Archive for November, 2012

Of Dogs & Shore Ponies

November 26th, 2012 2 comments

 By Invitation Only Senate Sandy Hearings For the Cameras Only

Fear and Loathing On The NJ Shore

Cameras roll as NJ Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee meets in Toms River NJ to take testimony from invited guests on Superstorm Sandy

[Update below]

The quick and dirty answer to the question I posed yesterday is a resounding  “NO”.

Today’s Ocean County setting and opening hearing was transparently a partisan forum to promote and lionize the Governor, and allow – for the cameras – the Democrats to emulate the empathy and leadership of the Big Dog.

But it remains to be seen whether the Democrats are serious and keeping their powder dry,; or whether they support the Rebuild Now! (TM) camp; or whether they are clueless and simply have not developed a position yet and truly are in listening mode.

I’ll not write about the hearing and instead leave it to the press to fulfill their duty and role to report on today’s proceedings.

But, because I wrote a set up post and drove all the way out there, I feel obligated to post something.

The title of this post speaks for itself.

Although I am an animal lover, I  feel that I’ve slandered dogs and ponies.

I tweeted a few cogent points during the hearing – see this.

After the hearing, I asked SBA Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D- Bergen) two questions (these are verbatim):

1) Question:

“When will the public interest advocates and critics be given the opportunity to testify?”

Answer: “We’re working on that.”

2) Question:

“During the opening remarks, Senator O’Toole criticized the Assembly Speaker for criticizing NJ Transit’s actions, while suggesting that any criticism of State policy or the State response was an inappropriate partisan attack on Governor Christie, who O’Toole claimed did a spectacular job.

I am a critic and I deeply resent that.”


“You didn’t hear that from me.”

So, basically it all boils down to 1 issue:

Would you prefer the Shore to look more like this?:

Or like this:

(source: Asbury Park Press)


[Update – I left out an important issue:

I think it was the Mayor of Brick who recommended that CAFRA permitting be privatized, like the Licensed Site Professionals (LSP) program for toxic site cleanup.

Environmentalists should take this threat seriously.

Ocean County Republicans have great influence and have been strong supporters of Martin and Gov. Christie’s Barnegat Bay Plan.

DEP already got caught trying to privatize land use permitting in October 2010.

DEP Commissioner Martin already effectively deregulated rebuild permitting for public infrastructure.

It is not inconceivable that the next radical move could be privatization of CAFRA and other permitting.

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Will Sandy Devastation Fundamentally Reorient Perspective on NJ Shore Development?

November 25th, 2012 No comments

Legislative Hearings Start Tomorrow – Early Signals Are Not Good

Policymakers Pushing More Engineering and Rebuild Now!

NJ Press Corps Stuck in Cheerleader Mode

Environmentalists, Planners, and Scientists Hiding Under Their Desks

  • Christie said his most important priority was getting federal help to “engineer” the state’s beaches to better withstand future storms.” (Bergen Record, 11/25/12)
  • New Jersey was really a giant science experiment,” he’d told me.  “New Jersey was the home of some of the first vacation spots and one of the first places to arm their beaches.  Thanks to New Jersey we learned that any sort of hard stabilization—sea walls, groins, and jetties—was very damaging to the beach.  We learned that the damage occurs just by building something fixed by the beach—could be a highway, for instance. The problem of beaches is that they are eroding and always moving.  The beach tends to move toward that fixed thing and get narrower and narrower and narrower until it disappears altogether.” […]
  • What’s remarkable so far is how storms barely slow down coastal              development,” he told me. “I was down in Florida after hurricane Donna hit in 1960 and people said, ‘Well I guess this is the end of the Keys.’ Of course it was really just the beginning. They started building even bigger places. When the North Carolina coast started being developed heavily we coastal scientists used to say ‘What we need is a big storm.’ We figured that people would see what a storm did and heed its warning. But then Hurricane Hugo hit and we learned that people start building again as soon as the wind dies down. Hurricanes have actually become giant urban renewal projects. The buildings come back bigger than before. But of course the site they are building on is even more dangerous because the shoreline has retreated landward and the dunes have been damaged. But still they re-build. It’s really a form of societal madness. I can’t put it any more strongly.” (Salon, 11/3/12)


[Update – here is some exceptional reporting, by Sarah Watson of the Press of Atlantic City: Hurricane Sandy puts focus on climate change, flood protection, and future storm planning – end update]

For decades, many argued that we need to fundamentally reorient our perspective to shore development to recognize hazards, inherent instability, and the natural dynamics of barrier islands, beaches, dunes, and shore erosion. Global warming – which causes sea level rise and more severe coastal storms – only makes this case even more compelling.

Some call this “strategic retreat”, some call it “design with nature”, some simply call it sanity.

The idea of planning and working with nature versus trying to engineer nature is at the root of this debate.

I agree with Ian McHarg, Professors Pilkey and Oppenheimer, and others in the “strategic retreat” camp.

But Governor Christie? Not so much.

The Governor has stressed that going forward we need to do “better engineering” of the beaches. Here is Christie  making that point in the November 14 Wall Street Journal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said statewide beaches must be better engineered to protect homes and defended his support for President Barack Obama in the days after superstorm Sandy.

During a series of radio interviews Wednesday morning, Christie said he will ask the federal government for money to pay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for help remodeling the state’s beaches to protect seaside homes from tidal surges.

Seaside towns such as Avalon, N.J., that already had protection from “engineered” beaches fared well during Sandy, he said. Those without trucked-in sand and man-made dunes — most notably Seaside Heights, N.J. — were severely battered by Sandy.

Funny, just 2 days prior, I made exactly the opposite argument on a Nov. 12 Huffington Post Live Panel discussion: “Zoned for destruction”:

HuffPo Reporter: (time 17:08)

I think the question going forward is do you put money on the table and take these dramatic steps [engineering protections and rebuilding] just knowing that the next storm is coming down the pike?

[fellow panelist]

Bill, you want to jump in? (20:28)

Wolfe: (time 20:30)

Yeah, I want to say that what we have to learn is that the approach we’ve taken in the past – which are engineering approaches, e.g. “harden the coast” build seawalls, groins, jetties, flood proof structures – that is a failed approach.

I think we have to acknowledge that.

Until we face up to that engineering failure and lack of planning, then we can’t move forward.

So it takes more than political leadership, it takes acknowledgement of the mistakes that got us to this point.

If you just listen to the remarks of Governor Christie and compare them with Governor Cuomo you see the leadership, but you also see the acknowledgement on Cuomo’s part that  we need to change the way we’ve done things in the past.

Whereas our Governor in NJ has not gotten there.

For example, in 2006 [correction: 2010] there was a Pilot Study done in the Delaware Bayshore that looked at how to do adaptation at the local level.

The NJ DEP themselves, earlier in March of this year, released a vulnerability protocol and handbook or cookbook for local governments to use. And again, the tools are all out there, but they’re just totally being ignored for political and economic reasons.

But now I think that the devastation is going to change that perspective.

The Senate will hold a series of hearings which start tomorrow in Toms River at 11 am (see:  Meeting – the L.M. Hirshblond Room, 2nd Floor, at the Toms River Municipal Complex, 33 Washington Street, Toms River, NJ 08753 – agenda here).

The early signs are not good – the focus is on rebuilding; the guests are by invitation only, with a stress on local Mayors and the Budget and Appropriations Committee is in charge.

That is not a formula for enlightened policymaking.

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The Paine Pamphlets and Wikileaks

November 24th, 2012 1 comment

Thomas Paine - Bordentown, NJ

Could Paine’s Work Have Survived a Wikileaks Like Attack?

I now live in Bordentown – home of Thomas Paine: writer, activist, pamphleteer, and “Father of the American Revolution” –  and regularly visit his statue (see above).

I was just thinking of Paine as I read a column on Wikileaks by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian:  

Prosecution of Anonymous activists highlights war for Internet control – The US and allied governments exploit both law and cyber-attacks as a weapon to punish groups that challenge it

Greenwald is rightfully disturbed by what he characterizes as a “staggering array of extrajudicial punishments” imposed by governments and their allies to retaliate against, destroy, and prevent further leaks and publications by Wikileaks.

Before I excerpt Greenwald’s description of this “staggering array”, I thought I’d pose questions for any historians out there.

I am no historian and willingly confess my ignorance of Paine’s experiences. (In fact, I’m doing the Google right now, and researching this issue as I write this post and finding some fascinating stuff!)

I’ve read his books and vaguely know of Thomas Paine as a radical, a writer, activist pamphleteer, and editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine in Philadelphia. He was an active supporter of the move towards independence who aggressively used media as a weapon against imperial British rule.

The similarities between 18th century activists using pamphlets and today’s internet seem obvious, as do the imperial parallels between Britain and the US.

So I ask: How did the British and Loyalists respond to Paine in America? Did they deploy a bag of dirty tricks?

Like all forms of reactionary power, I imagine that the British took steps to suppress or block the publication and distribution of Paine’s pamphlets. But what if anything specifically did they do? What was the reaction and response to Paine?

Did they spy on him and infiltrate his circle of comrades? Pay Loyalist informers and agents provocateurs? Sponsor black propaganda?

We are aware that:

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was like a lightning bolt in the colonies. Its message was simple: Britain had no right to govern America, the Monarchy system itself was basically corrupt, and Americans would be much better off on their own. His arguments certainly struck a chord. The French and Indian War of the 1750s had shown the colonists just how far they had drifted from their English counterparts in nearly every aspect of politics and culture. England saw colonists as crude and uneducated, while the English were seen as drunk with power and subservient to a monarchy that had no meaning to the average colonist, who pretty much lived by his own rules.

Not everyone, though, read Paine’s work and nodded with approval. Hard-core loyalists were realizing that they had been blindsided by a powerful piece of propaganda. Anxious to put out the fires that Common Sense was igniting, they attempted to strike back. One of the very first to do so was a gentleman of means from the colony of Maryland — a planter named James Chalmers. […]

Nestled in a building on south Third Street beside Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church was Philadelphia’s most popular bookstore. Robert Bell’s shop carried books on the arts, sciences, languages, history, biography, divinity, law, voyages, travels, poetry, plays, novels and virtually anything else the well-read eighteenth-century gentleman might care to read. Bell also published pamphlets, and Chalmers was only too anxious to see his thoughts appear in the best bookshop in town. Chalmers must have enjoyed the ironic fact that it was Robert Bell who had published the first edition of Common Sense.

On Saturday, March 16, an advertisement first appeared in The Pennsylvania Ledger, a local newspaper which favored loyalist views. For three shillings, interested citizens could purchase Plain Truth; addressed to the Inhabitants of America. Written under the name “Candidus,” James Chalmers launched an all-out assault on Paine’s work. In the space of seventy pages, he resorted to everything he could think of to tear down Common Sense. For those who just couldn’t get enough of the Maryland loyalist’s writings, Additions to Plain Truth appeared on April 10 for only one shilling.

Unfortunately for Chalmers, he had done precisely the wrong thing.

While Paine had written in the plainest language possible in order to reach the common man with his argument, Chalmers took the high road with a strong emphasis on literary references and history through the ages. A semiliterate blacksmith who could muddle his way through Common Sense must have looked at Plain Truth and shrugged his shoulders. Many educated and learned men were already loyalists. It was the “great unwashed” who needed convincing that England was still their sovereign.

Chalmers, by his admission, chose to write Plain Truth after waiting week upon week for someone to respond with anger to Common Sense. None did. New York’s Constitutional Gazette called Paine’s work “a wonderful production,” while others were equally complimentary. Sensing great opposition, the Kent County planter boldly took the initiative. […]

Plain Truth would prove a failed document, doomed from the very start. Its first appearance on Robert Bell’s bookshelf occurred within days of one of the rebels’ greatest accomplishments. In Boston, the British had pulled out their occupying forces when they woke up one morning to find a battery of rebel artillery, “borrowed” from Fort Ticonderoga, bearing down on them. Winning a war against the redcoats suddenly seemed possible. Chalmers’ pleas for making peace with England couldn’t have been more ill-timed.

He may not have turned the tide, but Plain Truth was widely read. Just a few weeks after its appearance, a writer calling himself “Cato” spoke favorably of Chalmers in a letter to the people of Pennsylvania published in the Pennsylvania Ledger. Mentioning the recent pamphlet, the writer recommended it “as containing many judicious remarks upon the mischievous tenets and palpable absurdities held forth in the pamphlet so falsely called Common Sense.”

Did the British harass, intimidate, or shut down Paine’s financiers and publishers? Freeze his assets? Seize his bank accounts? Burn his pamphlets? Smash the printing presses? Close the bookstores?

Did they take steps to harass, intimidate, discredit, silence or jail him?  Trump up charges and prosecute him? Seek to extradite him from foreign lands? Intimidate and jail his sources?

Did they do a “staggering array” of stuff like this we now see occurring? Greenwald writes:

In December 2010, after WikiLeaks began publishing US diplomatic cables, it was hit with cyber-attacks so massive that the group was “forced to change its web address after the company providing its domain name cut off service”. After public demands and private pressure from US Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, Amazon then cut off all hosting services to WikiLeaks. Sophisticated cyber-attacks shortly thereafter forced the group entirely off all US website services when its California-based internet hosting provider, Everydns, terminated service, “saying it did so to prevent its other 500,000 customers of being affected by the intense cyber-attacks targeted at WikiLeaks”.

Meanwhile, Chairman Lieberman’s public pressure, by design, also led to the destruction of WikiLeaks’ ability to collect funds from supporters. Master Card and Visa both announced they would refuse to process payments to the group, as did America’s largest financial institution, Bank of America. Paypal not only did the same but froze all funds already in WikiLeaks’ accounts (almost two years later, a court in Iceland ruled that a Visa payment processor violated contract law by cutting of those services). On several occasions in both 2011 and 2012, WikiLeaks wasprevented from remaining online by cyber-attacks.

Over the past two years, then, this group – convicted of no crime but engaged in pathbreaking journalism that produced more scoops than all other media outlets combined and received numerous journalism awards – has been effectively prevented from functioning, receiving funds, or even maintaining a presence on US internet servers. While it’s unproven what direct role the US government played in these actions, it is unquestionably clear that a top US Senator successfully pressured private corporations to cut off its finances, and more important, neither the US nor its allies have taken any steps to discover and apprehend the perpetrators of the cyber-attacks that repeatedly targeted WikiLeaks, nor did it even investigate those attacks.

The ominous implications of all this have never been fully appreciated. Recall that all the way back in 2008, the Pentagon prepared a secret report (ultimately leaked to WikiLeaks) that decreed WikiLeaks to be a “threat to the US Army” and an enemy of the US. That report plotted tactics that “would damage and potentially destroy” its ability to function. That is exactly what came to pass.

So this was a case where the US government – through affirmative steps and/or approving acquiescence to criminal, sophisticated cyber-attacks – all but destroyed the ability of an adversarial group, convicted of no crime, to function on the internet. Who would possibly consider that power anything other than extremely disturbing? What possible political value can the internet serve, or journalism generally, if the US government, outside the confines of law, is empowered – as it did here – to cripple the operating abilities of any group which meaningfully challenges its policies and exposes its wrongdoing?

I agree with Greenwald that there are “ominous implications” from these attacks on Wikileaks.

Can anyone recommend a book on this topic?

Fall shot (11/24/12)

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November 23rd, 2012 No comments

Oedipus visiting the Sphinx; Attic cup, fifth century BCE (Vatican Museum)


The Remorse of Orestes (1862) by William Frederic Bouguereau (1825–1905). The three furies "furiously" pursue Orestes who has just stabbed his mother

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Happy Thanksgiving

November 22nd, 2012 No comments

(WXPN is playing Bookends as I post this)

In keeping with Naomi Kline’s message about “kidding ourselves”, Chris Hedges nails it again – hit the link in the title to read the whole thing:

Elites Will Make Gazans of Us All


Market forces and the military mechanisms that protect these forces are the sole ideology that governs industrial states and humans’ relationship to the natural world. It is an ideology that results in millions of dead and millions more displaced from their homes in the developing world. And the awful algebra of this ideology means that these forces will eventually be unleashed on us, too. Those who cannot be of use to market forces are considered expendable. They have no rights and legitimacy. Their existence, whether in Gaza or blighted postindustrial cities such as Camden, N.J., is considered a drain on efficiency and progress. They are viewed as refuse. And as refuse they not only have no voice and no freedom; they can be and are extinguished or imprisoned at will. This is a world where only corporate power and profit are sacred. It is a world of barbarism.

“In disposing of man’s labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity ‘man’ attached to that tag,” Karl Polanyi wrote in “The Great Transformation.” “Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as the victims of acute social dislocation through vice, crime, and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed. Finally, the market administration of purchasing power would periodically liquidate business enterprise, for shortages and surfeits of money would prove as disastrous to business as floods and droughts in primitive society. Undoubtedly, labor, land, and money markets are essential to a market economy. But no society could stand the effects of such a system of crude fictions even for the shortest stretch of time unless its human and natural substance as well as its business organization was protected against the ravages of this satanic mill.” […]

As the U.S. empire implodes, the harsher forms of violence employed on the outer reaches of empire are steadily migrating back to the homeland. At the same time, the internal systems of democratic governance have calcified. Centralized authority has devolved into the hands of an executive branch that slavishly serves global corporate interests. The press and the government’s judiciary and legislative branches have become toothless and decorative. The specter of terrorism, as in Israel, is used by the state to divert gargantuan expenditures to homeland security, the military and internal surveillance. Privacy is abolished. Dissent is treason. The military with its mantra of blind obedience and force characterizes the dark ethic of the wider culture. Beauty and truth are abolished. Culture is degraded into kitsch. The emotional and intellectual life of the citizenry is ravaged by spectacle, the tawdry and salacious, as well as by handfuls of painkillers and narcotics. Blind ambition, a lust for power and a grotesque personal vanity—exemplified by David Petraeus and his former mistress—are the engines of advancement. The concept of the common good is no longer part of the lexicon of power. This, as the novelist J.M. Coetzee writes, is “the black flower of civilization.” It is Rome under Diocletian. It is us. Empires, in the end, decay into despotic, murderous and corrupt regimes that finally consume themselves. And we, like Israel, are now coughing up blood.

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