Thursday, November 29, 2012

What did Barry serve Mitt for lunch? I’m hoping it was decomposed crow on a pile of bitter greens.

Maybe, by the time this gets posted, somebody will have something specific to say about who said what to whom at the White House lunch between President Barack Obama and Willard (aka “Mitt”) Romney.

As of 2:30 p.m., November 29, 2030, the AP was shoveling forkfuls of meaningless drivel concerning that lunch onto the Internet. The color of the SUV Romney arrived in. Which door he got out of. In other words, stuff that you really really need to know if you're a total airhead.

Meanwhile, I’m exercising my First Amendment right to speculate, stir pots, and think wishfully.

R: Good to see you, Mr. President.

O: Don’t even bother to shake hands. Have a seat. Why are you frowning?

R: The most upsetting thing happened on the way to the dining room. I stopped in a bathroom and one of your interns peed on my shoes.

O: Damn it! I’m going to have to get rid of that useless kid. He can’t do anything right. I specifically told him to pee on your pants legs.

R: Oh, you’ve got a terrific sense of humor, Mr. President. I’ll have to tell that one to Tag.

O: What is it with your family and those idiotic hard-consonant one-syllable names? Mitt, Tag, what’s next? A grandson named Shmuck?

R: That’s another good one, Mr. President! Mind if I write that down? 

O: Yeah, please make all the notes you want. That way, maybe you can tell a story accurately for a change.

R: Well Mr. President, let me get right down to brass tacks.

O: If that dumb intern kid got around to doing all his chores this morning, there should be a few on your chair.

R: What? Ow! Oh.

R: You forgot to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Presodent.’ Don’t bother now. You’re welcome.

R: Mr. President, do you want me for Secretary of Commerce or Secretary of State?

O: I want you for libel and slander, all during the election campaign.

R: Mr. President, you’re a great kidder. But let me tell you why I’d be great for the State Department. First of all, I’ve been a lifelong Democrat….

O: And I’m a Swiss battleship.

R: Golly, I never realized that, Mr. President. Anyway, I dealt with all those foreign types while I was saving the Salt Lake City Olympics, and heck, they all speak English these days anyway. I know how to get along with them. Or make me Secretary of the Treasury. I know how to count money.

O: Who said I was gonna give you a cabinet job?

R: There’s been speculation, Mr. President.

O: The Cabinet’s full, but I may have an opening for an assistant consul general in Botswana, if you’re really interested.

R: I was hoping for something a bit more important.

O: And I was hoping for a V8. Oh, here come the drinks. We spiked yours with lemon juice and a dash of Tabasco sauce. Bottoms up!

R: Uh! Oops.

O: I forgot to tell you. Yours is in a dribble glass.

R: What a really great joke, Mr. President! Oh, the press has also been saying you’re going to solicit my advice. I'd be happy to help.

O: Yeah, that’s right.  How did you manage to lie so consistently with a straight face, all through the campaign?

R: I never lied, Mr. President. I consistently supported your candidacy, even when that took considerable courage.

O: Well, here comes your lunch. Enjoy it, and feel free to sit here as long as you like. I have to get back to the Oval Office.

R: Oh boy! Stuffed pheasant!

O: If you say so.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

American serfs? How yesterday! Up next, slave labor!

A hearty “well done and well said” to Yellow Dog, posting at No More Mr. Niceblog, who points out that American business can’t find skilled labor because American business doesn’t want to pay for skilled labor.

An equally large hurrah to Victor, who commented on the same post that once upon a time companies trained their workers, but these days want the training done at public expense in junior colleges. (To which I’ll add that not so many years ago, the companies with the best training programs were generally well-known, and attracted the best job applicants.)

But you won’t have much time to resent American serfdom. Slave labor is next on the horizon, and it may take its inspiration from the East Germany in the days before “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”

Seems that back in the 1980s, Ikea, the cheap furniture company, was using political as well as criminal prisoners in East Germany as slave labor to build some of its assemble-it-yourself stuff.

Swedish guilt? Maybe a little.

Of course, Ikea is a Swedish company. It has done the right thing and ‘fessed up. Well, actually it waffled on its guilt a little. “Even though Ikea Group took steps to secure that prisoners were not used in production, it is now clear that these measures were not effective enough,” said a company statement, reported in the New York Times.

So okay, East Germany is history, political prisoners in that part of the world are presumably also history, and by now you’ve probably trashed the assemble-it-yourself chest of drawers that you used for storing your underwear in your college dorm room, or whatever it was they had the slaves making. So what’s the big deal?

Well, first of all, Ikea is still making stuff so shoddy that you almost have to assume they made it God-knows-where using God-knows-who. I went to Ikea’s website to see if I could find evidence that all their stuff is now being manufactured by Swedish craftsmen who get coffee breaks in heated workshops (hah!). Or better yet, that the stuff they sell in America is made by American craftsmen earning forty bucks an hour or better. But before I had a chance to look very far, I started finding, way down near the bottom of the page, Ikea recalls. And I quote:

Uh oh! Did you buy any
of this junk?

IKEA Recalls IKEA 365+ SÄNDA track due to risk of electric shock
IKEA recalls PAX AURLAND glass mirror door
IKEA Recalls to Repair High Chair Due to Fall Hazard

By the time you get to Ikea’s website to check it out, the recalls may have been removed. Or new ones may have taken their place. Anyway, don't sweat it. My point has to do with American companies.

Porn, pay and Walmart

Back in the sixties, friends of mine who made a better living then writing porn in a furnished room somewhere than Walmart’s workers earn today … hey that’s turning into a very long sentence. Anyway, back in the day, one pornographer complained that he couldn’t make anything up. “I don’t care what it is. Sex a greasepit. Sex with electric shocks. Sex on a pile of bagels. If I can think of it, somebody else is already doing it, and then writing to me about it, and telling me I described it wrong.”

So with downward-spiraling costs of labor replacing sex pornography as the new American scandal, I can bet you that at this very moment, some MBA somewhere is equating the growing prison population (nearly 2.5 million in 2006) with an uptapped opportunity to get things built and serviced at even lower prices than we can get from little kids in Southeast Asia.

Heck, we’ve already had chain gangs building roads and prison populations stamping license plates. Why not just extend the opportunities to enterprises ranging from Walmart the Waste Management? (Hey guys, I’m not making accusations here. I’m just alliterating.)

Slave labor in the name
of national defense

Heck, we don’t even have to use dangerous criminals. Thanks to the National Defense Appropriations Act, Amendment 1031, any American citizen can be held without warrant and held without due process. Neither the Congress (hah!) nor, to my dismay, President Obama has done diddley-squat to repeal this horrible law, enacted in hysterical reaction to the horrors of 9-11.

While the intention of the bill was simply to detain terrorists, you know what they say about good intentions and the road to hell. Come a future President like Romney, in as little as four years, the company chairman of, say, Crudpipe International will be able to ring up the White House and kvetch, “Hey Prez, my PAC gave you half a billion bucks during the last election. Now I need some workers to process raw sewage.

Kidnap ‘em yourself labor

And the President might say, “Hey, bigger companies than yours have already emptied out the prisons, and your guys in Congress cut my resources so badly, I can’t afford the U.S. Marshals to grab people off the street. Tell you what, I’ll deputize Crudpipe International to do it. Send your own private cops up to New York and grab a few hundred people off the street on charges of, I dunno what, maybe conspiracy or something. Just don’t seize anybody from the silk stocking zip codes.”

You say it can’t happen here? Who’d have thought Ikea in a nice country like Sweden would be using slaves, or that Americans would grant a Federal bureaucracy authority to grab anybody off the street without a warrant and incarcerate them without trial?

My advice to you is to buy a shovel and start practicing with it. You might have to tunnel your way out of prison, all the way to Canada.

Cross-posted to No More Mister Nice Blog

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I know I'm late with this. I know, I know. But watch the Raging Grannies diss Todd Akin anyway.

Former Missouri Representative Todd Akin earned himself not only a lost re-election, but also a footnote, if not a whole chapter, in the history of idiocy by declaring that women who are "legitimately" raped are unlikely to get pregnant because their reproductive systems have a way to"try to shut the whole thing down." Whatever the hell that means.

When even a magazine like Forbes, which for years proudly used the slogan "Capitalist Tool" prints a column that stomps on Akin's face, you know the guy is a political goner. But that doesn't preclude us from the pleasure of stomping him again and again.

With that in mind, I herewith nominate Akin for a golden bust and a marble pedestal in the Hall of Famous Morons.

Only lately (where the hell have I been?) I learned about a group called Raging Grannies that, among other things, shames political know-nothings by singing to them. So in case you missed this just as I did, or in case you've seen it already but yearn for an encore, here are the Raging Grannies on Todd Akin.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"In an attempt to save a 4-month-old fetus they killed my 30-year-old daughter. How is that fair? You tell me." (P.S. The fetus died, too.)

The woman who died was 31 years old, married, and a well-educated professional – a practicing dentist. She was starting to miscarry her 17-weeks-old fetus.

But she was in Ireland, a country where the law forbids abortions and doctors are terrified of prosecution. So they had to wait until the fetus died to “abort” it. Unfortunately, they were too late. The woman died too, of blood poisoning caused by the dying and then suppurating fetus. Story here.

"Right to Life" movement?
It's really a Right to Murder movement.

When the insanely “conservative” and increasingly sociopathic right wing in our own country talk about outlawing abortions, even in cases of medical necessity like the one in Ireland, they’re talking, quite cavalierly, about murdering – yes murdering – women. These were the people behind Mitt Romney, and to whom Romney would have owed some payback legislation, had he been elected.

Moreover, after his “47 percent” speech to fat cat donors became a scandal, Romey looked straight into the cameras just before the election and all but took a blood oath that he would be a staunch defender of all Americans, including middle and working class Americans. Now Romney is taking it all back.

His loss of the election, he clearly seems to be saying  to his donors, was not because of his own policies, or flip-flopping, or his lying. It’s because, Romney says,  President Obama showered his voters with “gifts.” Where I come from, Mr. Romney, they call those things policies. 

Human rights aren't gifts

We're talking about ways to extend medical insurance to the young, and to overhaul our broken healthcare system, for example. In other countries,  they call those human rights. What you wanted to give the two percent in this nation – a continuation of the Bush tax cuts, plus other tax cuts – that was a bloated gift, to people who don’t need gifts. And the money for your two percent would have come straight from the pockets of of the rest of us.

So good riddance to you, Mr. Romney. It looks like, by sending you back to your many vacation homes and cars, and car elevators, and offshore bank accounts, the citizens of the United States dodged a bullet. And maybe also the horrible deaths of pregnant mothers in need of medically necessary abortions.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

General nonsense: David and Paula and John and Jill (and where are the Marx Brothers now that we need them?)


Somewhere in the halls of government in Peking, and Moscow, and Havana, and Caracas, and Kabul (or Karachi, or wherever in hell Al Qaeda hangs its turban these days) a bunch of people who wish the United States no good must be slapping their thighs and texting each other “ROTF!!!” messages.

I could be wrong, but from where I sit, the entire United States is getting its knickers in a twist over what properly ought to be regarded as nothing more than a tempest in a teapot. (How’s that for two clichés in one sentence?)

The facts so far ­– or at least so far 
as I think I can figure them out:

General David Patraeus, until a few news cycles ago the lead dog at the CIA, had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. That’s not formidably surprising. They had a lot in common. They both graduated from West Point. They both like to stay in shape.  She's interested in him and he's also interested in him. And he is, or was, a powerful man while she’s a younger woman. It’s a match made in heaven, even if it was made by some very mischievous angels who ought to have their wings whupped.

After a while, if I’ve followed the convoluted story correctly, Patreus broke off the relationship with Paula. This made Paula feel so insecure that she started acting paranoid and sent another woman, named Jill Kelley, a whole bunch of non-violent but allegedly abusive e-mails saying, in effect, “keep your hands off my guy.”

That would be something close to hubris, considering that General Patraeus is legally married to a very nice woman named Holly Patraeus, an innocent bystander in this brutal farce, but nevertheless the only woman entitled to call David Patraeus “my guy” if she still wants to. (By the way, is “brutal farce” an oxymoron? Umm, I’ll vote for no in this case.)

Freaking out to the FBI

Then Jill Kelley, who so far as I know never laid a hand on any part of General Patraeus’ body, freaks out and goes to a pal of hers in the FBI, who gets an FBI Cyber Squad to investigate the nasty e-mails she’s been receiving. Which shows how much power a pretty woman with a friend in the FBI can have. I couldn’t even get the FBI to investigate a case of wide spread cyber fraud when I was all but able to hand over the perpetrator to them on a silver platter, with the physical evidence. Even after I put the story out on the Internet, I got no response. 

Well hey, that’s the FBI for you. So anyway the FBI starts to investigate Paula’s e-mails, but then an FBI agent sends Jill a picture of himself shirtless, which demonstrates either that he never read about the Chris Lee case less than a year ago, or that guys at the FBI really don’t have enough to do. 

But this leads to a check of Jill’s e-mail, which reveals an abnormal level of correspondence with a U.S. Marines General, John R. Allen. So suddenly the Marines get sucked (no pun intended) into this flock of canards, too.

And now everybody’s investigating everything. Diane Feinstein is irked that the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t told about – well, whatever it is. Ditto the house. Ditto various Republican senators, who, right in character, are leaping at an opportunity to bloviate about something everybody can understand, if not really follow. Hey, it’s confusing, but it sounds sexy.

The only real victim of this face, so far as I can see from here in front of my cranky computer, is the General’s very nice wife, Holly Patraeus. And probably Mrs. Allen, now, too, if there is a Mrs. Allen. (Or if there still will be one six months from now.)

General Petraeus did the right thing and quickly resigned from the CIA, rather than try to tough out and deny the undeniable, as assorted rascals from Anthony Weiner to Lance Armstrong have done. It’s uncertain so far, at least to me, whether General  Allen did anything at all, other than answer a whole bunch of e-mails, so many that it makes me wonder whether he has enough to do.

The old "woman scorned" story

Somehow all this reminds me of a story I covered out in Brooklyn years ago when I was a young newspaper reporter. (You’ll find a zillion – well anyway, a bunch of – good yarns like this in my e-book, “HEIRESS STRANGLED IN MOLTEN CHOCOLATE AT NAZI SEX ORGY! A memoir.”)

Seems that a male model got engaged to a pretty girl in the outer reaches of Brooklyn. The date was set. The engagement presents started arriving. Then he dumped her – and took off with the gifts. She went to the police, full of righteous rage, to report his theft of their engagement gifts.

But the cops told the girl that under the law engagement presents were mutually owned, and that therefore there was legally no theft. She looked ready to explode. Sulfurous smoke was all but jetting out of her ears. You could almost see the mushroom cloud in her eyes.

“Well okay then!” she exploded. “Would you be interested if I told you he committed armed robbery?”

That interested the cops. So the jilted bride-to-be then revealed that she and her ex-fiancee had held up a shoe repair store at gunpoint. They didn't get much money from a cobbler, but it was still armed robbery.

That enabled her to get even, even though it cost her. 

They both ended up in the slammer.

So enough reminiscing. We’re at the edge of a fiscal cliff. The economy is about to fall off into the abyss. The future of America is at stake. Syria is coming apart at the seams And all the press and Congress can say is, “What did the President know about this and when did he know it? And why weren’t the House and Senate informed of whatever-it-is sooner?”

Civilizations get the collapses they deserve.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Donald Trump commits a felony, makes himself eligible for 20 years in the clink

18 USC § 2385 - Advocating overthrow of Government“Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government… Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.”

Wow, Donald Trump must have been one spoiled rotten kid – the kind you yearn to smack – throwing loud, super-sized temper tantrums whenever things didn’t go his way.

I presume this is true because The Donald had a super-lollapalooza of a meltdown when he discovered that, contrary to Donald’s clearly expressed wishes, Barack Obama had been reelected President.

The Mad Tweeter

Tweeting like mad, Trump advocated a march on Washington to be followed (or was it preceded?) by a revolution that would toss out the will of the people.

“He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election," tweeted Trump, who evidently didn't have the final numbers that put Obama ahead in the popular vote, too. 

I have a feeling that one of the people Trump employs to keep him out of trouble explained to him what he had just done to his own legal standing. Personally, I think 18 USC § 2385 is a bad law, but it’s still the law.

Remember, Donald, 
the Internet is immortal 

Trump tried to delete his tweets, which is even more difficult than trying to erase your carved initials from a school desk, or from a concrete square in the sidewalk. Wake up, Donald. This is the Internet. Once it’s out there it’s out there, and screen shots, rather like angels and saints, live forever on clouds in Cyberspace. 

Do I really think Donald Trump should go to prison for 20 years? Not really. Especially not under a bad law  (imposed, I might add, by Republicans, during the Cold War red scare.)

But even so, despite my principles, I would really enjoy it if Trump were arrested, stripped to his skivvies, locked into a set of stocks that have been fastened to the bed of a truck, and then driven from city to city, in front of jeering crowds. Oh, and citizens would be granted the privilege of banging on the truck with long sticks and throwing rotten eggs.

Just please don’t punish him by shaving off that comb-over so many of us love to hate.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

                 Sign of the times:

                  A polling place sign, ubiquitous in New York City today.

Monday, November 05, 2012

New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy: the bad, the worse, and the revolting

If all politics is local, then all local hurricanes are political, not to mention personal. All it takes is living through one "perfect storm" to learn how personal and political they can really get, and how fast.

Personally, the worst was over for me at 1 a.m. Saturday. (A neighbor, putting an extra-fine point on it, insists that the power in our building actually  came on at 12: 59 a.m.  I won’t quibble with a woman who carries around a teeth-baring Chihuahua-Jack Russell Terrier mix in her shoulder bag. If you ask me, the power outage irked the dog even worse than it irked me.) 

I had gone to sleep in the silence of a blacked out Friday night, huddled under a blanket in my uncomfortably chilly apartment. I woke up with a bright table lamp shining in my eyes and the television set booming.

The simple joy
of flushing a toilet

I turned off the TV, headed to the bathroom, and did something I had been yearning to do for five days. I flushed the toilet. It had been unflushable since the power went out, disabling our building's water supply and turning my apartment into a reeking hovel.  Then I flushed again, and still again a third time before getting back into bed.

First thing the next morning, I took a long, hot shower. And believe me, Saturday was also a good day in New York for the makers of Lysol, Toilet Duck and Tidy Bowl.

But although the worst of it was over for me, the hurricane left a long wake of despair, squalor, high-handedness and political opportunism that won’t disperse any time soon.

An icy case in point:
misery in the Rockaways

Out in the Rockaways, a stretch of barrier beach that runs along the Atlantic coasts of Brooklyn and Queens near JFK Airport, there was still no electricity as of early this morning. There are basically two kinds of residential real estate out there: small private homes on individual lots, and high-rise apartment buildings, some of them low income "project" housing. Many of the private homes had been destroyed by the storm. The high-rises were a continuing disaster – still no power or heat, and now the temperatures, at least at night, are headed toward freezing.

I can’t blame this one on Con Edison. For some reason, the public utility out there is LIPA, the Long Island Power Authority. LIPA blithely changed its estimate for the restoration of power from a week to “seven weeks,” according to Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, quoted in a Queens community newspaper. 

Seven weeks? Heck, why not put it off until late Spring, when thousands of people freezing to death won’t be such a pressing issue?

Not that LIPA isn’t doing something in the Rockaways. They’re working to restore traffic lights, according to their own website

What doesn’t quite pass the sniff test is that they claim to have 100 restoration crews in the Rockaways. One hundred crews? And all they can work on are traffic lights while thousands freeze in the dark? Even Mayor Bloomberg’s feathers are getting a bit ruffled by this. It’s about time. Earlier, he was busy getting huffy about the fact that New Yorkers are complaining there’s no power, slipping into his oh-stop-your-bellyaching mode.
The mayor’s just fine --
so you’d better shut up

People pay more, generally, to be closer to the water, even though you could argue they should pay less because it’s more dangerous,” he announced sagely. “But people are willing to run the risk.”

Oh really? Actually, Mr. Mayor, there are lots of people living in low-income, high-rise housing projects in the Rockaways who don’t live there for the sea air and the nearby ocean visitas. They live there because that’s where the New York City Housing Authority stuck them. Remember the verse from that song about the Titanic?
“Well, they sailed from England
And were almost to our shore
When the rich refused
To associate with the poor
So they put ‘em down below
Where they were the first to go
It was sad when that great ship went down.” 
Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg, who lives in an above-decks neigborhood in the comfort of his East 79th Street mansion, where the power and heat and water never went off, and the deluxe food market Citarella is a short walk for one of mansion’s household staff ... perhaps he feels that if he’s as snug as a bug in a rug, everybody else should just shut up.

The truth is, the mayor actually encourages low-lying housing, while claiming the city can’t possibly build high bulkheads to prevent the water from rushing in to damage the housing he encourages. (Perhaps he’s never heard of Holland.) 

Says a respected New York real estate blog:
Hurricane Sandy has caused flooding in Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, including in several areas where the Bloomberg Administration has supported increased residential development, such as Williamsburg. Even the Gowanus Canal overflowed, close to an area that was rezoned several years ago to allow additional development.
The Gowanus is a canal whose waters are known for their high toxicity. It's also, they say, where the Mafia would go to dump its bodies, since whatever the cops tried pulled out of there was likely to be half dissolved by the Gowanus chemical soup, and therefore unidentifiable.

And then the blog tossed out this Bloombergian nugget:
Bloomberg added that it wasn’t necessary to make investments in infrastructure in these areas that could help control storm surges. The city cannot build an offshore barrier reef or big bulkheads, he said. “I think we’ve done a lot of preparation in terms of roads, strengthening things,” he said. 
Yes, Mr. Mayor, I noticed the strength as the hurricane hit, and in its aftermath. That’s why people are still freezing, supermarkets below 39th Street still had no food on their shelves as of Sunday evening (other than ketchup and some junk candy) , while hundreds of dry cleaners, restaurants, delis, shoe repair shops, hardware stores, boutiques, and even franchises like McDonalds took financial hits – hits which some of the smaller businesses won’t survive.

That’s also why, in order to buy milk and meat, I had to travel uptown, to the Mayor’s neighborhood. And that was on Sunday, after the power came on. The supermarkets in blackout neighborhoods had thrown out all their old perishables after the power went off, and still hadn’t received fresh deliveries. Ditto most of the restaurants.

The Marathon, the cancellation,
and the grumpy aftermath

Meanwhile, the mayor focused a considerable amount of concern on the New York City Marathon, even while the citizens of his city were freezing in the dark. People pleaded with him to cancel the thing.

But the mayor hung on, evidently heeding the self-entitled concerns of the New York Road Runners Club president Mary Wittenberg, instead of the pleas of the rest of the city’s citizens. They said, “We are cold, we are homeless, we are hungry.” And Mayor Bloomberg replied, in effect, hey, the Marathon is good for gross receipts.

Somebody must have finally sat the mayor down and said (not in these exact words, of course) “Look, jerk! The symbolism of diverting gasoline-powered electric generators to Central Park in order to heat massage tents while New Yorkers freeze in the dark is going to make you look very bad.”

There was also the problem of a hotel room shortage, with nearly every hotel south of 39th Street closed for want of power. (That includes six high rise hotels in my immediate neighborhood, ranging from the deluxe Kitano to middle-of-the-road establishments like the Dumont Affinia.) There was also word creeping out concerning New Yorkers, who had found shelter in hotels further uptown, getting told to leave to make room for marathoners.

So finally, with the grudging assent of the New York Road Runners, (Mary Wittenberg stood next to him, looking grim while he spoke) the mayor cancelled the marathon late on Friday.

Unfortunately his shilly-shallying made it too late for some of the marathon contestants, who had already flown here, some from abroad, often at a cost of thousands of dollars, to participate in the event. “I would have understood this – if it did it a couple of days earlier,” one marathon contestant said.


Then Mitt gets in our faces with
a hill of bean cans and granola bars

It took an out-of-towner to show New Yorkers what self-aggrandizing opportunism is all about in the face of disastrous losses of homes, incomes, and even lives. I’m talking, of course, about Mitt Romney, whose “misguided” (that’s a press word; I’d use the adjective disgusting)... whose disgusting display all but turned the stomachs of so many commentators that it’s hard to pick just one online expression of ire as an example.

However, I’ll take this one from the Washington Post, where a blogger points out that when Romney decide to do a photo-op in Kettering, Ohio, and “accept donations” on behalf (he said) of the Red Cross, for storm victims on the East Coast, he was actually all but sabotaging relief.

He collected canned goods, granola bars, and Gatorade which, if they got here at all, would have had to have been expensively shipped over six hundred miles. The Red Cross strongly urged cash donations, which can be turned into the precisely appropriate form of relief that's needed, close to where it’s needed. And Romney, if you remember the Republican debates, will casually write checks for a ten thousand dollar bet. But hey, a check doesn’t make nearly the picture that you can get with a pile of bean cans, granola bars and Gatorade bottles.

Susan Brooks Thistelthwaite, the angry blogger for the Washington Post declared:
Anyone who has ever volunteered for relief efforts following a disaster knows that it only adds work to the relief organizations of their volunteers have to collect canned goods and granola bars. Today’s informed volunteer raises funds so experienced organizations can fund local efforts on the ground and don’t have to lug around often useless items.

In addition, Romney was photographed loading what “appeared to be multiple bags of uncooked rice” onto a truck. What good is uncooked rice for people whose power has gone out?

This is both clueless and heartless.
But I'm sure Romney didn't give a damn. His objective was free publicity, not helping the needy.

All the same, it’s nice to know, I suppose, that even if  Romney becomes President and then, as he has promised (some of the time), he cuts FEMA funding, which will worsen the situation of Americans caught in floods, earthquakes and blizzards; and he cuts food stamps so that poor people whose jobs have been flooded out will have less to eat; and he cuts Obamacare so that people who can’t get health insurance will die, or go bankrupt and lose their homes and then die; and he raises taxes on the, umm, “greedy poor,” while lowering them on the richest people in the history of this planet; then, even if we’re sleeping on the streets, kind, dear Mr. Romney will come around and hand us a tin can of cold beans. What a guy!

Apres-hurricane acronomia

New Yorker real estate interests have a way of renaming gentrifying neighborhoods with acronymic descriptors, so the neighborhoods will sound cool and new. A weakness for acronomia is the reason we have SoHo (“south of Houston” Street), NoLiTa (North of Little Italy), and DUMBO (“down under the Manhattan  Bridge Overpass,”) among others.

My friend and fellow blogger Buce has tipped me off that now the Atlantic Wire has drawn a line horizontally bisecting Manhattan at 39th Street, renaming the entire area south of the line SoPo, for “South of Power.”

And for the real optics of what half a disempowered city looks like, at least from the air, take a look at the photograph, gracing the cover of New York Magazine

The infrastructure opportunity is
screaming for government money

Regardless of what New York’s in-denial mayor has to say about it, New York can and should have a system of high-tech dikes and sea walls. It’s not impossible. The Dutch were keeping the sea out, in a nation that in most places is at or below sea level, over nine centuries before Michael Bloomberg and Mitt Romney outgrew their diapers. 

We can play the Republican game of Let’s Pretend, continuing to deny that the seas are rising due to climate change or that anything can be done about it. Or we can put a lot of people, from engineers and hydrologists to construction workers and laborers to work, not only in New York but also along the Gulf  and the seacoast from New Jersey to Florida, to make America a stronger and more waterproof nation. 

But private enterprise can’t and won’t do this job if left to its own devices. New York’s local electric power utility, Con Edison, can’t or won’t bother even to build a waterproof power transfer station, which is why we had a power outage in New York in the first place.  Nor has it installed a working backup or a route-around to instantly move power in from distant power stations. Well, that's private enterprise for you. And consider: It was the U.S. Government that set up the program that got us to the moon. So you’d better believe that, if anybody does it, it will finally be the U.S. government that flood-proofs America.

Some things, from flood protection, to healthcare, to national security are just too important to be left to a bunch of greedy guys whose first priority is to make a buck.

And this just in...

Soon after I posted this, I came across an e-mail from my State Senator Liz Kreuger. It turns out things are worse than I thought. Still. And I quote her:
Additionally, some Manhattan residents dependent on steam still do not have heat or hot water because the steam plant which serves their area is not yet operational. [Cranky note: Con Edison runs the steam plant.] As temperatures continue to drop, this is a significant concern and efforts are being made to bring in emergency generators and heaters. The City has opened daytime warming centers for residents living in impacted buildings. A full list of these centers is available at Additionally, residents living without heat are welcome at the City's emergency storm shelters. The City is running buses to take people to shelters if they need a place to stay warm overnight. The bus pickups are listed here:
Attaway! Come to New York, rent or buy an apartment for top dollar, then live like a homeless person!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Yucky toilets, stinky bodies, pissed off bus riders and other New York tales of horror from the Con Edison disaster

No, I’m not calling it the Hurricane Sandy disaster. Hurricane Sandy came and went. What we have now is a Con Edison disaster caused by an explosion of unknown cause in Con Edison equipment. (Watch the full video.)

Con Edison, New York’s electrical utility, gets the villain’s hat, thanks to a lack of redundancy in Manhattan’s electrical distribution system, and a doltishly-wired local grid that evidently doesn’t allow the utility to distribute current around the downed substation transformer that has knocked out nearly all of Manhattan from 39th Street south to the financial district.

An eerie irony

Case in point: My apartment building has no electricity, as a consequence of which my fellow 300-or-so occupants and I have no running water (electric pumps raise the water to rooftop reservoirs in Manhattan), no land line telephones, no Internet, no television, no elevator to our high rise digs (my apartment is on the 10th floor) and not even a functioning toilet. Yet at night, my apartment is ironically bathed in an eerie glow from the art-deco zig-zagging neon lights atop the Chrysler building, six blocks to the north.

With a more intelligently designed – or redesigned – electrical grid, the wasted late night art deco razz-a-ma-tazz in a desolated city could be routed as spare power and sent south long enough to pump water up to the reservoirs on our roofs, so that we could flush our toilets once, and fill up our water pitchers. But no such luck. Why should Con Ed care? They're in this business strictly to make a profit, not to help their customers.

What does all this mean on a personal level? Well, I’m going to tell you what it’s like living with the Con Edison mess. Warning: some of this stuff is beyond disgusting.

Keep reading, but hold your nose

After two-plus days of unflushable toilets, my bathroom reeks like the outhouse from hell. I’ve saved bowel movements for my office, north of 39th Street, where the toilets are working. Even so, the nauseating odor of standing urine is slowly creeping through my apartment despite my best efforts to keep the toilet covered and the bathroom door shut when the toilet’s not in use.

Showers are impossible. Yesterday morning, for the second time, I took about a cupful of my precious stored drinking water, put it in a Pyrex bowl, and heated the water on my stovetop after lighting a burner with a match.

Then I carried the bowl to the bathtub in my stinking bathroom, dipped a washcloth in the warm water, soaped it, and scrubbed myself down.

Even so, after two days I could smell myself. It was time to beg a favor. I called friends who have power on the Upper West Side. “Look,” I said, “I need a shower and a shampoo. And I have over two pounds of sirloin and a prime rib that are defrosting in my dead freezer. I’ll swap, steak for a shower.”

“Come on over and help us eat it,” they told me. “We’ll prepare some fluffy towels for you.” So last night I had my first hot shower in over two days, followed by a great steak dinner. Even so, it was a horrid evening.

With the power nightmare
comes a transportation nightmare

It was no picnic getting from midtown east side to the Upper West. The trip to my friends’ apartment usually takes about 45 minutes by public transportation. But last night, at 6:30 p.m.,  there was still no subway service. People who have to work here had driven into the city and were now trying to drive out again. (The mayor made no attempt I know of to discourage this.) That surge of extraordinary commuter automobile traffic, combined with an overabundance of busses, meant to substitute for nonexistent subway service, turned my Third Avenue route into a hyper-gridlocked nightmare. Available taxis? Don’t make me laugh. Besides, they would have been just another element of the gridlock.

It took me 45 minutes to ride from 38th Street to 46th Street. Realizing I’d never get where I was going if I went by bus alone, I got off the bus and walked briskly almost a mile up Third Avenue, past the gridlock to the East 60s, with my plastic grocery bag of bleeding defrosted steak. Then I re-boarded a bus when one arrived to East 96th Street, and then took the East 96th Street crosstown bus to West End Avenue. Total time for a trip of approximately three and a half miles? Two hours and fifty minutes.

The hot shower was worth it. The steak was great. (My friends have a gas barbecue on their terrace.) At midnight, when I headed home, the gridlock had passed and I was able to take a taxi to my apartment (twenty-two bucks including tip.) The taxi and the $16-a-pound steak may have made this the most expensive shower of my life. But hey, when you’re aware of your own stink, you gotta do what you gotta do.

With the pocket flashlight that I now guard as closely as I guard my wallet, I walked up ten flights of darkened stairs to my apartment, opened the door, and tried to ignore the reek of urine. It  had grown even worse by this morning when I woke up.

Con Ed congratulates itself

At the office, I was finally able to check the news. I discovered that Con Edison is patting itself on the back because it got power restored to a tiny corner of lower Manhattan, and it thinks it can have the rest of the bottom half of the island powered up by Friday. Well, if not by Friday, then probably Saturday, they then say. Maybe. I’ll believe it when I can flush my toilet.

And some passing thoughts

There are women in their eighties in my building, trapped on high floors and unable to navigate, seven, fifteen, even twenty-one stories of staircases. One person or another knocks on their doors to make sure they have food and water to drink. But I keep worrying about the ones I don’t know about and others don’t know about. In a building with over 230 apartments, it’s impossible to know everybody. The shy ones, the infirm ones, could be slowly starving to death inside their own reeking apartments.

Fortunately, the weather has been more-or-less cooperative, remaining in the 50s. With a sudden cold snap, some of those old women might freeze to death even if they don’t starve.

If the Con Edison power outage goes on much longer, people will die as a consequence. Not to mention businesses. From 39th Street south there’s not an open supermarket, deli, pizzeria, restaurant, shoe repair shop, drug store (what if people need their life-saving prescriptions refilled?) or other business. Some of the small merchants are assuredly taking a powerful hit, and some, perhaps many small businesses will fail as a consequence. (Give yourself another pat on the back, Con Ed.)

“Mayor Mike” Bloomberg is been remarkably unvocal during this disaster, at least from what I can tell from my Internet reading. Politician that he is, he’s too smart to get publicly involved with this reeking and rage-breeding mess. Ditto Kevin Burke, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Con Edison.

What if it had been a terrorist?

But Burke, Bloomberg and their pals need to take responsibiity for this mess. And to realize how serious it is, think of it this way:

 If a foreign terrorist had blown up the transformer that evidently caused this half-of-Manhattan outage, bringing a great city to a stop, ruining thousands of businesses, inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of lives, destroying a few, and causing, I’m guessing here, $2 billion worth of business losses, U.S. Navy Seals might be in the process of blowing his head off as you read this.

What consequences will Burke face? His board will probably give him a bonus on top of is already outsized compensation package, which came to $11 million in 2011, part of which he earned by locking out experienced union Con Ed hands who might have known how to prevent the explosion.

Update: A few minutes before 4 pm today I received an anonymous robo-call. I assume it was from Con Edison, but they never said who they were. The terse message told me that "power in your area" "should be" back by 11:30 p.m. Saturday. That's not the four days they were promising on their website. It's 30 minutes short of six days if they deliver. Meanwhile, the weather's growing colder.

And on more thing….

The next time Willard Romney tells you private enterprise can do things better than government, remind him that the government Tennessee Valley Authority electrified millions of acres and hundreds of thousands of homes, factories and farms back in the Roosevelt era. Then remind  him to about New  York’s disaster and tell him to take a Con Edison smokestack and stick it where the sun don’t shine