Home View from Underground A return to the new normal

A return to the new normal

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s been a quiet few weeks for me around these parts. As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve been busy at work with less time for regular posts. Additionally, I spent a lot of energy over the past month, as many of have, focused on the presidential campaign. In that regard, it was an exhausting month.

I don’t need to tell you that my side lost on Tuesday night. Anyone who has read this site for bits and spurts or all of its ten-year life knows where my political sympathies lie, and for the past few days, I’ve been trying to come to terms with what the results of Tuesday’s election will mean for me and my family, for my friends and for my country. Some of you may be happy with the outcome; others are concerned for American freedoms and for friends who are minorities who feel abandoned by the government. We are facing a time of uncertainty in America that this country has not witnessed in over 150 years.

With this backdrop, bickering over transit policies can seem almost besides the point. What happens with the subway or a few Select Bus Service lines or a Laguardia AirTrain can seem inconsequential when basic rights are at stake. But transit has its place in our society. As John Raskin of the Riders Alliance wrote to the organization’s membership on Thursday, transit “makes our city more just, more inclusive, more compassionate, and more sustainable.” A better transit network with money well invested to solve mobility problems ensures better opportunity for New Yorkers of all stripes, and I’m not going to stop covering transit just because I’m also concerned about the direction of our national politics right now.

So I’m going to try to get back into the swing of regular updates here. I can’t promise you daily posts; my schedule doesn’t always allow it these days. But as the Second Ave. Subway nears opening and as other initiatives move forward, I’ll give them the attention they deserve so our city and state leaders can be assessed on their transit records. As New Yorkers, we’re in this together even if we may have differing takes on national politics. I hope you’ll continue to join me on the journey here.

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Rob November 14, 2016 - 8:28 am

Get a grip!

Of course your views are what they are, as diversity of thought is the one realm of diversity that is not welcomed in so much of NYC.

VLM November 14, 2016 - 8:36 am

You must be a peach in real life. Don’t be an asshole either. Ben tolerates far more dissent here than he probably should, and you’re being a grade A jerk about it.

tacony November 14, 2016 - 9:37 am

The New York State Senate is controlled by Republicans. While the current mayor is a “progressive” Democrat, the prior two were Republicans, and the last mayor was famously an independent thinker who detested national party politics in favor of a libertarian managerial-esque philosophy on governing. The current Governor is a ideologically-hollow power-player “DINO” who hasn’t shied away from threatening to lay off thousands of state government workers in exchange for broad concessions from public sector unions.

New York is not some especially liberal one-party town compared to other major cities in this country. It aint San Francisco, where the Democratic party is the right-wing party and fringe far-left ideas hold significant favor, and it aint Detroit, where the Democrats dominate all offices. There’s actually a significant amount of ideological diversity.

Peter L November 14, 2016 - 2:05 pm

As a resident of a state far removed from even a potential extension of the 7 train, I can assure you that the pols claiming to be Rs in NY state are far, far different than the Rs in my state (usually in the high forties in education spending but we’re working very hard to get to the coveted 50th spot – look out Mississippi!).

You are mistaken if you think you’re prepared.

Ben – one strategy I have found helpful: Stay the hell away from Twitter and Facebook.

Nathanael December 6, 2016 - 2:41 am

Trump is from NYC and has been a Democrat. He has zero loyalty to the Republican Party.

He’s basically out for himself. He has a record of shameless self-aggrandisement. And he likes firing people.

This is going to be *really weird*. Expect the unexpected. Trump apparently gets along really well with Andrew Cuomo (which actually kind of makes sense if you look at their personalities and love for building grandiose monuments).

Don’t expect any cabinet member to last more than a month. Seriously.

Spendmore Wastemor November 14, 2016 - 5:08 pm

There are two political parties in New York: The corruptocrat thieves and thieving corrupocrats. Choose wisely.

The only way New York’s endemic rapacity will improve is if the Chinese use the missile guidance and W-88 warhead tech Bill Clinton gave them, with one MIRV over the State House and the other over NYC City Hall. Anyone here with relatives in the PLA, please remind them to do it when both are in session.

AG November 15, 2016 - 5:22 pm

China makes too much money off the US… Why would they want to destroy it?? They Chinese stopped hating money about 30 years ago. They especially love NY real estate – and NY is their largest ex-pat community outside Asia itself.

Bolwerk November 14, 2016 - 9:11 pm

I don’t see much ideological diversity in our government. Not that there ever were many, but there are no conservatives of the William F. Buckley tribe. There are really no conservatives at all, unless you count flaky anti-intellectual Democrats who ride around in limousines. There are some nasty old-skoool ethnic power brokers. The New Deal liberals, who were at least inclusive and cared about the poor, have been in the grave for a generation. I guess there are some nonaligned people who aren’t dogmatists about anything like Jumaane Williams. Most of the rest, which is almost everybody in power, are a mix of NIMBY milquetoasts and market-will-fix-it neoliberals. They, you know, have solutions to problems that also just happen line their pockets. Innovation!

The only places in NYC where you find some institutional ideological diversity is academia and maybe NGOs, and the latter at least probably rarely tolerates thought that is left-of-center.

The last mayor is almost indistinguishable from the current one, except the last one was more instractably dogmatic. If something didn’t work, his idea was fine. It was the universe that was wrong. The one before that wasn’t so different when he was in office either, though he seems to be suffering from dementia today.

Nathanael December 6, 2016 - 2:42 am

For reference, Trump is pretty much one of the old-school 19th century power brokers. Corruption will be the order of the day. Ideology, not to much.

Kyle November 14, 2016 - 8:43 am

Hi Ben, I have been reading your blog for over three years now, and I just wanted to say, this is the first comment I’ve ever made on any of your posts, but I feel strongly that I should say I sympathize with you and the rest of the Hillary supporters and Democrats in the country as we are trying to heal the divide together. It’s hard to see just how we got to this point. But living in New York makes me so hopeful, because I see people every day, on the subway and elsewhere, who are so kind to one another. And as for the folks protesting, I am glad that they are making their voices heard. Really looking forward to reading more of your posts about the 2nd Ave., Subway and all the other transit topics in NYC.

BRNH November 14, 2016 - 9:39 am

“It’s hard to see just how we got to this point.”

No it’s not, you just had to step out of the progressive/Dem bubble.

AMH November 15, 2016 - 3:28 pm


AMH November 15, 2016 - 3:42 pm

This article perfectly articulates my own experience (just substitute Pennsyl-tucky for the Midwest).

Bolwerk November 16, 2016 - 1:39 pm

No, BRNH is absolutely right. Democrats didn’t see any of this coming. If you saw this coming, you were insulted or told to shut up. Everyone should step the out of his/her bubble. Start by acknowledging you have a bubble, because everyone has one.

And this isn’t just the party voters with sigma 1 IQs watching MSNBC and reading Kristof either. Strategists paid seven figures to figure this stuff out didn’t see it coming. They thought they had a grip on everything. They thought they could ignore the warning signs: the anger, the Bernie insurgence, Brexit, electoral math, Hil’s trust issues, e-mail, even the need to try to retain the blue firewall. They’re “electable,” afterall. They have a monopoly on being electability! Nobody else has ever been elected!

Plus the dogs in the Democratic party treat everyone who isn’t a card-carding sycophantic for Hillary and the DNC like complete shit. A Bernie supporter, an on-the-fence voter, and a David Duke supporter are indistinguishable to them. They insult dissenting Democrats (“Bernie Bros,” “where the boys are”), and then they insult the general electorate (“deplorables”). No shit a lot of people who didn’t want Trump didn’t want people like that in charge either. Most of them probably voted with their feet.

Seriously: even Trump, who has no filter at all, didn’t directly insult voters. He’s not that fucking arrogant.

Adirondacker12800 November 16, 2016 - 2:01 pm

He started out the campaign by calling Iowans stupid and it went down from there. The direct quote according to Politco.com, with a video of the complete rally where he said it, is: “How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”

Bolwerk November 16, 2016 - 2:42 pm

I guess he thinks they got a whole lot smarter!

Nathanael December 6, 2016 - 2:45 am

Bernie could’ve beat Trump.

Basically, there was a strong anti-establishment mood in the swing semi-rural areas. It was necessary to run an “outsider”, a “firebrand”, etc., and for that person to run a firey outsider campaign. And to be good at barnstorming.

Instead, the DNC ran the consummate insider, and she proceeded to run an insider campaign based on “experience”. Really fucking stupid. But then she was always a terrible campaigner.

Eric F November 14, 2016 - 8:58 am

“We are facing a time of uncertainty in America that this country has not witnessed in over 150 years.”

In the past 150 years, the country has been involved in two world wars, seen episodes of vast domestic strife, suffered through a decade plus depression and myriad financial panics, to say nothing of the Southern “Reconstruction” period.

The country also instituted an approximately 40 year immigration pause between the 1920s and mid 1960s, the latter half of which coincided with what liberals have contended was a halcyon period of economic equality that they have been chasing ever since.

With that backdrop, the idea that a guy won the presidency, more or less as an independent who is liberal socially but has an immigration restrictionist streak, is some sort of existential threat to anything is overwrought in my view, but I guess I don’t know much.

VLM November 14, 2016 - 9:08 am

Anyone who puts Steve Bannon in the White House as second in command doesn’t deserve the benefit of any doubt or the title “liberal socially.” But who knew so many ‘aggrieved’ white people were into transit policy?

Eric F November 14, 2016 - 9:15 am

Would it be fair to call him the Van Jones of the Trump administration?

VLM November 14, 2016 - 9:17 am

Definitely not. Are you familiar with Breitbart and Bannon’s past? It’s entirely disqualifying. Jones resigned from the administration seven months in for less.

Eric F November 14, 2016 - 9:21 am

You were thisclose to being ok with Trump until that Bannon appointment came down. As the Kinks once famously said, “Paranoia will destroy ya.”

Nathanael December 6, 2016 - 2:46 am

Bannon is a genuinely evil and disgusting person. And apparently Trump has already fired him, for making offensive comments about the Scottish Premier….

I think Trump is going to be quite incapable of running the government because he is never going to get a stable cabinet. He likes firing people too much.

Daniel Pecoraro November 14, 2016 - 11:20 am

Well, no — because one is a white supremacist, and the other is not.

Dianne November 15, 2016 - 5:26 pm

Hear, hear.

TimK November 14, 2016 - 10:14 am

“We are facing a time of uncertainty in America that this country has not witnessed in over 150 years.”

In the past 150 years, the country has been involved in two world wars, seen episodes of vast domestic strife, suffered through a decade plus depression and myriad financial panics, to say nothing of the Southern “Reconstruction” period.

And not at any time in the last 150 years has our system of government been under threat — not since the Civil War. But it is now.

Nathanael December 6, 2016 - 2:48 am

You do remember the coup in 2000, right? PATRIOT Act and suspension of the 4th Amendment?

How about Reagan’s October Surprise, committing treason to win the election — and how about Iran-Contra?

We’ve had a very shaky system of government for DECADES now. It’s not my fault if y’all ignored the warning signs.

A_L November 14, 2016 - 11:53 am

Pfff…is this the former blog about the Second Avenue Subway?

Jerrold November 14, 2016 - 12:08 pm

I used to say back in the 1980’s, “If you like Reagan, it must be that either you’re rich or you’re crazy”.
So NOW I have to say the same thing about Trump supporters.

Eric F November 14, 2016 - 12:14 pm

The rich didn’t vote for Trump. I was wondering where all the Clinton lawn signs were during this election cycle, and lo and behold I found them in front of all the $3 million houses in the tony suburbs. The guys going into those houses to fix the plumbing had Trump signs on their lawns.

Jerrold November 14, 2016 - 12:25 pm

Maybe the liberal rich didn’t vote for Trump, but there are a hell of a lot more conservative rich than liberal rich.

SEAN November 14, 2016 - 3:53 pm

Perhaps, but not all republicans were ttaken in by Trump’s obvious pandering to the Brietbart crowd during the campaign. Those who didn’t back Trump will face primary challenges as Eric Canter did a few years ago.

This will have a serious impact on transit funding & policy for years to come & in ways that can’t be measured both positive & negative just yet.

AG November 15, 2016 - 5:15 pm

No.. Rich Republicans voted for Clinton. Did you not miss how many of them lined up to stop Trump. They wanted the status quo to remain. It was mainly working class that voted for him. Not mentioned much in the mainstream media is that Trump got over 30% of the Latino vote.

Jerrold November 14, 2016 - 12:22 pm

P.S. His appointment of Bannon (who runs a website that is loved by every sick bigot in the country) only proves how wrong people are who say that he will “mellow” into the Presidency.

JEG November 14, 2016 - 1:41 pm

So this weekend, construction workers just started to install a canopy over one of the entrances to the 68th Street entrance to the Second Avenue subway. One guy using a power tool to sand off part of the metalwork, while one guy watched and four guys stood around talking. The number of people working on the other canopy over the other entrance? Zero. The weather has been great, and above ground work should really be moving forward at top speed, yet there still seems to be a lack of manpower dedicated to completing incomplete items.

AG November 15, 2016 - 5:19 pm

Yup. I see those types of things all the time in public works projects. The spoiled union workers and contractors who have their political links. They affect me more than the President does day to day.

Nathanael December 6, 2016 - 2:49 am

And interestingly, here in tiny Ithaca, NY I don’t see this sort of behavior; public works projects are done promptly, expeditiously, and with no lollygagging. The workers are working hard.

There’s something rotten specifically in NYC, guys.

AG December 6, 2016 - 9:12 pm

“Tiny Ithaca” being the key description. But it actually happens all over the country.

Anon November 15, 2016 - 7:04 pm

So, by “sand off part of the metalwork” you mean Grinding Metal? Grinding metal creates sparks, this requires a Hot Work Permit and a Fire Watch. The only job of the Fire Watch (Required by OSHA, A Federal Regulation) is, well I hope you can figure that out. As for the other “four guys stood around talking” I have no doubt that they are limited to these job titles: Superintendent, General Foreman, Foreman, Engineer, Contractor Safety, MTA Safety, MTA Engineer, Management Consultant, Consultant, et cetera…
Hell, the MTA probably employs more people per project than the contractor, I still can’t figure out what half of them do other than walk around all day. How many people do you need to inspect the job EVERY DAY, and they still miss a lot of stuff! Incompetent would be only one of the words I would use to describe them.

Though I don’t work on that site, I’ve been working on MTA sites for 10 years.

Larry Littlefield November 14, 2016 - 2:12 pm

Your generation lost the election before it even started. Even Sanders, who some young people thought would be the candidate of the future they would live in, wasn’t.

If you are in favor of stopping climate change, investing in the future, universal health care, etc., then Trump is your man. Not that he will do these things, or the Republican Congress would let him if he tried, but because the problems that led to the 2008 crash were never solved, and we may face a repeat — leading to a political wipeout as soon as 2018 and certainly in 2020.

In the meantime, if you are surprised by what happened and think the KKK is taking over the country, watch Michael Moore’s documentary. He’s the one who has been making sense to me. Or perhaps read this.


SEAN November 14, 2016 - 4:05 pm

It’s not so much the KKK it self, rather it’s the normalizing of bigotry & the antisocial tendencies that come with it. In my eyes that is not OK.

Larry Littlefield November 14, 2016 - 4:14 pm

This is going to be like the bikelash. You’ll see.

Complete with a role for Anthony Weiner.

And Clinton wouldn’t have been that good.

SEAN November 14, 2016 - 4:23 pm

Whah? Perhaps Weiner wasn’t circomsized?

Stewart Clamen November 14, 2016 - 2:29 pm

I sure hope this isn’t the new normal of Second Avenue Sagas comments! There are plenty of other venues for arguing about post-election political landscape. (If/when the new Administration links Transportation dollars to non-Transportation issues, we can ruminate on that then.)


Please post something transit-related as soon as possible, so that we can (hopefully) return to some normalcy on this forum (if nowhere else).

Thanks! All the best!

Spuds November 14, 2016 - 4:53 pm

Stew, thanks for the wise words. If the political rhetoric here doesn’t stop, then we all have lost our way on tackling the subject at hand.

Benjamin Kabak November 14, 2016 - 4:58 pm

I’m curious: Do you believe transportation and the issues surrounding it isn’t political?

Bryan November 14, 2016 - 6:45 pm

Shouldn’t be, but obviously is. Especially with the high costs associated with every transportation project.

(Perfect worlds being a figment of our imagination, and all.)

SEAN November 14, 2016 - 8:08 pm

Brian – I know what you are trying to say, but it is difficult to separate the two since policy is an extension of the body politic. I’m most worried over Pence & his extreme religious views merging into said body politic, but it’s little comfort knowing what Trump is capable of since his transition team includes Steve Bannon, Chris Christie, & maybe Sarah Palen.

Bolwerk November 15, 2016 - 8:54 am

Yes, it should be political. It’s policy. It affects people and how they live directly. It involves taking resources from the public and investing them in a certain way.

You can be a technocrat about normal administration, but not about how we invest in our future.

John November 15, 2016 - 7:36 pm

Don’t you think A native NYCer like Trump, whose family owns real estate all over manhattan, as President would be a boon for transit in this city? He has pledged to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure in the next 10 years. Maybe instead of fighting over something that can’t change, you can help shape the direction of something that will? Personally, I would like to see a DIRECT route (tunnel) from Manhattan to Staten Island, Subway AND Cars.

BTW, he won 57.2% of the vote (She had 40.4%) in Staten Island.
It wasn’t about race/religion/sex, it was about those who work for a living vs. those who feel/are entitled (to a living or otherwise.) Look at a chart of what percent of americans are employed over the years, you’ll understand.

Adirondacker12800 November 15, 2016 - 7:57 pm

to spend a trillion dollars there has to be a trillion dollars in taxes. His tax plan pays for the Dept. of Defense and not much more.

Spuds November 15, 2016 - 10:25 pm

Not necessarily. Better to move all those funds from money pits like wind turbines (which decimate populations of bats and birds, many being endangered in the first place) to actual infrastructure like mass transit, power distribution upgrades, as well as existing system maintenance. That’s a win-win whether you believe human induced climate change is an issue or not. It is better to look from a resource conservation measure and pollution control perspective. Very few people are going to argue with that and you are lore likely to see the fruits of your labors than not.

Spuds November 15, 2016 - 10:26 pm

* more likely

Nathanael December 6, 2016 - 3:00 am

OK, you’ve been misinformed about wind turbines.

No, they don’t significantly damage bird populations; shiny glass skyscrapers kill way, way, way, way more birds.

Ike November 15, 2016 - 11:13 pm

Wow. To some people it’s always still 1986 and there are always still (nonexistent, imaginary) “welfare queens.”

The rest of us are wary of the people MORE powerful than us (like rich con men who bilk contractors), not the people LESS powerful.

Vicki November 14, 2016 - 3:10 pm

Thank you.

Assuming for the moment that humanity survives the next few years, policy matters, and transportation in the largest city in the United States matters.

My old Cold War fears are back, but our country and species got through 1946 through 1990 by assuming that the nukes wouldn’t go off today, so we would teach our children to do algebra, and cook dinner, and plant trees, and so on. And if that assumption now proves false, we’ll still have lost nothing by maintaining the train cars, planting crops, and all the other billion activities that make up our complex civilization.

Eric F November 14, 2016 - 3:33 pm

For many of us, Cold War fears were reignited by the Democrats’ McCarthy tactics in accusing the political opposition of being Russian sympathizers. It was a scary campaign, bringing back fears of the witch hunts of that era we believed long over.

Larry Littlefield November 14, 2016 - 3:39 pm

What a battle between the KGB and the Chinese Army.

The former trying to hack embarrassing stuff on Clinton to help Trump, due to Syria and the Ukraine, and the latter trying to hack embarrassing stuff on Trump to help Clinton, due to trade.

Welcome to life the Banana Republic.

SEAN November 14, 2016 - 4:17 pm

Personally I prefer L. L. Bean, but Banana Republic is good too.

Nathanael December 6, 2016 - 3:02 am

Your geopolitical analysis matches mine, Larry.

And that’s OK. It’s time for the US Empire to decline. China is the rising power and we should be nice to it. Russia is in trouble and we should be nice to them too.

What we *have* to stop doing is acting as if we’re the world’s policeman. Of all people it’s GW Bush who said that… but he was right.

AG December 6, 2016 - 9:08 pm

It goes back to “Manifest Destiny”… It’s not easily to shake off.

AMH November 15, 2016 - 3:41 pm

Thanks Ben, I don’t know how you manage to do all you do, but we appreciate it.

Spuds November 15, 2016 - 10:26 pm


Nathanael December 6, 2016 - 3:09 am

I have to give some perspective.

The US somehow survived Andrew Jackson, who was fond of murdering people in duels, and violated a Supreme Court order for the purpose of committing genocide. Among other crimes.

The US somehow survived Ronald Reagan, who had Alzheimer’s while in office and made a “joke” on an open microphone which could have started World War III. And I haven’t mentioned Iran-Contra yet.

The US somehow survived the open theft of the Presidential election by the Supreme Court in 2000. And the theft in 1876. And multiple terrorist (KKK & related) overthrows of the legitimate elected state governments in the South in the 1870s. And civil wars, complete with competing governments, in the upper Midwest in the 1890s. And the outright refusal by Andrew Johnson to enforce the laws, and the failure of Congress to convict him on impeachment.

We’ve dealt with worse than Trump. Much worse. Trump *is* an indication that our political system is not fit for purpose — which we should have known already. We need to get rid of the electoral college and get rid of gerrymandering at a minimum. Really we need a parliamentary system with proportional representation so that more than two parties have a chance at getting elected. We need to end lifetime appointment for federal judges so that it stops being a high-stakes political game (14 year appointments work well). Et cetera. We need lots of structural reforms, or we’ll keep getting bullshit results like this one and the one in 2000.

But as for Trump himself? We’ve survived worse. Reagan gave a campaign speech promoting “states rights” at Philadelphia, MS, a city known for only one thing: the lynching of civil rights activists.


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