Monday, May 31, 2010

The Lion that Squeaked

Sixteen months into his administration, President Obama has established himself as Wimp-in-Chief.  While he ran on a platform of “change”, the extent of the change has (thankfully) been the return to normalcy from the lunacy of the Cheney/Bush administration.  Those of us who went door-to-door to convince voters to select Mr. Obama expected bold, progressive change.  Instead we got a good leader, but one who could best be categorized as a moderate Republican on the political spectrum.

While incremental progress is being made, many of those baby steps can be easily undone by a more conservative successor.  Real change comes in bold steps like President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, President Truman’s nationalization of the steel industry, and President Nixon’s trip to China.

Take, for example, President Obama’s approach to the economic stimulus package.  While it created thousands of jobs and can be credited for the very slow turnaround in the economy, we are not out of the woods yet.  The stimulus, as passed, has massive tax cuts – not a really great way to close the deficit, and as we learned from the Reagan and Bush administrations, tax cuts do not create jobs.  Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman argues that we need a second stimulus now in order to maintain the recovery – but we haven’t heard anything from the President on this.

Similarly, on Health Care – the President was involved only in the final innings.  Congress managed to squeak through a weak reform package – really a gift to the insurance industry – primarily due to the skills of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.  Had the President been involved from day one, we might have had real reform, including the much-needed single-payer approach to help contain insurance premium rates.

On other issues such as the closing of Guantanamo and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the President’s proactive leadership has been conspicuous by its absence.  We are already five months past the President’s own goal of closing Gitmo, and DADT could have been quashed with a stroke of the executive pen.  Yes, we are taking small steps to fulfill these promises, but it’s like running a race with your sneakers tied together.  For each of these initiatives, the administration develops lame excuses as to why the pace is so slow.  Yes, the Republic party would go bonkers over a decisive move to fix these problems, but how much cooperation have they provided in the last sixteen months anyway?

Now, the President has another opportunity to make a bold move to do what’s right for America, but he’s blowing it.  Allowing BP to continue fixing the oil rig off the coast of Louisiana and develop a solution for the Niagara of oil that spills into the Gulf every day is just the proverbial fox guarding the hen house.  This time, the excuse is that the Federal Government does not have the equipment and expertise to solve these problems, while BP does.  True, but equipment and expertise will not solve the problem, management of the crisis will.  The President should immediately appropriate the resources of BP America and appoint a board of experts to manage the crisis.  The board should consist of an international panel of oil drilling experts who are not on BP’s payroll as well as environmentalists, academics, and other experts.  They should be funded out of the nationalized BP’s profits and continue operation until the situation in the Gulf is stabilized and a robust cleanup strategy is in place and funded.

Like it or not, from today’s perspective, Obama’s legacy will be defined by the economy, the Iraq war, and the BP disaster.  We’ve only taken tentative steps to address the first two and success has been lacking.  Let’s be bolder in addressing the third.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Thumb on the Scales of Justice

George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm contains a series of commandments for the denizens of Manor Farm, which eventually boil down to “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." While Orwell’s story was a parable describing the former Soviet Union, this commandment rings true today in the World’s Greatest Democracy.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that it is “self-evident” that “all men are created equal.” But in reality the rich and powerful are clearly “more equal” than others.

A quick on-line search reveals the prison sentences that are given to those convicted here in Burlington County, NJ. Some examples:

• A man convicted of aggravated assault – 7 years.
• A man convicted of harassment – 120 days.
• A man convicted of terroristic threats – 3 years.
• A woman convicted of a drug offense – 71 days.

Without knowing the particulars of these cases, I trust that the criminal justice system worked, these people were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and their sentences are deserved for what they did.

Yet, there is another whole class of citizens whose crimes (or in some cases alleged crimes) are at least as harmful as those described who have not served a single day in prison. The difference? They are part of the “more equal” powerful elite.

The late 1980s was the genesis of government-funded bailouts. At that time, a large number of banking institutions known as Savings and Loans failed due to deregulation of their industry. Among those was an institution known as Silverado Savings and Loan, of which Neil Bush was a director. Neil Bush is the son of the then Vice President, George H.W. Bush. While he denied any culpability, he was involved in approving bad loans to his business partners, and giving loans to himself. Eventually, the bailout of Silverado ended up costing us $1.3 billion. The younger Bush was never indicted on criminal charges, and ended up getting civil charges dropped for a measly (for him) $50,000 in an out of court settlement. Neil Bush never served a day in jail.

Also in the 1980s, Caspar Weinberger was Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense. He was involved in illegal arms sales during the Iran-Contra affair and was indicted in 1992. Before he could be tried, he was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Weinberger died in 2006 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, surrounded by genuine heroes. Caspar Weinberger never served a day in jail.

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney when both were involved in what is nothing less than a treasonous act – the intentional outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. While never tried for the outing of Plame, Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice and received a 30 month prison sentence. He was immediately pardoned by President George W. Bush. Neither Scooter Libby nor Dick Cheney ever served a day in jail.

Some of the rich and powerful have not been so lucky. Jeffery Skilling of Enron, the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and Wall Street broker Bernard Madoff come to mind. All were convicted, sentenced, and jailed. But for every Madoff, there are dozens of Wall Street criminals who have taken the life savings of common Americans and filled their own coffers with obscene bonuses while crashing the American economy. Not one of the bankers who caused the 2008-2009 near-depression ever served a day in jail.

Today, there is a whole new class of criminals. They are the energy company executives of companies like Massey, BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, whose disdain for worker safety and environmental consequences has caused dozens of worker deaths and untold harm to our environment, not to mention the billions of taxpayer dollars that the next generation of Americans will be paying for the cleanup. Will these executives be brought to justice, or will they just have to incur the pompous wrath of Congressional hearings? If they are tried and convicted, it’s unlikely that President Obama will be as free with the pardon pen as the Bush nobility was, but an environmentally clueless future President Palin might.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Conservative Hypocrisy

Once again, death-penalty-loving right-to-lifers are demonstrating their unending hypocrisy. In an article in today’s New York Times, it was reported that many states are forcing women who are seeking abortions to undergo ultrasound procedures, whether or not these procedures are medically warranted.

It seems odd that the same people who vigorously oppose requiring life-saving health insurance are mandating a medical procedure that in some cases is cruel and unnecessary. Conservatives oppose life-saving health insurance mandates on dubious constitutional grounds, but don’t hesitate to legislate superfluous and unwanted medical tests. Senator Franken was spot on when he remarked that conservatives believe “life begins at conception and ends at birth."

Abortions should be legal, safe, and rare. The conservative agenda works in the exact opposite manner.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Support The Troops

Cross posted at Blue Jersey

Every day of the year, our uniformed military sacrifices life and limb to fulfill the missions that we assign to them. Yet on only one day per year, Memorial Day, do we formally recognize these sacrifices. We do so with parades, flags, speeches, and barbecues. During the rest of the year, we may send care packages and drive around with magnetic yellow ersatz ribbons on our cars, but for the most part unless we have a loved one serving in the war zones, we go about our business and the soldiers are largely forgotten. Despite the fact that we are in the longest war in American history, news from the front is relegated to the back pages – after the headlines about Dancing with the Stars or the sexual proclivities of a politician.

While we say we “support the troops”, do we really? We send them to an ill-conceived war without adequate body armor. We put them unnecessarily in harm’s way by spending millions of dollars on corrupt or incompetent contractors who provide unsafe facilities that electrocute our servicemen and women. We go through eight years of Bush Reaganomics which wrecks the economy, making service in the military not “voluntary” but rather the “employer of last resort” for some. We stretch our troops so thin that they are cruelly redeployed for three, four, and five tours after they have bravely served our nation. We kick out motivated, well-trained, and well-qualified troops simply because of their sexual orientation.

So how can we support the troops this Memorial Day? Certainly we should continue sending care packages and displaying ribbons on our automobiles, whether or not these activities are symbolic or meaningful. More importantly, we need to realize that the nation is at war, and the justification for that war is subject to debate. If it weren’t for vigorous debate and endless protest, the war in Vietnam might have stretched out several more years, killed more Americans, and had the same outcome. It would be a fitting tribute to our troops if, by next Memorial Day, they were all home and the billions of dollars that we are throwing into overseas wars were spent here in America on deficit reduction, jobs, health care, and education for our veterans and for all Americans.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Just Wondering...

...if the reason that President Obama is not using the Army Corps of Engineers and the rest of the military to clean up the mess that BP has created... because our military personnel and equipment are stretched too thin fighting the oil wars in Iraq and Afghanistan...

... just wondering...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Après le Deluge

As soon as the flood of oil started gushing from the remnants of the Deepwater Horizon well, BP started a full court press to control the damage.  Not the damage to the environment, but the damage to their corporate reputation.  They’ve been spending tens of thousands of dollars running full-page advertisements in national print media.  Here’s a handy guide to translate BP’s response into plain English. 

What BP Said (source: BP’s ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/23/10)
How to Interpret
Since the tragic accident on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig first occurred, we have been committed to do everything possible to stop the flow of oil at the seabed, collect the oil on the surface, and keep it away from the shore.
The rig was owned by Transocean, but we are helping with the cleanup out of the goodness of our corporate hearts.  But as far as the oil that is not mentioned (the thousands of gallons that are neither on the seabed or the shore), we have no clue on how to clean that up.
BP has taken full responsibility for dealing with the spill.  We are determined to do everything we can to minimize any impact.  We will honor all legitimate claims
We discovered that pointing the finger at Transocean and Halliburton does not work, so f##k ‘em.  We get to determine what a “legitimate” claim is.
This is an enormous team effort.  More than 2,500 of our operational and technical personnel from around the world are working tirelessly in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard and federal, state, and local government agencies.  We are also getting tremendous support from specialists across the industry to resolve an unprecedented set of technical issues.
We are happy that the American taxpayer is footing the bill for our errors.  Clearly, our ability to manage drilling technology is a dismal failure, having ignored safety rules and regulations.  So we’re counting on others to help us get out of this mess.
On the seabed, we are using multiple technologies to reduce the flow of oil and ultimately stop it.  On the surface, hundreds of boats of all sizes, including local fishing fleets, are working together to contain the spill.  Over 4 million gallons of oil/water mixture have been collected.  More than 1.2 million feet of boom have been placed to protect the shore.
The stuff we used to disperse the oil was highly toxic, but at least we are polluting the ocean in a different way.  Reluctantly, we are now using a less-toxic mix to clean up the oil, but we have to buy it from our competitor.
Our efforts along the coast are being organized through 14 staging areas across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, coordinated by three command posts in Houma, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; and St. Petersburg, Florida.
We hope we don’t have to set  up any more in Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey.
But the greatest response of all is from the more than 15,000 people working for BP full-time or as volunteers.  We are also grateful for the dedicated support of the federal, state, and local government officials and emergency responders.  None of this would be possible without the tremendous commitment of these volunteers and officials.
Wow!  Lots of free and taxpayer-funded labor to help us get out of this jam.  Bailouts are great!
We will continue to keep everyone fully informed about the events as they unfold.
We are just another “too big to fail” near-monopoly.  So we’ll take what we can get now, and expect the congressmen on our payroll to look out for our best interests in the future.

Update 5/24/10: BP has refused to obey the order from the EPA to stop using the toxic dispersant.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Do These Three Men Have in Common?

Here's a little quiz for you.  These three people have been in the news over the past several years.  I suspect that they share common views on some issues, and vigorously disagree on others.

Hint: One is a homophobic anti-Semite with ties to Libya.  One is a Saudi prince who allegedly took bribes for an arms deal.  And one is running for Senate from Kentucky.

Scroll down for the answer.

Answer:  These are the only three people who weaseled out of an appearance on Meet the Press after confirming their participation.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is Rand Paul the Next George Wallace?

On the surface, there are many similarities between Rand Paul and the late George Wallace.

Wallace was an openly avowed segregationist, proclaiming, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” when he took the oath of office as Governor of Alabama on the same spot that Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as president of the Confederacy.  Wallace was the leader of the lunatic fringe and even ran for president in 1968, winning 46 electoral votes. 

On segregation, Paul is a bit more elusive, but as his recent responses in the Rachel Maddow interview reveal, he is tolerant of segregation as far as private enterprises are concerned.  His framing this as a First Amendment issue shows his total lack of understanding of the Constitution.  (Paul, who avows to want less government, is also anti-gay and anti-choice, even in cases of rape and incest).

Up until now, the Tea Baggers have lacked a credible leader around whom to rally.  Sarah Palin is a joke with her lack of command of the facts and simple parroting of Tea Bag talking points from the notes on the palm of her hand.  But Rand Paul is terribly more dangerous, and may emerge as the focal point for the Tea Baggers, whether or not he wins in Kentucky.  While he was decimated in the Maddow interview, most broadcast and print reporters are not as tenacious and will present his views as legitimate and part of the mainstream debate.

If Paul becomes the leader of the extremist Tea Baggers, then he will bring the Republican Party along with him.  Michael Steele’s ineffectiveness as the Republican leader has allowed the Tea Baggers to take over the party.

When that happens, the Democrats have two choices.  They can move to the right and try to capture some of Paul’s disciples.  Or they can advance a Progressive agenda.  Recent events have shown that when the Democrats move to the left, they energize their base and are successful.  Let’s hope the Democratic leadership recognizes that and provides an effective counter to the George Wallace of the 21st century.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Boiling Frogs in New Jersey

(Don’t do this at home.)  If you drop a large frog in a pot of boiling water, he will immediately jump out.  But if you place a frog in a pot of water at room temperature and then gradually raise the water temperature to a boil, the frog will stay in the pot and eventually die.  Like frogs, people tend to react to dramatic changes in their surroundings but may become inured to gradual change.

Chris Christie has learned a lot from his mentor, Karl Rove.  One of the ways the Bush/Cheney/Rove administration was able to usurp our rights, to debilitate regulations and inspections of food, energy, and other industries, and to fatten the pockets of their oil and Wall Street cronies was that they did not effect their harmful changes all at once.  People did not pay much attention to these many small steps, and consequently there was little effective opposition to them.  Rove and company used their wars in the Middle East to divert attention from other important issues.  When the Rovians didn’t follow their playbook and proposed a large step like the privatization of Social Security, the resistance was more vocal, universal, and effective. 

Now, Chris Christie is doing the same thing.  He has declared war not on Iraq, but on teachers and public school children, and those stories dominate the local news.  But at the same time, he is slowly dismantling New Jersey piece by piece.  He is privatizing our assets in NJN – removing one of the surviving not-for-profit (i.e. outside of corporate influence) news organizations left.  He is decimating our libraries.  Soon, if he gets his way, he will privatize our parks and recreational facilities – handing them off to entities that are answerable to shareholders, not taxpayers.  After that – our transportation infrastructure and who knows what else?  All while following the Republican mantra of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Because he is destroying government services slowly, there is not a lot of excitement or concern about his actions, and the opposition is ineffective.  But just like after eight years of the Bush/Cheney/Rove administration, we will be looking back at a four (or heaven forbid, eight) year reign of Christie and wondering how the hell we could let these things happen.

In general, Republicans hate government (although they love to partake of government services).  So when a dyed-in-the-wool Rovian Republican is at the helm, it is no surprise that the state is being deconstructed bit by bit.  Let’s not wait until the pot is boiling to increase the push back on these pernicious policies.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Submarine Races

Ballistic missile submarines are the most potent component of America’s nuclear arsenal.  Running silently in the depths of the ocean for up to 90 days at a time, one boat can deliver more lethal firepower than was expended in World War II.  At the same time, these vessels are also one of the most effective deterrents.  Their silence and stamina provide them with virtual invulnerability and they would be capable of retaliation to any attack on the US homeland.  It can be argued that the existence of this fleet of high-tech stealthy systems enabled us to end the Cold War without resorting to another Hiroshima.

Yet the privilege of serving the country on one of these platforms has been exclusively limited to male officers and seamen.  While women have been serving on surface ships since 1994, their assignment to submarines will be phased in starting in 2012 – first with officers and perhaps eventually with enlisted personnel.

Submarine duty brings its own challenges.  I’ve had the privilege of riding on a nuclear attack sub during a training mission, and I can attest to the fact that the term “close quarters” is an understatement.  The engineers who design these vessels utilize and re-utilize every cubic inch within the metal tube in such a manner that would make an origami grand master proud.

Unsurprisingly, there are those both within the Navy and in the general populace who are in a tizzy about allowing women to serve their country in the Silent Service.  Their argument is that having the “opposite sex” on board in such close quarters would be inappropriate and stressful.  Yet, when you peel back these arguments, you find them unsubstantiated and specious.  Surveys show that wives of submariners are more concerned about women taking their husbands’ jobs than any potential hanky-panky.

Thanks in part to the late legendary Admiral Hyman Rickover, submariners are a special breed.   Selection to serve in the nuclear navy is not only based on their broad and in-depth technical skills ranging from oceanography to nuclear reactor design, but also in their psychological profiles and their ability to serve in the very demanding environment to which they will be assigned.  I have had the privilege of meeting many submariners and NASA astronauts in my career, and I would place people in both categories as examples of the epitome of professionalism and service to America.

One would have to be naïve to think that there are not any gay submariners serving today.   Any discomfort or issues will be handled appropriately by the submarine’s XO or Commander.  The same will apply to interpersonal issues with women in the crew.  These people are professionals who have been given the responsibility to handle billion-dollar lethal weapons systems in the name of national security.  Certainly they can be equally effective at handling occasional interpersonal issues.

In an ideal world, we would not need such potent and expensive weapons systems.  Nuclear disarmament is the ultimate goal, but it will take a lot of hard work and several generations to put that genie back in the bottle.  Until then, the nation is best served by insisting that the best of the best be the only qualification to serve on these frightening and necessary war platforms.

Friday, May 14, 2010

One Sunk

With the explosion and sinking of the BP oil rig, there’s an important lesson to be learned.  It is that for-profit energy producers have a cavalier attitude toward safety and don’t give a damn about the environment.  And there are some in the government who feel the same way.

In the 21 years since the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the coasts of Alaska are still polluted, despite the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on cleanup and the millions of dollars Exxon spent on spin control.  Now, we are seeing the same behavior with BP, Transocean, and Halliburton with the Gulf of Mexico spill.

Today, the energy lobby is touting nuclear energy as a “clean” alternative.  Tell that to the citizens of Pripyat – oh wait!  No one has lived there since the Chernobyl disaster.  An entire city had to be abandoned 24 years ago because of a reactor meltdown.

Scientists and engineers tell us that nuclear power can be made safe.   Just like they told us that offshore drilling can be made safe.  The reality is that there is no such thing as cheap energy.  The hidden cost of oil includes not only the cleanup of numerous spills, but the billions of dollars and precious lives spent to execute what is becoming a continuous state of war in the Middle East.  What is the hidden cost today of the leak of radioactive water into the New Jersey aquifer from the Oyster Creek plant?  What would be the cost of evacuating Wilmington, Delaware if there were a catastrophic accident at the Salem power plant?  And we haven’t yet considered the hidden cost of safe storage and disposal of nuclear waste, which is still a problem after 55 years of commercial nuclear power.

“Green” energy is not risk-free either.  But it’s hard to imagine a scenario where a windmill fails that would impact the environment for 30 years like an oil spill, or for hundreds of years like a nuclear meltdown would.

Those who embrace nuclear energy, like President Obama, contend that with proper regulation we can make our reactors safe.  The fallacy here is that the for-profit companies will skirt or ignore the safety regulations à la BP, or that another Cheney administration would rescind the protections completely.

It’s time to enact a permanent moratorium on nuclear plants, and develop a plan to replace those we have with green power generation.  Will it cost more?  Maybe – until you factor in the hidden costs.  Will it be safer and more environment-friendly.  Absolutely.

So take a look at the title of this blog post – it’s an anagram.  Heed it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Take Back New Jersey

Many of us are disappointed with the style and substance of Governor Christie’s approach to leading the state. Blogs and social media are buzzing with talk about impeachment or recall. As I’ve written previously, either is a bad idea. Recall is not viable because there is still a lot of support in the state for the governor.  Impeachment can only occur if a serious crime is committed.  Other tactics are necessary to roll back his draconian agenda, promote alternative solutions, and ensure that there is a viable, well-positioned candidate to replace Christie in the next election.

Part of the problem with the anti-Christie rhetoric is that it is just as simplistic as Christie’s slash-and-burn approach to the budget. The Facebook group NJ Against Chris Christie has quickly grown to over 35,000 subscribers but while much of the discussion is rational, a large portion of the postings there are counterproductive, e.g. “he is a flat out liarer (sic)” and “lets (sic) get this fat f**k out of the way”.

The Governor is successfully counting on the fact that people’s memories are short. It is imperative that we don’t let the voters forget that the easily-digested “cut taxes at all costs” approach was a disaster in California under Proposition 13, and was a disaster in the nation under the Reagan and Bush Jr. policies.

To effectively convince New Jerseyans that Christie’s approach is not in their best interests, we must develop a clear message that includes solutions in addition to carping about cuts and layoffs. While teachers have legitimate gripes and the loudest voice, anti-Christie forces must reach out to other constituencies like senior citizens who may not be concerned with the quality of our public schools. We must reach out to small businesspersons and show them how a deteriorating infrastructure and educational system will adversely impact their long-term success.

Some spending cuts are necessary and we must clearly differentiate which ones are reasonable and which are draconian. We should support those spending cuts that minimize impact on the most vulnerable. And our message should refute the ubiquitous “taxes are always bad” message from the right and promote reasonable progressive increases such as a hike to the gasoline tax and the “millionaire’s tax”.

In addition to espousing reasonable, civil, and sensible rhetoric (like that on, the anti-Christie movement needs a rallying point. We need a calm, intelligent, and articulate statesman to energize and expand the base, and provide a counterpoint to Christie’s knee-jerk, simplistic, and hardhearted “leadership”. There’s got to be someone out there who fills the bill – how do we get him or her on board and start the process of getting the message out to the citizens of New Jersey?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Too Big to Bail

There’s been a lot of buzz over the last year about companies that are “too big to fail”.

“Too big to fail” is not just limited to the recently bailed-out financial system. There are other industries critical to our economy that are already there, or well on their way:

  • The upcoming merger of United Airlines with Continental Airlines will establish the largest passenger air carrier in the world. This is the latest in the reduction of competition since the airlines were deregulated in 1978. Since deregulation, airline prices have gone up (faster than fuel prices), and the quality of service has deteriorated to the point that non-business travelers are treated like cattle. Increased security requirements are often used as an excuse, but as the competition in the airline industry is further reduced, travel by air will be even more of a drudge than a pleasure. Fortunately some regulation remains. The FAA retained regulatory approval for airline safety, making airline travel one of the safest modes of conveyance. The recent regulatory change that levies high fines to airlines that strand passengers inside the metal tubes for more than three hours shows that the industry’s attempt at self-regulation is a dismal failure.
  • The Comcast and NBC/Universal combination is another potential “too big to fail” event. This is the latest of a series of mergers in the entertainment and news industry that lines the pockets of shareholders while limiting a key tenet of capitalism – consumer choice. This situation will worsen if Congress succumbs to the industry’s lobbyists and does not impose strict net neutrality regulations.
  • Health Care has enjoyed its fifteen minutes months of fame with the passage of watered-down reform. Still in play, however, is the cartel of health insurance companies that again limit consumer choice and keep both premiums and profits at record high levels.
  • The aerospace and defense industry has morphed from several dozen competitors to four main players (shown here).  This is an industry that is highly regulated, but with the revolving doors between government and industry, the effectiveness of that regulation is questionable (Disclosure: I worked for this industry for 40+ years). We have reached the point where only the larger companies have the resources to bid on the mega-contracts such as the politically-charged Air Force tanker. So is the military getting more bang for the buck?
  • The breakup of AT&T in 1984, after ten years of litigation, resulted in a steep decline in long-distance rates. (For the younger generation, when I was a kid, making a phone call to a friend or relative not in one’s immediate geographic area was a rare and carefully considered event.) Since the breakup, many of these companies have re-merged, but advances in technology have replaced the diversity of companies in ensuring that phone rates remain low.
This is just a small sample of industries where poorly-regulated corporatism trumps competition, yet, “too big to fail” is an inevitable unintended consequence of our capitalist economic system.

Competition is a lynchpin of capitalism, but the current environment does not provide a level playing field. Legislators from both parties rely on financial support to get elected, and much of this support comes from corporations and their lobbyists. What makes this situation even worse is the foolish Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case which grants corporations all the rights of personhood without the concomitant responsibilities.  The situation is self-perpetuating, since any attempt at reform or regulation is shut down by the same industry interests who fund our politicians. Lest you think this problem is confined to Republicans, note that 27 Democrats satisfied the banking lobby by recently voting against the Brown-Kaufman amendment which would have limited the size of banks so that one bank’s failure would not collapse the system. Once again, the interests of the corporate elite trump the interests and needs of the electorate. Megamergers and deregulation fly against the best interests of a competitive capitalistic economic system.

Disasters like the BP oil spill or the AIG collapse get a lot of press because of their impact on citizens and our environment. Where regulation is effective (such as those pertaining to air safety), there is little or no press coverage, and consequently the public pays little attention to the regulatory success stories.

Can effective democratic capitalism be saved? Or is it too late? It’s hard to tell. If the current crop of legislators is in the pocket of corporate interests, then this perpetual logjam will be difficult to break. But if there is a glimmer of hope, then it is incumbent on all citizens to “lobby” their elected representatives and push for consumer-friendly regulation and corporate restrictions.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Poor Judgment

Governor Christie was well within his rights to fire Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace Jr. But by removing Wallace, the governor showed his true colors and squandered an opportunity to depolarize the state.

This is the first time under the current state constitution that a sitting justice was fired by the governor. By all accounts, Justice Wallace has been an exemplary juror. Reappointing Judge Wallace to two more years (the justice reaches the mandatory retirement age in 2012) would show that the governor recognizes that he is not only the governor of those who voted for him, but also the 51% of the electorate who did not vote for him. This could have been Christie’s “Nixon to China” reach-out to his political adversaries, but the governor decided that his bullying “take-no-prisoners” approach to the executive branch applies to the judiciary also. Sure, the right would have been be apoplectic if Wallace had been reappointed, but the governor has enough political capital with them to ride out that minor glitch.

Christie removed the state’s only African-American Supreme Court justice, and proposes to replace him with a person who is a big GOP donor, one who fights for the tobacco industry, lead paint manufacturers, and other causes that place profits over people.

This was a defining moment in the young Christie administration. He had the choice to be either a statesman or a politician. Unfortunately, he chose the latter.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

NJEA: Excellent at Shooting Itself in the Foot

The prolific philosopher Anonymous once said, “Nothing is ever a total loss. It can always be used as a bad example”. This certainly rings true with how the New Jersey Education Association has handled the Christie crisis.

The NJEA has taken what should be a no-brainer issue – support for our children’s education – and has allowed the Chris Christie and the New Jersey Tea Baggers to control the agenda.

Our state has always had a reputation for excellence in education. From pre-K to Rutgers and other premier universities, New Jersey has historically supported the needs of its citizens and citizens of the world with the best in academics and research. This does not come for free – it takes a significant investment, but it’s an investment that pays off in better jobs, a climate that’s better for business, and world-class innovation.

By mimicking the governor’s tone of arrogance and intransigence, NJEA has turned the general public against the best interests of our citizens. If a message is repeated enough times, people tend to believe it, and Christie’s incessant “taxes are bad” mantra has succeeded, as evidenced in the recent school budget elections.

To be successful, NJEA needs to wrest control of the agenda from the governor’s public relations machine. They should relieve their Communications director of his or her duty and refocus the message on the value of our teachers, why an educated workforce is more important than tax cuts, and provide a counterpoint to Jim Gearhart and the other demagogic talking heads within the local media. NJEA should tout their compromises on pensions and benefits – even a small compromise goes a long way in enhancing their image with the public. They owe it to our kids.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Last night, a friend of mine asked me why I haven’t blogged on the new Arizona immigration law.  I told him that I didn’t really have anything to add to the debate.

As a matter of prudence, I will not set foot in Arizona, even though I am a Caucasian U.S. citizen.  The way I understand the law is that police must assume you are guilty until you are proven innocent.  Since I don’t usually carry my passport with me, and driver’s licenses are not considered proof of citizenship, if I were to be stopped for any reason in Arizona, the police would be within their legal right to arrest me as an “illegal”.

Those on the left consider the law racist and unconstitutional since the state is encroaching on the role of the Federal government.  Those on the right contend that “illegals” are taking jobs away from citizens and are responsible for increases in crime.  Of course, these are the same people who condone the much larger crimes of the Wall Street tycoons, whose actions have taken more jobs away from American workers than the “illegals”.

I think the new law is mean-spirited as well as racist.   So I will participate in the mostly symbolic boycott of Arizona products and services and continue to blog about what I feel is a misguided law.

When Karl Rove and I are on the same side of a controversial issue, it makes me worry about my own sanity.  Maybe that’s the real reason I haven’t blogged on this topic till now.