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Last Build Date: Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:20:40 -0400


Cuomo Signs Law Imposing $7,500 Fine on Some Airbnb Users

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:20:40 -0400

New York state enacted one of the nation's toughest restrictions on Airbnb on Friday with a new law authorizing fines of up to $7,500 for many short-term rentals.

The measure signed into law by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo applies to rentals of less than 30 days when the owner or tenant is not present.

Supporters of the measure say many property owners use sites like Airbnb to offer residential apartments as short-term rentals to visitors, hurting existing hotels while taking residential units off the already expensive housing market in New York City.

"Today is a great day for tenants, seniors, and anyone who values the safe and quiet enjoyment of their homes and neighborhoods," said Manhattan Democrat Sen. Liz Krueger. "For too long companies like Airbnb have encouraged illegal activity that takes housing off the market and makes our affordability crisis worse."

Enforcement will be a key challenge. Thousands of short-term apartment rentals are listed for New York City, despite a 2010 law that prohibits rentals of less than 30 days when the owner or tenant is not present.

The new law won't apply to rentals in single-family homes, row houses or apartment spare rooms if the resident is present.

Airbnb mounted a last-minute campaign to kill the measure and this week proposed alternative regulations that the company argued would address concerns about short-term rentals without onerous fines.

Most people who list a rental on Airbnb are looking to make a little money while they're out of town, according to Chris Lehane, head of global policy for San Francisco-based Airbnb.

"It's baffling to us in this time of economic inequality that folks would be looking to impose fines of as much as $7,500 on a middle-class person looking to use the home that they live in to help make ends meet," Lehane said before the bill was signed.

A spokesman for Cuomo said the administration gave the bill careful consideration.

The Loophole in the End of Slavery

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) turns to documentary with “13th,” a film essay about the Constitution’s 13th amendment, which abolished slavery with the loophole clause “except as a punishment for a crime.” The film interviews African-American authors such as Michelle Alexander (“The New Jim Crow”) and Bryan Stevenson (“Just Mercy”) along with conservatives like Newt Gingrich to look at how the criminal justice system impacts black lives.

— Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen

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

The Loophole in the End of Slavery

Media Files:

A Rise in Anti-Semitic Tweets, and a Lack of Action from Twitter

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 15:58:54 -0400

One of the unfortunate phenomena of this election has been the rise in anti-Semitic online attacks against Jewish journalists from self-proclaimed Donald Trump supporters. 

As I reported over the summer, some tweets are conspiratorial: Jews control the media and the Holocaust is a fiction. 

Others are more threatening. Just this week, someone sent me an anti-Semitic poem that including the lines: “1, 2, coming for Jew...3, 4, lock your door.” I promptly reported the tweet to Twitter and got a message back that the tweet was neither threatening nor offensive, and therefore didn’t violate the site’s terms of service. 

I then tweeted both the anti-Semitic message and Twitter's response. After hundreds of retweets and supportive messages, Twitter suspended the user’s account.



Bridgegate Defendant Says He was the Last to Find Out About Scheme

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 12:04:16 -0400

Bridgegate defendant Bill Baroni’s attorneys have rested their case. And in an extraordinary feat of mental gymnastics, his attorneys are asking the jury to accept that Baroni believed all along there was a traffic study that was inexplicably important to Gov. Chris Christie, and that if he spoke to anyone about it, including the Mayor of Fort Lee, the whole study would be skewed. It’s as if we’ve undergone a wrinkle in time.  In November, 2013, Baroni was in his final days as deputy executive director of the Port Authority when he testified before the New Jersey Assembly that the abrupt lane closures on the George Washington Bridge were a traffic study gone awry. His testimony, delivered in scrappy, arrogant tones, did not impress. At one point, then-Assemblywoman Linda Stender snapped at him: “Nobody in this room believes that!” Since that time, we’ve learned that indeed there was no traffic study, that it was all a political hit job on Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who hadn’t endorsed Gov. Christie for re-election. From documents and trial testimony, we now know that by November 2013, Port Authority board members on both sides of the Hudson knew there wasn’t a traffic study; the top New York appointees knew there wasn’t a traffic study, and if star witness David Wildstein is to be believed, by November 25, the date of Baroni’s testimony, Gov. Christie had long known there wasn’t a traffic study. So did Christie’s Port Chairman and best friend David Samson, and his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and his outside strategist, Mike DuHaime, and his handpicked Port Authority counsel, Phil Kwon. And there was new testimony Wednesday from Michael Drewniak, Christie's former spokesman. Drewniak, who is now the chief of staff at New Jersey Transit, acknowledged he learned from Wildstein as early as October 18, 2013, that Stepien and defendant Bridget Kelly knew about the lane closures.   "A new high-level of shit is hitting the fan," Drewniak texted the governor's chief of staff around that time. Drewniak said he also discussed the burgeoning issue with Christie's chief counsel, who said "we're looking into it." Last week the chief counsel week testified he couldn't "specifically recall" conversations with Drewniak about the subject. But here we are, once again listening to Bill Baroni testify, albeit in more humble tones, that he really, really believed there was a traffic study in Fort Lee that was somehow important to “Trenton,” a.k.a. Gov. Christie. And that if he spoke to Mayor Sokolich, returned his calls for help, the study would be thrown off. Part of his defense focuses on his personality and politics. He was not the Republican loyal soldier, he said, but instead, leaned left. Baroni was subject to anti-gay slurs by Wildstein and others, his lawyers say, and he has testified, variously, in pink and purple ties. He has made a point of his pro-marriage equality position as a Republican in the New Jersey State Senate, the job he had before the Port Authority. One of his character witnesses was prominent gay rights activist and Democratic fundraiser David Mixner. “David Wildstein thought I was a wimp,” Baroni said at one point. But prosecutors elicited a different image, one of Baroni as an “attack dog,” deployed by Christie, Stepien, Wildstein, and Samson to tell critics to “Go f- themselves” or to “punch them in the face.” Baroni did this, at least in words, not actual physical violence. In testimony before the U.S. Senate, he went after U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg who had been loudly lambasting Christie for halting a transit train tunnel under the Hudson River. In a private phone call, after Christie asked Baroni if he liked his job, Baroni testified that he called a firefighters union official and told him the “Gov told you to go f- yourself.” And being a Christie attack dog is what he was also teeing up to do, prosecutors implied, when he went before the N.J. Legislature on [...]

Media Files:

Former Federal Prosecutor Says Trump Blocked Mafia Investigation

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 10:04:19 -0400

In the 1980s, federal prosecutors going after mob-controlled labor unions investigated a series of dealings between organized crime and real estate developers in the New York and New Jersey area.

One developer they were particularly interested in was singularly uncooperative in discussing what appeared to be sweetheart deals with the mob. That developer was Donald Trump. 

Attorney Kenneth McCallion was one of the federal prosecutors involved in that investigation. He says there appeared to be a sweetheart deal between the Teamsters Local 282 and Trump, where Trump would get a promise of cooperation from organized labor—including breaking up any strikes by minority workers—in exchange for no-show jobs, a lucrative concrete contract and a luxury apartment for the union president's girlfriend.

"After we indicted them, the Teamster leaders called a citywide strike, but there were two job sites they exempted from that. One was Trump Tower and the other was Trump Plaza," McCallion said.

Yet despite this, Trump was never prosecuted. 

"Even though Donald Trump lied to law enforcement about his relationship and lying to federal agents is a federal crime, he basically got a pass at that point," he said.

McCallio, who recently wrote the book, The Essential Guide to Donald Trump, says the Republican candidate for president has continued to enjoy a comfortable relationship with organized crime.

Former Federal Prosecutor Says Trump Blocked Mafia Investigation

Media Files:

What Do You Want to Hear in the Final Presidential Debate?

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 06:54:47 -0400

The third (and final) presidential debate is tonight. WNYC asked listeners: What issues do you want to hear the candidates address?

There was no single, emerging issue in our pool of responses, but a number of them were personal.

Hear are a few of the responses we received.


What Do You Want to Hear in the Final Presidential Debate?

Media Files:

Is Donald Trump Saving NYC Millions, or Making Millions Off Taxpayers?

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

Donald Trump has a long history of stretching tax and financial rules to his greatest advantage.  It started about three decades ago, when he offered to fix the city’s Wollman Ice Rink in Central Park. The city had been unable to cut through the political maneuvering and repair the rink, which sat broken for six years. Trump stepped in and offered to help, and in 1986 the city reluctantly agreed to let him do it. Wollman Rink Central Park, NYC (Young Sok Yun/Flickr) The Republican presidential nominee still uses the experience as proof that he's presidential material. "We got it done and to this day it's the most successful ice skating rink, I still run it," Trump told a crowd of supporters at a campaign rally in April.  Trump completed the repairs on time and under budget. A spokesman for the Trump Organization said that the operation pays millions in rent to the city while investing millions in capital improvements. "I think he was entrepreneurial, and took somewhat of a risk," said Adrian Benepe, who worked as a press secretary for the New York City Parks Department when Wollman Rink repairs were underway. "But it certainly wasn't philanthropy. He was well compensated for his work," added Benepe, who called it a myth that Trump repaired the ice rink as a gift to the city. Trump fixed the rink at the city's expense. He made no profit, and asked contractors who worked on Wollman Rink with him to do it for no profit as well. In exchange, he promised them the project would pay for itself in publicity.  "He did the right thing, he did a wonderful thing," said Art Nusbaum, who was president of HRH Construction, the firm Trump hired to work on the rink. "But he chose to pollute it, with his ego getting in the way of everything," added Nusbaum. Nusbaum's firm was hired on several Trump projects. HRH was promised publicity in exchange for doing the work on Wollman Rink, but it never got so much as a mention from Trump for its work.  "He can’t have two people standing on the podium. He can’t have somebody even getting the silver and the bronze, He's gotta get the gold, the silver and the bronze all at one time," said Nusbaum. One of Trump’s companies and another firm continue to operate the rink. The city takes a percentage of the money made, but Trump and the other operator get to keep more than two-thirds of the take. An audit of Wollman Rink Operations (WRO in the document below) completed July 5, 2007 by New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. found some accounting irregularities at the rink. One report found Wollman had underreported its revenue by $106,608. That means the city lost its share of that revenue. Findings of Wollman Rink Audit from NYC Comptroller William Thompson, Jr. Audit provided courtesy of NYC Comptroller's Office Trump continues to step into half-built city projects. The latest one is the golf course at Ferry Point in the Bronx. "Donald transformed a landfill into a championship public golf course, and saved the city millions," said actor Jon Voight at the Republican National Convention this past summer. Bronx residents had been promised for decades that the closed landfill would become a city park. Under Mayor Rudy Giuliani the site morphed into a golf course, with a smaller park. But when the financial mortgage crisis took hold in 2006, the deal fell apart until Mayor Mike Bloomberg took it on. He called for new proposals, and Trump’s was chosen. Trump golf course at Ferry Point hidden behind trees, black fence.  Janet Babin/WNYC "The notion that he built it is a lie," said Benepe, who was NYC Parks Commissioner when Trump penned his license agreement with the city. It opened last year, with the current de Blasio Administration playing down its involvement. The course is literally across the street from a number of public housing projects, but it's cut off from the apartment buildings by a black fenc[...]

Media Files:

What You Need to Know About Voting in New York and New Jersey

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

How do I vote before November 8?

New Yorkers can mail an application for an absentee ballot by November 1 or go to their local board of elections office by November 7 for an absentee ballot. 

New Jerseyians can mail an application to their County Clerk by November 1 to vote by mail or vote in person at the County Clerk until 3 p.m. on November 7. 

Where do I vote on November 8?

New York: Look up your polling location in New York City or elsewhere in New York State.

Tip for New York City voters: When you write down your poll site address also note your Election District and Assembly District numbers. These two pieces of information will help you skip the line at the information desk and go straight to the table where you sign the poll book.

New Jersey: Look up your poll site in New Jersey.

What if I have a problem at the polls?

If your name is not in the poll books and you believe it should be, ask for an affidavit ballot. After polls close, the Board of Elections will check to see if you are eligible, and your vote will be counted if you are.

Here are the New York and New Jersey voter bill of rights.

As part of the "Electionland" project, WNYC will be covering same-day issues at polling places, including long lines, malfunctioning machines and names dropped from voter rolls. Your experience at the polls can help us with that reporting.

To share your experience at the polls on election day, and help journalists across our region investigate problems, sign up now by texting ELECTIONLAND to 69866. We'll check back after you vote to find out how long you waited and what you experienced.

If you are prevented from voting, you can call Election Protection, a project of the Lawyers' Committee of Civil Rights Under Law at 866-OUR-VOTE. New Yorkers may also contact the state attorney general's office election hotline at 800-771-7755 or by email at


De Blasio Staffs Up 2017 Mayoral Campaign

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 17:10:50 -0400

The presidential election may still be on the horizon, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has his sights set on another election — in 2017.

His re-election campaign is staffing up now, starting with Phil Walzak, a senior advisor to the mayor. 

Walzak is a veteran of de Blasio's come-from-behind victory in 2013 and part of the mayor's inner circle. He'll leave City Hall to hone the campaign's communications strategy, which will focus on making New York a more fair place for everyone, he said. 


“That's been the mayor's focus since he's been in office and it's going to continue to be the North Star of both the administration and the campaign in 2017,” said Walzak.

Other current members of the campaign team include chief spokesman Dan Levitan, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, and finance director Elana Leopold. Another 2013 veteran joining the team is finance consultant Ross Offinger. He served as the treasurer of the mayor’s now-defunct, political nonprofit, The Campaign for One New York.

For now, the biggest obstacle facing de Blasio's re-election may not be opponents, but rather the series of ongoing investigations still circling his administration. But Walzak said the administration and campaign’s position on those issues remains consistent.

“Number one, we feel our people have acted appropriately at all times. Number two, we know our people are people of honesty and integrity, and number three, we still have not had any accusations of any wrongdoing,” said Walzak.

His official start date with the campaign is Monday.

De Blasio Staffs Up 2017 Mayoral Campaign

Media Files:

In Bridgegate Testimony, Christie Emerges as Powerful, Threatening Figure

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 17:08:04 -0400

Bridgegate defendant Bill Baroni underwent his second day of cross examination Tuesday, and prosecutors pummeled his defense: that he was duped by Bridgegate mastermind David Wildstein into going along with a "traffic study" that was important to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.  

But by attempting to show that Baroni was a Christie insider, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes elicited an image of a hands-on governor who is eager to settle scores with his political opponents.

One example: The incident of Bill Lavin, a former firefighters union official who had criticized Christie on the radio. 

"I was on the way to school," Baroni testified. "I was teaching at Seton Hall Law School. My phone rang. It was the governor of New Jersey. He said, ‘Bill I need you to do something for me.'  He said, 'You call Bill Lavin and tell him the governor said go f-- yourself.'"

Baroni pushed back. "I said, 'I can’t tell a friend that.'" Baroni testified. 

The governor was not pleased. "He said, 'You like your job?'" Baroni testified. So Baroni hung up the phone and called Bill Lavin.

Then there was the time Baroni testified in front of a U.S. Senate committee that was chaired by the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg.  Lautenberg had been vocally displeased about Christie's cancellation of a transit tunnel under the Hudson River, and about the Port Authority's raising of tolls on the Hudson River crossing.  

To say Baroni was impudent before the committee is an understatement; he embarrassed Lautenberg with reams of data compiled by Wildstein, showing Lautenberg's frequent use of free toll crossings when Lautenberg was a Port Authority commissioner. 

"Didn’t Chris Christie tell you to 'go down there and punch Frank Lautenberg in the face?'" prosecutor Lee Cortes demanded. "You decided on your own you were going to talk to Frank Lautenberg in that way?" 

"Gov. Christie gave me instructions, his instructions were pretty clear," Baroni replied. Christie, Cortes said, was "thrilled" with Baroni's performance. 

And then there was the time the Administration put Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop on "radio silence," after Fulop didn't endorse Christie for re-election.

At the end of August 2013, just days before the George Washington Bridge lane closures started, Wildstein texted Baroni:

"Per [Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien]: no meeting with Fulop. 100% order that Fulop be frozen out comes directly from governor."

Under a withering cross examination, Baroni stuck to his defense that he was under the impression that the lane closures were a traffic study, and that speaking to the Fort Lee Mayor would skew the results.

It was Wildstein, everyone agrees, who ordered that Sokolich be subjected to "radio silence."  But in the case of Fulop,  Cortes pointedly asked, "Was this radio silence because of some traffic study in Jersey City?"

"No sir." Baroni replied.

"Radio silence. That’s not related to any Port Authority operation in Jersey City, right?" Cortes said. "There was no 'skewing the data' concern with respect to Mayor Fulop, correct?"

No, Baroni acknowleged. There was not. 

In Bridgegate Testimony, Christie Emerges as Powerful, Threatening Figure

Media Files:

Attention New Jersey: Today's the Deadline to Register to Vote!

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 06:41:17 -0400

Today is the last day for New Jersey residents to register to vote in time for Election Day.

There are two ways to get registered: mail in your form (it must be postmarked today,) or print it out at home and hand-deliver it to your local county elections office.

Details on extended New Jersey Division of Elections office hours can be found here.

New Jersey residents do not have the option to register online.

Not sure if you're already registered to vote in New Jersey? Check here.

Need to print a voter registration application? Check here for your county-specific form.

There are also two referendum questions on this year's ballot in New Jersey.

One question is about whether to use 3 cents of the current tax on diesel fuel and put it toward the Transportation Trust Fund.

The second question, which has prompted a record-breaking $20.8 million in campaign spending from interest groups, both for and against it, is about whether to allow two casinos to operate outside of Atlantic County.

For WNYC's complete guide to voting registration in New Jersey and New York, click here.

Attention New Jersey: Today's the Deadline to Register to Vote!

Media Files:

La Morada: At the Intersection of the Old and New Mott Haven

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

WNYC is taking a close look at New York City’s affordability crisis, one neighborhood at a time. We’re starting in Mott Haven in the South Bronx. It’s an area that’s struggled for decades with poverty and crime. But now it’s gentrifying, and that’s creating new opportunities and pressures in the community. At La Morada, a Oaxcan restaurant on Wills Avenue, those issues are on the front burner.

Natalia Mendez and her husband Antonio Saavedra were farm workers in a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico before they moved to New York in the early '1990s, undocumented and looking for a better life. Their older kids, Claudia and Marco, crossed the border as toddlers; their youngest, Carolina was born here. They opened their restaurant  — which they run and pay taxes for — through an LLC.

Critics have raved about the food, including its six kinds of mole, and the restaurant is a hub for the community.  But the community at La Morada, like Mott Haven in general, is changing. Fancy residential towers are coming to the waterfront, new people are moving into the neighborhood, and longtime residents with rising rents are leaving.


Marco Saavedra is the restaurant's head waiter and the family's lead activist. He's a member of the Dream 9, a group of undocumented youth who crossed the border from Mexico in 2013 to request asylum. His case is up for a hearing next year. He says the influx of new customers at La Morada means business is better than ever. But he's conflicted about what the changes mean for the community.

"We were initially displaced from Oaxaca, Mexico because we couldn’t find a livelihood there. And so we had to immigrate here to New York City and travel without papers," he said. "We know it’s a heartbreak when you can no longer either find a source of living or afford where you used to live and so we don’t want to replicate that to someone else."

Meanwhile, the family is concerned about its own fate. Now that rents are spiking all around them, they're worried they may not be able to hang on to their space much longer.

"We know that some landlords will seize this opportunity to bump up prices and people will be priced out," Marco Saavedra said.

We want to hear from you. Join the conversation by letting us know what you think, and using the hashtag #MottHavenSpeaks.

La Morada: At the Intersection of the Old and New Mott Haven

Media Files:

A Walk Through the Formerly Forbidden Hart Island Graveyards

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

About a million people are buried on Hart Island—a mile-long strip of land sitting directly across from City Island in the Bronx. People end up at this public cemetery for different reasons: in some cases, families couldn't afford to bury their loved ones or failed to claim them. In other cases, remains could not be identified.

The Department of Correction operates the island, which has also served as a prison camp for Confederate soldiers, a rehabilitation center for drug addicts, a sanitorium and more. Rikers Island inmates get paid 50 cents an hour to bury the bodies.

Until recently, nobody was allowed to visit. But homeless advocates and families with loved ones who are buried there pushed to have access to Hart Island so they could pay their respects. Now they can. The city settled a class action lawsuit last year that allows the public to book visits. Recently, WNYC was given a rare tour. 

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A Walk Through the Formerly Forbidden Hart Island Graveyards

Media Files:

FEMA to Incorporate Climate Change in New Flood Maps

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 19:38:00 -0400

Federal officials and the de Blasio administration have reached a deal that could resolve many complaints about the way flood maps are being applied in the five boroughs.

In a statement Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would create new maps to show which parts of the city would be inundated by a 100-year-flood at some point in the future. The announcement comes after many environmentalists and planners criticized the agency for failing to take sea-level rise into account in creating the maps, saying that a beachfront house elevated to a "safe" height today wouldn't be able to withstand a minor flood 50 years from now.

City officials, meanwhile, said they would use the new maps to determine the elevation at which the ground floors of new buildings would have to be constructed, though many details have yet to be sorted out.

"The intent of the new climate-smart flood map is to develop the tools to give us a better understanding of long-term risk, and so we can then start baking that understanding into how we build," said Daniel Zarrilli, the director of the city's Office of Rebuilding and Resiliency.

In the other part of the agreement, FEMA agreed to revise the draft flood map it proposed in January 2015, which would have doubled the number of homes and buildings in the flood zone. That proposal alarmed city officials and housing advocates because it would have severely financially strained thousands of low- and middle-income New Yorkers: property owners in FEMA flood plains must buy flood insurance to qualify for a mortgage, a requirement that can add thousands of dollars to the yearly cost of maintaining a building.

The city had said FEMA used faulty data from a storm in 1950 that threw off predictions of what should be considered a "100-year-flood."

"The result really skewed the whole analysis, because this one storm was much worse than any of the other winter season storms," said Philip Orton, an assistant research professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, who examined FEMA's methodology on behalf of the city.

It is expected that both maps — one to guide new building and the other for insurance on old buildings — will take three to four years to finalize.






FEMA to Incorporate Climate Change in New Flood Maps

Media Files:

Kalief Browder's Mom, Dead at 63, Speaks in New Documentary

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 17:17:00 -0400

Venida Browder died yesterday after a heart attack. She was the mother of Kalief Browder, a teenager who died by suicide after spending three years in jail on Rikers Island awaiting trial on charges that were eventually dismissed. Since his death, she had become a vocal advocate for prison reform, especially for minors.

Earlier this year, Browder spoke to director Jenny Carchman of The Marshall Project for a documentary called "We Are Witnesses," which will be released next month. The film is a series of interviews with people who have crossed paths with the criminal justice system: from judges to corrections officers, prisoners to crime victims.

Jenny Carchman sat down with WNYC's Jami Floyd to discuss Venida Browder and her legacy.

Kalief Browder's Mom, Dead at 63, Speaks in New Documentary

Media Files:

Just Say Maybe: Should Kratom Be Banned or Not?

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

In early October, I walked in to Kavasutra in the East Village — a bar that serves psychedelic teas rather than alcohol — and asked for something called kratom. The bartenders weren’t sure what to say.

One said sales of kratom were “on hold.” Then another said, “You can try it if you want but you might not be able to get a hold of it soon.” And he showed me bottles of the thick brew stored behind the bar, the strongest strain selling for $25 a bottle.

The mixed messages were a result of a federal action to declare kratom illegal. About two months ago, the Drug Enforcement Agency initiated a process to add kratom to its list of “Schedule I” drugs, alongside heroin and cocaine, outlawing its use. They called the drug a “hazard to public safety,” with potential for abuse and fatalities.

But users flooded the DEA with complaints, and now the agency says it is “the right thing to step back” – which is why the agency announced on Thursday it would retract its initial proposal. Now, they're accepting public comments on how to classify kratom. They also said the Food and Drug Administration would provide a scientific and medical evaluation to put the risks of the drug in a wider context. While the agency originally cited 15 kratom-associated deaths as a reason to ban the substance, 14 of those users had more than just kratom in their systems when they died.

Supporters of kratom said they relied on the tea to keep them off stronger drugs, like oxycodone and heroin. Kratom, they said, offered a high that was not as intense and lasted a shorter time. It prevented them from falling back into addiction.

“It’s so mild and fleeting,” says Moose Rowe, who went to Washington this summer to protest the possible ban. “Instead of a big warm hug that you get from like heroin… it’s more like a tickle.”

Andrew Kruegel, a chemist at Columbia University, said that mild high suggests kratom could help scientists develop a safer painkiller. Most current opioids have life-threatening side effects, specifically something called “respiratory depression” which can cause a user to stop breathing and die. Kruegel said his lab work showed kratom might provide pain relief without triggering respiratory failure.

Worried a ban could halt his research, Kruegel said he's drafting his letter to regulators. In it, he planned to cite the tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. caused each year by drugs like heroin and oxycodone. He said the only way he can prove that kratom could reduce that number, or not, is if federal officials allowed his work to continue. 

The public comment period runs through Dec. 1. 

Just Say Maybe: Should Kratom Be Banned or Not?

Media Files:

Game Throws Science at Donald Trump

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

If you've ever wanted to throw stuff at one of the Presidential candidates, a new game gives you the chance to do it, metaphorically anyway.

Trump versus Science lets players throw images of globes at a dancing Donald Trump. It also allows players to view Trump's tweets about science, and challenge them with their own retweets.

"We wanted to arouse the conversation about political decision-making and scientific evidence," said game developer Olli Rundgren of Finland-based Psyon Games.

Rundgren was inspired to make the game by Trump's tweets that have called climate change a hoax, "created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

He was also disturbed by Trump's announcement last May that the U.S. should pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement that would cut the fossil fuel emissions of the U.S. and hundreds of other nations.

"Because of the global economy, it means that if the U.S. pulls out of the [Paris Climate] agreement, China has to do it also, because it will affect competition," said Rundgren.

Trump's campaign issued a follow-up statement earlier this month that doubled down on its opposition to the accord, saying the agreement would cost the American economy trillions of dollars.

Last month, 376 members of the National Academy of Sciences penned an open letter stating that Trump's intention to pull out of the agreement was of "great concern." It said the consequences of such a decision would be severe and long-lasting.

The Trump vs. Science game is free.

Rundgren said he didn't do a similar Hillary Clinton game because none of her stances challenge scientific standards.

Game Throws Science at Donald Trump

Media Files:

Donald Trump Courts Hindus, Indians in New Jersey

Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:46:50 -0400

Donald Trump may at first seem an unlikely choice of immigrants from India, but one of his staunchest supporters — and fundraisers — is Indian American Shalabh Kumar. The electronics entrepreneur founded the Republican Hindu Coalition. The group held a fundraiser for Hindu refugees in Edison, New Jersey on Saturday night, and Trump was the keynote speaker.

"We can't have prosperity without security. And that is why we appreciate the great friend India has been to the United States in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism," Trump told the crowd.

But many were just there to enjoy the Bollywood stars who performed at the event, like dancer Phrabu Deva.

"We are actually pretty surprised seeing these signs here that Trump is great for India…I'm here for the music," said 25-year old Sri Akella.

WNYC's Janet Babin spoke with WNYC host David Furst about the event.


Donald Trump Courts Hindus, Indians in New Jersey

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This Week in Politics: ‘Signs of Nervousness’ Among Evangelicals

Sat, 15 Oct 2016 06:00:00 -0400

It might be expected that religious conservatives would be particularly upset with the 2005 videotape of Donald Trump bragging about assaulting women, but reactions have been mixed. Many of the leaders who supported Trump during his campaign stood by the candidate.

On his 700 club show, Pat Robertson attempted to put the video in context, saying, "Let's face it, a guy does something 11 years ago as a conversation in Hollywood where he's trying to look macho and 11 years later they surface it in the Washington Post or whatever."

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland, a member of Trump's evangelical advisory board, took things further. He said anyone who planned to sit out the election and not cast a vote against Hillary Clinton would be 'guilty of murder.' He added, 'You're gonna be guilty of an abomination of God. You're gonna be guilty of every baby that's aborted from this election forward.'

Still, another member of Trump's advisory board saw things differently. Megachurch pastor James MacDonald renounced Trump, saying the comments in the video revealed him to be 'lecherous and worthless.'

Washington Post religion reporter, Sarah Pulliam Bailey joins host David Furst for a roundup of Christian conservative reaction to the Trump video. One week after it was made public, Bailey says she is seeing 'signs of nervousness and angst among evangelicals' when it comes to support for Donald Trump. At the same time, she adds, this is a group that has detested Hillary Clinton for decades.


This Week in Politics: ‘Signs of Nervousness’ Among Evangelicals

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Review: 'Heisenberg' Is a Quirky Love Story

Sat, 15 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle says that the more accurately you pin down a particle's position, the tougher it is to predict its trajectory. That makes the title "Heisenberg" a nice metaphor for this remount by Simon Stephens, which focuses hard on the small interactions between two people — and yet is unpredictable.

Georgie (Mary Louise-Parker), 42, is an aging variation of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: she flutters about eccentrically, says whatever whimsical things she thinks, and meets Alex (Denis Arndt), 75, in a busy train station by kissing him, a stranger, on the neck.

Happily, Parker excels with these kinds of quirky characters and keeps Georgie from floating away on airy charm. She adds gravitas. You can see the doubt and exhaustion and anxiety flicker across Parker's face as she says "cute" things like, "I swear all the time. Sometimes I don't even notice it. Sometimes it just pops out of my mouth."

She and Arndt don't have sexual chemistry, exactly. The stage isn't burning up. But they do seem to enjoy each other, and the result is a realistic, affectionate bond that deepens as the play emotionally opens up. Stephens, who also wrote the magical "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," is adept at sparking compassion for irritating characters, which Georgie and Alex both are. As Off Broadway audiences found when this play was first produced at Manhattan Theatre Club last year, as you get to know them, you start rooting for them, despite their flaws. 

"Heisenberg" is not rocket science — or particle physics. It's just a sweet story about two people who think they don't deserve love. 



Through Dec. 11

By Simon Stephens, directed by Mark Brokaw, from Manhattan Theater Club

Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 W. 47th Street

Review: 'Heisenberg' Is a Quirky Love Story

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Christie's Former Counsel Didn't Investigate Lane Closures, Didn't Ask Questions, Doesn't Recollect

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 18:21:00 -0400

Back in 2014, when the Bridgegate scandal was freshly revealed, Gov. Chris Christie went on his "Ask The Governor" radio show on NJ 101.5 and explained that he first learned about mysterious lane closures on the George Washington Bridge from an article in the Wall Street Journal. "That's when I asked my chief of staff and my chief counsel, I said 'would you look into this and see what's going on here?''" The answer, the governor said, was that it was a traffic study gone awry that had nothing to do with his staff. But now there's testimony that things didn't, in fact, go down that way. This week, in federal court in Newark, former Christie counsel Charlie McKennna testified the governor "did not ask me to conduct a background investigation." The defense in the Bridgegate case has carefully been building a narrative: That the Christie administration didn't conduct any real investigation because they knew it would lead back to Christie. And under cross examination by Michael Critchley, defendant Bridget Kelly's lawyer, McKenna obliged. "I'm not chief investigator, sir," McKenna said when Critchley asked about McKenna's 18 years as a federal criminal prosecutor. "I'm the chief counsel." McKenna said he'd assumed there had been a traffic study, poorly conducted, and that was that. He said the growing press attention and calls for an investigation barely registered.   Indeed, McKenna seemed to have trouble remembering any of the details of outside investigations. Did he know that former New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey had called for an Office of Inspector General investigation at the Port Authority?  "Not specifically, no." Did he know that Port Authority Director Pat Foye had, in explosive legislative testimony, publicly called Bridgegate mastermind David Wildstein "the culprit"? "I don't recall that specific name," McKenna said.  When the governor asked him to interview his incoming chief of staff, Regina Egea, about Bridgegate, did the governor's lawyer ask Egea about 12 text messages exchanged between the governor and Egea during Foye's testimony that both she and the governor had later deleted? He did not.  Did he ask Bill Baroni about the lane closures when he fired him on Dec. 12, 2013? "I didn't, no."  But then McKenna tripped. Did he learn of legislative subpoenas on the day they'd been issued, Dec. 12? He did not know if he learned that day or the next day. But then, he boasted: "I also had advance warning...that subpoenas would be issued." He dropped a bombshell, saying that he'd learned from David Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty in the scheme. Wildstein, McKenna allowed, who did not know McKenna and did not work for the governor's office, called the governor's lawyer to discuss the subpoena even before it was issued. McKenna then proceeded to give Wildstein legal advice, which he would not discuss in court because he said it was subject to attorney-client privilege. "You were acting as his attorney?" Critchley asked. "I believe he believed that," McKenna responded. "Did you feel it was appropriate to give someone the impression you were his or her attorney while you were counsel to to the Governor?" Critchley asked. There was an objection, and McKenna didn't have to answer. But we know now that the governor's statehouse lawyer, who insists to this day that he never talked to anyone about the political nature of the closures, spoke about document production with the very man who had in his possession the email that said "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."   [[...]

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As Some GOP Donors Pull Away From Trump, Others Remain Steadfast

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 17:31:02 -0400

A move by Republican donors to pull their money away from Donald Trump appears to be gaining momentum this week following the release of a tape on which Trump is heard bragging about sexually assaulting women. The New York Times reported Friday that several donors are asking the Republican National Committee to follow suit. But not all of the party's top benefactors agree.

To understand the effect the scandal is having on GOP donors, WNYC's Sean Carlson spoke with Carrie Levine, a politics reporter for the Center for Public Integrity. She recently did a deep dive into the Mercers, a wealthy Long Island family that continues to put their money behind Donald Trump, despite the recent controversy.

As Some GOP Donors Pull Away From Trump, Others Remain Steadfast

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Captive in Syria

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 15:00:00 -0400

The documentary “Theo Who Lived,” directed by David Schisgall, profiles the freelance American journalist Theo Padnos, who spent nearly two years held captive by Islamic fundamentalists in Syria. Fluent in Arabic, Padnos could communicate with his captors. Despite his harsh treatment, he’s able to see their human side and he retains a sense of humor in telling his story.

— Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen

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

Captive in Syria

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Review: “Gay Gotham” Is a Catchy Title for an Art Show

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

“Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York,” a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, is an ambitious undertaking. It seeks to celebrate the achievements of gay artists in New York in the 20th century – a subject so large as to be roughly tantamount to trying to chronicle the history of, say, blondes. In the interest of coherence, the show focuses on the work of 10 artists and performers and the social circles in which they moved. Some of the choices seem inevitable (Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe), while others will no doubt compel you to decry the omissions (What? No Merce Cunningham?) and wonder why the bisexual composer Leonard Bernstein is given pride of place.

The show opens in the early 20th century with a little-known artist, Richard Bruce Nugent, a Harlem Renaissance writer and artist who turned out stylized, Deco-ish drawings of nude figures. It’s an interesting bit of New York history and, at its best, the show feels like the gay Baedeker to our city. The highpoint, I think, belongs to the fashion photographer George Platt Lynes, who furnishes moving portraits of various greats, including the painter Marsden Hartley and the British novelists Somerset Maugham and E.M. Forster, a wispy figure posing with his tautly muscled policeman-boyfriend. Another strong moment: the corner occupied by the late Greer Lankton, a transgender artist whose hand sewn dolls imbue the staid tradition of sewing with a satiric edge.

The show’s flaws are considerable. For starters, lesbians are consistently portrayed as minor talents. Unfortunately, a starring role is conferred on Mercedes de Acosta, a playwright and poet today remembered for romancing Greta Garbo and other actresses. Why exalt a lightweight when women of colossal accomplishment – the poets Marianne Moore and Djuna Barnes, or the photographer Berenice Abbott, among others – could have been there instead? One flight up, in the post 1960’s half of the exhibition, too much wall space is devoted to Harmony Hammond, a Chicago-born artist and activist who appropriates braided rugs as a symbol of female empowerment and wields them in paintings and drawings like a blunt instrument.      

To assess a work of art on the basis of its quotient of gay subject matter is to risk ignoring its aesthetic quality, and “Gay Gotham” tends to favor work that embodies homoeroticism in the most literal sense. On a purple-painted wall chronicling the 1950s, Larry Rivers’ comically humongous full-length portrait of his lover Frank O’Hara – naked except for his cowboy boots – is paired, rather jarringly, with a small, sensitive, pastel-hued portrait of the writer James Baldwin, by Beauford Delaney. Judging from this exhibition, you would never know that gay artists also paint landscapes and still lifes [sic], or that gay and lesbian artists (e.g., Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin) can be leading abstract painters. This is a show about diversity that lacks diversity.

Review: “Gay Gotham” Is a Catchy Title for an Art Show

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DMV Jammed Up By Voter Registration Traffic

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

The official deadline to register to vote in New York State for the upcoming presidential election is Friday (see note at bottom of page). While those in search of a quick fix might go online, the only site where voters can submit a registration form electronically is the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which has a history of crashing at the deadline. Alexander Kveton, 29, knows first-hand. A grad student by day, bartender by night, Kveton wanted to vote in the presidential primary last spring, but he forgot to register until the night of the March deadline while he was busy at the Quarter Bar slinging drinks. When it was quiet, Kveton huddled with his phone and tried to register through the DMV’s website. “Every time an error just kept popping up or nothing was really going through,” said Kveton. He wasn’t alone. Hundreds of other New Yorkers got caught in internet limbo at a crucial moment because the state website couldn’t handle the volume of traffic. The problem this spring was documented in emails obtained by WNYC under the state Freedom of Information Law. They show a system that actually adds another step to the registration process — and more opportunities for breakdown. The online motor-voter system was launched by the Cuomo administration in 2012. Good government groups called it a major step forward in the state’s archaic voter registration system. Earlier this month, a statement from the governor said the system has processed more than 600,000 registration forms since its launch. But the DMV doesn’t know how many of those people actually became registered voters, because the DMV doesn’t register voters. It just takes in the information and sends the forms to each local office. “We are the passive recipients of the data,” said Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections. He added, “We’re relying on the representations from the Department of Motor Vehicles that the system will function.” In March, four days before the deadline, Ann Scott, the DMV’s director of Agency Program Services, sent an email to Board of Elections staff statewide, signaling the start of the problem. She said the site was already struggling from high traffic that weekend tied to a Facebook promotion that linked to the DMV site. That bottleneck delayed the DMV from sending forms that were collected for several days to local election offices for processing. Then on Friday, in the final hours for voters to register, the DMV registration system went down again. People were told to download a registration form, fill it out, save it, attach it to an email to the DMV and include a statement of affirmation in the body of the message. That’s what Kveton did eventually, “This is something simple and it was just coming across as difficult.” The same went for 259 other New York City voters in the space of just a few hours when the site was down, the emails show. (There’s no number for the people who just gave up and didn’t register at all.) These breakdowns delayed the delivery of forms and saddled the city, and all local election offices, with piles of registration forms just ahead of the deadline when they’re already working at capacity. In fact, motor voter systems have proved to be among the weakest links in voter registration around the country, according to a recent report from the Presidential Commission on Election Administr[...]

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When Your Election's This Scary, You Get a Political Haunted House

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

Every four years, the peak of our presidential election season runs right alongside the peak of the annual haunted house season. This year, the Mexican artist Pedro Reyes decided to do something about it. With the help of New York City's Creative Time, Reyes built "Doomocracy," a three-story political haunted house at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park.

Big orange monsters with tiny little fingers who like to grab women are in short supply. Instead, visitors get immersed in a dystopian vision of a near future where we've completely failed to address income inequality, police brutality, and climate change.  


Like any haunted house worth its salt, "Doomocracy" is dark, but there's a lot of black humor in the show, too.

"It would be so depressing if we do it seriously," Reyes said. "But because this is a haunted house you can do all that while being extremely entertaining."

To that end, visitors get singing cheerleaders, virtual reality headsets, and Twinkie coffins. "The haunted house is kind of a true folk tradition that has never been considered like a high form of art," Reyes explained. "That is very exciting."



When Your Election's This Scary, You Get a Political Haunted House

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New York Times to Donald Trump's Attorney: Bring it On

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 16:34:09 -0400

Donald Trump is threatening to sue The New York Times for libel after it published a story Wednesday in which two women accused the presidential candidate of sexual assault. In a letter to the paper's executive editor, Dean Baquet, Trump's attorney demanded The Times retract the article or face legal action. The Times responded with a letter from its own attorney, which said that if Trump wished to sue The Times, "if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women have to say, it would "welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight." 

Elie Mystal, legal editor of WNYC 's Supreme Court podcast More Perfect, said there's "almost no chance" Trump has a case. In a conversation with WNYC's Jami Floyd, Mystal said The Times seems to be inviting Trump to sue, because that would open Trump up to legal discovery: "What I read from that letter is The Times saying, 'Oh please, dear Lord, sue us.'"

New York Times to Donald Trump's Attorney: Bring it On

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City Council Speaker Says She was Sexually Abused As a Child

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 16:30:19 -0400

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has revealed that she was a victim of sexual abuse when she was a child.

After first tweeting about it late Wednesday, Mark-Viverito was visibly emotional as she talked about her experience of abuse at greater length during an unrelated news conference Thursday.

“Twenty percent of young girls unfortunately experience some form of sex abuse and molestation,” she said. “I fall into that category.”

The Speaker said she was molested between the ages of 5 and 8 by two different people at different points in time. She said she decided to speak out publicly for the first time to bring more visibility to the issue of sex abuse after tape surfaced last week of Donald Trump boasting about touching women without their consent.

Mark-Viverito said she started getting counseling in her twenties.

“It’s a struggle that you go through and it never ends,” she said. “It’s not something you forget or you move on in life. It’s a part of your life.”

City Council Speaker Says She was Sexually Abused As a Child

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NJ Transit, Facing Critical Challenges, Taps Insider to Lead Agency

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 16:07:19 -0400

The board of New Jersey Transit met for the first time in four months — and the first time since last month's fatal crash in Hoboken. While much of the meeting was taken up with a discussion about a proposed power line, one agenda item was ticked off the list: the appointment of a permanent executive director.

Steven Santoro is a 16-year veteran of the agency. Santoro, who was in charge of the capital program and the Sandy resiliency projects, takes over from former acting executive director Dennis Martin. 

But Santoro didn't offer many details on how he'd turn the agency around.

"There's a fair amount of work that needs to be done," he said. "There's issues with getting our focus back after that last several years."

NJ Transit has come under renewed focus in recent months. An Associated Press analysis of federal safety data shows that NJ Transit has had more accidents and paid more in fines for safety violations than any other commuter railroad in the country over the past five years.

Santoro's first task is to report on the agency's implementation of a safety technology known as Positive Train Control. Federal law mandates it must be installed by 2018 — but NJ Transit hasn't made much progress.

NJ Transit, Facing Critical Challenges, Taps Insider to Lead Agency

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Uber Drivers Are Employees, New York Agency Finds

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 14:08:57 -0400

Two drivers who were fired by the popular, car-for-hire app Uber can be considered former company employees and not freelancers, qualifying them for unemployment benefits. That’s the result of a decision by the State Department of Labor.

Bhairavi Desai with the Taxi Workers Alliance said it's the first time Uber drivers in New York have been recognized as employees. And she criticized the Department of Labor for taking months to qualify the men for benefits.

“Workers seek these benefits in a moment of crisis. The state should not add to this crisis by having a long delay,” Desai said. She added that thousands of other former drivers for tech-enabled car services could eventually be affected by the decision.

However, the Department of Labor currently considers unemployment applications by drivers for firms like Lyft and Uber on a case-by-case basis, and some drivers have been determined to be independent contractors who cannot collect benefits.

Uber is appealing the decision recognizing the two drivers as employees. In an emailed statement, the company said, “nearly 90 percent of drivers say the main reason they use Uber is because they love being their own boss.  Drivers use Uber on their own terms; they control their use of the app along with where and when they drive.”

The State Department of Labor acknowledged in an email that it’s figuring out the way forward with car-for-hire apps: “As in many other states, The New York State Department of Labor continues to independently examine the wider issue of whether to classify drivers for rideshare services like Uber as employees or independent contractors.”

On Jersey Shore, Glass Droplets Are Signs of a Comet-Induced Climate Crisis

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 13:46:24 -0400

Tiny spherical droplets of glass found near the New Jersey coast might be evidence that a comet struck earth more than 55 million years ago, beginning a warming period that scientists say is the closest parallel to today's human-induced climate change.

Those are the findings of a new study in the leading journal Science, and appear to lend further credence to the hypothesis that the impact from an extraterrestrial object caused the warm period known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM. 

"That really raises the possibility and probability that there was indeed, first of all, an impact very closely coinciding with this Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum," said Dennis Kent, a researcher at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University and co-author of the paper.

Kent has previously argued that a comet might have caused the PETM, but the hypothesis didn't stick. In a 2003 paper, Kent said that magnetized particles found in New Jersey's clay might have resulted from a cometary collision. Some colleagues rejected that conclusion.

"Understandably, there was skepticism. Any time you propose kind of a dramatic event, that's sort of a natural reaction," Kent said. "But this adds a much more direct indication that there had to be something highly energetic to melt all that glass."

The glass was found in drill cores taken in Millville, Wilson Lake and Medford, New Jersey, by the paper's lead author, Morgan Schaller of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and his student Megan Fung. The tiny spherical droplets are known as "microtektites," and are formed from molten material that is ejected from an impact crater before cooling and falling back to earth.

But just because the glass was found on the Jersey coast doesn't necessarily mean that was where the comet landed. "It could have been next door, or it could have been on the other side of the planet," Schaller said.

The study raises questions about the massive release of carbon that caused the PETM. Many scientists have suggested that it took 5,000 to 20,000 years for that carbon to be released into the atmosphere. The carbon emissions in the PETM are the closest analogue scientists have found to current anthropogenic climate change, but high levels of carbon are currently entering the atmosphere at a much faster rate, making today's situation seem unprecedented.

However, Kent says a comet-induced ejection of carbon into the atmosphere could mean that the PETM works as a good analogy to what's happening with climate change today.

Many single-celled, ocean-dwelling organisms went extinct during the PETM, but other species like primates were able to move toward the earth's poles and quickly evolve during the period. But scientists have warned that today's carbon emissions far outpace those of the PETM, and that life forms might not have as long to adapt.

Data from NJ Train Crash Will Take "Months" to Analyze, Feds Say

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 12:36:29 -0400

Heavy damage to the front of a commuter train that slammed into a New Jersey station last month, killing a woman and injuring 100 people, is hampering the investigation into what went wrong.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report Thursday that it has scheduled additional testing after finding that the electronics controlling the train's brakes and propulsion system were destroyed in the Sept. 29 crash at Hoboken Terminal.

Investigators say other tests showed the train's air brake system working as designed.

The New Jersey Transit train's data recorder showed it speeding up and was going twice the 10 mph speed limit just before it crashed. The train's engineer hit the emergency brake less than a second before impact.

The engineer has told federal investigators he has no memory of the crash.

As Bridgegate Prosecution Rests, Christie Faces Separate Criminal Complaint

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 11:19:28 -0400

The prosecution has rested in the Bridgegate trial in Newark, leaving a web of testimony that's ensnared not only the two defendants, Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni, but also the governors of two states — Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo; Christie’s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien; Christie’s friend and the former Port Authority chairman David Samson; and other top aides with significantly more power than the two officials now on trial.

As the prosecution was presenting its final witnesses, the Bridgegate case spun out into an entirely separate courtroom in Hackensack, where a state judge signed a criminal official misconduct summons against Christie for allegedly failing to stop the George Washington Bridge closures when he was told about them.  

Christie is not on trial in the federal case and has denied that he knew about the closures in advance. But the federal prosecution's star witness in the Baroni/Kelly trial, David Wildstein, testified that he and Baroni boasted to Christie about the closures while the lanes were still reduced from three to one. He also said Christie laughed when told the Mayor of Fort Lee wasn’t getting his calls returned.

Judge Roy F. McGeady said in state court in Hackensack that it's that sworn testimony in a federal case that means there's probable cause for Christie to be charged with official misconduct, a felony. The summons now goes to the local prosecutor, who was appointed by Christie. That prosecutor could recuse himself and refer the case to the New Jersey Attorney General, but the AG in New Jersey is also appointed by the governor.

Christie’s spokesman, Brian Murray, said the governor will appeal.

The prosecution wrapped up its case Thursday by playing in full testimony in which Baroni adamantly insisted to the New Jersey legislature in November 2013 that the lane closures were a traffic study gone awry. After four weeks of testimony from current and former officials stating there was no traffic study, this previous testimony of Baroni doesn't paint a pretty picture of his honesty — and comes just days before he will testify in his own defense.

Kelly also came under scrutiny Thursday, when prosecutors introduced evidence that she had deleted almost all of the damaging emails, including “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

But even with this dramatic evidence against Baroni and Kelly, Christie’s story that he knew nothing ran into more trouble when his former chief counsel, Charlie McKenna, denied that the governor had asked him to look into the lane closures, though Christie has said publicly he asked him to investigate. 

McKenna, along with Chrisitie’s chief of staff Kevin O’Dowd, was put in charge of firing Wildstein and Baroni in December 2013. McKenna said he didn’t ask either of them for any details of the scandal that’s now become known as Bridgegate.

“You want to say I’m stupid, I get it, but I wasn’t,” he said.

A few questions later, court adjourned for the day.

As Bridgegate Prosecution Rests, Christie Faces Separate Criminal Complaint

Media Files:

PEOPLE Writer: "Donald Trump Forced Himself on Me."

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 07:01:46 -0400

A writer for PEOPLE magazine says she was assaulted by Donald Trump during a 2005 interview at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. 

Writer Natasha Stoynoff, who covered Trump for PEOPLE in the early 2000s, details the assault in a story published late Wednesday. 

The accusation comes less than a week after the release of a 2005 recording in which Trump is heard saying to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush, "I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."

A spokeswoman for Donald Trump said the assault never happened and there is no merit or veracity to the story. 

New York and New Jersey Bombing Suspect Arraigned

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 06:07:23 -0400

The man accused of setting off bombs in New Jersey and New York, injuring more than 30 people, was arraigned Thursday on charges he tried to kill police officers in New Jersey before they captured him.

Ahmad Khan Rahimi, an Afghan-born U.S. citizen, has been hospitalized with gunshot wounds since a police shootout that led to his capture on Sept. 19 outside a bar in Linden. Authorities have declined to provide details on Rahimi's medical condition, citing privacy laws.

He appeared via video from his hospital bed in Newark. Wearing a green gown, he gave one word answers, took long pauses and was barely audible in the courtroom. Judge Regina Caulfield read the charges, which included illegal possession of a weapon and five counts of attempted murder. Public defender Peter Ligouri said Rahimi would plead not guilty to all charges. The hearing was done in less than seven minutes. 

The 28 year-old is also facing federal criminal charges in both New York and New Jersey. He stands accused of detonating a pipe bomb along the route of a Marine Corps charity race in the New Jersey shore town of Seaside Park and a pressure cooker bomb in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan on Sept. 17. No one was injured in the New Jersey blast, and 31 people were hurt in the New York explosion. A second pressure cooker bomb found nearby in Chelsea failed to detonate.

Rahimi's Bail was set at $5.2 million.

With Trump Campaign in Crisis, GOP Worried About Down-Ballot Candidates

Wed, 12 Oct 2016 16:45:39 -0400

Donald Trump's campaign is in crisis following the release of a 2005 tape of him bragging about sexually assaulting women. Many of his fellow Republicans have pulled their endorsements, or at the very least stopped campaigning with Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders are now scrambling to limit the fallout on the so-called down-ballot races — the other contested offices that will appear on the ballot this November.

But how much are down-ballot Republicans actually affected? For more on the turmoil, WNYC's Jami Floyd spoke with Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter that analyzes Congressional races across the country. 

"It's not just because people are now offended by Donald Trump," said Gonzales. "It's this weird dynamic where Republican turnout could be lower. People that are Trump supporters don't like how establishment Republicans have acted toward him, they feel like people are deserting the nominee."


With Trump Campaign in Crisis, GOP Worried About Down-Ballot Candidates

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Meet Chris Thile: The New Host of A Prairie Home Companion

Wed, 12 Oct 2016 12:18:37 -0400

A Prairie Home Companion is a Saturday night staple for radio audiences everywhere, featuring a unique blend of musical performances and comedy. And starting this Saturday, musician extraordinaire and MacArthur Genius Grant winner Chris Thile will take over for Garrison Keillor as the show's new host. Chris' musical background is far-reaching: by age eight, he had launched his band Nickel Creek, and later, Punch Brothers -- both Grammy-award winning. At 15, he made his first appearance on A Prairie Home Companion, leading to years of collaboration with Garrison, and a personal endorsement of Thile as the show's next host upon his retirement. Saturday's show reflects a new era for A Prairie Home Companion, and Chris will bring special guests Jack White and Lake Street Dive to the stage, plus Irish comedian Maeve Higgins. Tune in Saturday to 93.9FM and NJPR at 6pm to hear the show live. And hear a rebroadcast on Sunday at 11am on AM820 and NJPR. More Prairie Home: Listen back to Chris Thile's interview with Leonard Lopate. Purchase tickets to see A Prairie Home Companion with Chris Thile, live at Town Hall on December 3rd and 10th at 5:45 p.m.  Read Thile's letter to public radio listeners explaining his vision for the show going forward: Fellow Public Radio Lovers, First of all, thanks for reading this. Starting a conversation with you is one of the most exciting parts of what I’m finding to be a roundly exciting endeavor. Here’s a little too much about me: I grew up in Southern California and Western Kentucky (we moved when I was 14), the eldest of three boys. My folks were and are devoted public radio fans, who started listening to A Prairie Home Companion in the 1980s; Garrison and Co. were the permanent headliners of their weekends. Many of my earliest memories feature my little brothers and me frolicking (quietly, by request of Mom and Dad from the couch) to performances from the likes of Chet Atkins and Jethro Burns, listening to the News From Lake Wobegon, and singing along to the Powdermilk Biscuit jingle. Those Saturday evenings were topped off with a drive to a nearby pizza place for a couple more hours of live entertainment, provided by a locally beloved bluegrass band. Suffice it to say, anyone who spends the first 200 or so Saturdays of his life thusly is bound to become utterly obsessed with music. I’ve picked up a few other obsessions over the years: Tolkien, baseball, Wodehouse, coffee, Federer, cocktails, and perhaps obsession itself. (I figure the more completely one is preoccupied with weird, wonderful things, the better one’s chances of making new weird, wonderful things!) And speaking of weird, wonderful things, there was that voice mail I received two years ago from one Mr. Keillor: “Hi, Chris. It’s Garrison Keillor. I’d like to discuss something with you that I think you may find interesting. Or maybe you won’t. Either way, call me back.” I nervously obliged and listened dumbstruck as Garrison began laying out his plan. So here we are, smack dab in the middle of that plan. And frankly, I’m chu[...]

NYPD Makes a New Push to Build Trust and Cooperation

Tue, 11 Oct 2016 19:28:28 -0400

A new NYPD campaign is aimed at building trust in communities and, ultimately, cooperation in crime fighting. Commissioner James O'Neill said the effort was not a marketing campaign, but a movement that "forges true relationships."

The effort is supposed to convince people to report crimes, talk to prosecutors and testify in court. To make his point, O'Neill cited the unsolved murder of a Bronx woman who was hit by a stray bullet last June. He said detectives couldn't get people in the area to say much and reward posters got torn down.

"The clear message is: we need every member of the public to help us. This is a shared responsibility," he said while speaking at a breakfast sponsored by the Association for a Better New York on Tuesday. 

O'Neill acknowledged that years of racking up arrests and driving crime down had come at the expense of alienating communities.

"We did so sometimes in ways that inflamed old wounds, especially among people of color.  And those wounds run very deep," he said. 

The new police commissioner listed ways the NYPD is trying to change that, including a focus on serious, violent crimes instead of low-level offenses.

"But to close the gap in trust and approval of police, we have to do more than eliminate unnecessary enforcement activity," he added. 

O'Neill went on to describe the NYPD's community policing initiatives that include making police officers more accessible and familiar to the public. He said soon the public would have the names, emails and even cell phone numbers of cops that patrol their streets. 

The campaign — which includes working with clergy, business people and academics — is supposed to be run by Police Foundation board member Charles Phillips. He is expected to ask high-profile filmmakers to take part.

O'Neill became commissioner last month after his predecessor, William Bratton, announced he would retire.

NYPD Makes a New Push to Build Trust and Cooperation

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