Shopping for the Right Auto Insurance can take Time

There’s a lot that goes into choosing an auto insurance policy. In all states, in order to drive a car, a driver must carry liability coverage for damages he or she is responsible for; in some states, the driver also must carry liability (uninsured motorists) coverage for an accident that the other driver is responsible for. And in some states, no-fault coverage must be carried to pay for medical and related expenses for that driver, and his or her passengers, which were caused by injuries from a car accident, regardless of fault/

What a driver is responsible for

It’s important to know that anyone living in Orange County, California, who doesn’t have car insurance, risks paying the full cost of:

Medical costs due to injury
Repairing or replacing a car that is damaged or stolen
Damage or injury from an auto accident with an uninsured driver
Damage to an owned vehicle when it’s parked at home or in a public place

So, how can a person tell what amount of coverage is best? Considering one’s driving profile is a good place to start:

1. What kind of car is currently owned? Coverage on the vehicle depends on its value. The less expensive the car, generally the lower the insurance premium.

2. How much driving is done daily, weekly, yearly? Drivers who use their car for business and long-distance commuting normally pay more than those who drive less.

3. Age, gender, and marital status? Statistics show accident rates are impacted by a driver’s age, gender, and marital status. If there are multiple drivers in the household, that can also affect insurance prices. Parents can lower risk by keeping teens safer on the road.

Other factors many insurance companies consider

Where a person lives can affect their rates? Location, whether living in Garden Grove or Newport Beach ,is factored into the cost of car insurance.
What about driving record? Drivers with a history of accidents or chargeable motor vehicle violations (e.g. speeding ticket, reckless driving) generally pay more than those who are accident-free for several years.
What is the driver’s credit history? Many insurance companies consider credit history when determining an individual’s rate.

The bottom line is that there are many factors that determine policy rates, some which are out of a person’s control. The best solution is to speak to brokers or agents and get more than one quote. Look into available discounts (good driver, multiple vehicles, etc.) to determine who can provide the best coverage at the best possible price.

Study Raises Concern of Safety of Community Gardens’ Eggs

Preliminary results from a New York State Health Department study show that more than half of the eggs tested from chickens kept in community gardens in Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens had detectable levels of lead, unlike their store-bought counterparts. While lead is a naturally occurring element that is ingested in a variety of ways, it has been well established to be harmful to humans, even in very low quantities.

Henry M. Spliethoff, a research scientist in the Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment for the environmental health center of the State Health Department, tested 58 eggs from chickens living in New York City gardens and found that 28 of them contained lead in amounts of 10 to 73 parts per billion, with one egg having more than 100 parts per billion.

How to regard those results is a complicated question. If anything, they show how, as the gospel of locavorism has spread, so, too, have questions about the safety of eating food cultivated in neighborhoods where previous revolutions were industrial, not epicurean.

Individual homeowners who keep chickens in their backyards have little way of knowing whether their eggs might be contaminated unless they have them tested themselves. The researchers tested 58 eggs from community gardens because those eggs were accessible and that was the number of eggs that met the criteria of their study.

Mr. Spliethoff plans to publish the study later this year after he finishes more analysis of data collected on soil and feed, in hopes of learning how those variables might contribute to the eggs’ lead content. In the meantime, he notified all the study participants of the results and provided them with a list of tips for how to reduce lead exposure.

Still, the Department of Health is taking a cautious approach to explaining how the preliminary findings should be interpreted, saying it takes lead poisoning seriously but does not want to discourage urban gardeners from eating nutrient-dense eggs.

“We generally support chicken raising,” Mr. Spliethoff said. “However, we also support reducing lead exposure.”

The Food and Drug Administration does not have an established limit for acceptable amounts of lead in eggs, relying instead on a case-by-case approach to instances of contamination, a spokesman said. But in December 2005, after complaints about candy wrapped in colored papers that contained lead, it established 100 parts per billion as the maximum acceptable lead level for candy likely to be consumed frequently by small children.

In the European Union, any poultry except game found to contain more than 100 parts per billion is required to be removed from the market, said Frédéric Vincent, a spokesman for the E.U. division of health and consumer policy. The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service does not have established limits for lead content in poultry.

In New York, an urban gardening group called Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities helped Mr. Spiethoff conduct the study, after finding almost no data on the safety of eating eggs from the gardens, even though tests often show soil contamination.

Michael Brownstein, 32, a philosophy professor who keeps six hens of various breeds in the backyard of his renovated town house in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, was concerned enough about the issue that earlier this year he had his eggs tested by Zhongqi Cheng, the director of the Environmental Science Analytical Center at Brooklyn College.

Dr. Cheng, who also investigated eggs from another Brooklyn backyard, found that while some eggs were lead-free, others contained an average of 11.5 micrograms, an amount nearly double the 6 micrograms identified by the F.D.A. in 1993 as an acceptable daily intake level for children 6 years old or younger.

Dr. Cheng also found that egg yolks had a substantially higher concentration of lead than whites, something a group of scientists previously identified in a study of hens on a small farm in Iowa exposed to lead-based paint.

Confused about whether to continue feeding his eggs to his 6-year-old and 18-month-old, Mr. Brownstein consulted with their pediatrician and then a second doctor before deciding it was safe. But he said he wished there were clearer guidelines.

“When you get a soil test, there are easy-to-understand guides to interpreting the results: Do this, don’t do that,” he said. “But nothing like that exists for eggs, and that would be handy.”

Declan Walsh, 44, a Dublin native and father of three who has kept chickens for nine years behind his home in Red Hook, said he has always been aware that his backyard eggs could contain small amounts of lead and was unconcerned.

“The benefits of raising your children with an awareness of where your food comes from and having an honest relationship with your livestock way, way outweighs the possibility that they might encounter a heavy metal,” Mr. Walsh said.

“If your alternatives are trusting the industrial food system versus what’s in your backyard,” he said, the decision was easy. Eating eggs from chickens you raise “exposes you to a much healthier mind-set and physical well-being.”

But Tamara Rubin, 42, a mother of four boys in Portland, Ore., who founded the Lead Safe America Foundation after her children were diagnosed with lead poisoning, said parents must be vigilant.

“It just takes a microscopic amount of lead to poison a child,” Ms. Rubin said. “Government agencies don’t want to frighten the public when, in fact, I think we need to be a little bit frightened into action. We need to be made aware of the scope and impact of lead poisoning in our lives.”

Mr. Brownstein ultimately decided to feed his children his backyard eggs based on favorable results of lead tests administered by their pediatrician. “You can get freaked out about anything,” he said, “and I think whether it’s mercury in fish or lead in eggs, you do your best to take the most reasonable path and find the most reliable sources for information.”

“Thinking about the right way to eat is a benefit and a curse,” Mr. Brownstein added.

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For Protectors of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, an Unlikely Ally

There are so many ways a city park like Flushing Meadows-Corona Park can die.

Gotham Extra

Michael Powell on government and politics.

You can underfund it, which the city has tried on a regular basis. You can chew away at its edges, as the city has tried with great vigor, encouraging the Mets’ owners to construct a huge car-attracting mall on the northern edge of the park.

And you can let sports franchises lay claim to its precious core. The Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations allowed the Yankees to build on a South Bronx park, with promises to replace the lost space. Now the Bloomberg administration appears to look favorably on Major League Soccer’s proposal to place a 25,000-seat stadium smack in the middle of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

I wrote of this endangered Queens park last week.

Major League Soccer has commissioned an architect to draw up pretty and crowd-pleasing drawings for the stadium. Already these plans have drawn cheers from some local politicians.

The proposed stadium, however, has drawn vigorous opposition from residents in the immigrant-rich neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, Flushing and Jackson Heights, who rely on this densely used park for a weekly dose of open green space.

But the United States Tennis Association could prove the most intriguing and deep-pocketed opponent of the soccer stadium. Many local residents look with suspicion on the U.S.T.A., as it, too, plans to take another small bite out of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It wants to build a new tennis facility and parking garages. (Officials note in their defense that more than half of the fans at the United States Open tournament arrive by mass transit.)

This said, the tennis association often is a reasonable neighbor. When it cut a deal with the Dinkins administration to build a new facility in the early 1990s, it agreed to build dozens of tennis courts and let residents use them most weeks of the year.

The tennis association also pays about $2.5 million a year to the city, although Bloomberg budget officials set aside no specific portion of that tithe for Flushing Meadows.

Tennis officials view a soccer stadium with concern. Unlike Citi Field and the National Tennis Center, a soccer stadium in the middle of the park would sit a substantial distance from subways and trains. And it most likely would require more roads and parking, crossing close to the tennis center.

And soccer officials have spoken of using the stadium for concerts, all of which would make it a cacophonous neighbor for the tennis complex.

“It raises a lot of concerns for us,” said Gordon Smith, executive director of the association. “We ought to be considered in a very different light, because we raise almost none of those complications.”

For now, however, local residents offer the loudest opposition. With the help of organizations like Make the Road by Walking, Good Jobs New York and NYC Park Advocates, they have packed usually obscure and sparsely attended “scoping hearings” with hundreds of people to register their disapproval.

The atmosphere at one such meeting last week fell well short of welcoming. While officials from the city’s Economic Development Corporation fiddled with their BlackBerrys and checked the time, the officials running the meeting did not offer simultaneous translation in Spanish, Bengali and Urdu to those who needed it. That omission runs counter to city guidelines.

The city official who acted as the moderator of the hearing affected the condescension of an Eton headmaster. “I have been a college professor,” he informed the boisterous audience. “I will wait until you are silent.”

How very good of him.

The Pratt Center for Community Development has issued a pointed new critique of the various plans for the park.

To all of this, many of the city’s news media have contributed more than a little confusion of their own. A reporter for Gothamist, a news Web site, consistently frames the battle as one between small-minded NIMBYs and a terrific new stadium.

Other reporters dismiss Industry Pond and the Fountain of Planets as a stagnant and “man-made” body of water that is “fenced off” and sits in a remote corner of the park.

These are curious bills of indictment. Nearly every lake in the city park system is man-made, and more than a few are fenced off. For instance, two of Prospect Park’s ponds are, unfortunately, fenced off, and no one has yet suggested paving those watery expanses. And the notion that the Flushing Meadows pond sits at a far remove from the park center is a fantasy. Visitors might discover this for themselves on any weekend by joining the crowds and food vendors congregating around the pond and soccer fields.

A few years back, the Parks and Recreation Department offered its own strategic plan for Flushing Meadows, a visionary document that called for fewer cars and more natural areas, and for unshackling Industry Pond. The plan would rip up the asphalt, tear down the fences and create an open expanse of grass and water.

The report’s language lacked eloquence, but its vision was expansive.

Parks department officials so far have kept a careful silence on the new proposals. They perhaps face a choice of deferring to those who frame the future of the park in terms of revenue, or finding their own voice as guardians of this often neglected park.

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An Exhorting Electronic Subway Sign

Dear Diary:

The subway now has electronic signs, exhorting, informing, bewildering.
This is a literal transcription of an electronic sign at the Avenue of the Americas-34th Street Downtown subway stop.

All spelling, capitalization, line breaks are as found.

My only editing was to take the first line, capitalize it and make it the title.

ATTEN TO YOUR CHILDREN

Adults hold handrail
attend to your
children avoid the
side of the escalator
ride safely escaator
are for passenger
only never run up or
down no large
packages should be
carried on escalator
step on and off
escalator never push
strollers on escalator
nevr sit on step or
handrail never put
umbrella on escalator
steps children should
hold adults hand not
handrail have a great
day


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Inquiry Finds That Four ‘Rebecca’ Investors Did Not Exist

The lawyer for the lead producer of the Broadway musical “Rebecca,” which collapsed after the reported death from malaria of a mysterious investor, said on Sunday that he had confirmed that the investor and three others brought in by a middleman with a history of civil fraud complaints never existed.

The lawyer, Ronald G. Russo, said that an exhaustive inquiry in New York and London by private investigators had established that the four investors puportedly brought into the production by the middleman, Mark C. Hotton, a financially troubled Long Island stockbroker, were all fictitious.

“Following an extensive search over the last week, I can now confirm that there is no evidence whatever that ‘Paul Abrams,’ or any of the other three investors brought to this production by Mr. Hotton, ever existed,” Mr. Russo, said in a news release on Sunday night.

The collapse of the show is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Mr. Russo, who represents the ill-fated show’s lead producer, Ben Sprecher, said his investigators had found that the names and addresses and business associations of the so-called investors were “clever fabrications.”

Mr. Abrams, described as a wealthy South African businessman with offices in London and Johannesburg, was supposed to put up $2 million for the production and had purportedly brought in the three other men who together were going to invest an additional $2.5 million.

Mr. Hotton, 46, of West Islip, on Long Island, has not been charged with a crime, and the reasons for his foray into Broadway financing remain unclear. In recent years, he has been accused of fraud in several civil suits and has filed for bankruptcy, declaring $15 million in debts. He is the subject of an unrelated federal fraud investigation by prosecutors in Brooklyn.

Mr. Hotton’s lawyer, Gerald L. Shargel, called the results of Mr. Russo’s investigation “absurd” and “self-serving.”

“There is no benefit to my client unless and until there was an investment of actual dollars and there wasn’t a dollar to be made by my client,” Mr. Shargel said. “My client met these people and tried to raise money in good faith and the bottom line is that he was completely duped. If they were fictious, what was in it for Hotton?”

As for the lawsuits against his client, Mr. Shargel said, “All these claims of fraudulent conduct are grossly and absurdly exaggerated and there has never been any adverse verdict returned against him.”

Mr. Hotton introduced Mr. Sprecher to one of the fictitious investors via e-mail.

It was the reported death of the main investor, Mr. Abrams, that last month led to the unraveling of the $12 million musical, which is based on the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name.

Mr. Hotton was to receive a commission on the money that he was said to be raising for the show, an unusual arrangement in modern theater financing, a person with knowledge of the matter said last week.

Mr. Sprecher had been under pressure to raise money for the musical in order to open as planned this fall, and associates of his said that he had become desperate for Mr. Hotton’s apparent investors — so desperate that Mr. Hotton was able to all but dictate terms of the commission deals.

“Having seen the fraud of which Mr. Hotton has been accused, I am not surprised that he was able to defraud the production of ‘Rebecca,’” Mr Russo said in his release on Sunday. “Hopefully, through the efforts of my client and the proper authorities, Mr. Hotton will be brought to justice.”

Mr. Russo said his focus would now shift to establishing the identity of the person who sent an anonymous e-mail last month to another investor, saying that the investment would be a waste of money. That investor, he said, had committed to and provided funds so the show could proceed to rehearsal.

“That e-mail was directly responsible for his withdrawal and the subsequent postponement of the production,” Mr. Russo said.

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Venezuelans Line Up Before Dawn to Vote in Midtown

Alejandro Fandiño awoke at 3 a.m. on Sunday and drove from his home in Dover, N.J., to the Venezuelan Consulate in New York, hoping to be first in line to vote in Venezuela’s presidential election.

Mr. Fandiño, 26, who arrived with his mother, stepfather, sister and an aunt, waited for two and a half hours in the cold, damp autumnal darkness before the polls opened. He was the first in line, yet just before he went inside to vote for his candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, he ceded his spot to a woman from Caracas, Venezuela named María.

She said that she had flown 14 hours from Geneva so she could vote in New York and that her return flight left in 45 minutes.

They were among many Venezuelan expatriates who took part in the election.

Mr. Capriles, a state governor, is seen as the first serious challenger to the longtime incumbent, Hugo Chávez, who came to power in 1998 but is facing mounting criticism over high murder rates and persistent food and energy shortages.

In February, before Mr. Capriles, who has campaigned as a moderate alternative to the left-wing policies of Mr. Chávez, won a critical primary that united the opposition, there were only 56,000 Venezuelans registered to vote abroad. Today, the number is 100,495, according to the Council of the Americas, an educational and economic development organization.

According to the consulate in New York, some 3,500 people are registered to vote there — more than three times as many as those who voted in the 2006 election. The sidewalk outside the consulate, at 51st Street and Madison Avenue, was jammed by 5:15 a.m. The consulate said that 2,487 people had voted by the end of day.

Voters walked from their homes in Midtown, drove in from Vermont and flew in from Europe. Venezuelan election law requires that all voting be done in person with voters dipping thumbs in black ink to verify their identity.

“It brings hope,” said Mr. Fandiño, a flight attendant, who added that he, like others, had been awakened from a deep political apathy. “It brings a lot of beautiful things to the country, it brings a lot of excitement. Because I’ll tell you, a government cannot be in power for so long. Fourteen years? That’s not democracy.”

Mr. Fandiño, who grew up in the rainy city of San Cristóbal, Venezuela in what he described as a middle class family, said he had never voted before. He moved to the United States as a teenager, prompted, he said, by rising violence and declining economic opportunity. Another aunt, who ran a pharmacy, was robbed several times and assaulted. And, he added, a teenage cousin was kidnapped and killed about a decade ago.

By 11:30 a.m., the line of Venezuelans snaked down East 51st Street, curving onto Madison Avenue and then twisting onto East 52nd Street. Many of the voters were students from middle-class and wealthy class families, and they rattled off stories of so-called express kidnappings — in which people are abducted and forced to make purchases or take money out of A.T.M’s.

Aymara León, a medical technologist who lives in Vorhees, N.J., said she voted for Mr. Chávez in his first campaign, did not vote at all in 2006, and was now firmly for Mr. Capriles.

“I voted for him in 1998 because he was the change,” she said of Mr. Chávez, speaking in Spanish. “There was a lot of corruption, he was a young guy, very sensitive, he wasn’t from the same government we’d had, but he’s turned bad now, power has sickened him.”

The Venezuelan community in New York and in the United States overall, has grown significantly since Mr. Chávez took power, and those who live abroad tend to be from economically mobile families who can afford to move.

Despite election rules that prohibit any campaigning within 650 feet of the consulate, dozens of voters chanted slogans and wore the red, blue and gold baseball caps that have become the trademark of the Capriles campaign.

Directly across the street, a family of four who are supporters of Mr. Chávez calmly made their case for the president.

“Overall we have seen that what he has said, he has done,” said Ramiro Villafane, 27, a human resources consultant who lives in Corona, Queens. “He has built houses, he pretty much democratized the health system for all citizens in the country.”

His father, also named Ramiro Villafane, was a businessman in Venezuela and now does building maintenance in Queens. He said that many of those voting against Mr. Chávez in New York were college students who had benefited from the education subsidies the president had pushed through.

Mr. Fandiño, after he voted, said he would go home with his family to watch election coverage while his mother made arepas, a traditional Venezuelan corn meal cake, in this case stuffed with cheese, ham and eggs.

“My mom was actually thinking about doing a paella,” said Mr. Fandiño, “and I was like, ’What do you think you are, Spanish?’ I’m like ‘Make some arepas!’”

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