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Close call

Hoboken Fire Leaves People Homeless: MyFoxNY.com

I never had daughters, so I’m especially fond of my nieces. We had a close call last night when one of them was in this building fire in Hoboken NJ. (She’s the younger sister of the marine biologist.) Thank God she’s so athletic, because when she couldn’t get out through the entrance way, she had to jump from the second-floor window to the building next door. (She also led three people to safety, my brother tells me.)

She’s such a good kid, I’m so sorry she had to go through this but so very glad we didn’t lose her.

When I talked to her this morning, I asked how far she had to jump. She said about four feet. “You know, whenever I saw that roof, I’d say to myself, ‘Yeah, I could jump that if I had to,'” she said. And she did.

Moral of the story: Keep a “go bag”. She lost her birth certificate, passport, etc. and has to rebuild all that from scratch — which, as you probably already know, is a massive pain in the ass.

Second moral of the story: The building’s alarm system went off accidentally a while ago, and everything worked: Lights, sirens, etc. This time, nothing. (I’m thinking they couldn’t figure out why it was going off, so they turned it off.) TEST YOUR ALARM SYSTEMS.

Foster Friess

He’s the billionaire who offered birth control advice to women last week that consisted of telling us to keep two aspiring between our knees. He’s also the rich sugar daddy behind Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller.

Turns out he’s also an ultra-conservative Dominionist who’s part of the shadowy Council for National Policy, who is now pushing our boy Rick Santorum.

An open letter

From Will Bunch to the new owners of the Philadelphia newspapers.

Shorter Kevin Drum:

He was afraid someone might say boo and he’d lose the election.

Kevin doesn’t say anything about pissing off Big Pharma, but it has to be a factor.

Charlie Pierce:

Make no mistake about it. “Austerity” is a theological construct. It is about punishing the alleged sins of sloth and gluttony. It is about purging through pain. It is about enshrining into law every misbegotten slander about the poor and struggling that’s been floating around the political dialogue for generations. And it doesn’t work.

Deep thought

Time is going by so quickly now, it scares me. This is what my mother tried to tell me.

The Last Mountain

I watched “The Last Mountain” on Netflix today, the 2011 documentary about a citizen uprising in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia against Massey Energy’s attempt to remove the last mountain protecting residents from the worst contamination of the company’s mountaintop mining.

Absolutely infuriating, heartbreaking and inspiring in turn. I have to say, if Bobby Kennedy ran for president tomorrow, I’d go work for him. I didn’t think I could ever feel like that again.

P.S. You can watch the entire thing on YouTube for $2.99.

Virtually Speaking tonight

Sunday, Feb 19 | 9 pm eastern | 6 pm pacific |Virtually Speaking Sundays |Joan McCarter talks with Stuart Zechman, taking their inspiration from the Sunday morning talking heads. Plus this week’s Most Ridiculous Moment from Culture of Truth. Follow @JoanMcCarter @stuart_zechman @Bobblespeak Listen live and later on BTR

Transplant chain

Fascinating story in the Times about a chain of people who each donated kidneys to help someone else.

A few years ago, one of my cousins asked us all to be tested as kidney donors. I didn’t do it; I felt bad, but since my employment (and thus, my health coverage) has been so unstable, I didn’t want to risk the long-term side effects without insurance. (She did eventually get a donor and is fine now.)

Outsourcing

Public policy keeps driving working protections down, and so we have new realities like this:

Eric Simit, a Jamaican immigrant, has been driving private commuter vans, most commonly known as “dollar vans,” for 15 years in western Queens. He works six days a week — from morning rush hour to the end of the evening commute, charging $2 a ride.

It’s harder to make a profit lately, Simit says, as more vans hit the pavement. With little enforcement, many have found driving a “dollar van” an easy alternative to unemployment.

“It is the fastest way to make money fast,” he said.

But Simit, other van drivers and their fast-cash business are becoming a more formal means of transport. In what Baruch College Professor E.S. Savas calls “privatization by default,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the Taxi and Limousine Commission announced a yearlong pilot program in June, which allows vans to run on the discontinued B23, B71, B39, Q74 and Q79 routes. The target start date is Monday.

Faced with an $800 million deficit, Metropolitan Transportation Authority cut these five Brooklyn and Queens routes, along with several others, earlier this summer, because they were money pits. While the MTA could not break even on the routes despite large tax subsidies, immigrant entrepreneurs like Simit hope to operate vans along them and make a profit.

All five routes cost the authority over $4 per rider — the Q79 was the highest at $8.08. The vans will charge $2 a ride. Vans save on expenses by escaping the high labor costs, American Disability Act requirements and environmental standards that face the transportation authority.

Supporters of the program, including Transportation Alternatives, see the private vans as the best, if not the only way, to serve city neighborhoods in a time of decreased resources and rising costs. But critics see a creeping privatization of transportation that means less service, lower wages and more pollution.

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