The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for December 13th, 2018

forbidden retreat

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more #thingstheydidnttellamazon, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst shlepping about the other night with camera in hand, I was listening to an audiobook recording of David McCullough’s “The Great Bridge,” which is a wonderful recount of the struggles of the Roeblings in pursuance of building the Brooklyn Bridge. In my mind, you can divide the historical narrative of NYC into halves – before and after the Brooklyn Bridge was built. There’s lots of other “bookmarks;” Fulton and his ferries, the emergence of Tammany Hall, City Consolidation, the Robert Moses era, the age of Anarchy and diminished expectations, even the second Gilded Age which we’re living in right now. The Brooklyn Bridge project, however, was a epochal moment. I bought the audiobook a few years ago from, which is an Amazon affiliate, and I like to revisit it periodically while I’m “doing my thing.”

All of the bookmark moments mentioned above are important, in my mind, because they set political precedents when they occurred which both current and future generations will have to live with. Brooklyn Bridge as the beginning of the age of progressivism in NYC, a term which meant something entirely different when it was coined than how it is used or interpreted in modernity. Back then, it invoked “progress” and stated that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. What that meant was that if you owned a business or home that was in the way of the Brooklyn Bridge, or some other needed improvement, you got out of the way in the name of the common good. The ultimate incarnation of “progress” was carried forward by Robert Moses in the middle 20th century, with his slum clearance and urban highway programs carving up entire neighborhoods.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is one of the inconvenient truths about Queens that I’m sure Amazon hasn’t been made aware of, which is that the high speed data lines that will connect them to the world are strung to rotting utility poles which are often – as is the case in the photo above – held together with bits of jury rigged string. I’ve got some personal experience with this sort of situation, and have been haranguing to get a similarly rotten utility pole on Broadway in Astoria replaced for several years. The situation boils down to there being a NYS Utility Commission governing the poles, who are slow moving but ultimately effective. A work crew arrives and installs a new pole, in short order. The problem is that the utility providers of NYC – ConEd/NatGrid/Verizon/RCN/Spectrum or Time Warner or whatever they are now – are allowed to take years to transfer their lines from the old pole to the new one due to their special “licensed monopoly status.” There was one situation here in Astoria, and I’ve got a photo of it somewhere, where the old pole had been sheared off its base by a truck and they tied it up with maritime rope to the new one. It took about five years for the wires to be transferred and the broken utility pole to be removed.

You don’t get away with this sort of thing in Manhattan, by the way. Queens is sort of the red haired step child amongst the boroughs, and always gets the smallest portion when the municipal cake is getting divvied up. This is because of the “get along” and “development at any cost” mind set that has ruled over the Queens Political caste since City Consolidation in 1898. That mind set has created “precedent,” and it’s why our sewers overflow and the lights go dim during high electrical demand periods during summer heat waves. It’s also why our streets are caked in ice during the winter days after the pavement in Manhattan is clear.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Setting a precedent is important in legal and political circles, as it allows some opportunist to say “I’m just doing what ‘so and so’ did last year, so what’s the problem?” What the citizenry always needs to be wary about is “the first time,” since that’s what the lawyers are going to cite “the next time.” One of the things which President Obama did that made me go red in the face was to give the Executive Branch the power to unilaterally execute an American citizen on American soil using a drone strike, in the name of national security and the never ending “war on terror.” All my pals on the Democrat side of the conversation said “don’t worry about, Obama won’t use that power all willy nilly” whereas I said “yeah, but what happens when somebody you don’t like inherits that precedent and power?”

Thanks Obama. Donald Trump can use a drone strike to assassinate an American citizen on American soil at his own discretion, and so can every future President of the United States. Precedent is important, and we need to be very careful as a society when setting it. Did you know it was originally an extraordinarily rare thing for a NYC Policeman to be seen carrying a gun? Now, it’s precedent.

The thing about the Amazon deal is the precedent it sets, which says that the executive branches of NYC and NYS can bypass all of the procedural “stops” which have been inserted into the process of large scale development in NYC to keep a Robert Moses from ramming highways through the Bronx or Austin Tobin from condemning dozens of thriving acres of Lower Manhattan to build a World Trade Center complex at the behest of the Rockefeller brothers which nobody really wanted except them?

The dimunition of legislative branch prerogatives and community input is what the Amazon deal represents, and it’s ultimately a disturbing precedent.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 13, 2018 at 2:00 pm

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