Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Choose Life

In his continuous pandering to the right-wing mainstream of the Republican Party, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie knows no bounds. Christie has appeared at anti-abortion rallies, and while he grudgingly accept the scientific fact that global climate change is man-made, his policies benefit big business rather than those citizens who breathe air and drink water.

Yet, critical examination shows that Christie’s approach promotes death, not life.

Take, for example, his proposal to eliminate Medicaid for New Jersey families earning more than $500 per month. If enacted, his legislation will put 23,000 people at the mercy of the for-profit insurance companies, which in reality means they will not receive medical care. I’m not an actuary, and I’m not comparing the governor to a terrorist, but I would not be surprised if this lack of preventative and remedial medical care results in more deaths than those perpetrated by Osama Bin Laden on 9/11. In Maryland, a 12-year-old boy died for the lack of an $80 procedure when his family lost Medicaid. How many stories like this will we have in New Jersey that won’t even be reported in the media?

But it’s not just Christie’s heartless attitude toward the poor that will cost lives. How many women will die because of their lack of access to pap smears and breast exams because Governor Christie thought an $800 million tax break for millionaires was more important than $7.5 million for women’s health? How many children will develop life-long lung diseases and suffer premature death because of the Governor’s foolish withdrawal from the successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative? (As I’ve written before, Christie is not an effective manager, he is a quitter. Rather than negotiate changes to RGGI or the ARC tunnel, he just picks up his marbles and goes home, ignoring the consequences.)

The first “inalienable right” of the people, as codified in the Declaration of Independence’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is life itself. But the actions of the governor and his tea-party comrades are antithetical to the Declaration’s right to life. Instead of pouring money into discriminatory charter schools and giving tax breaks to the wealthy, the governor should re-examine his priorities as well as how he carries out his own personal beliefs and choose life.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Twitter Wars

Could this be the precursor of the 2016 Presidential contest? Spokespersons for Governor Martin O’Malley (D-Maryland) and Chris Christie (R-Denial) are flaming each other on Twitter.

O’Malley is also the Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, and his communications director, Lis Smith has been pointing out some of Christie’s failures and O’Malley’s successes. Specifically, she points out that Maryland’s unemployment rate is 6.8% while ours is 9.1%. She also mentions that school funding has increased in Maryland while it has decreased in New Jersey, and retweeted O’Malley’s disappointment with Christie’s pro-pollution withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Not to be undone, Christie’s GOP has been railing about unspecified broken campaign promises by the Maryland governor and a tax hike there. Of course, they don’t mention the myriad of tax hikes under the Christie administration.

Both governors are young, articulate, smart, and ambitious. Christie gets better press because of his bombast and pontifications. But look for O’Malley’s presence to be more apparent after the 2012 presidential elections. Meanwhile, following both governors on Twitter is good entertainment.

O'Malley's Press Conference at the NJ State Democratic Dinner - New Brunswick, NJ - April 6, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sometimes Size Matters

What do you call an initiative that keeps 58,000 people off the unemployment rolls? Pretty damn successful! Yet, this news was relegated to the back pages, usurped by the implosion of Chris Christie’s congressional candidate in Western New York, the dalliances of the IMF chief, and Newt Gingrich’s insatiable appetite for expensive jewelry.

Despite the hand-wringing of the anti-government zealots, this week Chrysler Corporation repaid the government loans that kept them afloat and preserved jobs for those 58,000 employees. Sometimes big government works!

Those who say let the market forces determine the fate of corporations ignore the human cost of 58,000 unemployed. Had Chrysler been allowed to go belly-up, many of those employees would be collecting unemployment at taxpayer’s expense. But now, with the loans paid, and the Chrysler employees paying income taxes, the net impact to the taxpayer is positive.  Had the anti-government partisans had their way, the impact on the Chrysler families due to lack of health care and the stress of making ends meet would have been incalculable.

The lesson here is that there are some things that can be done only by big government. Big government saved Chrysler because the banks would not. Big government built the interstate highway system because private industry could not.  Big government put a man on the moon because the risks were too high for the aerospace industry.

Today, one of the most shameful aspects of American life is the lack of access to quality health care for all of our citizens. We have seen time and time again that this is something that market forces cannot perform adequately. While the Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction, it is also a gift to insurance companies that will undoubtedly game the system to continue reaping obscene profits on the health of our citizens. Yet, the Republicans are striving to make things worse by reversing the progress of the last two years and by punishing half our population by restricting access to women’s health care. It’s time for “big government” to step in and implement the only sensible solution – Medicare for All. Market forces have given America one of the most cumbersome and inefficient health care funding systems, while the government’s Medicaid system has worked well over the years.  It’s time for “big government” to  give Americans the health insurance system they deserve.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Christie Takes Credit for Obama Stimulus

Governor Christie is using his taxpayer-funded political rallies to promote his reverse Robin Hood agenda.

According to the Star-Ledger's Megan DeMarco, Governor Christie is once again twisting the facts by taking credit for the slow but steady Obama economic recovery. The governor is claiming that the unexpected increase in state revenue, reported at yesterday's Assembly Budget Committee meeting, is due to his economic policies. This completely ignores the fact that the country as a whole is starting to see the impact of the economic stimulus.

We have seen recently that, contrary to the Governor's claims, manufacturing businesses are leaving the state. Take, for example, long-time Burlington County employer Ocean Spray. When asked about their move to Pennsylvania, their spokesman never mentioned taxes, but rather infrastructure - something that Christie has suffocated.

Hopefully the mainstream media will not simply reprint the governor's lies and talking points, but will provide a critical analysis of why our state's economy is lagging the national recovery.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I'm Glad He's Dead

There’s discussion within some of my favorite left-wing blogs and newsletters about how the assassination of Osama Bin Laden was illegal. After all, we invaded a sovereign nation without permission, and chose to kill Bin Laden rather than bring him to trial. Here’s where I depart from my coterie of liberal friends: I’m glad Bin Laden is dead. I’m glad not because I think we avenged his deeds of September, 2001, but rather that it puts an abrupt end to one chapter of the so-called “war” on terrorism.

As heinous as they were, Bin Laden’s crimes were not of the same magnitude as those of the Nazis in World War II. Yet, we afforded Bormann, Göring, and the rest of the Nazis we captured the right of a trial, as the Israelis did after they abducted Adolph Eichmann in Argentina in 1960. We tried the Japanese Prime Minister, Hideki Tōjō, before we hanged him. But there’s a significant difference between the handling of the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, and the quest for Bin Laden: We won World War II.

In any conflict, the victors determine the method of punishment for the vanquished, and America kept to its values by putting the enemy leaders on trial (and some were indeed acquitted at Nuremberg).

One could argue that Bin Laden met all of the goals he set out to accomplish. He died a martyr, he contributed to the destruction of the American economy (although not as much as his target, Wall Street, did), and he altered the American way of life with our apparent embracing of an Orwellian surveillance society.

Had Bin Laden been captured alive (which I believe was never a planned option), he would have been a catalyst for more violence resulting in even more curtailment of our freedoms and more dollars poured into what we call “homeland security.” Our record of handling the detention and prosecution of Bin Laden’s Al Qaida underlings in Guantánamo is unblemished by success. So from a practical point of view, Bin Laden’s assassination is justifiable in the name of pragmatism, even if it is illegal.

We live in an age when illegal activity by the government is condoned. Just consider the fact that the Vice President of the United States committed treason by outing the name of a covert CIA agent and got away with it. He got away with it not by being acquitted in a trial (the American way), but just due to the fact that his administration and the following administration chose not to prosecute one of their own. We’ll never know how many American and allied agents, moles, and informers have been killed due to Dick Cheney’s crimes.

Similarly, we condemned thousands of Americans, Iraqis, and others to death and injury by going into a war based on a lie by the President of the United States. Yet, George Bush will never face trial, and lives a comfortable retirement on his ranch in Texas. The illegality of the assassination of Bin Laden was a necessary evil, but pales in comparison to the crimes of the previous administration.

As Michael Moore eloquently points out, the Nuremberg trials were not for the victors, and were not even for the Nazis. They were for the next generation. What kind of message are we sending to the next generation when we allow one administration to go to war on false pretenses and commit treason, and the next administration looks the other way?
In an ideal world, the Navy SEALS should have (and no doubt could have) captured Bin Laden alive and we could have put him on trial. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Bin Laden’s death averts even more problems. But keep in mind that our democracy has been corrupted by greed of the corporatists and fear of the terrorists. We are in a state of perpetual war and erosion of our freedoms in the name of security. The question now is what legacy will we leave for the next generation? While I’m glad that he’s dead, we need to learn from the lessons of the last ten years to deny Bin Laden a victory from the bottom of the ocean.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Voter Involvement vs. Voter Suppression

In recent years, Republicans have been at the forefront of denying voters their right to select our elected officials. Of course, the most egregious example is the decision by the Republican-dominated Supreme Court in the 2000 presidential election that stopped the vote count in Florida and handed the election to George W. Bush. More recently, there have been efforts to discourage voters who typically vote Democratic by the Republican governors in Wisconsin and New Jersey.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has a well-deserved reputation for ignoring the law and behaving more like a tyrant than an elected official. The newly minted Republican governor whose notoriety is rooted in his bypassing of the rules to get his union-busting legislation passed, has also been at the forefront of voter suppression. Claiming to be working toward the elimination of voter fraud (a problem which is essentially non-existent), Walker’s legislation makes it more difficult for college students and minorities to vote by implementing stricter identification standards and more stringent residency restrictions.

Here in New Jersey, Republican governor Chris Christie does not yet have the national tyrannical reputation that Walker has, but he is working to make it more difficult for people who lean Democratic to vote. Christie is actively campaigning against same-day registration, using his typically subtle tone, calling this activity “crazy.”

Now, two Democratic Assemblymen, Lou Greenwald and Wayne DeAngelo, have introduced legislation that would enhance the democratic process by making it easier to vote by mail. Their proposal would allow a voter to request vote-by-mail ballots automatically each election cycle. The legislation has built-in safeguards to ensure that ballots are not sent to voters who move or die. It remains to be seen whether Governor Christie will support this measure, which encourages participation in the electoral process. I’m not holding my breath.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No Joy

I had gone to bed on Sunday night and was asleep when the phone rang. The caller told us that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I thought, “OK, fine”, and went right back to sleep.

In the grand scheme of things, Bin Laden’s death means little.

I can’t imagine the pain and hurt that the families of 9/11 victims are experiencing. And if Bin Laden’s death provides them with a modicum of relief, that’s good. But the demise of Bin Laden does not guarantee the demise of Al Qaeda. Even if it did, the demise of Al Qaeda would not guarantee the demise of other terrorist groups, whether they be based in radical Islam or American right-wing lunacy.

Nor does my ambivalence toward Bin Laden’s death take away anything from the brave feats of the military force that took him out. These men (and women?) are the ultimate heroes - their willingness to risk their lives for a just cause knowing that even in success their names must necessarily remain anonymous is unparalleled.

The euphoria sweeping the nation is contagious, but I did not catch it. Even Rachel Maddow, arguably the best broadcast journalist this country has to offer, was giddy with excitement as she reported on the events of Sunday and Monday.

Part of the reason for the nationwide jubilation is the fact that there has not been much for this nation to be happy about since the turn of the century. The Bush recession and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were both unnecessary, and the 9/11 attacks themselves framed the first decade of the millennium. The elation after the election of Barack Obama was short-lived when we saw broken promises and the capitulation to corporate interests in issues such as health care and net neutrality. The world’s inability to confront global climate change and long-term energy policy was punctuated by Hurricane Katrina and the Fukushima disaster. So the assassination of Bin Laden filled a void for a nation longing for some good news.

Good news is legitimately good news when it has relevance to the arc of history. In my lifetime, I can think of a couple of examples. The eradication of polio has eliminated a scourge that today’s generations never will fully comprehend and has saved millions from lives of suffering and premature death. The manned landings on the moon were important, not for the victory in a contest with the Soviet Union, but for the impetus they provided for advances in science, technology, medicine, and a myriad of other disciplines. The killing of a terrorist leader, while important, does not stack up to these events.

Pundits have noted that recent events have unified the nation. Who would have thought that Republicans would praise President Obama about anything? But with the 2012 contest around the corner, this unity will be short-lived.

We do, however, have the opportunity to use Bin Laden’s death to make meaningful progress. Keeping in mind that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed more Americans than Bin Laden did, we can declare victory and bring our troops home in a more expeditious manner. Not only will this save countless lives, but will also save trillions of dollars in defense spending and military benefits. We can take the money we would have spent on destruction and use it for construction - construction of jobs at home, building our long-neglected infrastructure for the next century, providing education to our kids to compete with Europe and Asia, fulfilling the broken promises of the last half dozen presidents on energy independence, and ensuring that access to good health care is not restricted to the wealthy. If we do these things, America will be stronger - stronger from an economic standpoint and stronger from a security standpoint. The Navy SEALS who took out Bin Laden did so on resolve and bravery. If we as a nation use the death of Bin Laden to invoke the same resolve and bravery to tackle the real problems facing us, then I will rejoice in the events of last Sunday evening.