are the state parole board's overwhelmingly white makeup and the chaotic nature of parole hearings. The Times reports that in most cases, hearings are conducted over video feed and commissioners, as board members are known, often have little time to prepare. 

"They [the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision] do insist they are making changes to make the process fair, " said New York Times reporter Michael Schwirtz. "What the governor's office says is that there are rules that are being proposed in the midst of public comment period right now that would make commissioners more of a specific reason for denying an inmates parole."

Schwirtz spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake.

Investigation Finds Race Affects Which Inmates Get Parole

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Off-Duty New York City Correction Officer Fatally Shot

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 05:52:17 -0500

An off-duty New York City correction officer has been fatally shot.

Police say 25-year-old Alastasia Bryan was shot Sunday night while sitting in a car outside a home in the Flatlands neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Officers say they found her with gunshot wounds to her head and torso. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Correction Officers' Benevolent Association has issued a statement saying the correction family is "shocked and grieving the horrific murder" of Bryan.

A motive for the shooting remains unclear. No arrests have been made. Police continue to investigate.

Trump Succeeded in Regions Hit Hardest by the Drug Epidemic: Study

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

Donald Trump was especially successful in winning votes in regions hit hardest by drug and alcohol abuse, according to a new research paper

Penn State sociologist Shannon Monnat examined election results and zeroed in on regions ravaged by "deaths of despair." This is the term employed to describe the fatal effects of alcohol, heroin and prescription opiates on people across the country, but especially white, middle-aged Americans, whose mortality rates have been rising in recent years. 

"At the core of these diseases and deaths of despair is a desire to escape pain, stress, anxiety, hopelessness, shame," she said.

Monnat found that in Appalachia and New England, Trump outperformed Mitt Romney by 10 percent in the counties with the highest mortality rates. And in the Industrial Midwest, by 17 percent. The trend also applies locally, to Suffolk County and Staten Island, which flipped from Obama to Trump and have experienced rising numbers of drug overdose deaths.

Monnat said that many people, primarily white Americans without college degrees, were being jarred not simply by the loss of jobs or income but by the understanding that hard work doesn't necessarily translate into success.

"And this is a reality that people of color have contended with for a very long time. But downward mobility is the new normal in many of these former successful and largely white communities. And with that comes shame and frustration, anxiety and certainly anger."

Upon reviewing her findings, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the Co-director of Opioid Policy Research at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management, said Monnat's research doesn't explain why the Pacific Northwest did not go for Trump, despite an opioid crisis there. Or, why states like Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and Wyoming went for Trump despite lower rates of opioid abuse.

"But to the extent that there were many working class white voters who went for Trump because they feel that government has failed them, I think that the opioid addiction epidemic is an example of government failing these groups. Because their families, their communities have been devastated by prescription opioids and heroin, and yet the federal government really ignored the problem, up until very recently."

Kolodny and Monnat hope that Trump will deliver on his promises to address the drug epidemic, including a tough stance on Big Pharma.

Trump Succeeded in Regions Hit Hardest by the Drug Epidemic: Study

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De Blasio's Current Homeless Strategy Won't Reduce Shelter Population, Former Deputy Says

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

More than 60,000 New Yorkers are currently homeless. After three years as Mayor, Bill de Blasio hasn’t found a way to bring that number down, a problem that promises to haunt him through his re-election bid. To better understand the challenges the city faces in addressing homelessness, WNYC’s Mirela Iverac sat down with Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, former Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, who resigned last year. Barrios-Paoli is the highest ranking official to leave the administration.

De Blasio's Current Homeless Strategy Won't Reduce Shelter Population, Former Deputy Says

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This Week in Politics: On Donald Trump and His B.S.

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

During the 2016 campaign, fact-checkers were working overtime to show that Donald Trump makes false statements at a rate that far surpassed other candidates. Ever. And some have argued that this should not be considered garden variety "lying."

Trump routinely says things that are obviously untrue - stuff that can be proven wrong in seconds. He denies ever having said things that he said publicly, sometimes as recent as a month prior. And he promotes wild conspiracies with no evidence.

In anticipation of the rule change, some employers gave raises to bump employees out of (what they thought would be) the new overtime bracket. Now they're wondering: is it too late to undo this?

Sean Delany, executive director of Lawyers Alliance of New York, which serves non-profits in low-income neighborhoods, said it depends how far they got in the process: if they only announced raises but haven't given them out yet, there's a way to reel them back.

“If they have actually taken steps and conferred salary increases, then they’re in a more delicate situation," said Delany, "because that will disrupt the workforce and perhaps cause some ill will with their employees."

Delaney's advice for employers grappling with the current state of limbo: Don't make any sudden moves until this is settled in court. 

Meanwhile, New York State's Department of Labor is reviewing its own proposed changes to overtime regulations, which would raise the state's salary cut-off by increasing amounts over the next few years. The period for public comment will end on Dec. 3 and, if signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the new regulations could go into effect on Dec. 31.

Pause on Overtime Overhaul Leaves Employers, Workers in Limbo

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After 100 Years, First Opera by a Woman Opens at the Met

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

The new opera "L'Amour De Loin" by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho premiering at the Metropolitan Opera tells a harrowing story about love across two continents set in the 12th century. While the storyline is getting attention, it's the fact that this is the first opera by a woman at the Met in over a century that's got people anticipating the show. WNYC's John Schaefer, host of Soundcheck, spoke with Saariaho about the work, her New York "moment" this fall, and how she hopes people will focus more on her music.


You can also listen to Saariaho's interview on WQXR's Meet the Composer.


After 100 Years, First Opera by a Woman Opens at the Met

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NYC Council: Open Rikers Island Schools for Public Review

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 19:07:00 -0500

City Council members admitted on Wednesday that they don't know the most basic information about the students and schools at the Rikers Island jail complex.

At a public hearing, they peppered officials from the Department of Correction and Department of Education with questions like what time classes start, what the teacher turnover rate was, and at what grade level young inmates were reading.

“This lack of basic information and data just reinforced the notion that these are the ‘forgotten’ children,” said Council member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the education committee. “We need to know how they're being treated and what kinds of education they're receiving.” 

The legislative proposal under review at Wednesday's hearing would require the two supervising agencies to issue a quarterly report on the education system for incarcerated adolescents and young adults, up to age 21. It would include statistics on attendance rates, standardized test scores, the rates of violence and other indicators all other public schools in the city must report.

Department of Education spokeswoman Yuridia Pena said the chancellor supported the effort to improve transparency at Rikers schools and programs, known collectively as East River Academy.

"We're committed to delivering a high-quality education in a learning environment that is safe and secure to all our students and teachers. With targeted DOE supports, we have expanded services and made important investments to improve educational options for court-involved students,” Pena said. 

When it comes to safety and discipline, city officials testified that correction officers have used pepper spray in jail classrooms 16 times this school year, allegedly to break up fights.

“Gassing students does not seem right to me and I think we really need to look at that deeply,” Dromm said. “There’s different standards here for different youth.” 

Laura Feijoo with the Department of Education countered that pepper spray was used only when there was a serious safety threat. Teachers were also given gas masks to guard against the pepper spray.

“When it comes to violent, aggressive behavior, we want to make sure everyone is safe,” Feijoo said. “The offender…as well as the teacher, as well as the officers, and the other students in the class.”

Dromm said using pepper spray in any other New York City classroom would violate the department's own discipline code.

NYC Council: Open Rikers Island Schools for Public Review

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Supreme Court Case Could Lead to Longer Detentions for NY Immigrants

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 16:03:53 -0500

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether immigrants who are detained for more than six months while waiting for the conclusion of deportation proceedings have a right to a bond hearing. The case stems from a California ruling, and it's especially timely now that President-elect Donald Trump is vowing to deport more immigrants with criminal convictions. If the court rules against the hearings, it could have a big impact on immigrants in the New York City area. That's because immigrants in local detention centers are already guaranteed the right to bond hearings within six months, following a 2015 ruling brought by a Dominican immigrant, Alexander Lora. WNYC's Jami Floyd interviewed Lora's attorney, Alina Das, a law professor and co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University's School of Law.  Das said Lora, who came to the States as a child, is a green card holder who was convicted in 2010 for offenses relating to cocaine possession. He was sentenced to five years probation. But in 2013, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents started a deportation case against him. "They detained him, locked him up in a jail and said that under the law he wouldn't even get the right to a bond hearing," Das explained. This meant he could have sat behind bars indefinitely, with no chance to post bail while waiting for a judge to hear his case.  But Lora was lucky, because New York City now guarantees free attorneys to indigent defendants in detention centers through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project. His attorney petitioned the federal court for a hearing and Lora was able to get out of jail after about five months by posting a $5000 bond. But the government appealed, which is when attorney Das took the case to the Second Circuit Court in Manhattan. She successfully argued that every immigrant subject to mandatory detention should get a bond hearing within six months. "It's just the ability to ask," she explained. "To ask an immigration judge to be let out during the case to show evidence that you're not a flight risk or a danger, and that you can continue to defend yourself in immigration proceedings from your home instead of from a jail cell." She noted that many immigrants in detention centers are legal residents like Lora, who were arrested by immigration agents because of minor criminal convictions. More than 150 have been given bond hearings since the 2015 Lora case, she said. Das attended oral arguments before the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The government has argued that Congress already required the indefinite detention of immigrants, and it's not the place of courts to change that. But Das said it is. "We think it's important for our courts to stand up for minimum due process, basic rights, that includes immigrants," she said. "We don't think immigration detention centers are Constitution-free zones. [...]Supreme Court Case Could Lead to Longer Detentions for NY Immigrants

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Cigarettes to be Stubbed Out in Public Housing

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 15:40:47 -0500

The federal government moved forward to ban smoking inside public housing apartments, common areas and within 25 feet of buildings. Local housing authorities have the option of extending the ban to playgrounds or other outdoor areas, too.   "This new rule will improve the health of more than 2 million public housing residents nationwide," said Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. "That includes more than 760,000 children and nearly 330,000 seniors." Castro predicted the federal government would save more than $150 million annually; fewer residents will likely become sick from second-hand smoke, and fewer repairs of smoke and fire damage will need to be made.  HUD originally proposed the smoking ban a year ago. After a public comment period, the rule remains the same — with one exception. Hookahs are now included in the ban. Local housing authorities will receive no additional funds to implement the new rule and will have 18 months from early next year to start enforcing the ban. The New York City Housing Authority wanted much longer to prepare. With more than 400,000 residents, it is the largest public housing authority in the country.   "We are currently reviewing HUD's rule and will work with our residents to implement a smoke-free policy aimed at reducing exposure to second-hand smoke and improving the quality of life of our residents," said a NYCHA spokesperson.  At the Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side, residents had a mix of opinions. One resident, 68-year-old Michael Savarino, said the smoking ban was long overdue. "It should have been done years ago," he said. "Too many people have emphysema and other problems just from the air alone." While Savarino was looking forward to a smoke-free environment, Cash Porter, a smoker, felt like the ban was government overreach.  "I guess that's finding a way of taking our rights away even in the sanctuary of our homes," he said.  "When you get that right taken away, I guess everything seems like Big Brother is coming close." It's up to individual housing authorities to decide how to enforce the smoking ban. NYCHA officials said they were not sure whether the authority would perform routine apartment inspections or issue fines. In Boston, where a public housing smoking ban has been in effect since 2012, officials said that first they give warnings, then fines, and ultimately evictions if necessary. Lydia Agro, spokeswoman for the Boston Housing Authority, said that after four years no resident had been taken to court solely as a result of smoking in their units.    It's possible the smoking ban could be reversed by the incoming Trump administration. But Castro said he was confident the rule would stand.   "I'm convinced that no matter the political persuasion of the administration, the public health benefit to this policy is so tremendous and the resident support for going smoke-free is so tremendous...that this rule will stick," he said.   Cigarettes to be Stubbed Out in Public Housing [...]

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The Supreme Court Case that Could Seriously Impact a Trump Presidency

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 04:00:00 -0500

In January, during the same week that Donald Trump is to be inaugurated, the Supreme Court will hear a case centered on the detentions of Muslim men in the months after 9/11, and whether government officials can be held personally accountable for constitutional violations. As it happens, the outcome of this case could help determine whether President-elect Trump goes forward with his most controversial national security proposals. The case stems from the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks: federal authorities investigating the attacks rounded up hundreds of Arab, Muslim and South Asian men and placed them in detention facilities, primarily in Brooklyn and New Jersey. Some were detained as long as eight months, said attorney Rachel Meeropol of the Center for Constitutional Rights, often based on anonymous tips. "Examples of these tips included people calling the FBI hotline after 9/11 and saying, 'My neighbor's Arab and he keeps strange hours. I think he might be a terrorist,'" said Meeropol.  Many say they were assaulted while in custody, allegations essentially upheld by a Department of Justice report. But Meeropol said none of these 762 detainees were ever charged with terrorism. She's now representing eight of them in a class-action suit: it argues that members of the Bush administration, including former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller, oversaw a program that failed to distinguish potential terrorists from people who'd simply overstayed their visas.  Anji Malhotra, a law professor at SUNY Buffalo, said the outcome could determine whether President-elect Trump is able to move forward on some of his most controversial proposals, like a national Muslim registry or waterboarding. "This case is of paramount importance because we're in another era where our president-elect is invoking national security to justify extremely dangerous and unprecedented tactics that specifically target Muslims, target Mexicans, that target people based on race and religion." An appellate court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs last year, but in her dissent, Judge Reena Raggi argued that 9/11 granted government officials significant latitude and protections. "Congress, not the judiciary, is the appropriate branch to decide whether the detained aliens should be allowed to sue executive policymakers in their individual capacities for money damages," wrote Raggi. However, the plaintiffs may find the makeup of the Supreme Court another challenge: Justices Kagan and Sotomayor, both part of the so-called liberal wing, have recused themselves, meaning that only six justices will decide this case. "The stakes couldn't be higher," said Amna Akbar, a law professor at Ohio State University. "It's time for the Court to say enough is enough. The specter of national security should not be enough to throw out the rule of law, to step on and scapegoat already-marginalized communities with impunity." [...]The Supreme Court Case that Could Seriously Impact a Trump Presidency

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