Author Archive: deciminyan

NJ-3 and Progressive Challenges

Cross posted from deciminyan.org

New Jersey’s Third Congressional District can be viewed as a microcosm of the American political landscape. We have (and I know personally) Tea Party extremists, moderates, and left-leaning Progressives in areas as diverse as suburban Cherry Hill, the Shamong Pine Barrens, and the shore towns of Ocean County.

First term incumbent Congressman John Adler is in a tight race with Republican ex-footballer Jon Runyan. Runyan echoes the Tea Party mantra on most issues, although there are a few exceptions such as his opposition to transferring Social Security investments to for-profit organizations. When he was in the New Jersey State Senate, Adler was regarded as one of its most liberal members. But in his current role, Adler kowtows to the right-leaning population in Burlington and Ocean counties by touting his “centrist” approach to legislating. In this day and age, “centrist” is a code word for “moderate Republican.”

It would be beneficial to the district and the nation if NJ-3 were represented by a more progressive congressman, but given the demographics of the area, big changes will be needed before this can happen. Adler’s primary opponent, Barry Bendar, would have promoted better policies, but Mr. Bendar only received 25% of the vote in a low-turnout Democratic primary.

So the $64,000 question is, “why do voters in NJ-3, and the nation overall, seem to embrace the policies of the failed Bush administration and the Tea Party extremists?” The answer is “messaging.” Tea Partiers have a great advantage in that they control the messaging infrastructure. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News (with help from their Saudi investors), right-wing hate radio, and corporate ownership of most mainstream media tend to get the message out, both overtly by sheer force of numbers , and covertly by controlling the language of the debate. The counterpoints to these behemoths are loved by their Progressive base, but how many people do you know who listen to Rachel Maddow or belong to MoveOn.org?

To transform NJ-3 and the nation will require Progressives to become more adept at explaining to the general public why our approach is best for the country as a whole. With the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, the harebrained Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, and the corporate lock on media production and distribution, this will be a daunting task.

I was thrilled at John Adler’s victory two years ago. While his win was clearly on Barack Obama’s coattails, it was the first time this area had elected a Democratic representative in over a century. And despite his centrist moderate Republican voting record, I’ll vote for him again. Not because I’m enamored by his performance; not because I want to vote against a tax-evading donkey-farming ex-football player; but because I think the makeup of the 112th Congress will be close. And it scares the heck out of me to think that John Boehner will be Speaker of the House and second in line to the presidency. Big change requires small steps, so I’ll hold my nose, vote for Adler, and continue to advocate for a better America for all her citizens through Progressive ideas.

Is Governor Christie Incompetent, or Just a Liar?

Cross-posted from deciminyan.org



Those are the only two possibilities after the debacle in New Jersey’s failure to qualify for Federal “Race to the Top” education funds. This was a $400 million loss to the New Jersey taxpayer.

The Governor’s staff and his arch-enemy, the teacher’s union (NJEA), negotiated an agreement and generated a proposal which, by all indications, would have been a winner. But just like the Governor does not respect women’s health, marriage equality, or teachers’ professionalism, he did not respect the outcome of his own staff’s negotiation process and subsequently had them hurriedly re-draft the proposal over the Memorial Day weekend, without participation by the NJEA. In the course of that effort, a clerical mistake was made which cost about five points in the evaluation process. New Jersey’s proposal lost by three points.

If you watch the Governor’s 30 minute post-mortem press conference, you will see that he is more concerned with placing blame on the evaluators than fixing the root cause of the problem. Amazingly, he pointed out that one person reviewed the proposal for compliance, and his “solution” is to have two people review such proposals in the future. Now, I’ve worked on $400 million proposals, and I can attest that we have had dozens of people – people from outside the submitting agency – review these things to a gnat’s eyelash. The fact that such a blatant non-compliance was overlooked is inexcusable. The by-the-book former prosecutor deceitfully suggested that the evaluation committee should overlook the mistake, or bend the rules to allow New Jersey to submit the requested data. He certainly knows that if that were allowed, Ohio, which bettered New Jersey by only a few points, would have had a justifiable rationale for protest – after all, Ohio played by the rules.

In his press conference, the Governor disingenously admitted that the buck stops at his office, and then proceeded to blame the Obama administration and some unnamed mid-level public servant in state government. You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Governor. The fact that a public servant made the mistake is a symptom – your lack of commitment to public education is the cause.

Republicans often rail at the fact that New Jersey sends more money to Washington than we get back. Well, now they only have to look as far as Drumthwacket to understand why.

Like George Bush…

Cross-posted from deciminyan.org

Like George Bush, Chris Christie got it right on one issue.  The Governor has accused his fellow Republicans of “overreacting” to the proposed construction of the Burlington Coat Factory Islamic Cultural Center (incorrectly referred to in most of the mainstream media as the “Ground Zero Mosque.”)  After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush reminded us to continue to treat Muslims as we treat all citizens, since moderate Muslims were not responsible for the attack, and indeed many were killed in the towers.

Yet, even as we applaud Governor Christie for being on the right side of this issue, let’s remember that in his short time in office so far, he is harming New Jersey by emulating the Worst President Ever.  This video is such a reminder.

Judging Christie

Cross-posted from deciminyan.org

The deleterious effects of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “slash and burn” policies and his coddling to millionaires are starting to be felt, and will be with us long after he leaves office.  Libraries are closing, experienced teachers and other public servants are retiring in droves, infrastructure continues to crumble, and taxes on the middle class and the poor are going up.  Yet, there’s one other impact of the Governor’s approach that won’t be felt – at least directly – for a while.  That is the politicization of New Jersey’s judiciary.

Politicization of the judiciary is nothing new to Mr. Christie.  As a U.S. Attorney and acolyte of Karl Rove, he saw firsthand how a master of his craft can subvert the judicial system to advance a political agenda.

Governor Christie refused to nominate Supreme Court justice John Wallace last May – not because of any incompetence or malfeasance on the judge’s part, but simply to replace Wallace with a corporate-friendly attorney who would help advance the governor’s agenda.  But this was more than a warning shot over the bow for the remaining justices.  It was a not-so-implicit threat to the three non-tenured justices that “if you don’t support my agenda, you’re outta here!”

It’s uncertain whether the three “liberal” non-tenured justices refused to re-open the case pertaining to New Jersey’s “separate but equal” civil unions because of Christie’s threats.  One would like to think that their decision was based on the law, and not on their careers.  But it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room.  While Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has the power to elevate a lower-tier justice to the Supreme Court until the State Senate decides to confirm Christie’s choice, he has chosen not to do so.  Could this also be due to Rabner’s concern about the Wrath of Chris?

So what’s the solution?  In some states, Supreme Court justices are elected rather than appointed.  That’s a bad idea – it only politicizes the judiciary even further.  When a justice is selected in New Jersey, he or she must be confirmed by the State Senate.  So why not extend the checks and balances and require the State Senate to approve or disapprove the removal of a justice at the end of his or her term?  Of course, impeachment for criminal activity is still on the table.  And the mandatory retirement age of 70 would still remain.

No method of selecting judges is devoid of politics, but by adding this check and balance, we could avoid the type of political shenanigans that are practiced by Mr. Christie.

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.