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Last Build Date: Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:12:52 -0500


Legendary Investigative Reporter Wayne Barrett Dies at 71

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:12:52 -0500

Investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, a scourge of New York City power brokers from Rudolph Giuliani to Mike Bloomberg during a decades-long career with the Village Voice and an early and tenacious chronicler of President-elect Donald Trump, died Thursday at age 71. Barrett, who had been battling interstitial lung disease, died at NYU Langone Medical Center. Starting in the 1970s, there was no more dedicated muckraker than the gruff, relentless Barrett, a self-described "country boy from Lynchburg, Virginia" and graduate of Columbia University's journalism school who evolved from founding a teen Republican group to becoming an impassioned leftist as an adult. Fellow journalists regarded him as a role model and even some politicians grudgingly acknowledged his skills and integrity. "I tell the young people still drawn to this duty that it is the most honorable one in America, and that I have never met a corrupt journalist," Barrett wrote in his farewell column for the Voice, which laid him off at the end of 2010 after more than 30 years. His many scoops ranged from the criminal past of Giuliani's father to the many votes missed by then-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, who had accused the man who would defeat him for re-election in 1998, Democrat Charles Schumer, of similar lapses. Schumer would later say the revelation helped him win. D'Amato would call Barrett a "viper." "Mr. Barrett has become the unrivaled master of long, dense articles about the unsavory side of New York's political culture," The New York Times wrote of him in 2011. "He has passed decades digging through government archives, court transcripts, property records, police blotters and campaign filings, weaving tales of corruption and hypocrisy involving union leaders, neighborhood power brokers, real estate developers, mayors and governors." Few reporters knew Trump as well as did Barrett, whose death came less than a day before Trump was to be sworn in as the country's 45th president. He began covering the budding real-estate developer in the late 1970s and his expertise and the cache of records sitting in his basement drew dozens of reporters from around the world after Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015. "The most remarkable thing is that the leading birther in the United States is succeeding this president (Obama), Barrett told "Democracy Now!" interviewer Amy Goodman shortly after Trump's stunning defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton. "It's just — I mean, I just — I can't imagine it." Barrett's "Trump: The Deals and the Downfalls," published in 1992, uncovered Trump's ties to various unsavory characters involved with the construction of Trump Tower, investigated claims of bias against prospective black tenants in Trump buildings and prompted gaming officials in New Jersey to probe various Trump associations. Barrett also wrote books on Giuliani and another New York mayor, Edward I. Koch, co-authored with his Voice mentor, the late Jack Newfield. In recent years, he was a contributor to WNYC, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and a fellow at The Nation Institute. He is survived by his wife, Fran; his son, Mac, and a legion of former Voice interns and Columbia graduate students whom he mentored. His Trump book was republished last year as "Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, The Reinvention." In the new edition's introduction, Barrett noted his increasingly contentious relationship with Trump, beginning with limousine rides and penthouse conversations, but soon leading to threats of legal action and, in Trump's memoir "Surviving at the Top," accusations of quoting him out of context and of "vicious" coverage. Barrett did try to speak with Trump for his investigative book. In 1990, after repeated efforts for an interview, he slipped past security at a Trump birthday party in Atlantic City, but was quickly handcuffed and arrested for trespassing. "Atlantic City cops who doubled as part-time Trump security even confiscated my pocket tape recorder," he wrote. "When I was chained to the wall in an Atlantic City holding pen for hours that nigh[...]

Gingrich to New York GOP: "Constant Noise Wins"

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 17:06:00 -0500

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a gathering of New York Republicans Thursday that President-elect Donald Trump has the political skills to "be the most effective change agent we've seen in the presidency in quite some time."

Gingrich was the headline speaker at a New York GOP breakfast, one of a handful of events celebrating Trump's inauguration Friday. Gingrich ushered in a Republican Congressional majority with his "Contract for America" in 1994. He's also run for president and advised Trump's campaign.

Trump seems unpredictable, Gingrich said, because he doesn't make long-term plans. Instead, he reacts to problems or opportunities as they pop up "imposes his will, his intelligence, his creativity and then goes to the next one."

Trump took to social media early in the morning, called in to cable shows over coffee and had his campaign rallies carried live during the day. Trump kept everyone off balance during the campaign, especially the media, said the Georgia politician.

"There’s a lesson here for the New York party," Gingrich said, "which is constant noise wins. The reason the media hates the tweeting is he goes straight past them."

Always a proud student of history, Gingrich said he sees presidential qualities in Trump.

“I tell everybody, if you want to have a feeling for Trump: He is one-third Andrew Jackson as a disruptor; one-third Theodore Roosevelt for pure energy; and one-third P.T. Barnum for selling all day, every day," Gingrich said.

Gingrich poked fun at out-of-touch journalists who struggled to grasp the Trump phenomenon. He also took a shot at members of U.S. intelligence agencies who have become politicized — prompting someone in the audience to shout they should be fired.

Earth's Temperature Rises, Again

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 16:36:44 -0500

Last year was a hot one, setting records. Even though the average global temperature rose a fraction of a degree to 58.69 degrees Fahrenheit, climatologists say it's a major cause for concern.

Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said the record temperature rise — for the third year in a row — is confirmation the earth is warming, and humans are causing it.

That the temperature is rising is no longer a surprise, he said. But what does surprise him is the continued failure to address it. And he's not sure that will change with the Trump Administration. "There's a lot of cause for concern that this is not an issue that his administration is going to take seriously," Smerdon said.

Smerdon said more extreme weather is likely, and rising sea level is a big concern for states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that are on the east coast.

"Storms like Sandy, but even Nor'easters that cause storm surges will be acting on a sea level that's higher and higher, and that means more infrastructure damage as a consequence," he said.

The sea level has already risen more than a foot over the last century, he said, and is expected to rise another three to four feet over this century.

With The Associated Press

NJ Supreme Court: Towns Must Provide Affordable Housing

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:38:50 -0500

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that towns have an obligation to provide affordable homes to make up for those that weren't built during the nearly two-decade period when the state failed to issue rules on low-income housing.

The court issued its unanimous decision Wednesday. Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote that even though the state's Council on Affordable Housing didn't publish rules for 16 years, the obligation remained.

Affordable housing advocates challenged a ruling that towns are not required to provide for a certain number of affordable homes for the period stretching from 1999 to 2015 when the Council on Affordable Housing couldn't agree on requirements.

The towns' attorneys argued that the law didn't require them to provide affordable housing during the so-called gap period when regulations were not issued.

Justices heard arguments in November, and one of the attorneys arguing the case was Kevin Walsh, the executive director at Fair Share Housing Center. WNYC's Jami Floyd spoke with Walsh about the importance of Wednesday's decision, and about the history of the case, which goes all the way back to the landmark 1975 Mount Laurel decision.

NJ Supreme Court: Towns Must Provide Affordable Housing

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Street Artists Say New Second Avenue Stations Are Not Welcoming

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 14:55:40 -0500

The three new Second Avenue subway stations have been praised for being clean, modern, and having great public art. But street buskers aren't finding the stations quite as welcoming. Several have reported that police told them they couldn't perform at those stations.

Marc Orleans, who plays bluegrass on his mandolin, has been busking at subway stations for nearly a decade. This week he was at the 72nd Street station playing with a friend when two officers approached him.

"We'd just started playing and tips started to come in immediately, and two police officers came down the stairs in front of me and immediately told me I was required to have a permit to play here," he said.

Orleans, who's received multiple summonses in the past, whipped out a copy of the MTA's policies and showed highlighted portions to the officer.

"He said, 'Well I could subjectively say that you're blocking movement.' That's when I reached for my camera and said 'I'm going to film this encounter if you don't mind sir?' And then he asked me to strike a deal with him and to go and play upstairs," Orleans said.

The MTA's rules state that artist's performances can't block access to escalators, stairs or elevators or be within 25 feet of a station booth or card machine. And musicians can't use amplification.

“Our officers work to protect the rights of everyone who lawfully uses the transit system – artistic performers and commuters alike,” NYPD Transit Bureau chief Joseph Fox said in a statement. “This often means a balance between protecting the uniquely New York experience performers provide, while at the same time ensuring safe passage for subway riders.”

Orleans said a day after his encounter with the officers he spoke with, one of them was amicable and understanding, and allowed him to play on the subway platform.

Street Artists Say New Second Avenue Stations Are Not Welcoming

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Latest Newscast From the WNYC Newsroom

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 05:34:00 -0500

Latest Newscast From the WNYC Newsroom

Media Files:

A Generation of Young Baracks

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

Barack Tillard's parents were pretty thrilled by the 2008 presidential election.

"Obviously, the first African-American president — we were very, very excited around that time," said Conrad Tillard, adding, "we couldn't think of a better name."

Barack Chad Joseph Tillard, now 7, and a second-grader at St. Luke's School in Manhattan, was born three months after Inauguration Day in 2009. Along with the hope and excitement felt about the country's first black president, his mother, Tamecca Tillard, explained that she connected with the president's personal story. She, too, spent part of her childhood in Hawaii; she is of mixed race; her father is a black Muslim; she also attended Harvard for graduate school. 

And even though Barack's middle name, Joseph, is for a relative, Tamecca said it's also a nod to Vice President Joe Biden. 

"We went for the whole ticket," she said. 

Barack Tillard likes to be known as his own person, but he's still a fan of the president.

"I learned a lot from him from the past — all of my life," Barack said. "I learned to be a leader. And my two parents taught me to be a leader too."

The young Tillard joined a relatively small group of other baby Baracks in New York State: just 6 Baracks were born in 2008, according to the Social Security Administration. Another 5 were born in 2009, including Barack Tillard. 

Nationwide, 52 Baracks were born in 2008, with another 69 were born in 2009. The country welcomed dozens more little Baracks over subsequent years. 


A Generation of Young Baracks

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Why One Brooklyn Community Went for Trump

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

For Alexander Schaechder, 64, an Orthodox Jewish resident of Borough Park, Brooklyn, voting for Trump was an easy choice. "He supports Israel, he supports Jews, and he supports conservative ideas, which is very important for religious life, the way we like to live," he said last week. Schaechder is among the 68 percent of Borough Park, a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, that voted for Donald Trump. Nationally, 71 percent of Jewish voters chose Hillary Clinton. But Schaechder said he couldn't vote for Clinton because of her support for gay marriage. And he's not concerned about Trump supporters who spread anti-Semitic memes and attack Jewish reporters online. "No, no, no, no," he said waving his hands. "I believe he might have some of them, but I'm sure the majority of the supporters are not like that." Barry Spitzer is the district manager of Community Board 12 in Borough Park. He believes many people that voted for Trump weren't aware of the harassment online. "They know it exists, but the details, to how ugly it is really out there, I don't think they really know the extent of it," Spitzer said. "The Orthodox Jewish community, especially the Hasidic community, tend to be more insulated and not really go explore on the web what's out there." Spitzer said he voted for Clinton and that many rabbis supported Clinton as well. Many people interviewed for this story pointed to Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, who is an Orthodox Jew, as proof that Trump would have their interests at heart. Another consideration, according to Professor Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College, is a divide in liberal and conservative Jewish thought. "A major element in the Jewish traditional historical consciousness is that non-Jews are expected to be anti-Semitic," he said. "It's almost excused and expected. It's nothing surprising. It's the more liberal Jews who believe that the western world has become more welcoming. For them this is kind of a rude awakening that there's still politicians who abide if not utilize anti-Semitic sentiments in the population." Cohen said he doesn't believe that Trump is actually anti-Semitic. But Steven Goldstein, the Executive Director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said Trump's recent Tweet in which he asks, "Are we living in Nazi Germany?" in reference to an intelligence report that was leaked to the media, reminded him of the propaganda leading up to Nazi Germany. "It is unmistakable that Donald Trump's rhetoric during the past campaign, which seems to continue as President-elect, is similar to the rhetoric we saw in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, that demonization," Goldstein said. Speaking to the New York Times after the election, Trump said he didn't support the white nationalists that rallied behind him. "I don’t want to energize the group. I’m not looking to energize them. I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group," Trump said. Part of Trump's appeal in Borough Park may also be generational.  A woman named Dubryan, who didn't want to use her full name, said the election divided her family. "The younger generation supported him. My parents were heartbroken that he won. I never saw my father so upset in years. My boys, my husband, they were all for Donald Trump, excited and they wanted him to win."  She didn't cast a vote. "I felt that Trump doesn't have much character, enough character for me to stop what I'm doing and go out and vote for him," she said. "Leaving the house and getting dressed, and taking care of things so I can go out and vote, not worth it." Joel Lebovits, 34, owns a hip, kosher coffee shop in the neighborhood and said he cast a protest vote for Gary Johnson. But admitted that for many of his friends, the horrors of Nazi Germany are distant history.  "We're third-generation Holocaust survivors, but like today...we feel a little safe over her[...]

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Why President Obama Kept Coming to New York

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

Culture, cuisine, and cold hard cash.

Those are three of New York City's biggest draws, and among the major reasons for the 32 trips (maybe more) that Barack Obama made here during his presidency.

Perhaps they're similar to the reasons you visit or even live here. But you probably part company with Obama in not making it your business to be in the city every September to address the United Nations General Assembly. And maybe you're not in the habit of having your supporters — do you even have supporters? — throw you fundraisers that rake in $1.5 million in a night.

Of course a lot of candidates use New York like an ATM. Sarah Kovner, a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee, said the city is the most lucrative stop on a national fundraising circuit that includes big cities like Houston, Atlanta and Chicago. "Candidates will also go to California, maybe to San Francisco and Los Angeles a couple of times," Kovner said. "But for every time they go there, they'll come to New York four or five times."

She and her husband Victor Kovner, a lawyer with a white shoe firm, threw a fundraiser for Obama in their apartment on West 67th Street in 2012. It's a story of white wine, photo ops and bulletproof glass. (Listen for Sarah Kovner’s story about pushing back against one of the Secret Service's demands — and getting her way.)

The president also came to New York to give policy speeches, eat sophisticated food like Kholrabi burritos at Blue Hill restaurant in the West Village, and imbibe high culture with his family. He also buffed his Regular Guy image by cracking jokes with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show and slow-jamming the news on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. There were solemn occasions, too: he attended a memorial service for news anchor Walter Cronkite and laid a wreath at Ground Zero after the death of Osama bin Laden.

The president's comfort with New York, and the affection he received from many New Yorkers, has at times made other Americans suspicious. Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at The Council on Foreign Relations, said this was especially true with Obama's embrace of the United Nations.

"A lot of Americans think of the U.N. as a foreign entity," Patrick said. "And to the degree they associate New York as being cosmopolitan and international, it can be tarred with the same brush as being elitist and out of touch with Main Street, USA."

In other words, the divide that produced the results of the last election.


Why President Obama Kept Coming to New York

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As Officer Prepares to Testify, Graham and Garner Families Unite

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 18:04:45 -0500

Richard Haste, the police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Ramarley Graham, is expected to testify in his own defense at a disciplinary trial this week. An attorney for Haste said he believed Graham had a gun, and that he didn't obey police orders before the shooting.

Graham's family and friends have been attending the trial this week. His mother, Constance Malcolm, said she feels like it's her son who's on trial.

"It hurts me to hear people say my son was running. My son was never running," she said, during a break in the proceedings Wednesday. "He didn't run from nobody. He didn't run from cops...he didn't commit any crime."

Last spring, federal authorities ended their investigation into Graham's case, saying there was "insufficient evidence" to pursue charges. His family is hoping Haste will be fired as a result of this week's trial.

Graham's family is also getting support from others who lost loved ones at the hands of police. Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, joined Malcolm at the trial Wednesday to show support.

"We have to stop this. We have to take a stand," she said. "If we don't speak for our sons, who will?"

Garner was killed after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer. Federal authorities were looking into the case, but with a Donald Trump administration taking over, its future remains unclear.

Carr said she isn't giving up. "I'm just going to remain hopeful that justice will prevail, and we will get a fair decision," she said. "That's all I can do at this point.

As Officer Prepares to Testify, Graham and Garner Families Unite

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With Pending Trump Inauguration, Artists and Cultural Institutions Prepare — and Protest

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:00:00 -0500

As president-elect Donald Trump prepares to be sworn in this Friday, protesters in New York City are planning to challenge his administration and policies through marches and demonstrations. Among those participating are the artists who make up the city’s vast and diverse cultural world. Several hundred have called for an art strike on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017. The J20 Art Strike wants museums, galleries, theaters, nonprofits and schools to close for the day, saying that “business should not proceed as usual in any realm” in order “to combat the normalization of Trumpism." WNYC’s Business and Culture Editor Charlie Herman and Jennifer Vanasco, WNYC’s theater critic, joined Jami Floyd, host of All Things Considered, to review the calls for an art strike and a new commitment to engagement from people in theater. What are some institutions doing? The galleries at the Queens Museum will be closed, but the building will be open to the community from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. for what it's calling “Sign of the Times” where visitors can make posters, buttons, signs and banners that they can use in marches or for other actions (materials will be provided free of charge). “The Queens Museum has a particular relationship to what is happening in the world because of our physical location in Queens and as an institution that has long-term commitment to the immigrant community around the museum,” said Laura Raicovich, the museum’s director. She added that the tone and rhetoric used during the presidential campaign made many in the community feel vulnerable. The museum wants to responds to that and reaffirm its commitment to immigrant rights and equality, she said. The Whitney Museum of American Art will offer pay-what-you-wish on January 20. Special programs that day will “affirm our commitment to open dialogue, civic engagement and the diversity of American art and culture.” Events include guided tours and talks by artists organized by the arts collective Occupy Museums. At the Brooklyn Museum, there will be a marathon reading of the Langston Hughes' poem "Let American Be America Again" from 11 a.m to 6 p.m. Every 30 minutes a different person will read the poem from 1935.  Other institutions implementing a pay-what-you-wish policy include the New Museum, the Museum of Arts and Design (where an exhibit on climate change and coral reef destruction closes on Sunday) and the Rubin Museum of Art which will also host “Swear In, Breathe Out,” a yoga, meditation and live music event. Several galleries, non-profits and other cultural institutions in NYC (and in other parts of the country) have said they will close on Jan. 20. National Sawdust in Brooklyn will present "The Hillary Speeches" at noon, the same time Donald Trump takes the oath of office. This filmed concert performance sets two of Clinton's speeches — when she first announced she was running for President on January 7, 2007, and when she gave her concession speech on November 9, 2017 — to music. It features several classical music and Broadway performers. Seats are first come, first serve. Over at MoMA PS1, artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman's will be in residency with their artist-run political action committee "For Freedoms" starting on January 20 and running through the first 100 days of Trump's presidency. (Hank Willis Thomas spoke to WNYC's Jami Floyd about this project last summer.) How about the theater industry? Theaters around the country have signed on to The Ghostlight Project. On Thursday, January 19, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. local time, theater schools, companies and organizations will gather to "shine a light in the darkness" in all 50 states.  It's not just artists participating. Stage managers, ushers, electricians, dressers, and others crucial t[...]

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WNYC to DC: 'Look, It's Not the End of the World'

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 19:45:10 -0500

It's day two of WNYC's road trip to D.C. On their journey from Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan to the White House, reporters Matt Katz and Arun Venugopal are getting people along the way to share their thoughts about Friday’s presidential inauguration. Day one on the road led them to Paterson, New Jersey, where they spent time with residents in one of the country's largest Muslim and Arab communities.  


Featured speakers include:

  •  Rabbi Ben Kamin who created an interfaith outreach institute called Reconciliation: The Synagogue Without Walls, which is a forum for multiculturalism and inclusiveness in the spirit of MLK.
  • Elie Mystal, an editor for Above the Law, Editor-at-Large for Breaking Media, and the Legal Editor for More Perfect.
  • Joshua Lawrence Lazard, a writer, minister and public intellectual, who offers engaging social and theological commentary that provides a provocative cultural critical awareness.
  • Opal Tometi, a New York-based Nigerian–American writer, strategist and community organizer. Tometi is a Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. She is the Executive Director at Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI).
  • The Rev. Dr. James Alexander Forbes, Jr., highly acclaimed author, scholar and nationally sought-after speaker, affectionately referred to as “The preacher’s preacher” because of his extensive preaching career and his charismatic style.
  • L. Joy Williams, a national political strategist, media thought-leader, social justice advocate and President of the Brooklyn Chapter of the NAACP.
  • Shaun King, an increasingly prominent voice using social media to highlight, amplify, and discuss news of police brutality, racial discrimination, and other civil rights issues.
  • Natalia Aristizabal Betancur, Lead Organizer at Make the Road New York and advocate for immigration reform, LGBTQ rights, and the rights of people of color and undocumented communities.

NJ Juvenile Life Sentences Decision Now Goes to Legislature

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 16:28:44 -0500

A New Jersey Supreme Court decision to halt life sentences for juvenile offenders will now go to the state legislature. 

The ACLU of New Jersey case was brought on behalf of around 60 inmates who were convicted as teens and are serving a defacto life sentence — 70, 80 or even 100 years. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that life sentences for juveniles violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, defacto life sentences have remained in New Jersey.

Alexander Shalom, a senior attorney with the ACLU of New Jersey, says there's been little interest among New Jersey elected leaders to change the sentencing laws. But this week's court decision changes that.

"If the legislature doesn't act or if the legislature acts in such a way that it doesn't do enough, then the courts will have to remain involved in ordering re-sentencing for affected offenders," Shalom said. 

The ACLU is also calling for lawyers to be provided to inmates who received life sentences as juveniles, so they can obtain a reduced sentence. The pool of inmates who are serving defacto life sentences is overwhelmingly black and Latino, according to Shalom. 

A WNYC investigation in 2016 found that juveniles who are tried as adults serve longer sentences, face harsher punishment and are disproportionately black and Latino.

NJ Juvenile Life Sentences Decision Now Goes to Legislature

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City Mourns Detective Steven McDonald, Who Became an International Voice of Peace

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 16:27:17 -0500

A New York City police detective who became famous after publicly forgiving the teenage gunman who left him paralyzed 30 years ago was remembered at a funeral service at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Friday.

Thousands of police officers, dignitaries, friends, family and others inspired by McDonald's compassion attended. Eulogies were given by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner James O'Neill, and McDonald's son Conor.

McDonald was on the force for less than two years when he was shot in the line of duty by a 15-year-old gunman in Central Park in 1986. Months later, at Conor's baptism, he forgave the gunman in a statement read by his wife Patti.

Initially, doctors did not expect McDonald to survive. But he went on to become a man many called a messenger of peace and forgiveness, often speaking locally and even internationally, in places like Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

McDonald set a strong example of the power of compassion for fellow officers. Officer Merritt Reilly met McDonald after the detective had reached out offering help to his partner, who had lost his son. Reilly said McDonald kept in touch to offer help.

"He always cared about everybody else but himself," Reilly said. "Always put others first."

Reilly said McDonald made him want to do better, too.

"As cops, we get hardened to people around us, you know, or the bad things that go on out on the street," he said. "Just being around him, you just looked for a way to find the good in people."

Others, including Deputy Inspector Ernest Morales III, Commanding Officer of the 42nd Precinct, likewise admired McDonald's capacity for forgiveness and what he called his enduring strength despite his injuries.

"Definitely a special individual, someone who inspired you to always do the best," Morales said. "He never let his handicap get in his way, and always inspired hope and forgiveness."

That message carried on to many around him. Friends like Colleen Guidarelli said he was always willing to help those in need. "He's the most kindest, giving, sincerest person I have ever met," she said. "To me he is a saint."

McDonald died Tuesday at 59, shortly after being hospitalized for a heart attack.

His son Conor is currently a sergeant with the NYPD.

City Mourns Detective Steven McDonald, Who Became an International Voice of Peace

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She Loves Herself When She's Laughing, and Then Again When She's Looking Mean and Impressive

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 15:50:01 -0500

This story was excerpted from an essay by Rebecca Carroll featured in the new collection, The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady, edited by Veronica Chambers. The minute Michelle Obama rolled up to the podium at the 2008 Democratic National Convention wearing that cool mint-green dress, hair laid to the gods, demonstrating what would become her trademark unflinching poise and ineffable ease, it was quite clear that she did not come to play. And some months later, as televised footage of the inauguration of President Barack Obama captures instances when Obama appears more taken with his wife than with the fact that he has just become the country’s first black president, her magnific influence and his gratitude for it is all but palpable. Michelle Obama is everything a Black man raised by a white single mother in Hawaii needed. She is everything a country with an utterly disgraceful history of emotional and physical violence against Black women should champion and elevate. And I would argue that she represents at least 60 percent of what America will miss most about the Obama presidency. It would be easy here, and a thousand other times over the past eight years, to trot out the “behind every great man is a great woman” trope, or the “strong Black woman” and “Black superwoman” stereotypes. In truth, though, what Michelle Obama did as First Lady of the United States was take the strong Black woman stereotype and laugh, then kick its ass and tell it to move on out of her way. You see, as she and the President like to say, Michelle Obama has no use for stereotypes or tropes—because they stunt intellectual growth, leave no room for imagination, and are antithetical to the power of hard work, individual strength and self- determination. And if FLOTUS and the President are about anything, it’s about the platform of self-determination. As indomitable as she is today, as a young girl, like most girls and perhaps in particular most young black girls, Michelle did not always lead with confidence. She has admitted to feeling “tangled up in fears and doubts that were entirely of my own creation” when she was a student in high school, and spending too much time worried about her hair and her looks, and what other kids might be saying about her. She has mentioned teachers who openly underestimated her intelligence and prospects to succeed. The beauty, though, of having created her own fears and doubts, is the way in which she has effectively, even casually, decimated them along her path to Princeton, then Harvard Law School, as a successful corporate lawyer, and as a prominent badass in the public sector. Self-determination is not a mysterious thing—but Michelle makes it seem like it is. For a kid who grew up on the South Side of Chicago with a big brother to trail behind and working-class parents to make proud for their sacrifices, her will and character and complete lack of cynicism are woven throughout her life like threads of magical realism. We can all imagine little girl Michelle in school, working hard and being brave, as the notion evokes almost on cue images of Ruby Bridges and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, alone in the white world of newly integrated schools. But it gets harder to envision when you think about young woman Michelle at Princeton and Harvard in the 1980s—set in between the Black Is Beautiful 70s and the Living Single era of the 90s. Somewhere along the line, she walked into the light and got the hell over. I marvel at the thought of how my own little brown self would have been influenced growing up with Michelle Obama in the White House. The little brown me, adopted into a white family, surround[...]

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Sidney Lumet Looks Back

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 15:00:00 -0500

Sidney Lumet started his career as a child actor in New York’s Yiddish theater and became one of the most prolific filmmakers of his generation, with classics such as “12 Angry Men,” “Serpico” and “Network.” In 2008, he sat for an expansive and probing interview with filmmaker Daniel Anker. After both men passed away, director Nancy Buirski took over the project to interweave Lumet’s reflections with iconic scenes from his films for the documentary “By Sidney Lumet.” It's streaming free this month as part of PBS’s American Masters series.

— Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen

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


Sidney Lumet Looks Back

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Syria Supper Club: Reaching Out to Refugees, One Dinner at a Time

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 13:34:00 -0500

The fireplace is on. A couple of westies are running around excitedly. And two tables are set in the dining room. The dinner party on this brisk Saturday night in December in Maplewood, NJ, has a distinctly foreign flare: Chicken shawarma and falafel are on the menu. And while the conversation includes typical talk about work — it also deals with war.  "Every day is becoming terrible," explains Hayder Alqaysi, who fled Baghdad with his mother and sister. "You understand what I mean? I cannot live there." This is what is known as Syria Supper Club, in which Muslim refugees from Syria and Iraq join groups of mostly Jewish New Jerseyans for dinners that are part fundraiser, part cultural exchange. Women from the refugee families cook the elaborate feasts; the Americans host the meals. In January alone, 14 meals are scheduled, all with different cooks. Hosting this week is Kate McCaffrey, a member of Montclair's Bnai Keshet synagogue, which has organized various efforts to help refugees from Syria and Iraq acclimate to the New Jersey community. "This refugee project really came out of a sense of outrage over the refugee crisis last summer," said McCaffrey, an anthropology professor at Montclair State University. "I was reading the news and it was so upsetting, seeing all these people at sea, drowning at sea, and feeling our country was doing nothing. I reached out to the rabbi and said: 'What are we doing?'" Among the first unique actions taken by McCaffrey and her partner on this project, Melina Macall, was a Christmas Eve dinner that Bnai Keshet hosted in 2015 in which Syrian Muslims and New Jersey Jews feasted on the traditional American Jewish Christmas meal of Chinese food.  The synagogue later hired one Syrian woman to cater monthly Saturday lunches after Shabbat services — now, there is talk of her catering Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. It's that talent for cooking among many of the Syrian women who have settled in places like Paterson and Elizabeth that inspired the Syria Supper Club idea: How about these women cook dinners at Americans' homes, enabling them to meet their new neighbors while making some much-needed money in the process? "We have multiple objectives to this. One part is to fundraise," McCaffrey says. Attendees sign up online and pay $50 to attend the meal. The money goes to the Syrian cooks so they can buy the food — then, the women keep the rest. Given the difficulty their husbands have had in finding work in New Jersey and the limited resources provided by the federal government and charitable organizations, the funds are critically helpful. "But I think in addition to that we are providing some affirmation of their talents, of their capabilities, of their humanity in a political climate where they’ve been demonized. And for the guests it’s an opportunity to get outside their bubble to meet people different from them."  When dinner is served, the Syrian women sit down and eat with the guests, often along with other refugees who have become friends with the organizers. Language barriers are overcome with laughter, Google Translate and volunteer translators — tonight, it's Mazooz Sehwail, an Arabic professor at Montclair State University. It took three days for the cook on this night, Khlood Al Nabelsi, to prepare a delicious banquet-style Syrian dinner. The presentation, with ornately-cut vegetables and spices sprinkled in a pattern on top of the hummus, makes dinner guests gasp as they gather around the table and introduce themselves. "My name Khlood, from Syria," Al Nabelsi says. "Me, happy. I am happy for cooking." Dinner guests tell Al Nabels[...]

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Hot Pink Yarn is a Hot Commodity Right Now

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 12:18:50 -0500

If you're in market for pink yarn these days, you might be out of luck.

While the country prepares for next week's presidential inauguration, many women are getting ready for the marches planned for the day after by knitting bright pink hats with cat ears as part of the "Pussyhat Project."

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News outlets around the country are reporting yarn sellers are running out of pink, which the project organizers determined as the required color. In New York, Downtown Yarns in the East Village is running low on the color everybody wants.

"We have definitely a lack of pink yarn, especially hot pink," said Rita Bobry, the shop's owner. "We have people who are getting a little bit choosy about it, which is making it a little bit harder. I think it sort of defeats the purpose of it, personally."

On the Upper West Side, Knitty City has also had trouble keeping pink yarn in stock.

Nancy Ricci, who works at the store and leads its weekly Pussyhat knitalongs, said they had completely run out — but on Thursday, "we got five boxes of pink yarn in all shades of pink."

That translates to about 300 skeins, which sounds like a lot, "but it goes really really fast," Ricci said. "This morning we had a huge run of people that bought pink yarn."

Women's marches are planned in D.C., New York, and cities around the country next Saturday Jan. 21.

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Funeral Set for Paralyzed Detective Who Forgave Shooter

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 07:29:41 -0500

Funeral services are set for a New York City police officer known for publicly forgiving a teenage gunman who, in 1986, left him paralyzed from the neck down.

The funeral for Detective Steven McDonald is planned for Friday morning at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

The 59-year-old McDonald died on Tuesday, 30 years after robbery suspect Shavod Jones shot him in Central Park. The officer publicly forgave his assailant and went on to become an international voice for peace.

McDonald had spoken of his hope that Jones would join him on speaking tours. But shortly after Jones' release from prison in 1995, he died in a motorcycle accident.

Review: Remembering the Tenth Street Galleries

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

Can we ever go back to Tenth Street? Probably not. I refer not to a specific place but to a vanished era in New York’s cultural history, a romantic time when the art scene was still centered in Greenwich Village. This was in the mid-1950s, when rent was cheap and the concept of the art market had nothing to do with American art. The main art galleries, up on Fifty-seventh Street, favored pedigreed French landscapes and portraits. Desperate to show their work, New York artists began opening galleries in nothing-special spaces along Tenth Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues. The Tanager Gallery was across the street from the Brata; the Hansa was around the corner. Now we have an exhibition about exhibitions. “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965,” at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, offers a piquant and all-important chronicle of the years before the art world became its current investment-crazed self. Curated by Melissa Rachleff, the show is an energetic and even exuberant mix of 200 works by nearly as many artists who belonged to some 14 galleries, all but one of which were located downtown. You can go through the show seeing it as a history of a defunct gallery scene; or you can see it instead an as alternative history of the painting and sculpture of the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Either way it will broaden your understanding of an era that tends to be packaged by our major museums as the story of Jackson Pollock & Company. To be sure, Abstract Expressionism dominates here, much as it does in the official version of post-war art. The show is nothing if not inordinately smeary. Walking through the first few rooms, you’re transported to the era when brushstrokes were regarded as sacrosanct – or rather, as a token of an artist’s most authentic self. Sculpture, in the meantime, was tipping towards the found object and everyday detritus: assemblage and collage proliferated. Some of the artists in the current show, such as Alex Katz, Louise Nevelson and James Rosenquist, went on to have large, influential careers. But others were not so fortunate. Their reputations peaked in the ‘50s and, after that, they seemed to disappear. Many of them were women artists who perhaps fell prey to an unfair system. Sari Dienes, for instance, made beautiful and original drawings from rubbings of sewer grids and manhole covers; they infuse the pristine forms of abstraction with a sooty urbanity. Jean Follett is also among the standouts in the show. It is rewarding to see her assemblages, in which light switches and metal nails and other hardware-store purchases are arranged into poetic tableaux. Jane Wilson contributes an evocative portrait of the painter Jane Freilicher. The exhibition is spread out over two floors, and the basement is reserved for a handful of artists who exhibited at Richard Bellamy’s fabled Green Gallery – the only gallery in the show that was never downtown. It opened on Fifty-seventh Street. It received a jolt of attention last year with the publication “Eye of the Sixties,” an engrossing biography of Bellamy by Judith Stein. Clearly, we are seeing a new interest in excavating the history of New York’s historic galleries. This is a welcome development, and the catalogue for the current exhibition, published by Delmonico Books/Prestel, is first-rate. To read it is to be reminded of all that galleries have contributed to the culture of New York – and of all they stand to lose with the rise of the icky global phenomenon of art fairs.   "HPFS," (c. 1953) b[...]

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Is 2017 The Year New York Election Law Makes The Grade?

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

The way New York runs its elections is facing scrutiny. One day after the Justice Department intervened in a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Elections for breaking federal law, a good government group is grading New York on the health of its state election law. In report to be released Friday, Common Cause New York gave the state a D-minus for election administration — not quite a failing grade, but barely a passing one. The grade is based on the group’s analysis of how well the state meets the reform recommendations made by a bipartisan presidential commission appointed after the 2012 election. It also compares New York to other states and examines what bills state legislators have introduced — and how many fail to make it out of committee. “[Lawmakers] are not at all dealing with the demands of 21st century elections,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. The report lists the 19 recommendations made by Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which includes things like electronic poll books and early voting. Neither of those things are currently allowed in New York, even though some state legislators have introduced bills to change that. Lerner said there are real consequences when legislators fail to modernize elections. “It's one of the reasons we believe New York has such a low voter turnout. The voters got the message: election law isn't about them,” said Lerner. There was a glimmer of good news on the reform front this week in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first of six State of the State speeches. “We still have an electoral system that protects the prerogatives of politicians at the expense of voters,” said Cuomo, echoing good government advocates' critique of the state’s elections. To correct that imbalance, he proposed early voting, and automatic and same-day voter registration, “because we should do everything we can to actually get people to vote,” Cuomo said during his address in New York City. (He never mentioned election reform in his five other speeches.) But Cuomo is not the only one talking up real election reform this session. State lawmakers have introduced versions of these bills year after year. And State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has pledged to push a package of legislation after his office investigated the problem-plagued April primary. So maybe it's finally the year New York Election Law makes a better grade. NYSElectionLawReport_FINALcorrected by Brigid Bergin on Scribd frameborder="0" height="600" scrolling="no" src="" width="100%" class="scribd_iframe_embed" id="doc_52406" data-auto-height="false" data-aspect-ratio="0.7729220222793488"> [...]Is 2017 The Year New York Election Law Makes The Grade?

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Could Trump Administration Undo Toxic Passaic River Fix?

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

The Trump Administration is expected to bring radical change to the Environmental Protection Agency, and New Jersey is more vulnerable than many states. It has 105 Superfund sites — the largest number in the country. One of those toxic cleanup projects is the lower 17 miles of the Passaic River, which runs from Garfield to Newark. In the 1950s and 60s, the herbicide Agent Orange was made by the Diamond Alkali company along the river's banks in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood. The river is now contaminated with dioxin, one of the most deadly chemicals known to man. The Passaic River was declared a Superfund site in 1984, and after three decades of wrangling, the EPA is holding the companies responsible for polluting the river to pay for its cleanup, and it’s going to cost billions. “These industries know that very very well, and they’ve mounted a very forceful opposition to doing a straight-forward cleanup,” says Ana Baptista, who grew up three blocks from the Passaic. Her mother brought her along to protests over environmental problems in the neighborhood, and she’s been fighting ever since. Three companies are responsible for the dioxin in the river, and another 65 or so are being held liable for dumping other pollutants, including PCBs and lead paint. They include huge corporations like Benjamin Moore, General Electric, Honeywell, Monsanto and Occidental Chemical, along with many smaller companies. The EPA files contain thousands of letters from lawyers representing the companies involved, as they tried to deny their involvement, or propose cheaper solutions, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. During this same period,  the companies waged a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign. They offered to fund parks in the towns along the river to gain endorsements of a cheaper solution. They created a program that offers free fresh fish in exchange for anything caught in the Passaic River. The companies also complained to Republican members of Congress, who then held hearings on whether the Superfund program was unfairly targeting the companies. “So you start to see that that there's something else going on, right?” Baptista said. “That there's another effort afoot that is not just ‘lets see what the best solution is.’” The companies proposed alternatives such as growing plants in the river bed that would transform the dioxin into something else. But Baptista says they couldn’t produce actual research to show any of their plans would work. But this past March, after years of community meetings, negotiations with the companies and research, the EPA issued what it calls a record of decision, a binding document that specifies which remedy the companies will be required to use to clean up the Passaic. “I think it’s safe to say they were very unhappy with the decisions we rendered,” says Walter Mugdon, the EPA’s director of superfund sites in New York and New Jersey. The agency is requiring the companies to remove 4 million cubic yards of toxic mud at the bottom of the river from bank to bank. “This is actually one of the big disagreements we had with the responsible parties,” Mugdon said. “They felt it would be satisfactory to just select some areas that they might characterize as hot spots, dig those out or cover them over, and then wait five or ten years and see how it works.” Following the record of decision, two of the three companies responsible for the dioxin contamination decl[...]

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Black Life and Death in the Age of Obama

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

This story is is adapted from a longer version that originally appeared in The Nation's special issue, "The Obama Years." Any history of black people in America will have to look closely at the year 2014. In a cascading series of events that summer, the racial landscape that the nation’s first black president leaves behind—the worst and the best of it—began to take shape. Historians won’t have to look hard to find the worst: On July 17, Eric Garner died after a New York Police Department officer put him in an illegal choke hold. Three weeks later, a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, killed Michael Brown. Black death has led the news ever since—from Freddie Gray in Baltimore to Sandra Bland in Texas to Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Today, Confederate battle flags fly over victory rallies for the president-elect, a man who campaigned on restoring respect for law and order in the face of those who protested that these lives mattered. But historians will have to look more closely for evidence of what is arguably Obama’s signature contribution to racial equity in America—one that may not even exist a year from now. There are no familiar names to shorthand this achievement, but here’s one that could work: Robert Woodard, a middle-aged black man I met in the lobby of Newark’s Beth Israel Hospital in April of 2014. He was in a jocular mood, eager to make friends with total strangers and full of the kind of hope that Obama often inspires. Robert told me his best guess is that he had his first heart attack in 2003. He knows he survived seven more after that, because he has the bills to remind him. “All I do when I get them bills…I just stack it,” he said. Robert is a New Jersey native, but he’d spent most of the last 30 years in North Carolina, where he worked in a convenience store without any health insurance. After each heart attack, he left the emergency room and went back to work instead of going to see a doctor. He was stuck in a catch-22 familiar to the working poor: If he quit his job, he’d qualify for disability and thus for public health insurance, but North Carolina’s paltry disability benefits weren’t enough to support him. So he kept working, even without insurance—and kept having heart attacks. That was his life for more than a decade, and by the time his brother convinced him to move back home, he needed major heart surgery. Luckily for Robert, soon after his return to New Jersey, the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid kicked in, at least in the 32 states that have been willing to participate thus far. North Carolina wasn’t among them; New Jersey was, and that meant Robert could afford a new heart. Neither President Obama nor his detractors saw political advantage in discussing the Affordable Care Act as an antipoverty or racial-justice program, but it is both of these things, and among the most ambitious versions of either since the Johnson administration. Between the January 2014 launch of new coverage options and Michael Brown’s death that August, the nation’s public-insurance program for the working poor grew by roughly 7 million people. As of this summer, it had gone up by more than 10 million. The Affordable Care Act overall has likely saved hundreds of thousands of black lives, and it has certainly produced one of the most significant advances in racial equity on record: By the end of 2014, in just one year’s time, it had entirely erased the disparity in health coverage b[...]Black Life and Death in the Age of Obama

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Code H: How One Brooklyn Hospital Runs Drills to Improve Maternal Health

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

“Doctor, the patient just delivered, and she started bleeding, and I don’t know what to do. Today’s my first day.” Dr. Allison David runs in to take over. She begins asking questions about the timing of the delivery, the size of the baby, vital signs. Blood pours onto pads on the floor. David calls for medications and a special ‘balloon’ to reduce bleeding,’ but the situation quickly becomes worse. The patient is becoming faint. David makes the call. “You’re bleeding entirely too much,” she says to the mother, before turning to an assistant. “This is fourth baby, correct? We’re going to take this uterus out.” As she preps for emergency surgery, David questions another colleague, Dr. Fouad Atallah. And that’s enough to break the spell. “Is that it?” Atallah says. “Okay — cut!” “Literally!” chimes in a medical resident, and the others laugh. The simulation drill for severe hemorrhage was over, and the senior doctors debriefed David about what went well and what didn’t. They tested her skill at estimating blood loss, which is crucial to determining whether the patient needs a blood transfusion or emergency surgery. Dr. Nelli Fisher, the director of simulation, pointed out that while David appropriately asked for backup from other personnel outside the room, she neglected to call “Code H,” with H for hemorrhage. “It tells exactly who needs to come without you needing to ask for specific people,” Fisher said. Six doctors, nurses and residents get immediately paged, and 11 other phone calls go out, when a Code H is called. Exercises like this are a key part of what keep deliveries relatively safe at Maimonides, while women in other Brooklyn hospitals — several not far away — face much higher rates of life-threatening complication. Maimonides’ patients don’t have the highest level of chronic illness that other facilities face but, with about three-quarters of the obstetric patients on Medicaid, it doesn’t have the healthiest population, either. Maimonides had a hemorrhage-with-transfusion rate of 22 cases per 10,000 in 2013-2014, the most recent years available, according to state figures. The median among the state’s large hospitals was around 70 but at some nearby hospitals the rates, staggeringly, were in the hundreds. These statistics are ‘risk-adjusted’ to reflect the underlying health issues of the hospitals’ patient populations, so they can’t just claim their labor and delivery ward receive more chronically ill mothers with diabetes, hypertension and asthma. A New York City Health Department analysis declared central Brooklyn the epicenter of potentially fatal childbirth complications, or what public health experts call Severe Maternal Morbidity. Maimonides has several advantages over nearby hospitals, and not just because its local community is somewhat healthier. It delivers more babies than any other hospital in New York State, about 8,500 annually. With that many births, the staff gets a lot of practice on emergencies, even without being a referral center for high-risk patients. The high volume also justifies keeping on staff a number of specialists who would be too costly for smaller places to employ for relatively infrequent use. Severe hemorrhage is one of several complications that many hospitals in New York have been trying to reduce. Most are participating in a “Safe Motherhood Initiative,” sponsored by the state chapt[...]

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Justice Department Says City Board of Elections Violated Federal Law in Brooklyn Voter Purge

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 15:21:00 -0500

The United States Department of Justice is taking on the New York City Board of Elections for improperly purging nearly 120,000 Brooklyn voters before the April 2016 presidential primary. In a motion filed in federal court Thursday, the DOJ claims the Board violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 when it removed those voters from the rolls.   It's the first time federal authorities have taken a position on the purge, which was first reported by WNYC on the eve of the primary vote in April. Numerous elected officials and advocates had requested federal intervention since. The case was originally filed in federal court in Brooklyn last November on behalf of the good government group Common Cause, which advocates for individuals' voting rights, along with two named plaintiffs. Lawyers for the plaintiffs also sought intervention from the Justice Department, citing WNYC's reporting. The suit challenges the Board’s removal of voters from the registration rolls in violation of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. The law prohibits removing voters from the rolls unless the person has failed to vote in two successive federal elections and has failed to respond to a notice from the Board indicating that their registration will be cancelled. The government said that some voters had in fact voted in prior elections, and in other cases the notice itself was improperly handled.   WNYC reported that the board mysteriously purged 120,000 Brooklyn voters from the rolls prior to the hotly contested primary between Hillary Clinton and challenger Bernie Sanders last April. The board then said it would reinstate those voters in time for last summer's congressional primaries and the fall general election for president. WNYC also reported that the purge disproportionately affected Latino voters in Brooklyn's 7th Congressional district. Elected officials and advocates cited the station's reporting in their complaints to the federal government and the court. They also argued that more voters may have been improperly purged on other dates, and that the problem persists. The original court case describes the situation of two foreign service workers, Benjamin Buscher and Sean Hennessey, the two named plaintiffs, who keep a permanent residence in Brooklyn while they work overseas for the State Department. In October of 2016, both men applied for absentee ballots to vote in the general election, according to the complaint. When those absentee ballots did not arrive, they contacted the Kings County Board of Elections Office and were told that their registrations were no longer valid and that they had missed the deadline to update their registration. The plaintiffs contacted the nonprofit Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, which learned that the Board had removed the plaintiffs more than two years before. The case was brought on behalf of the plaintiffs by the Lawyers Committee along with LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the law firm Dechert LLP. Four additional named plaintiffs have been added to the lawsuit. In the motion filed Thursday, the DOJ mades public for the first time results of its own investigation of the city Board of Elections, including how the board staff flagged 122,000 voters for deletion throughout 2014 but never sent notices to the voters until May 2015. It also said the Board's staff in the central office sent the notices to voters, suggesting this is m[...]

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Kids in Prison: NJ Supreme Court Halts Life Sentences

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 14:21:00 -0500

The New Jersey Supreme Court is closing a loophole that had allowed juvenile offenders to spend their whole lives in prison. 

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed life in prison for young people, there are still a number of juveniles in New Jersey serving defacto life sentences. A WNYC investigation found several young men who are serving very long sentences — including one serving 100 years. The series also found racial disparities in which juveniles are tried as adults, which leads to longer and harsher punishment.

The state court ruling will require New Jersey to shorten the sentences of those in prison and stop defacto life sentences from being meted out going forward. The case was brought by the ACLU of New Jersey on behalf a group of men serving long sentences.

“We are thrilled that the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized that routinely condemning children to die in prison is unconstitutional, no matter what we call it," said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “This decision is a watershed moment for the rights of juveniles nationally and an important step in ending mass incarceration in New Jersey." 

The men represented in the ACLU case will now be able to go before a judge and argue for an earlier release. 

Kids in Prison: NJ Supreme Court Halts Life Sentences

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Moms Share What They Wish They Had Known About Childbirth

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 11:00:00 -0500

For the WNYC series, What Hospitals Deliver, we asked moms for thoughts on their delivery experience, particularly what would have been good to know ahead of the big day.  To start — in case you have not heard, contractions, while painful, won’t feel totally unfamiliar. I wish I had known...that the feeling you have is that of doing a massive poop! — Radha from Murray Hill (And by the way, you might poop while you’re pushing if you’re having a vaginal delivery. It’s totally normal.) It can be hard to know when to go into the hospital. Early labor with its irregular contractions can last for hours or days. Some moms said they felt they went in too early: I wish I had known that it was better to labor for a while at home and not rush to the hospital straight away with my first, but it was all so overwhelming and exciting and terrifying. — Sarah from Inwood You should of course talk with your health provider about when to go to the hospital. But your home is generally more comfortable. As some explained:I wish I had known how many people would be coming in and out of the room [at the hospital]. You are at your most vulnerable — exhausted, naked, and in pain — and all of these new people keep coming in and out of your room. It can really mess up the vibe, when stress is the enemy of productive childbirth. — Mary Elizabeth from Prospect Lefferts Garden I wish I had known how invasive monitoring can feel. — Sarah from Harlem Monitoring usually requires the expectant mom to wear a fetal heart rate monitor around her belly and, to get an accurate reading, mom isn’t supposed to move a lot. A dropped or missing heart rate will usually prompt a nurse to rush in. That monitoring, and active labor itself, could go on for many hours — or it could be less than an hour. Pain is completely different when you're being induced….There was no gradual come-on of labor symptoms when I had my water broken. It all happened at once, and it hurt so bad. — Maliyka from Bed Stuy Even though the delivery resulted in a healthy baby, some women had some regrets about how they delivered, particularly if it was by C-section, a major surgical procedure in which the baby is removed directly from the uterus. I wish that I hadn't been so set on a natural birth. I felt so guilty for a long time that my body had failed me when it really wasn't my fault. — Gwynne from Windsor Terrace C-sections usually cost much more than a vaginal delivery and requires a longer recovery, typically four to six weeks. And despite the growing national rate of C-sections, there’s been very little improvement in overall outcomes. I wish I had known how harrowing a C-section really, truly is. It is a major abdominal surgery that takes a minimum of 6 weeks to heal. Because I never really believed I would have to have a C-section to deliver my son, I did very little research. — Judith from Midwood But sometimes surgery is necessary, so it’s good to learn about its implications. Never in a film or a television program that I’ve ever seen do they have a woman having a C-section. — Eisa from Fort Greene After delivery, some moms wished hospital providers had done a better job telling them what happened to the baby. I wish they would be more explicit about what they do with the baby once it’s born. I didn't feel I was the person making decisio[...]

All New Jersey Roads Lead to Bridgegate

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agreed this week to pay a $400,000 fine for using its funds to rebuild the Pulaski Skyway. The settlement with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission follows an investigation into the use of Port Authority funds for a New Jersey road that is not connected to the agency's bridges or tunnels. 

The Port Authority used money from the canceled ARC Tunnel project, which was eliminated by Gov. Chris Christie in 2010. It was part of the $1.8 billion diversion of federal funds from the proposed Hudson train tunnel to highway construction. 

"In the course of our reporting on Bridgegate in early 2014, we discovered that Gov. Christie had effectively used the Port Authority as the state’s piggy bank for all sorts of projects," WNYC's Nancy Solomon told host Richard Hake. 

Also this week, Charles McKenna, the governor's chief counsel at the time of the Pulaski deal, was appointed to another top job in the administration. 

"He’s an intriguing guy who had a role in the Bridgegate coverup," Solomon said. 



All New Jersey Roads Lead to Bridgegate

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Despite Vision Zero Progress, City Fails to Make Arrests in Two Thirds of Fatal Hit-and-Run Crashes

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 19:06:41 -0500

Mayor de Blasio celebrated a new Vision Zero milestone on Wednesday. Last year, the city recorded the fewest traffic deaths in its history.

In total, there were 229 traffic deaths in 2016 — down 23 percent since the mayor took office. 

But advocates raised concern about other numbers. City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens said hit-and-run crash numbers and arrests are a "gaping hole in the Vision Zero story."

In more than 5,000 hit-and-run crashes in fiscal 2016 where someone was injured, the NYPD made arrests 8 percent of the time. In 38 cases where someone died, the NYPD made arrests 34 percent of the time.

Van Bramer sees it another way, "Two thirds of the people who kill another human being with their car and leave the scene of the accident are never arrested."

"Two-thirds," he repeated for emphasis.

And this year is off to a troubling start when it comes to traffic deaths, according to Brian Zumhagen, a spokesman for the traffic safety advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.

So far, ten people were killed in the first ten days of the year. That includes two fatal hit-and-run crashes. An arrest has been made in one of the cases.

"In 2017, the city needs to take urgent action to end the scourge of drivers leaving crash scenes," said Zumhagen. "We need more thorough NYPD hit-and-run investigations, and more consistent and equitable traffic enforcement, including speed safety cameras to deter speeding and protect vulnerable pedestrians and bicyclists."

Mayoral spokesman Austin Finan called hit-and-run crashes, "serious, unacceptable crimes."

"Which is why the police department investigates every reported case and works hard to make arrests, including dispatching members of its Collision Investigation Squad for all instances where an individual is seriously injured or killed," said Finan.

The NYPD’s CIS squad is not deployed in every hit-and-run crash. Of the 45,000 hit-and-run crashes recorded by the NYPD, 90 percent involve only property damage.

Arrests are made in less than one percent of those cases.

Despite Vision Zero Progress, City Fails to Make Arrests in Two Thirds of Fatal Hit-and-Run Crashes

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Are Tax Liens Too Punitive?

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 18:31:26 -0500

When a homeowner falls behind on their taxes or water bill, the city sells the debt. Private companies buy it and add fees and jack up interest rates which can lead to property owners losing their homes.

Public advocate Leticia James is concerned that these debt sales seem to be happening primarily in low-income neighborhoods. She attended a City Council finance committee hearing on Wednesday, and asked the city's Finance Commissioner, Jacques Jiha, about the practice of profiting off of debt and foreclosures.

The City Council is considering new legislation to curb this, while still enforcing tax payments.

The legislation would lower the interest rate on outstanding debts from 9 percent to 6 percent. It would also require more aggressive outreach to delinquent homeowners.

Are Tax Liens Too Punitive?

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