Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snowpocalypse? NO!

Cross-posted from

Where in America can there be a moderate rainfall and the weather report lists it as “partly sunny?”  Where in America can a foot of snow on the ground be categorized as a “trace?” That, my friends, describes the weather outlook for Syracuse, NY.

I lived in Syracuse for 32 years before moving back to my home state of New Jersey. The area is a wonderful place to bring up a family. It is a diverse community with ample cultural, sporting, and recreational attractions. It is a microcosm of America with traffic jams, nearby rural isolation, and the transformational challenges facing a city that was once dominated by manufacturing jobs. The people are wonderful, and regardless of political leanings or ethnic differences, they always rally around the Orangemen’s exploits. But the one thing that sucks in the Salt City is the weather. There’s a dearth of sun in the spring and fall, and a plethora of snow in the winter.  Average snowfall is north of nine feet per year.

Yet, the city has found a way to cope with the white stuff, and there are lessons to be learned for Governor Christie, Mayor Bloomberg, and New Jersey’s municipal officials who have not yet found the recipe for handling the snow. The city’s population is 140,000,  putting it about the same category as Paterson and Elizabeth.

As recently reported in the New York Times on a 70-inch snowfall this winter,

Through all of this snow, public schools in Syracuse closed for only two days, and the airport shut down for 15 minutes. Piles of cleared snow grew to two-story heights, but the roads were plowed and kept open.

So what is Syracuse’s secret? To find out, I spoke with Pete O’Connor, the city’s Commissioner of Public Works.

O’Connor’s career with the DPW spans eleven years, and he is just finishing up his first year as commissioner. Without hesitation, his first response to my question about Syracuse’s success in clearing the roads was the dedication and pride his crews take in a job that impacts every citizen of the city. There are about 100 people, drivers and mechanics, who work two shifts to keep the streets clear and the plows operating. Readers who have been to Syracuse know that there are some pretty steep hills and most of the major hospitals are located in those areas, so that’s the first priority for the DPW in a snowstorm. Next come the main routes through the city, followed by the residential areas. Drivers are always assigned to the same routes so that they get to know the idiosyncrasies of each block in the city. Their goal is to have every one of the 800 miles of streets cleared within 24 hours of the end of each snowfall. And that goal is almost always met.

O’Connor also gives credit to the city for not suspending alternate side of the street parking during blizzards. He emphasizes that citizens are generally cooperative and provide the room needed for his plows to get through. In major snowstorms, they plow out city lots and ask residents to move their cars to provide even more room for the plows.

And speaking of plows, the commissioner wondered how effective other cities are in simply slapping a plow assembly on the front of a sanitation truck. Syracuse has dedicated plow trucks with experienced snow removal drivers. That makes a big difference according to O’Connor. Now, maybe New Jersey’s snowfall doesn’t necessitate dedicated trucks, but keep in mind that most reputable climatologists predict that the global warming of our oceans will result in more severe snowstorms as the years go by. Municipal planners should not ignore this fact.

Another challenge that Syracuse faces is that the temperature rarely goes above freezing in the winter, so snow just stays around - it doesn’t melt until Spring. In the old days, excess snow from downtown used to be dumped in nearby Onondaga Lake, but this is now precluded by environmental regulations. Instead, the city has a seven-acre plot adjacent to the downtown area where snow is brought as necessary.

Of course, none of this is free. The city budgets $4.5 million for 150 inches of snowfall per season. Since the average snowfall runs around 111 inches, most years the Snow and Ice Bureau returns money to the city coffers for things like road repair. Yet, the city is prepared for the inevitable anomalous winter when even the hearty Syracusans are surprised. Overtime is carefully monitored across the Department year-round to build up an additional funding buffer if needed.

As we have seen in the recent blizzard in New York City, it costs more in the long run when budgets are slashed and experienced public servants are let go. Lives were lost in the Big Apple when ambulances were unable to get to their destinations and commerce came to a halt. Experienced supervisors were demoted, and staff cuts are undoubtedly part of the problem. With apologies to the Gipper, when done right, “government is not the problem, government is part of the solution.” Public servants like Pete O’Connor and his dedicated crews teach us this lesson every day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Second Onslaught

Most Progressives are prepared for the onslaught of harmful legislation to be introduced by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in January. Whether it is more tax breaks for the wealthy, elimination of health care for millions of Americans, or pollution-inducing legislation written by their corporate benefactors, nothing that the GOP does to increase its power and wealth should surprise us. Nor should we be surprised at how much they increase the deficit while increasing the economic apartheid in the years to come.

But we should also be prepared for a second onslaught and series of half-truths that will be heralded by the GOP and amplified by the mainstream media in February - the continuation of the deification of Ronald Reagan culminating with the centenary of his birth on February 6th.

If modern conservatism continues to drive America down the path of economic ruin and the demise of the middle class that was the legacy of George W Bush, history will show that this decline was started under President Reagan with his “trickle down” economic policy.

It’s difficult and not very productive to debate whether Reagan was a worse president than Bush, but the legacy of the Gipper’s reign has been colored by his adorers in the conservative movement and the media.  After his eight years in power, there was a frenzy of putting his name on everything in sight including schools, the nation’s airport, highways, and even an aircraft carrier. His acolytes even proposed desecrating Mount Rushmore by adding his visage to those of some of our greatest presidents.

Reagan did not start out as an icon of conservatism - in fact his original positions would be characterized as “liberal” today.  In his acting days, he was a union president, and for a short time he was pro-choice. Upon assuming the governorship of California, Reagan inherited a budget deficit, and he immediately raised taxes in response. But as the darling of the Republican party, Reagan quickly changed to do what was politically expedient rather than what was right.

The telegenic Reagan was blessed by two incredible strokes of luck during his presidency. First was the release of American hostages held in Iran, timed to occur simultaneously with his inauguration. Although unproven, some posit that Reagan operatives worked behind the scenes with the Iranian government to ensure that this timing was not coincidental. Given subsequent illegal dealings of his administration with the Iranians, this would not be a complete shock.

The economic collapse of the Soviet Union was the second lucky break for Reagan. As a master of propaganda and his ability to present a folksy persona, Reagan was able to make it seem that his belligerent attitude toward our Cold War foe was the impetus behind this collapse. The myth that Reagan ended the Cold War holds as much water as the myth that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction during Bush’s failed reign.

Reagan’s presidency was the precursor to today’s war on unions, the poor, and the middle class. He popularized the racially-charged term “welfare queen” and sent his anti-union shot across the bow by firing 11,000 federal public servants in his first months in office. He gutted environmental protection and decimated funding for the arts and humanities. His insensitivity toward others is epitomized by his visit to a German cemetery where hailed Nazi soldiers buried there as “victims” akin to those who died in the Holocaust.

The biggest crime of his administration, and certainly an impeachable offense, was that he covertly disobeyed the will of Congress by illegally providing money to the Nicaraguan Contras using ill-begotten funds from selling arms to Iran. His supporters claim that Reagan knew nothing about what his White House subordinates were doing. That’s difficult to fathom, but even if true it shows what an ineffective leader he was.

Perhaps his most significant failure, and the legacy that lives on today, is what is now called “Reaganomics”, a theory that has been repeatedly tried and failed whereby cutting taxes and incurring massive deficits are supposed to stimulate the economy.  It didn’t work under Reagan, didn’t work under Bush, and will not work when the new crop of Republican House members try it again in January.

Today, there’s a whole generation of post-Reagan Americans who grew up listening to the incessant adoration of the former actor from those who want to continue his heartless policies. Just like after 150 years we have history revisionists who celebrate the Confederacy, Reagan’s down-to-earth mien will ensure that he has his adorers for many years to come. But when the onslaught of Reaganmania has its resurgence this February, keep in mind that much of the distress that America is experiencing right now falls in the lap of Reagan, his acolytes, and their descendants.

Prior to his political life, Reagan was the corporate voice of
the General Electric Company.
Watch for more GE advertising of the Reagan myth in February.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Leveraging Rights

The President’s recent announcement that he is reconsidering his stance on marriage equality is encouraging, not only for its move toward extending equal rights to millions of Americans, but also for its potential to help derail the draconian Republican agenda that will torment poor and middle-class citizens starting in January.

Until recently, Mr. Obama’s position was that individual states should be encouraged to allow civil unions, but he was against gays and lesbians having the right to get married. But just like in the recent repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, he appears to be realizing that marriage equality is not a legislative issue, but a civil rights issue.

As we have previously written, it is clear to us that marriage equality is a right guaranteed by the Constitution. But just as it did take legislation and Constitutional amendments to institutionalize rights across racial boundaries, the same approach may be necessary to guarantee rights regardless of sexual preference.

Just like in the ongoing wars for racial equality and women's equality, there will be multiple battlefields in the quest for marriage equality.  Congress and the courts, including eventually the Supreme Court, are the front lines. So, like it or not, once again a civil rights issue is being played out on the political battlefield.

President Obama can use this to his advantage. Vice President Biden recently said that the nation’s attitude toward same-sex marriage is evolving, and the acceptance and legalization of marriage equality is inevitable. So as the legislative and judicial processes churn on, why not take advantage of this fact? The President should take a lesson from the Republican Tea Party’s playbook and make this into a wedge issue that works towards progressive goals. In his January State of the Union address, he should rally the nation around the next great civil rights struggle - equal rights for LGBT citizens - starting with marriage equality and the repeal of the oddly-named Defense of Marriage Act.

In addition to promoting what is right and decent, bringing marriage equality to the forefront will result in the Republican Tea Party frittering away time and money on a cause that they are inevitably going to lose. Sure, this issue will rally those on the right who oppose civil rights, but generally those people are motivated already. But making marriage equality a linchpin in Obama’s 2011 agenda will reinvigorate the netroots progressive crowd who put him in the White House and then slept through the mid terms. Spending more and more time on achieving these rights has the added impact of taking some of the wind out of the Republican Tea Party’s sails in their quest to kill Social Security, pollute the earth, tax cut the nation into fiscal bankruptcy, and return to the Bush/Rove quest to deregulate us into disaster.

In the fight to repeal DADT, one of the things that helped change the country’s (and the military brass’) attitude was the fact that the media paid attention and put individual warriors with real stories on the front page and in prime time. Looking at the impact on real people is more effective than promoting the cause in abstract terms.

Next month, the President has a choice. He can let John Boehner set the agenda, or he can take bold action and preempt much of the anti-Obama, anti-middle class demagoguery that will be spouted by the House leadership. By taking an aggressive stance, the President can achieve a foothold into the next great civil rights struggle while mitigating the inevitable havoc that’s about to be wreaked on the nation.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Whole New Ball Game

In baseball, batting .750 would be miraculous. In politics, it’s not too shabby either. In the past week, President Obama was on a hitting streak.

Passage of the long-overdue health care for 9/11 first responders, the repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask - Don’t Tell” policy in the armed services, and the ratification of the START nuclear arms control treaty - all over the senseless and highly partisan objections of the extreme wing of the Republican party - are the capstone of the first half of he president’s first term. Only the failure of the DREAM act kept the week from being perfect.

Some much-needed legislation never made it to the plate, and that’s unfortunate. Don’t look for much progress in Wall Street reform or in the repeal of the misnamed Defense of Marriage Act in the near future.

Yet, despite these important advances, it’s a whole new ballgame starting next month. Corporations Republicans will have the majority in the House of Representatives, and the Party of No will become the Party of Investigations. Keeping up with their stated goal to destroy the Obama presidency at all costs, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa, has already indicated that he will start witch-hunts investigations of just about everything and everyone in the Obama administration. I’m afraid that the $50 million of taxpayer money wasted on the Whitewater investigations will pale in comparison to the spending of the incoming House on these political extravaganzas.

It was refreshing to see many Republican senators break from their party line this week and finally perform to John McCain’s campaign slogan of “Country First.”  But with the GOP in control of the House, and the upcoming 19-month presidential marathon, we will look back at the last two years of obstructionism as “the good old days.”

Despite the significant compromises he was forced to make, the president deserves a victory lap. But he should remember that he defeated a weak team like the 1962 Mets. In January, he will face a much more powerful opposition. For the sake of the country, I wish him well.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Republicans

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

It seems that these are good times for the Republicans. Their Supreme Court has tilted the playing field in their favor, allowing unlimited secret contributions from their corporate benefactors. GOP gains in the November election, including capturing the majority in the House of Representatives, also demonstrate that times are good for the Party of No. Their overtly stated goal of bringing down the Obama administration as their first priority seems to be well in reach.

Yet, Republicans seem to be living in their ivory tower of ideology, ignorant of the realities of life in America outside their cocoon. While it may be “the best of times” for those Republicans, it is “the worst of times” for millions of middle- and lower-income Americans.

Take, for example, Senator Lindsey Graham. This week, he made a passionate speech on the Senate floor bemoaning the fact that their work load this week was too heavy (despite the fact that he and his GOP colleagues spent the last two years doing nothing more than blocking the work of the Senate and creating the logjam.)  It was as if he and his colleagues were the only ones in the nation who had to work more than 40 hours a week. Perhaps he should experience “the worst of times” and work two full-time minimum wage jobs as I’m sure many of his South Carolina constituents feel fortunate to do because they have jobs. This probably won’t happen, and at some point Senator Graham will be able to relax after he retires from the Senate with his two government pensions.

Another Republican who is riding the GOP tidal wave is Governor Chris Christie. As was amply demonstrated in his appearance on 60 Minutes this past weekend, the media’s love affair with him and their unwillingness to press back on his half-truths and innuendos during interviews make him the darling of the mainstream media. He is rarely called out on these issues. Perhaps the press was intimidated with his handling of an inquiring reporter. Since he took office, Christie has refused to negotiate with the teachers’ union, and when his ultra-conservative Commissioner of Education dared to do so, Christie fired the commissioner. Now, Christie is comparing the union to segregationist George Wallace - and that blockbuster comparison is being ignored by his adorers in the national media. Perhaps the governor should experience “the worst of times” by spending one day teaching in an economically segregated Camden elementary school before he berates our teachers any further.

While the Republicans ride their wave of good times, their day of reckoning will come soon. Their squandering of our tax dollars on breaks for millionaires while they ignore the needs of everyday Americans will become more evident as some of the mainstream media catches on and alternative media spread the message. It will remain to be seen whether Democrats, and especially progressives, can act as a catalyst to ensure this message is accurately and effectively received by the American voter in 2012, With the GOP surge, we have some pretty bad times ahead of us - can we turn things around to put America back on track toward the “best of times” before it is too late?

Cross-posted to

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Senator Kyl Lies to Advance his Social Agenda

It’s no surprise when a GOP leader blatantly lies to advance his political agenda. After all, the Bush presidency set the standard by lying to justify our wars in the Middle East.

After the Senate voted to eliminate the ill-conceived “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl spouted that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military would “cost lives.”

Au contraire, my dear Senator!  The DADT policy, which has been in effect the last 17 years has more than likely caused unnecessary death and injury within the ranks of our troops while costing the taxpayers as well.

How many troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have become casualties due to faulty intelligence caused by the firing of hundreds of gay Arabic linguists?

How many lives have been lost due to the firing of skilled infantrymen and logisticians just because they are gay?

How much taxpayer money has been wasted by firing highly trained ace combat pilots just because they are gay?

While a vast majority of servicepeople have declared that in a foxhole, no one cares about your sexual orientation, what Senator Kyl needs to realize that modern warfare transcends the foxhole.  Combat is a high-tech endeavor which calls for skilled intelligent individuals to work in less-than-pleasant environments at pay scales below those of their civilian counterparts.  We should not place unnecessary barriers in front of any American who wants to serve his or her country.

Soon, the president will sign the DADT repeal into law. That’s a beginning. The military must adopt their new policies quickly, and not stretch out the transition. And in the longer term, full equality must become a reality in all 50 states and at the federal level.  Politicians like Senator Kyl should join other bigots like Governor George Wallace as mere specks in the history of civil rights.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Broken Dreams

A minority of Senators have succeeded in blocking the DREAM act, which would have provided a path to legal citizenship for children of undocumented residents. Apparently these misanthropes have declared that the America I grew up in is no longer the America I live in. Generally, these naysayers are the same Neanderthals who voted against medical care for the 9-11 heroes that they use as political pawns and whose House colleagues are in favor of oppression of children around the world in their blocking of the Child Marriage Protection Act. (My apologies for insulting Neanderthals.)

The America I grew up in was not perfect. There have always been problems in how we have treated non-whites and non-Christians in their search for the American dream, whether it is the thousands of Japanese who we put in internment camps, the thousands of Jews trying to find a home free of the tyranny of the Nazi state, or the thousands of Muslims who run into hateful opposition when they attempt to construct houses of worship or cultural centers.

The opposition to the DREAM act is based on contention that some of the immigrants might be criminals. So, they want to punish all potential Americans for the sins of a few. Let it be also noted, that there are more than a handful of GOP senators like Ensign and Vitter who have engaged in criminal activity and are still “serving” in that body.

It is not unusual to see the Republicans’ hypocrisy when their flag-waving acolytes use the Statue of Liberty in their xenophobic messages. Perhaps they should read the timeless words of Emma Lazarus that appear at the base of that icon of America’s welcoming attitude:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cleaning Up the GOP Mess

Why is it that, in general, the GOP breaks things, the Democrats have the tough job of cleaning things up, and then take the heat for the expense and sacrifices of doing so?

Eight years of Bush rule, six of them in which he had a majority in both houses of Congress, nearly brought the country to financial and moral collapse.  Not only did the Republicans bring the economy within a gnat’s eyelash of Great Depression II, but the moral decay that they caused, including torture, spying on Americans, lying to justify wars of choice, outing CIA agents for political vendettas, and lining the pockets of corporate cronies, is unprecedented in my lifetime.

Barack Obama was elected in 2008 to clean up the Bush mess, and although he would probably receive a grade of C- on the efforts so far, at least it’s a passing grade.  His efforts have been hampered by a combination of his own timidity with dealing with the GOP and the GOP’s  abuse of the Senate rules.  Yet, had John McCain been elected, I might be writing about the impact of the current depression, the war in Iran, the tens of thousands of Americans dieing each year for lack of health care, and the street rioting due to the 25% unemployment rate.

Here in New Jersey, Bush/Rove protégé Chris Christie is creating a new mess, one that will also take years to clean up. In the name of making New Jersey “business friendly”, he is neglecting the infrastructure that businesses rely on and decimating the education system that will provide the workers with the knowledge that fuels the business engine. Christie’s popularity is based on empty slogans, simplistic “solutions”, and a “tough guy” image that resonates with the very voters who stand to lose from Christie’s approach.

There is a shining light in New Jersey politics, however, in the name of Senator Frank Lautenberg.  Lautenberg was a veteran senator who came out of retirement to replace corrupt Democratic senator Bob Toricelli on the ballot in the 2002 election.  In the past week, Lautenberg proved his mettle with two key actions.

First, his vote against tax cuts for millionaires, although on the losing side, showed that at least one Democrat has the guts to stand up for the middle class and against the deficit-generating Bush policies that have been adopted by the Obama administration.  Even though he is one of the richest men in a Senate filled with millionaires, Lautenberg continues to be the champion for the middle class and the downtrodden.

In addition, Lautenberg is working with the Republican Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, to offset some of the money that New Jersey is required to return to the federal government due to Chris Christie’s blunder when the governor cancelled the much-needed tunnel under the Hudson River and threw away hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in a fit of pique.

While Lautenberg tries to clean up the GOP messes on the national and state level, we need to look to the future. Lautenberg is 86 years old and unfortunately won’t be able to serve us in the Senate forever.  Our other iconic ex-Senator Bill Bradley, has indicated that he is not interested in rejoining the political fray.  So where is the next New Jersey figure who can make an impact on the state and national levels?  Who will rise to the occasion to help clean up the residue of the Bush and Christie messes in the next decade?

Cross-posted from

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Taking Chances

Suppose there is only one chance in a hundred that an electrical short would start a fire in your house in the middle of the night.  This is highly unlikely, but just to be on the safe side, you have installed smoke detectors.

Suppose there is only one chance in a hundred that your child will fall off her bicycle and hit her head on the pavement.  This is highly unlikely, but just to be on the safe side, you insist that she wears a helmet that meets federal safety standards.

Suppose you had a bit too much to drink at your holiday party.  Maybe there’s only one chance in a hundred that you will be pulled over for DUI, but even in your impaired state you are intelligent enough to find alternate transportation to get home.

You get the picture.  There are risks in life.  Some are more likely to occur than others, but a prudent person takes action to mitigate even the most unlikely risks.  We can’t mitigate every risk, but we do spend the time and money to try to avoid those that have the gravest consequences.

Now suppose that despite the decades of evidence and despite the fact that nearly all reputable scientists tell us that global climate change is at least in part man-made, that there’s only a one in one hundred chance that they are right.  The devastating impact of climate change – from flooding of cities to unbreathable air – is enough to mandate action to mitigate these risks.  All the warnings are there, and the evidence is overwhelming.

Yet, there are those who are unwilling to face up to these risks.  And starting in January, many of them will be in positions of great power as the Republicans take over the majority in the House of Representatives.  But it’s not just the GOP.  Elected officials from oil and coal-producing polluting states from both parties are in the “deniers” category, as they accept massive contributions from their corporate benefactors.

It’s time for these pollution whores to wake up and realize that, unlike many of the other issues on which they are wrong, global climate change will affect the rich as well as the poor.

The wealthy can afford decent medical care, the poor cannot.  But both the wealthy and the poor breathe the same air.

The wealthy can afford to send their kids to well-funded private schools, the poor cannot.  But both the wealthy and the poor will need access to clean drinking water.

The wealthy can afford decent safe housing, the poor cannot.  But both the wealthy and the poor will be impacted by the increase in violent weather patterns caused by climate change.  Ocean shore mansions are just as vulnerable to hurricanes as shanties in North Carolina.

So to global climate change deniers:  This is one thing that you can’t buy your way out of.  You are taking chances with the planet’s future – and taking unnecessary risks by thwarting clean energy and conservation.  You have a choice.  Pay for the investment in alternative energy, or pay the cost of suppressing famine, wars, and destruction of our society.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Is This the American Version of Justice?

Dick Cheney and Julian Assange are certainly not two peas in a pod. But both allegedly committed crimes by exposing secret information. In Assange’s case it was a few hundred thousand State Department cables and in Cheney’s case it was the outing of a covert CIA agent.

There are some differences, however. We can only speculate on Assange’s motives. His web site states “WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public.” Cheney’s motives were clearly vindictive. He exposed the identity of a female CIA agent as retribution against the agent’s husband for pointing out that Cheney’s rationale to attack Iraq was falsely contrived.

Most politicians are pontificating that Assange’s leaks put hundreds of lives at risk. So far, this is just media speculation. Cheney’s adventures in Iraq have already cost thousands of American lives, busted the deficit, and left many more thousands maimed for life. We still don’t know, and probably never will, the additional impact on America’s covert operations and how many embedded agents are in peril.

Assange is funded by thousands of internet donations from all over the world. Cheney is receiving two pensions – one from the U.S. taxpayer and another from Halliburton (also funded by the US taxpayer).

Assange committed his alleged crimes outside of the United States, so the jurisdiction of American courts is murky. Cheney committed his alleged crimes from the White House, defiling that iconic institution.

Self-righteous American politicians are calling for Assange to be executed without trial. Yet, Dick Cheney and his ilk will never be brought to trial for their alleged crimes.

It’s time to remove the words that adorn the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court: “Equal Justice Under Law.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Which is worse?  A Democratic Party that abandons its ideals of social justice and equal opportunity for all, or a Republican Party that is controlled by greedy and often corrupt Wall Street and oil interests?  The answer now is it doesn’t matter.  It has become apparent that the Democratic Party, at least in the persona of the President, has adopted the Republican platform lock, stock, and barrel.

Over the last several decades, Democratic presidents have consistently reduced the federal budget deficit, while the same deficits ballooned under Republican leadership. But President Obama, with his new tax proposal, has reversed this trend.

Despite the fact that the actions of George W Bush clearly confirmed that tax cuts for the wealthy do nothing to create jobs or improve the economy, President Obama has now announced a continuation of the “rich get richer” Bush/Christie policy. All at the same time we are fighting two wars without asking the American public to sacrifice. And Obama’s promises to end the travesty in Guantánamo and quickly repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell have succumbed to Republican tyranny.

Some of my liberal friends say that Obama is not all that bad. After all, he managed to push his health care program through Congress. True, but the credit for this accomplishment is primarily due to the work of the Democratic congressional leadership. President Obama’s “hands off” approach until the very last minute on health care as well as deficit reduction, and his capitulation on every major Republican platform issue have not given us the change that the majority of Americans have voted for.

The health care plan we got, while an improvement, is nothing more than the Republican plan that was crafted by Bob Dole in the early ‘90s. The insurance companies get richer while everyone’s premiums go up. Meanwhile, the Republicans are willing to sacrifice the well-being of the American people just to hand the President one defeat after another. Their holding unemployment insurance hostage to tax cuts is unconscionable while their benefactors reap billions of (often taxpayer) dollars in bonuses. The so-called “liberal” New York Times calls in the editorial page for support of this bill because the paper feels it’s the best we can get. Perhaps. But if Obama had been more involved earlier, and had used the bully pulpit more effectively, we would not have been held hostage to make progress.

One thing President Obama should have learned from the mid-term elections is that Democrats who act like Republicans lose their elections to real Republicans. Maybe this is OK with him. Maybe he has already realized that to be an effective chief executive it is sometimes necessary to roll up one’s sleeves and get dirt under your fingernails – and that’s just not the way he operates. He has already made history, and perhaps his goal is to return to teaching constitutional law and writing books, which is less stressful and more lucrative.

Meanwhile, Republicans have cleverly gotten their windfalls for the rich while bursting the deficit under a Democratic president. I’m sure their spinmeisters will use this to great advantage in the 2012 election.

Conceivably, Obama could be primaried from the left – a Howard Dean or Russ Feingold.  Both would make the race interesting, competitive, and real.  But any challenger from the left would have a tough time getting his or her message through the sound byte-loving corporate media. Obama won in 2008 because he was clearly the better candidate. If he runs in 2012 as the lesser of two evils, he will be a one-term president.

The demise of the American dream started under President Ronald Reagan’s “starve the beast” approach thirty years ago. Could Obama’s transformation into a faux Republican president, and the subsequent election of a Republican in 2012, seal our fate?  I am very discouraged.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Apologies

To all my readers outside of New Jersey, I must apologize for the actions of our governor, Chris Christie.

Ignoring his tactical blunders such as being directly responsible for the loss of $400 million of Federal education funds, cancelling a much-needed tunnel project after spending a billion dollars of taxpayer money, being unwilling to compromise with the public service unions, increasing average property taxes by 23% this year, establishing an opaque political fund in the name of “reform”, and firing a state supreme court justice for political reasons, the fact is that he’s just not a decent person.

His treatment of dissenting citizens at his “town hall” meetings (especially today’s event in Parsippany) demonstrates the kind of person he is – a bully.  Our governor, who was elected with less than 50% of the vote, has the right to promote his political agenda, but he needs to keep in mind that he is the governor of all of New Jersey, not just his acolytes.  His behavior is more befitting that of a gang leader or a Mafia don and sets a poor example for our kids.  The national media love him because he is a spectacle that appears to give straight talk even though he is obfuscating the truth.  Few reporters on the national level have probed past his tough-man veneer.

I don’t know a polite word that is the opposite of “mensch”, but that’s what our governor is.  New Jerseyans are better than this, so don’t look at Governor Christie and think that he represents the people of our state.  I’m sorry that you have to see this rude buffoon, but even sorrier for New Jersey’s kids who will have to live with the consequences of this bully’s action for many years to come.

Hiding in Plain Sight

In her book Third World America, Arianna Huffington describes several disasters that have recently struck our country that all have two things in common:  their impact could have been prevented or mitigated except for the incompetence or malfeasance of those in power, and the long term impact was much worse than the powers-that-be led us to believe.  The list is long and tragic, and includes:
  • The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • The impact of the Katrina hurricane and destruction of the levees.
  • The bursting of the housing bubble.
  • The foreclosure crisis.
  • The inadequacy of the stimulus package and its anemic impact on jobs.
  • The licensing process for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig. 
Notwithstanding the deleterious impact on the deficit and the economy if tax windfalls for the wealthy are allowed to continue, there’s another disaster-in-waiting that is being ignored by the regulators and those in governmental power.

Today, America is at a crossroads with regard to energy production.  As electric vehicles, large data centers, and the  general increase in demand on our electricity grid, significant investments in research, development, and deployment of clean, efficient power generation technology will be needed over the next decade and beyond.  There are many who look at nuclear power generation as a panacea for our dependence on polluting fossil fuels from domestic and foreign sources.  Yet, the unsolved problems with nuclear are usually downgraded or ignored in the discussion.  I’m not referring to a Chernobyl or even a Three Mile Island meltdown, but rather to the yet-to-be resolved issue of transport, storage, and safekeeping of tons of toxic nuclear waste.  Today, most commercial nuclear waste is stored on site.  Even ignoring the expense of mitigating the risk in transport to a safe location, the United States has no comprehensive plan for the long-term secure storage of such waste.  The safeguarding of our waste repositories against terrorists is usually performed by private for-profit low-bidder contractors.

Instead of investing our taxpayer and utility dollars in nuclear with its often hidden (i.e. unreported) long-term costs, we should spend that money on developing and deploying efficient renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.  This will probably be portrayed as being more expensive in the short term because the fossil fuel industries (including nuclear) fail to take into account the clean-up costs from normal operations and the inevitable accidents.  Can there be accidents with wind turbines?  Sure.  But I can’t imagine a scenario where a wind farm would require billions of dollars and several millennia to make things whole.  Yet this is the exact scenario we are facing with nuclear power. 

America needs to invest billions to secure our energy future.  Let’s spend our money wisely and forego the problems of nuclear that are hidden in plain sight.  Place our energy bets on solar and wind –where we have better odds of a clean and prosperous future.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Barack Obama Can Learn From John Adler

Democrat John Adler is my congressman. At least he will be for another month. This Harvard-educated lawyer with a career full of legislative experience was defeated by an ex-football player who raises donkeys for a living.

Adler was elected to Congress in 2008 on Barack Obama’s coattails. Prior to his short congressional career, he served in the New Jersey State Senate for seven years and legislated slightly to the left of center, which in his district characterizes him as a “liberal.” All that changed when he went to Washington. Adler became a stealth member of the Blue Dogs and his move to the right was punctuated by his vote to deny medical insurance to 40 million Americans. This was done to placate the Republican base in a district with more Republicans than Democrats, and it proved to be Adler’s undoing. In the 2010 election, Republicans voted for his opponent, a bona fide Republican, while Democrats stayed home.

John Adler made several other critical mistakes in his campaign, but there’s a lesson here for President Obama to learn for his 2012 re-election bid. Republicans vote for real Republicans, not Democrats who follow the Republican line.  Democrats either vote for real Democrats or stay home.  But the president seems to have turned a deaf ear to this message.

One example is President Obama’s recent announcement of a two year freeze of government salaries. In the grand scheme of things, this will have a negligible impact on the budget deficit. Over the next two years, $5 billion will be saved.  That’s $5 billion that will not be spent by government workers to stimulate our moribund economy.  Five billion dollars is how much the Congressional Research Service figures we spend on the Iraq War in a fortnight.  It’s an insignificant amount that placates the anti-government GOP, pisses off hard-working Federal employees, and gets the President nothing in return.  This plays right into the Republicans’ hands.

Now, the President has anointed Wall Street alumnus Timothy Geithner as the point man in negotiating the tax stalemate with the new Republican leadership.   Don’t expect anything more to come out of this than a complete capitulation on extending the deficit-busting tax cuts for the wealthy.  Again, playing right into the Republicans’ hands.

Almost a year ago, when the Democrats were in power, I lamented the fact that this country did not have a loyal opposition.  As the minority, the Republicans simply obstructed progress, openly declared their unqualified opposition to the president, and did not even pretend to work with the majority to better the nation.  So we had the “opposition” part but were lacking the “loyal.”  Now we are heading into the opposite direction.  With the Republicans about to take over the House, a dysfunctional Senate where the Republicans abuse the filibuster, and a President who is afraid to draw a line in the sand, the Democrats will be the ones out of power – “loyal” but with no effective “opposition.”

Perhaps the President is over-confident, figuring that the GOP will nominate an inexperienced ideological drone like Sarah Palin. And then he’s counting on the electorate to see through this, and vote for a Democrat acting as a Republican instead of a flawed candidate. If that’s the case, he should take another look at John Adler’s loss and heed that lesson.  John Adler, in his concession speech said, “I don’t think enough [people] voted for me, but that’s okay.  (emphasis mine).  Will President Obama say “that’s okay” when the American people select a real Republican instead of an ersatz one in 2012?

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Real WikiLeaks Issue

Much of the mainstream media is missing the important point about the WikiLeaks memos. These memos, recently released, consist of a few hundred thousand classified State Department cables covering diplomatic issues in several countries, primarily in the Middle East.

The memos were allegedly leaked by Private First Class (PFC) Bradley Manning who copied them to a removable storage device and provided copies to the offshore WikiLeaks web site. While there is much consternation among the press and the political elite, I suspect that among diplomatic circles there are not too many surprises.

What boggles the mind, however, is how in the world did a PFC get access to so much (apparently) unencrypted material?  Sensitive classified data is compartmentalized, and only those individuals who can demonstrate a “need to know” have the keys to the kingdom. Removable storage devices on classified computers are strictly forbidden except under tightly controlled circumstances. Is security management within the State Department that incompetent?  Or was PFC Manning just a tool, used by a rogue State Department executive or military officer in an attempt to discredit President Obama and disrupt the behind-the-scenes progress that is being made in foreign policy?

PFC Manning is facing a half-century in military prison once he is convicted by the often oxymoronically-named military justice system. His languishing in a cell block will serve no purpose toward reversing any damage done or enhancing national security. Instead, the government should work out a plea bargain to ensure that if there is more to this than just a rogue enlisted man’s 15 minutes of fame, that Manning’s manipulators are brought to justice.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Party of Death

Over the past two years, the Republican Party has justifiably earned the moniker of “The Party of No”.  Republicans have not only effectively blocked much of President Obama’s agenda, but have even blocked his attempts to pass initiatives that were originally introduced by their own party.  And they are unashamed to point out that the defeat of the President is their number one goal – not jobs, not healthcare – but the bringing down of the President. 

But the labeling of the GOP as the “Party of No” hides a more insidious aspect of their agenda – the fact that their policies cause orders of magnitudes more unnecessary deaths than terrorist attacks have done.

The most egregious example, of course, is the Republicans’ opposition to accessibility of health care for all Americans.  Prior to the passage of the watered-down Affordable Care Act, the deaths of 45,000 Americans each year were attributable to lack of health insurance.  John Boehner and his ilk campaigned on repealing the current act, and based on their track record, their rhetoric implying that they will start over and come up with something better rings hollow.

Another example of the GOP’s pro-death platform is in its abhorrence toward life-saving regulations.  Recent disasters in the oil drilling and coal industries point out the need for strong enforcement of safety standards, yet the Republicans’ platform is to gut these regulations in the name of “free market economics.”  And speaking of coal and oil, the Republicans’ plan to neuter the Environmental Protection Agency will cost thousands more lives due to the increase in respiratory and other diseases brought on by free-market pollution.

Wars of choice are another trademark of Republican policy.  As our involvement in Afghanistan now surpasses the time spent by the Soviet Union in that quagmire, the number of military and civilian deaths in the Middle East continues to go up.  Try telling those families that the combat mission in Iraq has ended.

In the Republicans’ mind, a convoluted interpretation of the Second Amendment trumps the safety of the American public when they kowtow to their lobbyists and benefactors by refusing to restrict the owner ship of assault weapons.  More unnecessary deaths thanks to the GOP.

In addition to the well-earned name of “The Party of Death”, here in New Jersey, the GOP – or at least our GOP Governor – can be proud of the title “The Party of Pain and Suffering.”  Despite the fact that the legislature passed a law to allow certain patients to alleviate debilitating symptoms by using medical marijuana for palliative care, Governor Christie has thrown roadblock after roadblock in front of the implementation of that law.

All of this is not to say that the Democrats don’t deserve some culpability in promoting policies of death.  After all, many of today’s Democrats are filling the “moderate Republican” political void left by former Republicans who are moving rightward toward the extreme positions of the Tea Party in droves.  But by and large, the policies of some Democrats to promote universal and preventative health care, smart environmental and safety regulations and rebuilding of the middle class are the real pro-life platforms.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Tale of Three Traitors

Merriam-Webster defines traitor as

1: one who betrays another's trust or is false to an obligation or duty
2: one who commits treason

By this definition, Jonathan Pollard is a traitor to the United States.

Tormented as a child by anti-Semitic bullies, Pollard eventually pursued a career in Naval Intelligence with access to highly classified information.  Despite early drug use, false statements on his security application, and his repeated flaunting of the rules, Pollard somehow managed to maintain his clearance.  During the course of his employment, he passed classified information to Israel and South Africa.  By all accounts, this is a treasonous act, and Pollard is paying the price.  He has served 25 years of a life sentence, and is eligible for parole in 2015.

While all players in the intelligence game rely on insiders like Pollard to discover classified information, covert operations play a significant role also.  Establishing a covert operation is expensive and time-consuming.  Exposure of a covert operative is a treasonous act that places many lives in danger.  Yet, that’s exactly what Vice President Dick Cheney and political capo Karl Rove did when they allegedly exposed CIA spy Valerie Plame as part of a vendetta against her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson.  I say “allegedly” because even evil people are afforded a presumption of innocence under American law.  Unfortunately, Cheney and Rove are so powerful that they will never be brought to justice.

While Pollard languishes in prison in North Carolina, Cheney and Rove remain free.  Their fall guy, Scooter Libby, was found guilty in the course of commiting the same crime, but Libby’s prison term was commuted by Cheney’s puppet, George W. Bush.

What Pollard did was wrong.  But he spied for our friends, while Cheney and Rove’s actions provided aid and comfort to our enemies.  Twenty-five years in prison is enough for Pollard.  He should be freed, extradited to Israel, and his cell should be reserved for Cheney and Rove.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Tunnel from Gracie Mansion to the Executive Mansion

Cross-posted from

Was Michael Bloomberg’s white knight approach to a Hudson River commuter tunnel the first salvo in his presidential run against his neighboring naysayer-in-chief, Chris Christie? 

Recently, the New York City mayor announced a concept to expand the city’s subway lines under the Hudson River to connect with the New Jersey Transit system in Secaucus.  This comes on the heels of Governor Christie’s squandering of almost one billion dollars in sunk costs, penalties, and remedial construction after the governor’s cancellation of the ongoing project to double the NJ Transit/Amtrak trans-Hudson capacity.

Of course, Chris Christie has repeatedly denied that he is running for president, and he’s never lied to us before.  His blunt style has always been well-received by the right wing, and his pandering to the extreme fringe, such as his recent revelation that he is a global warming skeptic, are indications that he is positioning himself for national office.  So Bloomberg’s timing is curious.  Why didn’t he chime in during the debate instead of waiting for Christie to fail to come up with an alternate solution?

Mayor Bloomberg has stated that he would not consider a run unless he could count on the 270 electoral votes required to win.  He does have the advantage of tremendous wealth, and with no need to be on the rubber chicken fundraising circuit, he could devote all of his time to developing the nationwide relationships and infrastructure that he would need in a presidential run.  His rescue of the tunnel resonates with left-leaning infrastructure weenies like me, and his fiscal conservative creds help him with moderate Republicans (if there are any) and Blue Dog Democrats.

The country is frustrated with the speed at which Barack Obama is extricating us from the Bush Recession, and by 2012, with the Republicans in charge of the House, the vast majority of middle-of-the-road voters will see that the “party of NO” is just an empty shell catering to their corporate masters.  A fresh approach has a good chance of being effective, and no doubt Michael Bloomberg will continue to use his clout as the most powerful mayor in the nation and his personal fortune to convince us that he provides that choice.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Physician, Heal Thyself

Neither political party is void of hypocrisy, but the Republicans have it down to a science.  (Oops – bad choice of words – Republicans eschew science, but you know what I mean!)

Some of this hypocrisy is rooted in the language they use.  The right wing’s twisting of words took root in the Reagan era when the term “Compassionate Conservative” became part of the political lexicon.  The party that wants to keep tens of millions of Americans from having even the most basic health care is hardly compassionate, and the party that has catapulted the national debt into the stratosphere is hardly conservative.

Now, meet the new poster child of Republican hypocrisy – Congressman-Elect and physician Andy Harris of Maryland.  His campaign was based on a single issue – repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  Harris’s campaign web site states, “the answer to the ever-rising cost of insurance is not the expansion of government-run or government-mandated insurance.” 

At this week’s freshman orientation for new members of Congress, Harris was surprised to find out that his new government-funded health insurance policy, like many private policies, had a short waiting period (less than 30 days) before it took effect.  Unlike many private insurance policies, Harris’ new policy won’t cost him a dime.  According to staffers who were at that meeting, Harris became livid and railed against this waiting period.  While he has the option of using COBRA to extend his prior coverage to fill the short gap, he would have to pay for that himself.  Instead, he had his hypocritical hissy-fit.

Wikipedia has a modern translation of the Hippocratic Oath – an oath every physician takes.  In part, it reads: 
  • I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
  • I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm. 

I don’t know whether Dr. Harris’s medical education was subsidized by the government, and I don’t begrudge him from putting that expensive education on the back burner while he serves in Congress.  But as a physician and public servant, he now has a special obligation to implement the Hippocratic Oath, not only as a physician but as a trusted emissary to the halls of power.  His stance on the repeal of health care, which would cost thousands of lives, is the epitome of hypocrisy and an abrogation of the oath that he swore to.