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Last updated:
Nov 21, 2014.

Auto-Free New York Glossary

We present here a miscellaneous glossary of subjects related to NYC, urban transportation, environmentalism, car chaos, etc. We try to focus on those topics that are totally market-censored or else distorted by misinformation provided by the city's corporate-owned media. We hope our presentation will enable our visitors to "connect the dots" to see better the reality of a world dominated by automobiles and the "take-no-prisoners" automotive, greed-based perspective of most establishment journalism. We welcome comments and corrections (background documentation required). New or recently updated items are marked as such.

Table of Contents    
Albany (last update 12/8/13)
Boston's Big Dig
CAFE Standards for cars
Andrew Card
Cars and Crime
Cars and Literature
Car Huggers
Catalytic Converters
Central Park
Dollar Vans
EZ-Pass and Big Brother new
Global Warming
Highway Noise Barriers for NYC
Hit-and-Run Drivers are Here to Stay
Iraqi Oil Ministry
Kyoto Global Warming Treaty
Lexus Lanes
Light Rail Transit
Nascar Dads
Nascar's Already Here!
NPR's "Car Talk"
Oil Spills
Pinata (great for kids)
Quality of Life in NYC (pending)
Queens' Boulevard of Death
Real Estate in NYC
Snow in the City updated
Tire Dumps
Transportation Bigotry, NYC Media last update 12/8/13

Albany: the Nation's Most Dysfunctional Capital
Perhaps nothing could serve to check New York's over-emphasis on automobile usage in the city than if the governors of NY and NJ could be forced to work together on major new public transportation investments and regional planning. Unfortunately, hard-rightwing NJ Governor Chris Christie, scheming for the Presidency in 2016, has clearly signaled an end to transit investments and to interstate cooperation, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, an avowed car hobbyist and also scheming for the Presidency, has kept an extremely low profile about city regional transit planning, or for that matter, anything about public transit.

Then there's the troika who actually run the state - Dean Skelos, Shelly Silver and Andrew Cuomo, so entrenched that even a handful of genuine reformers elected to the State Senate and Assembly in the past ten years or so are powerless. [In June 2008, Joe Bruno, a wealthy estate owner under indictment, finally resigned as Speaker of the State Senate, after some 14 years. He was quickly replaced by State Senator Dean Skelos, a Republican from the Long Island suburbs.] For NYC, the strongest leg of this unrepresentational 3-man gov't has to be the governor. The hundreds of politicians who fill the State Assembly and State Senate, some even genuinely reform-minded, are mostly powerless and faceless in the face of this troika. With NYC facing year after year of the worst smog on the East Coast, massive transit fare hikes, severely lopsided subway expansion, a tottering Tappan Zee bridge and many other severe transit problems, we predict little change here in the immediate future for state transportation policies towards NYC.

Boston's "Big Dig"
This titanic highway expansion project in Boston, approved for federal funding in 1987 over then-President Reagan's veto, replaced an obnoxious 1950s-era six-lane elevated highway in Boston's East End with a whopping-big 14-lane underground highway, a surface boulevard, an extension of the Mass Turnpike thru a tunnel to the airport, two new highway bridges to the north, and some modest green space downtown. Originally promised at $3 billion, its budget, according to a July 2008 state analysis, ballooned to a remarkable $22 billion, in essence a lucrative perpetual jobs program for suburbanite-dominated construction unions. The NY Times even admitted this, earlier mumbling in a back-page Real Estate column (Sept. 14, 1994) a quote by Joseph Nigro, a construction trades council spokesman: "If we didn't have this, the industry would be a disaster area." Banks, of course, are also big winners - some $7 billion of that $22 billion pricetag are interest charges!

We're all for labor unions having steady work, but a highways-only project like this in the long run is going to prove as much a mistake as the original elevated highway, which bulldozed acres of downtown Boston, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and encouraged tens of thousands of people to abandon public transportation and take to their cars, creating new generations of suburban sprawl, traffic, smog, crashes, etc. The unions could have been put to work on a much smaller highway system, and at the same time creating new concentric light rail lines throughout the region, allowing for suburb-to-suburb travel, complementing the region's existing radial transit lines and giving many more people genuine transportation choices.

The Big Dig's main selling point was to be new green space in the highly valuable East End's private real estate market, once the elevated road is gone. But its real raison-d'etre -- more than doubling the highway lanes through that part of Boston -- was to make room for a lot more cars. This will instigate a second generation of cars-only suburban sprawl development throughout a much greater part of eastern New England. But existing suburbs outside of Boston are already reeling from the traffic problems and economic cleansing that happens with typical minimal-planning sprawl development (see Boston Globe Sunday Magazine cover story (June 16, 2002): "Suburbia's new Frontier -- Hopkinton (MA) surges from farm town to boomtown, but at what cost? by Anthony Flint)

Any rail at all in the Big Dig? Architecture critic Jane Holtz Kay, in a 9/20/02 op-ed in the NY Times, pointed out that the Big Dig left out a two-track rail connector between North and South Stations in Boston, which would have allowed a unified Northeast Corridor from Washington DC all the way to Portland, Maine, and would have enhanced the communities to the north and northwest of Boston by making a virtually seamless connection between Boston's extensive network of northern commuter rail lines and Amtrak.

The only subsequent debate allowed in the NY Times about the Big Dig was a letter a week later (9/27/02) by an automobile apologist, Thorn Mead, identified as a former state transportation official. Mead assaulted Ms. Kay for even mentioning the extremely radical thought of a rail connector. Regardless, a connector is still possible, but now at many times the cost.

Why is this important for New Yorkers? Because NYC has plenty of its own home-grown highway boondoggles, reflecting an out-of-control state DOT, for example the multi-billion dollar Gowanus Expressway boondoggle project in Brooklyn. Also, back in 2007, we narrowly avoided having to watch the squandering of $860 million of our money on a Pataki-era project that would have put just four blocks of lower West Street in Manhattan underground, a stretch of highway alongside the WTC site. This boondoggle, heavily promoted by the NY Times and various real estate interests, quickly sank without a trace when our real permanent government, Goldman Sachs, whose offices would have been at the foot of the offramp, murmured, "no way!"

[John Kaehny adds regarding the Gowanus Expressway: "Transportation Alternatives spent an enormous amount of effort getting a Major Investment Study for the Gowanus Expressway, along with funding for a community engineer to help local community groups [in the expressway corridor] advocate for their interests more effectively. As part of that process we advocated strenously for an examination of light rail and an at-grade urban boulevard in the Gowanus Corridor. However, neither this nor an assessment of congestion pricing survived the very tough negotiating process involved in the legal settlement and were included in the MIS."]

CAFE Standards for American cars
A broad energy bill passed by the Senate on June 21, 2007, requiring the first rise in fuel mileage among new cars in decades, represented a modest victory for environmentalists and a considerable defeat for US car makers. First enacted by Congress in 1975, the CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards smartly required small regular increases in minimum gas mileage for new cars. But then former actor Ronald Reagan became president in 1980. He halted the increases in 1985, when they had risen to 27.5 mpg, and that's where they stagnated for the next 20 years. Worse than Reagan's action was the light truck fuel economy loophole, engineered in Congress in the mid-1990s, and green-lighted by President Bill Clinton, leading to the plague of SUVs that have severely worsened our current energy and oil import crises. The new CAFE standards will go up less than one mpg per year, an extremely modest annual increase, and the energy bill surreptitiously slips in some escape hatches so that corporations can continue to evade their responsibilities.

Andrew Card
Long time lobbyist for automobile manufacturers, then was Chief of Staff for the Bush White House until 2005, returning to self-enrichment as a private lobbyist to secure continual top level access for the auto and oil industries.

Cars and Crime
One of the most common smears to be found in the corporate-owned newspapers here in NYC is the linking of transit with crime and poverty. Week after week, month after month, subway columnists (in the past, Ray Sanchez at Newsday, and to a lesser extent, Randy Kennedy at the New York Times) habitually portray subway users as criminals, drunks, crazies, degenerates and losers. [Kennedy dropped the subway column a while ago, and went on to publish a book about the subways.]

The reality, of course, as the good and hard-working people of New York well know, is far different from these journalists' twisted grudges against our transit system. It's the automobile that generates far more crime in NYC than subways or buses. Besides commonly being used as getaway vehicles for robbers, cars are essential tools for criminals to engage in street prostitution, abductions, moving stolen goods, disposal of murder victims, sniper attacks, gun-running, drug smuggling, reckless driving and hit-and-splits, road rage, illegal dumping and so on. Cars are expensive private property stored on public land, that naturally attract car thieves and burglars, the chop-shop industry, the stolen-car international export industry, insurance and medical fraud, vandalism and carjackings. New York's mass media, shackled by a heavy load of car ads and by editors who drive or are chauffeured everywhere, packages all of this activity, which exacts a heavy economic and social toll upon our society, as an accepted, acceptable, practically invisible part of our crime landscape, while in the meantime our focus is repeatedly shifted to transit users as the supposed source of crime.

Cars and Literature
There aren't that many serious American novels that focus positively or negatively on the automobile. But there are some where the drawbacks of the car strike a background mood or inject a grim counterpoint to the book's main theme. The great writer William Faulkner, long before the rise of shopping malls and Wal-Marts, saw the automobile as one of the main tools that soul-crushing modernism uses to attack our traditional communities, isolate people and cut them off from nature and the past. In fact, in his early novels, cars are almost always linked to criminality.

Then there's Isaac Bashevis Singer's novel, Shadows on the Hudson, which was written in 1957 and lyrically describes a postwar (1947) NYC as the background to his human drama. In one scene, an elderly professor, a refugee from war-torn Europe, tries to cross Broadway near Central Park:

   "Three times the traffic lights changed before he found the courage to cross the road. The rows of automobiles on either side growled at him, snarling and hissing as if competing to run him over. Fearfully he discerned an enemy in every motorcar; the drivers behind their wheels were merely waiting for the signal to hurl themselves forward. Some cars would not stand still, boiling and rumbling with the malignity of bridled beasts . . . He held his breath so as not to inhale the stench of gasoline and oil. These were not people hurrying to get home but the wicked inhabitants of Sodom, who venomously propelled their machines at full speed, whirling themselves around . . . They had no choice, it would seem, for on the eve of every holiday the newspapers confidently foretold how many would be killed and how many maimed; yet despite this they hurtled along insensately, whipped into a frenzy of speed like multitudes of demons . . . "

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Car fire at the side of the road. Cars carry big tanks full of flammable liquid just waiting to burst into flame. Remember the Ford Pinto? Electric trolleys and subways carry no fuel on them. Diesel locomotives carry diesel oil which burns very slowly.

Car Hugger as seen in yet another 'New York Times' car promotion, April 16, 2003. "Car Hugger"
An advocate for more cars in the city. Usually a self-centered individual who is in deep denial about the negatives caused by overuse of cars in NYC. Besides time spent driving (or sitting fuming in traffic jams) on the biodeserts of our roads and highways, a car hugger's typical native habitat is each of the city's 59 community boards.

Catalytic Converters
Catalytic converters are nothing more than afterburners to make up for the incomplete combustion of gasoline in car engines. That's why they have heat shields around them, as the hydrocarbon fuel that went through the engine unburnt is converted into waste heat. (Even the most efficient gasoline-burning automobile only converts around twelve percent of the energy in gas into forward motion.) Most of the unburnt hydrocarbons must be incinerated afterward somehow for the car to meet the basic pollution control standards set by the federal government in the 1970s. The converter burns off the hydrocarbons, changing most of the carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and most of the nitrogen oxide into nitrogen and oxygen. (To understand what hydrocarbons are like, go to your nearest gas station and take a deep breath!)

The car industry fought bitterly against these pollution controls. Once it became clear that they would have no choice, then they changed their tune, branding themselves in their ads as environmental saviors. Public relations whitewashes continue to this day. For example, Scientific American magazine (Feb. 2000, p. 108) calls the converters' waste of energy "unfortunate" and blames inefficient car engines on "just bad luck."
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Central Park
2005: Central Park Overnight Driving Hours to Be Reduced After Jan. 3rd, But First . . .
Auto-free activists cheered when the city's Parks and Transportation departments jointly announced on Nov. 21, 2004 that starting January 3, 2005, Central Park's loop roads would be closed overnight to cars and four vehicle entrances would also be closed. But first, driving hours were increased, to 24/7, through January 2nd! Ostensibly, this broadened access was designed to give suburbanites another reason to avoid public transportation when shopping in Manhattan during holiday season by giving them the opportunity for a joyride - at high speed for many - through the park.

For the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of NYC residents who want cars out of the park completely, there was more good news: park speed limits, widely ignored and almost never enforced, were lowered from 30mph to 25mph, and the west side of the loop roads will be open only to cars carrying two or more people, a measure that may also be widely ignored.

Why now, these baby steps, some ask, after years of bureaucratic stonewalling to forestall a car-free park? It may be the determined petition campaign run by Transportation Alternatives that garnered tens of thousands of signatures, or the pro-car ban study issued by the RPA the month before. It may also be that the community boards around the park signed onto the concept, and that even the NY Times, after decades of ignoring, ridiculing, mis-representing and pooh-poohing the concept, has finally relented. But some observers say it is Mayor Bloomberg, who is desperate to regain political capital after his overt and covert support for the Republicans during their much reviled 2004 convention here. He must be aware that NYC voters overwhemingly voted against Bush-Cheney in the presidential election. Some even say the $5 million of his own cash he handed off to the Bush-Cheney campaign while it was in town could instead have been used more productively to influence the votes in some of the swing states in a way that would reflect his actual constituency, as Mayor. The 2004 election has resulted in the most anti-urban and anti-environment president in decades.

Remarkably, the
Central Park Conservancy, the private organization that is gradually taking over control of the park, advocated tearing up the asphalt of some of the loop road lanes and replacing them with grass and other vegetation (NY Times, Nov. 22, 2004). This is called "de-paving", which at least within NYC's permanent government, is a definite thoughtcrime. Auto-Free Bravo's to Doug Blonsky, the CPC's president, for announcing it, and let's start now the campaign to depave part of the loop roads!!

"Hey! You! Get Off of My Lawn!" - Central-Rent-A-Park Privatizers Trump Our Constitutional Rights?
The campaign to rid Central Park of high-speed car traffic began in earnest in the early 1990s when Auto-Free New York inspired a newly rejuvenated Transportation Alternatives, the bicycle advocacy group, to hold mass rallies there. It is a disgrace that more than thirteen years later, motorists still roar through the park, frequently speeding and horn-blowing, although at least the hours have been reduced. Meanwhile, in August, 2004, Mayor Bloomberg and park privatizers - principally the Central Park Conservancy - achieved an astounding public relations coup, at least in the short term, in using concerns about park lawns and the ball fields to deflect protestors of the Republican Convention from exercising their civil and constitutional rights by gathering peacefully on the Great Lawn.

Dioxin (found in car exhaust)
Burning anything, including gasoline used in cars, releases small amounts of dioxin. Dioxins in the environment (along with related PCB's and furans) don't go away! They do not biodegrade. When ingested through air, water, food or during gestation and breast-feeding, they accumulate in the body fat of wildlife and humans and disrupt the endocrine system, causing irreversible problems in developmental processes, reproduction, sexual differentiation, brain organization and disease immunity. The chemicals may also influence mating and parenting behavior, aggression, intelligence and other aspects of social organization.

Why doesn't industry just stop using these chemicals? Because it would cost a small part of corporate profits to eliminate their use. So, to inoculate government against interfering with regulations, and to keep any and all public debate muddied, industry lobby groups routinely plant misinformation in the corporate media.

As for emissions from tailpipes, it is true that the amount of dioxin in vehicular exhaust is small, but the presence of so many motor vehicles in NYC, with tailpipes at lung level, forces all New Yorkers to inhale it everywhere, all the time. Because of the sensitivity of the body's hormonal systems, we cannot assume that lower doses of these chemicals cause less damage. It is therefore more important than ever that NYC, as the nation's most densely populated city, reinvigorate, modernize and expand its transit systems as one of the prime ways to curb car use. New Yorkers already inhale the second worst air in the nation after Los Angeles.

The 1996 book, Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn, has been hailed as the Silent Spring of the 1990's. But while Rachel Carson's landmark 1962 study of the harms of pesticides focused on cancer and genetic mutation, Our Stolen Future looks at hormone-disrupting man-made chemicals like dioxin and PCBs, explains the current scientific investigation and debate about these chemicals, and suggests a general plan of action for dealing with them.

Sadly, and surprisingly, in Our Stolen Future, you won't find "cars" and "dioxin" in the same sentence. The authors prefer the euphemism "burning fossil fuels." Rather than call for a slowing in the global population explosion of automobiles, they ask carmakers to recycle more car parts. As for public transportation, the authors mumble that we need "to redesign . . . other institutional arrangements spawned by the chemical age." (!!!)

Give these guys a spine transplant!
(based on a book review which appeared in the New York Streetcar News in July, 1996)
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Dollar Vans
There is no question that some reaches of the boroughs of New York are underserved by mass transit. Bus service by the Transit Authority can be unreliable, infrequent or non-existent. In response, unlicensed gypsy vans ("dollar vans" because they attempt to undercut the standard MTA fare, which used to be $1.50) spring up -- as many as 5,000 citywide -- and try to lure riders with a quicker ride. But if there's a crash and you get hurt as a rider, too bad! And because dollar vans promise a faster, more reckless ride, streets with dollar vans are very, very unsafe for bicyclists and walkers.

The chief determining factor the Transit Authority uses to improve service on each bus line is ridership. Since dollar vans are not burdened by having to provide off-peak service, when fewer riders are around, or by having to follow designated routes, they drain riders away from the bus lines that need the most service improvements, thereby subverting genuine public transportation. Contradicting the arguments of their apologists who claim that free enterprise is paramount, dollar vans are given a rich competitive advantage at the expense of public safety by not having to meet the responsible licensing, equipment and insurance regulations that the TA follows. If dollar vans were forced to meet these safety- and community-oriented licensing, equipment and insurance requirements, the onerous economics of operating such small private vans would drive those "brave entrepreneurs" that newspapers like Newsday and the Wall Street Journal are always championing, to seek better employment elsewhere.

Jobs are created in beleaguered communities when improvements in TA bus service not only make it easier to get to and from a job but also create a need for more drivers, more line managers, more mechanics, etc. Jobs are not created by permitting such exploitative and dangerous "sweatshops on wheels." Rather than boosting dollar vans, jobs activists should focus on investigating the TA's hiring practices and the transit unions, and demanding better bus service, more bus-only lanes and better buses -- even trolleys! -- in their communities. And it's time that activists for the disabled should go after dollar vans too. Try getting a ride in a dollar van if you're in a wheelchair!

Ethanol is alcohol, the same stuff in your drink ("denatured alcohol" is alcohol that has been made undrinkable). The federal government gives enormous subsidies to agribusiness for ethanol production. Agribusiness has been pushing, for decades, greater use of ethanol, made from corn, as a gasoline additive - "gasohol". Pushing just as hard back have been petroleum interests, which don't like competition. Caught in the middle between these two godzillas has been Congress, for years, which mostly just hides or milks both for campaign contributions. The mega-corporation Archer Daniels Midland, a big funder of public television, makes some 40 percent of ethanol used to make gasohol. Apparently, the federal government and agribusiness haven't got a clue what else to do with all that corn and farmland (sorry, world hunger, with millions of people starving or malnourished, doesn't count).

Even worse, the supposed benefits of ethanol -- cleaner air and energy independence -- are illusory. Ethanol requires more energy to make than it contains, and it contains only two/thirds as much energy per gallon as gasoline. It evaporates very fast, meaning you don't even have to be driving to use it up, which helps boost sales [David Pimentel, an entomologist and professor emeritus at Cornell University, published a landmark energy cost analysis of ethanol in 2001].

EZ-Pass Reader in downtown Brooklyn, June 2013.
EZ-Pass and Big Brother Team Up:
City DOT's New Trackers in our Neighborhoods
Rcognize these odd shoebox-like devices mounted on traffic light poles throughout the city (picture at right)? They are EZ-Pass readers installed by the City DoT to track citizens (in this photo, at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Boerum Place, Brooklyn). An article in a local Brooklyn paper, Courier Life, on May 10 2013, by Jaime Lutz, reported that the agency refused requests for a list of locations, a list of who has access to the data harvested, and where this data will end up. Needless to say, motorists' privacy is being compromised big time. In short order, cellphones, various other mobile devices, and even the new Citibikes are going to be tracked also by the city DOT and the police. Contact the ACLU.

Global Warming: The Day After [updated]
[The correct phrase for 'Global Warming' is more appropriately, 'Drastic Climate Change' - herein referred to as DCC.] Global warming -- DCC -- is a topic as vast as the ocean and deserves careful study and coordinated activism, not passive watching of silly movies. Nevertheless, Hollywood issued in late May, 2004, an ordinary disaster movie -- The Day After Tomorrow -- with an extraordinary disaster: DCC. Normally, disaster movies provide escapism and help us celebrate, as rich and powerful Americans, our survivalist instincts. But there isn't anywhere to escape to when you see the harrowing scenes of monstrous natural disasters inflicted on Los Angeles and particularly, New York. These scenes of destruction and mass killings are quite realistic, even as computer-graphic fakery. And the feel-good survivalism, family togetherness and political awakening clumsily worked into the script serve only to spotlight the movie's tissue-paper plot and overall shallow take on reality.

Directed by Roland Emmerich, maker of the 1996 disaster movie Independence Day, The Day After cost $125 million. The project employed literally hundreds of special effects technicians, in what must be a huge make-work plan, but this time with a conscience, or at least what passes for conscience in greed-based Hollywood. From this perspective, Emmerich should be applauded for his good intentions and for maintaining some ties to real-world concerns within the constraints of the disaster movie genre. Others may wonder why, if Hollywood is so concerned about DCC, does it not take, say $5 million -- a tiny part of the $125 million bill for this movie, and, frankly, pocket change for a lot of Hollywood celebrities -- to encourage and publicize websites (some even run by volunteers!) devoted to real-world environmental action, such as auto-free cities and better public transportation.

To see a disaster movie with a genuinely thoughtful script, watch the film classic On the Beach (1960) starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. Greenpeace has created a companion website,
TheDayAfterTomorrow.Org to highlight climate change today and to prod people to action.

Well in advance, The Day After generated a tidal wave of concern in the corporate perception-shaping community. The NY Times reported on April 25 that scientists and officials at NASA's Maryland installation had received an email muzzle order not "to do interviews or otherwise comment on anything having to do with" the movie. Right-wing and reactionary voices -- paid liars -- quickly employed their media echo-chamber to knee-jerk denounce the filmmakers as liberals or eco-extremists. But The Day After uses the standard technique of playing to both sides of an issue. The DCC debate today is between, on one side, millions of environmentalists, and on the other side, the dozens of corporate apologists and opinion shapers in strategic appointments within the media, government and academia. The movie deliberately overstates the DCC catastrophe scenario -- an instant ice age happens over five days! -- while portraying an arrogant, do-nothing, know-nothing White House much like the Bush regime (the VP does look like Dick Cheney). Since most scientists believe DCC disasters will arrive over decades, not days, environmentalists fear Tinseltown's accelerating of the threat timetable for dramatic effect could muddy public consciousness. On the other hand, just like DCC itself, no-one can predict the movie's eventual impact upon general awareness of global warming, and for that reason, it should not be missed. It certainly disappeared quickly enough from the mainstream media, once the paid liars' denunciations stopped echoing.

At the same time, the Brooklyn Museum had on display (until September 12, 2004) a huge oil-on-wood painting, Manifest Destiny, by the painter Alexis Rockman. The crowd-pleasing 8 foot by 24 foot painting tends towards the illustrational and fanciful, but still manages a dramatic and haunting vision of the Brooklyn waterfront circa 5004, under 82 feet of orange-colored water. (!!) The panoramic work may have been commissioned to reprise another painting in the Museum's collection, The Edge of Doom, painted in 1888 by the American artist Sam Colman.

Also simultaneous with The Day After is the publication of a new scholarly book about DCC - Red Sky at Morning, by James G. Speth, published by Yale University Press ($24). We hope to post a review here soon.

    The following is a slightly revised 1996 review, from the New York Streetcar News, of the only known other movie to date about DCC, 1995's Waterworld (the sequel thankfully never happened!):

Waterworld, starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, 1995.
Although Waterworld is only a mediocre action flick, people should still see it because it is Hollywood's first bigtime look at global warming. Set far in the future, the ice caps have long since melted, covering the earth with water and destroying our civilization. Kevin Costner stars as the Mariner, a lone sailor on a trimaran trying to get to the mythical ‘Dryland' before the marauding Smokers, a band of pirates led by the Deacon (Dennis Hopper), get him.

Waterworld is actually Mad Max grafted onto a clumsy environmental parable. Costner, as lone anti-hero, battles consumerism gone mad (the Smokers). He uses only wind power, recycles everything and grows plants on his boat. The smokers, in contrast, ride power boats, jet skis and a seaplane, fueled by oil stored in their home base, the former supertanker Exxon Valdez (!!). They even go for a spin belowdecks in a huge old Lincoln sporting a "Nuke the Whales" bumpersticker!

Ultimately, this adds up to little more than a rather bleak and silly cartoon rather than a serious look at a looming global threat. However, in one startling sequence, we glimpse the ruins of a high-rise city under hundreds of feet of water. If the movie had been any good, these surprisingly realistic and disturbing images (actually Denver - get it? the mile-high city?) of the end of civilization could have become a public relations problem for the international automotive and petroleum industries. These companies are eager to foster unlimited consumption of oil and cars, products which have been directly linked to global warming.

Indeed, these industries, and the politicians they control, have been glacially slow in accepting the ever growing body of evidence about global warming. While Waterworld adds little to the scientific debate, it paints a stark picture of the consequences of unlimited use of fossil fuels. Unlike The Planet of The Apes, (1968) which withheld its shocking revelation of our own self-inflicted destruction until the final scenes, the images of the underwater city here lose much of their impact amidst all the swashbuckling caricatures. And the movie's bittersweet ending allows us hope for human survival, and also, of course, a sequel. - WF

Highway Noise Barriers for Urban Highways
We've all seen the tall sound barriers that have been installed along suburban highways to minimize their noise, chemical smog, dirt, particulates, litter, dead bodies, criminal trespassers and careening crashes. In fact, noise-abatement barriers are being erected the length of the Long Island Expressway from Suffolk County to the Nassau-Queens line. Often federal monies are used for these barriers. Why are there no such barriers in much more densely populated NYC? The only one we can think of in the five boroughs guards (!!) the cemetery between Brooklyn and Queens. Even a six-foot solid barrier would substantially reduce noise, smells and dirt, and correspondingly increase the quality of life and general health in the automobile slums that are found everywhere alongside the highways in our city. The rise in property values and city tax revenues alongside such shielded highways alone would pay for their construction.

Highway noise barriers would also help to contain the occasional crashing cars and trucks better than the current flimsy guardrails. And the barriers would also send a message to urban motorists that their presence is frankly unwanted by the people who actually live here.

One barrier innovation we've seen, by an Italian company, Turbosider, and a German company, Degussa AG, is the use of heavy plexiglas. Perhaps the top four to six feet of these walls could be transparent. Certainly local businesses along the highways are against barriers because it would impact on their billboards and other such free advertising. Who decides our quality of life? You read it here first! More on this topic soon.

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Hit-and-Run Drivers Are Here to Stay
With the slaughter of two young mothers and one of their babies in eastern Brooklyn on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 5th, 2003, by a marauding SUV driver and hit-and-run, New Yorkers are once again graphically reminded of the murderous aspects of the high speed automotive culture being foisted upon us by corporate interests and by DOT traffic light bureaucrats concerned only with "through-put." The following has been adapted from an essay in the New York Streetcar News, April 1997:
ABOUT ONCE every day and a half in NYC, a pedestrian is run over and killed by a motorist. But about once a week, the motorist, after killing the pedestrian, doesn't stop. He just drives away! If the hit-and-run accident is bad enough to make it into the papers, the Mayor and other public officials typically will respond with some hand-wringing and solemn pledges to catch the perpetrator. Later, a DoT spokesman may suggest that pedestrians hit by cars are drunk or old, blaming the victim. But soon everyone forgets, except, of course, those families who lost their loved ones and whose lives are now ruined. The politicians and bureaucrats aren't just using good public relations to defuse community concern -- they have no intention of making any changes in our current transportation system.

The fact is the hit-and-run driver has all the cards in his favor. As many as a third of NYC's motorists don't even have a license or car insurance, and the police (and politicians) are unable or unwilling to increase compliance rates. Your license has to be suspended at least ten times in order for you to lose it. And our state's wrongful-death law, dating from 1847, forces civil juries to award damages based only on the income of the deceased (meaning that a child killed by a motorist would therefore have no value).

The car industry's profits depend upon a lot of crashes to stimulate new car sales in a seriously glutted market. Car wrecks are big business.Worse, our city streets and traffic lights are designed to move quantities of cars through our neighborhoods' streets at high speeds. Today's cars and "sport trucks," over-powered and engineered to handle like race-cars, give motorists equipment far beyond their driving skills. Blacked-out car windows may be illegal, but there is no enforcement; drivers' identities in such cars are well hidden. Such features as anti-lock brakes and air bags are supposed to make cars safer; instead they turn cautious motorists into reckless ones and reckless motorists into cowardly bullies. The insurance industry, big in NYC, benefits from lots of crashes and exorbitant rates.

Meanwhile, the media tends to portray each new death by car as an isolated incident not related to road conditions, apparently preferring to scapegoat bicyclists and pedestrians . . .

The fact is that drivers enjoy speeding, whether they're careless, stressed out, or late. Making our city's streets safe ("traffic calming") by changing traffic light timing, adding medians and bicycle lanes, widening sidewalks and creating more attractive surface transit options such as a modern network of trolleys, would force motorists to slow down, making transit more competitive, and reducing the carnage.

Motorists in NYC have reworded the biblical adage: "Do unto others as you would not want them to do unto you." If you must walk or bike in NYC, please be careful! Death by car is all too easy, and the driver will most likely say it was your fault. --WF
Livable City Plan shows how quick and easy it would be to make our streets safer.]

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Start 'em young!
Hummers are oversized military-style vehicles made available and strongly promoted by General Motors to civilians here in the US. The fact that they get only around 10-13 miles per gallon shows that their owners, when not in denial, are at war with nature, with humanity, and ultimately with themselves. (See
With Oil War On, NY Times Columnist Slams Hummer Hypocrites at our new media critique page.)

The Iraqi Oil Ministry, almost never shown in the  American press, is seen here post-invasion '03, untouched, in the background. The ruins of the Ministry of Water are in the foreground. Image courtesy Christian Parenti, as printed in the Brooklyn Rail, Oct '03 edition. The Iraqi Oil Ministry
Iraq has huge amounts of oil - in fact it is perhaps second in the world, after Saudi Arabia, in known petroleum reserves. Meanwhile, America, with only a sliver of the world's population, accounts for about a quarter of the world's energy consumption and imports a whopping sixty percent of the oil it uses. Guess why we're in Iraq?

The excerpt below is from a Nov. 2, 2003 cover story in the Sunday NY Times Magazine, written by David Rieff -- "Who Botched the Occupation?":
   [After the fall of Hussein, the American forces in Baghdad] did only one thing -- station troops to protect the Iraqi Oil Ministry. This decision to protect the Iraqi Oil Ministry -- not the National Museum, not the National Library, not the Health Ministry -- probably did more than anything else to convince Iraqis uneasy with the occupation that the U.S. was in Iraq only for the oil. "It is not that they could not protect everything, as they say," a leader in the Hawza, the Shiite religious authority, told [David Rieff]. "It's that they protected nothing else. The Oil Ministry is not off by itself. It's surrounded by other ministries, all of which the Americans allowed to be looted. So what else do you want us to think except that you want our oil?"   

Besides continued western access to mid-east oil, a prime motivator for the war must be the immense amount of money to be made from lucrative rebuilding contracts, specifically involving the oil field services company Halliburton, connected to Vice President Dick Cheney and his business associates.

Kyoto Global Warming Treaty (2002)
Senator John Kerry (D-Ma.) perhaps summed it up best in a New Yorker profile (Dec. 2, 2002):
   "One hundred and sixty nations spent ten years working to get to a certain place and the U.S. just stands up and dismisses it out of hand. The [Bush] Administration doesn't say we're going to try to fix it, doesn't say we respect your work, doesn't say we're going to try to find the common ground where we do have some differences. It just declares it dead. Now, what do we think those presidents of those countries, those prime ministers and those finance ministers, those environmental ministers are? Are they all dumb? Are we telling them they are absolutely incapable of making judgments about science, that the ten years of work that they've invested in conference after conference, many of which I attended, was absolutely for naught? That makes us friends in the world?"   

Lexus Lanes
Refers to completely separate, high-speed tolled lanes added to existing highways that unfairly benefit the affluent.

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Light Rail Transit
An electric railway with whose railcars are self-propelled rather than being pulled or pushed by a locomotive, characteristic of "heavy" rail. Light rail may use exclusive or shared rights-of-way, high, low or no platform loading, and multi-car trains or single cars. Also known as "streetcar", "trolley car" and "tramway." Having let its last trolley line (in Brooklyn) be shut down, in 1956, NYC has been brain-dead for generations about benefiting from this form of urban public investment.

Nascar Dads
The latest propaganda caricature rolled out nationwide by corporate media, designed to encourage absolute allegiance to cars and oil addiction, secondarily to provide a platform for corporate logos and ad banners, and finally, to divert Americans away from the political process. 'Nascar Dads' was cooked up by paid liars to replace the exhausted label 'soccer moms' (women forced to drive their kids everywhere because they live in places without public transportation).

Car races in America today are a hallmark of an unsustainable society in deep denial. American men (the car racing audience is overwhelmingly male and white) go to car races to cut loose from their boring and proscribed lives, to get away from their work, worries and wives, and frankly, in the hopes of seeing sometimes grisly car crashes. The races are extremely noisy, toxic and dangerous - not much different from many of our roads which have been taken over by reckless drivers, perhaps inspired by watching car races. Prostitution and numbers rackets flourish at the crowd's edges, of course. The elites who bankroll these race promoters -- part of the harsh war against nature that coincidentally boosts corporate profits -- assume the audience is populist and either doesn't vote or votes right-wing. But a Boston Globe article (Sept 13, 2003) by Joseph Kahn gamely cast doubt on that assumption. Kahn profiled four guys at a Nascar track in New Hampshire, painstakingly emphasizing their basic, decent, working-class family man status. Two claimed to be Republican, two were independent.

Nascar's Already Here!
CURRENT EVENTS: Plans for an 82,000-seat Nascar speedway, shopping mall and humongous parking lot on Staten Island were finally cancelled on Dec. 4, 2006. The plans' promoters, a Nascar affiliate/real estate consortium based in Daytona Beach, Florida, cited strong citizen opposition and in particular the Island's three City Council members, who the NY Times reported "came out in vociferous and early opposition to the track" (Dec. 5, '06, page B3).

However, New Yorkers have not seen the last of inappropriate, anti-environment racecar track plans. Since spring '06, operatives at North American Motorsport Events [NAME], in partnership with actor Paul Newman, have been scouring Brooklyn for a speedway site. According to a March 30, 2007 report by Gary Buiso, writing in the Courier, a weekly Brooklyn newspaper, they tried back in '06 to get a track into Floyd Bennett Field but were rebuffed by the National Park Service. Newman turned 82 in January, '07 -- is it time to start a boycott of Newman's Own foods?

Speculators may be working overtime out of the public eye to bring these motorized brawls to the nation's most densely populated and transit-rich city. But New Yorkers don't have to go far to see auto races! The endless speeding, the spectacular car crashes, the blaring horns, the rage, aggression and competition to get ahead, even if it's just to the traffic jam at the next traffic light -- Nascar's Already Here, on your nearest main street! (Of course, the spectators are unwilling, and crash victims - well, too bad.)

S.I. BACKGROUND: In 2004, two-thirds of a brownfield 600-acre marsh, south of the Goethals Bridge on Staten Island, had been purchased, for $100 million by Florida-based racetrack promoters. The site, soaked yards deep with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals left by former corporate activity, notably an oil tank farm, in recent years has become a kind of NYC version of natural habitat, hosting birds like egrets and herons. The promoters hired the lobbying firm Molinari Group, headed by former Borough President Guy Molinari, whose retirement typifies the revolving door between government and business that has proven so lucrative to the well-connected at City Hall, but so devastating to city neighborhoods. Promoters pushed jobs and other benefits, saying it would all be in good fun -- the noise, the smog, the beer-swilling and barbecues, the flagwaving, the gambling and prostitution -- just what NYC needs, to 'lighten up'. It is unquestionably the one competitive activity whose participants have the most corporate logos per square inch. And the winning driver can get away with a huge beer belly as long as his ankle is strong!

Then again, the speedway plan could also have been a beard on the mask of another landgrab for another big box shopping mall/parking lot, as is happening all over the city, with the Nascar angle hyped to make it stand out. The NY Times' Eric Dash, in an article well-written but positioned as quietly as the paper could possibly muster (ie, on a backpage of the Saturday Christmas Day edition [Dec. 25, 2004]), mentioned that City Councilman Michael McMahon had asked the Regional Planning Association to offer alternate uses for the land . . .

National Public Radio's "Car Talk"
NPR is nominally a public radio station, broadcast nationwide (the local outlet for NPR in New York is WNYC-FM, which survived a minor brou-ha-ha around 2002 when reports surfaced that chief executive Laura Walker's takes home (still?) a whopping $340,000 a year). Despite recent claims of liberal bias by reactionaries, NPR is for the most part closely overseen by corporate interests, including, of course, the automobile/oil/paving/real estate sprawl industries, usually associated with the right wing. Not surprisingly, one weekend show -- "Car Talk" -- advances car culture (some might say 'stamps it across our foreheads') in America (as if our commercial mainstream media doesn't have enough car ads and product placements!). "Car Talk' uses twangy banjos and two "local" types (Tom and Ray Magliozzi), who guffaw their way through a call-in format for car owners. Apologists for the station argue that since a majority of Americans live in places and regions deliberately built with little or no public transportation, a 'car talk' show must appeal to that audience (even if such shows end up fostering even more auto dependency).

The hee-hawing and blue-collar posturing of the show's chucklehead hosts is obviously targeted at working- and lower-middle-class Americans, who are more likely to fix their own cars than the upper class and the rich. Consider that in much of America, to only own one car and to have it break down amounts to a near death sentence. Nevertheless, the show does maintain a thread of legitimate mechanical malfunction analysis. Besides the blunt downmarket class appeal, the show's relentless humor format has two purposes: to foster good feelings for, and to disarm concerns about, a product that is dramatically worsening our foreign policy, economic, environmental and social problems, and secondly to cheer up motorists struggling to keep their often shoddily built vehicles running. The show is a success, at least according to the New Yorker (Sept. 2, 2002). On average, some 3.7 million listeners tune in for each show.

We of course applaud NPR for focusing on building large audiences for itself, since the alternative -- commercial radio, especially in NYC -- is so dramatically and stupefyingly worse. But if NPR was a real public radio station, the show would do real journalism about public transportation, and yes, that is a nationwide subject, as transit activists throughout the country face a virtual media black-out on their efforts to provide transportation choice.

Hey, NPR, get a clue! The Next Big Thing is . . . Trolleys!

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Oil Spills
Oil spills happen all the time, of course, but the breakup and sinking of the tanker Prestige off the coast of Spain, on November 19, 2002, may be the biggest yet, with the potential of dwarfing the 1989 spill caused by the grounding of the Exxon Valdez off Alaska. The Prestige was carrying almost twice as much oil as the Valdez, but this time it's industrial fuel oil, not crude, and now most of it (around 16 million gallons) is in the ship's tanks at the bottom of the sea (11,000 feet deep). (The Spanish government stupidly towed the sinking ship away from the nearest seaport where it could have been properly emptied.) Although news of the spill's consequences has long since evaporated, the New York Times did mumble on a back page on January 1, 2003 that the Prestige is leaking more than 30,000 gallons a day, which is drifting north onto the beaches of southwest France.

According to the New York Times (11/21/02), the Bahamas-flagged tanker was owned by a Liberian company, managed by a Greek company, and chartered by a Russian oil-trading company based in Switzerland (i.e., no-one's responsible). Oops! Too bad, see ya later!

What happens when a tanker spills its load? Well it's very complex, but basically, much of the oil dissipates into the air as smog (how much and how fast depends on how volatile the oil is). In front of numerous TV cameras, workers and/or volunteers clean up a token amount, sometimes paid for by the company whose oil it was. Much of the rest of the oil gets all over beaches and vulnerable marine wildlife habitat, leaving a wide swath of death and destruction and wiping out local fisheries. A great deal of the oil soaks into the seabed, where it will stay for decades, slowly seeping out and poisoning the environment.
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Pinata (great for kids!)
Make a pinata out of strips of newspaper and glue, in the shape of a car. Paint it brightly with tempera paint and fill it with toy streetcars, trains and bicycles. Let kids take out their aggression on this symbol which is certainly going to severely compromise their future quality of life.

Queens' "Boulevard of Death"
Refers to the many people who have been killed by cars while trying to cross Queens Boulevard (some 77 slaughtered between 1993 and around 2003). After ignoring years of killings on the road and stiff-arming community protest, the City Dept. of Transportation finally lowered the speed limits slightly, installed red light cameras and closed one lane to traffic on the service road, which did reduce fatalities. But they began putting up fences and other barriers to limit the places pedestrians can cross through their own community, so that drivers could be less preoccupied about pedestrians. Newsday reported in December 2002 about a memorial service that drew about fifty people, who gathered at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills to dedicate a newly planted tree in memory of the fallen. The tree will overlook the deadly street and its speeding cars.

Real Estate in NYC
(ex-AOL) Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle:
This mega-building complex which replaced the dumpy Moses-era Coliseum opened in the summer of 2003. Along with an existing 504-car garage, the site boasts 192 new luxury condo apartments (penthouses in the towers are priced in the $30 million range), a 250-room hotel and a multi-story tourist-trap shopping mall where, besides a Borders bookstore, chi-chi stores offer such necessities as $200 shirts and $300 dinners. The complex's internal public spaces were most likely positioned to compete with the glitzy Trump Tower mall on nearby Fifth Avenue and 56th Street. The swank new music venue Jazz at Lincoln Center provides desperately needed cultural cosmetics and beard, while a Whole Foods outlet in the basement reels in those still concerned with their health.

Public space outside will also keep visitors focused on shopping, at least when they aren't dodging speeding cars, since the traffic circle, with plenty of highway lanes is configured for high-speed vehicular through-put. A spring 2003 NY Observer cover story said that giant electronic billboards, 150 feet tall, would flash corporate branding messages throughout the circle and deep into Central Park, spreading the usual charmless Times Square corporate honky-tonk -- but the signs aren't there yet. Media giant Time Warner abruptly dropped the skanky AOL logo in '03 because of (still ongoing) government investigations into AOL's crooked accounting.

From a distance, the lopsided neo-modernist 80-story twinned glass towers look like a soul-crushing set of giant switchblades, a building style more appropriate to downtown Dallas, where no-one would dream of venturing outside their cars. In winter, the towers cast massive dispiriting shadows far into Central Park. The ground-level stone-faced grey facades are badly mismatched visually with the Darth-Vader-ish glass towers above them, and with their surroundings, although give the architects brownie points for curving the low facades to at least match the circle! All in all, a major new eyesore at this primo location.

At $1.8 billion, the center is to date the most expensive single-building construction project in American history. If not for valiant 'David v. Goliath' local community groups making a fuss during the sordid decades-long planning stage that involved the MTA, the center would have been even larger. The good news is if you're going to way, way overbuild, there's no better place than on top of a major subway hub, where the A, B, C, D, 1 and 9 trains stop. Whether any of the tower residents would ever deign to set foot in the subway is another matter.

Scratchiti [updated June 2017]
Scratchiti was a big problem in NYC in the '80s, '90s and '00s, but has since been brought under control. It used to cost the MTA tens of millions of dollars every year to combat, and seriously degraded transit users' quality of life. Vandals would gouge and scribble on the windows of buses and subways so that views from elevated trains and buses were seen by riders as if through an evil brillo pad. Unlike some spraypainted graffiti, scratchiti is colorless, shapeless and stupifyingly dumb. Scratchiti vandals were encouraged by, among other factors, the relentless transit-hate that the city's corporate media spewed on us through 'in the subway' reporters like Newsday's Ray Sanchez (now long gone), and, of course, by the MTA's frequent mistreatment of its customers.

Snow in the City [updated]
Like much of the country, NYC has its fair share of harsh winters - particularly 2011, and of course 2014. Snow makes getting around difficult for everyone, but especially for motorists, and so, after a storm, New Yorkers have a rare chance to experience their city and their neighborhood without the relentless noise, speeding, smog, dirt and danger caused by the presence of too many cars. Heavy snow also exposed the Big Lie of Bloomberg's and Giuliani's City Hall, in their public relations campaign to make us think they cared about a sustainable future. After a heavy snow, Mayor Bloomberg would mumble that people should not drive, leave their cars at home, and instead take mass transit. If he could suggest this after a heavy storm, then he could have been suggesting it all the time in the interest of a more livable, more sustainable city. Hopefully, Mayor de Blasio will take a more progressive tack. Meanwhile, after a heavy snowstorm, we hope you get outside, visit the planet, and enjoy the relative peace and quiet and clean air while you can!

Tire Dumps
Got tires yet? Yet another waste-product of our automobilized society are the mountains of discarded tires left behind. It is very hard to get rid of these things, but here's how, over many decades, it's been done, generally: you establish a tire dump somewhere in the back country, where the few people who are around aren't paying much attention. Then the tires pile up by the millions, creating an instant toxic waste dump, mosquito generator and fire hazard. Within a few years, you rack up all kinds of safety violations but local officials are paid off to look the other way. Eventually the state is forced to take it over and to use public funds (perhaps shifted from transit or libraries) to pay for fire control and security.

Sooner or later there's a giant fire that burns for months. Lo and behold, you get rid of most of the tires!!! Newspapers skillfully whitewash the event, hiding the news on a back page; the cause of the fire is "under investigation," "no-one was hurt," and everyone is supposed to forget about it. But when tires burn, the toxins don't vanish, they are simply converted into toxic smog that we all end up breathing sooner or later. The most recent tire dump fire near NYC, as reported in the NY Times [Nov. 17, 2002, P. 41 (ie, a back page!)] was in upstate New York, in Seneca Falls. Lots and lots of tires were incinerated. [Additional information: New Yorker Magazine, June 28, 1993: "Duty of Care (A Reporter at Large)", by John McPhee.]

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Transportation Bigotry in the Media [updated]
Bicyclists are NOT responsible for the climate of reckless driving that pervades all of NYC's streets at all times. Yet New Yorkers are relentlessly propagandized to scapegoat bicyclists, via a strong undercurrent of transportation bigotry in the city's corporate media, including the NY Times. The fact is that bicyclists' approach to street safety is in similar proportion as motorists and pedestrians - ie, some are very careful, others take risks and others are reckless. Yet it is motorists who are killing and maiming people every day. This double standard against bicyclists reflects the permanent government's windshield perspective and reaction against the bike lanes being sprinkled here and there haphazardly by the rather schizophrenic City DoT, that are skimming away a tiny little bit of motorists' space. Perhaps the Establishment is reacting to Transportation Alternatives having become much more media savvy recently. It is important to remember that Mayor Bloomberg's bike lane program, as welcome as it is, still only makes up a tiny fraction of the city's streets; the overall climate of speeding and reckless motoring still reigns supreme.

The real culprits, of course, who need to be held responsible, and perhaps indicted, for our unsafe streets, are the NY State legislature, which bizarrely is in control of NYC speed limits; the City DoT (under the thumb of the taxi industry), which sets traffic light timing that encourages motor vehicle speeding; the NYPD's chronic lack of interest in cracking down on speeders and reckless driving; City Hall's longstanding program to incentivize private automobile use, proven every weekday by massive inbound private car traffic jams into Manhattan; and last but not least, City Hall's corresponding refusal to strongarm the MTA to stop treating transit users (mislabled "customers") as second- or third-class citizens.

Material compiled, written and edited by Wayne Fields. Senior Editor - George Haikalis. Sources include the New York Times, Newsday, the Wall St. Journal, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Nation magazine, the New Yorker magazine, Harper's Magazine, the Financial Times, the New York Observer, web research, direct observation, etc.

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