Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Christie to Teachers: "Drop Dead"

When Chris Christie was elected Governor of New Jersey, most people acknowledged that he had a tough job ahead of him bringing the state out of its financial crisis.  But what was unexpected, at least by some, is his brutal treatment of one of the state’s most important resources, the teachers who help develop our children and prepare them for a world that will be much more difficult than that in which we boomers grew up.

His latest incarnation of the Christie Fiduciary Shell Game is nothing short of extortion – an area that he is familiar with as a former prosecutor.  What else would you call bribing school districts with some additional state aid provided that they freeze teachers’ salaries?

Teachers are well paid.  They should be.  They probably spend more time with our kids than most working parents are able to do.  Every teacher I have known spends his or her own money on school supplies for students and other accoutrements that the districts underfund.

Are there bad teachers?  Sure – just like there are bad salesmen, engineers, and even politicians.  But just like surgeons use a scalpel instead of an axe to operate on their patients, let’s be smart and not balance the state’s budget on simplistic schemes which offer more collateral damage than fixes.

There’s a lot wrong with the system today.  No other profession has “tenure” which enables formerly-competent individuals to occupy a job position well beyond their ability to contribute.  Like doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals, teachers need to be encouraged to stay up-to-date with latest developments in their profession, and tenure just levels the playing field for those who do not maintain their competency.  Also, just like people in other professions, teachers should have benefits and pensions, as well as salaries, commensurate with those of their peers. 

The vilification of teachers that spews from Trenton does not help our children.  Neither does diverting money from public education into charter schools.  The governor should tone down the rhetoric, recognize that school funding is a complex issue without simplistic solutions, and treat our teachers as valued partners in making New Jersey a better place to live.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Don't Impeach Chris Christie

There is a growing groundswell of sentiment here in New Jersey to impeach or recall Governor Chris Christie.

Our new governor has proven his arrogance and lack of concern for the people of the state.  His approach to balance the state budget on the backs of those who can least afford it, while at the same time refusing to raise taxes for those earning over $400,000, is unconscionable.  As I discussed in an earlier post, his approach is not only bad for the people of New Jersey, but also bad for the future of New Jersey’s businesses.

Christie was elected not for his platform, but due to the inevitable anti-Corzine sentiment based on the impact of the Bush recession on the state and national economy.  It is an incontrovertible fact that the Reagan/Bush/Christie “trickle-down” approach to managing our government services is a recipe for disaster.

Yet, the man was fairly elected to his office and as much as I hate what he has done and how he is doing it, unless he commits a crime, he should not be impeached or recalled. 

One of the things that separates Republicans from Democrats is that Democrats abide by the results of elections, while time and again Republicans act as sore losers and do whatever they can to subvert the electoral process.

Of course, the most egregious example of this Republican election nullification was in 2000 when the conservative-dominated Supreme Court unbelievably stopped the Florida recount and appointed George W. Bush president.  But that’s not the only example of Republican-backed election shenanigans.  Back in 2003, when Bush’s pal Ken Lay and his Enron Corporation screwed Californians with their energy price hikes, Democratic Governor Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The acts that led to the protracted nightmare of the Bill Clinton impeachment hardly reached the status of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as prescribed by the Constitution, yet the Republicans spent over $50 million of taxpayer money pursuing this witch hunt.  Even today, the “birthers” are relentlessly trying to undermine the 2008 landslide election of our first African-American president.

OK, you say – what about Richard Nixon?   He was a Republican.  But remember that the impeachment proceedings back in 1974 were for a real crime, and they gained traction when Republicans joined Democrats in calling for Nixon to resign.  (Back then, many Republican legislators were honest.)

So while Republicans have no compunction to subvert the electoral process, Democrats believe in, and support, the results of elections.   There was no serious effort to impeach George W. Bush, despite his disregard for the Constitution and due process. 

The right approach to deal with Governor Christie’s erroneous and harmful ways is to remember that our government has checks and balances.  It is vitally important that the State Legislature put their imprint on the New Jersey budget.  Impeaching or recalling Christie would only put his inexperienced hand-picked Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno, in the State House.  Instead, now is the time to call, write, and cajole your State legislator to do what is right for New Jersey.   Yes, we need to make difficult decisions on budget cuts.     A vendetta against unions is not the right approach.  We need to solve this difficult problem with fairness and “shared sacrifice” (including by the wealthy), and with compassion for our children and disadvantaged.  Our governor is immune to this message – let’s make sure our legislators understand it.   Call them today.  And in 2013, let’s get a real leader in Drumthwacket.  

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Dis-Loyal Opposition

Back in January, I lamented about the lack of a loyal opposition party in the United States.   We have a diverse group of Democrats encompassing what used to be the entire political spectrum, and we have a group of Republicans who have morphed into an extremist group that used to be labeled as the fringe.  Since my previous post, things have gotten uglier and more dangerous.

One could conceivably understand the Republicans’ stubbornness when they dug in their heels over health care and held up an unprecedented number of the President’s nominations for confirmation.  But now that health care is done, the Republican actions have gotten worse.  The Republicans in the Senate are using an obscure rule to stop all work after 2:00 PM, forgetting the job that their constituents sent them to Washington to do.  The child-like name calling on the floor of the House, started by Joe “You Lie” Wilson continues.  But the most significant recent change in the Republican meme is their embracing of the actions of the Tea Party and other violent extremist groups.  This goes beyond the disgusting portrayal of Obama as Hitler or the incessant name calling of “socialist” and “fascist”.  Sarah Palin uses not-so-subtle references to firearms to identify “targets” of Democratic representatives who voted for the health care bill.  Tea partiers and their ilk use racial and homophobic epithets on members of Congress, blocking their way into the Capitol.  And yet, not one single Republican leader has unequivocally denounced these hideous tactics.  It is clear that the Republican Party, including its leadership, has been hijacked by the lunatic fringe, at least at the national level.

The great Republican guru, Grover Norquist, is quoted as saying that he would like to see government shrink to a size where he could drown it in a bathtub.  (I guess he never drives on government-funded roads, never uses medicines developed by government-funded research, and would not call 911 if his house were burglarized).  Years ago, Norquist’s attitude would have been looked on as extreme.  Now, within the Republican Party, it is mainstream. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Health Care Debate - Winners and Losers

It has often been said that watching Congress work is like watching sausage being made.   The process is ugly, but the end product eventually comes out, even if it is still treif.

Clearly, the big winners in this historic debate are our children and grandchildren.  As the bill takes effect, and as it is improved over the years, they will be able to have health care access and quality that approaches that of the rest of the industrial nations. 

Watching the debate last night was painfully educating.  There were winners and losers both at the national and local South Jersey level – some of these may surprise you.

Winners – National Level

Nancy Pelosi will go down in history as one of the most effective Speakers of the House.   Vilified by the misogynistic right wing, she cobbled together a coalition of diverse Democrats from Dennis Kucinich on the left to Bart Stupak on the right.  Her tireless efforts to herd this flock of cats is the capstone of her political career.

The for-profit Insurance Companies were a big winner, with 32 million new customers subsidized by taxpayers.  They will continue to reap obscene profits with huge bonuses to their executives until we manage to get real regulation and competition in place.   Those on the Republican side claim that the Progressives are trying to put the for-profit health insurance companies out of business are right.  The ideal solution for America is taxpayer-supported free health care for all.  This is not socialized medicine as they have in England, but the implementation of a guarantee in our Declaration of Independence for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We have “free” taxpayer-supported police and fire protection – why not the same for health care?

Nearly every initiative in this bill has been initiated by Republican Policy Wonks.   Mandated coverage and insurance exchanges were Republican ideas aimed at thwarting the best solution – Medicare for All.  The Republican leadership’s virulent opposition to their own policies is mind boggling.

Winner – Local Level

Representative Rob Andrews, whose impassioned rhetoric at the health care summit and the House debate make me even more certain that he should be our next senator.  Of course, this would require the Democratic power brokers to allow South Jersey to have a senator, an unlikely scenario.

Losers – National Level

President Barack Obama, who early on abdicated his leadership role to a dysfunctional congress.   His quixotic desire for bipartisanship went nowhere, and had he stepped in earlier we would have had a better bill sooner.  The shameful anti-abortion language puts the burden of this health care victory on the shoulders of American women.  Now that the President has the momentum, though, he can redeem his political creds by proactively implementing financial reform, energy independence, meaningful environmental regulation and bringing the Bush wars in the Middle East to a quick close.

Another person who can redeem himself from the loser’s column is Senator Harry Reid.  Despite a filibuster-proof majority, he has been unable to keep the Senate on track, not only with Health Care, but also with the unprecedented backlog of presidential nominees.   Now he claims to have the votes needed to get the reconciliation bill passed.   But will it be by Easter or Christmas?

Republicans in general, as exemplified by Senator Jim DeMint.   Their lack of participation (other than obstruction) in the process, and their overtly stated goal of bringing down the elected president confirms their mantra of “Country Last”.   Of course, this is nothing new – it’s a repeat of their reprehensible actions during the Clinton years.

Loser – Local Level

Representative John Adler.   D-NJ after his name is an anachronism.  His faulty rationale for opposing health care will not get him any Democratic votes.   And the Palinistic Republicans will overwhelmingly vote for a football player over a Harvard grad in November

Saturday, March 20, 2010

His Rotundity

I was deeply disappointed when Chris Christie was elected governor. But that was inevitable. Jon Corzine’s administration was caught up in the whirlwind of the Bush Recession, and no incumbent could weather that storm in 2009.

Yet, I was willing to give the vaunted prosecutor the benefit of the doubt. Clearly, he would have to make painful cuts in state services, but I was hoping he would do it with fairness and compassion, without trickery or a political agenda. Boy, was I wrong.

It is unconscionable that Christie is balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and middle class while leaving the rich unscathed. His approach plays directly into the political agenda of the right, and the term “Compassionate Conservative” is as dead as John Adler’s re-election campaign. Maintaining state aid for charter schools while slashing aid to public schools only hastens the demise of free and high quality public education, a hallmark of America’s values. If the governor is mad at the teachers union, don’t take it out on the kids. His backtracking on his campaign promise not to raise taxes is the right thing to do, but the wealthy are apparently exempt from this “shared sacrifice”.

In this crazy world, where a failed beauty queen half-term governor can run for Vice President, where a state’s schoolbooks can purge Thomas Jefferson, and where the ranting of the daughter of a former Vice President accuses lawyers of treason in performing their constitutional duty, anything is possible. If Christie manages to cook the books and balance the budget on the backs of New Jersey’s workers, the Republic party would take a serious look at him as a challenger to President Obama in 2012. John Adams, our second president was a bit overweight, and his nickname was “His Rotundity”. Are we about to see our corpulent and grandiloquent governor receive the moniker of “His Rotundity II”?

To paraphrase the late Lloyd Bentsen, “Governor, I knew John Adams (or at least watched the HBO miniseries), and sir, you’re no John Adams”.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chris Christie - Bad for New Jersey Business

One of the assumptions of the Christie approach to the New Jersey budget crisis is that he is doing what needs to be done to keep and attract businesses to New Jersey.   After all, in-state businesses provide jobs and tax revenue for essential government services.  So reducing taxes on business and their highly compensated executives during this time of fiscal restraint is marketed as the best way to keep these businesses in the state.  Never mind that Christie’s “shared sacrifice” is exclusively imposed on low- and middle-income wage earners.

It in the Republic Party’s DNA to instinctively kill government, no matter how good or bad the services it provides.  This started when Ronald Reagan was governor of California and Proposition 13 was subsequently passed.  (Ask any Californian how well their government has functioned since Proposition 13), and has been the Republic Party’s mantra on the national scale since then.  Christie’s cap on property tax increases is almost identical to that failed California initiative.

The fallacy in this argument is that lowering taxes alone will not improve the situation for Jersey-based businesses.  As our infrastructure crumbles, our hospitals become overcrowded, and our schools fail to develop local talent (especially in the high tech area) to feed these businesses, the desirability of locating or staying in the state drops dramatically.  Job-creating businesses are like complex organisms, and thrive not only on their balance sheet, but also on the quality of life in their indigenous environment.  If you want to see what New Jersey will be like after social services and infrastructure are ignored and mismanaged, just take a ride through any inner-city neighborhood.

As I’ve noted before, the governor has a tough job.  But his one-dimensional approach to solving this problem has been irrefutably proven wrong during the Reagan and Bush administrations.  The governor needs to take a holistic approach to solving not an economic problem, but a socio-economic problem to make New Jersey a better place to live and work.  I am not optimistic that any Republican can realize this.

A note on nomenclature in this blog:  For some reason, the right has decided to call the Democratic Party the “Democrat” party.  I’m not sure why they do this, but if it’s a good idea, I’ll adopt it and call their party the “Republic” party.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Grinch that was Christie

Governor Christie’s initiative to privatize the jobs of thousands of dedicated state employees once again reveals that his plan to manage New Jersey’s fiscal crisis will be on the backs of those who can least afford it.

No doubt that Mr. Christie inherited a fiscal mess. The repercussions of the Bush Recession will resonate through the public and private sectors for years to come. But so far, the wealthy have been unimpacted by the governor’s necessarily draconian approach.

How can transferring public sector jobs to for-profit companies save money? Simple. Since the contracts will go to the lowest bidder, wages of those performing vital state services will be cut significantly. Of course, this will discourage the “best and the brightest” from pursuing a career in public service. As contractors pursue profits over service, they will also place the burden on the workers by hiring them as “independent contractors” so the companies that receive this work don’t have to pay for benefits or the FICA tax. And of course, regardless of which party is in power, contractors will be chosen based on political connections rather than their ability to do the work.

The governor is also proposing making state residency a prerequisite for having a government job at any level – state, county, or municipality. Would this requirement extend to private contractors? Will the low-paid state-sponsored contractors even be able to afford to live in New Jersey, one of the most expensive states in the nation in terms of housing?

If we are going to solve New Jersey’s financial problems, all parties must contribute. The governor should cancel the pending tax cut for those earning over $400,000 per year. And he should start a bold initiative to chip away at the third rail of New Jersey politics – home rule. By cutting down on the number of independent municipalities and school districts, the overhead savings alone would make a significant dent in the state’s deficit. How about it, Mr. Governor?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Chief Justice Whines

Today, it was reported that John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, complained about the President’s remarks at the State of the Union address regarding a recent court decision allowing corporations to provide unlimited financial contributions to political campaigns. Justice Roberts called the remarks “political”.

Never mind that the ruling itself shows how activist the Roberts Court has become. Never mind that Roberts’ conservative comrade Justice Alito inappropriately mouthed “not true” at the President. What the Chief Justice needs to understand is a basic tenet of the Constitution: The Presidency is a political position. That’s why we elect the president every four years. This is unlike the Supreme Court, where justices serve in their position for life. So the Chief Justice was right – the comments were political, but he has no basis to complain about them.

While the process for confirming Supreme Court nominees has been a political issue for both sides (witness the failed confirmations of Robert Bork as an Associate Justice and that of Abe Fortas as Chief Justice), once confirmed, the justices should steer away from political issues.

And in case you think the President’s comments were inappropriate (I don’t), consider the fact that conservative Republicans have led the charge not only to reverse elections, but also to recall justices because of decisions that didn’t go their way. This manifested itself in the 50’s with the Republican effort in Congress to impeach Republican Chief Justice Earl Warren as well as the liberal justice William O. Douglas. On the other side, no serious attempts to impeach Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas have been introduced in Congress despite their blight on our system of Justice for All that will be perpetuated for many years to come.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Open Letter to Congressman John Adler

The following letter was sent to my Congressman, John Adler.   He is a Democrat who was elected in 2008 in a highly Republican district.  He voted against Health Care Reform when it was brought up in the House of Representatives the first time.

Dear Congressman Adler,

I listened to your interview on Fox “News” today with Chris Wallace, and to say the least I was extremely disappointed.  You repeatedly referred to the Health Care reform effort as a “jobs” bill and were only concerned with the impact on small businesses.  (Yes, we do need to improve the employment situation, and a second stimulus is the best way to do that, but that’s the subject of another letter.)  Nowhere in the nine minute interview did you empathize with your constituents who are suffering from expensive or unaffordable medical insurance.  You mentioned “cost containment” several times without acknowledging that the independent Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the proposed health care bill will result in a budget surplus.

I worked for your campaign in 2008.  Your election on Barack Obama’s coattails was a pleasant surprise.  But your actions on this bill do not distinguish you from any of your potential Republican opponents, and unless you separate yourself from them, you will have served the district as a one-term congressman. 

When I was much younger, I read Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy.   It was about politicians who supported what was right, rather than what was popular with party functionaries.   You have an opportunity to join that group by proactively supporting health care insurance reform, which is a major concern of your South Jersey constituents.   Any other action would kill this initiative for another generation, resulting in untold pain, suffering, and death for many of your constituents.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Christie's Tax Increase

I don’t envy Governor Christie.   Like his predecessor, Jon Corzine, he has a difficult job – bringing the state’s financial house in order in the aftermath of the Bush Financial Meltdown.  But unlike Corzine, Christie is being dishonest,  and is putting the burden on those who can least afford it.

The recent cutbacks to New Jersey Transit will impact the people who are already hurting the most from the recession.  And the fare increases are nothing more than a tax aimed primarily at the same people, especially given that an increase to the low state gasoline tax is off the table.   Many low-income people whose budgets are already stretched will find the fare increases onerous.  Call it what you will, but the bottom line is that this is a new tax.

Mass transit is one of those services that is best handled by the public sector.  It is more environmentally friendly than privately-owned automobiles.  In this day and age, we should be doing everything we can to encourage mass transit rather than discourage it.  We need more, not fewer, choices in using public transportation.  In fact, in order to discourage driving and boost the economy, there’s no reason why mass transit should not be 100% subsidized by the government – just like parks and most roads.

The Governor should be honest with his constituents and declare that he is, indeed, raising taxes.   But let’s not put the burden of balancing the state budget on those who can least afford it.  A graduated progressive tax on higher incomes and luxury items would be fairer and would go a long way toward fiscal stability.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Grow Up, Republicans

When will Republicans grow up and start participating in the government they were elected to serve instead of exhibiting their childish behavior and grandstanding?

The disrespect of the Senate, the press, and the American worker by Senator Bunning in holding up the much-needed Jobs Bill is the most recent example of the party’s “Country Last” actions.  Yes, the bill finally got through the Senate, but Bunning's action forcing the process to go into extra innings resulted in the taxpayers footing the bill for the unnecessary inefficiencies in the stopping and restarting of critical programs.  Senator Kyl’s admonition that people are using unemployment assistance instead of working in this recession economy makes as much sense as saying Republican senators are all sexual miscreants based on the actions of Ensign, Vitter, and Craig.

Their use of props, like the exhibition of the pile of papers representing the Health Care bill at the recent summit is another example.  Surely, one would expect a bill this complicated to be voluminous, especially when they and their Blue Dog co-conspirators attach superfluous anti-abortion language and other peripheral pet projects to the legislation.   Their arguments about the content of the bill may be valid, but their continuous harping on its length is what one would expect from a high schooler who is required to read War and Peace for a literature class.

Like spoiled brats who won’t take “no” for an answer, Republicans are notorious for trying (sometimes successfully) to negate the results of elections.  Their successful abortion of the 2000 Florida presidential recount and their unsuccessful attempt to nullify the 1996 Presidential election are prime examples.  But they are also proactively using the recall process (as they did in California) to try to overturn the 2006 election of Senator Menendez[1].

Probably the most notorious and terrifying action of the Republicans has been their lack of outrage (and in some cases tacit approval) of the actions of Joseph A. Stack in crashing his plane into the IRS building in Texas.  Nobody enjoys paying taxes, but if we didn’t have the IRS, where would we get the trillions of taxpayer dollars to engage in the Republican wars in the Middle East?

Do some Democrats engage in this childlike behavior?   Sure – just think of Congressman William Jefferson, who hid thousands of bribe dollars in his freezer.  But it seems that these immature Democrats are the exception while the silliness and child like obfuscation of Republicans are more the rule.  What ever happened to a constructive loyal opposition?

[1] Yes, I know it’s the Tea Party that’s behind this, but until the Republicans renounce some of the more egregious and violent aspects of the Tea Party’s platform (like Obama as Hitler and threats of violence at rallies), I consider them as one and the same.