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.

Good luck Sen. Whelan

At the Meadowlands today Sen. Jim Whelan (D- Atlantic County) said, “If we do this right we will find a way to save and strengthen the horse racing industry, find a way to save and strengthen the casino industry, and at the same time find a way to get Xanadu finished.” Good luck, Sen. Whelan. Casinos, horse racing, and Xanadu are in deep financial trouble, beyond just fixes which the legislature or the governor can implement. The solutions being discussed are primarily about gaming – an independent agency to revive the AC casino business, slots/VLT’s for horse racing, and a possible casino attached to Xanadu.

The second Democratic Gaming Summit was held today at the Meadowlands Racetrack with about 1,000 in attendance – union members, race track enthusiasts, “suits” representing moneyed interests, and legislators trying their best to appear impartial while just as frequently representing the interests of their local constituents and business supporters.

A rising tide raises all boats, and certainly a better economy is what we need. However, the competition in the gaming industry will only get fiercer and continue to cannibalize itself. Internet gambling as it expands, which it will regardless of what the federal government wants, will only make physical location gambling more problematic. Gaming might produce short term gratification but longer term broader-based solutions are needed.

A better solution in Atlantic City where failing casinos are in death-like competition with surrounding states and some are worth only a fraction of their value four years ago, might be to return to its roots as an ocean-front family-friendly vacation resort which now happens to allow gambling. The Meadowlands race track at a minimum will have to tighten its belt but might have lessons to learn from the success this year at Monmouth. As Xanadu is located in a county with an excess of shopping malls, its new developer (when/if selected) might benefit by looking more at the entertainment, rather than retail, aspect of its proposed business model.

 

RTTT Hearings: See no evil… Hear no evil… Speak no evil

With former Commissioner Schundler deciding not to attend, the governor not providing his staff to testify, and contractor Wireless absenting itself, legislators were left with Department of Education officials and one consultant on loan from Newark to question.  The state officials said:

(1) They had not noticed the Sec. F change in financial data that resulted in the loss of 4.8 points.

(2) They could not verify that the handwritten notes that led to the change were indeed those of Schundler, although Schundler last night confirmed the handwriting was his.

(3) They did not know what input the governor and his staff gave Schundler regarding policy matters and particularly the decision to revoke the Schundler-NJEA agreement and the subsequent decision to rewrite parts of the grant over Memorial weekend.

(4) They did not overhear Schundler provide the correct information to the reviewers as Christie claimed and Schundler disputed, although Newark Consultant Dan Gohl overheard Schundler tell the lead reviewer, “We can get you anything you need.”

It is apparent that Wireless entered the notes into the proposal, generating an incorrect response, about March 28 and sent an email mentioning the change to recently appointed Acting Deputy Commissioner Smarick who was more involved with other parts of the section and did not take note of the change. It remains unclear who provided the final editing although DOE officials thought Schundler may have done so.

Dan Gohl did notice the change a few days before the Washington meeting and told Wireless about it, but Wireless said it was too late to correct as the application had already been submitted. But……

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Puff The Malignant Dragon, Part II

This got posted over this AM as the hearing was getting ready to start – Rosi

Having failed to garner a Race to the Top award, with kids heading back to school now, and with all schools hurting financially, it appears that as of this weekend Governor (“Puff”) Christie has not seen fit to apply for the federal Education Jobs Fund which would provide NJ with $268 million to save some 3,900 teacher positions. The bill was passed into law on August 10, 2010. On August 13 the U. S. Department of Education announced the availability of the funds and placed on its website the short application form and instructions. By September 3 17 states plus one possession had submitted their application and been announced as recipients. The application’s statutory submission deadline is September 9, 2010, and the Education Department anticipates awarding funds within two weeks of submission of an approvable application.

Assemblywoman Connie Wagner said (D-Bergen County) said, “It’s beyond puzzling as to why Governor Christie has not applied for this money yet. The Education Jobs Fund is a lifeline for schools struggling to keep classroom sizes down and the quality of education up.”

Maybe the dragon is mad or does not care. We know what he thinks of students (drug mules), teachers (mule drivers), NJEA (unprintable), and government in general (downsize it).  However, even Republican President Bush increased funding for education with his “No Child Left Behind.” Although initially Christie’s spokesperson Drewniak said,“The Christie administration may not apply for the funds,” the governor himself later said he would. So why the delay?  The application form is very simple and the funds are available now as schools plan their budgets.  

If the Governor has not submitted an application by Thursday then he faces the possibility of the federal government being left to determine how NJ funds are to be distributed and further slowing the process and causing uncertainty at each school. The governor has said that there was about $100 million left in the RTTT funds, and he hoped the federal government might award NJ these monies as we were the runner up in the competition. What impression does it leave with the feds if he is slow or fails to to apply for the Education Jobs Fund? What impression does it leave with New Jerseyans? Might he have submitted the application, but just does not want to tell us?  What is this dragon smoking?  

Race To The Top Hearing Today

UPDATE: News of this morning, fired Education Commissioner Bret Schundler declines to testify.– – – Rosi

The Assembly Appropriations Committee on Tuesday will hold the first formal legislative inquiry into the critical mistake that cost the state $400 million in federal Race to the Top funds. The committee expects to question members of the Christie administration.

The hearing will take place today at 10 a.m. in committee room 11 on the fourth floor of the State House Annex, West State State St., Trenton.

There will be live streaming HERE.  

Summertime And The Living Was …..

Today being Labor Day, people have been talking about its historic roots, past highlights of the labor movement, and how bad the labor market is now.

Instead, as NPR’s “The Take Away” did this morning, lets look back at the summer that was.

TELL US IN SIX WORDS HOW YOUR SUMMER WAS

Examples:

Too quick, too hot, too sunburned

Finally finished reading War And Peace

Mad that medical pot was unavailable

My daughter returned home from Afghanistan!

Uncapped oil leak, uncapped Christie mouth

Now it’s your turn:

Race To The Facts

So what happened?  It’s not always easy to get the full, accurate story.

Fortunately, two top Education Department leaders Rochelle Hendricks, Acting Commissioner, and Andy Smarick, Acting Deputy Commissioner, will testify on Tuesday.  They have overseen the proposal through its many changes. Former Commissioner Schundler said that while reviewing the proposal, without the Fed’s specific request/question in front of him, he noted that the response addressed data for 2008-09. He assumed the Feds wanted more current data, so in a handwritten note he sought to change the response. What happened to his handwritten notes and what do they say? So far the State has not turned over these notes to the legislature. Who took the notes and typed them into the proposal, and did they type only from his  notes or add material, and if so, why? Did yet another person enhance the response in a way more favorable to Governor Christie? Were changes in the proposal made within the Executive Office and unknown to the Education Department?

In addressing  these matters legislators have to be persistent. If a question is avoided or not fully answered, legislators must re-ask the question. Also in a legislative hearing what you ask is as important as getting questions answered. The Education Department officials may not necessarily volunteer unsolicited information. They are both employed at the will of the governor and both would like to be appointed commissioner by the governor.

It appears Wired Generation, contracted to provide grant services, will not be present. That’s unfortunate, because blame is sometimes shifted to those who are not there. Were they or someone else responsible for final fact checking and matching the proposal responses with the corresponding application questions? Did they or someone else catch the error but were ordered to back off? They have hired a lawyer, so their side of the story may remain unclear for some time.

Read more below the fold about Schundler’s claim that the governor lied.

Race To Nowhere Update

 PolitickerNJ reported last night:

Acting Commissioner of Education Rochelle Hendricks, Deputy Commissioner Andrew Smarick and Newark Public Schools Executive Assistant for Innovation and Change Dan Gohl will all appear before the Assembly Appropriations Committee Tuesday to discuss the error that led to the denial of the state’s grant application. But the administration has denied the committee’s request to have Gov. Chris Christie’s Chief of Staff Rich Bagger, Communications Director Michael Drewniak and staffers Maria Comella and Gregg Edwards appear before the committee. Consultant Wireless Generation, which was paid a six-figure fee to aid in the application process has retained an attorney, O’Dowd said, and will not be appearing.

However there remains uncertainty about some attendees and the ability to get documents in a timely way. The Star Ledger reported this morning, “In a statement, Assemblywoman Nellie Pou (D-Passaic) said: “The frustration we’re experiencing with the administration is that we have not been able to confirm a number of these attendees or secure the documentation we’ve requested in a timely manner.” The Christie administration has not responded to several requests for documents, including one that proves Schundler made the error.”

The Record reported today, “A week after he was fired, New Jersey’s former education commissioner said he isn’t considering taking legal action over his termination.  But in an e-mail Friday to The Associated Press, Bret Schundler said he would like an apology from Gov. Chris Christie.”

What A Situation: The Press Conference

     “He seems like he thinks he’s better than everyone else. He seems like he is out of touch with reality. I do not understand how he can honestly have such a warped reality. He says that everyone loves him and that he doesn’t care what people say. Like he says some really outrageous things.”

Having written too frequently about Governor Christie, let me turn my attention to another even better known luminary in the NJ firmament. The above character analysis by Nikki Raney is of Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, not from NJ but of Jersey Shore fame. One of his more inspirational quotes is “These are rules to live by, shave last minute, put your shirt on last minute, haircut the day-of, maybe some tanning and the gym.” So in the following interior monologue drama I will be quoting the powerful, wise, hot, Mike “The Situation” using an invaluable Internet repository of his critical sayings.

The Situation is about to hold a press conference, a routine event for a man of his importance. He gets ready to start by saying to himself, “Everybody loves The Situation, and if you don’t love The Situation, I’m gonna make you love The Situation” – an important confidence builder. He realizes, however, that he has recently made a serious mistake, so his initial approach is to accept the blame. “I’m sort of a softy sometimes. I’m a sensitive dude,” he says to himself. The Situation then begins to realize that the conference is not going well, and he decides, “You need to be on your tip-top game,” so he proceeds to blame every one he can think of.  As the press conference draws to an end he concludes: “I was thinkin’ heavy fire and I didn’t wear my bulletproof vest and I just don’t know if I’m gonna make it.” But he develops a plan: “When you go into battle, you need to have some friends with you, so that just in case a grenade gets thrown at you, one of your buddies takes it first.”  Feeling his problem is thus solved, his mind wanders to a pleasurable thought – “eating chocolate chip cookies every night.”

Or is his problem not solved? Tune in frequently to Blue Jersey to find out the fate of our protagonist. As he wisely says, “Yo, I mean, this situation is gonna be indescribable, you can’t even describe the situation that you’re about to get into with The Situation.”

Iraq War: The President & New Jerseyans Speak Out

The $1 trillion Iraq war has gone from early successes, to the chaos of civil war, to a surge, and now to the draw-down to 50,000 troops. After eight years there has been immense suffering and loss on the part of Iraqi, American, and allied partners. President Obama spoke about the war Tuesday night from the Oval Office. New Jersey veterans, family of the fallen, and those who help returning vets have their opinions.

The President began his speech saying, “Good evening. Tonight I’d like to speak to you about the end of of our combat mission in Iraq.”

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Portraits of NJ Soldiers Fallen in Iraq

As the U. S. ends its combat mission in Iraq, we honor those New Jerseyans who served there. Below are sketches of a few who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Cpl. Michael E. Curtin, 23, Howell – March 2003 The first New Jerseyan killed during the war in Iraq, he was a graduate of Howell High School where he played on the school football team and enjoyed recreational hockey and baseball. He worked as a tool-and-die apprentice for three years before enlisting in 2001. He was killed when a suicide bomber attacked an army checkpoint on a highway. His family said, “The outpouring of support, generosity and condolences on the loss of Michael has been truly overwhelming.”

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