Author Archive: Bill Orr

About Bill Orr

University of Virginia Masters in English. Have lived in Argentina, Panama, Delaware, Virginia, California, NYC, and New Jersey for the last 25 years. Former editor and manager at McGraw-Hill, former President of Gay Activist Alliance of NJ, founder of NJ ActUp, and North Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) in Newark.

Medical Pot Users Beware

Promoted from the diaries by Rosi

The Compassionate Marijuana Medical Use Act takes effect in July.  I suspect, however, it might be as much as another six months before legally purchasing medical marijuana will be a reality.  Be careful about not jumping the gun. First, regulations have to be clarified and issued, distribution sites have to be approved, meet rigid standards, and set up, users have to be certified by a doctor, and, where a caregiver will purchase the marijuana, the care giver needs to undergo a criminal background check.  

Our Governor-General, through his buddies in the legislature, assured that New Jersey’s law is the most restrictive in the nation. Unlike other states, individuals can not grow their own medicinal pot, are limited to only 2 oz per month, and will likely have fewer sites from which to purchase.

There are also significant work-related issues.

See: http://www.nj.com/business/ind…

The act, for example, doesn’t allow the use in the workplace. What it does is protect users from being arrested. Under a strict reading of the law a company can fire someone who tests positive for medical marijuana even if it was used outside of work. Discrimination claims at this point are problematic because the act does not require the employer to accommodate any medical use.  

These and other issues might well be litigated at some point, but it would helpful if the NJ Department of Health & Senior Services (DH&SS) issue further clarifications in their regulations.  DH&SS at some point will post proposed regulations on their website.  People who want to have a say in the regulations can review 2008-2009 Bill S119 and address comments to the attention of the DH&SS Commissioner.  

The worst is yet to come but …

Governor Christie’s recent Executive Orders and his planned budget cuts for the current fiscal year are only the beginning of the oncoming tsunami.

He has said, “I’m gonna govern like a one-termer.” His axe has started to fall and will continue to fall in areas such as Abbott expenditures, state pension funding, NJEA,  environmental regulations, aid to municipalities, Property Tax Relief Fund, affordable housing, homeowner rebates, income tax, health care expenditures and more.  His recent reticence to declare a state Snow Emergency because he knew NJ first had to commit its own funds, was just a small example of what is to come.

He is facing a huge shortfall in next years’ budget which may be well in excess of $8 billion.  As  conservative Eileen Norcross points out,  “With the nation’s highest property taxes (an average of $7,000 per capita), an eight-bracket, progressive income tax, a $45 billion debt load, and the net loss of more than half a million residents since 2000, New Jersey is suffering the painful fallout of its long-running policy of fleecing residents to benefit politically-connected special interests.”  And the conservatives have many “solutions.”

There will be plenty to keep concerned progressives furious over our governor’s upcoming moves, not only as he outlines in March his budget for the upcoming year, but as he addresses policies regarding the environment, education, health care, law, and much more.  Progressives might do well to “understand the enemy,” and  pick and choose their fights lest they become viewed as the “party of NO.” State residents do seem to like some of Christie’s axe-wielding ways, yet these very residents voted for Corzine just four years ago and are not necessarily ready to embrace all plans of our Governor-General.

I for one will not be concerned when he attacks special interests, including  excessive salaries for teachers, municipal employees, and agency staff, as well as unwarranted benefits in the State pension plan.  I will be concerned when his policies threaten damage to education, health, the environment, civil rights, affordable housing and services for the disenfranchised.

We must not allow the enormity of Christie’s tsunami to overwhelm us such   that we just flail away in a vicious, tumultuous  sea. But rather use laser-like focus and stand up for critical, core beliefs.  As a character in Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures says, “It is the ripple, not the sea.”  

P.S. For a conservative perspective on NJ fiscal problems, see Eileen Norcross (A Rutgers graduate and contributor  to Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and Forbes):

http://newjersey.mercatus.org/…

and

http://reason.com/archives/201…

What’s the Tea Party All About?

So what is the New Jersey Tea Party all about? I gather its members are not well known for drinking tea, tossing tea into the Boston harbor, nor acting with the proper etiquette expected at a tea party.  They do not gather at 4:00 PM with scones and cucumber sandwiches as do the British, nor do they attend a tea ceremony – a moment of beauty, quietude and politeness toward others – as do the Japanese.  

And yet I hear this busy, fractious Tea Party is active in New Jersey.

Dear readers please explain this group to me and how progressives should respond.

Sincerely,

Your Confused Scribe

Go Saints! Go Scott Fujita!

Okay, Bill’s got an interesting reason to root for the Saints. Works for me, but I was already behind the Saints. Here’s some more on Fujita’s politics –  here, here, and here. Go Saints! Go Fujita! Who are you rooting for today, Blue Jersey? – Promoted by Rosi

As people gather Sunday for the annual ritual of watching the Super Bowl, I can’t help but support the Saints – a team from post-Katrina New Orleans.  Then there’s the Saints’ star linebacker Scott Fujita, a socially conscious athlete who has been outspoken in support of  pro-abortion rights, gay rights and civil liberties. Talk about a progressive athlete… wow!

In an October 6, 2009, interview with David Zirin of the Nation Magazine, Scott explained why he was supporting the upcoming National Equality March for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights in Washington DC. “By and large in this country the issue of gay rights and equality should be past the point of debate.” On other people’s opposition to gay adoption, he indicated, “what that is really saying is that the concern with one’s sexual orientation or one’s sexual preference outweighs what’s really important, and that’s finding safe homes for children.” On religion he stated, “I don’t like it when people use God or Jesus Christ in this whole debate, if you could even call it a debate. Jesus Christ to me, is probably the most compassionate and revolutionary thinker of all time.”

In the NYTimes (02/02/10) he talked about another football player Tim Tebow (Quarterback – Florida Gators)  who will be featured in an anti-abortion Super Bowl commercial.  Scott Fujita said, “The idea of focusing on the family – who wouldn’t agree with that? But the means of doing so, he and I might not see eye to eye all the way.”  In its infinite wisdom CBS will air the anti-abortion commercial but has refused to air a gay dating service commercial.

A self-described “big white guy with the Japanese name,” he traces his concern for civil liberties to his family’s experience with Japanese internment camps during World War II. As an infant he was adopted by a Japanese-American family. His grandmother had been placed in such a camp and his adopter father was born in the camp.  Scott Fujita said to Michel Silver of Yahoo Sports, “It’s a horrible chapter in our history… and I wasn’t even taught about it in school. It’s something I feel very strong about, especially after 9/11, where there were so may similarities with people’s civil liberties being violated.”

Off hand I can not think of a NJ pro athlete who is nearly as progressive.  Can you?

Go Saints!  Go Scott Fujita!

Sports & Entertainment: 3 Ill-Conceived Ventures

Three Bad Ideas: 1) The notion that the State of New Jersey could do a good job running Sports & Entertainment venues; 2. that Xanadu would become a great success; and 3) that the NJ Nets Basketball team could be successfully moved to Brooklyn.

First lets address one delusion of Governor Christie, as reported in today’s Record. Regarding any deal between the Nets and the Devils under which the the basketball team would move to Newark, Governor Christie said,”Nothing comes to my desk unless I want it to come to my desk.”  Dear Mr. Governor, you are the governor, and like it or not you can’t always control what lands on your desk.  Check with your predecessors.

The State’s ownership and management of Sports & Entertainment venues historically has been rife with over-bloated salaries, perks for politicians, waste, and fraud.  The result: a run on the State treasury. The state should sell off its assets, get out of this business, and turn it over to private enterprise.

Only other delusional people could have believed in the success of Xanadu.  Beyond being the turnpike’s great eyesore, it had little to offer.  Yes, an indoor ski slope was an innovative idea, but most of the other projects – restaurants, shops, a movie theater –  are already available in many  malls without having to face the potential Meadowlands traffic congestion, turnpike toll fees, Xanadu parking fees, and long walks within the huge facility.  As a nearby resident I saw little in Xanadu that I could not find  find a few miles from where I live (or probably from where you live) – and without the headaches. (Naturally sunday football rituals at the stadium are not materially affected.)

The state could wait several years until the economy improves substantially and perhaps negotiate a strong financial deal for the Xanadu property, but in the meantime the existing structures would deteriorate while the state treasury struggles.  According to the Record,  real estate executive Steve Ross is in serious talks to take over Xanadu.  Such a deal, negotiated wisely by the state, could be a win-win.  The state would get revenue from the sale, and with some fresh rethinking from new ownership, Xanadu might yet become a success.

As a longtime NJ Nets fan, the plan of its real estate owner to move the team to Brooklyn has been so far an equally ill-conceived venture – fraught with delays, uncertainty and the Perils of Pauline. The results: the owner has starved the team of money and talent, reduced the fan base,  entered into a convoluted ownership arrangement with a wealthy Russian sports team owner whose plans are unclear, and as a final insult removed “NJ”, leaving only “NETS”, as the name for this team whose roots are long entwined in the history of NJ sports.

NJ fans want a NJ basketball team.  It belongs in Newark’s Prudential Center.  The IZOD Arena is an aging venue that inside resembles a larger version of your high school basketball arena, full of concrete blocks, few amenities, and ugliness.  It did serve a purpose and offered value to sports fans, but it no longer meets the needs of  a modern sports arena.  It would cost a huge sum to renovate – funds for which the State is in no position to borrow money.

If a private buyer for the IZOD Arena could be found, that would be great. Let the buyer refurbish it.  However, without at least one major sports team in the arena it probably is not financially viable. Prolonging its life as a state entity will only result in  ongoing deficits and in reduced income for both Prudential Center and IZOD Arena as they compete for entertainment attractions.

Our state has more pressing problems now.  It should get out of the S&E business, make as good a deal as it can over the Xanadu property, shed itself of the IZOD Arena, and encourage the NJ Nets to move to Newark.   The Governor, wearing his hat as S&E Czar, has tough decisions to make. They will land on his desk whether he wants them to or not.  But heck, isn’t that his job?

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – the Take Away

At todays Senate hearing on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Chair Carl Levin strongly supported repealing the law, saying,”The policy makes no sense.” Vice Chair John McCain opposed repeal indicating, “In the middle of two wars it is not wise… bad for discipline,and morale…”

Defense Secretary Gates announced he has appointed a working group to examine the matter and to make recommendations by the end of the year on how to implement such a repeal. He emphasized, however, it is up to congress to repeal the law. Democratic Senator Webb suggested he would like to hear the results of this working group before congress decides what to do.

THE PROBLEMS: Don’t Ak Don’t tell has been law since 1993, during which period there has been plenty of time for working groups to study the matter.  Indeed, President Obama, a known supporter of repeal,  has been in office for over a year, yet not until now is a serious study about to be undertaken, and it will last a year. And Gates implied it would take an additional year to implement it. Another problem: lengthy delays served to scuttle President Clinton’s desire to end this form of discrimination, and could easily play the same role now, particularly in the midst of midtem elections. A final problem:  it is not clear that the Senate could muster 60 votes to repeal the law.

THE SOLUTIONS: Senate and House leaders, and the President should use their muscle to get the needed votes soon,OR the repeal should be included as a clause in the next military authorization bill, in which case 60 votes (unlikely) would be needed to remove the clause.  

THE UBER SOLUTION: It’s time to show some audacity, Mr. Commander in Chief.  Our LGBT troops, their families and friends deserve no less.  “JUST DO IT.”

For they’d none of ’em be missed

Promoted from the diaries by Rosi. Clever use of G&S, and this reminds me a bit of tabbycat31’s diary of things that should just go away. Who’s on your list, today, Blue Jersey?

“As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,

I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list

Of society offenders who might well be underground,

And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!”

Ko-Ko in the Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan

Ah, for a progressive, my list of offenders who never would be missed is exceedingly long. Where to begin? What the heck… why not start with Senator Ron Rice Sr. (D-Essex County)    

–  About 25 years ago in Newark’s City Council he proposed a bill forbidding Newark hospitals from providing AIDS care to non-Newark residents.

–  A steadfast opponent of syringe exchange.

–  Voted against Marriage equality.

–  Voted against medical marijuana.

“The task of filling up the blanks I’d rather leave to you.

But it really doesn’t matter whom you put upon the list,

For they’d none of ’em be missed – they’d none of ’em be missed!”

Help for Haitian Refugees in NJ

Promoted from the diaries by Rosi

Help for Haitian Refugees in NJ

According to the Star Ledger (01/31/10) a state confidential document indicates, “by mid-February commercial flights carrying Haitians holding U.S. visas are expected to arrive in the USA, and many of the refugees will be seeking to join relatives in New Jersey.   Our state has the fourth largest Haitian population in the country, with nearly 57,000 NJ residents born in Haiti or of Haitian ancestry. Most of them live in Essex and Union counties.”  This “surge,” the article says, will create a humanitarian crisis and put new pressure on a state treasury already in peril.

In the last crisis when Haitian refugees arrived in the USA, people in NJ responded. The current crisis is of a much higher order as these refugees will need substantial medical, educational, housing, and psych-social services.  Their US relatives  will hep but cannot assume the large burden.

Hopefully the federal government will provide financial assistance.  More important there is an immediate need for state and  county government to create and implement aggressive assistance plans. This will be an early test of the compassion and skills of Governor Christie’s new administration, with support from the legislature.

A wide variety of NJ social/medical agencies and foundations have an equally important role. Like any large population some refugees will be gay, have chronic illnesses, have legal needs, etc.

Haitians, who have suffered  for years from terrible governance and most recently from a devastating earthquake, have proven themselves to be resilient, vibrant, creative, and hardworking.  They can contribute to the mosaic and economic strength of our state, but first they will need our  help.

For information on how you can help go to www.nj4haiti.org

     

Obama asks and tells

Until now when the President was asked when he would end “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” his response was “Don’t ask me when and I won’t tell you.”  In the State of the Union he said, “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. (Applause.) It’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)”  The most telling pat of his statement is “I will work with congress…”  True, rather than issuing an Executive Order, getting the law repealed is better, yet he could have been more forceful.  Lets hope he has the cojones to push this measure through congress and does so quickly before midterm election politicking, tea party hysteria, and the usual opponents drag it down. (Attaching this measure to a military funding bill is a good approach.)  It will be a proud day for New Jersey gays serving our country and for all of us seeking equality. Another important step forward.

Is discrimination alive and well in Secaucus?

It was a dispiriting display of bad judgment and cronyism at the Secaucus Council meeting when newly installed Mayor Michael Gonnelli and all councilmen except for one voted to promote a city employee to Director of Public Works – the same employee implicated in harassing and issuing death threats to a local gay couple.  That employee, his son and another individual – all firemen at the time – were at the heart of a civil judgment that resulted in a $4.8 million fine against the City of Secaucus.  All of the firemen had pleaded the  fifth amendment at the trial rather than discuss what actually happened during the multiple gay-bashing incidents.

As the lone dissenting councilman John Shinnick pointed out there was only about three weeks allowed for posting the availability of the new position and not enough time to reach other outside qualified candidates. The result was that only three current Secaucus employees were interviewed and former fireman Charles Snyder Sr. got the job.

Why would Secaucus officials promote an individual to a $117,000 job whose actions appeared so egregious as to cost local taxpayers $4.8 million? The mayor disingenuously pointed out that Mr. Snyder’s record while in the Department of Public Works was exemplary.  The mayor disregarded the fact that the employee while a fireman caused grievous harm to the reputation and finances of Secaucus and engaged in actions that threatened the life of two gay residents. The mayor also did not deny that he was a buddy of Mr. Snyder and that they vacationed together in Hawaii.  

Is Secaucus a place where gays and lesbians would want to live?  Is it a safe place to shop in?  With prompting from Steven Goldstein the mayor admitted there has been only a token effort at sensitivity training of employees. Garden State Equality members who sat through the council meeting heard jeers from other attendees and little assurance from councilmen that the lives and safety of the LGBT community mattered.  

Bill Orr