Friday, April 30, 2010

This is Not About Governor Christie's Weight

Like millions of Americans, Governor Christie and I weigh more than what is considered healthy.  As anyone who has tried knows, losing weight is not simple.  Here’s why:

Let’s suppose that I take a simplistic solution to my problem.  My doctor says I should limit my caloric intake to 1500 calories per day.  There are 271 calories in a Snickers bar, so if I eat 5½ Snickers a day, I will lose the weight that I need to.  Of course this is ludicrous.  Losing weight is not a one-dimensional application of calorie control.  There’s balanced eating with the right mix of vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, and other nutrients.  There’s exercise.  And there’s discipline.  If all I do is monitor my calorie intake at the expense of other factors, I will rapidly become unhealthy and in worse shape than when I started the diet.

Like dieting, managing the State of New Jersey is managing a complex ecosystem.  Simply cutting calories or cutting taxes while ignoring the other aspects that make that ecosystem run will not be effective, and indeed will be harmful.  But that’s the approach the Governor is taking.

Exercise is necessary for weight loss.  For most people, it is not pleasant and they’d rather be doing something other than schvitzing on a treadmill.  Similarly, taxes are necessary for running a state.  For most people, they are not pleasant and since the services that these taxes provide are usually taken for granted, they’d rather spend that money on going to the movies or buying a new electronic gizmo.

The Governor is harming the citizens of New Jersey by managing the state one-dimensionally.  Yes, it is imperative that we spend within our means.  But “means” is an independent variable.  Our tax system should be balanced, with those who are at the top income levels contributing their fair share.  Just like eating vegetables gives you more nutrition and fewer calories than a Snickers bar, state government needs to adopt a “more for less” approach by embracing proven six-sigma techniques to effectively lean out the waste in government while not cutting out the bone.

Christie’s cavalier attitude toward governing makes me think that he does not “get it”.  Tax cuts are comfortable – so are Snickers bars.   But they don’t solve the problem.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Instant Lunacy

The desire to get what one wants, right now, or instant gratification, has been part of our character for many years.  While prevalent among children, it is pervasive among adults too.  We sacrifice good nutrition for fast food.  We read less while we take advantage of on-demand television and music.  We use e-mail and instant messages to communicate tersely instead of writing a well-thought-out letter.  We forfeit affinity and privacy to incessantly post our activities on social media sites.  Corporations sacrifice long-term investments in order to post better short-term quarterly earnings.

Unsurprisingly, our desire for instant gratification extends to those whom we elect as our leaders.  Polls are showing that the Republicans are poised for big gains in the House of Representatives in the 2010 mid-term election, chiefly due to the dissatisfaction with the state of the economy.  What short memories we have!  It took George W Bush eight years to drive the economy to the brink of disaster, and the same voters who put the Democrats in office to fix that problem are dissatisfied that we haven’t been able to fix it in 15 months.

Despite Democratic majorities in both houses of congress, the GOP has taken parliamentary chicanery to new heights by killing or delaying every initiative of the Obama administration, even those that the Republicans proposed and once supported.  If the polls are correct, and the Republicans take the House, John “Hell No You Can’t” Boehner will become the Speaker.  This would guarantee two years of gridlock from the Party of No that would make today’s political machinations pale by comparison.

We need the leadership of Nancy Pelosi in the House, and that will require the Democrats to maintain the majority.  Demonized as a left-wing radical socialist from San Francisco by the GOP, Ms. Pelosi has proven herself as an accomplished politician who has successfully driven middle-of-the-road compromises across the diverse base of members from her own party, even while the Party of No shut themselves out of the debate.

The Democrats are far from perfect, and are almost as adept at political stunts as their adversaries.  But if one can generalize, there are more Democrats who genuinely want to do what’s right for the people, especially the poor and middle class who are the backbone of our economy.  But like most good things, this will require hard work and persistence.  Fixing an economy that was ravaged by special interests and greed will take time, so gratification will be far from instant.  We are on the right track, and finishing the job will require more time and a Democratic majority. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kudos to Chris Christie

Betcha never thought you’d see that headline on this blog.  Well, file this in the “give credit where credit is due” category – with a small dose of skepticism.

The governor made two significant announcements on energy recently.   First, he expressed his opposition to drilling for liquefied natural gas (LNG) off our shores.  Because the ocean is an unforgiving environment, any off-shore drilling is fraught with risks.  The proposed project would build offshore artificial islands for the extraction and production of the gas.  LNG is especially risky because it is difficult and dangerous to store and transport.  The governor correctly assessed that any benefit in jobs and energy production are not enough to take on those risks.

Also in the energy arena, the governor signed into law legislation that will make it easier to install solar-powered electricity generators within the state.  This law is a trade-off between renewable energy and land use, but reaches a reasonable middle ground on how these solar panels can be implemented.   The bill received bipartisan support in the legislature and is a step toward effective use of renewable energy.

I hope I’m not being too cynical by thinking that there’s a hidden agenda in Christie’s actions.   Do his cronies stand to benefit from these changes?  At a recent Energy Forum at Rutgers, the governor said,”The Lieutenant Governor and I are setting up a regulatory environment that is friendly to business.”  Those are code words for less safety and environmental regulation. 

The jury is still out on Christie’s environmental record, but his approaches to LNG and solar energy are a good start.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Article from a Major New Jersey Daily - May 23, 2016

New Jersey’s Schools Rise to 37th In The Nation

PHILADELPHIA – May 23, 2016 (AP)  New Jersey’s schools have been ranked 37th in the nation according to the National Association of School Evaluators.  This is a significant improvement over the state’s ranking of 49th at the end of the Christie administration in 2014.  Back then, New Jersey exceeded only California, where Proposition 13 had continued its calamitous impact on school financing.

Governor Cory Booker commented that “We are happy to see our schools rebound from the devastation imposed during the previous administration.  It will take several more years to undo the ravages that resulted and the impact it had on our children.”  Booker has made public education the lynchpin of his re-election campaign against three-term Republican congressman Jon Runyan.  The former Newark mayor attributes the improvement in quality education to the vastly improved working relationship between the state and the unions, as well as support from the state’s businesses which have been unable to hire qualified personnel, especially workers with science and math backgrounds.  Mike Polderth, head of the New Jersey Association of Small Businesses commented that “due to the lack of qualified graduates of New Jersey schools, we have had to hire people from out-of-state, and the relocation expenses are killing us.   For the sake of New Jersey’s businesses, I hope we can find well-educated candidates from within the state very soon.”

Booker and Polderth were in Philadelphia to attend the NCAA Lacrosse Championship game, where Rutgers outlasted perennial champion Syracuse by 15-14 to win the tournament.  Fred Sachster, Director of Communications at Rutgers, commented that Governor Booker’s support of academics as well as athletics has been very helpful as evidenced by the recent Nobel Prizes awarded to several Rutgers faculty members and graduate students.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Legislature Must Put the Brakes on Christie's Draconian Agenda

It is clear that our new governor is not listening to his constituents, but rather to his cronies.  So it is up to the legislature to provide the proper checks and balances.  Below is a letter I sent to my state senator and assemblypersons.   For others in New Jersey, I urge you to write to your legislators to press for an agenda that is sensible and compassionate as well as fiscally responsible.

---Start of Letter---

Dear (Legislator's Name),

When Chris Christie was elected governor of New Jersey, I was disappointed but still had high hopes that he would approach the job with toughness, fairness, and compassion.  Instead, in his first months in office, he has taken very simplistic and ineffective approaches to the complex problems facing New Jersey.

Now, it’s up to you in the Legislature to impose the proper checks and balances to provide those tough, fair, and compassionate solutions.  The Governor’s approach is not only bad for the poor and middle classes, but will be devastating for New Jersey’s businesses. 

Much of the rhetoric on the budget from both the pro- and anti-Christie factions has been one-sided.  That is, people either complain about cutbacks in government services or they talk about the taxes our citizens pay to support those services.  Those who lament the loss of services rarely address the revenue side of the equation, and those who rail against taxes rarely talk about what services they are willing to cut.  I will address both sides of this equation:

The most important state services (in no particular order) are education, infrastructure, and health care. 

On education, the Governor has taken a simplistic approach:  Freeze teachers’ salaries and impose across-the-board cuts.  His treatment of the teacher’s union has been childish and antagonistic.    There’s room for improvement in the current system, including elimination of the archaic tenure system and implementation of pay-for-performance.  Nevertheless, the Governor’s attitude toward teachers and public education has been counterproductive and has built barriers instead of bridges.  The future prosperity of the state is highly dependent on a robust and well-funded public education system.  Charter schools are harmful because they add bureaucracy and make it more difficult to enforce high educational standards.  Funding for public education, including highly-qualified, incentivized teachers, should be a high priority.

New Jersey’s infrastructure needs to support a state that ranges from densely populated urban areas to our wonderful agricultural areas that give us home-grown produce.  Our transportation systems are an integral part of keeping business in the state, and affordable mass transit is vital to enable workers to get to their jobs.  We need to ensure that our highways and bridges are well-maintained today so we don’t impose an increased cost burden on our children tomorrow.  We especially need to take advantage of those projects where there are federal matching funds – after all, those are our tax dollars too, and I’d rather see them support projects in New Jersey than elsewhere.  Yet, the Governor is foolishly turning down these funds.

For the well-being of our citizens, as well as to reduce costs, New Jersey should set the standard for health care.  The Governor’s web site is vague on his position on this issue – lots of platitudes with no specifics.  New Jersey should emulate and improve the Massachusetts universal health care initiative in order to attract businesses to the state and enable our citizens to be productive without worrying about choosing between medication and food.

Naturally, the things we need to make the state vital and productive do not come for free.  Whether you call them “taxes” or “user fees”, the sad truth is that the Governor is not paying as much attention to the revenue side as he is to the spending side.  In fact, as the chart shows, his proposals regressively place more burdens on those who can least afford it.

We need to reverse this trend, and ensure that our revenue stream comes from progressive sources.

First, we need to ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share of the tax burden.  Reducing the taxes for those earning over $400,000 is not only foolish, but is cruel to the majority of New Jerseyans. 

New Jersey has one of the lowest gasoline taxes in the nation.  We should increase the gasoline tax by at least ten cents per gallon.  This has the side benefit of encouraging conservation, reducing the wear and tear on our infrastructure, and obtaining revenue from out-of-state drivers as they travel the highways of the state.  Assuming a person drives 12,000 miles per year and gets 25 miles to a gallon, this is a modest $48.00 tax increase. To make this non-regressive, licensed drivers with income less than $30,000 should receive an equivalent tax credit on their income tax.

The boldest steps are the most difficult, but typically have the biggest payoffs.   That is why we should make municipal and educational consolidation a high priority.  There is no logical reason for us to have 600+ school districts when one per county is sufficient.   Similarly, consolidation of municipalities, police forces, and shared services will go a long way to improving the state’s revenue stream.  Once considered the “third rail” of New Jersey politics, consolidation is now supported by 54% of New Jerseyans, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll.  Let’s take a page from business’ playbook and aggressively implement Lean and Six Sigma processes across the board to get the most from our taxpayer buck.

The governor’s approach to balancing the state budget is draconian and simplistic.  So it’s up to you in the legislature to do the hard work that will resolve our fiscal problems while at the same time improving the quality of life for our citizens, both now and in the future.  If we are successful, New Jersey will remain a wonderful place to live and work.   If we fail, we will see an exodus of businesses and long-term problems for our people.

Many of these ideas are enumerated in further detail on my blog at, and I invite you to visit there periodically.

Thank you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Legal Question

I am not a lawyer.   So if there are any legal beagles reading this, perhaps you can answer this question.

Back in December, 2008, Massey Energy, which was responsible for the recent mine disaster in West Virginia, pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the deaths of two miners two years prior.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are the same as people, shouldn’t Massey get the same penalty as a person who commits the same crime?  Of course, you can’t incarcerate a corporation, nor can you give it a lethal injection.  So what penalty would be appropriate to punish the “personhood” of Massey Energy?   Should the CEO get jail time?  Should the Board of Directors?   Or, is a corporation not really the same as a person?

Massey was fined $4.2 million for the 2008 crime.  Their income was almost $3 billion in 2008.  This would be the same as a $98 fine for a person who was found guilty of causing two deaths and whose income was $70,000 per year.  Hardly seems just.

Will Massey ever be punished as severely as a flesh-and-blood person?   File this under “When pigs can fly.”

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Tax Spectrum

The debate on taxes, both at the national and state levels, is too simplistic, which may lead our leaders to a non-optimum solution, even ignoring the influence of lobbyists and other special interest groups.

At one extreme are the tea-baggers who argue that all taxes are evil, and nothing should be taxed and (extrapolating, because they never address the cost side of the equation) that all of these services should be individual choices and paid for by those who use them.  At the other extreme are the socialists who advocate that everything should be provided by the collective populace (i.e. government).  (For my conservative friends, Barack Obama is not a socialist)

In reality, the world is not black and white, and every service that we use today falls on a spectrum that ranges from full government support to total private funding.  Few, if any, of the things we take for granted are exempt from some type of taxpayer support.

There is, and should be, a strong correlation between the universality of a service and the portion of that service that is supported by taxes.  This is illustrated by the chart, below.

The horizontal axis represents the spectrum of the type of service, from universal (those that are supported by the community at large) to individual (those that an individual or small group choose to utilize).  The vertical axis represents the percent of funding for that service from taxes or individual contributions.  As you move from the “universal” category to the “individual” category, the percent of that service supported by tax dollars decreases while the contribution by individuals increases.

Some examples are included as annotations on the chart:
  • Fire Protection is a universal service that everyone needs and despite some satiric anti-tea-bagger web sites is fully funded through our tax dollars.  Clearly, pay-as-you-go fire protection is absurd.
  • Moving a bit to the right on the chart is Roads.  Our transportation infrastructure is something that provides universal benefit, even to those non-drivers who don’t use it directly.  Yet, some roads have user fees, so a portion of the fiscal support for our infrastructure comes from a source other than direct taxes.
  • Slightly to the right of the middle of the spectrum is our Food Supply.  While individuals purchase food directly, our tax dollars go to the universal aspects of food supply like quality inspections and farmers’ subsidies.
  • Near the right side of the spectrum is Cigarettes.  Even though smoking is an individual choice, and the price of cigarettes has increased dramatically, taxpayers still fund tobacco subsidies and to some extent the health problems of chronic smokers.
  • State Lotteries are fully funded by the individuals who choose to participate, so they fall in the rightmost portion of this spectrum. 

I’ll leave it to the interested (or bored) reader to place other types of services on this spectrum.

Given this funding spectrum, the issue is not whether a service should be supported by tax dollars, but rather what portion of that service is Universal and deserves taxpayer support.

You’ll notice that one significant area that I left off this chart is Education.  Traditionally, education has fallen toward the Universal side of the spectrum.  This made sense, because all children in the population have the right to a good education with qualified teachers and high standards.  Some families decided to opt out of the public education system in order to include religious teaching for their children, but for the most part public education has been the norm.

Today, there is a movement among Tea Baggers and Republicans to severely reduce the funding for education, especially here in the State of New Jersey.  The consequence of this would be to move our education system to the right side of this spectrum.  A larger percentage of the fiscal support for our children’s education will come from individual payments as opposed to universal tax revenues.  Hence, those children who receive the best-funded education will be from those families who can afford to provide it.  As teachers’ pay in the public system is reduced, it will become more difficult to recruit and retain high-quality instructors.

To avoid this problem, it is important to the future of our country to keep education on the left side of this spectrum.  Yet, there are aspects of today’s education system that are broken and need to be fixed.  We need to pay teachers for performance and eliminate the archaic and mediocrity-reinforcing tenure system.  We need to reduce educational overhead and duplication by consolidating the hundreds of school systems in New Jersey to a couple of dozen or fewer.  Charter schools are not the answer.  They increase overhead and bureaucracy.   Instead, we need to increase our support for public schools, get involved with the boards of education, and use proven business practices like Lean/Six-Sigma to drive out the waste in what was once an excellent system of education.

So when you see the Tea Baggers rail against taxes, keep in mind that there are very few things in the world that are purely black and white.  Taxes are not evil.  They support almost everything we take advantage of in a civilized society.  And one of the best investments of our tax dollars is education for our children.  We need to work hard to make sure we are spending these dollars wisely.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Don't Mess with Taxes

There has always been a vociferous portion of the populace who is anti-tax.  But if you are to believe the mainstream media, what was once a fringe element is gaining strength.  Indeed, here in New Jersey, Chris Christie was elected governor on a nebulous tax-cutting platform.

In any society outside of Somalia, people are taxed by their government.  These funds are used for a range of things from defending the nation to fattening the pockets of corrupt politicians.  Part of the price of living in a civilized society is paying taxes.

Naturally, not everyone is enthusiastic about where their tax money is going, and the Tea Party Republicans are most vocal about this, even though government spending is greatest when they are in power.  Today’s Tea Party Republicans rail about government spending on health care, education, and other social services.  That’s their right.  As a taxpayer, I’m happy that some of my tax money goes to help the indigent and less privileged.  Yet, you typically don’t see Progressives calling for the death of elected officials because some of our money is going to foolish wars in the Middle East.  In a pluralistic society, no one person determines where the tax money is spent, and consequently we must accept the fact that some of our tax money goes to causes that we may not support.

When a Tea Party protester drives his car on government-funded roads using his government-developed GPS to find a government-built park to protest and eat a hot dog that was checked by government food inspectors to chant “keep the government out of my Medicare”, it is apparent that many of these people are acluistic on how society works.

Protest is good.  But it is not sufficient to simply call for no taxes.   Those who call for changes in the tax law need to address the other side of the equation and discuss where the reduction in revenue will result in cuts.   Then write to your legislators and then let the electorate decide.

So Happy Tax Day everyone!   Enjoy the benefits that our country gives us through its taxes.  If you can’t, perhaps you should move to Somalia.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Trashing the State - Again!

Once again, Governor Christie has trashed the poor and middle class – this time by cutting almost three quarters of state aid to local libraries.  It boggles the mind to try to understand how New Jersey can compete in the 21st century without an educated populace.  Yet, the governor steadfastly refuses to progressively tax those same rich individuals whose businesses will need a savvy work force to remain competitive.  Our library users suffer while the rich get richer.

These regressive and harmful fiscal shenanigans are compounded by the fact that as the state reduces its support for libraries (which has been flat for decades), we also lose out on recapturing OUR federal tax dollars in matching funds.  So when you file your tax return on April 15, keep in mind that the money you are sending to Washington will end up in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Mississippi, or some other state that has a more sane and rational approach to providing educational resources to all of its citizens.

Today’s libraries are more than just book lending institutions.  Many have after-school programs for kids to continue their learning (where will they go now, now that social services and libraries will be forced to close while their parents are working multiple jobs?).  Libraries often are the only source of internet access for the poor.  Given that most job searches and applications are now done via the net, another unnecessary barrier will be placed in front of the poor thanks to the governor.

It’s amazing that the state can support stadiums with skyboxes for the wealthy and provide a $600,000 severance package to Fred Hill, Jr., but can’t come up with even a flat budget for one of our most important resources.  Chris Christie promised us tough management of the state’s resources.  But “tough” does not mean “draconian”.  His lazy and sloppy meat-axe approach to solving New Jersey’s budget problems is wrong for the people of the state, and we will be cleaning up this mess long after the governor leaves Trenton.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Killing the Sacred Cow

One of the problems with New Jersey taxation is that it tends to be regressive. That is, the bulk of the state’s tax income comes from the lower and middle economic strata, while the wealthy use loopholes, expensive tax lawyers, and other methods to minimize their tax share.

Governor Christie’s approach of slashing taxes is a sham, since the result will be increased burden on the municipalities, more user fees, as well as a general reduction in government services reducing the quality of life in the Garden State.

There is no doubt that we need to reduce state government spending, but this should be done with a scalpel instead of an axe. The state should take a lesson from business and aggressively apply Lean/Six-Sigma techniques to every aspect of state services. But this will not be enough. Like it or not, the state is in a financial hole, and some taxes will have to increase.

Right now, New Jersey has one of the lowest gasoline taxes in the nation. We should immediately raise the gasoline tax by 10¢ per gallon. Assuming a person drives 12,000 miles per year and gets 25 miles to a gallon, this is a modest $48.00 tax increase. To make this non-regressive, licensed drivers with income less than $30,000 should receive an equivalent tax credit on their income tax.

This proposal has many benefits:
  • Since a gasoline tax is already being collected, the additional overhead burden on tax collection is minimal.
  • Increases in gasoline prices would encourage conservation and purchase of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
  • More people would consider using mass transit (assuming the Governor doesn’t decimate NJ Transit)
  • Less driving would reduce wear and tear on our highway infrastructure.
  • Given that we are in the New York to Philly corridor, a good portion of the added tax revenue would come from out of state drivers when they fill up at our newly renamed Corporate rest areas.
A wise person told me that low gasoline taxes are a sacred cow in New Jersey. Well, these are tough times in the state, and even sacred cows are on the chopping block.

Gubernatorial Countdown Clock

Countdown till the inauguration of the next New Jersey governor (Mr. Booker - please run).

Friday, April 9, 2010


President Barack Obama has taken some flak from the Tea Baggers because he is a Harvard-educated Constitutional Lawyer and not just plain folk.  I suppose their premise is that highly educated individuals cannot relate to the problems of “average” Americans.

Our elected officials, whether they are in the Legislative or Executive Branch must have a strong set of skills in many areas:
  • Highly competent in managing a diverse set of individuals from a multitude of backgrounds and skills.
  • Strong negotiation skills.
  • Ability to prioritize and multitask, making correct decision with partial and/or unconfirmed information.
  • Outstanding communications and motivational skills.
  • Ability to analyze a problem and understand the technical intricacies, both in depth and breadth.

Like many, I am fairly well versed and experienced in these skills, yet I am not nearly skilled enough to be President, Governor, or even a Congressman.  I want someone in those posts who is an order of magnitude smarter than me, and highly skilled in all of the areas listed above.

Yet, competency to do the job does not seem to be a prerequisite for some people.  We elected a Hollywood actor as president in 1980, and that turned out to be a disaster.  The Republicans are enthralled by a former beauty queen who attended five different colleges before getting a degree and whose governance of a resource-rich, sparsely populated state is unblemished by success.

That’s not to say that competence is the exclusive province of one party or even one philosophy.  There are a lot of highly skilled and intelligent people in the political realm from both parties.  But it seems that this is no longer an asset to some in how we choose our leaders.   Instead, they evaluate potential leaders on sound bytes and appearances.

Barack Obama has shown he can emphasize with “plain folk” while people like Sarah Palin who purport to be in the grass roots are more heavily under the thumb of big business, and couldn’t care less about union workers, the uninsured, and women’s health.

An Ivy League degree should not be used as a factor to disparage a candidate for political office.  Incompetency, inexperience, and demagoguery should.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Drill, Nimby, Drill

I just don’t get Congressman John Adler. According to Politicker NJ, when questioned about President Obama’s plan to resume offshore drilling, Adler’s response was “I support expanding domestic oil production, but not off New Jersey's shores.”

To be clear, no matter what safeguards are in place, offshore drilling and its fleet of tankers will eventually cause a costly oil spill – it’s just a matter of time. So Adler is OK with an oil spill on the shores of Virginia, just not New Jersey.

Adler is an intelligent man. So why isn’t he more actively promoting renewable energy instead of dragging out our dependence on limited and dirty fossil fuels? Of course, his opponent is no better. Footballer Jon Runyan’s position is that drilling is fine as long as it’s done 50 miles offshore. I guess the oil slicks know not to traverse that 50 mile barrier.

We need people in Congress who are forward looking, not backward looking. But this year, those of us in the third district of New Jersey will not have a choice.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Another Blow to the Average Consumer - and John Adler's Chance to Redeem Himself

The following letter was sent by me to Congressman John Adler.   It will be interesting to see if his response is along the lines of Corporate lobbyists or of the average consumer.

Dear Representative Adler,

Today’s ruling by the US District Court for the District of Columbia against the FCC, and in favor of Comcast on “net neutrality” is a disaster. Over the years, the consolidation of media and its distribution has impacted our citizens’ access to a variety of information. Instead, our information infrastructure is controlled by a small number of corporations who necessarily put profit ahead of public service. We have seen the negative impact of deregulation on the banking and insurance industries, and the results have made a few people very rich while the average citizen pays more for less.

I would like to see you take the lead among your colleagues to promote legislation that imposes “net neutrality” on broadband providers. I don’t want Comcast controlling my ability to access sites that don’t contribute to their bottom line. I realize there are powerful lobbyists for the broadband industry, and am afraid the average internet user does not have an equal voice in Congress. By leading the effort to reverse this court decision, you have a great opportunity to re-gain the support of thousands of your constituents who were disappointed by your conduct during the health care debate.

Thank you.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Reagan Mania - Part Deux

Shortly after the death of Ronald Reagan, there was a rush to recognize his popularity by a frenzy of naming just about everything in his honor.   From the airport in the nation’s capital to an aircraft carrier to a remote missile testing range in the South Pacific, the Reagan moniker is as ubiquitous as ants at a barbecue.  With the centennial of his birth arriving next February, expect another round of Reagan mania.  There’s even a movement by Congressman Patrick McHenry to oust Ulysses Grant’s image on the fifty dollar bill and replace it with Reagan’s.   (For the record, Grant was a genuine war hero, a Republican, and an early proponent of civil rights.)  General Electric, which arguably launched Reagan’s acting career when they hired him as their corporate mouthpiece, is spending $10 million on promoting his centennial, even while GE’s stock value is at about one-third what it was when George W Bush was appointed to the presidency.

While Reagan was popular in his day, it has been, and continues to be, inappropriate to honor his presidency, which was mediocre at best.  Conservatives continue to deify him and his failed “Reagonomics” fiscal policy, which is the root of a lot of today’s economic woes.  His disdain for regulation and government in general led us to the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s, which until the Great Bush Recession was the biggest fiscal calamity since the Great Depression.  While the Republicans decry government involvement, over $100 billion of taxpayer dollars was used to bail out the S&Ls – huge then, but a drop in the bucket by today’s standards.

Reagan’s lack of leadership and disdain for the rule of law were exemplified by the Iran-Contra affair.  The illegal trading of arms for hostages resulted in several high-level Reagan appointees being indicted, some convicted, and most subsequently pardoned by Bush the Elder.  His over-glorified missile defense (“Star Wars”) program and tax cuts for the wealthy contributed to the ever-increasing national debt.

Conservatives tend to ignore the facts of the Reagan years, but instead glorify his anti-government, anti-union mantra.  Only the passage of the years will tell whether Reagan deserves the premature honors that have been bestowed – I suspect that his legacy will be one of missed opportunities and failed policies.  But this matters little to his groupies.  Now that the Gipper is no longer with us, they have latched on to another failed western state governor.   It’s only a matter of time before they start lobbying to put Sarah Palin’s face on Mount Rushmore.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Obama's Energy Maneuver

President Obama made two seemingly contradictory energy policy decisions on two consecutive days.  First, he broke yet another campaign promise by adopting Sarah Palin’s mantra of “drill, baby drill” by allowing oil drilling off the coast of Virginia.  Whether or not this is consistent with the desire to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, it virtually guarantees additional pollution in this environmentally sensitive area.  So once again, as in the health care deliberations, the President gave in to the Republicans even before the debate started.  It will be interesting to see how right wing hate radio puts its incessant anti-Obama spin on this.

On the flip side, the President announced improved fuel efficiency standards that will be required of automobile manufacturers after 2016.   Sadly, this regulation was ignored by the previous president.  The oil and gas lobbyists are already mobilizing against this initiative.  Does that make them “pro-pollution” in gopspeak?  However, this is a long-overdue impetus for American technology to recapture the lead in clean automobile technology.