position:mayor

  • Paris streets, squares named in honour of LGBT+ figures

    Fifty years after New York City’s Stonewall riots laid the foundation for modern gay rights, Paris is carrying on that legacy by naming an array of streets and squares after historically important LGBT+ figures.

    New to the city map are Stonewall Riot and Harvey Milk squares – the first in recognition of the famous rebellion against Manhattan police in 1969; the latter in honour of the American civil rights leader and first openly gay politician to be elected in California.

    Other squares, gardens and passageways pay tribute to the likes of Irish gay rights activist Mark Ashton, French transsexual politician and poet Ovida-Delect and bisexual American writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag.

    There’s also a commemorative plaque in honour of Gilbert Baker, the man who invented the rainbow flag. Add to that Pierre Seel Street, named for the openly gay Holocaust survivor, and Place Renée Vivien, in honour of the British poet known for her Sapphic verse and party days during the Belle Epoque.

    Increasing LGBT+ visibility

    The new unveilings bring to more than 40 the number of people immortalised through plaques erected around the city – with most of them smattered about the vibrant 4th arrondissement, home to Paris’s unofficial gay district.

    These sorts of gestures are an important way of increasingly the visibility of the gay community and cementing its place in history, says Fabien Jannic-Cherbonnel, a journalist with the French LGBT+ news site Komitid.

    “France is very keen on talking about its history and the great men who shaped the country – and these plaques show people that women and LGBT+ figures are a part of that history, and they also helped to make this country what it is today,” he says.

    Paris playing catch-up

    While other European cities such as Amsterdam and Berlin are perhaps a little further ahead in celebrating the LGBT+ legacy, with their so-called “homomonuments” drawing in tourists, Paris is steadily playing catch-up – so much so the Town Hall has dared to label it the “flagship city of inclusion and diversity”.

    The street-naming gesture comes just ahead of this weekend’s pride march. Like many cities across the world, Paris cranks up the colour in June to celebrate gay pride – and this Saturday the capital will look like the rainbow city that mayor Anne Hidalgo has been striving to deliver.

    Tempering the pride party, however, is last month’s report by the French not-for-profit organisation SOS Homophobie, which noted a 15 percent rise in the number of homophobic attacks reported in 2018, compared with the previous year.

    While the NGO described 2018 as a “black year”, Jannic-Cherbonnel says the numbers aren’t necessarily evidence that homophobic assaults are on the rise.

    “This is a reflection of the number of calls that SOS received – which means that people are talking about it,” he says. “They know when something is wrong and when something happens they will report it.

    “I’m not convinced there’s a huge increase in homophobia in French society, especially in Paris, but we are talking more about it – which is good because this is all about visibility, which in turn helps to fight homophobia.”


    http://en.rfi.fr/france/20190626-paris-streets-squares-named-honour-lgbt-figures?ref=tw
    #LGBT #homosexualité #Paris #France #toponymie #noms_de_rue #Harvey_Milk

  • Opposition mayor bans Syrians from beach in western Turkey

    Syrians have been barred from public beaches by the mayor of Mudanya, a coastal district in the western Turkish province of Bursa, who said that he would not allow Syrians disturb Turkey’s own people, Karar newspaper reported on Saturday.

    Hayri Türkyılmaz from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), who was elected for a second term as Mudanya’s mayor on March 31, also attempted to ban Syrians from using beaches in 2014, Karar said.

    “Nobody has the right to bother others or restrict their freedoms”, tweeted Türkyılmaz. “While our children are dying (in Syria), our mothers are crying, our economy is going downhill, we won’t tolerate our people being annoyed as they live a life of comfort”.

    Turkey hosts some 3.6 million registered refugees from Syria, according to the latest United Nations figures published in May. Many in Turkey object to their presence, and the tensions have been fuelled in part by viral reports – often fake – of misdeeds by refugees, as well as inaccurate reports on the benefits offered them by the Turkish government.

    Turkish news site Gazete ABC reported that a high number of Syrians had been a fixture on the beaches in Mudanya for months, likening them to an “invasion”.

    The Syrians had been moved off the beaches and municipal police posted to ensure they did not return, Gazete ABC said.

    “They can either conform to us or they can go back to their own country”, Türkyılmaz said.

    With a reported 79 percent of Turks holding unfavourable views of the refugees, nationalist politicians have brought the issue to the agenda over recent years. This year another newly elected CHP mayor, Tanju Özcan of the north western Turkish province of Bolu, announced that he was cutting aid to Syrian refugees.


    https://ahvalnews.com/syrian-refugees/opposition-mayor-bans-syrians-beach-western-turkey
    #ségrégation #racisme #réfugiés_syriens #asile #migrations #réfugiés #Turquie #plage

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  • UK: Johnson ordered to face accusations that he lied to the public ...
    https://diasp.eu/p/9129729

    UK: Johnson ordered to face accusations that he lied to the public

    Source: National Public Radio [US state media]

    “A British court is ordering Boris Johnson to face accusations that while holding public office, he lied in order to sway voter opinion on Brexit. The case was brought by a ‘private prosecutor’ who says Johnson abused the public’s trust while holding official posts. Johnson has quickly emerged as a front-runner to replace Prime Minister Theresa May, who is resigning next month. But with today’s ruling, he must also face charges of misconduct in public office. The case was brought by Marcus Ball — who has raised more than $300,000 to fund his effort. Ball says Johnson is guilty of ‘misleading the public by endorsing and making statements about the cost of European Union (...)

    • – lien propre :

      http://rationalreview.com/archives/337859

      – article relié :
      https://www.npr.org/2019/05/29/727832275/boris-johnson-is-ordered-to-face-accusations-that-he-lied-to-the-public

      #UK #EU #UE #Europe #Brexit

      A British court is ordering Boris Johnson to face accusations that while holding on Brexit. The case was brought by a “private prosecutor” who says Johnson abused the public’s trust while holding official posts.

      Johnson has quickly emerged as a front-runner to replace Prime Minister Theresa May, who is resigning next month. But with today’s ruling, he must also face charges of misconduct in public office. The case was brought by Marcus Ball — who has raised more than $300,000 to fund his effort.

      Ball says Johnson is guilty of “misleading the public by endorsing and making statements about the cost of European Union Membership, which he knew to be false.”

      Johnson is currently a member of Parliament. He resigned as the U.K’s foreign secretary last summer, in a protest against May’s plans to leave the European Union. He has also served as London’s mayor.

      Johnson has repeatedly made the false claim that Britain paid £350 million each week to be in the European Union. The claim was famously touted on a Vote Leave campaign bus during the run-up to the Brexit vote.

      In 2017, the head of the U.K.’s Statistics Authority sent Johnson a letter expressing his disappointment and telling Johnson it was “a clear misuse of official statistics” to say leaving the EU would free up £350 million (more than $440 million) weekly to spend on national healthcare.

      In 2018, Johnson acknowledged that the figure was inaccurate — but he said it was “grossly underestimated.”

      On his crowdfunding page, Ball stresses that he’s not trying to stop Brexit from happening. Instead, he’s targeting what he sees as the real threat facing society: lying, particularly the falsehoods that flow from those in power.

      “Lying in politics is the biggest problem. It is far more important than Brexit and certainly a great deal older,” Ball wrote. “Historically speaking, lying in politics has assisted in starting wars, misleading voters and destroying public trust in the systems of democracy and government.”

      He added, “When politicians lie, democracy dies.”

      Ball says he wants to set a precedent by making it illegal for an elected official to lie about financial matters. If he’s successful, he says, the case could have a wide ripple effect.

      “Because of how the English common law works, it’s possible that such a precedent could be internationally persuasive by influencing the law in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Canada and India.”

      In Britain’s legal system, private prosecutions can be started by any person or company with the time and money to do so.

      As the London-based law firm Edmonds Marshall McMahon (which was once involved in Ball’s case) states, “Other than the fact the prosecution is brought by a private individual or company, for all other purposes they proceed in exactly the same way as if the prosecution had been brought by the Crown.”

  • Taxi loan abuses part of a broader pattern in New York | American Banker
    https://www.americanbanker.com/opinion/taxi-loan-abuses-part-of-a-broader-pattern-in-new-york

    An investigation by The New York Times earlier this week suggested that the massive collapse in New York City taxi medallion prices since 2014 was not primarily the result of new competition from Uber and Lyft. Instead it was the inevitable outcome of unsustainable lending practices.

    Low-paid cab drivers who dreamed of becoming their own bosses took out loans that required them to pay $1 million or more. The payments often covered only the interest that borrowers owed, and interest rates spiked if the loans were not repaid within a few years. From the lenders’ standpoint, the loans only made sense as long as medallion prices continued to rise.

    Cabbies, many of them immigrants, suffered harsh consequences after taking out loans with terms they did not fully understand.

    Cab drivers who dreamed of becoming their own bosses took out loans that required them to pay $1 million or more.

    Since the articles were published, various politicians have floated potential responses that are narrowly targeted at taxi medallion lending.

    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a probe of taxi loan brokers. Other local officials suggested that the city should buy onerous loans at discounted prices and then forgive much of the debt.

    Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asked the National Credit Union Administration to conduct a review of supervisory practices at institutions that engage in taxi medallion lending.

    But taxi drivers are not the only businesspeople who regularly get deceived by unscrupulous lenders. So do contractors, restaurateurs and the owners of various other kinds of struggling small businesses. Many high-cost business lenders are based in New York, where unusually favorable laws provide a haven to these companies.

    Some aspects of the New York City taxi loan market were unique. For example, local officials had a vested interest in keep medallion prices high, since the city was generating revenue from the proceeds of sales. Indeed, the Times showed that government officials enabled lending that has put many borrowers in dire straits.

    “The City of New York, more or less, is our partner,” Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial, said in a 2011 interview.

    But in other ways, the loans to cab drivers resembled deceptively marketed loans that have ensnared a wide variety of cash-strapped small-business owners.

    Because the New York City taxi loans were classified as business loans, rather than consumer loans, they did not have to include standard disclosures regarding interest rates. They often included large fees and terms that unsophisticated borrowers did not understand.

    And according to the Times, some taxi medallion lenders used a tool that under New York law offers a uniquely powerful way to collect on business debt. Lenders in the Empire State can require applicants for small-business loans to sign a document called a confession of judgment, which prevents them from contesting any subsequent allegation that they have fallen behind on their payments.

    A Bloomberg News investigation last year found that merchant cash advance companies, which offer high-cost financing to small businesses across the country, have at times abused New York’s court system by forging documents and lying about how much money they are owed in order to obtain speedy judgments that cannot be contested by the borrower.

    Small businesses that use merchant cash advances are required to make daily payments based on a percentage of their daily revenue. The merchant cash advance firms avoid complying with New York’s strict usury rules by classifying their financing not as a loan, but rather as a purchase of the company’s future credit card receipts.

    The Bloomberg articles also chronicled the role of New York City marshals — mayoral appointees who enforce the court judgments, get a cut of the proceeds, and have been accused in some cases of improperly seeking to collect money outside of the city.

    As evidence of business lending abuses in New York has mounted, little change has occurred at the state level, though there does appear to be a growing appetite for reform.

    Last year, the New York State Department of Financial Services argued in a report that borrower protection laws and regulations should apply equally to all consumer lending and small-business lending activities.

    The Bloomberg investigation reportedly sparked probes by the New York attorney general’s office and the Manhattan district attorney’s office. On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that the Federal Trade Commission has also opened an investigation of potentially unfair or deceptive practices in the merchant cash advance industry.

    The loan practices that hurt taxi drivers are part of a broader pattern in New York, which has become the nation’s capital for predatory business lending. It remains to be seen whether state lawmakers and regulators will connect the dots.

    Bankshot is American Banker’s column for real-time analysis of today’s news.

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • How New York could respond to the taxi medallion lending crisis | CSNY
    https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/infrastructure/how-new-york-could-respond-to-taxi-medallion-lending-crisis.html

    Experts and lawmakers weigh in on easing the pain of burdened medallion owners and preventing predatory lending in the future.
    By ANNIE MCDONOUGH
    MAY 22, 2019

    After a two-part New York Times investigation into predatory lending practices for taxi medallions delineated how industry leaders and government agencies participated in, encouraged or ignored risky lending, calls for action sprang forth – sometimes from the very same officials or agencies that had been asleep at the switch.

    Various deceptive or exploitative lending practices contributed to the rise and precipitous fall of taxi medallions in New York City. Medallions worth $200,000 in 2002 rose to more than $1 million in 2014, before crashing to less than $200,000. The bubble was inflated by loans made without down payments, requirements that loans had to be paid back in three years or extended with inflated interest rates, and interest-only loans that required borrowers to forfeit legal rights and give up much of their income. Borrowers – typically low-income, immigrant drivers – were left in the lurch when the bubble burst, an event that the taxi industry has long blamed primarily on the rise of app-based ride hail services like Uber and Lyft. While the rise of app-based ride hail did contribute to the now-ailing taxi industry, the revelations in the Times show government officials – including the Taxi and Limousine Commission which acted as a “cheerleader” for medallion sales – ignored the warning signs.

    Since Sunday, when the first Times story was published, New York Attorney General Letitia James has announced an inquiry into the business and lending practices that “may have created” the crisis, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a joint probe by the TLC, Department of Finance and Department of Consumer Affairs into the brokers who helped arrange the loans, Sen. Chuck Schumer called for an investigation into the credit unions involved in the lending, and members of the New York City Council and state Legislature, and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, have called for hearings and legislation to resolve the issue.

    The various proposals raised thus far are unlikely to fully address the damage caused to many medallion owners, some experts say. The Times investigation found that since 2016, more than 950 taxi drivers have filed for bankruptcy, with thousands more still suffering under the crippling loans. This is combined with a string of taxi and other professional drivers who have committed suicide in the past year and a half.

    Some of the solutions offered have focused on preventing the kind of reckless lending practices exhibited for taxi medallions. Stringer called on state lawmakers to close a loophole that allows lenders to classify their loans as business deals – as opposed to consumer loans, which have more protections for borrowers. A bill introduced last week by state Sen. Jessica Ramos would also establish a program to assist medallion owners who are unable to obtain financing, refinancing or restructuring of an existing loan through a loan loss reserve. State Sen. James Sanders and Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, who chair the state Legislature’s committees on banks, declined to comment.

    But classifying loans for medallions as consumer loans might not be appropriate, said Bruce Schaller, a transportation expert and former deputy commissioner at the New York City Department of Transportation. “I think the difficult question with the individual drivers is that they are in business, they are planning to make money off of their increase in medallion prices. Should they have the same protections as someone who is taking out a mortgage on a house, who is presumed to be very vulnerable?” he asked. “That may well be the case, but (drivers) are also in a business in a way that the prospective homeowner isn’t.”

    The TLC told the Times that it is the responsibility of bank examiners to control lending practices, while the state Department of Financial Services said that it supervised some of the banks involved, but often deferred to federal inspectors. “The TLC is gravely concerned that unsound lending practices have hurt taxi drivers and has raised these concerns publicly,” Acting Commissioner Bill Heinzen said in an emailed statement. “Banks and credit unions are regulated by federal agencies that have substantial oversight powers that the TLC does not have. The TLC has taken steps within our regulatory power to help owners and drivers by easing regulatory burdens and working with City Council to limit the number of for-hire vehicles on the road. We have pushed banks to restructure loan balances and payment amounts to reflect actual trip revenue.”

    Seth Stein, a spokesman for de Blasio, also mentioned interest in preventing risky lending practices. “We are deeply concerned about predatory lending in the medallion business,” Stein wrote in an email. “While TLC has no direct regulatory oversight over lenders – that is squarely under the purview of federal regulators – we continue to look for every means of helping owners and drivers make ends meet. We’ve discontinued medallion sales, secured a cap on app-based for-hire-vehicles, and we strongly urge federal regulators to do more as well.”

    But remedies at the federal level may not be realistic, according to David King, a professor of urban planning at Arizona State University, with a speciality in transportation and land use planning. “There doesn’t seem to be any appetite for what would be reasonable lending standards. Reasonable standards that would include verifiable collateral or values that were based on something other than made-up dollar amounts,” King said, adding that he doesn’t see those changes being made under the current administration. “The housing bubble of 11 years ago, I think that was a sufficiently national concern that has inspired some movement from Washington. Whereas I think something like an asset bubble in New York, just like an asset bubble in one region, isn’t going to be enough to spur federal legislation.”

    Schaller said that while lending regulation fixes could be beneficial for preventing this kind of crisis in other industries, there’s action that can be taken now by the city to alleviate some pain. “The real question is, if the city now decides that they were part of the fraud, then they should refund the money,” he said. “It’s one thing to close a loophole, it’s another thing to decide that you need to make restitution.”

    City Councilman Mark Levine, who has been working on legislation along those lines for nearly a year, agreed that the city needs to take responsibility. “There has been a lot of attention to the whole industry of lenders and brokers who push these loans on the drivers in ways that were not transparent and really deceived them, and may very well constitute some sort of legal fraud,” he said. “But the city itself also bears responsibility for this, because we were selling medallions with the goal of bringing in revenue to the city and we were promoting them and pumping them up in ways that I think masks the true risks that drivers were taking on. And, most egregiously, we had a round of sales in 2014 when it was abundantly clear that we were headed for a price drop, because by that point app-based competitors had emerged and there were other challenges.”

    Levine’s vision for immediately helping those drivers still suffering under unsustainable loans would involve the city acquiring the loans from lenders who either cannot or will not be flexible with borrowers, and then forgiving the debts. Though the bill hasn’t been introduced yet, the idea is to partially finance the buy-back by placing a surcharge on app-based ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft. Levine’s office is still working on confirming that the City Council would have the authority to levy that kind of surcharge. If it doesn’t, they would encourage that action be taken in Albany.

    But, as the Times’ investigation into the issue has revealed, much of the damage to drivers and medallion owners has already been done – including to the hundreds of medallion owners who have declared bankruptcy. “If someone paid $800,000 for a medallion loan and paid part of that off, and has had their house repossessed, now Mark Levine is saying, ‘well, we’ll just refund whatever’s left dangling out there,’” Schaller said. “If I were on the losing end of that bargain, I’d say I want my $800,000 back.”

    The idea of a buy-back, Levine admitted, is not a perfect solution, but it’s one he said can help the thousands of medallion owners stuck right now. “It would not address that kind of horrible, horrible hardship,” he said, referring to those owners who have forfeited assets and sustained other losses.

    If there’s any upside to the stories relayed in the Times about medallion owners financially devastated by bad loans and the failing taxi industry, it may be that it’s a call to action – even if it’s coming too late for some. “It’s had a dramatic impact on the interest in the Council about finding solutions,” Levine said of the heavy punch packed by the Times’ investigation. “It gives new impetus to this effort, which is good, because it’s complicated, and it’s going to require a political push to make it happen. The revelations in this article made that more likely.”

    Annie McDonough is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • How We Investigated the New York Taxi Medallion Bubble - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/22/reader-center/taxi-medallion-investigation.html

    It took a year, 450 interviews and a database built from scratch to answer a simple question: Why had anyone ever agreed to pay $1 million for the right to drive a yellow cab?

    By Brian M. Rosenthal
    May 22, 2019

    Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

    The story started, like a lot of stories seem to, with President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen.

    On April 9, 2018, the F.B.I. raided Mr. Cohen’s office, thrusting him into the national spotlight. The next day, the top editors at The New York Times asked five reporters to start working on a profile. I was one of them.

    The other reporters researched Mr. Cohen’s family, his legal career, his real estate interests and, of course, his work for the president. I took on the last piece of his business empire: his ownership of 30 New York taxi medallions, the coveted permits needed to own a yellow cab.

    After a few weeks of reporting, the team learned enough to publish our story on Mr. Cohen. And I discovered enough to know what I wanted to investigate next.

    At that time, the taxi industry was becoming a big story. Mr. Cohen had owned his medallions as an investment, counting on them rising in value because of the city’s decision to issue only about 13,000 permits. But thousands of the medallions were owned by drivers themselves, and two driver-owners had just died by suicide. Public officials were talking about how the price of a medallion had plummeted from over $1 million to under $150,000. Most were blaming ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

    I had a different question: Why had anybody ever paid $1 million for the right to the grueling job of being a cabby?

    When I pursue an investigation, I identify the single most important question that I am trying to answer, and orient all of my reporting around it. (For example, why did it cost more to build subway track in New York than anywhere else in the world? Or why did Texas have the lowest special education rate in the country?) In this case, I ended up interviewing about 450 people, and I asked almost all the same question: Why did the price reach $1 million? It became my North Star.

    I heard plenty of theories, but I began to get somewhere only when I had an epiphany: No driver-owner had ever really paid close to $1 million for a medallion. On paper, thousands of low-income immigrants had. But while they had poured their life savings into their purchase, virtually all had signed loans for most of the cost — and never really had a chance to repay.

    I needed to examine as many loans as possible, to see if they were as unusual and reckless — and predatory — as some of my sources said they were. But how?

    I got a lead from an unexpected source: the lenders themselves.

    After prices had started crashing, the lenders in the industry had tried to squeeze money out of borrowers. Many of them had filed lawsuits against borrowers — lawsuits which had to include copies of the loans.

    I ultimately reviewed 500 of these loans, and I saw disturbing patterns: Almost none of them included a large down payment. Almost all of them required the borrower to repay everything within three years, which was impossible. There were a lot of interest-only loans, and a wide variety of fees, including charges for paying loans off too early. Many of the loans required borrowers to sign away their legal rights.

    Armed with the loan documents, I started calling dozens of current and former industry bankers, brokers, lawyers and investors. Some pointed me to disclosures that lenders had filed with the government, which were enormously helpful. Others shared internal records, which were even better.

    New York City did not have reliable digital data on medallion sales, so I used paper records to build a database of all the 10,888 sales between 1995 and 2018. The city taxi commission had never analyzed the financial records submitted by medallion buyers, so I did. Nobody knew how many medallion owners had gone bankrupt because of the crisis, so I convinced my boss to pay a technology company, Epiq, to create a program that sped through court records and spat out a tentative list — and then two news assistants helped me verify every result.

    As I dug into the data and the documents, I sought out driver-owners. I wanted to understand what they had been through. To find them, I went to Kennedy International Airport.

    The fare from taking someone from the airport into Manhattan can make a cabby’s day, and so drivers wait in line for hours. And over several visits during a couple of months, I waited with them, striking up conversations outside a food stand run by a Greek family and next to pay phones that had stopped working years ago. After talking briefly, I asked if I could visit their homes and meet their friends.

    In all, I met 200 taxi drivers, including several I interviewed through translators because they did not speak English fluently. (Some of those men still had signed loans of up to $1 million.) One by one, they told me how they had come to New York seeking the American dream, worked hard and gotten trapped in loans they did not understand, which often made them give up almost all of their monthly income. Several said that after the medallion bubble burst, wiping out their savings and their futures, they had contemplated suicide. One said he had already attempted it.

    The day after we began publishing our findings, city officials announced they were exploring ways to help these driver-owners, and the mayor and state attorney general said they were going to investigate the people who channeled them into the loans.

    In the end, the three front-page stories that we published this week about the taxi industry barely mentioned Mr. Cohen at all.

    But they did something much more important: They told the stories of Mohammed Hoque, of Jean Demosthenes and of Wael Ghobrayal.

    Brian M. Rosenthal is an investigative reporter on the Metro Desk. Previously, he covered state government for the Houston Chronicle and for The Seattle Times. @brianmrosenthal

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • Taxi Industry Leaders Got Rich. Drivers Paid the Price. - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/21/nyregion/newyorktoday/nyc-news-taxi-medallions.html

    In the past year and a half, eight professional drivers, including three taxi medallion owners, have died by suicide. Since 2016, 950 taxi drivers have filed for bankruptcy. And as of Monday, a city task force created last year to study the taxi industry had no members.

    The Times published an investigation this week into what caused financial ruin for so many drivers.

    Industry disrupters like Uber and Lyft have drawn lots of attention, but the real problem was that lenders made reckless loans as regulators looked on, my colleague Brian M. Rosenthal reported. The loans generated huge profits for lenders, as well as for city coffers.

    The practices were similar to those that led to the housing market crash and global financial crisis of 2008. They also created what one analyst called “modern-day indentured servitude.”

    Here are five takeaways from Mr. Rosenthal’s investigation.

    [Read Part 1 of the investigation: How reckless loans devastated a generation of taxi drivers.]

    Uber and Lyft did not cause the crisis in New York City’s yellow taxi industry

    The taxi medallion bubble burst in 2014. Uber entered the city in 2011, and Lyft in 2014.

    The internet-based ride-hailing companies may have hastened the crisis, but virtually all of the hundreds of industry veterans interviewed for the investigation said the industry would have collapsed regardless because of inflated medallion prices and risky lending practices.

    City data shows that 97 percent of yellow cab rides start in central Manhattan, or at the airports, where Uber and Lyft are less popular.

    On a per-cab basis, each taxi’s revenue has decreased by about 10 percent since Uber entered New York, according to the city’s data.

    Taxi industry leaders artificially inflated the price of taxi medallions

    To drive a yellow taxi in the city, you need a medallion.

    After years of stability, medallion prices soared from $200,000 in 2002 to more than $1 million in 2014. Some industry leaders have admitted to intentionally causing prices to spike. During that time, revenue generated by taxis barely changed.

    Taxi industry leaders steered drivers into reckless loans

    From 2002 through 2014, about 4,000 people signed loans to buy taxi medallions.

    Drivers borrowed up to $1 million, often without a down payment, according to financial documents. Many were required to repay their loans within three years, which was practically impossible, forcing them to extend the terms of their loans at inflated interest rates.

    Hundreds of drivers signed interest-only loans requiring them to forfeit legal rights and indefinitely give up almost every dollar they earned.

    You can imagine the toll: Some borrowed even more money, and a few, facing financial and other pressures, died by suicide.

    [Read Part 2: How top officials counted money while drivers were trapped in loans.]

    Lenders protected themselves by selling those loans

    People who made risky taxi loans protected themselves by selling the loans to other institutions.

    At the market’s height, the six nonprofit credit unions most involved in the industry sold about $3 billion in medallion loans to 122 other credit unions, according to financial disclosure forms.

    Officials ignored years of warning signs

    In 2010, a city employee wrote a report showing that cabbies weren’t making enough to support their loans.

    In 2014, state inspectors gave a presentation to officials in Albany.

    Earlier this year, Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, shut the committee overseeing the industry, saying it had completed most of its work.

    The state attorney general’s office said yesterday that it had opened an inquiry into the lending practices, while Mayor de Blasio ordered a city investigation into the brokers who helped arrange loans.

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • De Blasio calls for probe of taxi lenders
    https://nypost.com/2019/05/20/de-blasio-calls-for-probe-of-taxi-lenders-following-predatory-loan-report

    May 20, 2019 - Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a probe Monday of the city taxi market following a damning report that claimed industry leaders duped drivers with predatory loans and artificially inflated the costs of cab medallions for years– leading to their eventual collapse.

    “Today I ordered a joint investigation by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, Department of Finance and Department of Consumer Affairs into predatory practices by brokers in the taxi industry,” the mayor said in a statement.

    The 45-day review will identify and penalize brokers who have taken advantage of buyers and misled city authorities, the mayor said.

    The New York Times reported Sunday that brokers shopped exploitative loans to cash-strapped, often immigrant drivers who were crushed by hefty monthly fees.

    De Blasio said the review will set new rules to prevent future abuses.

    “It’s unacceptable to prey on hardworking New Yorkers trying to support their families and we’ll do all that we can to put an end to it,” he said.

    The deep decrease in medallion values from a high of $1.3 million in 2013 to just $250,000 last year is also due to the flood of Uber and Lyft cars into the market.

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • Inquiries Into Reckless Loans to Taxi Drivers Ordered by State Attorney General and Mayor - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/20/nyregion/nyc-taxi-medallion-loans-attorney-general.html

    May 20, 2019 - The investigations come after The New York Times found that thousands of drivers were crushed under debt they could not repay.

    The New York attorney general’s office said Monday it had opened an inquiry into more than a decade of lending practices that left thousands of immigrant taxi drivers in crushing debt, while Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a separate investigation into the brokers who helped arrange the loans.

    The efforts marked the government’s first steps toward addressing a crisis that has engulfed the city’s yellow cab industry. They came a day after The New York Times published a two-part investigation revealing that a handful of taxi industry leaders artificially inflated the price of a medallion — the coveted permit that allows a driver to own and operate a cab — and made hundreds of millions of dollars by issuing reckless loans to low-income buyers.

    The investigation also found that regulators at every level of government ignored warning signs, and the city fed the frenzy by selling medallions and promoting them in ads as being “better than the stock market.”

    The price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million before crashing in late 2014, which left borrowers with debt they had little hope of repaying. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, and thousands more are struggling to stay afloat.

    The findings also drew a quick response from other elected officials. The chairman of the Assembly’s banking committee, Kenneth Zebrowski, a Democrat, said his committee would hold a hearing on the issue; the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, said he was drafting legislation; and several other officials in New York and Albany called for the government to pressure lenders to soften loan terms.

    The biggest threat to the industry leaders appeared to be the inquiry by the attorney general, Letitia James, which will aim to determine if the lenders engaged in any illegal activity.

    “Our office is beginning an inquiry into the disturbing reports regarding the lending and business practices that may have created the taxi medallion crisis,” an office spokeswoman said in a statement. “These allegations are serious and must be thoroughly scrutinized.”

    Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said through a spokesman that he supported the inquiry. “If any of these businesses or lenders did something wrong, they deserve to be held fully accountable,” the spokesman said in a statement.

    Lenders did not respond to requests for comment. Previously, they denied wrongdoing, saying regulators had approved all of their practices and some borrowers had made poor decisions and assumed too much debt. Lenders blamed the crisis on the city for allowing ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to enter without regulation, which they said led medallion values to plummet.

    Mr. de Blasio said the city’s investigation will focus on the brokers who arranged the loans for drivers and sometimes lent money themselves.

    “The 45-day review will identify and penalize brokers who have taken advantage of buyers and misled city authorities,” the mayor said in a statement. “The review will set down strict new rules that prevent broker practices that hurt hard-working drivers.”

    Four of the city’s biggest taxi brokers did not respond to requests for comment.

    Bhairavi Desai, founder of the Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents drivers and independent owners, said the city should not get to investigate the business practices because it was complicit in many of them.

    The government has already closed or merged all of the nonprofit credit unions that were involved in the industry, saying they participated in “unsafe and unsound banking practices.” At least one credit union leader, Alan Kaufman, the former chief executive of Melrose Credit Union, a major medallion lender, is facing civil charges.

    The other lenders in the industry include Medallion Financial, a specialty finance company; some major banks, including Capital One and Signature Bank; and several loosely regulated taxi fleet owners and brokers who entered the lending business.

    At City Hall, officials said Monday they were focused on how to help the roughly 4,000 drivers who bought medallions during the bubble, as well as thousands of longtime owners who were encouraged to refinance their loans to take out more money during that period.

    One city councilman, Mark Levine, said he was drafting a bill that would allow the city to buy medallion loans from lenders and then forgive much of the debt owed by the borrowers. He said lenders likely would agree because they are eager to exit the business. But he added that his bill would force lenders to sell at discounted prices.

    “The city made hundreds of millions by pumping up sales of wildly overpriced medallions — as late as 2014 when it was clear that these assets were poised to decline,” said Mr. Levine, a Democrat. “We have an obligation now to find some way to offer relief to the driver-owners whose lives have been ruined.”

    Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, proposed a similar solution in a letter to the mayor. He said the city should convene the lenders and pressure them to partially forgive loans.

    “These lenders too often dealt in bad faith with a group of hard-working, unsuspecting workers who deserved much better and have yet to receive any measure of justice,” wrote Mr. Stringer, who added that the state should close a loophole that allowed the lenders to classify their loans as business deals, which have looser regulations.

    Last November, amid a spate of suicides by taxi drivers, including three medallion owners with overwhelming debt, the Council created a task force to study the taxi industry.

    On Monday, a spokesman for the speaker, Mr. Johnson, said that members of the task force would be appointed very soon. He also criticized the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency that sold the medallions.

    “We will explore every tool we have to ensure that moving forward, the T.L.C. protects medallion owners and drivers from predatory actors including lenders, medallion brokers, and fleet managers,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement.

    Another councilman, Ritchie Torres, who heads the Council’s oversight committee, disclosed Monday for the first time that he had been trying to launch his own probe since last year, but had been stymied by the taxi commission. “The T.L.C. hasn’t just been asleep at the wheel, they have been actively stonewalling,” he said.

    A T.L.C. spokesman declined to comment.

    In Albany, several lawmakers also said they were researching potential bills.

    One of them, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou of Manhattan, a member of the committee on banks, said she hoped to pass legislation before the end of the year. She said the state agencies involved in the crisis, including the Department of Financial Services, should be examined.

    “My world has been shaken right now, to be honest,” Ms. Niou said.

    Brian M. Rosenthal is an investigative reporter on the Metro Desk. Previously, he covered state government for the Houston Chronicle and for The Seattle Times. @brianmrosenthal

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/19/nyregion/taxi-medallions.html

    [Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers]

    At a cramped desk on the 22nd floor of a downtown Manhattan office building, Gary Roth spotted a looming disaster.

    An urban planner with two master’s degrees, Mr. Roth had a new job in 2010 analyzing taxi policy for the New York City government. But almost immediately, he noticed something disturbing: The price of a taxi medallion — the permit that lets a driver own a cab — had soared to nearly $700,000 from $200,000. In order to buy medallions, drivers were taking out loans they could not afford.

    Mr. Roth compiled his concerns in a report, and he and several colleagues warned that if the city did not take action, the loans would become unsustainable and the market could collapse.

    They were not the only ones worried about taxi medallions. In Albany, state inspectors gave a presentation to top officials showing that medallion owners were not making enough money to support their loans. And in Washington, D.C., federal examiners repeatedly noted that banks were increasing profits by steering cabbies into risky loans.

    They were all ignored.

    Medallion prices rose above $1 million before crashing in late 2014, wiping out the futures of thousands of immigrant drivers and creating a crisis that has continued to ravage the industry today. Despite years of warning signs, at least seven government agencies did little to stop the collapse, The New York Times found.

    Instead, eager to profit off medallions or blinded by the taxi industry’s political connections, the agencies that were supposed to police the industry helped a small group of bankers and brokers to reshape it into their own moneymaking machine, according to internal records and interviews with more than 50 former government employees.

    For more than a decade, the agencies reduced oversight of the taxi trade, exempted it from regulations, subsidized its operations and promoted its practices, records and interviews showed.

    Their actions turned one of the best-known symbols of New York — its signature yellow cabs — into a financial trap for thousands of immigrant drivers. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records, and many more struggle to stay afloat.

    Remember the ‘10,000 Hours’ Rule for Success? Forget About It
    “Nobody wanted to upset the industry,” said David Klahr, who from 2007 to 2016 held several management posts at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency that oversees cabs. “Nobody wanted to kill the golden goose.”

    New York City in particular failed the taxi industry, The Times found. Two former mayors, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, placed political allies inside the Taxi and Limousine Commission and directed it to sell medallions to help them balance budgets and fund priorities. Mayor Bill de Blasio continued the policies.

    Under Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. de Blasio, the city made more than $855 million by selling taxi medallions and collecting taxes on private sales, according to the city.

    But during that period, much like in the mortgage lending crisis, a group of industry leaders enriched themselves by artificially inflating medallion prices. They encouraged medallion buyers to borrow as much as possible and ensnared them in interest-only loans and other one-sided deals that often required them to pay hefty fees, forfeit their legal rights and give up most of their monthly incomes.

    When the medallion market collapsed, the government largely abandoned the drivers who bore the brunt of the crisis. Officials did not bail out borrowers or persuade banks to soften loan terms.

    “They sell us medallions, and they knew it wasn’t worth price. They knew,” said Wael Ghobrayal, 42, an Egyptian immigrant who bought a medallion at a city auction for $890,000 and now cannot make his loan payments and support his three children.

    “They lost nothing. I lost everything,” he said.

    The Times conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed thousands of records and built several databases to unravel the story of the downfall of the taxi industry in New York and across the United States. The investigation unearthed a collapse that was years in the making, aided almost as much by regulators as by taxi tycoons.

    Publicly, government officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing firms such as Uber and Lyft.

    In interviews with The Times, they blamed each other.

    The officials who ran the city Taxi and Limousine Commission in the run-up to the crash said it was the job of bank examiners, not the commission, to control lending practices.

    The New York Department of Financial Services said that while it supervised some of the banks involved in the taxi industry, it deferred to federal inspectors in many cases.

    The federal agency that oversaw many of the largest lenders in the industry, the National Credit Union Administration, said those lenders were meeting the needs of borrowers.

    The N.C.U.A. released a March 2019 internal audit that scolded its regulators for not aggressively enforcing rules in medallion lending. But even that audit partially absolved the government. The lenders, it said, all had boards of directors that were supposed to prevent reckless practices.

    And several officials criticized Congress, which two decades ago excepted credit unions in the taxi industry from some rules that applied to other credit unions. After that, the officials said, government agencies had to treat those lenders differently.

    Ultimately, former employees said, the regulatory system was set up to ensure that lenders were financially stable, and medallions were sold. But almost nothing protected the drivers.

    Matthew W. Daus, far right, at a hearing of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2004. CreditMarilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
    Matthew W. Daus was an unconventional choice to regulate New York’s taxi industry. He was a lawyer from Brooklyn and a leader of a political club that backed Mr. Giuliani for mayor.

    The Giuliani administration hired him as a lawyer for the Taxi and Limousine Commission before appointing him chairman in 2001, a leadership post he kept after Mr. Bloomberg became mayor in 2002.

    The commission oversaw the drivers and fleets that owned the medallions for the city’s 12,000 cabs. It licensed all participants and decided what cabs could charge, where they could go and which type of vehicle they could use.

    And under Mr. Bloomberg, it also began selling 1,000 new medallions.

    At the time, the mayor said the growing city needed more yellow cabs. But he also was eager for revenue. He had a $3.8 billion hole in his budget.

    The sales put the taxi commission in an unusual position.

    It had a long history of being entangled with the industry. Its first chairman, appointed in 1971, was convicted of a bribery scheme involving an industry lobbyist. Four other leaders since then had worked in the business.

    It often sent staffers to conferences where companies involved in the taxi business paid for liquor, meals and tickets to shows, and at least one past member of its board had run for office in a campaign financed by the industry.

    Still, the agency had never been asked to generate so much money from the business it was supposed to be regulating.

    Former staffers said officials chose to sell medallions with the method they thought would bring in the most revenue: a series of limited auctions that required participants to submit sealed bids above ever-increasing minimums.

    Ahead of the sales, the city placed ads on television and radio, and in newspapers and newsletters, and held seminars promoting the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

    “Medallions have a long history as a solid investment with steady growth,” Mr. Daus wrote in one newsletter. In addition to guaranteed employment, he wrote, “a medallion is collateral that can assist in home financing, college tuition or even ‘worry-free’ retirement.”

    At the first auctions under Mr. Bloomberg in 2004, bids topped $300,000, surprising experts.

    Some former staffers said in interviews they believed the ad campaign inappropriately inflated prices by implying medallions would make buyers rich, no matter the cost. Seven said they complained.

    The city eventually added a disclaimer to ads, saying past performance did not guarantee future results. But it kept advertising.

    During the same period, the city also posted information on its website that said that medallion prices were, on average, 13 percent higher than they really were, according to a Times data analysis.

    In several interviews, Mr. Daus defended the ad campaigns, saying they reached people who had been unable to break into the tight market. The ads were true at the time, he said. He added he had never heard internal complaints about the ads.

    In all, the city held 16 auctions between 2004 and 2014.

    “People don’t realize how organized it is,” Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial, a lender to medallion buyers, said in a 2011 interview with Tearsheet Podcast. “The City of New York, more or less, is our partner because they want to see prices go as high as possible.”

    Help from a federal agency

    New York City made more than $855 million from taxi medallion sales under Mayor Bill de Blasio and his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

    For decades, a niche banking system had grown up around the taxi industry, and at its center were about half a dozen nonprofit credit unions that specialized in medallion loans. But as the auctions continued, the families that ran the credit unions began to grow frustrated.

    Around them, they saw other lenders making money by issuing loans that they could not because of the rules governing credit unions. They recognized a business opportunity, and they wanted in.

    They found a receptive audience at the National Credit Union Administration.

    The N.C.U.A. was the small federal agency that regulated the nation’s credit unions. It set the rules, examined their books and insured their accounts.

    Like the city taxi commission, the N.C.U.A. had long had ties to the industry that it regulated. One judge had called it a “rogue federal agency” focused on promoting the industry.

    In 2004, its chairman was Dennis Dollar, a former Mississippi state representative who had previously worked as the chief executive of a credit union. He had just been inducted into the Mississippi Credit Union Hall of Fame, and he had said one of his top priorities was streamlining regulation.

    Dennis Dollar, the former chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, is now a consultant in the industry. 

    Under Mr. Dollar and others, the N.C.U.A. issued waivers that exempted medallion loans from longstanding rules, including a regulation requiring each loan to have a down payment of at least 20 percent. The waivers allowed the lenders to keep up with competitors and to write more profitable loans.

    Mr. Dollar, who left government to become a consultant for credit unions, said the agency was following the lead of Congress, which passed a law in 1998 exempting credit unions specializing in medallion loans from some regulations. The law signaled that those lenders needed leeway, such as the waivers, he said.

    “If we did not do so, the average cabdriver couldn’t get a medallion loan,” Mr. Dollar said.

    The federal law and the N.C.U.A. waivers were not the only benefits the industry received. The federal government also provided many medallion lenders with financial assistance and guaranteed a portion of their taxi loans, assuring that if those loans failed, they would still be partially paid, according to records and interviews.

    As lenders wrote increasingly risky loans, medallion prices neared $500,000 in 2006.

    ‘Snoozing and napping’

    Under Mr. Bloomberg, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission began selling 1,000 new medallions.

    Another agency was also supposed to be keeping an eye on lending practices. New York State banking regulators are required to inspect all financial institutions chartered in the state. But after 2008, they were forced to focus their attention on the banks most affected by the global economic meltdown, according to former employees.

    As a result, some industry veterans said, the state stopped examining medallion loans closely.

    “The state banking department would come in, and they’d be doing the exam in one room, and the N.C.U.A. would be in another room,” said Larry Fisher, who was then the medallion lending supervisor at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders. “And you could catch the state banking department snoozing and napping and going on the internet and not doing much at all.”

    The state banking department, which is now called the New York Department of Financial Services, disputed that characterization and said it had acted consistently and appropriately.

    Former federal regulators described a similar trend at their agencies after the recession.

    Some former employees of the N.C.U.A., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said that as medallion prices climbed, they tried to raise issues with loans and were told not to worry. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve Board also oversaw some lenders and did not intervene.

    A spokesman for the Federal Reserve said the agency was not a primary regulator of the taxi lending industry. The rest of the agencies declined to comment.

    “It was obvious that the loans were unusual and risky,” said Patrick Collins, a former N.C.U.A. examiner. But, he said, there was a belief inside his agency that the loans would be fine because the industry had been stable for decades.

    Meanwhile, in New York City, the taxi commission reduced oversight.

    For years, it had made medallion purchasers file forms describing how they came up with the money, including details on all loans. It also had required industry participants to submit annual disclosures on their finances, loans and conflicts of interest.

    But officials never analyzed the forms filed by buyers, and in the 2000s, they stopped requiring the annual disclosures altogether.

    “Reviewing these disclosures was an onerous lift for us,” the commission’s communications office said in a recent email.

    By 2008, the price of a medallion rose to $600,000.

    At around the same time, the commission began focusing on new priorities. It started developing the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” a model for future cabs.

    The agency’s main enforcement activities targeted drivers who cheated passengers or discriminated against people of color. “Nobody really scrutinized medallion transfers,” said Charles Tortorici, a former commission lawyer.

    A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement that during the mayor’s tenure, the city improved the industry by installing credit card machines and GPS devices, making fleets more environmentally efficient and creating green taxis for boroughs outside Manhattan.

    “The industry was always its own worst enemy, fighting every reform tooth and nail,” said the spokesman, Marc La Vorgna. “We put our energy and political capital into the reforms that most directly and immediately impacted the riding public.”

    Records show that since 2008, the taxi commission has not taken a single enforcement action against brokers, the powerful players who arrange medallion sales and loans.

    Alex Korenkov, a broker, suggested in an interview that he and other brokers took notice of the city’s hands-off approach.

    “Let’s put it this way,” he said. “If governing body does not care, then free-for-all.”

    By the time that Mr. Roth wrote his report at the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2010, it was clear that something strange was happening in the medallion market.

    Mr. Daus gave a speech that year that mentioned the unusual lending practices. During the speech, he said banks were letting medallion buyers obtain loans without any down payment. Experts have since said that should have raised red flags. But at the time, Mr. Daus seemed pleased.

    “Some of these folks were offering zero percent down,” he said. “You tell me what bank walks around asking for zero percent down on a loan? It’s just really amazing.”

    In interviews, Mr. Daus acknowledged that the practice was unusual but said the taxi commission had no authority over lending.

    Inside the commission, at least four employees raised concerns about the medallion prices and lending practices, according to the employees, who described their own unease as well as Mr. Roth’s report.

    David S. Yassky, a former city councilman who succeeded Mr. Daus as commission chairman in 2010, said in an interview that he never saw Mr. Roth’s report.

    Mr. Yassky said the medallion prices puzzled him, but he could not determine if they were inflated, in part because people were still eager to buy. Medallions may have been undervalued for decades, and the price spike could have been the market recognizing the true value, he suggested.

    Meera Joshi, who became chairwoman in 2014, said in an interview that she was worried about medallion costs and lending practices but was pushed to prioritize other responsibilities. Dominic Williams, Mr. de Blasio’s chief policy adviser, said the city focused on initiatives such as improving accessibility because no one was complaining about loans.

    Worries about the taxi industry also emerged at the National Credit Union Administration. In late 2011, as the price of some medallions reached $800,000, a group of agency examiners wrote a paper on the risks in the industry, according to a recent report by the agency’s inspector general.

    In 2012, 2013 and 2014, inspectors routinely documented instances of credit unions violating lending rules, the inspector general’s report said.

    David S. Yassky, the former chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

    The N.C.U.A. chose not to penalize medallion lenders or impose extra oversight. It did not take any wide industry action until April 2014, when it sent a letter reminding the credit unions in the taxi market to act responsibly.

    Former staffers said the agency was still focused on the fallout from the recession.

    A spokesman for the N.C.U.A. disputed that characterization and said the agency conducted appropriate enforcement.

    He added the agency took actions to ensure the credit unions remained solvent, which was its mission. He said Congress allowed the lenders to concentrate heavily on medallion loans, which left them vulnerable when Uber and Lyft arrived.

    At the New York Department of Financial Services, bank examiners noticed risky practices and interest-only loans and repeatedly wrote warnings starting in 2010, according to the state. At least one report expressed concern of a potential market bubble, the state said.

    Eventually, examiners became so concerned that they made a PowerPoint presentation and called a meeting in 2014 to show it to a dozen top officials.

    “Since 2001, individual medallion has risen 455%,” the presentation warned, according to a copy obtained by The Times. The presentation suggested state action, such as sending a letter to the industry or revoking charters from some lenders.

    The state did neither. The department had recently merged with the insurance department, and former employees said it was finding its footing.

    The department superintendent at the time, Benjamin M. Lawsky, a former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said he did not, as a rule, discuss his tenure at the department.

    In an emailed statement, the department denied it struggled after the merger and said it took action to stop the collapse of the medallion market. A department spokesman provided a long list of warnings, suggestions and guidelines that it said examiners had issued to lenders. He said that starting in 2012, the department downgraded some of its own internal ratings of the lenders.

    The list did not include any instances of the department formally penalizing a medallion lender, or making any public statement about the industry before it collapsed.

    Between 2010 and 2014, as officials at every level of government failed to rein in the risky lending practices, records show that roughly 1,500 people bought taxi medallions. Over all, including refinancings of old loans and extensions required by banks, medallion owners signed at least 10,000 loans in that time.

    Several regulators who tried to raise alarms said they believed the government stood aside because of the industry’s connections.

    Many pointed to one company — Medallion Financial, run by the Murstein family. Former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, the current governor’s father, was a paid member of its board from 1996 until he died in 2015.

    Others noted that Mr. de Blasio has long been close to the industry. When he ran for mayor in 2013, an industry lobbyist, Michael Woloz, was a top fund-raiser, records show. And Evgeny Freidman, a major fleet owner who has admitted to artificially inflating medallion prices, has said he is close to the mayor.

    Some people, including Mr. Dollar, the former N.C.U.A. chairman, said Congress excepted the taxi trade from rules because the industry was supported by former United States Senator Alfonse D’Amato of New York, who was then the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

    “The taxi industry is one of the most politically connected industries in the city,” said Fidel Del Valle, who was the chairman of the taxi commission from 1991 to 1994. He later worked as a lawyer for drivers and a consultant to an owner association run by Mr. Freidman. “It’s been that way for decades, and they’ve used that influence to push back on regulation, with a lot of success.”

    A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said Medallion Financial was not regulated by the state, so the elder Mr. Cuomo’s position on the board was irrelevant. A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio said the industry’s connections did not influence the city.

    Mr. Murstein, Mr. Woloz, Mr. Freidman and Mr. D’Amato all declined to comment.

    The aftermath
    “I think city will help me,” Mohammad Hossain, who is in deep debt from a taxi medallion loan, said at his family’s home in the Bronx.

    New York held its final independent medallion auction in February 2014. By then, concerns about medallion prices were common in the news media and government offices, and Uber had established itself. Still, the city sold medallions to more than 150 bidders. (“It’s better than the stock market,” one ad said.)

    Forty percent of the people who bought medallions at that auction have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records.

    Mohammad Hossain, 47, from Bangladesh, who purchased a medallion for $853,000 at the auction, said he could barely make his monthly payments and was getting squeezed by his lender. “I bought medallion from the city,” he said through tears. “I think city will help me, you know. I assume that.”

    The de Blasio administration’s only major response to the crisis has been to push for a cap on ride-hail cars. The City Council at first rejected a cap in 2015 before approving it last year.

    Taxi industry veterans said the cap did not address the cause of the crisis: the lending practices.

    Richard Weinberg, a taxi commission hearing officer from 1988 to 2002 and a lawyer for drivers since then, said that when the medallion bubble began to burst, the city should have frozen prices, adjusted fares and fees and convinced banks to be flexible with drivers. That could have allowed prices to fall slowly. “That could’ve saved a lot of people,” he said.

    In an interview, Dean Fuleihan, the first deputy mayor, said the city did help taxi owners, including by reducing some fees, taxes and inspection mandates, and by talking to banks about loans. He said that if the City Council had passed the cap in 2015, it would have helped.

    “We do care about those drivers, we care about those families. We attempted throughout this period to take actions,” he said.

    Federal regulators also have not significantly helped medallion owners.

    In 2017 and 2018, the N.C.U.A. closed or merged several credit unions for “unsafe business practices” in medallion lending. It took over many of the loans, but did not soften terms, according to borrowers. Instead, it tried to get money out as quickly as possible.

    The failure of the credit unions has cost the national credit union insurance fund more than $750 million, which will hurt all credit union members.

    In August 2018, the N.C.U.A. closed Melrose in what it said was the biggest credit union liquidation in United States history. The agency barred Melrose’s general counsel from working for credit unions and brought civil charges against its former C.E.O., Alan Kaufman, saying he used company funds to help industry partners in exchange for gifts.

    The general counsel, Mitchell Reiver, declined to answer questions but said he did nothing wrong. Mr. Kaufman said in an interview that the N.C.U.A. made up the charges to distract from its role in the crisis.

    “I’m definitely a scapegoat,” Mr. Kaufman said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

    Glamour, then poverty
    After he struggled to repay his taxi medallion loan, Abel Vela left his family in New York and moved back to Peru, where living costs were cheaper. 

    During the medallion bubble, the city produced a television commercial to promote the permits. In the ad, which aired in 2004, four cabbies stood around a taxi discussing the perks of the job. One said buying a medallion was the best decision he had ever made. They all smiled. Then Mr. Daus appeared on screen to announce an auction.

    Fifteen years later, the cabbies remember the ad with scorn. Three of the four were eventually enticed to refinance their original loans under far riskier terms that left them in heavy debt.

    One of the cabbies, Abel Vela, had to leave his wife and children and return to his home country, Peru, because living costs were lower there. He is now 74 and still working to survive.

    The city aired a commercial in 2004 to promote an upcoming auction of taxi medallions. The ad featured real cab drivers, but three of them eventually took on risky loans and suffered financial blows.
    The only woman in the ad, Marie Applyrs, a Haitian immigrant, fell behind on her loan payments and filed for bankruptcy in November 2017. She lost her cab, and her home. She now lives with her children, switching from home to home every few months.

    “When the ad happened, the taxi was in vogue. I think I still have the tape somewhere. It was glamorous,” she said. “Now, I’m in the poorhouse.”

    Today, the only person from the television commercial still active in the industry is Mr. Daus. He works as a lawyer for lenders.

    [Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers]

    Madeline Rosenberg contributed reporting. Doris Burke contributed research. Produced by Jeffrey Furticella and Meghan Louttit.

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • ‘They Were Conned’: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/19/nyregion/nyc-taxis-medallions-suicides.html


    Mohammed Hoque with his three children in their studio apartment in Jamaica, Queens.

    May 19, 2019 - The phone call that ruined Mohammed Hoque’s life came in April 2014 as he began another long day driving a New York City taxi, a job he had held since emigrating from Bangladesh nine years earlier.

    The call came from a prominent businessman who was selling a medallion, the coveted city permit that allows a driver to own a yellow cab instead of working for someone else. If Mr. Hoque gave him $50,000 that day, he promised to arrange a loan for the purchase.

    After years chafing under bosses he hated, Mr. Hoque thought his dreams of wealth and independence were coming true. He emptied his bank account, borrowed from friends and hurried to the man’s office in Astoria, Queens. Mr. Hoque handed over a check and received a stack of papers. He signed his name and left, eager to tell his wife.

    Mr. Hoque made about $30,000 that year. He had no idea, he said later, that he had just signed a contract that required him to pay $1.7 million.

    Over the past year, a spate of suicides by taxi drivers in New York City has highlighted in brutal terms the overwhelming debt and financial plight of medallion owners. All along, officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

    But a New York Times investigation found much of the devastation can be traced to a handful of powerful industry leaders who steadily and artificially drove up the price of taxi medallions, creating a bubble that eventually burst. Over more than a decade, they channeled thousands of drivers into reckless loans and extracted hundreds of millions of dollars before the market collapsed.

    These business practices generated huge profits for bankers, brokers, lawyers, investors, fleet owners and debt collectors. The leaders of nonprofit credit unions became multimillionaires. Medallion brokers grew rich enough to buy yachts and waterfront properties. One of the most successful bankers hired the rap star Nicki Minaj to perform at a family party.

    But the methods stripped immigrant families of their life savings, crushed drivers under debt they could not repay and engulfed an industry that has long defined New York. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records. Thousands more are barely hanging on.

    The practices were strikingly similar to those behind the housing market crash that led to the 2008 global economic meltdown: Banks and loosely regulated private lenders wrote risky loans and encouraged frequent refinancing; drivers took on debt they could not afford, under terms they often did not understand.

    Some big banks even entered the taxi industry in the aftermath of the housing crash, seeking a new market, with new borrowers.

    The combination of easy money, eager borrowers and the lure of a rare asset helped prices soar far above what medallions were really worth. Some industry leaders fed the frenzy by purposefully overpaying for medallions in order to inflate prices, The Times found.

    Between 2002 and 2014, the price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million from $200,000, even though city records showed that driver incomes barely changed.

    About 4,000 drivers bought medallions in that period, records show. They were excited to buy, but they were enticed by a dubious premise.

    What Actually Happened to New York’s Taxi DriversMay 28, 2019

    After the medallion market collapsed, Mayor Bill de Blasio opted not to fund a bailout, and earlier this year, the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, shut down the committee overseeing the taxi industry, saying it had completed most of its work.

    Over 10 months, The Times interviewed 450 people, built a database of every medallion sale since 1995 and reviewed thousands of individual loans and other documents, including internal bank records and confidential profit-sharing agreements.

    The investigation found example after example of drivers trapped in exploitative loans, including hundreds who signed interest-only loans that required them to pay exorbitant fees, forfeit their legal rights and give up almost all their monthly income, indefinitely.

    A Pakistani immigrant who thought he was just buying a car ended up with a $780,000 medallion loan that left him unable to pay rent. A Bangladeshi immigrant said he was told to lie about his income on his loan application; he eventually lost his medallion. A Haitian immigrant who worked to exhaustion to make his monthly payments discovered he had been paying only interest and went bankrupt.

    Abdur Rahim, who is from Bangladesh, is one of several cab drivers who allege they were duped into signing exploitative loans. 
    It is unclear if the practices violated any laws. But after reviewing The Times’s findings, experts said the methods were among the worst that have been used since the housing crash.

    “I don’t think I could concoct a more predatory scheme if I tried,” said Roger Bertling, the senior instructor at Harvard Law School’s clinic on predatory lending and consumer protection. “This was modern-day indentured servitude.”

    Lenders developed their techniques in New York but spread them to Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and elsewhere, transforming taxi industries across the United States.

    In interviews, lenders denied wrongdoing. They noted that regulators approved their practices, and said some borrowers made poor decisions and assumed too much debt. They said some drivers were happy to use climbing medallion values as collateral to take out cash, and that those who sold their medallions at the height of the market made money.

    The lenders said they believed medallion values would keep increasing, as they almost always had. No one, they said, could have predicted Uber and Lyft would emerge to undercut the business.

    “People love to blame banks for things that happen because they’re big bad banks,” said Robert Familant, the former head of Progressive Credit Union, a small nonprofit that specialized in medallion loans. “We didn’t do anything, in my opinion, other than try to help small businesspeople become successful.”

    Mr. Familant made about $30 million in salary and deferred payouts during the bubble, including $4.8 million in bonuses and incentives in 2014, the year it burst, according to disclosure forms.

    Meera Joshi, who joined the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2011 and became chairwoman in 2014, said it was not the city’s job to regulate lending. But she acknowledged that officials saw red flags and could have done something.

    “There were lots of players, and lots of people just watched it happen. So the T.L.C. watched it happen. The lenders watched it happen. The borrowers watched it happen as their investment went up, and it wasn’t until it started falling apart that people started taking action and pointing fingers,” said Ms. Joshi, who left the commission in March. “It was a party. Why stop it?”

    Every day, about 250,000 people hail a New York City yellow taxi. Most probably do not know they are participating in an unconventional economic system about as old as the Empire State Building.

    The city created taxi medallions in 1937. Unlicensed cabs crowded city streets, so officials designed about 12,000 specialized tin plates and made it illegal to operate a taxi without one bolted to the hood of the car. The city sold each medallion for $10.

    People who bought medallions could sell them, just like any other asset. The only restriction: Officials designated roughly half as “independent medallions” and eventually required that those always be owned by whoever was driving that cab.

    Over time, as yellow taxis became symbols of New York, a cutthroat industry grew around them. A few entrepreneurs obtained most of the nonindependent medallions and built fleets that controlled the market. They were family operations largely based in the industrial neighborhoods of Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens.

    Allegations of corruption, racism and exploitation dogged the industry. Some fleet bosses were accused of cheating drivers. Some drivers refused to go outside Manhattan or pick up black and Latino passengers. Fleet drivers typically worked 60 hours a week, made less than minimum wage and received no benefits, according to city studies.

    Still, driving could serve as a path to the middle class. Drivers could save to buy an independent medallion, which would increase their earnings and give them an asset they could someday sell for a retirement nest egg.

    Those who borrowed money to buy a medallion typically had to submit a large down payment and repay within five to 10 years.

    The conservative lending strategy produced modest returns. The city did not release new medallions for almost 60 years, and values slowly climbed, hitting $100,000 in 1985 and $200,000 in 1997.

    “It was a safe and stable asset, and it provided a good life for those of us who were lucky enough to buy them,” said Guy Roberts, who began driving in 1979 and eventually bought medallions and formed a fleet. “Not an easy life, but a good life.”

    “And then,” he said, “everything changed.”

    – Before coming to America, Mohammed Hoque lived comfortably in Chittagong, a city on Bangladesh’s southern coast. He was a serious student and a gifted runner, despite a small and stocky frame. His father and grandfather were teachers; he said he surpassed them, becoming an education official with a master’s degree in management. He supervised dozens of schools and traveled on a government-issued motorcycle. In 2004, when he was 33, he married Fouzia Mahabub. -

    That same year, several of his friends signed up for the green card lottery, and their thirst for opportunity was contagious. He applied, and won.

    His wife had an uncle in Jamaica, Queens, so they went there. They found a studio apartment. Mr. Hoque wanted to work in education, but he did not speak enough English. A friend recommended the taxi industry.

    It was an increasingly common move for South Asian immigrants. In 2005, about 40 percent of New York cabbies were born in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan, according to the United States Census Bureau. Over all, just 9 percent were born in the United States.

    Mr. Hoque and his wife emigrated from Bangladesh, and have rented the same apartment in Queens since 2005.

    Mr. Hoque joined Taxifleet Management, a large fleet run by the Weingartens, a Russian immigrant family whose patriarchs called themselves the “Three Wise Men.”

    He worked 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week. On a good day, he said, he brought home $100. He often felt lonely on the road, and he developed back pain from sitting all day and diabetes, medical records show.

    He could have worked fewer shifts. He also could have moved out of the studio. But he drove as much as feasible and spent as little as possible. He had heard the city would soon be auctioning off new medallions. He was saving to buy one.

    Andrew Murstein, left, with his father, Alvin.CreditChester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
    In the early 2000s, a new generation took power in New York’s cab industry. They were the sons of longtime industry leaders, and they had new ideas for making money.

    Few people represented the shift better than Andrew Murstein.

    Mr. Murstein was the grandson of a Polish immigrant who bought one of the first medallions, built one of the city’s biggest fleets and began informally lending to other buyers in the 1970s. Mr. Murstein attended business school and started his career at Bear Stearns and Salomon Brothers, the investment banks.

    When he joined the taxi business, he has said, he pushed his family to sell off many medallions and to establish a bank to focus on lending. Medallion Financial went public in 1996. Its motto was, “In niches, there are riches.”

    Dozens of industry veterans said Mr. Murstein and his father, Alvin, were among those who helped to move the industry to less conservative lending practices. The industry veterans said the Mursteins, as well as others, started saying medallion values would always rise and used that idea to focus on lending to lower-income drivers, which was riskier but more profitable.

    The strategy began to be used by the industry’s other major lenders — Progressive Credit Union, Melrose Credit Union and Lomto Credit Union, all family-run nonprofits that made essentially all their money from medallion loans, according to financial disclosures.

    “We didn’t want to be the one left behind,” said Monte Silberger, Lomto’s controller and then chief financial officer from 1999 to 2017.

    The lenders began accepting smaller down payments. By 2013, many medallion buyers were not handing over any down payment at all, according to an analysis of buyer applications submitted to the city.

    “It got to a point where we didn’t even check their income or credit score,” Mr. Silberger said. “It didn’t matter.”

    Lenders also encouraged existing borrowers to refinance and take out more money when medallion prices rose, according to interviews with dozens of borrowers and loan officers. There is no comprehensive data, but bank disclosures suggest that thousands of owners refinanced.

    Industry veterans said it became common for owners to refinance to buy a house or to put children through college. “You’d walk into the bank and walk out 30 minutes later with an extra $200,000,” said Lou Bakalar, a broker who arranged loans.

    Yvon Augustin has been living with help from his children ever since he declared bankruptcy and lost his taxi medallion.

    Some pointed to the refinancing to argue that irresponsible borrowers fueled the crisis. “Medallion owners were misusing it,” said Aleksey Medvedovskiy, a fleet owner who also worked as a broker. “They used it as an A.T.M.”

    As lenders loosened standards, they increased returns. Rather than raising interest rates, they made borrowers pay a mix of costs — origination fees, legal fees, financing fees, refinancing fees, filing fees, fees for paying too late and fees for paying too early, according to a Times review of more than 500 loans included in legal cases. Many lenders also made borrowers split their loan and pay a much higher rate on the second loan, documents show.

    Lenders also extended loan lengths. Instead of requiring repayment in five or 10 years, they developed deals that lasted as long as 50 years, locking in decades of interest payments. And some wrote interest-only loans that could continue forever.

    “We couldn’t figure out why the company was doing so many interest-only loans,” said Michelle Pirritano, a Medallion Financial loan analyst from 2007 to 2011. “It was a good revenue stream, but it didn’t really make sense as a loan. I mean, it wasn’t really a loan, because it wasn’t being repaid.”

    Almost every loan reviewed by The Times included a clause that spiked the interest rate to as high as 24 percent if it was not repaid in three years. Lenders included the clause — called a “balloon” — so that borrowers almost always had to extend the loan, possibly at a higher rate than in the original terms, and with additional fees.

    Yvon Augustin was caught in one of those loans. He bought a medallion in 2006, a decade after emigrating from Haiti. He said he paid $2,275 every month — more than half his income, he said — and thought he was paying off the loan. But last year, his bank used the balloon to demand that he repay everything. That is when he learned he had been paying only the interest, he said.

    Mr. Augustin, 69, declared bankruptcy and lost his medallion. He lives off assistance from his children.

    During the global financial crisis, Eugene Haber, a lawyer for the taxi industry, started getting calls from bankers he had never met.

    Mr. Haber had written a template for medallion loans in the 1970s. By 2008, his thick mustache had turned white, and he thought he knew everybody in the industry. Suddenly, new bankers began calling his suite in a Long Island office park. Capital One, Signature Bank, New York Commercial Bank and others wanted to issue medallion loans, he said.

    Some of the banks were looking for new borrowers after the housing market collapsed, Mr. Haber said. “They needed somewhere else to invest,” he said. He said he represented some banks at loan signings but eventually became embittered because he believed banks were knowingly lending to people who could not repay.

    Instead of lending directly, the big banks worked through powerful industry players. They enlisted large fleet owners and brokers — especially Neil Greenbaum, Richard Chipman, Savas Konstantinides, Roman Sapino and Basil Messados — to use the banks’ money to lend to medallion buyers. In return, the owners and brokers received a cut of the monthly payments and sometimes an additional fee.

    The fleet owners and brokers, who technically issued the loans, did not face the same scrutiny as banks.

    “They did loans that were frankly insane,” said Larry Fisher, who from 2003 to 2016 oversaw medallion lending at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders originally in the industry. “It contributed to the price increases and put a lot of pressure on the rest of us to keep up.”

    Evgeny Freidman, a fleet owner, has said he purposely overbid for taxi medallions in order to drive up their value.CreditSasha Maslov
    Still, Mr. Fisher said, Melrose followed lending rules. “A lot of people tend to blame others for their own misfortune,” he said. “If they want to blame the lender for the medallion going down the tubes the way it has, I think they’re misplaced.”

    Mr. Konstantinides, a fleet owner and the broker and lender who arranged Mr. Hoque’s loans, said every loan issued by his company abided by federal and state banking guidelines. “I am very sympathetic to the plight of immigrant families who are seeking a better life in this country and in this city,” said Mr. Konstantinides, who added that he was also an immigrant.

    Walter Rabin, who led Capital One’s medallion lending division between 2007 and 2012 and has led Signature Bank’s medallion lending division since, said he was one of the industry’s most conservative lenders. He said he could not speak for the brokers and fleet owners with whom he worked.

    Mr. Rabin and other Signature executives denied fault for the market collapse and blamed the city for allowing ride-hail companies to enter with little regulation. “It’s the City of New York that took the biggest advantage of the drivers,” said Joseph J. DePaolo, the president and chief executive of Signature. “It’s not the banks.”

    New York Commercial Bank said in a statement that it began issuing medallion loans before the housing crisis and that they were a very small part of its business. The bank did not engage in risky lending practices, a spokesman said.

    Mr. Messados said in an interview that he disagreed with interest-only loans and other one-sided terms. But he said he was caught between banks developing the loans and drivers clamoring for them. “They were insisting on this,” he said. “What are you supposed to do? Say, ‘I’m not doing the sale?’”

    Several lenders challenged the idea that borrowers were unsophisticated. They said that some got better deals by negotiating with multiple lenders at once.

    Mr. Greenbaum, Mr. Chipman and Mr. Sapino declined to comment, as did Capital One.

    Some fleet owners worked to manipulate prices. In the most prominent example, Evgeny Freidman, a brash Russian immigrant who owned so many medallions that some called him “The Taxi King,” said he purposefully overpaid for medallions sold at city auctions. He reasoned that the higher prices would become the industry standard, making the medallions he already owned worth more. Mr. Freidman, who was partners with Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, disclosed the plan in a 2012 speech at Yeshiva University. He recently pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud. He declined to comment.

    As medallion prices kept increasing, the industry became strained. Drivers had to work longer hours to make monthly payments. Eventually, loan records show, many drivers had to use almost all their income on payments.

    “The prices got to be ridiculous,” said Vincent Sapone, the retired manager of the League of Mutual Taxi Owners, an owner association. “When it got close to $1 million, nobody was going to pay that amount of money, unless they came from another country. Nobody from Brooklyn was going to pay that.”

    Some drivers have alleged in court that lenders tricked them into signing loans.

    Muhammad Ashraf, who is not fluent in English, said he thought he was getting a loan to purchase a car but ended up in debt to buy a taxi medallion instead.

    Muhammad Ashraf, a Pakistani immigrant, alleged that a broker, Heath Candero, duped him into a $780,000 interest-only loan. He said in an interview in Urdu that he could not speak English fluently and thought he was just signing a loan to buy a car. He said he found out about the loan when his bank sued him for not fully repaying. The bank eventually decided not to pursue a case against Mr. Ashraf. He also filed a lawsuit against Mr. Candero. That case was dismissed. A lawyer for Mr. Candero declined to comment.

    Abdur Rahim, a Bangladeshi immigrant, alleged that his lender, Bay Ridge Credit Union, inserted hidden fees. In an interview, he added he was told to lie on his loan application. The application, reviewed by The Times, said he made $128,389, but he said his tax return showed he made about $25,000. In court, Bay Ridge has denied there were hidden fees and said Mr. Rahim was “confusing the predatory-lending statute with a mere bad investment.” The credit union declined to comment.

    Several employees of lenders said they were pushed to write loans, encouraged by bonuses and perks such as tickets to sporting events and free trips to the Bahamas.

    They also said drivers almost never had lawyers at loan closings. Borrowers instead trusted their broker to represent them, even though, unbeknown to them, the broker was often getting paid by the bank.

    Stan Zurbin, who between 2009 and 2012 did consulting work for a lender that issued medallion loans, said that as prices rose, lenders in the industry increasingly lent to immigrants.

    “They didn’t have 750 credit scores, let’s just say,” he said. “A lot of them had just come into the country. A lot of them just had no idea what they were signing.”

    The $1 million medallion
    Video
    Mrs. Hoque did not want her husband to buy a medallion. She wanted to use their savings to buy a house. They had their first child in 2008, and they planned to have more. They needed to leave the studio apartment, and she thought a home would be a safer investment.

    But Mr. Hoque could not shake the idea, especially after several friends bought medallions at the city’s February 2014 auction.

    One friend introduced him to a man called “Big Savas.” It was Mr. Konstantinides, a fleet owner who also had a brokerage and a lending company, Mega Funding.

    The call came a few weeks later. A medallion owner had died, and the family was selling for $1 million.

    Mr. Hoque said he later learned the $50,000 he paid up front was just for taxes. Mega eventually requested twice that amount for fees and a down payment, records show. Mr. Hoque said he maxed out credit cards and borrowed from a dozen friends and relatives.

    Fees and interest would bring the total repayment to more than $1.7 million, documents show. It was split into two loans, both issued by Mega with New York Commercial Bank. The loans made him pay $5,000 a month — most of the $6,400 he could earn as a medallion owner.

    Mohammed Hoque’s Medallion Loans Consumed Most of His Taxi Revenue
    After paying his two medallion loans and business costs, Mr. Hoque had about $1,400 left over each month to pay the rent on his studio apartment in Queens and cover his living expenses.

    Estimated monthly revenue $11,845

    Gas $1,500

    Income after expenses $1,400

    Vehicle maintenance $1,300

    Medallion loan 1 $4,114

    Insurance $1,200

    Car loan $650

    Credit card fees $400

    Medallion loan 2 $881

    Other work-related expenses $400

    By the time the deal closed in July 2014, Mr. Hoque had heard of a new company called Uber. He wondered if it would hurt the business, but nobody seemed to be worried.

    As Mr. Hoque drove to the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s downtown office for final approval of the purchase, he fantasized about becoming rich, buying a big house and bringing his siblings to America. After a commission official reviewed his application and loan records, he said he was ushered into the elegant “Taxi of Tomorrow” room. An official pointed a camera. Mr. Hoque smiled.

    “These are little cash cows running around the city spitting out money,” Mr. Murstein said, beaming in a navy suit and pink tie.

    He did not mention he was quietly leaving the business, a move that would benefit him when the market collapsed.

    By the time of the appearance, Medallion Financial had been cutting the number of medallion loans on its books for years, according to disclosures it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Murstein later said the company started exiting the business and focusing on other ventures before 2010.

    Mr. Murstein declined numerous interview requests. He also declined to answer some written questions, including why he promoted medallions while exiting the business. In emails and through a spokesman, he acknowledged that Medallion Financial reduced down payments but said it rarely issued interest-only loans or charged borrowers for repaying loans too early.

    “Many times, we did not match what our competitors were willing to do and in retrospect, thankfully, we lost the business,” he wrote to The Times.

    Interviews with three former staffers, and a Times review of loan documents that were filed as part of lawsuits brought by Medallion Financial against borrowers, indicate the company issued many interest-only loans and routinely included a provision allowing it to charge borrowers for repaying loans too early.

    Other lenders also left the taxi industry or took precautions long before the market collapsed.

    The credit unions specializing in the industry kept making new loans. But between 2010 and 2014, they sold the loans to other financial institutions more often than in the previous five years, disclosure forms show. Progressive Credit Union, run by Mr. Familant, sold loans off almost twice as often, the forms show. By 2012, that credit union was selling the majority of the loans it issued.

    In a statement, Mr. Familant said the selling of loans was a standard banking practice that did not indicate a lack of confidence in the market.

    Several banks used something called a confession of judgment. It was an obscure document in which the borrower admitted defaulting on the loan — even before taking out any money at all — and authorized the bank to do whatever it wanted to collect.

    Larry Fisher was the medallion lending supervisor at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders originally in the industry, from 2003 to 2016.
    Congress has banned that practice in consumer loans, but not in business loans, which is how lenders classified medallion deals. Many states have barred it in business loans, too, but New York is not among them.

    Even as some lenders quietly braced for the market to fall, prices kept rising, and profits kept growing.

    By 2014, many of the people who helped create the bubble had made millions of dollars and invested it elsewhere.

    Medallion Financial started focusing on lending to R.V. buyers and bought a professional lacrosse team and a Nascar team, painting the car to look like a taxi. Mr. Murstein and his father made more than $42 million between 2002 and 2014, disclosures show. In 2015, Ms. Minaj, the rap star, performed at his son’s bar mitzvah.

    The Melrose C.E.O., Alan Kaufman, had the highest base salary of any large state-chartered credit union leader in America in 2013 and 2015, records show. His medallion lending supervisor, Mr. Fisher, also made millions.

    It is harder to tell how much fleet owners and brokers made, but in recent years news articles have featured some of them with new boats and houses.

    Mr. Messados’s bank records, filed in a legal case, show that by 2013, he had more than $50 million in non-taxi assets, including three homes and a yacht.

    The bubble bursts

    At least eight drivers have committed suicide, including three medallion owners with overwhelming loans.
    The medallion bubble burst in late 2014. Uber and Lyft may have hastened the crisis, but virtually all of the hundreds of industry veterans interviewed for this article, including many lenders, said inflated prices and risky lending practices would have caused a collapse even if ride-hailing had never been invented.

    At the market’s height, medallion buyers were typically earning about $5,000 a month and paying about $4,500 to their loans, according to an analysis by The Times of city data and loan documents. Many owners could make their payments only by refinancing when medallion values increased, which was unsustainable, some loan officers said.

    City data shows that since Uber entered New York in 2011, yellow cab revenue has decreased by about 10 percent per cab, a significant bite for low-earning drivers but a small drop compared with medallion values, which initially rose and then fell by 90 percent.

    As values fell, borrowers asked for breaks. But many lenders went the opposite direction. They decided to leave the business and called in their loans.

    They used the confessions to get hundreds of judgments that would allow them to take money from bank accounts, court records show. Some tried to get borrowers to give up homes or a relative’s assets. Others seized medallions and quickly resold them for profit, while still charging the original borrowers fees and extra interest. Several drivers have alleged in court that their lenders ordered them to buy life insurance.

    Many lenders hired a debt collector, Anthony Medina, to seize medallions from borrowers who missed payments.

    The scars left on cabs after medallions were removed.

    Mr. Medina left notes telling borrowers they had to give the lender “relief” to get their medallions back. The notes, which were reviewed by The Times, said the seizure was “authorized by vehicle apprehension unit.” Some drivers said Mr. Medina suggested he was a police officer and made them meet him at a park at night and pay $550 extra in cash.

    One man, Jean Demosthenes, a 64-year-old Haitian immigrant who could not speak English, said in an interview in Haitian Creole that Mr. Medina cornered him in Midtown, displayed a gun and took his car.

    In an interview, Mr. Medina denied threatening anyone with a gun. He said he requested cash because drivers who had defaulted could not be trusted to write good checks. He said he met drivers at parks and referred to himself as the vehicle apprehension unit because he wanted to hide his identity out of fear he could be targeted by borrowers.

    “You’re taking words from people that are deadbeats and delinquent people. Of course, they don’t want to see me,” he said. “I’m not the bad guy. I’m just the messenger from the bank.”

    Some lenders, especially Signature Bank, have let borrowers out of their loans for one-time payments of about $250,000. But to get that money, drivers have had to find new loans. Mr. Greenbaum, a fleet owner, has provided many of those loans, sometimes at interest rates of up to 15 percent, loan documents and interviews showed.

    New York Commercial Bank said in its statement it also had modified some loans.

    Other drivers lost everything. Most of the more than 950 owners who declared bankruptcy had to forfeit their medallions. Records indicate many were bought by hedge funds hoping for prices to rise. For now, cabs sit unused.

    Jean Demosthenes said his medallion was repossessed by a man with a gun. The man denied that he was armed.

    Bhairavi Desai, founder of the Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents drivers and independent owners, has asked the city to bail out owners or refund auction purchasers. Others have urged the city to pressure banks to forgive loans or soften terms.

    After reviewing The Times’s findings, Deepak Gupta, a former top official at the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said the New York Attorney General’s Office should investigate lenders.

    Mr. Gupta also said the state should close the loophole that let lenders classify medallion deals as business loans, even though borrowers had to guarantee them with everything they owned. Consumer loans have far more disclosure rules and protections.

    “These practices were indisputably predatory and would be illegal if they were considered consumer loans, rather than business loans,” he said.

    Last year, amid eight known suicides of drivers, including three medallion owners with overwhelming loans, the city passed a temporary cap on ride-hailing cars, created a task force to study the industry and directed the city taxi commission to do its own analysis of the debt crisis.

    Earlier this year, the Council eliminated the committee overseeing the industry after its chairman, Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx, said the Council was “controlled by the homosexual community.” The speaker, Mr. Johnson, said, “The vast majority of the legislative work that we have been looking at has already been completed.”

    In a statement, a council spokesman said the committee’s duties had been transferred to the Committee on Transportation. “The Council is working to do as much as it can legislatively to help all drivers,” the spokesman said.

    As of last week, no one had been appointed to the task force.

    On the last day of 2018, Mr. and Mrs. Hoque brought their third child home from the hospital.

    Mr. Hoque cleared space for the boy’s crib, pushing aside his plastic bags of T-shirts and the fan that cooled the studio. He looked around. He could not believe he was still living in the same room.

    His loan had quickly faltered. He could not make the payments and afford rent, and his medallion was seized. Records show he paid more than $12,000 to Mega, and he said he paid another $550 to Mr. Medina to get it back. He borrowed from friends, promising it would not happen again. Then it happened four more times, he said.

    Mr. Konstantinides, the broker, said in his statement that he met with Mr. Hoque many times and twice modified one of his loans in order to lower his monthly payments. He also said he gave Mr. Hoque extra time to make some payments.

    In all, between the initial fees, monthly payments and penalties after the seizures, Mr. Hoque had paid about $400,000 into the medallion by the beginning of this year.

    But he still owed $915,000 more, plus interest, and he did not know what to do. Bankruptcy would cost money, ruin his credit and remove his only income source. And it would mean a shameful end to years of hard work. He believed his only choice was to keep working and to keep paying.

    His cab was supposed to be his ticket to money and freedom, but instead it seemed like a prison cell. Every day, he got in before the sun rose and stayed until the sky began to darken. Mr. Hoque, now 48, tried not to think about home, about what he had given up and what he had dreamed about.

    “It’s an unhuman life,” he said. “I drive and drive and drive. But I don’t know what my destination is.”

    [Read Part 2 of The Times’s investigation: As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money]

    Reporting was contributed by Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Suzanne Hillinger, Derek M. Norman, Elisha Brown, Lindsey Rogers Cook, Pierre-Antoine Louis and Sameen Amin. Doris Burke and Susan Beachy contributed research. Produced by Jeffrey Furticella and Meghan Louttit.

    Follow Brian M. Rosenthal on Twitter at @brianmrosenthal

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • Chinese Surveillance Complex Advancing in Latin America

    In February, 2019, in a story that went almost unnoticed in Washington, the small South American nation of #Uruguay began installing the first of 2,100 surveillance cameras, donated by the People’s Republic of China to improve control of its borders with neighboring Argentina and Brazil.

    The move highlights the significant deepening of the Uruguay-PRC relationship over the last decade, including their establishment of a “Strategic Partnership” in October 2016, and the signing of a memorandum of understanding in August 2018 for Uruguay to join China’s Belt and Road initiative (despite being about as far from the PRC as is geographically possible).

    Beyond Uruguay, the development also highlights a little-discussed but important dimension of China’s advance: its expanding global sales of surveillance and control technologies. Although the press and U.S. political leadership have given significant attention to the risks of employing Chinese telecommunications companies such as Huawei the equally serious but newer issue of expanding sales of Chinese surveillance systems has been less discussed.

    The installation of Chinese surveillance systems, acquired through PRC government donations or commercial contracts, is a growing phenomenon in Latin America and elsewhere.

    Such systems began to appear in the region more than a decade ago, including in 2007, when then mayor of Mexico City (now Mexican Foreign Minister) Miguel Ebrard returned from a trip to the PRC with a deal to install thousands of Chinese cameras to combat crime in the Mexican capital. More recent examples include ECU-911 in Ecuador, a China-built national system of surveillance and communication initially agreed to by the administration of anti-U.S. populist president Rafael Correa. The system, which has expanded to currently include 4,300 cameras and a command center manned by thousands of Ecuadorans, has been built almost completely from Chinese equipment, designed for a range of otherwise noble purposes from emergency response and combatting crime, to monitoring volcanoes. Bolivia boasts a similar Chinese built system, albeit more limited in scope, BOL-110, in addition to hundreds of surveillance cameras donated by the PRC to at least four of Bolivia’s principal cities.

    In Panama, which abandoned Taiwan to establish relations with the PRC in 2017, the government of Juan Carlos Varela has agreed to allow Huawei to install a system of cameras in the crime-ridden city of Colon and the associated free trade zone. Not by coincidence, in July 2019, Hikivision, China’s largest producer of surveillance cameras, announced plans to set up a major distribution center in Colon to support sales of its products throughout the Americas.

    In northern Argentina, near where the Chinese are developing a lithium mining operation and constructing the hemisphere’s largest array of photovoltaic cells for electricity generation, the Chinese company ZTE is installing another “911” style emergency response system with 1,200 cameras.

    In Venezuela, although not a surveillance system per se, the Chinese company ZTE has helped the regime of Nicholas Maduro implement a “fatherland identity card” linking different kinds of data on individuals through an identity card which allows the state to confer privileges (such as rationing food) as a tool for social control.

    As with sectors such as computers and telecommunications, the PRC arguably wishes to support the global export of such systems by its companies to advance technologies it recognizes as strategic for the Chinese nation, per its own official policy documents such as Made In China 2025.

    The risks arising from spreading use of Chinese surveillance equipment and architectures are multiple and significant, involving: (1) the sensitivity of the data collected on specific persons and activities, particularly when processed through technologies such as facial recognition, integrated with other data, and analyzed through artificial intelligence (AI) and other sophisticated algorithms, (2) the potential ability to surreptitiously obtain access to that data, not only through the collection devices, but at any number of points as it is communicated, stored, and analyzed, and (3) the long-term potential for such systems to contribute to the sustainment of authoritarian regimes (such as those in Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, and formerly Ecuador) whose corrupt elites provide strategic access and commercial benefits to the Chinese state.

    The risk posed by such Chinese architectures is underestimated by simply focusing on the cameras and sensors themselves.

    Facial and other recognition technologies, and the ability to integrate data from different sensors and other sources such as smartphones enables those with access to the technology to follow the movement of individual human beings and events, with frightening implications. It includes the ability to potentially track key political and business elites, dissidents, or other persons of interest, flagging possible meetings between two or more, and the associated implications involving political or business meetings and the events that they may produce. Flows of goods or other activities around government buildings, factories, or other sites of interest may provide other types of information for political or commercial advantage, from winning bids to blackmailing compromised persons.

    While some may take assurance that the cameras and other components are safely guarded by benevolent governments or companies, the dispersed nature of the architectures, passing information, instructions, and analysis across great distances, means that the greatest risk is not physical access to the cameras, but the diversion of information throughout the process, particularly by those who built the components, databases and communication systems, and by those who wrote the algorithms (increasingly Chinese across the board).

    With respect to the political impact of such systems, while democratic governments may install them for noble purposes such as crimefighting and emergency response, and with limitations that respect individual privacy, authoritarian regimes who contract the Chinese for such technologies are not so limited, and have every incentive to use the technology to combat dissent and sustain themselves in power.

    The PRC, which continues to perfect it against its own population in places like Xinjiang (against the Uighur Muslims there), not only benefits commercially from selling the technology, but also benefits when allied dictatorships provide a testing ground for product development, and by using it to combat the opposition, keeping friends like Maduro in power, continuing to deliver the goods and access to Beijing.

    As with the debate over Huawei, whether or not Chinese companies are currently exploiting the surveillance and control systems they are deploying across Latin America to benefit the Chinese state, Chinese law (under which they operate) requires them to do so, if the PRC government so demands.

    The PRC record of systematic espionage, forced technology transfer, and other bad behavior should leave no one in Latin America comfortable that the PRC will not, at some point in the future, exploit such an enormous opportunity.

    https://www.newsmax.com/evanellis/china-surveillance-latin-america-cameras/2019/04/12/id/911484

    #Amérique_latine #Chine #surveillance #frontières #contrôles_frontaliers #Argentine #Brésil
    ping @reka

  • Chicago teachers speak on inequality, attacks on public education at downtown rally - World Socialist Web Site

    https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/05/24/chgo-m24.html

    The Chicago Teachers Union held a rally outside the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago Wednesday under the slogan “Standing strong for the schools Chicago’s students deserve.”

    Teachers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the high-flown “social justice” pretensions of the CTU, since it has collaborated for years with the city’s Democratic Party administration and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in imposing school closings, layoffs, and countless other attacks on teachers and public education.

    #états_unis #chicago #enseignement

  • Mayor and ‘Foreign Minister’ : How #Bernie_Sanders Brought the Cold War to Burlington - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/17/us/bernie-sanders-burlington-mayor.html

    La campagne du #New_York_Times contre l’"idéologie socialiste" de l’"idéologue" Sanders se poursuit,

    Sanders réagit à l’article dans un entretien téléphonique avec le journal,
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/18/us/bernie-sanders.html

    Ici concernant sa présence au Nicaragua Sandinista dans les années Reagan,

    Q. In the top of our story, we talk about the rally you attended in Managua and a wire report at the time said that there were anti-American chants from the crowd.

    The United States at that time — I don’t know how much you know about this — was actively supporting the Contras to overthrow the government. So that there’s anti-American sentiment? I remember that, I remember that event very clearly.

    You do recall hearing those chants? I think the wire report has them saying, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.”

    They were fighting against American —— Huh huh —— yes, what is your point?

    I wanted to ——

    Are you shocked to learn that there was anti-American sentiment?

    My point was I wanted to know if you had heard that.

    I don’t remember, no. Of course there was anti-American sentiment there. This was a war being funded by the United States against the people of Nicaragua. People were being killed in that war.

    Do you think if you had heard that directly, you would have stayed at the rally?

    I think Sydney, with all due respect, you don’t understand a word that I’m saying.

    Do you believe you had an accurate view of President Ortega at the time? I’m wondering if you’re ——

    This was not about Ortega. Do you understand? I don’t know if you do or not. Do you know that the United States overthrew the government of Chile way back? Do you happen to know that? Do you? I’m asking you a simple question.

    What point do you want to make?

    My point is that fascism developed in Chile as a result of that. The United States overthrew the government of Guatemala, a democratically elected government, overthrew the government of Brazil. I strongly oppose U.S. policy, which overthrows governments, especially democratically elected governments, around the world. So this issue is not so much Nicaragua or the government of Nicaragua.

    The issue was, should the United States continue a policy of overthrowing governments in Latin America and Central America? I believed then that it was wrong, and I believe today it is wrong. That’s why I do not believe the United States should overthrow the government of Venezuela.

  • Thousands of Mexican Women March Against Femicide, Kidnapping | News | teleSUR English
    https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Thousands-of-Mexican-Women-March-Against-Femicide-Kidnapping-2019020

    Published 3 February 2019 Mexican women took to the streets to protest against femicides which have already claimed 133 lives within the first month of 2019.

    Thousands of Mexican women marched Saturday against femicides and attempted kidnappings. The protestors demanded President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) take appropriate measures for safeguarding women’s lives.

    The demonstration ended at Zocalo Square in the center of Federal District of Mexico City (DF), the capital of the country. On the way to the main square, women also held a minute of silence for those who have been killed or reported missing.

    Luchadoras, a feminist organization, wrote on Twitter, “We almost reached the zocalo! In January alone, 133 women have been killed. Today we march for our lives. If you see an attempted kidnapping, SPEAK UP! DON’T JUST TURN AWAY! #Thenightisours #Thestreetisoursandthenightalso #Thestreetisours.”

    The demonstrations asked the president to be vocal about femicides in Mexico.

    Recently a number of reports of attempted kidnapping of women in DF’s subway, the Metro, have been making rounds. These women are targeted by men outside or inside of stations who then try to get them into vehicles.

    Claudia Sheinbaum, mayor of Mexico City, said that measures to combat the attackers and kidnappings are ongoing.

    She is also meeting with the head of the Attorney General’s Office and the Metro to address the situation.

    According to the United Nations, nine women are victims of femicide in Mexico every day, and six out of ten women face attacks and harrassment, mainly on public transport.

    According to the data from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Safety System, in December 2018, 74 femicides were registered in Mexico and 2018 saw the femicide of 861 women.

    Miss Uruguay Beauty Queen Found Dead in Mexico City Hotel | News | teleSUR English
    https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Miss-Uruguay-Beauty-Queen-Found-Dead-in-Mexico-City-Hotel-20190503-0

    Published 3 May 2019 Police are investigating all avenues of inquiry from suicide to murder.

    Fatimih Davila Sosa, the former Miss Uruguay 2006, was found dead in a Mexico City hotel, police confirmed Friday to local news outlets as investigations ensue.

    The 31-year-old was found dead Thursday morning, hanging from a bathroom shower faucet, the local prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

    Davila moved to Mexico City on April 23, in pursuit of a job with a modeling agency in the country, El Universal reported.

    In a conversation between Davila and an operation associate, the beauty queen asked how she could “make myself more well-known” since “nobody cares about the Miss Uruguay title,” said investigators, who wiretapped and recorded the exchange.

    “An acquaintance helped her settle in the aforementioned hotel, since she would have a job interview,” said the Mexico City Attorney’s Office.

    #Mexico #fémicide

  • When a Town Takes Uber Instead of Public Transit - CityLab
    https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/04/innisfil-transit-ride-hailing-bus-public-transportation-uber/588154

    Ihr Gemeinde hat keine öffentliches Busnetz, sie brauchen aber eins? Kein Problem, Uber macht das. Sofort, unkompliziert, flexibel, alle sind froh. Dann kommt der Erfolg. Und dann wird es teuer. So geschehen in einer Gemeinde in Kanada.

    Will das jemand in Deutschland?

    Das Rechenexempel zeigt, dass es egal ist, wie der private vermittler oder Beförderer heißt. Öffenliche System werden mit zunehmendem Erfolg immer billiger, private immer teurer. Ergo sind private Anbieter gut für Zwischenlösungen bis zum Aufbau eines funktionsfähigen öffentlichen Nahverkehrssystems. Wer sie beauftragt, muss den Zeitpunkt des Wechsels zur öffentlichen Lösung von Anfang an planen, sonst schlägt die Kostenfalle zu.

    Noch dümmer ist es, wenn öffentliche Angebote privatisiert werden. Dann wird es auch bei eingeschänktem Service sofort teuer.

    LAURA BLISS APR 29, 2019 - Innisfil, Ontario, decided to partially subsidize ride-hailing trips rather than pay for a public bus system. It worked so well that now they have to raise fares and cap rides.

    In 2017, the growing Toronto exurb of Innisfil, Ontario, became one of the first towns in the world to subsidize Uber rides in lieu of a traditional bus. Riders could pay a flat fare of just $3-$5 to travel to community hubs in the backseat of a car, or get $5 off regular fares to other destinations in and around town.

    People loved it. By the end of the Uber program’s first full year of service, they were taking 8,000 trips a month. Riders like 20-year-old Holley Hudson, who works for daycare programs at YMCAs around the area, relied on it heavily, since she doesn’t drive. To get to the college course practicums she was taking when the service launched, “I used Ubers on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday basis,” she said.

    Now “Innisfil Transit” is changing its structure. As of April 1, flat fares for the city-brokered Ubers rose by $1. Trip discounts dropped to $4, and a 30-ride monthly cap was implemented. Town leaders say this will allow Innisfil to continue to cover costs.

    But Hudson and others see the changes as harmful, and a strange way of declaring success. As cities around the world turn to Uber, Lyft, and other apps as a quick fix for mobility service gaps, what’s now happening in Innisfil may be a good example of the risks.

    Innisfil’s journey with Uber began in 2015. Thickening traffic and an expanding population of seniors, students, and carless adults all signaled the need for some sort of shared mobility option in town. Just 45 minutes north of Toronto, the once-agricultural hamlet has recently ballooned in population, growing 17 percent from 2006 to 2016 to 37,000 residents.

    But as local leaders studied options for a fixed-route bus service, the cost/benefit analysis didn’t seem to add up. One bus to serve a projected 17,000 annual riders would cost $270,000 in Canadian dollars for the first year of service, or about $16 per passenger. And designing the system would be a drawn-out process.

    So instead, Innisfil did as so many people do when they’re in a hurry and facing a cumbersome bus ride: It hailed an Uber instead.

    “Rather than place a bus on the road to serve just a few residents, we’re moving ahead with a better service that can transport people from all across our town to wherever they need to go,” Gord Wauchope, then the mayor, said at the time.

    That logic is informing ride-hailing partnerships in dozens of communities across North America, all testing the notion that companies like Uber and Lyft can supplement or substitute for traditional service in some fashion. In certain cases, ride-hailing is replacing bus routes wholesale. In others, it’s responding to 911 calls, paratransit needs, and commuters traveling the last leg of a transit trip. Innisfil’s program was unique, in that the city branded the Uber partnership not as a complement to public transit, but as transit itself in a town without existing bus lines.

    Adoption of Innisfil Transit was fast and steady: The program racked up 86,000 rides in 2018. Nearly 70 percent of respondents to a city survey said that they were satisfied or more than satisfied with the new service—figures that would be the envy of any traditional public transit agency.

    But that popularity meant costs grew for the town. So now residents will have to cover more of their own trips. “It’s the growing ridership and popularity of the service,” town planner Paul Pentikainen said. “It’s been a great success, but there are also challenges with working with a budget.”

    “I would never get on a bus in Toronto and hear the driver say, ‘Sorry, but you’ve hit your cap.’”
    Normally, though, raising transit fares when ridership is growing is backwards logic. While passenger fares almost never cover the full cost of service, more passengers riding fixed-route buses and trains should shrink the per-capita public subsidy, at least until additional routes are added. On a well-designed mass transit system, the more people using it, the “cheaper” it gets.

    But the opposite is happening in Innisfil. Only so many passengers can fit in the backseat of an Uber, and the ride-hailing company, not the town, is pocketing most of the revenue. With per-capita costs essentially fixed, the town is forced to hike rates and cap trips as adoption grows. But this can create a perverse incentive: Fare bumps and ridership drops tend to go hand-in-hand on traditional systems.

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    The trip cap in particular bothers Hudson, who continues to rely on the Uber service as her primary mode of transportation. She expects that she’ll burn through her allotted 30 trips in a couple of weeks. The city has an application for residents to qualify for an extra 20 trips per month, but Hudson doesn’t plan to file. She’s opposed to the idea on principle.

    “I would never get on a bus in Toronto and hear the driver say, ‘Sorry, but you’ve hit your cap,’” Hudson said. “Uber was supposed to be our bus.”

    Hudson emailed town officials to complain about the new trip limit. In a reply, a city councillor named Donna Orsatti wrote that the cap had been implemented because “the system was being abused by those in the youth bracket who were using Uber at $3 to go to Starbucks (as an example), purchase a drink, then go back to school or meet their friends.”

    That sounded oddly judgmental to Hudson’s ears. And it’s not how public transit is supposed to work: “We shouldn’t be criticized for where we’re going,” she said.

    In an email to CityLab, Orsatti explained her intentions. The cap was never meant to restrict residents, but rather “to ensure it is available to all residents to allow them transportation to essential service areas,” she wrote. And Pentikainen acknowledged that, while the rate structure might work differently from traditional transit, Uber still makes more sense for Innisfil. The city’s subsidy for the program grew from $150,000 in 2017 to about $640,000 in 2018, and for 2019, it has allocated another $900,000. On a per trip basis, Pentikainen said, it’s still a lot cheaper than the projected bus costs, and more equitable.

    “It’s a service that the whole town has access to, versus providing a service that only those who can walk to bus stops can,” he said.

    Pentikainen says that—despite Orsatti’s email—no city report called out Starbucks-toting teens for “abusing” the system. But he did note that the cap was partly designed to discourage short-distance trips that can be accomplished on foot or bike for most people.

    According to an Uber spokesperson, the ride-hailing company also advised the city to implement the cap as a way to control costs.

    Uber has touted the success of the Innisfil program as it invites other cities to adopt its model. Part of the attraction is that ridership is sinking on public transit systems across North America, as on-demand transportation apps has boomed. City decision-makers sometimes opt for Lyft and Uber as a way to lure travelers back, or to cut costs on low-performing routes. In other cases, the rise of ride-hailing is used as a bad-faith justification for further slashing bus service.

    Success has been mixed for transit agency/ride-hailing marriages. Many programs have seen weak ridership, and cities can find themselves hamstrung in their ability to make adjustments, since ride-hailing companies are famously guarded about sharing trip data. Some, including Pinellas County, Florida, which subsidizes certain Uber trips, have heard complaints that municipal discounts don’t go very far as the on-demand transportation giant has raised its own fares.

    Now that both Uber and Lyft have filed initial public offerings, industry analysts predict that the costs of these services—which have been heavily subsidized by their billions in venture capital backing—will creep steadily upwards as public investors expect returns. And city governments and commuters who come to rely on ride-hailing as a social service won’t have much control.

    In Innisfil, Uber fares have held steady, according to Pentikainen. And the company has shared certain data upon request. As the city grows and ride-hailing services evolve, it will continue to evaluate the best way to mobilize its residents, Pentikainen said. Eventually, Innisfil might be interested in adopting Uber’s latest transit-like offering, which is called Uber Bus. Similar to the microtransit startup Via and its failed predecessors Chariot and Bridj, riders are scooped up in larger vans at designated locations on a schedule that is determined based on demand.

    And if Uber ever raised fares to the point where riders could no longer rationalize the costs, the city would go back to the drawing board. In some parts of town, Pentikainen said, they might even consider a regular fixed-route bus. “There are a range of ways to consider efficiencies from the town’s perspective,” he said. “All along, this was a starting point. We have to react along the way.”

    Still, the idea of further changes made in reaction to the app’s contingencies worries Hudson. That doesn’t sound like very reliable service for her, nor for the older people and students she sees riding in Ubers en route to school and doctor’s appointments. If Innisfil makes further tweaks, Hudson says she might consider getting her license in order to avoid the stress. But she fears more for what could happen to those who can’t.

    “Uber was supposed to be our public transit,” she said. “Now we have to think about whether we can take an Uber or not.”

    #Kanada #ÖPNV #Bus #Taxi #Uber #disruption #Rekommunalisierung

  • Recent Poll Showing Biden in Lead Confuses and Distorts Support for Bernie Sanders
    https://gritpost.com/recent-poll-biden-confuses-distorts-support-bernie

    In the poll released April 30, Biden is shown with an impressive 24-point edge over Sanders, with 39% of voters saying they supported him, compared to just 15% for the Vermont senator. However, a Grit Post analysis of the results found that the poll largely excluded voters under the age of 50 in coming to that conclusion.

    Also, the poll didn’t give respondents the option to offer their approval or disapproval of Sen. Sanders, even though the poll did ask respondents to give their approval or disapproval of lesser-known candidates like Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), and Eric Swalwell (D-California), and even Miramar, Florida mayor Wayne Messam.

    “We’d like to get your overall opinion of some people in the news. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of these people – or if you have never heard of them. How about Joe Biden?” the poll asked. “How about Pete Buttigieg? … How about Kirsten Gillibrand? … How about Tim Ryan? … How about Eric Swalwell? … How about Seth Moulton?”

    The phrase “How about Bernie Sanders?” does not appear in the poll.

  • Women paint their clothes with red in protest against the J. Marion Sims statue in New York, known as the “father of modern gynaecology” the protestors highlighted the doctor performed painful surgeries on enslaved black women without consent or anaesthesia


    https://twitter.com/womensart1/status/1121671458327896065

    La statue a été déplacée en 2018

    New York City’s Public Design Commission voted unanimously on Monday to remove the statue of J. Marion Sims, a 19th century surgeon who conducted experimental operations on female slaves, from its place of honor in Central Park.

    It was the first decision to alter a prominent New York monument since Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a review of “symbols of hate” from city property eight months ago, in the wake of the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Va., that left one person dead.

    A commission that Mr. de Blasio created to make recommendations about how to evaluate the city’s monuments and other public images had proposed that the Sims statue be removed.

    The Parks Department will remove the statue, at 103rd Street, near the northeast corner of Central Park, at 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to Natalie Grybauskas, a mayoral spokeswoman.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/nyregion/nyc-sims-statue-central-park-monument.html

    Déplacée pour la seconde fois mais toujours debout

    A bronze statue by Ferdinand Freiherr von Miller (the younger), depicting Sims in surgical wear,[42] was erected in Bryant Park, New York, in 1894, taken down in the 1920s amid subway construction, and moved to the northeastern corner of Central Park, at 103rd Street, in 1934, opposite the New York Academy of Medicine.[23][43] The address delivered at its rededication was published in the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine.[44] This is the first statue erected in the United States in honor of any physician. The statue became the center of protests in 2017 due to Sims’ operations on enslaved black women.[45] Vandals defaced the statue with the word RACIST and painted the eyes red.[46] In April 2018, the New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously to have the statue removed from Central Park and installed in Green-Wood Cemetery, near where Sims is buried.[43]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Marion_Sims

    #grand_homme #chirurgie #racisme #gynécologie #femmes
    #James_Marion_Sims

  • The Dead Kennedys - I Fought the Law
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dB_ubVAnGw

    1978 / 1987 - I Fought the Law - The Dead Kennedys version
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Fought_the_Law#Dead_Kennedys_version

    Songwriters: Sonny Curtis, Jello Biafra, East Bay Ray

    The punk band Dead Kennedys put together their own version of “I Fought The Law” shortly after San Francisco politician Dan White murdered city Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978. Most of the lyrics were re-written so the song was from White’s point of view; the chorus was changed to “I fought the law, and I won”, with the final line in the final chorus changed to “I am the law, so I won.” The song portrays White as someone who got away with first-degree premeditated murder and is unrepentant about it and specifically cites his use of the diminished responsibility defense. It also makes use of the reference “Twinkie defense”, where lead singer Jello Biafra sings “Twinkies are the best friend I ever had”.

    Dead Kennedys lyrics

    Drinking beer in the hot sun
    I fought the law and I won, I fought the law and I won
    I needed sex and I got mine
    I fought the law and I won, I fought the law and I won

    The law don’t mean shit if you’ve got the right friends
    That’s how this country’s run
    Twinkies are the best friend I’ve ever had
    I fought the law and I won, I fought the law and I won

    I blew George and Harvey’s brains out with my six-gun
    I fought the law and I won, I fought the law and I won
    Gonna write my book and make a million
    I fought the law and I won, I fought the law and I won

    I’m the new folk hero of the Ku Klux Klan
    My cop friends think that’s fine
    You can get away with murder if you’ve got a badge
    I fought the law and I won, I fought the law and I won

    I fought the law and I won
    I am the law so I won

    The Crickets - I Fought The Law
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKrxq5U8SBY

    The Crickets furent le groupe de Buddy Holly jusqu’à sa mort le 3 février 1959 .

    1958 / 1959 / 1960 - I Fought the Law - The Crickets version

    Songwriter: Sonny Curtis of the Crickets
    The Crickets lyrics

    I’m breakin rocks in the hot sun
    I fought the law and the law won
    I fought the law and the law won

    I miss my baby and good fun
    I fought the law and the law won
    I fought the law and the law won

    I’ve left my baby and it feels so bad
    Guess my race is run
    Shes the best girl that I ever had
    I fought the law and the law won
    I fought the law and the law won

    Robbin people with a zip-gun
    I fought the law and the law won
    I fought the law and the law won

    I needed money cause I had none
    I fought the law and the law won
    I fought the law and the law won

    I’ve left my baby and it feels so bad
    Guess my race is run
    Shes the best girl that I’ve ever had
    I fought the law and the law won
    I fought the law and the law won

    A titre de comparaison voici la version qui a rendu célèbre la chanson et en a fait la clé du succès des Bobby Fuller Four .

    Bobby Fuller Four - I Fought The Law - 45 RPM Original Mono Mix
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pc8fdHYMLT4

    Une fois tombé entre les producteurs des grands labels le Bobby Fuller Four sort une version beaucoup moins hard .

    Bobby Fuller Four I Fought The Law Stereo Single Mix
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzgKR-AkhBs

    #musique #rock_n_roll #punk #politique #gay

  • Chicago’s First Black Lesbian Mayor Isn’t a Victory for All Queers
    https://www.advocate.com/commentary/2019/4/03/chicagos-first-black-lesbian-mayor-isnt-victory-all-queers

    Lori Lightfoot has made history by becoming the first Black woman to become mayor of Chicago as well as the first openly queer person. And across the country, this news has been heralded as a victory for queer communities everywhere.

    However for many in Chicago — especially those who are Black or Brown — these celebrations ring hollow and feel like active erasure of the tremendous organizing labor against a candidate who is so similar to a predecessor we fought so hard to push out.

    • Intersectionality, as coined by Black feminist Kimberle Crenshaw, is not about individual representation but building a broad political analysis for the liberation of the widest possible population. It’s not about celebrating the identities of the powerful but lifting up the voices of those at the margins of the margins.

      –> L’#intersectionnalité, telle que définie par la féministe noire Kimberlé Crenshaw, ne passe pas par la représentation individuelle mais par la construction d’une analyse politique générale visant à libérer la population la plus large possible. Elle ne consiste pas à célébrer les identités des puissants mais à faire entendre les voix de ceux qui sont à la marge de la marge.

      #confusionnisme

  • School Building Demolished in Shu’fat Refugee Camp

    Israeli bulldozers, today, demolished an under-construction building belonging to a Palestinian school in the Shu’fat refugee camp of occupied East Jerusalem, on Tuesday.

    Dozens of Israeli soldiers escorted bulldozers into the refugee camp, surrounded the al-Razi School and went up rooftops of nearby buildings as drones flew overhead; Israeli bulldozers then began to demolish the school’s building.

    Israeli forces fired rubber-coated steel bullets towards locals in the refugee camp.

    Muhammad Alqam, owner of the school building, told Ma’an News Agency that Israeli authorities had issued a demolition order against the building last November, pointing out that he had headed to the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality, before the construction of the building, to issue necessary permits. However, he was told that the area belongs to the United Nations Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA.)

    Principal of the school, Saleh Alqam, pointed out that the demolition was carried out without prior notice.

    He added that 400 Palestinian students had registered for the 2019/2020 school year in the new building, which was supposed to serve kindergarten and elementary students. However, after the demolition, these students now have no place to go.

    School was suspended, for Tuesday, for 1500 students of all stages who attend the al-Razi School.

    Israel uses the pretext of building without a permit to carry out demolitions of Palestinian-owned homes on a regular basis.

    Israel rarely grants Palestinians permits to build in East Jerusalem, though the Jerusalem municipality has claimed that compared to the Jewish population, they receive a disproportionately low number of permit applications from Palestinian communities, which also see high approval ratings.

    For Jewish Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem’s illegal settlements, the planning, marketing, development, and infrastructure are funded and executed by the Israeli government. By contrast, in Palestinian neighborhoods, all the burden falls on individual families to contend with a lengthy permit application that can last several years and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

    According to Daniel Seidemann of the NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem, “Since 1967, the government of Israel has directly engaged in the construction of 55,000 units for Israelis in East Jerusalem; in contrast, fewer than 600 units have been built for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the last of which were built 40 years ago. So much for (Jerusalem Mayor Nir) Barkat’s claim ‘we build for everyone.’”


    https://imemc.org/article/school-building-demolished-in-shufat-refugee-camp
    #Israël #Palestine #réfugiés_palestiniens #école #destruction #réfugiés #Shu'fat #Jérusalem
    ping @reka @nepthys

  • German Jews for Palestinian rights receive a peace prize— and are dismissed as ’the wrong kind of Jews’
    https://mondoweiss.net/2019/03/palestinian-receive-dismissed

    Last week, the German organization Jewish Voice for a Just peace in the Middle East received a peace prize from the city of Göttingen.

    As the organization supports the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, the announcement of its nomination became a battleground, wherein prominent Jewish leaders tarnished its members as anti-Semites, suggesting that they were the ‘wrong kind of Jews’. The mayor and the president of the Göttingen university withdrew their support and cancelled the booking of halls for receptions. Nonetheless the jury stuck to its decision, and crowdfunded a prize of 28,000 Euros, which the organization will donate to human rights organizations in Palestine as well as to the liberal Israeli +972 Magazine.

  • Old Palestinian photos & films hidden in IDF archive show different history than Israeli claims

    Palestinian photos and films seized by Israeli troops have been gathering dust in the army and Defense Ministry archives until Dr. Rona Sela, a curator and art historian, exposed them. The material presents an alternative to the Zionist history that denied the Palestinians’ existence here, she says.

    The initial reaction is one of incredulity: Why is this material stored in the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry Archive? The first item is labeled, in Hebrew, “The History of Palestine from 1919,” the second, “Paintings by Children Who Go to School and Live in a Refugee Camp and Aspire to Return to Palestine.” The third is, “Depiction of the IDF’s Treatment and Harsh Handling of Palestinians in the Territories.”

    Of all places, these three reels of 16-mm film are housed in the central archive that documents Israel’s military-security activities. It’s situated in Tel Hashomer, near the army’s National Induction Center, outside Tel Aviv.

    IDF archive contains 2.7 million photos, 38,000 films

    The three items are barely a drop in an ocean of some 38,000 films, 2.7 million photographs, 96,000 audio recordings and 46,000 maps and aerial photos that have been gathered into the IDF Archive since 1948, by order of Israel’s first prime minister and defense minister, David Ben-Gurion. However, a closer perusal shows that this particular “drop in the ocean” is subversive, exceptional and highly significant.

    The footage in question is part of a collection – whose exact size and full details remain unknown – of “war booty films” seized by the IDF from Palestinian archives in raids over the years, though primarily in the 1982 Lebanon War.

    Recently, however, following a persistent, protracted legal battle, the films confiscated in Lebanon, which had been gathering dust for decades – instead of being screened in cinematheques or other venues in Israel – have been rescued from oblivion, along with numerous still photos. The individual responsible for this development is Dr. Rona Sela, a curator and researcher of visual history at Tel Aviv University.

    For nearly 20 years, Sela has been exploring Zionist and Palestinian visual memory. She has a number of important revelations and discoveries to her credit, which she has published in the form of books, catalogs and articles. Among the Hebrew-language titles are “Photography in Palestine/Eretz-Israel in the ‘30s and ‘40s” (2000) and “Made Public: Palestinian Photographs in Military Archives in Israel” (2009). In March, she published an article in the English-language periodical Social Semiotics on, “The Genealogy of Colonial Plunder and Erasure – Israel’s Control over Palestinian Archives.”

    Now Sela has made her first film, “Looted and Hidden: Palestinian Archives in Israel,” an English-language documentary that surveys the fate of Palestinian photographs and films that were “captured” and deposited in Israeli archives. It includes heretofore unseen segments from films seized by the IDF from Palestinian archives in Beirut. These documentary records, Sela says, “were erased from consciousness and history” for decades.

    Sela begins journey in 1998

    Getting access to the films was not easy, Sela explains. Her archival journey began in 1998, when she was researching Zionist propaganda films and photos that sought to portray the “new Jew” – muscular, proudly tilling the soil – in contradistinction, according to the Zionist perception, to the supposedly degenerate and loutish Palestinian Arab.

    “After spending a few years in the Central Zionist Archive in Jerusalem and in other Zionist archives, researching the history of Zionist photography and the construction of a visual propaganda apparatus supporting the Zionist idea, I started to look for Palestinian visual representation as well, in order to learn about the Palestinian narrative and trace its origins and influence,” she says.

    That task was far more complicated than anyone could have imagined. In some of the Zionist films and photos, Sela was able to discern, often incidentally, episodes from Palestinian history that had “infiltrated” them, as she puts it. For example, in Carmel Newsreels (weekly news footage screened at local cinemas) from 1951, showing the settlement of Jews in Jaffa, demolished and abandoned Arab homes are clearly visible.

    Subsequently, Sela spotted traces and remnants of a genuine Palestinian visual archive occasionally cropping up in Israeli archives. Those traces were not immediately apparent, more like an elusive treasure concealed here and there beneath layers of restrictions, erasures and revisions.

    Khalil Rassass, father of Palestinian photojournalism

    Thus, one day she noticed in the archive of the pre-state Haganah militia, stills bearing the stamp “Photo Rissas.” Digging deeper, she discovered the story of Chalil Rissas (Khalil Rassass, 1926-1974), one of the fathers of Palestinian photojournalism. He’s unknown to the general public, whether Palestinian or Israel, but according to Sela, he was a “daring, groundbreaking photographer” who, motivated by a sense of national consciousness, documented the pre-1948 Palestinian struggle.

    Subsequently she found hundreds of his photographs, accompanied by captions written by soldiers or Israeli archive staff who had tried to foist a Zionist narrative on them and disconnect them from their original context. The source of the photographs was a Jewish youth who received them from his father, an IDF officer who brought them back with him from the War of Independence as booty.

    The discovery was unprecedented. In contrast to the Zionist propaganda images that exalted the heroism of the Jewish troops and barely referred to the Palestinians, Rissas’ photographs were mainly of Palestinian fighters. Embodying a proud Palestinian stance, they focused on the national and military struggle and its outcome, including the Palestinians’ military training and deployment for battle.

    “I realized that I’d come across something significant, that I’d found a huge cache of works by one of the fathers of Palestinian photography, who had been the first to give visual expression to the Palestinian struggle,” Sela recalls. “But when I tried to learn more about Chalil Rissas, I understood that he was a forgotten photographer, that no one knew the first thing about him, either in Israel or elsewhere.”

    Sela thereupon decided to study the subject herself. In 1999, she tracked down Rissas’ brother, Wahib, who was working as a photographer of tourists on the Temple Mount / Haram a-Sharif in Jerusalem’s Old City. He told her the story of Chalil’s life. It turned out that he had accompanied Palestinian troops and leaders, visually documenting the battles fought by residents of the Jerusalem area during the 1948 War of Independence. “He was a young man who chose the camera as an instrument for changing people’s consciousness,” Sela says.

    Ali Za’arur, forgotten Palestinian photographer

    Around 2007, she discovered the archive of another forgotten Palestinian photographer, Ali Za’arur (1900-1972), from Azzariyeh, a village east of Jerusalem. About 400 of his photos were preserved in four albums. They also depicted scenes from the 1948 war, in which Za’arur accompanied the forces of Jordan’s Arab Legion and documented the battle for the Old City of Jerusalem. He photographed the dead, the ruins, the captives, the refugees and the events of the cease-fire.

    In the Six-Day War of 1967, Za’arur fled from his home for a short time. When he returned, he discovered that the photo albums had disappeared. A relative, it emerged, had given them to Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek as a gift. Afterward, the Jerusalem Foundation donated them to the IDF Archive. In 2008, in an unprecedented act, the archive returned the albums to Za’arur’s family. The reason, Sela surmises, is that the albums were captured by the army in battle. In any event, this was, as far as is known, a unique case.

    Sela took heart from the discoveries she’d made, realizing that “with systematic work, it would be possible to uncover more Palestinian archives that ended up in Israeli hands.”

    That work was three-pronged: doing archival research to locate Palestinian photographs and films that had been incorporated into Israeli archives; holding meetings with the Palestinian photographers themselves, or members of their families; and tracking down Israeli soldiers who had taken part in “seizing these visual spoils” and in bringing them to Israel.

    In the course of her research Sela met some fascinating individuals, among them Khadijeh Habashneh, a Jordan-based Palestinian filmmaker who headed the archive and cinematheque of the Palestinian Cinema Institute. That institution, which existed from the end of the 1960s until the early ‘80s, initially in Jordan and afterward in Lebanon, was founded by three pioneering Palestinian filmmakers – Sulafa Jadallah, Hani Jawhariyyeh and Mustafa Abu Ali (Habashneh’s husband) – who sought to document their people’s way of life and national struggle. Following the events of Black September in 1970, when the Jordanian army and the Palestine Liberation Organization fought a bloody internecine war, the filmmakers moved to Lebanon and reestablished the PCI in Beirut.

    Meeting with Habashneh in Amman in 2013, Sela heard the story of the Palestinian archives that disappeared, a story she included in her new documentary. “Where to begin, when so much material was destroyed, when a life project falls apart?” Habashneh said to Sela. “I can still see these young people, pioneers, bold, imbued with ideals, revolutionaries, who created pictures and films and documented the Palestinian revolution that the world doesn’t want to see. They refused to be faceless and to be without an identity.”

    The archive established by Habashneh contained forgotten works that documented the Palestinians’ suffering in refugee camps, the resistance to Israel and battles against the IDF, as well as everyday life. The archive contained the films and the raw materials of the PCI filmmakers, but also collected other early Palestinian films, from both before and after 1948.

    Spirit of liberation

    This activity reflects “a spirit of liberation and revolt and the days of the revolution,” Habashneh says in Sela’s film, referring to the early years of the Palestinian national movement. That spirit was captured in underground photographs and with a minimal budget, on film that was developed in people’s kitchens, screened in tents in refugee camps and distributed abroad. Women, children, fighters, intellectuals and cultural figures, and events of historic importance were documented, Habashneh related. “As far as is known, this was the first official Palestinian visual archive,” Sela notes.

    In her conversation with Sela, Habashneh nostalgically recalled other, better times, when the Palestinian films were screened in a Beirut cinematheque, alongside other works with a “revolutionary spirit,” from Cuba, Chile, Vietnam and elsewhere. “We were in contact with filmmakers from other countries, who saw the camera as an instrument in the hands of the revolution and the people’s struggle,” she recalled.

    “Interesting cultural cooperation developed there, centering around revolutionary cinema,” Sela points out, adding, “Beirut was alive with an unprecedented, groundbreaking cultural flowering that was absolutely astonishing in terms of its visual significance.”

    IDF confiscates film archive

    But in 1982, after the IDF entered Beirut, that archive disappeared and was never seen again. The same fate befell two films made by Habashneh herself, one about children, the other about women. In Sela’s documentary, Habashneh wonders aloud about the circumstances in which the amazing collection disappeared. “Is our fate to live a life without a past? Without a visual history?” she asks. Since then, she has managed to reconstruct a small part of the archive. Some of the films turned up in the United States, where they had been sent to be developed. Copies of a few others remained in movie theaters in various countries where they were screened. Now in her seventies, Habashneh continues to pursue her mission, even though, as she told Sela during an early conversation, “the fate of the archive remains a puzzle.”

    What Habashneh wasn’t able to accomplish beginning in 1982 as part of a worldwide quest, Sela managed to do over the course of a few years of research in Israel. She began by locating a former IDF soldier who told her about the day on which several trucks arrived at the building in Beirut that housed a number of Palestinian archives and began to empty it out. That testimony, supported by a photograph, was crucial for Sela, as it corroborated the rumors and stories about the Palestinian archives having been taken to Israel.

    The same soldier added that he had been gripped by fear when he saw, among the photos that were confiscated from the archive, some that documented Israeli soldiers in the territories. He himself appeared in one of them. “They marked us,” he said to Sela.

    Soldiers loot Nashashibi photos & possessions, take photo from corpse

    Another former soldier told Sela about an unusual photo album that was taken (or looted, depending on one’s point of view) from the home of the prominent Nashashibi family in Jerusalem, in 1948. The soldier added that his father, who had served as an IDF officer in the War of Independence, entered a photography studio and made off with its archive, while other soldiers were busy looting pianos and other expensive objects from the Nashashibis. Another ex-soldier testified to having taken a photo from the corpse of an Arab. Over time, all these images found their way to archives in Israel, in particular the IDF Archive.

    Sela discovers IDF archive

    In 2000, Sela, buoyed by her early finds, requested permission from that archive to examine the visual materials that had been seized by the army in the 1980s. The initial response was denial: The material was not in Israel’s hands, she was told.

    “But I knew what I was looking for, because I had soldiers’ testimonies,” she says now, adding that when she persisted in her request, she encountered “difficulties, various restrictions and the torpedoing of the possibility of perusing the material.”

    The breakthrough came when she enlisted the aid of attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zacharia, in 2008. To begin with, they received word, confirmed by the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser, that various spoils taken in Beirut were now part of the IDF Archive. However, Sela was subsequently informed that “the PLO’s photography archive,” as the Defense Ministry referred in general to photographic materials taken from the Palestinians, is “archival material on matters of foreign affairs and security, and as such is ‘restricted material’ as defined in Par. 7(a) of the Archives Regulations.”

    Then, one day in 2010, Sela received a fax informing her that Palestinian films had been found in the IDF Archive, without elaboration, and inviting her to view them. “There were a few dozen segments from films, and I was astonished by what I saw,” she says. “At first I was shown only a very limited amount of footage, but it was indicative of the whole. On the basis of my experience, I understood that there was more.”

    A few more years of what Sela terms “endless nagging, conversations and correspondence” passed, which resulted in her being permitted to view dozens of segments of additional films, including some that apparently came from Habashneh’s archive. Sela also discovered another Palestinian archive that had been seized by the IDF. Established under the aegis of the PLO’s Cultural Arts Section, its director in the 1970s was the Lod-born painter and historian Ismail Shammout (1930-2006).

    One of the works in that collection is Shammout’s own film “The Urgent Call,” whose theme song was written and performed by the Palestinian singer Zainab Shathat in English, accompanying herself on the guitar. “The film was thought to be lost until I found it in the IDF Archive,” says Sela, who describes “The Urgent Call” as “a cry about the condition of Palestine, its sons and its daughters.”

    Viewing it takes one back in time to the late 1960s and early ‘70s, when the cinema of the Palestinian struggle briefly connected with other international revolutionary film movements.

    Legendary French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard

    For example, in 1969 and 1970 Jean-Luc Godard, the legendary filmmaker of the French New Wave in cinema, visited Jordan and Lebanon several times with the Dziga Vertov Group of French filmmakers (named after the Soviet pioneer documentarian of the 1920s and ‘30s), who included filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin, who worked with Godard in his “radical” period. They came to shoot footage in refugee camps and in fedayeen bases for Godard’s film “Until Victory.” Habashneh told Sela that she and others had met Godard, assisted him and were of course influenced by his work. [Ed. note: Godard’s work on Palestine caused him to be accused of antisemitism by the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen and others. “In Hollywood there is no greater sin,” the Guardian reported.]

    Along with “The Urgent Call” – excerpts from which are included in her “Looted and Hidden” documentary – Sela also found another Shammout work in the IDF Archive. Titled “Memories and Fire,” it chronicles 20th-century Palestinian history, “from the days depicting the idyllic life in Palestine, via the documentation of refugeehood, to the documentation of the organizing and the resistance. To use the terms of the Palestinian cinema scholar and filmmaker George Khleifi, the aggressive fighter took the place of the ill-fated refugee,” she adds.

    Sela also found footage by the Iraqi director Kais al-Zubaidi, who worked for a time in the PLO’s Cultural Arts Section. His films from that period include “Away from Home” (1969) and “The Visit” (1970); in 2006 he published an anthology, “Palestine in the Cinema,” a history of the subject, which mentions some 800 films that deal with Palestine or the Palestinian people. [Ed. note: unfortunately it appears this book has never been translated into English.]

    IDF seals the archive for decades

    Some of the Palestinian movies in the IDF Archive bear their original titles. However, in many other cases this archival material was re-cataloged to suit the Israeli perspective, so that Palestinian “fighters” became “gangs” or “terrorists,” for example. In one case, a film of Palestinians undergoing arms training is listed as “Terrorist camp in Kuwait: Distribution of uniforms, girls crawling with weapons, terrorists marching with weapons in the hills, instruction in laying mines and in arms.”

    Sela: “These films and stills, though not made by Jewish/Israeli filmmakers or military units – which is the central criterion for depositing materials in the Israeli army archive – were transferred to the IDF Archive and subordinated to the rules of the State of Israel. The archive immediately sealed them for many decades and cataloged them according to its terminology – which is Zionist, Jewish and Israeli – and not according to the original Palestinian terminology. I saw places where the word ‘terrorists’ was written on photographs taken by Palestinians. But after all, they do not call themselves as such. It’s part of terminological camouflaging, which subordinated their creative work to the colonial process in which the occupier controls the material that’s captured.”

    Hidden Palestinian history

    Sela’s discoveries, which are of international importance, are not only a research, documentation and academic achievement: They also constitute a breakthrough in regard to the chronicling of Palestinian history. “Palestinian visual historiography lacks many chapters,” she observes. “Many photographs and archives were destroyed, were lost, taken as spoils or plundered in the various wars and in the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

    From her point of view, the systematic collecting of Palestinian visual materials in the IDF Archive “makes it possible to write an alternative history that counteracts the content created by the army and the military archive, which is impelled by ideological and political considerations.” In the material she found in the army archive, she sees “images that depict the history of the Palestinian people and its long-term ties to this soil and this place, which present an alternative to the Zionist history that denied the Palestinians’ existence here, as well as their culture and history and the protracted tragedy they endured and their national struggle of many years.”

    The result is an intriguing paradox, such as one often finds by digging deep into an archive. The extensive information that Sela found in the IDF Archive makes it possible to reconstruct elements of the pre-1948 existence of the Palestinians and to help fill in the holes of the Palestinian narrative up until the 1980s. In other words, even if Israel’s intention was to hide these items and to control the Palestinians’ historical treasures, its actions actually abet the process of preservation, and will go on doing so in the future.

    Earlier groundbreaking discovery – confiscated Palestinians books & libraries

    Sela’s research on visual archival materials was preceded by another groundbreaking study – dealing with the written word – conducted by Dr. Gish Amit, an expert on the cultural aspects of Zionism at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Amit chronicled the fate of Palestinian books and libraries that, like the photographs and films Sela found, ended up in Israeli archives – including in the National Library in Jerusalem.

    In his 2014 book, “Ex-Libris: Chronicles of Theft, Preservation, and Appropriating at the Jewish National Library” (Hebrew), Amit trenchantly analyzes the foredoomed failure of any attempt to conceal and control the history of others. According to him, “an archive remembers its forgettings and erasures,” “documents injustice, and thus makes it possible to trace its paths” and “paves a way for forgotten histories which may, one day, convict the owners” of the documents.

    However, Amit also sees the complexity of this story and presents another side of it. Describing the operation in which the Palestinian books were collected by Israeli soldiers and National Library personnel during the War of Independence, he raises the possibility that this was actually an act involving rescue, preservation and accessibility: “On the one hand, the books were collected and not burned or left in the abandoned houses in the Arab neighborhoods that had been emptied of their inhabitants. Had they not been collected their fate would have been sealed — not a trace of them would remain,” he writes, adding, that the National Library “protected the books from the war, the looting and the destruction, and from illegal trade in manuscripts.”

    According to the National Library, it is holding about 6,500 Palestinian books and manuscripts, which were taken from private homes whose owners left in 1948. The entire collection is cataloged and accessible to the general public, but is held under the responsibility of the Custodian of Absentees’ Property in the Finance Ministry. Accordingly, there is no intention, in the near future, of trying to locate the owners and returning the items.

    Israeli control over history

    Sela views the existence of these spoils of war in Israel as a direct expression of the occupation, which she defines, beyond Israel’s physical presence in the territories, as “the control of history, the writing of culture and the shaping of identity.” In her view, “Israel’s rule over the Palestinians is not only geographic but extends also to culture and consciousness. Israel wants to erase this history from the public consciousness, but it is not being successful, because the force of the resistance is stronger. Furthermore, its attempts to erase Palestinian history adversely affect Israel itself in the end.”

    At this point, Sela resorts to a charged comparison, to illustrate how visual materials contribute to the creation of personal and collective identity. “As the daughter of Holocaust survivors,” she says, “I grew up in a home without photographic historical memory. Nothing. My history starts only with the meeting of my parents, in 1953. It’s only from then that we have photos. Before that – nothing.

    “I know what it feels like when you have no idea what your grandmother or grandfather looked like, or your father’s childhood,” she continues. “This is all the more true of the history of a whole people. The construction of identity by means of visual materials is very meaningful. Many researchers have addressed this topic. The fact is that Zionist bodies made and are continuing to make extensive and rational use of [such materials too] over a period that spans decades.”

    Sela admits that there is still much to be done, but as far as she’s concerned, once a crack appeared in the wall, there was no turning back. “There is a great deal of material, including hundreds of films, that I haven’t yet got to,” she notes. “This is an amazing treasure, which contains information about the cultural, educational, rural and urban life of the Palestinian people throughout the 20th century – an erased narrative that needs to be restored to the history books,” she adds.

    Asked what she thinks should be done with the material, she asserts, “Of course it has to be returned. Just as Israel is constantly fighting to retrieve what the Nazis looted from Jews in the Holocaust. The historical story is different, but by the same criterion, practice what you preach. These are cultural and historical materials of the Palestinian people.”

    The fact that these items are being held by Israel “creates a large hole in Palestinian research and knowledge,” Sela avers. “It’s a hole for which Israel is responsible. This material does not belong to us. It has to be returned to its owners. Afterward, if we view it intelligently, we too can come to know and understand highly meaningful chapters in Palestinian history and in our own history. I think that the first and basic stage in the process of conciliation is to know the history of the Other and also your own history of controlling the Other.”

    Defense Ministry response

    A spokesperson for the Defense Ministry, which was asked to comment on the holdings in the IDF Archive, the archive contains 642 “war booty films,” most of which deal with refugees and were produced by the UNRWA (the United Nations refugee relief agency) in the 1960s and 1970s. The ministry also noted that 158 films that were seized by the IDF in the 1982 Lebanon War are listed in orderly fashion in the reading-room catalog and are available for perusal by the general public, including Arab citizens and Palestinians.

    As for the Palestinian photographs that were confiscated, the Defense Ministry stated that there is no orderly record of them. There are 127 files of photographs and negatives in the archive, each of which contains dozens of photographs, probably taken between the 1960s and the 1980s, on a variety of subjects, including visits of foreign delegations to PLO personnel, tours of PLO delegations abroad, Palestinian art and heritage, art objects, traditional attire and Palestinian folklore, factories and workshops, demonstrations, mass parades and rallies held by the PLO, portraits of Arab personalities and PLO symbols.

    The statement adds that a few months ago, crates were located that were stamped by their original owners, “PLO/Department of Information and National Guidance and Department of Information and Culture,” during the evacuation of the archive’s storerooms in the Tzrifin base.

    https://israelpalestinenews.org/old-palestinian-photos-films-hidden-idf-archive-show-different-
    #historicisation #Israël #Palestine #photographie #films #archive #histoire #Khalil_Rassass #Ali_Za’arur
    ping @reka @sinehebdo @albertocampiphoto

  • The Knesset candidate who says Zionism encourages anti-Semitism and calls Netanyahu ’arch-murderer’ - Israel Election 2019 - Haaretz.com
    https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/elections/.premium.MAGAZINE-knesset-candidate-netanyahu-is-an-arch-murderer-zionism-e

    Few Israelis have heard of Dr. Ofer Cassif, the Jewish representative on the far-leftist Hadash party’s Knesset slate. On April 9, that will change
    By Ravit Hecht Feb 16, 2019

    Ofer Cassif is fire and brimstone. Not even the flu he’s suffering from today can contain his bursting energy. His words are blazing, and he bounds through his modest apartment, searching frenetically for books by Karl Marx and Primo Levi in order to find quotations to back up his ideas. Only occasional sips from a cup of maté bring his impassioned delivery to a momentary halt. The South American drink is meant to help fight his illness, he explains.

    Cassif is third on the slate of Knesset candidates in Hadash (the Hebrew acronym for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), the successor to Israel’s Communist Party. He holds the party’s “Jewish slot,” replacing MK Dov Khenin. Cassif is likely to draw fire from opponents and be a conspicuous figure in the next Knesset, following the April 9 election.

    Indeed, the assault on him began as soon as he was selected by the party’s convention. The media pursued him; a columnist in the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Ben-Dror Yemini, called for him to be disqualified from running for the Knesset. It would be naive to say that this was unexpected. Cassif, who was one of the first Israeli soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories, in 1987, gained fame thanks to a number of provocative statements. The best known is his branding of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked as “neo-Nazi scum.” On another occasion, he characterized Jews who visit the Temple Mount as “cancer with metastases that have to be eradicated.”

    On his alternate Facebook page, launched after repeated blockages of his original account by a blitz of posts from right-wing activists, he asserted that Culture Minister Miri Regev is “repulsive gutter contamination,” that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an “arch-murderer” and that the new Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, is a “war criminal.”

    Do you regret making those remarks?

    Cassif: “‘Regret’ is a word of emotion. Those statements were made against a background of particular events: the fence in Gaza, horrible legislation, and the wild antics of Im Tirtzu [an ultranationalist organization] on campus. That’s what I had to say at the time. I didn’t count on being in the Knesset. That wasn’t part of my plan. But it’s clear to me that as a public personality, I would not have made those comments.”

    Is Netanyahu an arch-murderer?

    “Yes. I wrote it in the specific context of a particular day in the Gaza Strip. A massacre of innocent people was perpetrated there, and no one’s going to persuade me that those people were endangering anyone. It’s a concentration camp. Not a ‘concentration camp’ in the sense of Bergen-Belsen; I am absolutely not comparing the Holocaust to what’s happening.”

    You term what Israel is doing to the Palestinians “genocide.”

    “I call it ‘creeping genocide.’ Genocide is not only a matter of taking people to gas chambers. When Yeshayahu Leibowitz used the term ‘Judeo-Nazis,’ people asked him, ‘How can you say that? Are we about to build gas chambers?’ To that, he had two things to say. First, if the whole difference between us and the Nazis boils down to the fact that we’re not building gas chambers, we’re already in trouble. And second, maybe we won’t use gas chambers, but the mentality that exists today in Israel – and he said this 40 years ago – would allow it. I’m afraid that today, after four years of such an extreme government, it possesses even greater legitimacy.

    “But you know what, put aside ‘genocide’ – ethnic cleansing is taking place there. And that ethnic cleansing is also being carried out by means of killing, although mainly by way of humiliation and of making life intolerable. The trampling of human dignity. It reminds me of Primo Levi’s ‘If This Is a Man.’”

    You say you’re not comparing, but you repeatedly come back to Holocaust references. On Facebook, you also uploaded the scene from “Schindler’s List” in which the SS commander Amon Goeth picks off Jews with his rifle from the balcony of his quarters in the camp. You compared that to what was taking place along the border fence in the Gaza Strip.

    “Today, I would find different comparisons. In the past I wrote an article titled, ‘On Holocaust and on Other Crimes.’ It’s online [in Hebrew]. I wrote there that anyone who compares Israel to the Holocaust is cheapening the Holocaust. My comparison between here and what happened in the early 1930s [in Germany] is a very different matter.”

    Clarity vs. crudity

    Given Cassif’s style, not everyone in Hadash was happy with his election, particularly when it comes to the Jewish members of the predominantly Arab party. Dov Khenin, for example, declined to be interviewed and say what he thinks of his parliamentary successor. According to a veteran party figure, “From the conversations I had, it turns out that almost none of the Jewish delegates – who make up about 100 of the party’s 940 delegates – supported his candidacy.

    “He is perceived, and rightly so,” the party veteran continues, “as someone who closes doors to Hadash activity within Israeli society. Each of the other Jewish candidates presented a record of action and of struggles they spearheaded. What does he do? Curses right-wing politicians on Facebook. Why did the party leadership throw the full force of its weight behind him? In a continuation of the [trend exemplified by] its becoming part of the Joint List, Ofer’s election reflects insularity and an ongoing retreat from the historical goal of implementing change in Israeli society.”

    At the same time, as his selection by a 60 percent majority shows, many in the party believe that it’s time to change course. “Israeli society is moving rightward, and what’s perceived as Dov’s [Khenin] more gentle style didn’t generate any great breakthrough on the Jewish street,” a senior source in Hadash notes.

    “It’s not a question of the tension between extremism and moderation, but of how to signpost an alternative that will develop over time. Clarity, which is sometimes called crudity, never interfered with cooperation between Arabs and Jews. On the contrary. Ofer says things that we all agreed with but didn’t so much say, and of course that’s going to rile the right wing. And a good thing, too.”

    Hadash chairman MK Ayman Odeh also says he’s pleased with the choice, though sources in the party claim that Odeh is apprehensive about Cassif’s style and that he actually supported a different candidate. “Dov went for the widest possible alliances in order to wield influence,” says Odeh. “Ofer will go for very sharp positions at the expense of the breadth of the alliance. But his sharp statements could have a large impact.”

    Khenin was deeply esteemed by everyone. When he ran for mayor of Tel Aviv in 2008, some 35 percent of the electorate voted for him, because he was able to touch people who weren’t only from his political milieu.

    Odeh: “No one has a higher regard for Dov than I do. But just to remind you, we are not a regular opposition, we are beyond the pale. And there are all kinds of styles. Influence can be wielded through comments that are vexatious the first time but which people get used to the second time. When an Arab speaks about the Nakba and about the massacre in Kafr Kassem [an Israeli Arab village, in 1956], it will be taken in a particular way, but when uttered by a Jew it takes on special importance.”

    He will be the cause of many attacks on the party.

    “Ahlan wa sahlan – welcome.”

    Cassif will be the first to tell you that, with all due respect for the approach pursued by Khenin and by his predecessor in the Jewish slot, Tamar Gozansky, he will be something completely different. “I totally admire what Tamar and Dov did – nothing less than that,” he says, while adding, “But my agenda will be different. The three immediate dangers to Israeli society are the occupation, racism and the diminishment of the democratic space to the point of liquidation. That’s the agenda that has to be the hub of the struggle, as long as Israel rules over millions of people who have no rights, enters [people’s houses] in the middle of the night, arrests minors on a daily basis and shoots people in the back.

    "Israel commits murder on a daily basis. When you murder one Palestinian, you’re called Elor Azaria [the IDF soldier convicted and jailed for killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant]; when you murder and oppress thousands of Palestinians, you’re called the State of Israel.”

    So you plan to be the provocateur in the next Knesset?

    “It’s not my intention to be a provocateur, to stand there and scream and revile people. Even on Facebook I was compelled to stop that. But I definitely intend to challenge the dialogue in terms of the content, and mainly with a type of sarcasm.”

    ’Bags of blood’

    Cassif, 54, who holds a doctorate in political philosophy from the London School of Economics, teaches political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Sapir Academic College in Sderot and at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. He lives in Rehovot, is married and is the father of a 19-year-old son. He’s been active in Hadash for three decades and has held a number of posts in the party.

    As a lecturer, he stands out for his boldness and fierce rhetoric, which draws students of all stripes. He even hangs out with some of his Haredi students, one of whom wrote a post on the eve of the Hadash primary urging the delegates to choose him. After his election, a student from a settlement in the territories wrote to him, “You are a determined and industrious person, and for that I hold you in high regard. Hoping we will meet on the field of action and growth for the success of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state (I felt obliged to add a small touch of irony in conclusion).”

    Cassif grew up in a home that supported Mapai, forerunner of Labor, in Rishon Letzion. He was an only child; his father was an accountant, his mother held a variety of jobs. He was a news hound from an early age, and at 12 ran for the student council in school. He veered sharply to the left in his teens, becoming a keen follower of Marx and socialism.

    Following military service in the IDF’s Nahal brigade and a period in the airborne Nahal, Cassif entered the Hebrew University. There his political career moved one step forward, and there he also forsook the Zionist left permanently. His first position was as a parliamentary aide to the secretary general of the Communist Party, Meir Wilner.

    “At first I was closer to Mapam [the United Workers Party, which was Zionist], and then I refused to serve in the territories. I was the first refusenik in the first intifada to be jailed. I didn’t get support from Mapam, I got support from the people of Hadash, and I drew close to them. I was later jailed three more times for refusing to serve in the territories.”

    His rivals in the student organizations at the Hebrew University remember him as the epitome of the extreme left.

    “Even in the Arab-Jewish student association, Cassif was considered off-the-wall,” says Motti Ohana, who was chairman of Likud’s student association and active in the Student Union at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s. “One time I got into a brawl with him. It was during the first intifada, when he brought two bags of blood, emptied them out in the university’s corridors and declared, ‘There is no difference between Jewish and Arab blood,’ likening Israeli soldiers to terrorists. The custom on campus was that we would quarrel, left-right, Arabs-Jews, and after that we would sit together, have a coffee and talk. But not Cassif.”

    According to Ohana, today a member of the Likud central committee, the right-wing activists knew that, “You could count on Ofer to fall into every trap. There was one event at the Hebrew University that was a kind of political Hyde Park. The right wanted to boot the left out of there, so we hung up the flag. It was obvious that Ofer would react, and in fact he tore the flag, and in the wake of the ruckus that developed, political activity was stopped for good.”

    Replacing the anthem

    Cassif voices clearly and cogently positions that challenge the public discourse in Israel, and does so with ardor and charisma. Four candidates vied for Hadash’s Jewish slot, and they all delivered speeches at the convention. The three candidates who lost to him – Efraim Davidi, Yaela Raanan and the head of the party’s Tel Aviv branch, Noa Levy – described their activity and their guiding principles. When they spoke, there was the regular buzz of an audience that’s waiting for lunch. But when Cassif took the stage, the effect was magnetic.

    “Peace will not be established without a correction of the crimes of the Nakba and [recognition of] the right of return,” he shouted, and the crowd cheered him. As one senior party figure put it, “Efraim talked about workers’ rights, Yaela about the Negev, Noa about activity in Tel Aviv – and Ofer was Ofer.”

    What do you mean by “right of return”?

    Cassif: “The first thing is the actual recognition of the Nakba and of the wrong done by Israel. Compare it to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, if you like, or with the commissions in Chile after Pinochet. Israel must recognize the wrong it committed. Now, recognition of the wrong also includes recognition of the right of return. The question is how it’s implemented. It has to be done by agreement. I can’t say that tomorrow Tel Aviv University has to be dismantled and that Sheikh Munis [the Arab village on whose ruins the university stands] has to be rebuilt there. The possibility can be examined of giving compensation in place of return, for example.”

    But what is the just solution, in your opinion?

    “For the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.”

    That means there will be Jews who will have to leave their home.

    “In some places, unequivocally, yes. People will have to be told: ‘You must evacuate your places.’ The classic example is Ikrit and Biram [Christian-Arab villages in Galilee whose residents were promised – untruly – by the Israeli authorities in 1948 that they would be able to return, and whose lands were turned over to Jewish communities]. But there are places where there is certainly greater difficulty. You don’t right one wrong with another.”

    What about the public space in Israel? What should it look like?

    “The public space has to change, to belong to all the state’s residents. I dispute the conception of ‘Jewish publicness.’”

    How should that be realized?

    “For example, by changing the national symbols, changing the national anthem. [Former Hadash MK] Mohammed Barakeh once suggested ‘I Believe’ [‘Sahki, Sahki’] by [Shaul] Tchernichovsky – a poem that is not exactly an expression of Palestinian nationalism. He chose it because of the line, ‘For in mankind I’ll believe.’ What does it mean to believe in mankind? It’s not a Jew, or a Palestinian, or a Frenchman, or I don’t know what.”

    What’s the difference between you and the [Arab] Balad party? Both parties overall want two states – a state “of all its citizens” and a Palestinian state.

    “In the big picture, yes. But Balad puts identity first on the agenda. We are not nationalists. We do not espouse nationalism as a supreme value. For us, self-determination is a means. We are engaged in class politics. By the way, Balad [the National Democratic Assembly] and Ta’al [MK Ahmad Tibi’s Arab Movement for Renewal] took the idea of a state of all its citizens from us, from Hadash. We’ve been talking about it for ages.”

    If you were a Palestinian, what would you do today?

    “In Israel, what my Palestinian friends are doing, and I with them – [wage] a parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggle.”

    And what about the Palestinians in the territories?

    “We have always been against harming innocent civilians. Always. In all our demonstrations, one of our leading slogans was: ‘In Gaza and in Sderot, children want to live.’ With all my criticism of the settlers, to enter a house and slaughter children, as in the case of the Fogel family [who were murdered in their beds in the settlement of Itamar in 2011], is intolerable. You have to be a human being and reject that.”

    And attacks on soldiers?

    “An attack on soldiers is not terrorism. Even Netanyahu, in his book about terrorism, explicitly categorizes attacks on soldiers or on the security forces as guerrilla warfare. It’s perfectly legitimate, according to every moral criterion – and, by the way, in international law. At the same time, I am not saying it’s something wonderful, joyful or desirable. The party’s Haifa office is on Ben-Gurion Street, and suddenly, after years, I noticed a memorial plaque there for a fighter in Lehi [pre-state underground militia, also known as the Stern Gang] who assassinated a British officer. Wherever there has been a struggle for liberation from oppression, there are national heroes, who in 90 percent of the cases carried out some operations that were unlawful. Nelson Mandela is today considered a hero, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but according to the conventional definition, he was a terrorist. Most of the victims of the ANC [African National Congress] were civilians.”

    In other words, today’s Hamas commanders who are carrying out attacks on soldiers will be heroes of the future Palestinian state?

    “Of course.”

    Anti-Zionist identity

    Cassif terms himself an explicit anti-Zionist. “There are three reasons for that,” he says. “To begin with, Zionism is a colonialist movement, and as a socialist, I am against colonialism. Second, as far as I am concerned, Zionism is racist in ideology and in practice. I am not referring to the definition of race theory – even though there are also some who impute that to the Zionist movement – but to what I call Jewish supremacy. No socialist can accept that. My supreme value is equality, and I can’t abide any supremacy – Jewish or Arab. The third thing is that Zionism, like other ethno-nationalistic movements, splits the working class and all weakened groups. Instead of uniting them in a struggle for social justice, for equality, for democracy, it divides the exploited classes and the enfeebled groups, and by that means strengthens the rule of capital.”

    He continues, “Zionism also sustains anti-Semitism. I don’t say it does so deliberately – even though I have no doubt that there are some who do it deliberately, like Netanyahu, who is connected to people like the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, and the leader of the far right in Austria, Hans Christian Strache.”

    Did Mapai-style Zionism also encourage anti-Semitism?

    “The phenomenon was very striking in Mapai. Think about it for a minute, not only historically, but logically. If the goal of political and practical Zionism is really the establishment of a Jewish state containing a Jewish majority, and for Diaspora Jewry to settle there, nothing serves them better than anti-Semitism.”

    What in their actions encouraged anti-Semitism?

    “The very appeal to Jews throughout the world – the very fact of treating them as belonging to the same nation, when they were living among other nations. The whole old ‘dual loyalty’ story – Zionism actually encouraged that. Therefore, I maintain that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are not the same thing, but are precisely opposites. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there are no anti-Zionists who are also anti-Semites. Most of the BDS people are of course anti-Zionists, but they are in no way anti-Semites. But there are anti-Semites there, too.”

    Do you support BDS?

    “It’s too complex a subject for a yes or no answer; there are aspects I don’t support.”

    Do you think that the Jews deserve a national home in the Land of Israel?

    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘national home.’ It’s very amorphous. We in Hadash say explicitly that Israel has a right to exist as a sovereign state. Our struggle is not against the state’s existence, but over its character.”

    But that state is the product of the actions of the Zionist movement, which you say has been colonialist and criminal from day one.

    “That’s true, but the circumstances have changed. That’s the reason that the majority of the members of the Communist Party accepted the [1947] partition agreement at the time. They recognized that the circumstances had changed. I think that one of the traits that sets communist thought apart, and makes it more apt, is the understanding and the attempt to strike the proper balance between what should be, and reality. So it’s true that Zionism started as colonialism, but what do you do with the people who were already born here? What do you tell them? Because your grandparents committed a crime, you have to leave? The question is how you transform the situation that’s been created into one that’s just, democratic and equal.”

    So, a person who survived a death camp and came here is a criminal?

    “The individual person, of course not. I’m in favor of taking in refugees in distress, no matter who or what they are. I am against Zionism’s cynical use of Jews in distress, including the refugees from the Holocaust. I have a problem with the fact that the natives whose homeland this is cannot return, while people for whom it’s not their homeland, can, because they supposedly have some sort of blood tie and an ‘imaginary friend’ promised them the land.”

    I understand that you are in favor of the annulment of the Law of Return?

    “Yes. Definitely.”

    But you are in favor of the Palestinian right of return.

    “There’s no comparison. There’s no symmetry here at all. Jerry Seinfeld was by chance born to a Jewish family. What’s his connection to this place? Why should he have preference over a refugee from Sabra or Chatila, or Edward Said, who did well in the United States? They are the true refugees. This is their homeland. Not Seinfeld’s.”

    Are you critical of the Arabs, too?

    “Certainly. One criticism is of their cooperation with imperialism – take the case of today’s Saudi Arabia, Qatar and so on. Another, from the past, relates to the reactionary forces that did not accept that the Jews have a right to live here.”

    Hadash refrained from criticizing the Assad regime even as it was massacring civilians in Syria. The party even torpedoed a condemnation of Assad after the chemical attack. Do you identify with that approach?

    “Hadash was critical of the Assad regime – father and son – for years, so we can’t be accused in any way of supporting Assad or Hezbollah. We are not Ba’ath, we are not Islamists. We are communists. But as I said earlier, the struggle, unfortunately, is generally not between the ideal and what exists in practice, but many times between two evils. And then you have to ask yourself which is the lesser evil. The Syrian constellation is extremely complicated. On the one hand, there is the United States, which is intervening, and despite all the pretense of being against ISIS, supported ISIS and made it possible for ISIS to sprout.

    "I remind you that ISIS started from the occupation of Iraq. And ideologically and practically, ISIS is definitely a thousand times worse than the Assad regime, which is at base also a secular regime. Our position was and is against the countries that pose the greatest danger to regional peace, which above all are Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the United States, which supports them. That doesn’t mean that we support Assad.”

    Wrong language

    Cassif’s economic views are almost as far from the consensus as his political ideas. He lives modestly in an apartment that’s furnished like a young couple’s first home. You won’t find an espresso maker or unnecessary products of convenience in his place. To his credit, it can be said that he extracts the maximum from Elite instant coffee.

    What is your utopian vision – to nationalize Israel’s conglomerates, such as Cellcom, the telecommunications company, or Osem, the food manufacturer and distributor?

    “The bottom line is yes. How exactly will it be done? That’s an excellent question, which I can’t answer. Perhaps by transferring ownership to the state or to the workers, with democratic tools. And there are other alternatives. But certainly, I would like it if a large part of the resources were not in private hands, as was the case before the big privatizations. It’s true that it won’t be socialism, because, again, there can be no such thing as Zionist socialism, but there won’t be privatization like we have today. What is the result of capitalism in Israel? The collapse of the health system, the absence of a social-welfare system, a high cost of living and of housing, the elderly and the disabled in a terrible situation.”

    Does any private sector have the right to exist?

    “Look, the question is what you mean by ‘private sector.’ If we’re talking about huge concerns that the owners of capital control completely through their wealth, then no.”

    What growth was there in the communist countries? How can anyone support communism, in light of the grim experience wherever it was tried?

    “It’s true, we know that in the absolute majority of societies where an attempt was made to implement socialism, there was no growth or prosperity, and we need to ask ourselves why, and how to avoid that. When I talk about communism, I’m not talking about Stalin and all the crimes that were committed in the name of the communist idea. Communism is not North Korea and it is not Pol Pot in Cambodia. Heaven forbid.”

    And what about Venezuela?

    “Venezuela is not communism. In fact, they didn’t go far enough in the direction of socialism.”

    Chavez was not enough of a socialist?

    “Chavez, but in particular Maduro. The Communist Party is critical of the regime. They support it because the main enemy is truly American imperialism and its handmaidens. Let’s look at what the U.S. did over the years. At how many times it invaded and employed bullying, fascist forces. Not only in Latin America, its backyard, but everywhere.”

    Venezuela is falling apart, people there don’t have anything to eat, there’s no medicine, everyone who can flees – and it’s the fault of the United States?

    “You can’t deny that the regime has made mistakes. It’s not ideal. But basically, it is the result of American imperialism and its lackeys. After all, the masses voted for Chavez and for Maduro not because things were good for them. But because American corporations stole the country’s resources and filled their own pockets. I wouldn’t make Chavez into an icon, but he did some excellent things.”

    Then how do you generate individual wealth within the method you’re proposing? I understand that I am now talking to you capitalistically, but the reality is that people see the accumulation of assets as an expression of progress in life.

    “Your question is indeed framed in capitalist language, which simply departs from what I believe in. Because you are actually asking me how the distribution of resources is supposed to occur within the capitalist framework. And I say no, I am not talking about resource distribution within a capitalist framework.”

    Gantz vs. Netanyahu

    Cassif was chosen as the polls showed Meretz and Labor, the representatives of the Zionist left, barely scraping through into the next Knesset and in fact facing a serious possibility of electoral extinction. The critique of both parties from the radical left is sometimes more acerbic than from the right.

    Would you like to see the Labor Party disappear?

    “No. I think that what’s happening at the moment with Labor and with Meretz is extremely dangerous. I speak about them as collectives, because they contain individuals with whom I see no possibility of engaging in a dialogue. But I think that they absolutely must be in the Knesset.”

    Is a left-winger who defines himself as a Zionist your partner in any way?

    “Yes. We need partners. We can’t be picky. Certainly we will cooperate with liberals and Zionists on such issues as combating violence against women or the battle to rescue the health system. Maybe even in putting an end to the occupation.”

    I’ll put a scenario to you: Benny Gantz does really well in the election and somehow overcomes Netanyahu. Do you support the person who led Operation Protective Edge in Gaza when he was chief of staff?

    “Heaven forbid. But we don’t reject people, we reject policy. I remind you that it was [then-defense minister] Yitzhak Rabin who led the most violent tendency in the first intifada, with his ‘Break their bones.’ But when he came to the Oslo Accords, it was Hadash and the Arab parties that gave him, from outside the coalition, an insurmountable bloc. I can’t speak for the party, but if there is ever a government whose policy is one that we agree with – eliminating the occupation, combating racism, abolishing the nation-state law – I believe we will give our support in one way or another.”

    And if Gantz doesn’t declare his intention to eliminate the occupation, he isn’t preferable to Netanyahu in any case?

    “If so, why should we recommend him [to the president to form the next government]? After the clips he posted boasting about how many people he killed and how he hurled Gaza back into the Stone Age, I’m far from certain that he’s better.”

    #Hadash

    • traduction d’un extrait [ d’actualité ]

      Le candidat à la Knesset dit que le sionisme encourage l’antisémitisme et qualifie Netanyahu de « meurtrier »
      Peu d’Israéliens ont entendu parler de M. Ofer Cassif, représentant juif de la liste de la Knesset du parti d’extrême gauche Hadash. Le 9 avril, cela changera.
      Par Ravit Hecht 16 février 2019 – Haaretz

      (…) Identité antisioniste
      Cassif se dit un antisioniste explicite. « Il y a trois raisons à cela », dit-il. « Pour commencer, le sionisme est un mouvement colonialiste et, en tant que socialiste, je suis contre le colonialisme. Deuxièmement, en ce qui me concerne, le sionisme est raciste d’idéologie et de pratique. Je ne fais pas référence à la définition de la théorie de la race - même si certains l’imputent également au mouvement sioniste - mais à ce que j’appelle la suprématie juive. Aucun socialiste ne peut accepter cela. Ma valeur suprême est l’égalité et je ne peux supporter aucune suprématie - juive ou arabe. La troisième chose est que le sionisme, comme d’autres mouvements ethno-nationalistes, divise la classe ouvrière et tous les groupes sont affaiblis. Au lieu de les unir dans une lutte pour la justice sociale, l’égalité, la démocratie, il divise les classes exploitées et affaiblit les groupes, renforçant ainsi le pouvoir du capital. "
      Il poursuit : « Le sionisme soutient également l’antisémitisme. Je ne dis pas qu’il le fait délibérément - même si je ne doute pas qu’il y en a qui le font délibérément, comme Netanyahu, qui est connecté à des gens comme le Premier ministre de la Hongrie, Viktor Orban, et le chef de l’extrême droite. en Autriche, Hans Christian Strache. ”

      Le sionisme type-Mapaï a-t-il également encouragé l’antisémitisme ?
      « Le phénomène était très frappant au Mapai. Pensez-y une minute, non seulement historiquement, mais logiquement. Si l’objectif du sionisme politique et pratique est en réalité de créer un État juif contenant une majorité juive et de permettre à la communauté juive de la diaspora de s’y installer, rien ne leur sert mieux que l’antisémitisme. "

      Qu’est-ce qui, dans leurs actions, a encouragé l’antisémitisme ?
      « L’appel même aux Juifs du monde entier - le fait même de les traiter comme appartenant à la même nation, alors qu’ils vivaient parmi d’autres nations. Toute la vieille histoire de « double loyauté » - le sionisme a en fait encouragé cela. Par conséquent, j’affirme que l’antisémitisme et l’antisionisme ne sont pas la même chose, mais sont précisément des contraires. Bien entendu, cela ne signifie pas qu’il n’y ait pas d’antisionistes qui soient aussi antisémites. La plupart des membres du BDS sont bien sûr antisionistes, mais ils ne sont en aucun cas antisémites. Mais il y a aussi des antisémites.