I’ve always liked dystopian fiction. I took May 3, 2010 off work so I could reread the classic SF novel Stand on Zanzibar (set on that day, four decades hence). In music, I like Billy Joel’s “Miami 2017” (also four decades ahead) about the decline and fall of New York City. Happily, overpopulation is not quite as bad as John Brunner predicted. Sadly, as 2017 comes to a close New York City is still around, the distillation of what is wrong with government and business.
The turning point from “bad place” to “don’t go there, ever” was when the mayor said he would enforce speed limits by seizing cars. Speeding is a crime and the tools used to commit crimes can be seized. It’s a straightforward legal principle… but for speeding?
We normally associate forfeiture with the war on drugs. In constitutional law there is nothing special about drugs. Drugs happen to be the most popular reason for forfeiture. Our institutions have a lot of practice so the process is efficient. More importantly, lawmakers want to send a message “we’re stealing from them, not you.”
Sometimes you’ll read about cities taking cars because they were in the red light district or parked near an illegal party. Always the message was, “decent people won’t get in trouble.”
Giuliani was different. He was Mr. Tough On Crime. He wanted total domination of government over subject. No offense was too small to ruin your life over.
I don’t know how many cars he took under that program. Maybe it never took off. He wanted to send a message, and I got it. Stay away from New York and wait for the city to die.
The threat of car seizure deterred me more than revenue cameras. New York’s red light camera program started in the 1990s. Camera enforcement was supposed to be a trial program that would be evaluated and continued only if it worked. The city refused to say if it had any effect on safety. It worked by the only standard that mattered. It brought in revenue. Like rent control, camera enforcement was reauthorized by the state legislature in return for New York City lawmakers’ support of Upstate priorities.
That was before the anti-car lobby in New York got really powerful. Now cameras are mailing speeding tickets too. Robots leave human officers free to look in your window to see if you touch your cell phone while stopped at a light. Visions of zeroes haven’t helped pedestrian safety, but they sure brought in a lot of dollars.
At least Bloomberg didn’t get the ring of steel he wanted. Not all of it. Remember the driver who posted a video of the fastest lap around Manhattan? He was caught thanks to surveillance devices and sentenced to a year in jail. But he didn’t get billed $50 for driving in lower Manhattan.
Some drivers do pay that much. Truckers hide their license plates to avoid the $100 tolls. The tolls aren’t needed for bridge repair. They fund the Port Authority’s monument to its ego.
Joel sang, “they sank Manhattan out at sea.” I keep hearing global warming will flood lower Manhattan, but it’s not enough and it’s not soon enough.
There are a handful of people worth saving. It would be a shame to lose the Museum of Natural History.
But Wall Street? Jump, thieves. And City Hall?
Somebody asked me what it would take to get me to come visit her in Brooklyn.
“Unelect the last three mayors.”
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