Raise The Gas Tax

Drive down Millburn Avenue, make a right hand turn on to Vaux Hall Road to head into Union and you know what you will find? One pathetic piece of NJ roadway. It’s not very long but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in it’s utter lack of quality.  How about JFK Parkway, not too far The Mall at Short Hills, one of the more high-end retail centers in our country. Drive down that road and you are sure to feel a bounce or two. As a matter of fact, driver down almost any road in NJ and you are bound to see potholes. These daze, potholes come in all sizes, just like clothes – small, medium, large, all the way up to XXXXXL….and beyonds. Highways, byways, local roads, residential streets, avenues, lanes, boulevards…doesn’t matter what you call them.

Here in New Jersey we have potholes, lots of them. Now, these potholes are not something new. They have been there for months, some spots have had the same potholes for years. You can actually find sizable chunks of asphalt laying alongside some roads, right next to the hubcaps that get destroyed everytime a car finds it’s way into one of the many cavernous potholes that seem to be swallowing up New Jersey’s roadways.

Why haven’t they been fixed? I can’t say for sure but it might have something to do with the fact that the State of New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund is broke, busted, dazed and confused. For the past several years that fund has been looted by our elected officials to cover the shortfalls of our state budget. What is supposed to be a dedicated fund, used for the sole purpose of maintaining our state’s infrastructure is used but that.

At 14.5¢ per gallon, NJ currently has one of the lowest gasoline tax rates in the country. With gas prices lower than they’ve been in years, you’d think maybe now would be the time to raise that rate to replenish the fund that repairs and maintains the state’s crumbling infrastructure but nooooooo! A recent poll finds 60% of all surveyed opposed to raising the gas tax. So when presented with driving on our state’s shitty roadways in their current shitty condition or raising the gas tax to fix, NJ residents would rather leave things the way they are.

My first thought was these people must be morons! My second thought was “did the person who asked you the question explain about how low the gas tax rate is in NJ? That the transportation fund is broke? That the roads will probably get much, much worse if we don’t so something and soon?”

Common sense (and you know how much I love common sense) says if you have a problem that requires money to be fixed, but the money that’s supposed to be used to fix that problem is used for other purposes, you need to find another source for that money. So why don’t we?

Let’s start at the top…our “no new taxes” governor who has done a good a job as anyone looting the state coffers and leaving NJ high and dry. As for the legislature…please. Whether they are in Trenton or Washington DC, politicians suck at everything except getting themselves re-elected and screwing their constituents.  Not to be forgotten, are the residents of the Garden State, who don’t really want to pay a penny more for gas, especially now that it has dropped over a dollar per gallon in just the past few months. Listen, I like cheap gas as much as the next guy but I also like safe roads and not running the risk of gashing a tire or losing a hubcap everytime I go out the door.

I honestly don’t know what we are waiting for. It will probably take some sort of disaster for everyone to realize the fact that our infrastructure is getting older every day and crumbling right before our eyes. Next time you are driving, see how long it takes before you see a pothole, a hubcap or a whole car seemingly swallowed by what you’d think would be a smooth, nicely paved roadway. Maybe when you have to pay $200 for a new tire, hundreds of dollars more for a new rim, thousands of dollars to fix whatever else breaks, even tens of thousands of dollars for a new car, you’ll realize that a few cents for a gallon of gas isn’t so bad after all. In this case, common cents makes common sense.

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Better Business Bureau Daze

Earlier today I received a phone from the Better Business Bureau looking to “verify some information about Monarch.” I’m actually very cautious when it comes to these types of calls and try to end them as quickly as possible, but it was the BBB so I gave the person the benefit of the doubt.

Took a couple of minutes but I soon realized that this was not a verification call at all but a sales call wanting me to sign up for their online business service. I quickly verified that fact when I asked point blank was “is this call going to cost me something?”

“No” was the initial response. “This is only to inform you of the additional services we offer.”

Services they offer for a fee. At that point I almost said to the person “I’d like to speak with someone in your customer relations department, as I ‘d like to lodge a formal complaint about a business that I feel uses subversive tactics to sell their services to unsuspecting customers.” Boy, that would have been so much fun. Afterall, isn’t that what the BBB is known for? Taking on complaints and resolving disputes? That’s what I have used them for.

In the end, I decided it was just not worth the time. I very politely told the person I wasn’t interested, which of course made them very unhappy. I wonder if she complained to the Better Business Bureau about me?

 

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The Poland Imperative

In June of 1985, Linda and I got married, and spent our honeymoon in Italy. If you had told me it would 29+ years later before I would set foot in Europe again and the next visit there would be to Poland, well….I don’t know what I would have said to that. But last month, that is exactly where we found ourselves.

Our trip to Poland was wonderful. The people were friendly, the food was much better than expected, loved the history of the country, would love to go back someday. Unfortunately, no trip to that part of the world is totally complete without visiting one of the concentration camps. On Saturday of our trip we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau.

For a little bit of family perspective, I’m half Polish. My mother’s parents were both Polish. My grandfather Irving, who I’m named after, had 12 siblings and lived in Warsaw. Only he and his brother Phillip made it to America. What happened to my other 11 great aunts and uncles? No one really knows but after our trip to Auschwitz and learning the history of what happened to Poland and it’s people in WW II, it’s not hard to imagine.

The day was cold, outside and inside. I don’t think there are any words to describe what it is like to walk through this place where so much misery and death occurred.

Prior to being a concentration camp, Auschwitz was a Polish army barrack. From the outside, that’s a pretty good description. Walking through the first few buildings of our tour, I didn’t really feel much. It wasn’t until we walked into a room with a 40 to 50 foot glass enclosed area where there was hair, actually human hair, that I got that feeling of dread. Human hair that was taken from the corpses and sold for multiple uses. Than there are displays of clothes, luggage with names on them, pans and utensils, personal hygiene items, and more.

The "death wall" at Auschwitz.

The “death wall” at Auschwitz.

I could go on but the thought of that place still sends chills down to the bottom of my soul. A chill that I felt so deep that when I went to sleep that night, my feet were still cold. This was several hours later, after a hot shower, dinner and lots of walking around Krakow. It was as if my body were holding onto the ghosts of all the lives lost at Auschwitz and throughout Europe. I felt as though my family, my lost family, was somehow taking my body’s warmth from me. Warmth that I gladly gave them so that I could feel the utter coldness of their lives.

I’m going to admit something I haven’t told anyone about that day…not even Linda. The last building you go into before departing Auschwitz is the gas chamber where so many lives were ended. As I stood there silently, imagining the possibility that a member of my own family could have been one of the thousands of lives that were lost in this very place, I closed my eyes and whispered the words of Kaddish – the Jewish prayer of mourning. I will also admit that I did a better job of holding back the tears there than I am right now sitting in my nice warm office in NJ.

I titled this post “The Poland Imperative” because I believe that every person who lives in a free society has a moral obligation to visit a concentration camp. To learn about the crimes against all humanity that were committed. Not just to Poles, not just to Jews but to scholars who were considered a threat, religious leaders of all denominations, other minorities, the sick and those unable to work who were considered expendable, to any person who did not fit the Nazi ideal. We all must go so that this type of genocide can never occur again. That the millions who died will never be forgotten. That their memories will forever be a blessing to all who mourn them now and forever.

 

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Holiday Card Daze

It’s that time of year….the most wonderful time of year. Holiday lights, holiday cheer and the annual onslaught of holiday cards. I do enjoy getting cards from my friends and family, the ones that I have actually seen and/or spoken to within the last year. Love to see how their kids have grown and how my friends look.

Than there are the others. The cards you get from people who, not only have you not seen this year, but in many case it’s been many years. What makes these folks think I want to get a holiday card from them? Hell, I don’t know you anymore and, in many cases, I don’t want to know you anymore. Your kids? I would not know them if they fell in my lap.

There  is one particular family that really stands out in the crowd. We have not seen or spoken to these folks in 10 years, but every year like clockwork, they send us a holiday card. This year’s card came with a loverly message tell us how wonderful life is. Our kids are great, our life is great, we are just the greatest.  Bull shit! You know what this card said to me this year? “Look at me. Last year I was 2o pounds overweight, now it’s 30! And don’t we look happy. Of course you do because your the only one who doesn’t know your husband has been cheating on you for years (at least that’s the popular belief).”

Here’s my message to all of you out there that don’t know me anymore, don’t know Linda anymore, don’t know my kids anymore. I don’t want your holiday cards anymore. Save the paper, save the stamp, send the card to someone who really cares because I really don’t.

And if you are reading this and sent us a card but didn’t get one in return, do the math.

Edit:  I should add that as of 12/20, our cards have not been mailed. Please don’t get insulted if you haven’t received yours…at least not yet.

 

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Common Sense Gun Control

And here we go again. Another shooting at school, more senseless killings of Americans who are way to young in a place that is supposed to be a safe haven. What drives people to do such things is beyond my comprehension of human nature. What I do know is that something needs to be done and done now.

As with an emotionally charged issue, the conversation is dominated by the fringes. On one side, you have folks that want all guns banned.  Let me tell you Mr. and Mrs Lefty, that is never going to happen and you just need to come to that realization.

On the other side you have the NRA and their constitution waving gun fanatics who claim the right to keep and bear arms is their god given right. I have a question for you Mr. and Mrs. Righty.  Do you think our founding fathers had semi-automatic weapons in mind when they wrote? They were using single shot muskets back in the day. Why don’t you use one of those one of these instead of an Uzi?

This is like a game of chicken and no one wants to be the first to flinch, the first to show weakness, the first to give an inch for fear of having to give more than the other side. That is exactly why nothing gets done.

So what do we need?  Leadership, someone with the balls to take on both sides and get them to talk to each other. The problem is the NRA has so much money and so many elected officials hiding their heads in the sand for fear of Wayne LaPierre and his armed band of merry men. I’m not saying the fault is entirely on the right, it’s just that they yell louder and carry a much bigger stick. Unfortunately, it’s a not a stick that’s inflicting all the damage.

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Legal Sports Gambling Daze

Many years ago, when the annual boys golf trip used to take me to Vegas, our trip coincided with The Preakness Stakes. On the day of the race, we’d usually leave for the golf course around 7 AM Pacific Time/10 AM Eastern Time, and the sports book would already be starting to fill up. By the time we got back to the hotel, usually just in time for the race, it was standing room only and you could feel the excitement in the air. It’s not just horse racing. Name a sport and you can bet on it Las Vegas.

With 4 of the casinos in Atlantic City having closed or soon to be closed, and with the competition from casinos in neighboring states continuing to put pressure on the remaining NJ casinos, the Garden State has decided to allow legal gambling in their casinos. So what do the NFL, MLB, NBA,  NHL and NCAA do?  They sue to stop legalized gambling in NJ for fear that it will hurt the “integrity of the game.” Oh give me a break.

Forgetting the other 3 professional sports, let’s focus on the NFL. The NFL –  home of Fantasy Football – thinks letting casinos in NJ take bets on their games is going to have an effect on the integrity of their sport? This is from a league that openly sponsors Fantasy Football, actually has entire shows devoted to Fantasy Leagues on their own TV network and the other networks that carry their sport to millions of viewers. What do they think all these people who play Fantasy Football are doing with all this information? Playing for for or points or peanuts? No, Fantasy Football is organized gambling encouraged by the NFL as a way to boost it’s popularity, drive-up TV ratings and keep fans interested. During some TV courage, they even run the fantasy points in the scroll at the bottom of the TV. You can smell the hypocrisy from here all the way to NFL headquarters.

And don’t get me started on the NCAA and their objections. The NCAA is an organization that can’t get out of it’s own way right now and could be headed to the sports organization graveyard in the next few years if they are not careful. I read somewhere the NCAA Basketball Tournament is the number one sports gambling event in the United States. Ask anyone who has been to Vegas for the first weekend of the tournament and they will tell how insane things are. The sports books routinely fill up when the first games tip-off and don’t clear out until the last game ends some 12 hours later.

Personally, I don’t gamble on sports, don’t play fantasy, haven’t participated in NCAA tournament pool in years and have only been to the race track once or twice in post 5 or 6 years. But I know lots of people who are big fantasy players, have more than one team, have elaborate draft day events at home or the local sports bar, and who spend their entire Sunday watching NFL RedZone so they can keep track of their fantasy points. If you took the fantasy out of football, I wonder how many of these diehard fans would still watch? What effect this would have the ratings? Subsequently the effect on the pocketbooks of the league, the owners, and the players.

My opinion is that the popularity of the NFL is driven in no way by the illegal gambling that goes on through Fantasy Football. For the NFL to deny this is the height of hypocrisy and for them to sue the State of New Jersey to keep gambling on their sport illegal because it calls into question “the integrity of the game” is just beyond crazy and a waste of money for the state of NJ to defend itself. Makes me think that it’s not only the players who have been getting their bells rung all these years, but it’s really the owners and league officials who should have their heads examined.

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A Questioning of Faith

A couple of weeks ago was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. A time when we members of the tribe ask for forgiveness for our sins – sins against family, sins against friends, sins against God.

I believe in friends, I believe in family, as for God….not so much. I believe that something is out there, I’m just not sure what or who or where it is. The funny thing about it is despite my lack of belief in the ultimate being, I spend the entire day of  Yom Kippur in temple, arriving before 10 when the morning services start and leaving after the final blow of the shofar about 8 hours later.  Yom Kippur should actually end at sunset (or about 6:45 on that particular day) but as a reform Jew, Yom Kippur ends early to build in travel time for break fast.  And yes, I have now sinned for saying that.

Most people leave temple after the morning service and return later that afternoon for Yizkhor, the memorial service where you honor those immediate relatives who have passed. This is only my 2nd year that I have attended Yizkhor as a mourner. I went in years past but mostly to support Linda and her mom.

My day in temple is spent learning, reflecting, listening to the sounds of the day, checking out the fall fashions and laughing at folks trying to hide the fact that they are on their cell phones (including a member our clergy’s wife playing Tetris – OY!).  Most of the time, I don’t even participate in the responsive readings that go on. I have found that my faith and my spirituality does not come from a prayer book.

When I go to temple, a time when my most people reaffirm their belief in God, is the time that I actually find myself questioning God’s existence. Mostly because I don’t really think about religion or God all that much but when you’re in temple, that’s what you think about. I have often stated that “religion is the root of all evil” and, in today’s world, I think that is more true than ever.

Don’t get me wrong. I consider myself 100% Jewish, raised my kids that way, go to temple more than 2 times a year (which is more than I can say for about 90% of our temple members…and I’ve sinned again). For me, I don’t equate my Jewishness with a belief in God. Sounds a bit crazy but I think faith and spirituality are what you make of it, not necessarily an organized belief system in a higher power.

During the Jewish High Holidays which just ended, most Jews are supposed to reaffirm their belief in “Adonai,” the one true God. As for me, I reaffirmed my belief that if there is one true God, he put me here to question everything about him or her, about religion, about everything that is going on the world, and to try and make one other person question it as well. And I believe that if there really was a God, he’d answer my prayers that my blog would have thousands (let’s make that millions) of readers and I’d get rich just from telling folks my opinions.

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