NYC: March 2004 Archives


Ray Sanchez has found New York City transit's Achilles heel, or at least the one vulnerability which is most likely to endanger the lives of the millions of people who use the system every day - a vulnerability which would be devastating after a terrorist hit, since survivors may then have to get out of the tunnels to remain survivors.

It has long been known that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City Transit have problems communicating effectively with its customers. This was most evident anytime transit officials were asked to explain fare increases and service cuts.

But in a time of train bomb massacres, it is becoming disturbingly apparent that the people who run the New York subway system also have difficulty communicating with one another - including when lives are at stake.

Read Sanchez's report on Annie Chamberlin's experience February 29.

But stupidity and incompetence, if not criminal malfeasance in this post 9/11 world, is not limited to New York's planners and administrators. The Bush administration budget for the upcoming fiscal year calls for $5.3 billion for transportation security, but only $147 million of it is allocated for everything other than air security. That $147 million is supposed to cover ports, roads, bridges, tunnels, power plants and rail systems.

And what is it we're now told we have to pay for an Iraq war which had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism, fear of which the administration hopes to use to maintain its power? Was it $100 billion? But much more important, I'm thinking that so far the cost is the nearly 600 American lives alone, and the thousands (again only the American count) injured or maimed.

We shouldn't tolerate the use of terror for political purposes. The Bush regime and its lieutenants have to be thrown out before we cash in more than just our freedoms in exchange for a tin security.*



The evidence could be stacked up forever, but one inarguable fact reported today in the Washington Post [via Atrios] should alone be enough to demolish any remaining illusions about either the sincerity or the competence of the gang in the White House, above all when it's a question of protecting us from terrorists.

In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows.

. . . .

The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks.

. . . .

"Despite multiple terror warnings before and after 9/11, [Bush] repeatedly rejected counterterrorism resources that his own security agencies said was desperately needed to protect America," said David Sirota, spokesman for [the Center for American Progress, a liberal group run by former Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta], which plans to post the documents on its Web site today.

[image from the myria network]

in Madison Avenue this afternoon

What if they threw a demonstration and everbody came, except the media? Would you be able to get people into the streets next time? Think about it, while you search for coverage of the massive antiwar demonstration in New York today, and especially if you're looking in the New York Times. See bloggy for the story about the missing story.

Is the conservative U.S. establishment still afraid to show the popular opposition to a disastrous goverment and its disastrous foreign adventures, even when those disasters have finally become so obvious? Does it think a crude media blackout will discourage its critics? And, more important, will it?

While I'm also thinking just now that the demonstrators who marched out to Versailles in 1789 didn't need the NYTimes to help them bring their own king back to Paris, where he was capitally eliminated a few years later, I have to admit that the French have generally been much more courageous about seeing that their governments remain responsible than we have.

Later this afternoon I expect to have a gallery of about two dozen photos up on this post, taken while we marched with Palestinians and Jews Against the Occupation.


UPDATED: Photos are now here; captions will arrive later on Sunday.


UPDATED: Captions are now atteached to the photos.

I think this was supposed to be a positive image

No reason for putting this up this at this particular moment. I just neglected to post this wonderful rant I found in Newsday when it first appeared, over ten days ago. It's been in my head ever since, and I thought that finally letting it out here might let me move on [I don't like to have to think about Giuliani. I really, really don't].

Jimmy Breslin [omigosh, someone I know was actually surprised to hear he was still around when I mentioned his name recently!] has no love for our former mayor, and he's not shy about writing about the man's bogus reputation as somehow divine, even when his column is really about another cheap charlatan, George W. Bush.*

He was a nobody as a mayor and in one day he became a hero. This sudden career, this door opening to a room of gold, all started for Rudolph Giuliani when his indestructible bunker in a World Trade Center building blew up. He had personally selected it, high in the sky, and with tons of diesel fuel to give emergency power.

And Guiliani walks on. He walks from his bunker, up Barclay Street and went on television. Went on and announced his heroism and then came back every hour or so until he became a star, a great figure, a national hero, the mayor who saved New York.

Most of this comes from these dazed Pekinese of the Press. Giuliani was a hero with these news people. He did not pick up a piece of steel or help carry one of the injured off.

He made the trade center his private cathedral. Police commanders were terrified of letting you in. There was only Rudy, who flew his stars, Oprah and the like, down to see it.

Breslin begins this March 7 column, with characteristic restraint, "In his first campaign commercial. George Bush reached down and molested the dead."

[Image by Joe McNally, from "Faces of Ground Zero"]

throngs escaping underground New York, February 29, 2004

It's worse than we could have imagined.

Ray Sanchez wrote another excellent column in Newsday on Monday, about disaster preparedness in the New York transit system. A second piece appears today. They're both very scary.

After February 29, and the reporting of Sanchez, we could no longer fool ourselves that the MTA knew what to do in the event of a subway emergency, even two and a half years after 9/11. Now, thanks to Sanchez's columns, we know that the city's Office of Emergency Planning (OEM) isn't interested in the MTA. But that's not all. It also seems that the various parties who have to work together in real emergencies can't even work together to plan for emergencies.

MEANWHILE: I've been "de-gayed" and "de-clawed" by Time Out

On a related note, I can report an interesting follow-up to my own experience, or at least to my report of that experience. Last week Time Out/New York included a surprisingly and offensively glib (careless?) piece on the fire which shut down a number of subway lines two Sundays back, injuring some passengers and frightening, even terrifying, many others. I felt I had to call them on it, so I went to my keyboard.

Last night I found that some form of my letter appears at the top of their current "Letters" section. Unfortunately neither the original article nor the letter can be found on their site, but since they made some very interesting changes in my text, I'll try to illustrate here what happened twixt my laptop and their hard copy.

I admit that I was kinda thrilled with the novelistic title they slapped at the top of the letter, "Tracks of my fears," and when I first read the five inches of printed text I thought they might not have cut my original letter at all. Then I checked, in what I thought was just an excess of conceit, and I uncovered some interesting edits.

I should have expected the subjective, fairly arbitrary word or syntax changes I saw, but what I found more interesting is that they decided to totally eliminate my partner Barry. Gee, I'd hate to think that you can only be queer, ok, even "gay," in Time Out if you're in the entertainment listings.

Also, even though I understand that TONY is basically just a [pretty good] entertainment rag and therefore I should not have been surprised by the tone of their article, I think it's significant that they were careful to eliminate my critical reference to their reporter's slant [which was in fact far more facile than I had indicated in my letter].

Finally, I notice that they chose to subtly eliminate my more alarming descriptions of what the situation was like underground, somewhat diluting the letter's basic argument.

What follows below is first what I sent them by email:

Along with almost the entire media establishment of the New York region, TONY missed the real story in the February 29 subway fire and evacuations. Even worse, Ayren Jackson makes light of it in "Talking Points" this week, and you all should know better. The next time might not be so entertaining to your readers.

People were discomforted and terrified, some were injured by smoke, but the real story is what the experience says about New York's ability to cope with a real terrorist incident, or even a disastrous accident. A single homeless man throwing debris can cause people to be trapped for hours in the subway?

My partner and I were confined below ground from 5:30 until 7:30. Our train was apparently one of the more fortunate, since some people weren't free until 9, and many suffered smoke inhalation requiring hospitalization. After the first few minutes of explosion and fire there was little smoke where we were, but many of us were terrified, and we still had to wait over two hours from the time the train was initially halted, more than an hour after we were told help was on its way, and certainly long after the tracks were "no longer juiced", in Jackson's words.

When we were finally permitted to exit, the route involved simply walking out an open subway door, stepping along a 15-foot shelf to an emergency exit, and then climbing a couple flights of stairs to the busy Village street above.

What the experience says about easily-imagined future disasters makes us seriously question living in NYC, and we're crazy about this city.

This is what they actually printed:
Tracks of my Fears

Along with almost the entire media establishment of the New York region, TONY missed the real story in the February 29 subway fire and evacuations ["Talking Points," Out There, TONY 441].

People were discomforted and terrified, some were injured by smoke, so the real story is what the experience says about New York's ability to cope with a real terrorist incident, or even a disastrous accident. A single homeless man throwing debris can cause people to be trapped for hours in the subway?

I was confined below ground due to this incident for two hours. My train was apparently one of the more fortunate, as some people weren't freed until hours later, and many suffered smoke inhalation, requiring hospitalization. After the first few minutes of explosion and fire, there was little smoke where we were standing; however we still had to wait more than two hours from the time the train was initially halted, more than an hour after we were told help was on its way and a long time after the tracks were "no longer juiced." What the experience says about easily imagined future disasters makes me seriously question living in NYC.

Giuliani's Emergency Operations Center on the 23rd floor of 7 WTC

Regular readers know why I have such a keen interest in the former 7 World Trade Center [friends who fled the building on September 11, a years-long office there myself and disgust with the human impact of many decisions made by its tone-deaf owner, Larry Silverstein, and his friend the American media-hero Rudolph Giuliani], and some know that I have tried in the past to bring attention to the reason for the monstrous building's astounding collapse that afternoon. Well, that reason may finally have attained real legitimacy, since Newsday reports today:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's press secretary is accusing Rudolph Giuliani's emergency management chief of making dubious decisions that led to the fiery destruction of a Ground Zero skyscraper.

Press secretary Ed Skyler leveled the charge at Jerry Hauer, the former director of the Office of Emergency Management, after The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Hauer yesterday criticizing Bloomberg for weakening OEM.

"It's funny he didn't mention his decision to put OEM's headquarters at 7 World Trade Center, complete with enough diesel fuel to burn down the entire building on Sept. 11," Skyler said.

The building collapsed hours after the Twin Towers fell; ignited diesel burned long afterward, contributing to the pall of black smoke that hung over lower Manhattan.

. . . .

Skyler's comments echo private remarks from Bloomberg administration officials who have criticized Giuliani-era decisions, including the decision to site OEM's Brooklyn headquarters in a flood zone.

Hauer's criticisms of the Bloomberg administration's handling of OEM doesn't seem to address these damning assertions, suggesting they are not even arguable.

I suppose it would be even more interesting if these guys were not all working in Republican adminsitrations.

[I had first seen this image, or one like it, from NYC OEM, two and a half years ago - it was hastily removed from the site soon after September 11 by the Giuliani administrartion, but it has returned at some point in the interim, although I believe it may be much smaller this time]

Today's Newsday includes a page 2 column by Ray Sanchez devoted to our experience with the subway system the Sunday before last.

We've both had a history of dealing with the press, and I've found that most of the time they just don't get it. Barry writes about Sanchez's piece, "I think it's quite good. I never had an experience with the media before where the point I wanted to make actually made it into the article."

Bloggy also observes that if you run out and buy the print version of the paper you get a photo of us, squinting up at the sun on the steps of our local subway station.

I'm getting some feedback, from both friends and strangers, on my account of our experience with the subway thing on Sunday, but I still haven't seen anything else in the media. The NYTimes never did include news about it in any of the editions delivered to our door here in Chelsea and I've seen no letters to editors [I've written to two dailies myself; is anyone else out there writing or calling?], and neither editorial nor opinion pieces discussing its significance. There's been a virtual blackout on news about this, and it continues today.

Remember that I was really only complaining about rescue response time and not the inescapable fact that the system is always going to be vulnerable to incidents whether accidental, deliberate or even terrorist-driven.

I suspect that we are not supposed to think about how much we are at risk in a public transit system most of us cannot avoid using. How much of this is deliberate (criminal) policy and how much of it is due to (criminal) neglect we can only speculate.

One of the most melancholy notes I've received is this one, which appears in the comments section of my original post:

You are correct about not seeing reports on this incident in the papers or on TV. I've looked for it myself as I have heard about it from my mom (who by the way doesn't even live in NYC.) Apparently there was a brief report on the incident on CNN. She called to ask me for more information only to hear that I have never heard about it.

All I have to say is that it reminds me of home - Serbia - where things like this, and worse, happen on daily basis and we never ever hear about it but remain living in an oblivion of a perfect communist society where flow of information is foreign terminology.

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