Sunday, February 27, 2011

Now What?

The Trenton rally is now just a memory. We sang and shouted in the rain. We felt empowered and inspired. We felt sad at what the governor is doing to the people of New Jersey. We felt happy that we had such an energetic crowd of workers, retirees, and just plain citizens who were willing to get drenched in the deluge to send a message to the powerful.

None of us wants last Friday’s event to turn out to be just a blip in the governor’s never-ending quest to subjugate New Jersey’s public workers to benefit his political career and his hold on power. So where do we go from here?

Some are lamenting the fact that the rally was a lost opportunity to register voters. Perhaps true, but there’s plenty of time to register people and follow through with a get-out-the-vote effort. We know how to do that, as we amply demonstrated in 2008. But no voter participation campaign can be successful unless we give people a reason to vote for progressive Democrats. Unless you’re one of the pesky trolls who read this blog, you’re already motivated to vote; it’s the independents and the truly moderate Republicans who need to get the message.

Three thousand people on the State House steps last week were impressive. But our sisters and brothers in Wisconsin have been consistently bringing out twenty times that number of demonstrators day in and day out. We need to maintain the momentum with more demonstrations - not only in Trenton, but also in Newark, Paterson, Camden, Atlantic City, and throughout the state. We need to get the media coverage that this movement deserves, and not sit idly by when the Tea Party, whose presence was less than one thirtieth of that of the pro-worker demonstrators, got at least half the news coverage at last week’s demonstration.

To do this, we need to take a page from the Republican Tea Party playbook and start to control the message. This is not about some greedy union members trying to rape the state’s taxpayers of every last dime as some mainstream media commentators suggest. It is about the future of the middle class that drives the American economic engine - a middle class that builds things that add value, not an upper class that manipulates hedge funds that make a few people obscenely wealthy while doing nothing to boost the economy.

We need to get the message out that the forces behind the Republican Tea Party don’t care for small government or budget deficits. We saw that truth under Bush. What they care about is power. Power to gut environmental and safety regulations that impact their profits. Power to tax the poor and middle class while creating more loopholes to enable their corporations to escape their responsibilities as corporate citizens. Power to regulate the media and Internet to make it difficult for dissenting opinions to be promulgated. And power to destroy the unions that typically vote Democratic.

We need to get the message out that the best way to balance the budget is to end the wars of choice in the Middle East. Let’s rebuild our cities and infrastructure with the same determination with which we are rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq. The villain in the deficit equation is not the unions, it’s the trillions of dollars in unnecessary war effort that go virtually unreported.

We need to get the message out that liberals are patriotic. The Republican Tea Party does not own the American flag. We are striving to preserve the American way of life. They are flushing it down the drain with their drive to concentrate power in the hands of the corporate oligarchs.

So we need to be proud of what we did in Trenton last Friday, but realize that it is only the beginning. If we keep up the pressure and enthusiasm, and do the hard work to get the message out and get the voters out, we can win. If we fail, and in 2011 New Jersey gets a Republican legislature and Christie wins re-election in 2013, then there’s a good chance that our governor will spread his scourge across America from the White House starting January 20, 2017. A much better scenario for that day would be to see Chris Christie practicing law from a storefront office in his home town of Mendham. That’s what we need to work hard for.

Cross-posted from Blue Jersey

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fending Off Sharks

I arrived at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden in plenty of time to cover the annual meeting of the Greater Camden Partnership. The event staff showed me to the large ballroom with auditorium seating for the over 400 movers and shakers who would be attending. I set up my video camera on the left side of the room, against what I thought was a wall, near the podium.

Shortly after that, one of the aquarium staff walked by and pressed a button. The “wall” behind me turned out to be a heavy curtain, and it started to rise. Behind the curtain, I was face-to-face with a 500 pound shark along with dozens of other sea creatures in a 550,000 gallon aquarium. All that was separating me from the sharks and a watery deluge was a pane of glass.

This is an apt metaphor for the perils facing our urban centers. The sharks are out there in the persona of a Republican Tea Party which puts its wealthy benefactors above the poor and middle class personified by Camden’s residents. Even today, Governor Christie announced the termination of the Urban Enterprise Zone program which encourages small and minority owned businesses to set up shop in cities like Camden.

But, unlike the naysayers in Trenton and Washington, back in the aquarium, the people on the dry side of the glass are the ones who do care about cities like Camden and its people.

David Foster. CEO of the Greater Camden Partnership, opened the meeting with an announcement. Greater Camden Partnership, which was formed in 2001 to help revitalize the city, will merge with another non-profit, Cooper’s Ferry Development Association (CFDA). CFDA has been serving Camden since 1984 to help develop plans for the city and its transportation infrastructure. According to Foster, this merger will enable the combined group to tackle even larger redevelopment efforts to improve the city.

The highlight of the event was the keynote speech by Camden Mayor Dana Redd. She outlined how, even in these difficult times, with the proper help, cities like Camden can operate on balanced budgets (as it did in 2010) while making the priority calls that put the poor and middle class first and simultaneously promote economic growth.

Responding to the published reports of gloom and doom about public safety due to layoffs of police and firemen, the mayor stressed that public safety is her number one priority. She said that the reduction in forces is causing the public safety departments to develop new ways to more effectively deploy their assets. Camden has New Jersey’s first 24/7 mobile command center and a second one is on order. Technology will be used to fill the gaps in manpower, including microphones in crime areas that can immediately detect and report gunshots, and cameras with facial and license plate recognition. She also stressed that the city would be proactive in preventing criminal activity by improving the school system and expanding jobs and “second chance” programs.

And while public safety is the mayor’s top priority, she said that economic development is not far behind. She announced a public-private partnership to promote growth and development, and also announced the appointment of a Camden ombudsman. Referring to the expansion plans of Rutgers and Rowan Universities, and Cooper Hospital, and next year’s opening of New Jersey’s first new medical school in three decades, Ms. Redd summed up Camden’s transformation as going from an “industrial giant” to a “center for eds and meds.”

Some of the specific initiatives she mentioned were:
  • $220 million invested in the Cooper Plaza neighborhood around Cooper Hospital to attract middle-class residents, both hospital employees and people from other walks of life.
  • The addition of 80,000 square feet to the headquarters of Campbell’s Soup Company.
  • The Roosevelt Plaza project, a park renovation near City Hall, which she referred to as “Camden’s Front Lawn.”
  • Neighborhood initiatives like the Kroc Center, which will open next year in the Cramer Hill area, to provide recreational programs for people of all ages.
  • The Haddon Avenue Transit Village, a $100 million project that will supply housing, office space, and a second supermarket to provide the city’s residents with fresh produce.
The mayor is also aggressively pushing programs to rehabilitate abandoned housing, and announced a $26.1 million grant for neighborhood stabilization that was facilitated by Senators Lautenberg and Menendez, and Congressman Andrews. People like Mayor Redd and the rest of the crowd in that ballroom today are the ones who, despite the neglect of most of the Republicans and some of the Democrats in Washington and Trenton, are working to transform Camden into a city that produces rather than consumes tax dollars. Mayor Redd closed her remarks by noting that the sky is not falling in Camden. And former Camden resident, the poet Walt Whitman, foreshadowed Mayor Redd’s positive outlook when he wrote
I DREAM’D in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth
I don’t know if Camden is invincible, but the community leaders in that ballroom sure want to make it so, despite the sharks out there.
Mayor Redd's remarks are split into three videos, each approximately 10 minutes long. Her speech was inspirational but realistic. She didn't sugar coat Camden's problems, but provided a realistic vision of where she would like to take the city.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why I'm Going to Trenton

I’m going to Trenton on Friday to support the unions. Why? I’ve never been a union member. I’m retired on a fixed income, so taxes matter to me.

This nation is at a crossroads. The Koch-funded Tea Party is undermining the very foundations upon which America is based - the tenet that, as Benjamin Franklin so eloquently put it, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

America’s best economic times were when the unions were the strongest. Fair wages help the economy; safe working conditions save lives and reduce health care costs, and standards of quality that are recommended by unions help consumers.

Our governor’s attack on public-sector employees has nothing to do with the fiscal problems in the state. Unions, whether in the public or private sector, have always agreed to concessions when necessary. If the governor were sincere, he would not have vetoed the extension of the modest tax on millionaires. The governor’s appointments of his cronies to various state commissions has created more jobs than his tax veto did.

America’s greatness depends on the middle class. And the middle class depends on unions. Unions are the only effective counterforce to the unlimited amount of corporate funds that are propping up Tea Party politicians and Fox “News.”

Today, hedge fund managers are taking home billion-dollar annual incomes by gambling on stock prices - activity that adds absolutely no value to the economy. On the other hand, union members who build things, who teach our kids, who make our streets safe, are being robbed of the pension dollars that they contributed (all because that money went to the Wall Street speculators), and are struggling to make ends meet. The disparity between the rich and poor is greater in this nation than in Egypt. What does that say about the American Dream?

If Governors Christie and Walker and their ilk are able to eviscerate the unions, the decline of the American Dream that was started by Reagan and accelerated by Bush, will maintain its downhill momentum. Strong unions mean a strong America. We must defend the nation from the greed and selfishness that permeates Republican ideology and their union-busting ambitions. Given the power and wealth of the Republican Tea Party, and their predisposition to destroy government services, this will be a difficult struggle, but we have to start somewhere. We need to rescue the American Dream. That’s why I’m going to Trenton on Friday.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Same-Sex Marriage - An Academic Viewpoint

The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton has a world-wide reputation as a center of excellence in its field. It boasts such distinguished alumni as Senator Bill Bradley, Governor Brendan Byrne, New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, Governor Eliot Spitzer, and Senator Paul Sarbanes. Alumni also include some prominent but disappointing people like Congressman Leonard Lance and Justice Samuel Alito.

As part of its academic mission, the school conducts seminars and panel discussions, some of which are open to the public. Given the enthusiasm and need for marriage equality in New Jersey and across the country, when I saw a seminar entitled “Same Sex Marriage in the United States: Where We Are as a Nation”, I figured it was worth the drive up to Princeton to see what I could learn - and I was not disappointed.

The lecture hall was filled with students, and people were standing around the periphery to hear what the speakers had to say.

The panel was introduced by Elizabeth Donohue, the school’s assistant dean. She pointed out that these seminars are normally initiated by faculty, and this was one of the few that was suggested by a student, “PJ,” a first year master’s candidate in the school.

There were three panelists from different walks of life. Each presented the case for same-sex marriage from a viewpoint that leaned more toward academic than advocacy. Interestingly, as far as I can remember, none of the panel members used the positive term “marriage equality” but rather referred to “same-sex marriage.”

Sean Eldridge is the Political Director of Freedom to Marry, an advocacy organization. He was guardedly optimistic about progress that has been made, pointing out that when President Obama took office, only two states allowed same-sex marriage; now the number is five plus the District of Columbia. His group is working toward three goals - winning over more states, ending federal discrimination against same-sex couples, and growing majority support. On that last item, he stated that public opinion will go a long way in ending discrimination and that he wanted to grow the 52% of the population who he said currently support same-sex marriage. His organization expects three more states (New York, Maryland, and Rhode Island) with marriage-friendly governors to enable same-sex marriage in the next few months; California could be added to that list with a favorable court decision on Proposition 8. Two more states (Maine and Oregon) are target candidates in 2012.

Suzanne Goldberg, Director, Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School, presented a brief history of the fight for same-sex marriage rights in the US. She talked about how in the 70s a court amazingly used a dictionary definition instead of the Constitution to strike down gay marriage statutes. She gave an excellent description of the different legal arguments that have been used to defend marriage, and pointed out that states representing about 30% of the American population recognize some forms of same-sex partnerships. Also, today about a dozen countries provide full marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The final speaker was Father Joseph Palacios, the founder of Catholics for Equality. He discussed the attitude about same-sex marriage within various religions and pointed out that although many young Catholics are anti-choice, they are generally unopposed to same-sex marriage. Within highly-Catholic Spanish-speaking nations, same-sex marriage is recognized in Argentina, Spain, and Mexico, as well as Portugal. He explained that in those areas citizens don’t want their church meddling in politics and that gay marriage is a pro-life issue when viewed holistically; it is pro-family and pro-child.

I wasn’t able to stick around for the Q&A session after the presentations, so I don’t know if there were any marriage discrimination proponents in the audience. But it was refreshing to hear the case for gay marriage in a dispassionate academic setting among some very smart people. Although progress is being made slowly, I was encouraged that these experts felt that the nations is moving toward full equality.

To receive notice of future events at the Woodrow Wilson school, click here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Corporate Citizenship

First Lady Michelle Obama has taken on the challenge of reducing childhood obesity and improving nutrition among our young people. Like any initiative, this takes not only dedicated people, but also money.

Where will that money come from? At the federal level, Congress is intent on perpetuating wars of choice, tax cuts for the wealthy, and kickbacks to the robber barons of the financial “services” industry. Social programs are a prime target for John Boehner’s cuts. At the state level here in New Jersey, the governor is more interested in tax breaks for his wealthy friends and subsidies for the gambling industry.

Fortunately, Camden, one of the poorest cities in the nation, has several benefactors that are stepping in to help combat childhood obesity. The most prominent and generous of these benefactors is the Camden-based Campbell’s Soup Company.

The small auditorium at Forest Hill School was packed this morning with a group of third and fourth graders surrounded by the media and community dignitaries. Seated amidst the small children, two adult guests conspicuously stood out - Tom Frain and Richard Calladanato.

You probably never heard of Tom and Richard, but I’ll bet they have prepared some of the meals you have eaten. They are corporate chefs who develop the recipes for Campbell’s Soup products.

The event was a press conference announcing a cooperative to combat childhood obesity and hunger in Camden. The company announced a ten-year program, working with the Camden School System, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Cooper University Hospital, Rutgers University, and several local non-profits. Campbell’s will donate $10 million to the program, provide employee volunteers, and share the expertise of its nutritionists to make this program successful.

This is not just a “feel good” initiative. There is a specific measurable goal: reduction in childhood obesity (where Camden is above the national average) by 50% over the ten year life of the program.

Executives from Campbell, Cooper University Hospital, and the Burlington/Camden County YMCA addressed the audience prior to some heartfelt remarks from Camden Mayor Dana Redd. The speakers explained why obesity and hunger are linked together. Basically, when kids don’t know when their next meal is coming from, they eat whatever they can get. And in Camden, with only one supermarket on the outskirts of town, it is easier to get potato chips than fresh fruit.

The initiative will focus on access to affordable, healthy food, improved facilities and participation in physical activity, and providing nutrition and health information to students.

There are already several programs in place to help alleviate the obesity and hunger problems. Campbell has initiated a six-week nutrition course with the Food Bank of South Jersey and their goal is to provide every student with fifty hours of nutritional education annually. Cooper University Hospital has programs for young parents on nutrition and breast feeding. This consortium of Campbell and its partners will continue these as well as augment them with new programs. They will also work to increase residents’ ability to grow their own vegetables and to attract at least one more supermarket to serve the city.

The pilot program will initially concentrate on two of Camden’s neighborhoods at six sites - three elementary schools, a church, and two daycare centers. The ultimate goal is to spread the program city-wide as well as in other cities across the nation where Campbell has facilities.

Denise Morrison, Campbell’s Chief Operating Officer, will take the helm as CEO in August. She has visited many schools around the country and made the point that as nutrition increases, so do grades. To show Campbell’s commitment to the program, the company hired a Director of Childhood Obesity and Hunger this past November to manage these initiatives.

Mayor Redd told the audience about what she called the “plague of childhood obesity.” She pointed out that we all want our youth to have a head start in life, but unfortunately some children only get a head start in obesity and diabetes. But she was enthusiastic about how this community initiative brings hope to the residents of the city.

Following the formal presentations, Tom and Richard, the Campbell’s chefs, donned their toques and conducted a nutrition class and cooking demonstration, with some of the students participating and everyone getting a bite of healthy food.

I’ve written a lot about how corporations have an undue influence in our society, putting profits above people and production above environmental responsibility. Campbell is a pleasant and important exception to this trend. The company should be applauded, not only for staying in Camden when times were tough, but for reaching out to the next generation of workers, managers, and innovators, and ensuring that all citizens, regardless of their economic station in life, have opportunities for greatness.

Photo Slide Show:

Mayor Redd's Comments:

COO Morrison's Comments:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rebuilding America

It took five years to build the World Trade Center Twin Towers. It took less than two hours from the first of the September 11 attacks for both buildings to collapse. It took ten years from that terrible day to reach an agreement on a plan to rebuild, and the reconstruction of that site is still a work in progress.

The obvious lesson from that horrific time in American history is that destruction happens quickly but building and rebuilding take time.

It took George W Bush eight years to nearly destroy the American economy. In the past two years, Barack Obama has started to rebuild it despite the Republicans’ digging in their heels and obstructing every one of the president’s initiatives, not because they had a better plan, but because their avowed goal was to bring down the President in 2012.

I’m not comparing the Republicans’ motives to those of Al Qaeda. The point here is that building things up is orders of magnitude more difficult than tearing them down. This applies to economies as well as skyscrapers.

One of today’s greatest challenges is to rebuild the American economy. But how we rebuild it is more important than how fast we rebuild it. The path that the Republicans are promoting, and many Democrats are adopting, is to try to repair the Bush damage as quickly as possible, and place the bulk of the burden on the poor and middle class. While the wealthy and the corporations continue to receive tax breaks and exploit tax loopholes, the majority of Americans are being asked to sacrifice by accepting lower wages, more expensive medical care, and fewer essential government services.

No doubt, repairing the damage done by the Bush administration will be difficult. The wars of choice are draining our treasury and will continue to do so for another generation as we care for those brave men and women who were injured and traumatized in the Middle East. The obscene government-backed bonuses that are granted to the financial manipulators just increase the wealth gap between the rich and the poor.

The American success story is not dead - it’s just been derailed. As a society, we need to return to our roots. We need to reward those who add value to the economy by providing products and services rather than those who manipulate the financial system for their own gain. We need to increase government investment (as distinguished from spending) in infrastructure and research - initiatives that will pay off tenfold down the road.

And yes, we need to increase taxes. But we need to do this in an intelligent and progressive manner. Marginal tax rates are lower than they’ve been since the 1940s, and those who benefit the most from America should be called upon to return the favor. By freezing spending, as many have proposed, we will destroy jobs and make life worse for those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. Those who benefited the most from the past generation’s investments in education and infrastructure should be the ones who help ensure that the next generation has the same opportunities.

This will be difficult, given that politicians of both parties are beholden to their corporate benefactors and that getting a progressive message heard is difficult in this day of corporate-controlled media. But just as a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, all citizens must lobby their elected officials, one letter or phone call at a time, to help save America.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Debunking Republican Myths

The Republicans are hell bent on using their power to destroy the middle class, and by extension, the American way of life - in favor of their corporate benefactors. This video debunks the myths being spouted by one of their congressmen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Global Wisdom

How often do you get to meet a person who was one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people and who was directly responsible for an organization’s winning of the Nobel Prize? If you were on the Cook Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick last night, chances were pretty good.

Susan Solomon is a scientist for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and spoke to a room full of scientists, students, faculty, and the general public about global climate change.

Like most scientists (as opposed to some activists), Solomon is not an alarmist, but nevertheless presented quite a bit of scientific information, boiled down to a level understandable by a layman, that makes some predictions that need to be taken seriously by our elected officials.

Her PowerPoint punctuated presentation, entitled “A World of Change: Climate Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”, was full of charts summarizing years (and in some cases centuries) worth of scientific measurements from all over the world. Her remarks were long on data and short on opinion or advocacy.

Solomon presented evidence compiled by multiple scientific groups from around the world that the world’s oceans are warming - approximately 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century. There was actually a dip in global temperatures in the ‘60s and ‘70s due to widespread global pollution partially blocking natural sunlight from the earth’s surface. But as we made our air healthier to breathe, this temporary cooling effect went away. This phenomenon is similar to dips in the planet’s temperature when there are major volcanic eruptions and ash is spewed into the atmosphere. Despite these ephemeral variations, the overall long-term trend is unambiguously increased temperatures.

She also presented evidence of glacial melting over the last century and described her scientific adventures in Antarctica where she and colleagues investigated historical evidence of CO2 in the ice caps. Atmospheric CO2 is a major factor in increasing global temperatures and the concentration of that gas in the atmosphere is higher than it has been in the last half-million years.

So the big question is whether or not the recent warming trends are man-made or are just part of the normal cycle of variations in the dynamics of the earth’s climate. Solomon points out that the scientific evidence shows that most global warming over the past 50 years is man-made. And while the bulk of the CO2 comes from the developed nations that burn fossil fuel, as other nations improve their economies, more and more people will be contributing to this world-wide problem. (The United States is the third worst in this area, sending twenty tons of CO2 per capita into the atmosphere, about twice the rate of Europe.)

She noted that the noticeable impact of higher concentrations of CO2 will be wider variations in rainfall (and snowfall), and while some people may contend we are experiencing that now, the effects will be much more pronounced by the end of this century. Some regions of the earth will face severe drought while others will experience flooding. But there are other impacts as well. For example, for every degree of global warming, America’s ability to grow corn is reduced by 10%.

Solomon was also involved with studies of the impact of the depletion of the ozone layer. She feels this is an example of where nations can come together in their common interest. The Montreal protocol, which came into effect in 1989, phased out the emission of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the atmosphere, and significantly alleviated the problems they were causing. But, as Solomon pointed out, this was easy to do, citing the switch from spray to roller deodorants as a prime example. The problem with CO2 is much more difficult due to our dependence on fossil fuels in our lives and economies.

This world-renowned scientist pointed out that New Jersey’s Rutgers University is playing a key role in the never-ending quest for knowledge and solutions to this world-wide problem. Her presentation was based on scientific evidence, and where there was no conclusive evidence, she said so. And although she was careful to let the audience know that she was not advocating any particular choice, she said “there is a climate middle ground” and changes to reduce CO2 need to be made. It’s not too late to take action. The question is, do we have the will to heed the wisdom of Solomon?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Red Jersey

Is New Jersey becoming (or is it already) a red state?

New Jersey has typically been regarded as a solidly blue state. Even when under a GOP governor like Christie Whitman, those Republican chief executives have been categorized as “moderate”. But with the disappearance of moderate Republicanism and the election of Chris Christie, is New Jersey still as reliably blue as its reputation is?

There are a lot of scary parallels between the administration of George W Bush, the reddest president ever, and the ascension of Christopher J Christie.

In both cases, their election to office was far from overwhelming. Bush was appointed to office when the Supreme Court nullified the Florida vote count, and while Christie was elected fairly, he received less than fifty percent of the vote in a three-way race. Both are disciples of political dirty trickster Karl Rove.

While neither man was elected in a landslide, both decided to govern not from the middle that elected them, but from the corporate-controlled far right. At the start of the eight month pre-9/11 reign of Bush, I remember the attitude among many to be “he’s dumb as a rock, but how much harm can he really do?” They were wrong on both counts. Bush was more sinister than dumb, and the harm to the nation is with us even today with a nearly-ruined economy and seemingly endless wars of choice. In the days before 9/11, one of Bush’s first  extreme announcements was his defunding of critical  embryonic stem cell research - that was the awakening that told us he would put his religious ideology ahead of common-sense progress for all Americans.

The September 11 attacks gave Bush the excuse he needed to push his agenda. Muslims became the bogeymen that Bush used to get legislation that would increase surveillance on Americans, start an illegal and immoral war, privatize many military services, and use torture against Muslim drivers and cooks. Like Bush, Christie has his own bogeymen - in this case public sector employees. Christie is just as effective in blaming all of the state’s woes on unions as Bush had been in demonizing Islam.

What might appear to be a significant difference between the regimes of the two men is that for six of eight of Bush’s years, he had a compliant Congress made up of members of his own party, while Christie faces a Democratic legislature. But this difference is merely superficial. With only a few exceptions, the New Jersey legislature has been complicit in Christie’s agenda objectives, as most recently demonstrated by the Democrats’ willingness to further decimate our public school system by providing taxpayer money to parochial and private schools at the expense of our public school system.

Bush’s drive to destroy the middle class almost succeeded. The Bush Recession nearly destroyed the American economy, and it may take another generation to reverse its effects while the gap between the richest and poorest citizens has reached record levels.

Like Bush, Christie enjoys a decided advantage in adoring media coverage. The comparison between Bush’s cheerleader, Fox News, and Christie’s right-wing outlet NJ101.5 is apparent. And like with the Bush misdeeds, here in New Jersey the mainstream media fail to do their journalistic duty by digging beneath the surface of many stories. Under Bush, the truth about WMDs in Iraq was not exposed until it was too late. In New Jersey, the state mainstream media’s failure to investigate the infusion of taxpayer money into the Revel casino, Christie’s dubious secret slush funds, and the real story behind the ARC tunnel cancellation are depriving the general public of the truth. Maybe we’ll eventually know more about these fiascoes, but probably not until after Christie is safely installed in his second term. And like his peers such as Rick Perry of Texas, who are recognized as bona fide right wing extremists, Christie also has a penchant for rejecting federal funds that have been provided by state taxpayers.

As the opposition party, the Democrats have been ineffective in promoting their agenda. But it would be a bigger disaster for us and our children if the Republicans win majorities in the state legislature this November. Unchecked, Christie would accelerate his move to the extreme right, and his recent inappropriate appearance at an anti-choice rally would pale in comparison to what else he might do. A GOP-controlled State House would allow the Koch/Tea Party/Corporatists to completely take over, screw the poor and middle class, accelerate the anti-gay, anti-woman culture war, and ensure confirmation of radical right-wing activist Supreme Court justices, similar to what happened on the federal level when Congress was under Republican control.

So what does the future hold? Is the reddening of New Jersey inevitable? As at the national level, the Democrats in the state legislature are not monolithic, and there are a few like Senators Weinberg and Buono who are effective at speaking truth to power. And there are progressive candidates in the wings like Jeff Gardner who have the potential to help reverse the corporatist juggernaut. But for them to be effective, they need more like-minded colleagues, and moderate Democrats need to be lobbied to promote progressive initiatives.

There’s no way that progressive Democrats can match the money and media access of reactionary Republicans. There is anger on the left aimed at the “Democrats in name only” in the state legislature. That anger needs to be translated into action. As with the election of Barack Obama, it will take an immense grass-roots effort in every district to help bring legislators to Trenton who care more for the middle class than for soulless corporations. Successful election of progressives will help all New Jerseyans. If we fail, we become just a red Arizona with snow.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shore Sellout

In the contentious world of politics, many are calling for bipartisan cooperation. A legislator’s job is certainly easier and less stressful if he or she can work cooperatively with the other party. But bipartisanship run amok can result in capitulation - capitulation of ideals and failure to serve those who matter most, the electorate.

Such is the case in New Jersey, where the Democratic legislative majority has allowed Republican Governor Chris Christie to run roughshod over state employees, labor unions, and public school students.

Now, Democrats and Republicans in New Jersey have joined forces to try once again to revitalize Atlantic City tourism. On the surface, this is a wonderful and much-needed initiative. Once the crown jewel of shore attractions, the “Las Vegas of the East” has succumbed to the proliferation of gambling establishments throughout the northeast, and has been consistently losing market share and revenue.

This week, Governor Christie, with top Democrat Stephen Sweeney at his side, announced the granting of a quarter-billion dollars of funds from the cash-strapped state treasury to rescue the partially-built Revel Casino and to establish state control over a large part of the city. This stimulus package will create hundreds of much-needed construction jobs, moving people from the unemployment line to the taxpayer rolls.

Christie and Sweeney touted this bipartisan agreement at a photo-op in the unfinished Revel lobby. Sweeney praised the governor for taking action to resuscitate Atlantic City, giving Christie credit for attacking a problem that has been ignored by both political parties for too long.

Their proposal creates a Casino Reinvestment Development Authority which will impose state control on an Atlantic City Tourism District which includes the Boardwalk and Marina casinos and the airport. State police will be responsible for patrolling those areas while the rest of the city will be the responsibility of the local force, which, like other New Jersey urban areas, has had to lay off dozens of officers.

Keeping with Christie’s disdain for government services that protect taxpayers, the requirement to have state inspectors on gaming floors will be eliminated. Given the amount of cash flowing around and the history of corruption in the state, is this really a good idea?

Atlantic City mayor Lorenzo Langford is not happy with this new arrangement. But it’s not just because some of his power and influence in his city is being usurped. The mayor points out that the state police patrols will cover the tourism and predominantly white residential areas, while the African-American communities will not reap the benefit of the state’s largess. Christie’s retort was not surprisingly arrogant and borderline racist when he accused Langford of “playing to the lowest common denominator.” Whether Langford is right or wrong, Christie is operating from a position of power and money, and instead of maligning Langford, he should be the one to extend the olive branch to ensure that all the people of Atlantic City benefit from this initiative, not just the private investors and Christie’s Cronies.

No one disagrees that the state should be more aggressive in promoting Atlantic City. The budget to promote tourism has been increased, and if executed properly, that will pay for itself in more tax revenue and jobs. But perpetuating a Baghdad-like “green zone” of safety around an otherwise decaying urban area will not solve the problems inherent in Atlantic City. We should have learned that lesson in the state takeover of Camden.

Before we invest a quarter-billion dollars in a private enterprise, we should examine our priorities. Schools are suffering, cops and firemen are being laid off, infrastructure is decaying. Yet, both parties are eager to promote an industry based on greed and wishful thinking. Helping the Revel will not be a panacea - in fact with the increased competition for tourism dollars, the state may be stuck with a two billion dollar “white elephant” down the road. Both parties would better serve the public by working in a bipartisan manner to simultaneously solve our tourism and urban problems without having the taxpayer bear the burden of undue risk. I wouldn’t expect the GOP to be concerned about spending money to improve our urban areas. But Senate President Sweeney and his fellow Democrats should make these improvements part of the Atlantic City package.

NJN's Excellent Coverage from February 1

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cut the Crap!

Maybe I’m naive, but I thought elected officials were supposed to serve the public. Apparently, they are not getting that message.

In the first month of the 112th Congress, the GOP leaders in the House of Representatives had exactly three accomplishments:

  • They read aloud a redacted version of the Constitution.
  • They voted to deny insurance coverage to 40 million Americans and sentenced another 40,000 to premature death due to lack of access to medical care.
  • They strengthened the Koch/Corporate America/Tea Party hold on the functioning of government by repealing the presidential campaign write-off in income tax returns.
What they didn’t do was address the issues of jobs, the environment, health care, civil rights, or anything else that improves the quality of life for all Americans.

Now, the South Dakota legislature has taken a whiff of craziness from the Washington GOP. It is proposing a law that would require any citizen over the age of 21 to own a gun. This is not some gun-crazy NRA-sponsored legislation, but rather a silly attempt to conflate mandatory gun ownership with mandatory health insurance. The legislators are not so much in favor of requiring gun ownership as they are in proving their fallacious point that the government should not require citizens to purchase something, whether it is guns or insurance.

Putting aside the fact that guns are used to kill while health insurance is used to save lives, their chimerical mixing of guns and health fails on many levels.

First is the area of personal responsibility vs collective responsibility.  It’s not one of the other - it’s both. Republicans are big on personal responsibility with their “every man to himself” attitude and their reluctance to spend money to assist the less fortunate. They would eviscerate safety and quality regulations for consumer products and the food we eat, leaving those determinations to individuals. Owning a gun is a personal decision. Each individual must make the tradeoff between perceived safety against intruders and the statistical evidence of the danger of having firearms in one’s home. This individual responsibility comes with the collective responsibility of using the firearm safely and keeping it secure from unauthorized use.

Carrying health insurance is also a mix of individual and collective responsibility. The Affordable Care Act, which the South Dakota legislators are trying to mock, does require everyone to carry minimal insurance. This is how insurance works - spread the risk to keep premiums at a reasonable rate. No one can guarantee that he or she won’t need medical care at some point, and reliance on emergency room care in lieu of preventive medicine is a drain on all taxpayers. The anti-health lobby decries the comparison to automobile insurance, babbling that one could opt out of owning a car. Yet, in this day and age, a car is almost always necessary to hold a job and generally function in society. (Need I point out that the same people who espouse not owning a car are typically those who resist support to public transit?)

So, collectively, carrying some level of health insurance should be required, and is constitutional. Congress has the power to levy taxes and spend funds for the “general welfare of the United States.”  Nothing promotes the general welfare more than an healthy populace. No one is preventing those who wish to carry additional insurance from doing so.

I don’t know what the local issues are in South Dakota, but I’m sure there are some, whether it is jobs, agriculture, taxation, or whatever. So my message to the South Dakota legislature, as well as to the GOP House members is simple:  “Cut the crap!” Instead of posturing for points from your benefactors, do the work that the people sent you to do and start tackling the important problems. Yes, that’s harder than reading the Constitution or repealing a bill without presenting a viable alternative or proposing silly mandatory gun-ownership legislation, but if you’re not up to that task, I’m sure there are constituents in your district who are.