New York City battles Third World culture

Cockfighting rings are proliferating in the Big Apple. So are foreign-born taxi drivers who are killing and injuring large numbers of pedestrians -- and getting away with it.

Welcome to New York City after decades of immigration, both legal and illegal. A long-time haven for Third World immigrants, New York is increasingly looking like the Third World. Recent newspaper headlines tell the story.

First, there's cockfighting: a cruel sport outlawed in America, but wildly popular in Latin America and other brutish parts of the world. Recently, law-enforcement authorities carried out raids on cockfighting rings across New York City in "Operation Angry Bird." As the New York Daily News reported: "As many as 3,000 roosters were rescued, nine arrested and 70 people rounded up in a ring that stretched through Brooklyn and Queens into Ulster County." Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was quoted as saying: "Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public and is known to facilitate other crimes." 

The New York Post called it the biggest cockfighting bust ever made in the Big Apple.

Then there's the changing nature of New York's cabbies -- the subject of recent articles in the New York Times and New York Post.

The Post's headline declared: "21 cabbies involved in tragic crashes, only 1 charged." "They're getting away with murder," reported the scrappy tabloid, which described a number of gruesome accidents in which cabbies killed or maimed pedestrians. Statistic show that most New York cabbies now hail from Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Not surprisingly, The Times' story on cabbies overlooked the mayhem that all those foreign born cabbies  are causing, but it did nevertheless offer some interesting observations on the changing culture of New York's taxi industry. "American-Born Cabbies Are a Vanishing Breed in New York," declared its headline.

"The American-born cabby, long a stalwart of the industry even as immigrants began to dominate its ranks, has now just about vanished," The Gray Lady explained. "Today, only 8 percent of New York City taxi and for-hire drivers were born in the United States, the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission said. According to records released in December by the commission, the dearth is particularly pronounced among yellow taxi drivers; of them, 6 percent are native-born."

A generation ago or two ago, on the other hand, New York City's cab drivers were a worldly and affable bunch -- native Americans who, as The Times explained, might be "the fledgling actor making do between auditions, the student working his way through college behind the wheel."

So where do most cabbies hail from today? Citing official statistics, The Times said "the most common country of origin for yellow cabdrivers is now Bangladesh. More than 23 percent of drivers were born there...compared with less than 14 percent in 2005. In that year, the highest concentration of drivers came from Pakistan."

And while The Times doesn't mention it, those countries also have some of the world's worst levels of traffic accidents. "In Pakistan, the number of deaths every year attributable to road accidents is almost thrice that of terrorism-related fatalities, mostly owing to lack of awareness about road safety and the appalling condition of road infrastructure," reported The Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper.

Regarding Bangladesh, The Guardian of London reported: "Bangladesh has one of the worst road death rates in the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 20,000 people die every year on the country's roads."

So how come native-American white guys, including many with college degrees, have become a vanishing breed among New York's cabbies? "Former and current drivers said the trend could be traced in large part to changes in cab leasing terms in the 1970s," The Times explained. "With rules that now often require much of a long day's work -- a standard shift is 12 hours - just to cover the daily rental rate, there is far less latitude for students, performers or other young New Yorkers to drive cabs for part of the day as supplemental income."

It further explained:

Another consequence of the lease changes: Taxi operators were once far more invested in the success of their cabbies.

"It was just a much better job," said Tom Robbins, a journalist and author who drove a taxi in the 1970s. "When I had a good day, the boss had a good day. When I had a bad day, the boss had a bad day. Once leasing came in, the boss never had a bad day."

Mr. Robbins once worked out of a Greenwich Village garage, known as Dover, that served as the inspiration for the television series "Taxi." According to a New York Magazine article, personnel included a college professor, a former priest, a calligrapher, the inventor of the electric harp and "the usual gang of starving artists, actors, and writers."

Incredibly, it seems that there may be only two white taxi drivers left in New York City. Or as The Times explains:

"The scarcity of American-born drivers seems to have bound some together. John Abrahams, 52, from Park Slope, Brooklyn, recalled a run-in with a fellow cabby on Park Avenue.

"I looked over, and there was a white guy," Mr. Abrahams said. "We both burst out laughing. He said, 'I always tell my fares that there's one other white guy in the city. I found him.'"

Perhaps Bill de Basio, New York's left-wing mayor, can look into reversing these onerous lease arrangements to create more diversity among New York's cabbies. But of course that will never happen -- not with the sort of identity politics that, like never before, now hold sway in the Big Apple.

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