Saturday, July 31, 2010

If Not the ADL, Then Who?

So the Muslims want to build a mosque in Downtown Manhattan.  That’s fine – let them.  Not unexpectedly, many Islamophobic politicians and groups have come out in vehement opposition to establish a religious gathering place so close to the site of the September 11 tragedy.  I would expect this from the likes of Newt Gingrich and the radical right organizations.  But from the ADL?  This is a group that I have admired for its courage and tenacity in defending the rights of all religions to worship the way they choose while maintaining the rights guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution.  It has been a beacon of light and hope in a world that still has pockets of hatred against Jews sixty years after the Holocaust that killed six million of us and countless gypsies, homosexuals, and other groups that fell out of favor with the German government.

This is the same ADL that opposes building the mosque – it claims that it is not due to bigotry, but it just “isn’t right” to have an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero.  This rationale only serves to feed the mantra that all Muslims are somehow terrorists.  Does the ADL feel the same way about building Christian churches near the site of Oklahoma City’s Murrah Building because Timothy McVeigh was Christian?  The ADL, which once was an uncompromising bastion of tolerance, has started down a slippery slope.

We have two choices.  We can welcome a Muslim house of worship and show that Americans are tolerant and inclusive – walking the walk that Thomas Jefferson eloquently inscribed in the Declaration of Independence and talking the talk that the Founding Fathers enshrined in the Constitution.  Or we can continue the undermining of our rights that George W. Bush started shortly after 9/11 and make America a less tolerant society based on fear and not liberty.  In that case, the terrorists will have won.

Friday, July 30, 2010

You Can't Have Lemonade Without Squeezing a Few Lemons

On the Op-Ed page of today’s New York Times, automotive writer Edward Niedermeyer argues that the new Volt electric car from General Motors is a lemon because much of its development has been funded by the American taxpayer.  The car is expensive, has limited range, and seats only four.

All of this is true.  The Volt will be in limited production, and I suspect the main buyers will be über-environmentalists and collectors of exotic autos.  Even considering Niedermeyer's argument that the U.S. government has not yet divested controlling interest in G.M., taxpayer support of new green transportation technologies is the right thing to do.

The internal combustion engine has served the American automobile industry well over the last hundred years.  But as dirty locomotion approaches obsolescence, it is important that Detroit transform itself or risk being left completely behind by foreign innovation.

Over the past decade, the United States has been falling behind in the support of applied research and development.  American icons such as General Electric spend hundreds of millions of dollars at their R&D centers in places like India, Germany, and China.  Government-funded research has provided you with, among other things, the technology used in the computer that you are reading this on and the internet that brings you this blog as well as the nonsense on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page.   If America stands still, we move backward.

The days when a clever entrepreneur like Henry Ford could transform an industry are over.  Barriers to entry for new technologies are high, and in order for America to compete, government support is essential.  American innovation leads to American jobs that are desperately needed.

So let’s let GM build its lemon.  Think of it as a beta test for a better, more attractive green vehicle down the road.  Yes, we should question why we are subsidizing a Korean battery manufacturer for the Volt, but all in all, taxpayer R&D dollars in automotive technologies are a wise investment in our future.  And let's not stop there.  President Obama should announce an Apollo-like program to reduce our addiction to oil by 50% over the next ten years.  That is what the American spirit is all about.

Postscript:  Dollars to researchers alone will not stem the overseas migration of innovation.  America’s educational system has been attacked by deficit hawks and anti-science crusaders on the right.  We need to train more engineers and scientists and fewer bankers and hedge fund managers for America to regain its technological leadership in this century’s green economy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Strange Bedfellows

Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department manager who was the target of vicious unwarranted attacks from the right wing, is suing the perpetrator, pundit Andrew Breitbart.  Now, I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that stupid and cruel videos are protected speech under the First Amendment.  So it’s possible that the American Civil Liberties Union may come to Breitbart’s defense on this issue.

What Breitbart did was morally wrong, and the fact that the mainstream media was an enabler of his shenanigans shows that there’s a dearth of real journalism in America today.  And while the right wing clearly does some nutty things (birthers, thirteenthers, calling the President a Nazi, etc.), these are all protected speech.  Breitbart had his fifteen minutes of fame, and the mainstream media should marginalize him just like they marginalize Ed Forchion.  Ms. Sherrod should let it go, and let Mr. Breitbart fade into the oblivion he deserves.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why I Like Governor Chris Christie

Actually, I hate just about everything the man stands for and everything he does.  But there’s one attribute of his that I wish President Obama would emulate.

Christie is the consummate Republican.  His policies and actions serve big corporations and his political cronies at the expense of the middle class and economically disadvantaged.  He puts politics above service (e.g. Judge Wallace’s firing), cloaks his political financing (Reform Jersey Now), and cares little about women and gays.  He rarely listens to his opponents (most of whom are also his constituents), and compromise is not in his vocabulary.

But you have to admire his chutzpah.  He has no hidden agenda – you know exactly what his lousy policies are.  He has usurped the power of the state legislature to the point of their irrelevance.  He panders to the common man – repeating his false “no tax” mantra so many times that people actually believe his lies despite evidence to the contrary.

Now, imagine if President Obama operated the same way.  There would be none of this 60 vote supermajority in the Senate that has made that body so ineffective.  The stimulus would be large enough to make a real difference.  Health care reform would include a single-payer option instead of the gift to the insurance companies that we got.  Campaign finance reform would be real.  Troops would be coming home from the Middle East.  And his two Supreme Court nominees would not take the court even further to the right.  Don’t get me wrong – President Obama has done some good.  But if he had Christie’s cojones, this country would be a lot better off.

Cross-posted to

Monday, July 26, 2010


The structure of our government is based on a system of checks and balances, wherein each of the three branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial) has some power and influence on what the other branches can and cannot do.  Often, the analogy is made to a three-legged stool which provides stability and is difficult to upend.  Yet, this is a false analogy.  While three legs are optimum for a stool, there needs to be an additional check on government.  This is because our three branches of government share an important trait – they are the ones in power.

Our Founding Fathers recognized the danger inherent in trusting those in power, and added an additional check – Freedom of the Press.  The American press has a long and noble history of providing critical examination of governmental actions, and calling out the powerful for their actions when that power is used inappropriately.

The history of the early 20th century was influenced by the Wall Street Journal’s exposé of the oil industry’s Teapot Dome scandal and journalist Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, which documented abhorrent labor conditions in the meat packing industry.  More recently, the publication of the Pentagon  Papers in 1971 by the New York Times and Washington Post, showed that the administration was lying to the public in justifying continuing a war in a far away location.  The result was the ultimate check and balance: the resignation of a corrupt President.

While yellow journalism has been around as long as newspapers, up until recently there has always been an ethical standard in the mainstream media that provided people with confidence in the accuracy of the news.  But it seems that with the emergence of the corporatization of media resulting in an emphasis on profits over quality, these standards have been compromised if not ignored completely.

No doubt, there are lots of hard-working ethical investigative reporters out there who are serving their profession and their country.  But as the Shirley Sherrod incident has aptly demonstrated, the 24 hour news cycle has been usurped by the 24 minute news cycle.  Fox “News” has mastered this technique.  It picks up an item from an extremist blogger with no credibility, repeats it hundreds of times on the air, and eventually the “legitimate” media picks it up from Fox and provides these “stories” with a semblance of credibility.  If you don’t agree with this, just mention “Swift Boat” to John Kerry.

One would suspect that those news outlets which provide an accurate and timely counterpoint to government misadventures would rise to the top in some sort of Darwinian process of elimination.  Yet even the Gray Lady herself, one of the most reputable and ethical news outlets, has been stung by lapses of ethical judgment or just plain laziness.  The New York Times blew it, not only in the run up to the Iraq War and WMDs, but also with climategate and the adventures of Jayson Blair.  We know we can’t trust Fox “News” and Drudge, but if you can’t trust the Times, what’s left?

Many of today’s self-described journalists and bloggers (including this one) have no formal training in reporting, let alone journalistic ethics.  So today, it’s more up to the consumer of news rather than the producer of news to discern the veracity and relevance of what is being reported and what your government is really doing..   There are tools available like WikiLeaks with their recent publication of Afghanistan war material, Media Matters, and ProPublica.  But the onus is on the reader to do the research and separate the facts from the rumors and hidden agendas.  Just because you can hear all of the “news” in 24 seconds does not make you informed.  Caveat lector!  Let the reader beware!

Would we get the same result today?

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Historians may remember George W. Bush as the president who used the September 11 attacks to promote a war of choice as a way to advance his failed agenda of exploiting Iraq’s oil riches for the benefit of himself and his cronies.  Certainly, this war has lasted far too long, and President Obama’s failure to bring it to a conclusion will be a stain on his presidency, also.

Yet, someday this war will end, Iraq will again flourish, and like Viet Nam today, it will become a trading partner and an acquaintance, if not a friend, in the international community.  But there are two aspects of Bush’s reign that will be a longer-lasting detriment to the well-being of the United States and its citizens.

First is Mr. Bush’s placement on the Supreme Court of two ideological activists who, along with their conservative co-conspirators, have transformed the Court into a potent regressive force that will be difficult to overcome.  Notwithstanding the utterly silly attempt to place Harriet Miers on the Court, Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts have solidified the ultra-conservative leaning on the Court that was initiated by Justices Scalia (Reagan) and Thomas (Bush père).  Justice Kennedy (Reagan) is the swing vote who has been siding with the forces of corporatism more often than not.

Of course, it all started before Mr. Bush became President.  Or more accurately, the activist mien of the Court in usurping Florida’s election laws was the reason Mr. Bush was selected as President.  The current court has continued along these lines – suppressing the individual rights that were guaranteed by our Founding Fathers, and instead promoting rights of corporations which they quizzically define as “persons.”  The bad news is that both of Bush fils’ appointments are relatively young, and the two Obama appointees are further to the right than the justices they replaced.  So this repressive and regressive slant will be with us for decades to come.

While we won’t be able to rectify the scourge of Bush’s reshaping the Court, there’s another aspect of his reign that we have an opportunity to fix.  The Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of this year, and the Pied Piper-like drumbeat to extend those cuts is coming from all Republicans and some Democrats.  This at a time when we have record deficits, the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” is expanding, and we are fighting two unfunded wars.  Economists tell us that while a dollar in tax cuts puts $1.02 back into the economy, a dollar in stimulus funding puts $1.60 back.  We need to increase the stimulus, pay for it with the restoration of the former tax rates – especially for the rich – and stop the waste of lives and treasure in wars that seem to have no goals and no end. 

While Bush’s tax cuts were not the only source of today’s economic woes, they were a significant factor.  Extending these cuts, especially for the wealthy, is not only irresponsible, but immoral.  Placing the financial burden of our adventures in the Middle East on our children is wrong.  Yes, the economy is still suffering from the effects of the Bush Recession, but the wealthy are doing better than they ever have.  Letting the ill-advised tax cuts expire is the right thing to do – for us, for our economy, and for our children.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Newseum

What is the best place in America to connect with the Fourth Estate? It's down Pennsylvania Avenue from the US Capitol – The Newseum.

Today, my wife and I visited the two-year-old building, designed by James Polshek – the same architect whose National Museum of American Jewish History will open in Philadelphia this November.

The Newseum highlights the work that print, radio, television, internet, photo journalists, and even bloggers have done and continue to do around the world – some giving their lives in the process.

It's an impressive collection of journalistic history, especially the nostalgia for print newspapers as they disappear and morph into sound-byte versions of their former selves.

I took away two strong impressions from this visit. First was the 9/11 gallery which used front pages from around the world to embrace the shattered remains of the television transmitter tower that was atop the World Trade Center. The unanimity of shock, outrage, and fear permeated that day.

Second was the dismay I felt when looking at an exhibit on Edward R. Murrow. Arguably the greatest journalist in the history of America, Mr. Murrow took on the internal forces of hate and demagoguery until his message was not longer tolerable by the corporations that sponsored his show. We need probing journalists like Mr. Murrow today to sort out the spin from the truth. Where are they?

The Newseum is a “must see” for visitors to our nation's capital.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chris Christie to Atlantic City Residents: "Drop Dead!"

Governor Chris Christie, who is on a rampage privatizing every government service in sight, has done an about face when it comes to Atlantic City. Christie is proposing carving out the revenue-producing casino district from the rest of the blighted city. The state would take over municipal services, and no doubt those services would be candidates for Christie's ill-advised privatization initiative.

At one time, Atlantic City was the gambling mecca of the East Coast – an alternative to Las Vegas a lot closer to the population centers on the Atlantic seaboard. But over the years, as other states legalized gambling, Atlantic City's attractiveness started to wane.

Looking at the other recent state takeover of local government, Camden, one can only wonder if this is the right approach. While the Camden waterfront has been gentrified and is a tourist destination, urban decay and all the issues that go with it are just blocks away. I'm afraid the people of Atlantic City will suffer the same fate.

The Governor's motives for this takeover may seem to be laudable. But I'm afraid that I trust the Governor about as far as I can throw him. His track record over the first six months of his reign shows that he cares more about millionaires and developers than he does about the middle class and the poor. His shenanigans with Reform Jersey Now demonstrate that his regard for the spirit of the law is lacking. Will his diversion of tax money on the Xanadu project from government services to the Chris Christie Crony Developers be a precursor for a similar approach in Atlantic City?

Atlantic City is one of New Jersey's many jewels. Its legendary boardwalk and Convention Center are deeply rooted in our nation's history. And the gambling industry provides New Jersey residents with much-needed jobs. But is a state takeover by a power-hungry executive the right solution? At a time when our urban centers are closing libraries and firing teachers, we owe it to the people of Atlantic City to find the best solution that meets the needs of all its residents. Aid to schools, libraries, and the tourism industry – yes. But takeover of the city by an ego maniacal ambitious former prosecutor who skirts around the edges of legality is worrisome at best.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Collateral Damage

I’m sure the wealthy BP executives breathed a sigh of relief when it was determined that the oil found two miles away from the Deepwater Horizon rig was from another well.  That new oil was characterized as “drips” in comparison to the gusher that was recently capped.

Lost in this discussion is the liability for these spills that come from abandoned wells.  There are thousands of such non-producing wells in the Gulf of Mexico, and there’s a potential for these “drips” to accumulate and cause additional damage.  We need to ensure that there is legislation in place that does not allow a drilling company to wash its hands of responsibility after a well has been capped and abandoned.  As corporate ownership changes through mergers, acquisitions, and divestments, this environmental stewardship responsibility must remain with those who are responsible for the abandoned wells.

Any significant leakage of oil into the Gulf has an impact on its fragile ecosystem.  While this has been going on for some time, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe brought this inconvenient truth to the front pages.  Introducing toxins into the environment is deleterious, whether it is done quickly as in the recent disaster, or slowly over time as we have been seeing with these abandoned wells.

This country needs to increase its effort to wean itself from energy sources that are ripped out of the environment and pollute our air and water.   The only acceptable solution is a concerted effort to invest in and develop clean wind, solar, and thermal energy.  This won’t happen overnight, but without a commitment to clear and measurable goals it will never happen.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dick Cheney's Heart Pump

A couple of observations on the heart pump that was recently implanted in Dick Cheney:

1. The device and procedure were funded by Medicare to the tune of $150,000 to $200,000.  Where are the protests from the anti-government tea baggers?

2. A man who outed a CIA spy, putting other agents in peril and diminishing the effectiveness of America's intelligence community, and whose actions in a secret energy task force abetted the events leading up to the BP oil catastrophe gets a heart pump.  I wonder if a 65 year old criminal who is languishing in the Camden County jail for passing bad checks - a far less serious crime - would receive the same medical treatment.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why I Should be a Republican

Actually I was a Republican.

It was the early ‘60s. I had read Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative and it resonated with me. So I was for Barry in 1964 – his campaign slogan was “In your heart, you know he’s right.” Chalk it up to youthful indiscretion. But I was unknowingly in good company back then. A young lady from Chicago, Hillary Rodham, was also a Goldwater follower.

The Vietnam War caused me to become disillusioned with both parties. Like today, we were in a war with no clear goals, and no end in sight. Unlike today, there was a viable anti-war movement, and that raised my consciousness as a patriotic American to realize that we were squandering precious resources, lives, and our reputation. I remember the moment when LBJ succumbed to the anti-war pressure and announced that he would not run for re-election. And with the exception of 1972, when I campaigned for George McGovern, the ensuing years’ presidential campaigns were essentially the choice of the lesser of two evils. Until 2008, where we had a real choice. I campaigned for Barack Obama in New Jersey and Florida, but his inability to deliver real change is disappointing.

At this stage of my life, I am in a fairly comfortable position. While I’m rich in family and friends, I’m by no means wealthy financially. Nevertheless, I’m better off than most Americans – retired with a decent income, and somewhat affordable medical insurance.

So why shouldn’t I be a Republican? After all, the GOP touts itself as the party of individual, not collective, responsibility. Since I’m on a fixed income, I should be staunchly anti-tax and pro-corporatism so that my investments can grow. I have decent health insurance and will be on Medicare soon, so why shouldn't I be in favor of repealing what my Republican friends derisively call Obamacare? My kids are out of school, on their own, so why shouldn’t I want to cut education taxes and school support to the bone? I’m old enough to be pretty sure that the deleterious effects of Global Climate Change will be felt after my lifetime, so why should I care about investing in clean energy? I’ve never owned a GM car. Why should I care if General Motors goes belly up? I’m retired, why should I worry about continuation of unemployment insurance? And here in New Jersey, Governor Christie claims he is cutting taxes (although in reality he is just redistributing them), so why shouldn't I be an ardent supporter? I rarely check out books from the library, so why should I be upset when its funding is cut? It seems like the Republican agenda is a perfect fit for my situation.

Yet, there are two main reasons why the Republic Party and what it stands for are repugnant to me. First are my kids and their kids – present and future. We Baby Boomers had so much promise for social justice and the American dream, yet for the first generation in a long time, we are leaving an America to our children that is in worse shape than when we entered it. The divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” is increasing, and traditional safety nets are becoming victims of Senate filibusters. The Reagan/Bush deficits and their abdication of environmental stewardship will be with our children for decades to come.

Secondly, I am a patriotic American. It is important to me that we work toward the collective good – and that is not what Republicans stand for. While they tout individual responsibility, their agenda supports corporations and the wealthy with budget-busting tax cuts while in their world, basic ingredients of the American dream like jobs and health care are secondary at best. Certainly, there are some Democrats who also fit this mold – so once again it is down to the choice of the lesser of two evils.

It saddens me that the party of Lincoln that was founded on social justice and the party of Eisenhower which promoted fiscal responsibility has been hijacked by selfish zealots who don't give a hoot about their fellow Americans.

The American Dream is a collective dream. Starting with the Founding Fathers, we are in this country to make it better (“form a more perfect union”) for each succeeding generation. That dream belongs to all of us - black, white, brown, Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, straight and gay.  A party that values corporations over people and war over diplomacy is not one that I can support.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

There is no Plan B

If you are not a regular viewer of The Rachel Maddow Show, you’ve been missing some of the best reporting from Afghanistan. Ms. Maddow and her production crew recently spent several days there interviewing American and Afghani security forces, and documented the conditions inside and outside the areas of combat. No hyperbole, just facts from those who are on the ground in this unfortunate area of the world.

Ms. Maddow’s reporting included this long (9 minute) but important commentary on why we are there, what has changed in our goals and strategy over the decade that American troops have been giving their lives and limbs for this cause, and the outlook for the future. Yes, Ms. Maddow is a partisan pundit, but unlike those on other networks, she sticks to facts and eschews sensationalism. This video, and the rest of her excellent reporting from Afghanistan, are worth the time to watch.

I will be very disappointed if Ms. Maddow's work does not win a Pulitzer Prize or an Emmy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Riddle

What is the difference between George W. Bush and Barack Obama?

George W. Bush was “elected” without a mandate and was successful in promoting a regressive agenda that ballooned the national debt, eviscerated the Constitution, and widened the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”.   Barack Obama was elected by an overwhelming mandate and so far has been generally unsuccessful in promoting a progressive agenda that would reduce the debt and strengthen the middle class.

September 11 gave George W. Bush the political capital to impose his draconian agenda.  This figure shows how Bush’s popularity surged after 9/11 and then went downhill steadily thereafter.  Despite this plunge, Bush was able to push through his Reaganesque agenda – debt-increasing tax cuts for the wealthy, illegal torture in the name of national security, and two unnecessary and unpaid-for wars.  He had the advantage of a friendly press (including the propaganda arm of his party – Fox News), hate-filled conservative talk radio, and a rubber-stamp legislature during the first six years of his tenure.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, has had only limited success, mainly because of many of the same right-leaning forces that propelled the Bush agenda. Despite the fact that the Republicans are abusing the filibuster, the President was able to get weakened health-care and financial reform bills through Congress.  Yet, the promise of progressive change still eludes us.  We still have “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, two wars that are killing American soldiers and increasing our national debt, Guantanamo, no debt-reducing single-payer Medicare for all, lack of transparency in government, a barely-effective too-small stimulus package, and lack of unemployment insurance for millions of Americans.  It seems like Republicans get their way whether they are in the majority or the minority.

The same Barack Obama who clawed his way to the top by defeating Hillary Clinton and John McCain is now governing with timidity.  His attempts at bipartisanship only result in weakened legislation and very limited and spotty support from Republican legislators.

Don’t get me wrong.  The nation is orders of magnitude better off with Barack Obama than it would be if John McCain and Sarah Palin had won in 2008.  But we ought to be doing much better.

Some pundits opine that the reason for Obama’s timidity is that he doesn’t want to be perceived as an angry black man.  Yet, much of the progress in the 1960s was helped along by “angry black men”.  Maybe that’s what the country needs today to get us out of the stagnant cesspool that was left to us by Mr. Bush.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Privatization Done Right

Cross-posted to

New Jersey’s experience with privatization has been unblemished by success.  Nevertheless, the state is in serious financial difficulty, and any potential solutions to provide state services more efficiently and at a lower cost should be seriously considered.

Unfortunately, Governor Christie is approaching privatization initiatives in a way that will not help, and will probably harm, the taxpayers.  He is repeating many of the mistakes that plagued the privatization of New Jersey’s 1998 motor vehicle emission inspection initiative, and he probably is inventing some new mistakes of his own.  Of course, his politically-driven Privatization Task Force report emphasizes the “success” stories and gives, at best,  lip service to the failures, both in New Jersey and elsewhere.

Privatization of some state services can save money if done right.  But doing it “right” does not mean firing state workers and employing a private company to do the same job with lower-paid  (and most likely less qualified) employees while the politically-connected contractor skims off a handsome profit at the taxpayers’ expense.  Since the contractor is accountable to shareholders and not voters, steps must be taken to ensure that the taxpayers’ interests are being addressed appropriately.  This requires oversight and insight by qualified and empowered state employees.  That cost must be included in the equation when considering privatization.

An important consideration is what services should be considered for privatization.  Services that are provided as commodities in the private sector are prime candidates if their implementation in the public sector is essentially identical.  An example would be payroll services where several vendors compete across a broad range of customers to provide compensation to a client's employees.  There must be adequate competition for these services in order to be considered for privatization.  After all, the ultimate goal is to provide more service for fewer dollars, and if the economies of scale and the pricing pressure of real competition in the private sector can be leveraged, then there’s a potential for a benefit to the taxpayer.  Privatization of critical infrastructure initiatives (like Governor Whitman’s failed Motor Vehicle Emissions contract) should receive extra scrutiny and non-partisan expert oversight, if done at all.

Even more important is how privatization initiatives are conducted.  Requests for Proposal (RFPs) should be carefully written and reviewed by independent, knowledgeable experts, not politicians or bureaucrats.  RFPs should be complete, down to the draft Service Level Agreements that will become part of the contract.  Incentives for exemplary performance, and penalties for poor performance, provide the State with leverage to ensure that our needs are met.  And of course, one of the most difficult but important aspects of choosing a potential private partner is the absence of political influence over that selection.

While ISO:9001 Quality Management System certification does not guarantee that a contractor will meet expectations, lack of such certification should also indicate that the potential supplier does not give quality  management adequate attention.  Thus, only potential contractors with a current ISO:9001 certification should be allowed to bid on major contracts.  Similarly, outsourcing of any programs that are IT or software-intensive should require at least a Level 3 (and preference should be given to Level 5) certification against the appropriate Capability Maturity Model Integrated process standard.

Industry-standard Risk and Opportunity Management processes should be implemented and rigorously followed even before the RFP is developed.  Properly implemented, Opportunity Management coupled with Six-Sigma initiatives can help improve cost, schedule, and technical performance of the outsourced services.    Coupled with this, frequent and in-depth technical and programmatic reviews by independent experts should be conducted for the larger initiatives.  The reports from these reviews for the largest initiatives (e.g. for those valued over $100 million) should be provided directly to the Governor, unfiltered by intermediate bureaucrats.

Is all of this oversight and insight expensive?  Sure – and it needs to be factored into the privatization equation.  But as Christie Whitman’s Motor Vehicle inspection initiative has proven, lack of such standard project management practices is even more expensive.

So if privatization is to work for the New Jersey taxpayer, the process must be robust and transparent.   Realistic cost estimates must include those for effective oversight.  Unfortunately, oversight and transparency are not in the current vocabulary of the state’s executive branch.  So before the taxpayer is asked to support significantly more privatization, there needs to be a culture change in Trenton.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Get to Work, Mr. Governor

Cross-posted to

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ask. Tell.

The second half of the twentieth century will be remembered as the time in our nation’s history when a gross mistake made by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution finally was rectified. The Constitution institutionalized the notion that African-Americans were not to be afforded all the rights of Americans. While the Civil War and the 14th and 16th Amendments removed the legal barriers, advances in civil rights for African Americans did not take root for one hundred years after those historical events. This is far too long a span of time for a nation that prides itself on equal rights for all.

Many factors contributed to the change in the majority’s attitude and the attainment of rights for African Americans over the years. During World War II, partially at the prodding of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, one barrier was slowly broken. The war effort needed pilots, bombardiers, and navigators for combat in Europe and the Pacific. To help address this need, the 332nd Fighter Group of the Army Air Corps was formed. These aviators, commonly known as the Tuskegee Airmen, were the first African-American pilots in the U.S. military. While they served with skill, bravery, and distinction, the attitude in the military, like the attitude among civilians, was resistant to change, and that change took a long time to implement. “Separate but equal” training and operational facilities were built for the Airmen, and in those rare instances where the African-American aviators worked alongside their white counterparts, there was still segregation in facilities, housing, and other everyday life activities. Even after the war, not a single one of the Tuskegee Airmen was hired as a pilot by the commercial airlines. At the time, there was much consternation among the airmen about the “separate but equal” facilities, but some of the aviators, as well as liberal-minded politicians, considered that a necessary evil toward the greater goal of full equality for African-Americans in the military.

Of course, the struggle for rights in the military was just a microcosm for the larger struggle. The landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954 set the stage for full integration, but it took several generations for effective implementation. (One wonders how today’s activist Supreme Court would rule on a similar manner). Despite the advances of Dr. King, the sacrifices of Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner and others, there are still events that show the racial divide has narrowed but is not closed.

Nevertheless, much progress has been made in the last half-century for African-Americans’ rights. The election of Barack Obama is not the culmination of that struggle, but rather the next chapter in an ongoing initiative to ensure equal rights for African-Americans and Americans overall.

Unfortunately, the end of the twentieth century was also marked by events that diminished the rights of another group of Americans: gays and lesbians. While discrimination and violence against homosexuals have been with us even before the days of J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joseph McCarthy, it was President Clinton who signed into law two bills that institutionalized discrimination and took away rights from millions of American. In 1993, he approved the featherbrained policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in the military, and in 1996 approved the Republican wedge issue by signing the equally ridiculously-named “Defense of Marriage Act”, which defined marriage at the Federal level as a union between a man and a woman.

As in the case of the Tuskegee Airmen and African-Americans serving alongside Caucasians, there are those who decry the concept of homosexuals serving side-by-side with heterosexuals in the military. And like the case of the Tuskegee Airmen, gays and lesbians have served their country with distinction and honor. To paraphrase World War II journalist Ernie Pyle, “There are no homophobes in foxholes.” In today’s military, which is stretched thin by two unnecessary wars, the policy of not allowing gays and lesbians to serve their country is not just wrong, it is also counterproductive and harmful to the war effort. Yet, President Obama’s campaign promise to repeal DADT is moving at a pace that would make a snail seem like a Lamborghini in comparison.

Elimination of the “Defense of Marriage Act” is also moving at a slow pace. Last year, 91 congressmen signed on to an effort to repeal this inappropriate legislation. More recently, a District Court judge in Boston ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional – he made the right decision for the wrong reason. The judge’s rationale was that marriage is a state’s rights issue – the same rationale that was used to perpetuate segregation before the Brown decision. What he should have ruled is that DOMA is unconstitutional because it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The “Separate but Equal” concept of civil unions is as wrong and ineffective as “separate but equal” schools were for African-Americans.

The struggle for African-American civil rights was a long, often violent one – and it is by no means over. By comparison, the struggle for gay and lesbian rights is just starting. As we approach America’s bicenquinquagenary, let’s ensure that equal rights are just that – equal for all Americans – black, brown, and white; gay, straight, and transgender; Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and atheist; and any other variant of the human condition that exists. Instead of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, ask yourself if America is meant to institutionalize second class citizenship and deny rights to anyone, and tell your elected officials to remove any and all legal barriers that deny you and your neighbors full and equal rights. It shouldn’t take another 100 years for America to realize its full potential.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Adler - Runyan Debate

Cross-posted to

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 5, 2010

An Open Letter to Tea Baggers

Dear Tea Bagger,

I had a wonderful time celebrating our country's independence this year at the Jersey Shore. Before I left, I checked the taxpayer-funded weather service to figure out what clothes to pack. I traveled on taxpayer-funded highways across a taxpayer-funded causeway to a barrier island whose beauty is maintained by taxpayer-funded beach restoration. On the way here, we passed through the awesome New Jersey Pinelands, which are protected by taxpayer funded initiatives and strict governmental environmental regulations. Here at the shore, I viewed an impressive Fourth of July fireworks display, and although the fireworks may have been privately funded, the taxpayer-funded local police kept the hoards of traffic moving safely through the small towns before and after the event. I'm glad that the house that I am renting has indoor plumbing – I can't imagine what an outhouse must smell like in the 100 degree heat. Of course, that plumbing infrastructure was funded by the taxpayer, and I hope that its required maintenance is also being taken care of.    Oh – I forgot to mention that I am posting this letter on the internet – whose impetus came from taxpayer-funded research and development dollars.

I know that you would prefer that the only thing we spend our tax money on is wars and subsidies to corporations. But I thank you for throwing a small part back to me to develop and maintain the infrastructure and environment that made my vacation pleasant.



Saturday, July 3, 2010

Christie's Misplaced Priorities

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted to Blue Jersey

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Shared Sacrifice

Like most other states, here in New Jersey, we have had a long-standing financial crisis – brought on by poor governance by both parties and exacerbated by the Bush financial meltdown.  Last year,  Chris Christie was elected governor on a platform of “shared sacrifice”; that is everyone in the state would be called upon to help dig us out of this hole.  (This was a broken promise, but that's the subject of another blog.)

The crisis in New Jersey pales in comparison to the crisis in the Middle East.  The Bush/Obama wars of choice have been going on longer than any of our previous wars, which for the most part were wars of necessity.  But except for those have a loved one in the military, the wars are not having a significant impact back home.  The reason is that, unlike in other wars, we are not being asked to “sacrifice” to achieve military goals.  Any contribution to the “sacrifice” is being handled solely by the troops and their families, and by our children and grandchildren who will be paying the debt for these wars in decades to come.

War is horrible, and if a country decides to go to war it must weigh the benefits with the real and the hidden costs.  If continuation of these wars is to be justified, then the entire country needs to be involved.  Only then, by sharing in the burden of the wars, can the general population make the informed and rational decision on the wars’ worth.

Two things need to happen immediately:

Make the Wars a Pay-as-You-Go Proposition

The Middle East wars have robbed our treasury of one trillion (that’s a million million) dollars with no end in sight.  We are spending one billion dollars a day – for what?  More troops have been killed than the number of people who died in 9/11.  Those who were injured will be (rightfully) covered for rehabilitation for the rest of their lives.  Yet, the Republicans and some Democrats are so fiscally and morally irresponsible that they are promoting tax cuts.  We should immediately impose a progressive tax surcharge to pay for the war so that all Americans are called upon to share in this sacrifice.  The surcharge should be real but small for the lowest income wage earners and progressively increase to, say, 50% of incremental gross income for people earning over $500,000 per year.  Similar surcharges should be levied on corporate taxes.  Those who benefit most from our country’s economy should contribute more for these wars that are primarily benefiting corporate America.

Re-instate the Draft

The volunteer military is a good idea in time of peace.  And if there is a justifiable war, like World War II, I have no doubt that able-bodied Americans would enlist in droves.   No doubt, in today’s military, there are also thousands of enlistees who gladly volunteered believing they were avenging the horrors of 9/11.  But there are also thousands of “volunteers” today who look at the military as employer of last resort.    Yet, the services are so strapped for manpower, they are lowering their standards for enlistment to include ex-felons.  And they are sending troops back to the front for four or five tours of duty with little rest between deployments.

We should bring back the draft, and include everyone.  Men and women, rich and poor, gays and straights.  Those who are not able-bodied enough to serve should be required to perform equivalent service at home – working with the poor, or doing other similar service.  Deferments should be rare.  And to reward those who do serve, generous college scholarships should be available upon completion of service.   That’s a win-win situation.

By instituting war taxes and compulsory service, we move toward a “shared sacrifice” that any war must be conducted under.  And if these shared sacrifices are too much for the country to bear, then the debate over the justification for these wars will become more relevant.