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Chris Christie: Faux Outrage or Genuine Distress?

I’ve read a lot of skepticism about Chris Christie’s harsh words for his party.  Even the NYTimes is jumping into the speculation frenzy by pointing out that Christie’s harshest words were for Speaker Boehner while he was rather conciliatory towards Eric Cantor.  So, is Chris Christie just trying to score some political points for his future presidential campaign by contrasting himself against his own party or is he genuinely frustrated?

I’m going to go with the latter and here’s why.  First, everyone in Congress expected a vote on Tuesday for Hurricane Sandy funds.  Chris Christie and Peter King were not the only people who were surprised that the Sandy vote was pulled at the last minute.  We can debate whether it was personal ire towards Christie from the Republicans or some bigger strategy.  I lean towards a bigger strategy.  Republicans are not stupid.  They’re like zombies who think.  You can never turn your back on them. Pulling the Sandy bill serves some purpose of theirs.  We don’t know what yet but they’re going to use Sandy and New Jersey for something.  Count on it.

Secondly, the shore businesses that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy need to be at least partially up and running by Memorial Day.  That’s only 5 months away.  People tend to forget that New Jersey’s economy relies heavily on shore business during the summer.  We’re not all trashy, spangly Guidos and Guidettes.  The shore money usually comes from families renting houses for 1-2 weeks in the summer in places like Avalon and Lavalette.

Time is of the essence.  Christie’s re-election will definitely hinge on whether or not he can deliver the funds in time or not.  Getting people all fired up against Republican House members isn’t going to help him *this* year.  It might have an impact in 2014 but Christie might be gone by then.

Now, is it possible that Christie is playing a part in some elaborate game where he blusters and storms about Sandy relief and the Republicans wring their hands and say, “All that money will increase the deficit.  We can’t afford it without some skin in the game from every American in the form of cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”  Well, I hate to be tin-foily but anything is possible with this bunch.  But if this all hinges on the debt ceiling crisis that’s coming up in March, then I think Christie doesn’t give himself enough time to get the job done at the shore by going along with it, something I’m sure he has reiterated to Boehner’s office.

So, I’m going with genuine distress.  That doesn’t mean I like Christie (I don’t) or think he’s secretly a nice guy (as if) or that he’s undergoing a character building experience (dream on).  I think he’s as self-interested as any other governor who’s running for re-election.  Sandy might be Christie’s Waterloo and he knows it.

The latest news is that Boehner is scheduling the Hurricane Sandy vote for Friday.  It’s very interesting timing.  The bill includes money for fisheries in Alaska and the Gulf coast that were also damaged by Sandy.

huh?

Also, the funds would be split into two parts.  $27 billion now and $33 billion for later projects.  If we assume that the Republicans know they can’t get around passing *some* kind of Sandy relief, splitting the bill into two parts still gives them leverage to get what they want later.

 The new Congress is sworn in today.  So, one of the first things they will vote on is a spending increase, which Republicans will use next year against their opponents when they run for their seats.  Sweeeet.  Can’t you just hear the campaign stump speeches now?  “My opponent was sworn in only a year ago and the very first thing he/she did was vote to increase the deficit by $27 BILLION dollars.  We’ll be working for the Chinese before you know it.  The world will end, dogs and cats will be living together…”

Life in Post-Apocalyptic New Jersey: Was it something I said?

Hoboken Path train station flooding during Sandy

Back on December 19, 2012, I wrote:

On to Sandy.  I got an email from Senator Menendez about the negotiations for Hurricane Sandy funds and it has occurred to me that if Menendez and Lautenberg concede on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, it could be that they’re being pressured to give in or the funds will be much, much smaller than we need or non-existent.  Would the Republicans screw business owners in New Jersey who have been footing the bill for their states for decades by getting the least amount of federal funds back for every dollar they send to Washington?  Sure they would.  They’re not concerned with the fate of New Jersey, the shore communities that make their livings in the summer or the fact that the Northeast Corridor trains from DC to New York cut through this state or that New Jersey towns are really suburbs of either New York City or Philadelphia.  No, all that matters is that the Republican donors get to sit on as much wealth as they can possibly accumulate under them.  I’d like to hear what is going on with the Sandy reconstruction funds and be reassured that they aren’t being held hostage to the Republican terrorist threat but I am not hopeful.

Ooooo, so close.

But I was wrong.  Yes, you heard me say it.  I was wrong to think that Republicans were going to use Sandy as a threat on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations.

I’m betting they’re going to use this for the next hurdle, the debt ceiling.  “Nice little state you got there, Senator Menendez.  Be a shame if something *happened* to it.”  Or it might be something in the interim.  They’ll make helping New Jerseyans and Lawnguylanders into a bad thing.

Would Republicans do it?  Oh ,heck yeah they would.  There’s nothing they like so much as to make people feel good about kicking the next person down on the totem pole.  Except that’s not the direction where all the money is.

Chris Christie got a little exorcised (as opposed to exercised, a word with which he appears to be unfamiliar) today when he said this:

“There is only one group to blame,” Christie said. “The House Majority and John Boehner.”

“Last night, the House Majority failed the basic test of leadership and they did so with callous disregard to the people of my state,” he said. “It was disappointing and disgusting to watch.”

“Shame on you, shame on Congress.”

Following his remarks, Christie doubled down on his criticism in a lengthy — and incredibly candid — press conference in which he laid into House Republicans for putting “palace intrigue” ahead of their actual jobs.

“Our people were played last night as a pawn…and that’s why people hate Washington, D.C.,” Christie said later. “They forget that we’re the ones who sent them there.”

Asked who he thought was responsible on the holdup over Sandy aid, Christie laid the blame entirely on Boehner.

“It was the Speaker’s decision — his alone,” Christie said, adding that he tried to reach Boehner four times, but that the Speaker did not take his calls until this morning.

“I won’t get into my conversation with [Boehner], but I will tell you there is no reason to believe anything they tell me.”

If I hadn’t watched Christie throw his weight around here in NJ for the past three years, yelling at teachers, maligning union workers and giving our two Democratic Senators the silent treatment, I might feel a little sorry for the predicament he’s in.  Here’s a Republican governor pissed as hell with his party for good reason.  If human behavior were susceptible to selective pressure, this is the time when Christie would begin to experience empathy for the Sandy stricken victims in his state and evolve away from the hard hearted, “fend-for-yourself” political tactics of his party.

Well, a girl can dream.

On the other hand, I have read somewhere that political revolutions happen when the pain intensifies on the middle and upper stratum of society and the Haves start feeling betrayed by the Have-Mores.  We might be at that point now. So, maybe the House Republicans should continue to act like f^&*ing assholes.  In fact, the assholier the better.  Get it all out there.  Let’s see how low they can go.

I’m more than a little incensed right now that the Republicans have decided to hold New Jersey hostage.  Unemployment here is pretty bad since the big pharmas picked Massachusetts as their new Bug Out Location.  And it’s only going to get worse in the summer if the shore properties and businesses are still under water, metaphorically or not.  The money would have been a much needed stimulus package as well as a way to fix our deteriorating infrastructure.

But the Republicans are the majority in the House and they’ve decided to do nothing.  This is why we can’t have nice things.

Not sure what Christie can do at this stage.  He’s made a career out of nastiness to Democrats and while they’ll do the right thing, his own party is never going to forgive him for sashaying around the shore with Obama a few days before the election.  Of course, that’s just the excuse they’ll give for being sociopathic bastards who are bent on killing the social safety net.  They don’t really need a reason but their gullible public will probably demand one so they feel justified in piling on poor Ortley Beach and Hoboken.  Christie’s in a tight spot.

Then again, he could just send some men around to break some knees.

*****************************************

Update on the tree situation: It’s going to be a long process cleaning up the trees.  All along the roads, people have stacked tree corpses in neat little pyramids.  But the other day, I was driving through the Duke Estate in Hillsborough and the storm has been devastating there. The estate has lost 2,000 trees.  Brook and her friends wanted to visit the nature center and ride their bikes through the park back in early December.  But when they got there, the caretakers told them the estate was closed because of tree damage.  It’s just too dangerous to ride along the paths.  I could tell that there was substantial damage and had to agree with them.  You just never know.

Then, a wind storm struck right before Christmas.  The wind was really strong and as I was driving through the other day, I noticed that there were a lot more trees down.  The estate now looks like a bomb hit it and more fragile trees that made it through Sandy came down. That might have been where I saw another tree dragging down a power line.  It’s unnerving because cutting through the Duke Estate is the best way to avoid the main drag here.

I’ll try to take pictures tomorrow.

Negotiations, Marketing and Sandy

Republicans steal Obama’s lunch money again

This morning’s post of stuff is in no particular order.  The first and third may be related.

Krugman writes in his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, today that, as expected, Obama is turning out to be a lousy negotiator on the so-called Fiscal Cliff conundrum:

Here we go again — or so I find myself fearing.

Obama’s fiscal deal offer was already distressing — cuts to Social Security, and a big concession, it turns out, on taxation of dividends, retaining most of the Bush cut (with the benefits flowing overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent). It wasn’t clear that the deal would have gotten nearly enough in return.

But sure enough, it looks as if Republicans have taken the offer as a sign of weakness, as a starting point from which they can bargain Obama down. Oh, and they’re not giving up at all on the idea of using the debt ceiling for further blackmail.

In other words, all of a sudden it’s feeling a lot like 2011 again, with the president negotiating with himself while the other side enjoys the process.

The Republicans have been dying for Obama to offer a social insurance program cut.  For weeks now, they’ve been saying that Obama wouldn’t name any spending cuts in a game of gotcha chicken.  The minute Obama blinked it was a.) not going to be enough to satisfy them and b.) going to come back to bite the Democrats in the ass because they were the ones who finally conceded on spending cuts that no one likes without getting much of anything in return.  So, what does Obama do?  He blinks.  Not only does he blink, he practically gives away every advantage he had and the Bush tax cuts remain pretty much intact for the 1% while the Chained CPI takes a big chunk of money away from vulnerable seniors as well as raising their taxes.

By the way, there is a very good reason why the Chained CPI is a horrible idea.  It’s predicated on the idea that seniors will choose to scale down on their consumer choices.  They’ll buy more generic goods at the grocery store or go to Walmart more often than Macy’s.  (Great, I can just imagine what my limited fashion choices are going to look like in 20 years.  More sparkly things that fit my tall frame even less well because all of the patterns are cut for some 5’2″ model from the Phillipines.)  And I might as well just forget about replacing any Apple gadgets when I hit retirement age.

How does this benefit Main Street?  If seniors now have to forgo the few little luxuries they have or pick the progressively less expensive items, isn’t that going to have an effect on what is sold and consumed?  And won’t that eventually impact the economy and create a progressively larger drag on it?  Just askin’ because to Republicans, the fate of the economy doesn’t seem to be very important as long as they get their exemptions on their dividends and they don’t have to look at a poor person in Walmart clothing.  What I see evolving is a modern version of the Sumptuary Laws where the “most vulnerable seniors” will still be able to buy low quality consumer goods because that’s where they are in the social ladder and should not seek to rise above their station.

More on this: Thereisnospoon’s post from this morning laments along with Markos Moulitsos at DailyKos that Obama is a bad negotiator and he’s is going to betray the left that supported him.

Let me tell you a little joke:

There was a dull witted guy who came home from work early one afternoon to find his wife in bed with another man.  The guy is distraught so he goes to the kitchen and returns with a sharp knife.  Then he stands over the bed and holds the knife to his throat.  The wife looks up and starts to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?”, he says, “You’re next.”

Ba-dum-dum.

I kept thinking about this joke all during the election season and I would have told it sooner but some people would have just called me a racist.

On to Sandy.  I got an email from Senator Menendez about the negotiations for Hurricane Sandy funds and it has occurred to me that if Menendez and Lautenberg concede on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, it could be that they’re being pressured to give in or the funds will be much, much smaller than we need or non-existent.  Would the Republicans screw business owners in New Jersey who have been footing the bill for their states for decades by getting the least amount of federal funds back for every dollar they send to Washington?  Sure they would.  They’re not concerned with the fate of New Jersey, the shore communities that make their livings in the summer or the fact that the Northeast Corridor trains from DC to New York cut through this state or that New Jersey towns are really suburbs of either New York City or Philadelphia.  No, all that matters is that the Republican donors get to sit on as much wealth as they can possibly accumulate under them.  I’d like to hear what is going on with the Sandy reconstruction funds and be reassured that they aren’t being held hostage to the Republican terrorist threat but I am not hopeful.

The last item has to do with marketing.  There’s a grocery store in my town that I have been going to faithfully since I moved here in 1992.  But lately, the things I like are disappearing from the shelves.  It started with some bagged salad items but the trend is picking up steam lately.  Suddenly, I can’t find 2% yogurt anymore.  More than once I’ve bought groceries home, stuck my spoon in what I thought was going to be a thick and creamy Greek yogurt and unwittingly spooned a glob of honey flavored paste in my mouth.  Almost every flavor of yogurt on the shelf is 0% fat yogurt.  Oh sure, there are something like *two* flavors out of zillions that are 2%.  They’re usually in flavors I don’t like, like pineapple.  Don’t get me wrong, I like pineapple but I don’t want it in my yogurt.  I want lemon in my 2% Greek yogurt.  Can’t find it anymore on my grocery store shelves.

A similar thing has happened to the UHT milk.  The store has moved the location of the UHT milk to the juice aisle and reduced the size of the section devoted to it.  No explanation.  It just happens to be the only milk I buy because otherwise, fresh milk spoils in my house before we get around to drinking it.  You can store UHT milk forever.  But no, the UHT milk is on its way out.

The hummus crisis is emblematic of this trend.  In my grocery store, we have more flavors of hummus than I can count:

I can’t believe that Hillsborough can really distinguish between so many brands and flavors of hummus.  I’d like to see how much hummus gets dumped by the store.  But there is only one kind of babaganoush, which my house prefers.  We also like Tsazhiki but it’s ridiculously expensive.  I’d be inclined to make it myself but I don’t want to make it with 0% fat Greek yogurt, which is just about all there is.

I blame marketing and those stupid loyalty cards.  Apparently, there weren’t enough of us buying Chobani 2% lemon yogurt and now, the marketing people at Chobani and Shop Rite headquarters are going to send nothing but 0% yogurt from now until doomsday.  The thing that drives me nuts is not that they should be sending less of the flavors that were selling slightly less well but it turns out that they aren’t sending any of those flavors at all.  It’s apparently all or nothing in marketingland.

It somehow never occurs to them that flooding the shelves with only one type of yogurt or middle eastern spread or milk or whatever is reducing their sales.  I won’t buy 0% yogurt because it tastes bad, I don’t care how many suburban soccer moms have decided that 2% fat in yogurt is bad for you, I’m not buying the 0%.  Ever.  I do not like mouthfuls of pasty yogurt so I will go without it.  So, right there, Shop Rite has lost my yogurt purchases when I used to buy yogurt there routinely.  But it’s even stupid from a Greek yogurt perspective.  When Greek yogurt first hit the stores several years back it was special because of the unique flavors like lemon, honey and pomegranate.  If Greek yogurt manufacturers drop that uniqueness and instead go for more mainstream flavors like strawberry and the absolutely worst flavor in the world, strawberry-banana, what will make Greek yogurt stand out among the Dannons, Yoplaits and store brands that are much less expensive?  Instead of being something special that Americans would experience and come to love gradually, the Greek yogurt manufacturers have killed themselves by listening to their marketing experts and become just like every other yogurt on the shelves.  Except because their yogurt is strained, the end product of a 0% yogurt has none of the creaminess of a typical American or European style yogurt.  So now not only is the flavor not “Greek”, it’s got the consistency and mouthfeel of Elmer’s School Paste.  I will now go out of my way to Wegmans to find something that is now considered “niche” or I’ll make it myself.  Same with babaganoush.  From now on, I’ll go somewhere else for that or I’ll buy an eggplant for half the price at the little farmer’s market produce store and make it myself.

The steady encroachment of marketing on my grocery purchases feels like a combination of Soviet five year plans crossed with bullying.  “You buy the yogurt we have because we tell you what you want and like even if you don’t want or like it and now we have no way of knowing what you want or like because we don’t give you any way to make a choice that we can collect data on.  Suck it up, suburbanite.  Why do you have to be different from your neighbors??”  I guess I don’t like the idea that I am subsidizing the rest of Hillsborough’s preferences (we don’t know how much they prefer these items because the loyalty cards can’t measure lack of choice) with higher costs for the items I actually like or can’t even find anymore.

Do we know that all the residents of Hillsborough like the same thing or am I the only one who ever complains?

Don’t answer that question.

In any case, the trend continues in Shop Rite which means I am finding myself buying more and more stuff at other stores.  It’s a shame.  I really used to like that grocery store.  But whatareyagoingtodo?  I want choice.  I gotta be me.

More Sandy images from the Princeton area

Here are a couple of videos that show how bad the storm damage was in Princeton.  The first one shows Witherspoon Street, which is one of the main streets in Princeton.  The second shows the area around Princeton, including some of the roads I drive on.  This was pretty typical of the damage around my town as well.  There are many downed trees blocking the road, and many downed power lines.  Roads through the Princeton area were detoured for a couple of weeks and as of last week, there were still traffic signals that weren’t working in parts of Princeton and Lawrenceville.

First video: Witherspoon Street, Princeton

Second video: Roads around Princeton.

Now, I know that many people are playing the world’s smallest violin for Princeton and somehow, we’re supposed to feel collective guilt for all the suffering that happened in New Orleans after Katrina because… because… fuck if I know.  I guess I should just forget all of the collection stations in the local shopping center parking lots to send stuff to NOLA.  Yeah, we’re just insensitive jerks with no sense of responsibility or empathy.  {{rolling eyes}}  And because we didn’t all drown, we should not ask for any money from the Feds, not even the 40 cents for every tax dollar we send to Washington that we don’t get back.

No, we didn’t all drown, but about 100 people in NY and NJ did in the shore areas and there were enough people hit by falling trees.  This was not just a severe thunderstorm.  NOLA was suffering on a personal scale as well as a property scale.  On the other hand, it’s not like the gulf coast isn’t used to hurricanes.  There’s even a famous NOLA drink named after them.  What these videos are showing is the unprecedented nature of this disaster on places that were not on the shore.  We live about 40 miles inland.  And while our area isn’t going to suffer the devastating economic losses associated with the shore, it’s not nothing here.  Pay attention to the second video, especially to the tree canopy overhead.  That’s what I’m worried about.  They’ve cleared the obstructions and repaired the power lines but some of those trees up there are still dangerous, just like some of the trees in Central Park are dangerous.  They’re compromised.  We’re going to find out just how compromised they are in the coming months.

This final video is pretty good.  It’s from a guy who has a house on Ortley Beach at the shore.  Note that these houses are not super swank millionaire “cottages”.  They’re pretty typical of well-established shore towns.  Some of the houses have been there for almost 100 years.

Life in Post-Apocalyptic New Jersey: Climbing the water tower to defend our honor

Tree down on a road about a mile from my house the day after Sandy.

I read a post by Chicago Dyke at Corrente this afternoon that was a little disturbing.  CD thinks that Chris Christie’s request of $36 billion is too much.  I think Chicago Dyke has a distorted perception of who actually lives here in New Jersey but I’ll address that in a minute.  Here’s my response to her from my comment at Corrente (edited) with an additional point that I think any liberal would love to sign on to:

New Jersey resident here climbing the water tower with a bucket of paint to defend new New Jersey’s honor.

First, we in NJ have been footing the bill for the rest of the country for years now. For every dollar of taxes we send to DC we get $.61. That’s right, we lose almost 40 cents of every dollar. We make up for the shortfall by paying the most punitive property taxes in the country. While I would LOVE to send my $.39/dollar of taxes to Michigan, it usually gets sucked down by Mississippi and Alabama who hate us for our freedoms.

Second, this is the densest state in the nation. There are a lot of buildings and a lot of people. And real estate here is not cheap. I live in the NYC metropolitan area in central Jersey where the average house price in my town is about $450K and the median salary is $108k per year. And at that salary, you’re barely middle class. I was making about $100k when I got laid off and I live in a modest townhouse and drive a second hand car that I bought in 2007. It’s just fricking expensive here.  So, anything that needs to be repaired is going to cost a fortune.

Third, the businesses wiped out at the Jersey shore are seasonal. There’s not a whole lot going on there in the winter. The shore businesses make their money from May to September. Imagine if you were the owner of a store in a mall and the mall burned to the ground before Christmas.  Now, imagine thousands of stores in that predicament. There are many people who will lose their shirts and their jobs next year if these businesses can’t be rescued.  The problem can be somewhat alleviated next year if we start now.

The shore is great for families who want something between a cruise and a staycation.  You rent a house there for a week or two, invite everyone you know and enjoy the sun and sea. So, tourism is big in this state. Homeowners who had their seasonal rental properties wiped out and restaurants and motels amusements all have to be somewhat ready before next summer.  By the way, I’ve rented a house at the Jersey Shore and it was just a little bungalow, nothing fancy.  It was no three story modern monstrosity on the beach.  Most of the properties down there are not owned by the fabulously wealthy.  They’re just simple little vacation homes with few frills.  The owners are the people who are going to be really hurting next year if they can’t rent their houses.

Four, the devastation was pretty bad in Newark, Jersey City and Hoboken. Those are not high rent districts, except for Hoboken, which is becoming gentrified and is the hot place to live if you can’t afford Manhattan. In other words, these cities were already hit hard by decades of neglect followed by an economic downturn starting in 2008. I think I know your heart CD and I don’t think you wish further hardship on these people. Not everyone lives in Princeton.

Five, the devastation was wide spread. This much I know for sure because I see it every fricking day. There are still parts of my township that were without power up until last week. The number of trees that are down is unbelievable. I mean, you really have to be here to see it. Some people walked out of their houses the day after the storm and were electrocuted on their front porches. I did a video of a neighborhood near mine. Check it out. There were huge trees down on almost every property, streets blocked off from fallen power lines and one house that was literally surrounded by fallen power lines. I don’t know how people in that house were able to leave it safely. I was out of power for 5 days which wasn’t so bad but without power when I had the generator, you can’t turn on your furnace even if it’s gas. Some people had to go almost four weeks without heat in the middle of November.

Princeton *was* extremely hard hit. There were main streets in downtown Princeton that were blocked off because of dangerous fallen and falling trees. (Witherspoon was completely blocked off at Nassau Street) Up until last week, I was still driving thru parts of Princeton that had no working traffic signals. In the coming months, there will be many more deaths from this storm. There are still too many damaged trees close to the road. Yours truly is very afraid of driving around my area and Princeton because a car is bound to get hammered by one of them at any point in time.  But not everyone in Princeton is rich.  There are many students, graduate students with families and regular, working people who live in and around Princeton.

And as to the intensity of the storm, when your house vibrates and shakes from the wind and you can hear trees groaning and snapping all around you for about 3 hours straight, it’s not just your average storm.  It came ashore as a hurricane and met with another storm system.  And it was scary as hell to live through so let’s not trivialize it.  For some people, it was wind, storm surge and fire all in one night.  I think it gave Katrina a run for its money. There may not have been as many deaths from drowning but the damage to property is extensive and much worse than Katrina because it is over such a big, densely populated area.

Finally, this state had an unemployment rate of 10.2% BEFORE Sandy. It’s higher now because so many businesses were damaged or forced to close during the power failure or lost money because counties like mine declared a state of emergency and told everyone to stay indoors until the dangerous power lines and fallen trees and street lamps and overhead power supports could be secured. To give you an idea of how long that took, it was November 16 before the kids could go trick or treating safely.

Sandy has been awful for a lot of people but there is a silver lining. That is with $36 B (and to me, that sounds cheap but that’s because I know what things cost here) we can put a lot of people back to work doing construction, clean up, maybe forward planning, insurance adjusting, relocations, etc. There will be enough money to maybe jump start this economy, which believe it or not, has been harder hit during the little Depression than most people know.

And here’s the thing that liberals should be onboard for: since the stimulus money was inadequate, pumping $36 Billion into New Jersey would demonstrate something that even  Chris Christie doesn’t want to admit.  Stimulus works.  This state is in pretty bad shape but now there is an opportunity to do something about it.  Just burying the power lines would be a HUGE improvement and would put thousands of people to work.  We’ve lost so much in the past 4 years.  The pharmaceutical industry, which everyone loves to hate but I loved working for, has pulled out of New Jersey leaving thousands of well educated, technically current people out of work, under-employed and just flat broke.  Will those people be looking for jobs in the clean up?  Um, yeah.  And once they’re employed, they’ll get off the unemployment rolls and start pumping money back into the economy.  Some of that money will come in the form of taxes where we will, once again, give away $.39 of every dollar we send.

One more thing:  If Chris Christie wants to get re-elected and be a real hero, he could use Sandy to apply a tax overhaul shock doctrine.  Now is the time to reform the highly regressive property tax system and collect taxes from the people who actually make a lot of money, including all of the businesses here who have been welching on local townships.  Sure, it will look like something only a progressive FDR type could do but remember that FDR got re-elected- three times.

Think about it, Chris.

So, I hope I’ve changed your mind, CD. We really need the money. It will be well spent. And it will do a lot of working class and middle class people a lot of good. Those people have been funding the rest of America for years. It’s time for America to give back in our state’s hour of need

Here’s a video from MacJersey (kinda shaky) of Mantoloking on the shore.  Some of the houses were built in the 1920s and never expected to be part of an inlet.  The landscape has changed and part of the road infrastructure is gone.

Life in Post Apocalyptic New Jersey: Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from the resident silent movie actress

We were up extremely early this morning applying greyscale grease paint to the adolescent creature’s face, shoulders and arms.  You see, after Sandy swept through New Jersey, it just wasn’t safe for kids to walk around the street trick-or-treating.  Governor Christie rescheduled Halloween for November 5 but the damage was so extensive and there were still so many downed powerlines and broken trees that it had to be postponed again.  In fact, it was only last Wednesday when my own school system reopened.  We had to wait until there was sufficient gas for the school buses and for the more rural roads in the township to be cleared.  Even up until Friday of last week, kids who lived in the more rural parts of town needed to collect at cluster bus stops since the buses are prohibited by law to go around road obstructions.  So, the kids’ parents had to get them around the downed trees and power lines to the designated cluster stops -somehow.

The district lost 7 full days of school.  In actuality, it was more like three.  They were supposed to have all last week off for teacher’s conferences and conventions.  But because they had missed the previous full week of school, the schedule is in a bit of a mess.  If we have too many snow days this year, they could be finishing out this year in July.

Virtual classrooms would have been a nice option but with so many wifi subscriptions reliant on cable, that just wasn’t going to work after this catastrophe.  Communication throughout the post apocalypse has been sub-optimal and if Hurricane Sandy has taught us anything, it’s that we need to get on the ball when it comes to wireless infrastructure.  During a natural disaster, it’s crucial for people needing help or just getting information to be able to use their phones.  I used up my iPad data plan very quickly just by trying to find out what was going on in my own town.  I needed answers to simple questions like, should I boil the water?  Which gas stations were open? Where could I buy firewood?  What was the scheduled return of service for PSEG and Comcast?  No one in my house was downloading movies or music.  It was all pinging for information.  And Brooke missed one of her online classes at Stanford.  We had emailed them in advance that we expected the power to go out but it was still very difficult for Brooke to access her Kno account and get her reading assignments.

The good news is that AT&T sent a message two days ago that data overage charges would not apply for the month of November.  It was only 2.5 weeks late but I’ll take it.  I don’t know what prompted that.  Maybe someone finally threatened to regulate them, given the scope of the disaster and the frustration of AT&T users to use their phones.  By the way, those of you who are advocating land lines should stop.  The landline that I gave up was actually my internet phone from Comcast.  I think a lot of people who have landlines go this route because it is offered as part of a package deal from the cable companies.  And in our case, Comcast was just as affected as PSEG.  We were in an information no man’s land for almost a week with spotty signal at best and only when the wind was blowing in a certain direction.

One final note on the phone disaster was that Verizon service was restored more quickly.  They had fewer towers down and much better coverage to start with.  Something to consider when you go to purchase your next iPhone.

Anyway, it turns out I’m out of candy, and given that I live in New Jersey and should have thought about Halloween back in August, must go forage for some candy corn or Milky Way minis or Reeses Peanut Butter Cups (my favorite!).  Or rocks.  You know, whatever’s left.  Today, the school district’s children are also bringing canned goods to the school for a food drive for Sandy stricken families.  We did cranberries and corn but I think it is not enough.  Thanksgiving is only next week.  We must try harder.

Happy Halloween!

Here we go again

The wind is picking up and making a whooshing noise in the eaves.  The Nor’easter is expected to blow in tonight.  I’m very concerned about the people who lost their houses in Sandy and now have nowhere else to go.  Some of the evacuation centers have closed so that schools could reopen.  Andrew Cuomo just tweeted everyone to stay safe.  Not so easy to do when there’s no real shelter.  You’d think that the Red Cross and FEMA would be trying to quickly find people places to stay.  Instead, they are increasing the amount of their housing vouchers so the displaced can get new digs.  That might not be easy in a state with unemployment running over 10%.

Meanwhile, Jeff Jarvis, who lives a couple of towns over from me, wrote a very stern letter to his township committee about the state of the cleanup.  There are still a lot of broken and uprooted trees leaning over the road just waiting for the excuse of a stiff breeze to topple onto an unsuspecting motorist.  It’s bound to happen.  There are so many of them.  We’re going to be hearing about accidental deaths by branch bludgeoning for months after Sandy.  It was only two days ago that the utility trucks got around to removing the utility pole hanging over the power lines above Route 206 in my township.  It was marked with orange traffic cones but that was just window dressing.  If that sucker had fallen, two lanes of traffic would have come to a screeching halt.  But since Route 206 is one lane in each direction for most of its snaky length through central NJ, I’m betting that the authorities thought it would be worse to trigger carmageddon all the way to Pennsylvania than hope for the best that no one would be killed.

Our schools reopened today, a week and a half after Sandy.  The reason it took so long is because, like Jeff’s township, our township, one of the largest in Somerset County, NJ, has many semi-rural to rural roads where the school buses have not been able to get around the downed trees, overhanging trees and utility poles, and debris.  And because there is a state law forbidding them from even trying it, for good reason, parents now have the responsibility to get their kids around the obstructions so that they can meet the buses at a cluster site.  Parents tend to get all in a snit over the least inconvenience in the best of times (ask me about the lice outbreak when I was on the board of ed) but in this case, they probably have good reason to be concerned.  I feel for the township authorities.  This is a monumental task.  They’ve done a lot so far and, unlike Bernards Township and Basking Ridge, most of Hillsborough now has power.  But it must be overwhelming the abilities of townships to cope.  The difference is that people who live in Bernards Township where Jeff lives tend to expect better service.   At the very least, there should be a clear pathway for them to get to the airport so they can wait out the power outage in their condos on the Gulf of Mexico. But a week is a long time to be without power even for the well off.  In this particular catastrophe, Sandy was class neutral.  Even the rich can die of hypothermia.

I might note that it is Jeff’s neighbors who re-elected that do-nothing DC golfer, Leonard Lance, as our congressman last night.  Maybe they can appeal to his office for assistance.  Good luck with that.  That’s not to say I am not sympathetic.  I am, especially when it comes to people are elderly or suffering from chronic illnesses.  But sometimes, I have to wonder what they were thinking when they vote for guys like Lance.  Is it worth saving on taxes when you might have had more cleanup crews on the roads?  Perhaps Jeff might bring up the subject at the next neighborhood holiday party and see if the light goes on in his neighbors’ eyes.  I might also note that they all got together and worked on removing the obstructions themselves.  That kind of cooperatively smacks of socialism, if you ask me.  {{tongue firmly in cheek}}

In any case, this is my day to get gas so get it I shall.  I’m running on fumes today.  And while I’m out, I might as well stock up on some D batteries.

And fill my 2 gallon Coleman water dispenser.  And find my damn headlamp…

Post Hurricane Sandy Video

I quickly put this video together by splicing a bunch of videos I had taken on the same day, Nov. 1, 2012.  The last segment is blurry for some unknown reason.  Steven Spielberg I am not.

I was in the Princeton area today.  Damage there is pretty bad and power outage is widespread.  There are many downed trees in the area of the cemetery that faces Witherspoon Street so the whole street is blocked off beginning near the library as the tree removal service clears the street.  If I recall correctly, the Princeton Elm “mother elm” tree was located in the cemetery.  It was a very old tree that predated Dutch Elm disease.  In fact, part of the tree was infected but the rest of the tree had developed some immunity to the disease.  Most of the American Elms you see today are descendents of this tree.  I don’t even want to think about what Washington Road might look like.  That’s the road that leads out of Princeton that is lined on both sides by rows of mature elm trees that spread their canopies over the roadbed. They are beautiful trees, tall straight columns that fan out gracefully into a vase shape.  The possibility of losing them makes me a little sick.

On the way down towards Lawrenceville, we saw a convoy of cherry pickers and power utility vehicles heading north on route 206 towards Princeton.  The state on the license plates for all forty or so vehicles- Missouri.

THANK YOU MISSOURI!

Life in post apocalyptic NJ- gas, data withdrawal and elections

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We were very warm last night. The oak logs were seasoned to perfection as advertised and burned brightly. But we still don’t have power and the school called again today to say that there would be no school on Monday either, which doesn’t sound good. I don’t know how they’re planning to pull off an election because my polling station is in a catholic church that’s smack dab in the middle of the worst hit area in my township, surrounded by fallen power lines.

Putting on my tinfoil antenna, what is the likelihood that the precincts that get power last are heavily Republican?

The municipal library has wifi but I went there today and the connection was so slow that it took me 15 minutes to log into WordPress. They were only staying open until 5 anyway. Normally, they stay open until 9:30pm but promptly at 4:40pm, the librarian started nagging everyone to wrap it up. I was in the middle of processing a video but I bagged it. I have a lot of video and pictures to upload but with the data plan ceiling in my iPad and no wifi to upload, I’m not sure how I’m going to post them. With everyone in the immediate area desperate for a data hit, the few places with a good connection are overwhelmed. We tried Panera today but they’re only serving pasties and coffee and no wifi. Wegmans is generously offering free charging but the wifi was jammed. If I get to starbucks early tomorrow, maybe there’s a chance.

I am being taught Japanese without my consent. Shoot me now.

So, I was going to talk a little bit about infrastructure. You don’t realize how bad American infrastructure is until you meet a visitor from Germany in the gas line saying, “This is incredible. I can’t believe how bad this is. Four days without electricity and everyone is cold!”.

It’s embarrassing.

Beside the antiquated rail system with its switching system that in the best of times failed on a regular basis (never try to make a matinee in NYC via NJ Transit during a rainstorm) to the levee system that dates back to King George III to the miles and miles of overhead power lines, it looks as if the northeast is in a time warp. I’ve always wondered why the cell service was so bad here. This state was the birth place of the telecomm industry and AT&T used to be a big employer here 20 years ago. But even when the weather is great, cell service is horrible with many dropped calls and dead zones. And somewhere in the Rocky Hill area just north of Princeton, there is a no man’s land where cell service drops off to nothing. In my office in my lab building, I was able to get t-mobile data but not voice, Verizon voice but not data and nothing from AT&T even though the AT&T building about a mile up the street was bought by my company and supposedly, the most sophisticated networking system to that date had been installed in the area. It didn’t matter. I used to have to stand in the parking lot to make personal phone calls.

About the time I was laid off, the good citizens of Bridgewater were fighting the installation of a new cell tower near the fire department. It was going to be aesthetically disguised and would have provided much needed service to the area but the local burghers were having none of it. I’m betting they’re kicking themselves this week.

My development was built in 1986 and all of the utilities are buried but the way the power gets into this development is thru the old power lines and right now, there are big, heavy trees leaning in them or those trees have already taken them down. The utilities whine that to bury them all would cost about $1M per mile and that cost would be passed on to customers.

Why is that? What did we get for the money we sent to the federal government? We gave the banks access to all of our money and what did we get in return but a bunch of selfish pricks buying the media and telling us we expect too much in our old age. The money would be better invested in infrastructure. I can’t imagine South Korea putting up with this kind of broadband service. Just think, if the power, broadband and cell had recovered quickly, the frenzy over gas wouldn’t have been so severe. Most of us could have easily worked from home. But since that was impossible and getting paid meant being present, we had millions of people frantic to get to work this week in any way possible.

As for NYC, I feel for the people stuck in high rises without water or light. It’s amazing to me that just 30 blocks north, the city is acting like nothing’s wrong except the Metro is broken in places. But gosh darn it, isn’t it great that Wall Street isn’t inconvenienced and the NYC marathon proceeds as scheduled. It’s good for business, Mike Bloomberg says. Yes, we must all sacrifice on the altar of business.

For some reason, I just can’t see Rudy Giuliani reacting like that to a disaster of this magnitude. Rudy was an authoritarian jerk but the whole city pulled together. In this disaster, the tenants of lower Manhattan are left to fend for themselves while the show must go on in Times Square.

And the suburbanites of New Jersey become urban campers, hemmed in by dangerous fallen power lines and no gas, all because it’s more important to bailout the bankers than bury the power lines. What a waste of money and productivity.

And cancer research takes another blow. I followed this link that jay ackroyd posted at eschaton about the years of work, genetically modified mice and tissue samples that were lost at NYU during the storm. That must be heartbreaking and frustrating for the researchers. I know that my lab partners and I panicked when one of our freezers housing hundreds of protein crystals failed one evening and we scrambled to relocate them as quickly as possible to other buildings. It just occurred to me that the few pharma research labs all over NJ must have been facing the same thing. Meanwhile, one of the heads of the labs is trying to do his work remotely using intermittent wifi access in coffee shops and McDonald’s.

This storm is going to cost the region $50 billion. It’s going to set cancer research back by years. But heaven forbid we force bankers to cut back on bonuses or suffer any losses for the reckless bets they made four years ago so that we can invest in infrastructure. The self identified and mislabeled “job creators” are global now and have moved on from America. As far as they’re concerned, the northeast is Bangladesh and no longer worth the investment. We gave them access to the safe, they took the money and ran.

Update: I just got a message from the school district. Not only will schools be closed, the after school programs that were supposed to be providing extended care for half days that were originally scheduled next week are also canceled. That means a lot of parents are going to be scrambling for child care next week when they need to go back to work.

One other thing, Brooke says she saw the national guard today driving a little convoy of trucks marked “flammable”. I guess it really is that bad. The NYTimes confirms that Brooke wasn’t just seeing things. The pentagon is mobilizing the army to deliver fuel. Also, reader Gayle reports that the NYC marathon is off. It’s on front page of the NYTimes as well.

Update II: I just got a message from AT&T. “In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we are closely monitoring our network for service disruptions. Our crews are working around the clock to restore service to impacted areas. Please stay safe and thank you for your patience. Sincerely, AT&T.”

Well, that’s nice. It only took them 4 days.

Still no message about them lifting the data plan limits in impacted areas. Do they know that NJ has an unemployment rate above 10% and that maintaining these plans is expensive? I can just imagine a bunch of AT&T executives in a room carefully balancing how little to give way to FEMA before they have to start answering to the shareholders. “let’s send a note. That should do it.”.

Life in post-apocalyptic New Jersey

Hi everyone, this is the first time in 2 days that I’ve been able to get decent cell phone service so I’m going to try to update as completely as I can.

Monday night was scary. Brooke had just finished her class online when Sandy made landfall at about 8:10pm. The lights stayed on until about 8:15 and then for an hour and a half, it sounded like a freight train was bearing down on us. We had been getting gusts off and on throughout the evening but when Sandy made landfall, it was one continuous gust coming from the southeast. The back of the house faces that direction. About 30 feet from the house, the landscape slopes up about 15 feet to where the pool is located. I think it was the berm that acted as a natural windbreak that saved our house from any structural damage. There is plenty of damage in our immediate neighborhood. The neighbor to my immediate left lost a tree close to the house. He’s very lucky he didn’t lose more. He’s not protected by the pool elevation so he got the wind straight on.

I don’t know how fast the wind was moving but in comparison, I waited out hurricane Charlie in a condo in Naples, Florida facing the gulf. I’d say the wind was at least that strong. So, if someone says 100 mph, that wouldn’t be far off, in my guesstimation. Brooke was upstairs in her room in the central most part of the house and she said she heard a lot of snapping noises. I was downstairs in the back of the house and could hear ominous groaning throughout the worst of it. It turns out that this is what trees sound like as they’re being uprooted. The house trembled and shook and it sounded like the roof was going to lift off.

I turned on my crankable radio and listened to Leonard Lopate broadcasting via generator from WNYC. He and Will Shortz did a good job keeping everyone calm. But when they reported that the wind was going to keep up like that for about another 3 hours, I started to get nervous. For reference, my town is about 36 miles from NYC as the crow flies directly west. So, whatever winds they were getting were the same ones I was getting minus the storm surge. In fact, this hurricane was very different from Irene. There was very little rain and the basement stayed dry.

The Aftermath

After I checked the house the next morning and discovered that we miraculously escaped any damage, Brooke and I went out to get gas for the generator. Now, we’re about an hour away from Belmar so we didn’t get the massive flooding but we have some pretty severe damage to the power lines. As we exited our development, we saw probably a hundred downed trees, including a tree that was (and is still) leaning dangerously over the power line and the street. There’s a traffic cone to direct traffic around it but it won’t help anyone if it falls. It’s a ginormous tree. For that reason, the road is blocked off in the return direction, which means we had to get on rt 206 to get back home. That’s when we saw about half of the main thoroughfare was closed because of more downed and live power lines. There were only two gas stations opened in this town of about 40,000 people and one of them ran out of gas at about 5:00pm yesterday. Exxon was closed although I can’t see any clear reason for that when the gas station across the street was open and so were a couple of other businesses on its side of the street.

This morning, the other gas station was closed. They must have run out of gas later in the evening.
There’s no place to get ice.

The New Jersey Hall of Shame award has to go to Jersey Firewood (jerseyfirewood.com on rt 206 that is gouging local residents for firewood, Yep, the MFers won’t sell less than 20 cubic feet to customers. It’s not like they’re going to run out. They have a couple of acres of firewood but if you aren’t going to buy a t least 20 cubic feet, they won’t sell you so much as a single log. They have no problem selling a small bundle any other time of the year. Just not now. So, since I have just a small car and can’t imagine needing that much firewood anyway, I had to do without. No amount of begging and pleading would get me so much as a stick of kindling. I can’t believe they’re able to get away with this in an emergency situation. We have a couple of Duraflame logs and a few logs so we should be ok tonight but unless the gas situation gets better tomorrow, we’re going to have to just wear our thermal undies and burn some furniture.

What really burns my oatmeal is that Jersey Firewood will have plenty of free material to sell next year when the downed trees are cut up and the logs allowed to season. Avoid these people like the plague.

The local Hall of Fame Award goes to the guys as the Getty gas station on rt 206. They weren’t even planning to open yesterday but they did. They opened early in the morning and kept going until late in the evening when they finally ran out of gas. I saw the same gas station attendant twice as I refilled my 2.5 gallon container. He was directing people very efficiently and keeping the line moving even though I could tell he was exhausted from 12 hours of bending over to fill the tanks. I offered to bring him hot chocolate, cider, coffee, a beer, anything he wanted. He finally cracked a smile and said he’d love a beer but he’d be done for the day at that point.

This afternoon as I went looking for firewood, I saw the Comcast and PSEG trucks finally in the vicinity of my neighborhood. I think the rate limiting step is going to be dealing with that massive tree that’s threatening to fall down. But there are a lot of them.

John Hockenberry is taking Sandy Stories in the evenings on WNYC. Some of the stories coming out of Newark and Hoboken are hair raising. You would not believe what these two cities have been through. Half of Hoboken is under water and at some point during the storm caught fire. Rescue vehicles from neighboring towns were called in but watched helplessly because they couldn’t get through the rising flood water. Staten Island was flooded and Long Island, where Katiebird’s sister Bev lives was inundated on the ocean and sound sides. Bev’s house is about 1/4 mile from the sound. I don’t know what kind of damage she’s looking at but about 95% of the island is without power.

I’ll have more to say about infrastructure on another post but let’s just say that this is not a good week to be an asshole Libertarian. Yeah, we hate those people this week. Really, really hate them with a white hot passion. Oh, and AT&T too. The next Republican who says that everything should be privatized and that phone and cable companies shouldn’t be regulated is going to be strung up by his balls in the northeast.

One last thing: John Hockenberry took a call from a guy in Somerset NJ which is about 5 miles from here. The guy said he finally saw the cherry picker trucks in his neighborhood last night. Their license plates said Michigan. I knew I wasn’t imagining the cherry picker convoy last Saturday night. So, I would just like to add:

THANK YOU MICHIGAN!

And that goes for all of the other states who sent equipment and power line experts to our state.

BTW, the generator is working great! We have light and can charge our computers and phones, not that we can get a good signal or use the wifi yet but it is good and I can’t thank you enough for the generator. In the even that Sandy comes back through with rain, I can hook up the sump pump.

I’ll try to check back in the comments. Later…

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