Author Archive: deciminyan

Barack Obama and John Adler

Pretty strongly-worded post. Blue Jersey, do you agree? – promoted by Rosi

President Barack Obama and New Jersey Congressman John Adler were elected to their respective posts in 2008 to the delight of progressive democrats.  While there were numerous differences between their elections, the actions of both men have been a disappointment.

Obama replaced an unpopular incompetent president.  Adler replaced a very popular and effective retiring long-term congressman.  Both men won against moderate Republicans, although starting with his VP selection, Senator McCain has been intoxicated by Crazy Tea.

Both men ran on platforms of change – change from the “me first” attitude espoused by Republicans.  Yet, once in power, both men moved to the right to the consternation of their respective bases.  If there are any exemplars of the kind of moderate Republicans they defeated (corporatists who promote small, incremental improvements in social programs) then both Obama and Adler fill the bill. But these are not the policies that swept these men into office.

Of course, John Adler faces a re-election challenge this year, while President Obama still has two years to go.  Adler’s opponent is a know-nothing unqualified celebrity who has memorized the Tea Party talking points that resonate with an electorate influenced by Fox “News” and sound bites.  While it’s still early to speculate on the GOP presidential nominee, as of now it looks like Obama also will face a corporate-sponsored Tea Party sympathizer.  Adler has abandoned his base and is pursuing conservative voters who would normally vote for the Republicans.  The danger is that many Liberals and Democrats will sit out this election.  This is a danger that is magnified many times if Obama still believes he can work with the intransigent Republicans – Republicans who put defeat of the president’s agenda ahead of what’s good for the middle class and the nation as a whole.

Could an Adler defeat be a harbinger of what’s ahead for Barack Obama?  Will anticipated Democratic losses in 2010 validate or repudiate Obama’s rightward swing?  If enough moderate Democrats Republicans like John Adler lose this year, President Obama will have to work with a John “Hell No We Can’t” Boehner House and will be distracted by so many GOP-run congressional investigations that it would make the Clinton impeachment circus seem like a blip.  What would it take to re-energize the progressive left that brought both men to power in 2008?  

Hang on, folks; this is going to be a scary ride.

Driving Us Crazy

promoted by Rosi

cross-posted from deciminyan.org

There’s a brouhaha brewing here in New Jersey about an anti-choice advocacy group that wants to allow residents to purchase disingenuously-named “Pro-Life” license plates for their automobiles.  State law bars such advocacy groups from promoting their cause in this manner, but the Children First Foundation is petitioning the Governor for an exception and is also resurrecting the already-decided court case.

The bigger question here is, should the state, and especially the Motor Vehicle Commission, be in the business of advertising on license plates?

Of course, this problem is not unique to New Jersey.  Recently, an Islamophobic organization fought and won a fight with New York City’s MTA to put misleading advertisements on busses protesting the construction of an Islamic cultural center in Downtown Manhattan.  This is the same MTA that rejected advertisements from another advocacy group critical of Mayor Bloomberg.

The Children First Foundation argues that its “Choose Life” license place is allowed under their exercise of free speech.  Perhaps.  Certainly the state needs whatever revenue stream it can garner from the added fees these plates provide.  But allowing the anti-choice zealots to have their way starts us down a slippery slope.  Do we allow white supremacy groups to have their logo on plates?  What about Communists?  Or Democrats?

The state and the governor should enforce the existing law, and ban all advocacy groups from having their slogans and logos on what is essentially state property.  The revenue from these plates would most likely not offset the legal fees the state will expend in the unending court cases.  If you want to advertise your advocacy for a cause, do what I do – just buy a license plate frame and send your money directly to your favorite group.

If Governor Christie allows these “Pro-Life” messages on our plates, I can see the day when I’m driving down Route 295 being passed by a “pro-life”, pro-death penalty, anti-health insurance advocate driving at 75 miles per hour through the construction zone yakking on a cell phone.  That’s not quite my definition of pro-life.

Why Are Evesham Police Punishing the Innocent?

The Evesham Police Department has started a new program where it posts on the Internet mug shots and other personal information on individuals who are arrested for DUI.

Drunk driving is a serious problem, and I applaud the Evesham police in their effort to reduce this danger, but their approach is all wrong.  Under the presumption of innocence, the police are pre-emptively punishing innocent people without their being able to exercise their rights.  Once this information is posted on the Internet, it stays there essentially forever, even after a “not guilty” verdict.

Supporters of this program argue that the data is available from other public sources – newspapers (remember them?), police blotters, etc.  Yet, posting this information on line makes it much easier to access through search engines by potential employers and other parties.  This puts potentially innocent people at a distinct disadvantage.

While its approach is probably legal, ruining the reputation of any innocent person is not the job of the Police Department.  In today’s economy, the time and effort spent by the Evesham PD in maintaining a Facebook database could be better spent in outreach programs to young drivers and in other DUI awareness programs.

Drink Water and Get Lung Cancer

promoted by Rosi

There’s a disturbing article in the South Jersey section of today’s Inquirer about how the state is ineffectively handling the levels of cancer-causing radon in our drinking water.  The article points out that in some communities, the level of this carcinogen in drinking water is 25 times more than that deemed “safe” by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  And this so-called “safe” level is set at a point where “an additional 1 in 2000 people would develop cancer over a lifetime of exposure.”  Let’s do a back-of the envelope calculation:  The population of New Jersey is 8.7 million.  I don’t know how many people live in the Garden State all their lives – so just for argument’s sake let’s say half of them – 4.35 million.  So if 1 in 2000 would develop cancer over their lifetime, that’s an “acceptable “rate of almost 2200 cancer cases due to radon in the drinking water.

Radon occurs naturally, so it is inevitable that people will be exposed to this toxic gas.  But the technology exists to mitigate its effects by filtering it out of the water supply.  According to the article, it would cost only $79 million over 20 years to make drinking water safe for the sixty percent of New Jerseyans who get their water from river sources – peanuts compared to the tax break that our Governor gave to millionaires.  Filtration systems for homes that get their water from wells could cost up to $5000 – less than the medical care for cancer treatment.

So a decade after this problem has been identified, how is the state responding?  They are “analyzing” the data!   Governor Christie and his Evian-drinking cronies are no friend of the environment, so don’t look for leadership from his office to address the problem.  Fortunately, radon – unlike other nasty stuff that pollutes the environment – has no lobby, so there’s a chance that progress can be made in cleaning up this toxin.

I’m glad that the Inquirer devoted space to this issue, but like other stories in this short attention span society, it will be stale and forgotten by this time tomorrow – only to be recognized by those families whose loved ones succumb to radon poisoning.  It is up to us to bring this to the forefront and ensure our legislators are aware of the problem that impacts all of us – and they take action.

Celebrate Victory but Prepare for the Worst

Is it too soon after victory to gird for the worst? – promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted to deciminyan.org

Yesterday’s decision by Judge Vaughan Walker in the case of Perry v Schwarzenegger (declaring that California Proposition 8 limiting marriage to one man and one woman is unconstitutional) is not only a victory for gay Americans but a reaffirmation of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and is a victory for all of us.

Reading the judge’s 138 page decision (and wading through the legal mumbo jumbo), it is obvious that the proponents of marriage discrimination had a weak case.  If you define “credibility” as relying on facts, then the “expert” witnesses who testified against marriage equality were incredibly incredulous.  One wonders why they presented such a weak defense of their position, until you realize that there is no defense for discrimination. When pressed on cross-examination by the unlikely barrister duo of Boies and Olsen, the Proposition 8 supporters conceded to most of the gay marriage proponents’ key points including the disparity between domestic partnership and full marriage and also including the undesirability for religious organizations to impose their tenets on minority groups.  Given the weakness of the side favoring marriage discrimination, it is now clear why they fought (and won) to prevent these proceedings from being televised.

Eventually, this case will be decided by the US Supreme Court.  No doubt, a sane and rational Court would uphold Judge Walker’s well thought out decision.  But the words “sane” and “rational” cannot be applied to a Court that declared that a corporation has all of the rights but none of the responsibilities of a flesh-and-blood person, as the Court did in the Citizens United case.

The lineup of the Court is:

  • Four extreme right-wing activist judges: Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia
  • Four moderates described by the press as liberal: Ginsberg, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan
  • One swing vote: Kennedy

So conventional wisdom is that the decision will be made on a 5-4 vote.  There is no doubt in my mind that Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia will ignore the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.  Justice Kennedy (whose vote in Bush v Gore was the deciding factor that initiated the Bush presidency) will be the person who vectors the decision one way or another.

(It should be noted that in the last great civil rights decision, Brown v Board of Education, the divided Court, after some internal politicking by the anti-segregation justices, eventually came out with a 9-0 decision declaring segregation unconstitutional.  This was an important factor in the continuing struggle to institutionalize equal rights for African-Americans.)

While a 5-4 decision overturning Judge Walker’s decision is possible, there are many other perils standing in the path of marriage equality.

One of the moderate justices could vote to overturn.  Justice Sotomayor is Catholic and Hispanic.  Catholics have been hostile toward equal rights for gays and lesbians, and support from the Hispanic community for marriage equality is virtually non-existent.  Will the new justice put the law in front of any personally-held beliefs?

Two of the moderate justices could become unable to fulfill their duties through sickness or death.  Justice Breyer is 71 and Justice Ginsberg is 77 and in poor health.  No doubt, the Tea Party would filibuster and throw other roadblocks toward any Obama appointee until marriage equality is decided, and this would set up a 4-3 unfavorable decision.

So celebrate the victory in California, but recognize that the fight is not over.  The Tea Party will use marriage equality as a wedge issue to get out the conservative vote in the mid-term elections, and of course both sides will use this as a fundraising vehicle.  A Supreme Court decision to reverse Judge Walker would be a major setback to civil rights, and the only possible remedy would be a generation-long fight for an Equal Rights Amendment protecting not only women, but also gays and lesbians.

I (Heart) Philly

It’s nice living in South Jersey.  A short drive in one direction takes me to the quiet, pristine Pinelands area.  A short drive in the other direction takes me to the diverse opportunities for culture and entertainment in the City of Brotherly Love.

Today’s Inquirer had a letter to the editor from a writer who lamented that New Jersey has a governor with “skills” that he contends are lacking in the Philadelphia mayor.  The writer yearns for a Christie clone to take over on the other side of the Delaware.

My first reaction was to let him have Christie.  We would remove the scourge of Trenton three years before our planned date.  But then reason prevailed.  I enjoy Philadelphia – her museums, her restaurants, her history, and her entertainment.  If our governor were to take a job transfer, all of this would be turned into a for-profit enterprise to be run by his cronies.  Social service cuts would cleave the city into the “haves” and the “have nots”, and would make it a less desirable place to visit.

So as a favor to my Philadelphia friends, we will keep Mr. Christie from your shores.  Continue to thrive under Mayor Nutter, and come and visit us in South Jersey some time – we still have a lot to offer to you, too.

Why I Like Governor Chris Christie

Maybe the President will do a little blog-reading today between bites of his half-sized Super Sub to go at the Tastee Sub Shop in Edison. – promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted to deciminyan.org

Actually, I hate just about everything the man stands for and everything he does.  But there’s one attribute of his that I wish President Obama would emulate.

Christie is the consummate Republican.  His policies and actions serve big corporations and his political cronies at the expense of the middle class and economically disadvantaged.  He puts politics above service (e.g. Judge Wallace’s firing), cloaks his political financing (Reform Jersey Now), and cares little about women and gays.  He rarely listens to his opponents (most of whom are also his constituents), and compromise is not in his vocabulary.

But you have to admire his chutzpah.  He has no hidden agenda – you know exactly what his lousy policies are.  He has usurped the power of the state legislature to the point of their irrelevance.  He panders to the common man – repeating his false “no tax” mantra so many times that people actually believe his lies despite evidence to the contrary.

Now, imagine if President Obama operated the same way.  There would be none of this 60 vote supermajority in the Senate that has made that body so ineffective.  The stimulus would be large enough to make a real difference.  Health care reform would include a single-payer option instead of the gift to the insurance companies that we got.  Campaign finance reform would be real.  Troops would be coming home from the Middle East.  And his two Supreme Court nominees would not take the court even further to the right.  Don’t get me wrong – President Obama has done some good.  But if he had Christie’s cojones, this country would be a lot better off.

Chris Christie to Atlantic City Residents: “Drop Dead!”

Cross-posted from deciminyan.org

Governor Chris Christie, who is on a rampage privatizing every government service in sight, has done an about face when it comes to Atlantic City. Christie is proposing carving out the revenue-producing casino district from the rest of the blighted city. The state would take over municipal services, and no doubt those services would be candidates for Christie’s ill-advised privatization initiative.

At one time, Atlantic City was the gambling mecca of the East Coast – an alternative to Las Vegas a lot closer to the population centers on the Atlantic seaboard. But over the years, as other states legalized gambling, Atlantic City’s attractiveness started to wane.

Looking at the other recent state takeover of local government, Camden, one can only wonder if this is the right approach. While the Camden waterfront has been gentrified and is a tourist destination, urban decay and all the issues that go with it are just blocks away. I’m afraid the people of Atlantic City will suffer the same fate.

The Governor’s motives for this takeover may seem to be laudable. But I’m afraid that I trust the Governor about as far as I can throw him. His track record over the first six months of his reign shows that he cares more about millionaires and developers than he does about the middle class and the poor. His shenanigans with Reform Jersey Now demonstrate that his regard for the spirit of the law is lacking. Will his diversion of tax money on the Xanadu project from government services to the Chris Christie Crony Developers be a precursor for a similar approach in Atlantic City?

Atlantic City is one of New Jersey’s many jewels. Its legendary boardwalk and Convention Center are deeply rooted in our nation’s history. And the gambling industry provides New Jersey residents with much-needed jobs. But is a state takeover by a power-hungry executive the right solution? At a time when our urban centers are closing libraries and firing teachers, we owe it to the people of Atlantic City to find the best solution that meets the needs of all its residents. Aid to schools, libraries, and the tourism industry – yes. But takeover of the city by an ego maniacal ambitious former prosecutor who skirts around the edges of legality is worrisome at best.

A Christie Dictionary

Promoted by Jason Springer: Something tells me we could do a whole “Christiespeak” series where we look at what he says and what it really means.

Sarah Palin’s recent attempt to coin new words for the English language such as “refudiate” is humorous, but easy for the reader to discern her actual meaning.  Governor Christie is more subtle, and his bastardization of the English language is a bit more difficult to follow.  As a service to Blue Jersey readers, I have started a Chris Christie Dictionary.  This can be useful to  understand the governor’s pronouncements.   Feel free to add more definitions in the comments to this post.

Tax.   An evil method by which the government steals money from people for no apparent reason.

User fee.  A way to tax people without calling it a tax.

Shared Sacrifice: A philosophy whereby taxes increase for lower income citizens so that millionaires can share in the benefits of that revenue.

Government ethics: see: Reform Jersey Now

Union: A group of workers whose sole goal is to rip off taxpayers.  

Teacher: An individual worker whose sole goal is to rip off taxpayers.

Superintendent: see: Teacher

Privatization: The process of taking jobs from state workers and giving them to cronies at a higher cost to the taxpayer.

Reform Jersey Now:  Unknown – never heard of this term.

Charter School: A method to circumvent that pesky “separation of church and state” thingy.

Privatization Done Right

Cross-posted from deciminyan.org

New Jersey’s experience with privatization has been unblemished by success.  Nevertheless, the state is in serious financial difficulty, and any potential solutions to provide state services more efficiently and at a lower cost should be seriously considered.

Unfortunately, Governor Christie is approaching privatization initiatives in a way that will not help, and will probably harm, the taxpayers.  He is repeating many of the mistakes that plagued the privatization of New Jersey’s 1998 motor vehicle emission inspection initiative, and he probably is inventing some new mistakes of his own.  Of course, his politically-driven Privatization Task Force report emphasizes the “success” stories and gives, at best,  lip service to the failures, both in New Jersey and elsewhere.

Privatization of some state services can save money if done right.  But doing it “right” does not mean firing state workers and employing a private company to do the same job with lower-paid  (and most likely less qualified) employees while the politically-connected contractor skims off a handsome profit at the taxpayers’ expense.  Since the contractor is accountable to shareholders and not voters, steps must be taken to ensure that the taxpayers’ interests are being addressed appropriately.  This requires oversight and insight by qualified and empowered state employees.  That cost must be included in the equation when considering privatization.

An important consideration is what services should be considered for privatization.  Services that are provided as commodities in the private sector are prime candidates if their implementation in the public sector is essentially identical.  An example would be payroll services where several vendors compete across a broad range of customers to provide compensation to a client’s employees.  There must be adequate competition for these services in order to be considered for privatization.  After all, the ultimate goal is to provide more service for fewer dollars, and if the economies of scale and the pricing pressure of real competition in the private sector can be leveraged, then there’s a potential for a benefit to the taxpayer.  Privatization of critical infrastructure initiatives (like Governor Whitman’s failed Motor Vehicle Emissions contract) should receive extra scrutiny and non-partisan expert oversight, if done at all.

Even more important is how privatization initiatives are conducted.  Requests for Proposal (RFPs) should be carefully written and reviewed by independent, knowledgeable experts, not politicians or bureaucrats.  RFPs should be complete, down to the draft Service Level Agreements that will become part of the contract.  Incentives for exemplary performance, and penalties for poor performance, provide the State with leverage to ensure that our needs are met.  And of course, one of the most difficult but important aspects of choosing a potential private partner is the absence of political influence over that selection.

While ISO:9001 Quality Management System certification does not guarantee that a contractor will meet expectations, lack of such certification should also indicate that the potential supplier does not give quality  management adequate attention.  Thus, only potential contractors with a current ISO:9001 certification should be allowed to bid on major contracts.  Similarly, outsourcing of any programs that are IT or software-intensive should require at least a Level 3 (and preference should be given to Level 5) certification against the appropriate Capability Maturity Model Integrated process standard.

Industry-standard Risk and Opportunity Management processes should be implemented and rigorously followed even before the RFP is developed.  Properly implemented, Opportunity Management coupled with Six-Sigma initiatives can help improve cost, schedule, and technical performance of the outsourced services.    Coupled with this, frequent and in-depth technical and programmatic reviews by independent experts should be conducted for the larger initiatives.  The reports from these reviews for the largest initiatives (e.g. for those valued over $100 million) should be provided directly to the Governor, unfiltered by intermediate bureaucrats.

Is all of this oversight and insight expensive?  Sure – and it needs to be factored into the privatization equation.  But as Christie Whitman’s Motor Vehicle inspection initiative has proven, lack of such standard project management practices is even more expensive.

So if privatization is to work for the New Jersey taxpayer, the process must be robust and transparent.   Realistic cost estimates must include those for effective oversight.  Unfortunately, oversight and transparency are not in the current vocabulary of the state’s executive branch.  So before the taxpayer is asked to support significantly more privatization, there needs to be a culture change in Trenton.