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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.

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

20121102-181518.jpg
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.”.

Swapping out the candidate: The Curious Case of Governor Codey

Richard Codey, 4 time governor of New Jersey than no one’s ever heard of

New Jersey has a reputation for being special.  In the summer, we go to the shore instead of the beach.  We aren’t allowed to pump our own gas.  And almost none of the nice restaurants in the area have liquor licenses because the mafia owns the few licenses the state issues.  We do have restaurants with liquor licenses that go through a sequence of “new owners” before they’re burned down, but that’s a story for another post.

We also have a history of Governor problems in the decade Brook likes to call “The Naughties”.  Our problems were exacerbated by the fact that up until 2009, the state of New Jersey didn’t have a Lieutenant Governor position.  How ironic that in a state chock full of excessive administration, we wouldn’t have a lieutenant governor during the decade when one would have come in handy.  Go figure.

Let me back up a second and say that although New Jersey is considered to be solidly blue in presidential matters, that’s a bit of a misleading statistic.  Our Congressional representation in the House is 50/50.  We also have no female congressional reps and haven’t for several decades.  The local Democratic org says that’s because none ever apply, to which I answer that there don’t appear to be any lower level female politicians who are mentored and why is that?  But I digress.  New Jersey also votes for Republican governors and while Democrats are lucky if they last through a single term, Republican governors are usually two termers.  Tom Kean and Christie Whitman come immediately to mind.  Our story begins with Christie Whitman when a Democratic legislator named Richard Codey served the first of his several terms as governor of New Jersey.

When Whitman became head of the EPA under George Bush the lesser, she left a void in Drumthwacket (that’s the gov’s mansion right outside of Princeton).

Drumthhhhhhhhwacket, Chez Governor in Princeton

Since there was no lieutenant governor, the time left in her term until the election of a new governor was filled by the president of the state senate.  In 2001, the person in that position changed three times and each senate president took a turn being governor.  Richard Codey served his first 3 day term as governor just before Jim McGreevey, the newly elected governor, was sworn in.  We all know what happened to Jim McGreevey.  When he stepped down, Richard Codey, then president of the state senate, became governor once again for about half a year until the next governor could be elected.  That new governor happened to be Jon Corzine. But during the transfer of power when Corzine went from Senator to Governor, there was some weird little protocol where the state was in danger of not having an acting governor for a few hours (Oh No!), so Codey was asked to fill in until Corzine was free to take over.

Corzine had a thing for taking risks even back then.  Early in his term, he decided that he didn’t need to wear a seat belt as his SUV raced up the highway from Atlantic City because he was special.  What former Wall Street banker isn’t?  What could possibly happen?

Corzine’s State Trooper driven SUV crashes while speeding on the way back from Atlantic City.

Well, the SUV speeding at 91 mph could be involved in a serious accident where the governor was tossed around in the vehicle like dirty laundry and broke his femur.  The fracture, and other injuries, were very serious and the governor was hospitalized and incapacitated.  Richard Codey once again stepped up to fill the vacancy while Corzine temporarily suspended his powers for about 3 weeks.

So, if you’ve been counting, that makes Richard Codey the governor of NJ *four* times.  After the last time, the state got serious about the Lieutenant Governor position and in 2009 we elected our first.

But back to Codey.  He turned out to be not bad as a governor.  He’s a true blue Democrat that leans liberal and has a passion for championing the mentally ill.  His one major accomplishment during his brief stint as governor was making sure that insurance companies cover treatment for mental illness and postpartum depression.  He also made sure stem cell research wouldn’t face any obstacles in New Jersey.  It appears that everyone played nicely when Codey was in office, although he wasn’t in long enough to make any significant policy changes.  Even stranger was that even though he got good approval ratings, nobody really knew who he was.  His tenure was just one of those special things that happen here.   When his last crack at being governor ended, he went back to the senate.  All hunky dory and people forgot about him.  Until 2009.

In 2009, Jon Corzine was facing reelection against Republican Chris Christie.  Let’s remember here that New Jersey doesn’t have a problem with Republican governors.  Christie was not as moderate as Kean and Whitman but Corzine would have had a better chance of winning if he hadn’t been so meh as a governor.  During the economic catastrophe that followed the housing bubble, he should have stepped up and presented some policies that would have helped municipalities and cash strapped property tax payers. But he didn’t.  He represented the bonus class.  He was a former Goldman-Sachs guy and I think that he thought he could ride to reelection on the coat tails of Barack Obama.

Part way through the election campaign, it looked like Corzine wasn’t going to have the cake walk he was anticipating.  He was having trouble attracting interest and couldn’t fill his rally venues.  The race was starting to tighten up.  This is where it gets interesting. Richard Codey says it happened like this:

Codey said he got a call from the White House a week after Vice President Joe Biden appeared at Corzine’s poorly attended primary night kickoff rally in West Orange in June. “They wanted to talk about what’s going on with the governor’s race,” he said. “They would call me every week, every two weeks.”

By July, Codey said there was growing concern from the president’s advisers as Corzine’s polls declined even as he poured money into anti-Christie ads. It grew worse after 44 arrests on July 23 in a corruption and money-laundering case.

Corzine privately mused to the White House he was having second thoughts about continuing his campaign, Codey said.

“He was, mentally, as low as you can get,” Codey said of Corzine, even before July 23. “Then this … hit. It was understandable he was having a moment where he was saying ‘to hell with this.’”

Codey said White House political director Patrick Gaspard called him and expressed “great concern about the governor’s race, (Corzine’s) lack of support amongst Democrats and whether or not he would be able to overcome it. He never criticized Jon personally. But he said he was meeting with Obama and ‘the president wants to know if you might run if, in fact, Mr. Corzine got out.’ Can he tell the president ‘Yes.’”

Codey said Gaspard detailed an internal poll that showed Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. Frank Pallone about the same as Corzine, but Codey leading Christie by double digits.

“I told Gaspard I was going to be seeing Mr. Corzine in Trenton. I told him I felt duty-bound in terms of being a gentleman to tell Corzine. I sat with Corzine. I told him what I knew. I said ‘as a friend, I just wanted you to know.’ I said ‘bottom line is you’re the decision-maker. You want out, just do me a favor let me know as soon as possible. If you’re going to stay in there, I’m with you.’”

“I did not hear back from the White House.”

I guess the Democratic party leadership was concerned that losing New Jersey to a Republican would look bad.  (And it did, Oh, how it did) And even though Corzine went out of his way to make sure to deliver all of New Jersey’s delegation to Obama during the 2008 convention in Denver, from a primary that Obama LOST by 10 points to Hillary Clinton, I might add, Obama and Biden didn’t feel any sense of loyalty to this guy who carried their water and sold out the rest of the state for them.  So they approached Richard Codey and tried to work out a deal where they would pressure Corzine to step aside in the campaign and Codey would become the nominee.

Oh no they di-int.  Oh yes they did.

Corzine didn’t quit but that hardly matters, does it?  It was the thought that counts. And the thought was that Corzine was in danger of losing the governorship of New Jersey and the Democrats were concerned enough to want to make a switch of candidates at the top of the ticket of an incumbent governor with a solid, well liked Democrat former temporary governor whose approval rating was higher than Corzine’s.

So, ladies and gentlemen, if someone tells you that it’s not possible to change candidates before or during the Convention, and that the world would end if we merely *entertained* the idea of changes at the top of the ticket, remember that it was Obama himself who proposed the very same thing to the Democrats of New Jersey in 2009 when Corzine was in danger of failing.  Indeed, he did fail and Christie the Republican is now governor.  All that stuff about how an incumbent is sacred and the primary voters have spoken (because they had a gun to their heads and didn’t have a choice) and the world will end, yada-yada-yada, all that is bullshit.  The Democrats are a private party.  They can (and have) change the rules any time they want.  We have seen by 2008’s example that the delegates can be forced to vote for who ever the party wants, voters be damned.  And if they want to switch candidates, it can be done.  Franklin Roosevelt switched out his VPs, Lyndon Johnson stepped out of the race when he knew he couldn’t win a second term and, by golly, if Democrats don’t think Obama can win in 2012, they can make him “spend more time with his family”.

Obama and Corzine have a lot in common.  It’s not like Christie is well loved by New Jerseyans or that we actually wanted a Republican this time around.

Chris Christie during the first leg of his helicopter-limo-walk triathlon.

The problem was we didn’t want Corzine anymore. Voters were well aware of all of Christies liabilities and Corzine’s campaign flogged us with the fear whip and tons of advertising to make Christie look bad.  In the end, it didn’t matter.  It wasn’t about Christie.  It was about Corzine’s performance.  Voters judged him fairly, so, he lost.  I might add that Independent Chris Daggett, who I voted for, took almost 6% of the vote, almost all of it from Corzine’s hide.  New Jerseyans wanted to send a message to the Democrats but it remains unclear whether the Democrats actually got it.

But if any Democrat tells you you’re crazy to even suggest that Obama step aside for a better Democrat in 2012, and starts terrorizing you about Supreme Court justices and women losing access to birth control and dogs and cats living together, ask them why the Democrats didn’t think a candidate switch was so crazy in New Jersey in 2009.  Obama is not having a cakewalk this year.  And in spite of the media blitz against Mitt, Obama and Mitt are still tied in the polls.  People may not like Mitt personally, but they really don’t like Obama’s performance.  He has let regular people out to hang by themselves for four long years.  The Democrats are fooling themselves if they think that’s not going to hurt in November. And it’s not like the Democrats don’t have a back up who would be a lot more popular than any politician on the current scene.

Time to call Obama into the office and tell him management would like to make a change. We’re in the doldrums, the dog days and the base is depressed.  Change up the ticket, bring in a relief pitcher see what happens.  I’d be very surprised if management hasn’t already entertained such a possibility behind closed doors. In the event of an Obama loss in November, they might be in political oblivion for a very long time.  If the Democrats are sincerely concerned about all the horrible things they fear will happen if Mitt wins, then they owe voters a REAL choice.

Otherwise, the country might just end up with a Chris Christie type Republican in the White House in 2013 and it will be very hard to take Democrats seriously if they lose without ever considering changing their lineup.

Tuesday: It should be obvious but… #standwithsandra

(Note before we start: This is not a pro-Republican blog.  Friends don’t let friends vote Republican.  And we are most definitely not Reagan Democrats or conservative Democrats or birthers.  We are liberal, FDR style, Democrats in Exile who want our party to start acting like DEMOCRATS.)

It should be obvious to women that what is good for the Democratic party is not necessarily good for them.  But I think that what we are experiencing currently is a bit of the shock doctrine applied to gender politics.

The political strategy of the Democrats seems to be to let anti-woman legislature proceed without much pushback until it reaches a critical stage before they jump up and down in protest.  The outrage on our behalf seems concocted.  No, it’s more than concocted.  It’s entirely false.  Know how I know?  We still have only 17% representation in Congress.  You’d think that if women’s interests were all that important to the Democrats that they would do something about that.  Here in NJ, we have 13 (or is it 12 now?) representatives to Congress and not one of them is a woman.  Not one.  Well, you might say, maybe that’s just a recent phenomenon.  No, it is not.  We haven’t had a single woman representing us in Congress in all of the time I’ve lived here in the past 20 years.

In 2006, Linda Stender, a state congressperson, ran for my district, NJ-07, and came within 4000 votes of winning.  4000 votes in a district this dense is trivial.  It’s *tiny* here.  In 2006, the party seemed to be behind her.  When she ran again in 2008, it looked to me like the party abandoned her.  She was a pro-choice liberal Democrat.  Rahm Emannuel’s Democrats were more student body president types.  Unexciting, compliant, obedient schmoozers who tried to hide the fact that the were Democrats and carefully scrubbed all traces of reproductive rights issues from their campaign webpages.  You can almost hear the consultants telling them, “Don’t let them think you’re a liberal Democrat and for god’s sakes, get rid of the pro-choice stuff.  The secret to winning this year is to grab the not-quite-as-crazy evangelical vote.  Don’t worry about the Democrats.  They got no place to go.”

This year, the New Jersey Democratic party isn’t backing even ONE woman challenger for any Congressional districts.  There is one woman named Diane Sare who is running as a LaRouche Democrat, whatever the f^&* that is.  That’s it.  All of the rest of the candidates are men.  Are we to believe that in the entire state of NJ with over 8.8 million people, we couldn’t find at least one Democratic woman per district to challenge Republican male representatives?  Unbelievable.

Some of the districts do not yet have Democratic challengers so it could be that the party just hasn’t put the names up there yet but still, this is just a really sad state of affairs.  You might want to check your own state to see who your state Democratic party is promoting.

The representation in Congress is pathetic.  We rank 71st among nations behind Pakistan, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.  Can you believe that?  In places where you can’t walk down the street without getting harassed for not wearing your hijab and where religious courts still hold women in subjection, they have more women in elected office than here.

We have to hold the parties accountable for this sad state of affairs.  We’re not going to make any progress with the Republican party this election season but now would be a very good time to make the so-called sympathetic men in the Democratic party put their actions where their mouths are.  I call on women today to demand two things from the Democratic party immediately:

1.) That their local and state Democratic parties nominate a woman challenger for every seat currently held by a Republican for the 2012 elections.

2.) That they impose a quota on themselves, and write it into their party platform, to have no fewer than 34% women in their Congressional and party delegations, committee chairmanships and nominations for elected office, and that elected men who are not pulling their weight for Democratic party values be asked to step aside for a female challenger.

It’s the least they can do.  To do anything less makes them look like they are using the current attack on women’s rights as a political game to attract women to the Democratic party without actually having to do anything to promote women’s causes.  We are more than 50% of the population and we deserve better than this.  If they can’t committ to those two things this year, without question, with all of the fire on gender issues raging around them, then they are not our allies and we need to discuss how we create a party that is more responsive to our needs as quickly as possible.

And what is happening to women’s rights will be repeated with the social insurance programs.  The Republicans will be allowed to introduce legislation unchallenged by Democrats and then Democrats will howl that they’re trying to impoverish old people.  It’s a game where the things we value most are held over a pit of snapping crocodiles by the very same people who promise to save us from the crocodiles only if we give them everything they want.  It’s extortion and it’s evil.

Don’t give Democrats a pass.  Now is the time to strike a hard bargain.   I can hardly believe what I’m seeing these days when women are pulled off of the steps of the Virginia Capitol and carted away for trying to defend their rights.  You’d think this was 1918.  But it just proves that women’s suffrage means nothing if all you can vote for are men.

Republican states should STFU over taxes

A link at Eschaton refers readers to a MediaMatters post about how Stuart Varney is trying to whip up tax resentment towards California.

Viewers of Fox Business must think California is just the biggest spendthrift of our 50 states. The way Stuart Varney tells it, those greedy Californians, by taking “federal taxpayer money,” are just robbing the rest of us — particularly “the hicks who live in the Midwest” — blind!

But in discussing California’s would-be federal subsidies, Varney isn’t telling the whole story. In fact, he’s got it completely backward.

During the November 16 episode of Varney & Co. on Fox Business, Varney interviewed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Press Secretary Aaron McLear about Schwarzenegger’s current efforts to balance California’s budget. He asked McLear if he would take a pledge to “not take one more dime from federal taxpayer money going to California.” Then he continues: “You guys in California, you’ve been making fun of…the hicks who live in the Midwest…you’ve been making fun of them. Now you want their money.”

As it turns out, California is a “donor state”.  That is, it gives more money to the federal government than it gets back.  In fact, for every dollar per capita that Californians send, they get back 78 cents.  But California has it EASY compared to New Jersey.  We’re el numero uno donor state.  For every dollar in  tax I send the feds, I get back a whopping 61 cents.  Every person in the state of New Jersey takes a 39% hit.  Howz that for tax fairness?  Yup, if you lose your job in Arkansas, your kids are much more likely to qualify for SCHIP than some poor schmuck’s kid in New Jersey.  While our salaries are comparatively high, no one seems to be accounting for the ridiculous cost of living here.  If anyone has a right to complain about greedy California, it’s those of us living in New Jersey and Connecticut (and we’ll be sending our men around to break your skinny suntanned knees any day now).

But wait!  There’s more.

According to the map that the Visualeconomics put together using data from the Tax Foundation of the donor and recipient states, guess which party represents the biggest parasites on my precious NJ dollars?  If you answered WATB Republicans, you would be correct.

You can check your place in line on this map.

So, verily I say unto you Louisiana, Alaska, Mississippi and Alabama, if you don’t like taxes, by all means, send them back to us.  Surely, you can solve your problems without the help of all the liberal {[shudder}} states.  You’ll figure it out.

Thursday Morning News: Reading the entrails

Brittany is still not over The Clintons

Hey, all you Glee fans, did you catch this gem on Tuesday night?

Artie: I thought I was over someone, but I still think I have feelings for them.

Brittany: The Clintons?

Yeah, you and half of the country.

So, sports fans, are you ready to dive right in?

Let’s start with the latest cave from the Obama administration.  The NYTimes reports today that Obama will allow insurance companies to charge more for families with sick children. like parents of juvenile cancer patients or chronic asthmatics don’t have enough to worry about:

The Obama administration, aiming to encouragehealth insurance companies to offer child-only policies, said Wednesday that they could charge higher premiums for coverage of children with serious medical problems, if state law allowed it.

Earlier this year, major insurers, faced with an unprofitable business, stopped issuing new child-only policies. They said that the Obama administration’s interpretation of the new health care law would allow families to buy such coverage at the last minute, when children became ill and were headed to the hospital…

“Unfortunately,” Ms. Sebelius said, “some insurers have decided to stop writing new business in the child-only insurance market, reneging on a previous commitment made in a March letter to ‘make pre-existing condition exclusions a thing of the past.’ ”

The White House has been tussling with insurers for months, trying to get them to provide coverage for children with cancerautism, heart defects and other conditions.

In a letter Wednesday to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Ms. Sebelius said the decision of some insurers to stop issuing child-only policies was “extremely disappointing.”

Yes, I have found that sternly worded letters are always effective at achieving what is, apparently, voluntary compliance with the law.  “I’m terribly disappointed.  No beets for you.”  Hmmm, let’s see, the Democrats have slashed food stamps during a recession and now they’re allowing insurance companies to suck the last penny from between the cushions of parents’ worn out couches.  I’m beginning to think they don’t like kids.  Well, it’s not like they vote or anything…

Next up, Obama apologizes for being a Democrat, er, as defined by Republicans? Peter Daou found this revealing insight into Obama’s brain in a review of a NYTimes magazine article:

[President Obama] reflects on what he called the “tactical lessons” of his first two years: He let himself look too much like “the same old tax-and-spend Democrat,” realized too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” [see reference to Hudson Tunnel project below] and perhaps should have “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts” in the stimulus. He said he and his team took “a perverse pride” in focusing on policy while ignoring the need to sell it to the country and that he realizes now that “you can’t be neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion.”

I’ll wait a minute for you to recover the jaw you just dropped.  That last sentence is really funny.  It’s almost like he was projecting or something.  Read Daou’s post.  There’s more where that came from.  Maybe Obama doesn’t understand how the game is played.  Or he *does* understand how the game is played and you are really not going to like the next two years as he takes the country down and tries to pin it on the Republicans.

Speaking of Republicans, some of you may be wondering what it’s like living under the regime of Chris Christie in NJ.  I am happy to report that property taxes are still as high as ever and he has made no attempt to reform the state funding system.  But wait!  There’s more.  Christie has been going gangbusters trying to bring the densest state in the union, in more ways than one, to heel.  He’s been having a blast taking on the teacher’s unions and slashing and burning through school district expenditures.  Take online books, for example.  My district could afford them last year.  This year, Brook’s slender frame is being permanently warped from schlepping 80 lbs of books back and forth to school each day.  We have already had one catastrophic book bag failure and the sucker didn’t even make it through September.  Here’s a sampling of our Governor’s education “policy”:

Students have less, parents pay more as new school year begins in N.J.

Ex-education chief Schundler openly blames Gov. Christie for Race to the Top loss

N.J. school funding scores high marks, but does not account for Christie’s $820M budget cuts

Gov. Christie reveals plans to limit N.J. superintendents’ salaries, base pay on merit

The last item is clearly  Christie pandering to the spoiled Republican suburbanites who sit on their fat asses all day, leave at 3:00pm in the afternoon and don’t do 1/10th the amount of work that I witnessed superintendents doing when I was a school board member.  Running a school district is like running a company with hundreds of employees.  It’s a tough, demanding job but some Republicans I know cannot imagine why we pay our superintendents $150K/year.  Our own superintendent quit this year and we have an interim superintendent.  In all likelihood, the good citizens of —–villeburg thought that the guy should eke out a living on 100K/year or less. In New Jersey??  That will get you a decent but unspectacular condo and a second hand car here.  Would YOU want to run a large company but live like a worker in communist East Germany?  Seriously.  $100K isn’t even the average salary in my township.  But leave it to the short sighted burghers here to turn their anger on the schools instead of the property tax inequities.  Thank God we have all the school buses we can eat.  We wouldn’t want to charge for courtesy bussing.  New Jerseyans have their priorities all screwed up.  But the budget cuts have an unexpected benefit.  Whenever you ask why the school district doesn’t do X when we had X last year, the person behind the desk smiles sweetly and says, “The budget didn’t pass.  This is what people wanted.”  Ergo…

Then there’s the tunnel under the Hudson that Christie wants to cancel.  The tunnel project is a no-brainer so we can safely assume that Christie has no brain.  Commuting to and from NYC from Jersey is time consuming and expensive.  The tunnel would have made it a less arduous ordeal.  But Republicans are not into infrastructure.  That’s long term thinking.  They don’t do long term.  So, the commuting ordeal will continue until the state thoroughly hates Republicans with a passion.  It may be happening sooner than they expected.

And finally, here is the Podcast of the Day:  Yesterday, Terry Gross interviewed Sean Wilentz from Princeton, just down the road a spell.  Wilentz talks about how Glenn Beck is channeling the John Birch society.  I’m not sure he completely nails the current national problem though.  He thinks the roots of Democratic failure is in the 60’s.  I think it faced its steepest decline in 2008 when the Democrats jettisoned the working class for snobby Obama and his droogs.  Some of the working class, in anger and confusion, allied themselves with the Becks and Tea Partiers.  Well, if the Democrats have the “We don’t need no stinkin’ working class” attitude, they shouldn’t be surprised at the consequences.  We don’t like Beck either but we aren’t calling the working class bitter, guntotin’, holy rollers.  They’re simply acquiring power in a way that will cause distaste for the genteel Democrats.  Or as Wilentz puts it, in GlennBeckistan, it will be a “dog eat dog world, mitigated by religious charity”.  Doesn’t that sound delightful?

Don’t you miss the Clintons?

Ok, Conflucians, I’m off!  There’s a hot Swedish colleague giving a seminar this morning and I don’t want to miss it.

 

 

Daggett wins second debate for NJ Governor

Daggett's Sea of Green

Daggett's Sea of Green

I got a call the other day from the Daggett campaign, the independent candidate for governor of New Jersey, to meet for a rally before the second and last debate in the race.  The debate was yesterday at William Paterson University in Totowa NJ.  All of the usual suspects were there.  Corzine’s crew brought in a lot of union guys.  The Republicans had their anti-choice crowd.  There were a surprising number of conspiracy theorists who turned out to protest childhood vaccinations and specifically the H1N1 vaccine.  Don’t even get me started.

And then there was the Daggett campaign.  We had about as many ralliers as the other two campaigns and some nifty bright green signs and T-shirts.  Green sort of speaks to Daggett’s environmental creds. He’s been endorsed by the Sierra Club. By the way, Daggett’s campaign staff is drop dead gorgeous.  His rally coordinator is so hot you could bake cookies on him.  One of his staff, a tall beautiful blonde, was wearing a very fashionable sweater minidress that showcased the most amazingly long, perfect legs.  Just before the debate started, she strutted across the loge, like Joan Holloway on a mission, right in front of a bunch of Corzine supporters.  Their jaws dropped and every pair of eyes, mine included, followed her shapely gams right up to her callipygian butt.  Well done!  You can be smart and smokin’ hot.  Too bad you missed it, myiq.

The debate was sponsored and obviously controlled by the local Fox affiliaate.  I managed to snag a ticket for the debate literally minutes before it began. (Thank you, hot cookie guy!)  I don’t know the criteria that was used to give out advanced tickets but it was clearly rigged in Chris Christie’s favor.  Like I said, there weren’t an overwhelming number of Republicans outside but, judging by the cheering and applause, Republicans inside Shea PAC outnumbered the other campaigns by about 2:1.  Bostonboomer, who liveblogged the debate last night, reported that the Fox commentators talked over Daggett’s responses and occasionally Corzine. allowing Christie to pontificate in his big beefy goodness without interruption.  As we were outside during the rally, one Republican operative approached our group and said, “How does it feel to be marginalized?”  He seemed disturbed.  We were cheerily unperturbed.  We know there are a lot of New Jerseyans who are registered ‘unaffiliated’. All they need is a good reason to vote for the third guy.  (Note to Daggett’s campaign: I know your poll position is crappy.  So, why not take a cue from Joe Lieberman’s senate campaign in 2006 and create and ad with a snappy mnemonic so that voters can find you?)

Now, onto the debate.  I was transfixed.  I’ve never been to a live debate before.  And while this wasn’t as high stakes as a presidential debate, I have to give a lot of credit to the organizers and the candidates for sticking to the rules.  There were no gotcha questions.  The Lightening Round was a chance for the candidates to reveal their personalities and turned out to be pretty funny.

In short, this should be a model for all debates going forward.  I learned a lot about all three candidates and their approach to fixing what ails New Jersey.  But it was Daggett who stole the show.  Seriously, guys, I could vote for this man for president.  He’s got that Hillary Clinton policy wonk thing down cold.  He was well prepared for most questions and for the ones where he didn’t have an immediate answer, I got the sense that his mental gears were clicking.

Daggett could have a lot of appeal to both Democrats and Republicans.  He is liberal on social issues, prudent and conservative on fiscal issues.  He emphasizes tax cuts for homeowners and corporations.  I’m a little worried by how he intends to pay for it but his idea of expanding the sales tax to items that the upper middle and upper class purchase is a step in the right direction.  In fact, he could go even further and impose a small sales tax on most consumer goods (2-4%?  It would still be lower than surrounding states).   In New Jersey, we don’t have a sales tax on food or most consumer items.  There is a restaurant tax but if you go to the grocery store, no tax on most products.  New York, by contrast, has up to a 9% tax on just about everything (See Ann’s comment for more precise details).  So, you can see why New Jersey is an attractive place to shop.  On the other hand, our property taxes are through the roof.  For example, I pay more than $500 on my little townhouse – per month.  Yep, after the ridiculous federal, social security and state income taxes are paid from my generous paycheck, reducing me to just average Jane Bagodonuts, I pay more than $500 per month on a house with no property.  Personally, I don’t mind shifting some to that tax to consumable goods.  Let the people who buy the luxury cars and high end consumables pick up the tab.  Daggett also proposes a tax on gas to pay for transportation infrastructure and mass transit.  I think this is a good idea, especially if it encourages more use of mass transit in a state as congested as New Jersey.

Where I had some issues with Daggett was his approach to health care.  His opposition to the public option is not necessarily a dealbreaker for me.  I think policy wonks are able to see permutations to solving these kinds of problems because they understand the mechanisms of government.  So, if we ended up with a German type of health care, ie private insurance but highly regulated, that would be Ok with me as long as everyone is covered, insurance companies and health care providers are held accountable with mandates  for basic policies  and public funds are used to provide subsidies for those individuals who can’t afford it.  I don’t think that’s what we’re getting with Obamacare where the mandates seem to be falling more heavily on the individual and choice of insurance company is limited.  While single payer would eliminate a lot of our administrative headaches and it works for other countries, it’s not the only answer.  There’s no reason to suppose it couldn’t work here but we can’t rule out other models that check the health care industry just as well.

Daggett also didn’t have an answer for how to fund state colleges and universities.  Well, he’s got a couple of weeks to come up with an answer.  To be fair, Corzine and Christie weren’t any better on this question.  Corzine points to state financial aid grants as a sort of bandaid on the problem. Christie got all sentimental about sending his four children to local schools but added nothing to the conversation.  Daggett at least acknowledged that there was a problem with the underlying structure of state aid to colleges and universities that needed to be addressed.  He just needs to find a funding mechanism.  Might I suggest one?  Ok, this is going to sound crazy and bring out the MADD crew but most New Jersey restaurants do not have liquor licenses.  Yep, if you want to go out to a nice, new restaurant for a special dinner, you’d better call ahead because you might have to brown bag it, and drink everything you bring with you.  There aren’t that many licenses available and most of them are bought up by big chain restaurants and, I suspect, the mafia.  If you go to New York or Pennsylvania, this is never an issue.  You can get a nice glass of chard just about anywhere.  So, sell more liquor licenses, license grocery stores to sell wine and beer and watch the revenue flow in.  This leftover from Prohibition is only benefitting organized crime.

The dynamics of the debate were also pretty interesting to watch.  After Daggett’s responses to questions, Corzine frequently agreed with him in response but never once referred to him by name.  Corzine continued to frame the debate as between two party representatives, him and Chris Christie.  I think that might have worked in any other year when there wasn’t such a strong, articulate, engaging third party candidate.  I’m not sure it will work this year.  In Daggett’s closing statement, he makes a point of reminding the audience that in spite of what Corzine and Christie’s wishful thinking, there *is* a choice this year.  There is a third party candidate who offers something new, different and positive.

Go, Daggett, GO!

PS:  This race is phenomenally expensive and Daggett has chosen to run on public funds.  Corzine has spent $20 million on ads attacking Chris Christie’s waistline.  Daggett is trying to run a positive campaign on limited funds.  Just sayin’.

Note: The second debate will be televised tomorrow.  I’ll try to do another live blog because I think it is important to think outside the box, especially when there is a viable third party candidate like Daggett.  These people need more attention and support to give voters more choices and keep the other parties on their toes.

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