Author Archive: deciminyan

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.

Get to Work, Mr. Governor

Cross-posted from www.deciminyan.org

OK, Mr. Governor.  You bullied the Legislature and now you have your fershluggener cap on property taxes.   While you got your political points, you really did not do much to help New Jersey residents.  At the same time, you have ensured that the services, infrastructure, and attractiveness of New Jersey will deteriorate more rapidly.  You did nothing on the spending side other than make arbitrary cuts – geez, a six-year-old could do the same thing.

When will you get down to the hard work of governing?  Yes – the state is in a budget crisis, but your simplistic approach will just make things worse.  Why don’t you use your humongous bully pulpit to implement real change?  Like any complex system, effective change can’t happen overnight, nor do simplistic solutions work.  The state is crying out for revolutionary change, not incremental ones.

Let’s start with consolidation – both municipal and for schools.  No one said it would be easy.   There are too many embedded interests who will throw roadblocks in the way of their pet fiefdoms.   Doing it right will be hard.  There are areas where consolidation savings will be minimal, but based on my experience, I suspect that there’s enough low hanging fruit out there that could reduce state expenditures by at least 20% with the right approach.  It will require a tough SOB to make this happen against the built up inertia in our government – are you man enough to tackle that one?  Or are you just content to score political points by continuing on with simplistic approaches?

There are those who say that government should be run like a business.  That’s crap.  Governments are there to serve the people; businesses exist to make a profit.  Yet, there’s one aspect of business that enlightened governments have successfully adopted – the embrace of Six-Sigma practices to systematically root out waste in our processes.  This is also not easy, because it requires a change in the culture of the people affected.  It should be run as a campaign and will take several years.  As with consolidation, there will be the naysayers who preach “we’ve always done it this way.”  But the results can be astounding.

So, Mr. Governor, take your victory lap but remember that you’ve only done the easy part of your job.  Now, get to work.

The Adler – Runyan Debate

Cross posted from deciminyan,org

Being an offensive tackle in the NFL is tough.  It’s tough physically, but there’s also a non-physical component of the game that must be mastered.  In today’s game, the multitude of plays are complicated, and you have to memorize a large number of formations and be able to react instantly with a canned set of responses to defensive maneuvers.

In today’s debate between John Adler and Jon Runyan, hosted by conservative talk radio host Michael Smerconish, Mr. Runyan demonstrated why he was a successful NFL player.  He had memorized and successfully parroted all of the Republican talking points that were given to him by his handlers.  The former NFLer even went so far as to regurgitate quotes from Democratic icons John F. Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynahan, as well as from conservative demigod Ronald Reagan.  As he did in his NFL career, Mr. Runyan did his homework and memorized the playbook masterfully.

First-term Congressman John Adler, on the other hand, demonstrated that he is an intelligent politician.  Those who support him would interpret this to say that he has shown that he is an independent thinker who doesn’t always fall in lock step with the party line.  Those of us who are a bit more cynical would say that he is moving to the right in order to capture the conservative voters of Burlington and Ocean counties.  To help establish his conservative creds, Mr. Alder quoted not politicians, but instead referred several times to articles in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.  

Regardless of which view you take, it is clear that Mr. Adler is the more qualified and independent-minded  of the two candidates.  He brags of being a centrist at a time when the nation needs more progressive voices in the House.  His positions on offshore drilling, immigration reform, health care and other issues would perpetuate many of the problems we see today and don’t give us the real change that this country needs.  Yet, a vote for Mr. Runyan would be a vote for the policies of George Bush, Newt Gingrich, and John Boehner, and would continue to benefit the corporatists at the expense of the American middle class.  So this year, for those of us in New Jersey’s Third Congressional District, it’s once again the choice of the lesser of two evils.  A vote for Adler brings the “evils” of a hard-working intelligent centrist.  A vote for Runyan brings the evils of the Tea Party, John Boehner, and Glenn Beck.  The choice is clear.

Christie’s Misplaced Priorities

Cross-posted from deciminyan.org

Waiting until a building is on fire to install a sprinkler system doesn’t make sense.  But that is exactly what Governor Christie and the bumbling State Legislature is doing in their Keystone Kops holiday weekend extravaganza.

Maybe property tax caps make sense, and maybe they don’t.  But right now, we are in a short-term fiscal crisis and diddling with tax caps is, at best, a long-term “solution.”  Instead, our elected officials need to look at bold near-term approaches and stop playing around the edges.

One such bold solution is county-wide consolidation of school districts and municipal services.  If the governor is going to use his bully pulpit to promote necessary but unpopular initiatives, this is where he should concentrate.  Consolidation, along with a BTTW lean/six-sigma approach to state services will drive out costs, improve services, and bring us toward fiscal equilibrium.

Our governor blew it with the veto of the millionaire’s tax.  And he is blowing it with his draconian approach that is driving the quality of life in the state on a downward spiral.  How about it, Mr. Governor?  Can you leverage your divisive approach to benefit all New Jerseyans, not just your cronies?  Or is this too much for even you to tackle?