EDISON – There’s a special place in hell for anyone who thinks hijacking a hospital’s computer network is a perfectly fine way to make money. We may never know how much Hackensack Meridian Health paid to cyber-bandits who seized control of its massive computer system, forcing the hospital to pay ransom to get it back. Held hostage were patients’ electronic records, making it difficult for doctors and nurses to provide care. NJ 101.5 reports the hospital network – with 17 major facilities – needed to reschedule non-emergency surgeries, while the hospital negotiated a ransom payment with some of the lowest creatures consuming oxygen on our planet. The hospital system is now recovering and restoring, while offering a weary word of warning to other major institutions that think they have everything covered.

OFF THE RAILS – It’s unclear why NJ Transit needs state legislation to force it to do its job. But commuters, one must assume, are applauding a proposed law that choo-chooed through the state Assembly yesterday, requiring NJ Transit to formally examine the possibility of restoring the one-seat ride to Manhattan on the Raritan Valley line during peak times. Commuters on that line are quick to remind you that the single-ride service into NYC was stopped last year, and off-peak was restored last month. Now, Raritan Valley riders are grumbling that they are on the only line that does not get them into Manhattan directly during rush hour. Curious if this legislation will do anything other than incur the expense for yet another “study.”

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OFF THE RAILS – The feds are now telling us what we’ve known for years: NJ Transit is a wreck. The Federal Transit Administration has crunched some data and – hey, guess what? NJ Transit has the worst trains in the nation, with the most breakdowns of any other system in America last year. This dubious honor reverted back to New Jersey, after the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority “won” the contest in 2017 and 2016. NJ Transit had 375 total mechanical failures last year, meaning these crappy trains didn’t have the ability to either start a trip or finish it. With all the money and investment in New Jersey, how can this happen?

EAST RUTHERFORD – There used to be plenty of sugar at that corner candy store. But that’s just a gumdrop in the bucket when compared to this candy store that is opening in the Meadowlands’ mega-mall. We’re talking 22,000 square feet of candy, where everything is mega, mega, mega. There’s an entire garden of 10,000 lollipops, a Statue of Liberty adorned with 1.5 million green jellybeans and its own branded shops, in this department store bursting with sugar. You can swing by Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish, Nerds, Starburst and, if you are not yet suffering from rapid sugar shock and diabetic nerve pain, you can finish off at Reese’s. It's unclear if the newly-constructed space includes bays for easy ambulance access, but we assume they are there for customer convenience.

BRIEFING BREATHER: You can't kill yourself by holding your breath.

MIDDLESEX BOROUGH – Here's a lesson for fresh-faced public officials getting sworn in Jan. 1: Never, ever handle money. The outgoing borough mayor is leaving under a cloud of suspicion as his term ends Dec. 31. A state grand jury has indicted Mayor Ronald J. DiMura for allegedly pilfering $190,000 from local political campaigns and misusing a charity he runs to launder that money. NJ.com says DiMura, 63, faces a slew of criminal charges for using his six years as treasurer of the local Democratic campaign committee to steal donations meant for political use. Mayor since 2015, he was defeated for re-election by Republican challenger John Madden in the fall.

TRENTON – For far too long, New Jersey has been treated like a dumping ground by surrounding states. Calling this unsavory behavior “criminal” isn’t a metaphor. Aptly named “dirt brokers” have been hauling toxic soil and contaminated debris into the Garden State, claiming it’s clean fill and safely recycled material, NJ Spotlight reports. New Jersey has finally decided to protect us, passing a law that would require unsavory dirt brokers and their employees to undergo extensive criminal background checks. That’s a strong beginning, but the proof is going to be in enforcement — and the DEP will face more than a few challenges dealing in the muck of an industry that many rarely see. The good news: There are reputable companies in the industry, likely pleased to see this crackdown.

EDISON – Chef Rachael Ray and actor Denis Leary brought holiday cheer to township firefighters yesterday, catering a buffet luncheon at a Route 27 firehouse to honor their community service. And the celebrity duo didn’t arrive empty-handed, awarding a $25,000 grant for new fire training equipment. The grant is from the Leary Firefighters Foundation, which the Home News Tribune says the actor created after a 1999 fire in Worcester, Ma, claimed the life of Leary's cousin and five other firemen. Ray is on its board of directors. The Edison firehouse visit will air Dec. 23 on the “Rachael Ray Show” on WABC, perfect for those who happen to watch TV on a weekday afternoon.

PATERSON – They must have been darn good pancakes. Customers drove a waitress to tears with a generous $1,200 tip for their modest tab at Main Street’s IHOP. Zellie Thomas, a third-grade public school math teacher, invited a group of friends to breakfast Saturday, each ready with a crisp new $100 bill. NJ.com says the 30-year-old waitress, a mother of two youngsters, told her manager about their big bonus, then she tried to give it back. But, she melted into tears when told her customers wanted to “make a difference in someone’s life” for the holidays. Inspired by “Shock & Claus” giveaways in Colorado and Georgia, Thomas says his friends hope to inspire others: “All it takes is a group of friends to come together to change someone else’s life.”

IN OTHER IMPORTANT NEWS

DALLAS – Let’s just say the holidays came early for one bank customer, discovering the bank put more than $37 million into her account. Of course, it was all short-lived at LegacyTexas Bank, yet you can imagine the shock on the woman’s face when she checked her balance, finding $37,203,337 in unexplainable funds. “I was like, 'wow, we have a lot of money,'” she told KTVT-TV. The red-faced bank explained it was a dumb clerical error; she made a foreign currency deposit and the transaction was manually entered into the system by someone clearly not paying attention.

THIS DAY IN HISTORY

Happy Birthday to the one-way traffic sign, launched on this day in 1791 in New York. Perhaps there was a back-up of horses and carts – one of America’s first traffic jams.

WORD OF THE DAY

Anglewitch – [ANG-gəl-wich] – noun

Definition: An ugly, little worm, often used as fish bait

Example: Perhaps impeaching Democrats can also refer to Donald Trump as an anglewitch?

WIT OF THE DAY

“Getting an audience is hard. Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose and of action over a long period of time.” 

― Bruce Springsteen

TODAY'S TRUMPISM

“I have to start by saying I'm a big fan, a very big fan, of the United Nations and all it stands for... the concept of the United Nations and the fact that the United Nations is in New York is very important to me and very important to the world, as far as I am concerned. So I am a big fan.”

...then...

“The United Nations is not a friend of democracy. It's not a friend to freedom. It's not a friend even to the United States of America, where as all know, it has its home. And it surely isn’t a friend to Israel.”

- Donald J. Trump

WEATHER IN A WORD

Yuck

THE NEW 60
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by Andy Landorf & John Colquhoun