Monday, December 24, 2012

Is the NRA a Terrorist Organization?

In exploring the answer to this question, one must separate the NRA leadership from its members. I suspect that many NRA members are sane, law-abiding citizens who register their guns and do not fire them in fits of anger. But an organization reflects the position of its leadership, so when I refer to the NRA, I’m talking about its leaders and sponsors  –  the gun manufacturers.

By this definition, the NRA is not a terrorist organization. The organization itself does not use violence to achieve their goals. Rather, they leverage the killings that their policies abet to lobby for unrestricted access and unbridled proliferation of guns. And I suspect that not all of the hundreds of killers that we read about all too often are members of the NRA.

The goal of terrorists is to instill fear in the general population. And the reaction to that fear is more police presence, more intrusion into the daily routine of life.

Al-Qaida, the preeminent terrorist organization of our time, has forced us to spend billions of dollars on transportation security, establish a multi-billion dollar Cabinet department, and has eroded our freedoms due to government surveillance and intrusion. Al-Qaida has succeeded in instilling fear and achieving their political goals.

While the NRA’s political goals are to elect right-wing anti-gun-safety politicians, they also have a political agenda. More significantly, their stated goal, to establish a TSA-like atmosphere in schools plays off their agenda of unrestricted access to guns and other lethal weapons. And schools are just a start. If we place armed guards in schools, what about malls, churches, parks, and other places where children and adults congregate?  In the end, if the nation adopts the NRA agenda, the result is no different than that which Al-Qaida has already accomplished, only on a much larger scale.

So by strict definition, the NRA is not a terrorist organization and Al-Qaida is. The difference is that the policies of the NRA have resulted in more dead Americans than Al-Qaida could achieve in its wildest dreams.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Gun Nuts are Wrong. But Not for the Reason You Think

First of all, if I intentionally use an inflammatory term like “gun nut”, you need to understand why. In my mind, there are differences between gun nuts and responsible gun owners.

Responsible gun owners keep their weapons locked up when they are not in use. 

Responsible gun owners practice safety first.

Responsible gun owners own their guns because either they feel they need a gun to defend their homes against intruders, or they are responsible hunters, or they are responsible collectors.

Responsible gun owners don’t normally own automatic weapons. If they are collectors and desire to own these killing machines, they have the firing mechanism welded shut so the weapon can never be used to shoot.

Responsible gun owners don’t purchase “cop-killer” ammunition.

Responsible gun owners register their guns with authorities.

Responsible gun owners understand that background checks are necessary to keep guns away from those who would use them irresponsibly.

So here, I’m not talking about responsible gun owners, but the gun nuts. I’m talking about the gun zealots who are afraid that the government is going to take away their weapons, or that the United Nations is going to somehow usurp the Constitution. I’m talking about the nuts who contend that the murders in Connecticut, Blacksburg, Columbine, and elsewhere are the fault of gays, Jews, blacks, liberals, Mayans, abortion doctors, or gun-control advocates.

It’s difficult to put myself in the mind of these gun nuts, but it seems that their main argument is that they need their killing machines in vast quantity and unparalleled lethality to defend themselves against the government. They seem to contend that someday the black helicopters of the “guv’mint” will descend on their homes to take away their freedoms.

Well, gun nuts, I have news for you. The process of the government usurping our freedoms has started, and your guns are impotent. Your freedoms are already being eroded, and your assault weapons are powerless.

Guns cause harm to physical bodies. But the erosion of our freedoms is not corporal, it’s mostly cyberial. (OK, so cyberial is not a word. But I can invent words, can’t I? It’s an adjective meaning “pertaining to cyberspace.”)

Unless you’re a prisoner in Guantánamo, the government is not going to lock you up for your thoughts. But it is eroding your freedoms with the invasion of your privacy through cyberspace.

With the cooperation of the telecommunications oligarchy, the government has complete records on your phone calls and internet activity. Since the so-called “Patriot Act”, the government has access to your financial data, travel activity, and God knows what else. Much of this without a warrant.  Want to open a bank account? You need to fill out Patriot Act paperwork. If you buy e-books or visit a public library, I would not be surprised if your reading habits are being monitored. What we know is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s what we don’t know about government intrusion that’s worrisome. And your guns are powerless in today’s information-centric world.

So to those who believe that the government is going to take away your guns, chill out.  If you’re a responsible gun owner or just a patriotic American, instead of sending your money to the NRA, send it to the ACLU, where it will do some good.                 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chris Christie's Crossroads Conumdrum

Chris Christie is at a crossroad in his career.

The candidate that he so vociferously supported for President was overwhelmingly defeated. Christie, who has angered the Democrats and a few moderate Republicans with his words and deeds, has been the target of similar vitriol from the mainstream GOP for embracing President Obama and big government in the hurricane relief effort.

His brusque style, while endearing to some, diverts attention from his agenda.

He embraces right-wing extremism by drinking from the teat of the Koch Brothers and supporting wacko candidates like Steve King in Iowa. Yet he pisses off those same extremists by appointing a Muslim judge, walking hand-in-hand with a black president, and extoling the big-government virtues of FEMA. He preaches bipartisanship while holding a lock on most of his GOP legislators.

Unlike those who only espouse family values, he actually practices them. I don’t think you’ll see Chris Christie join the litany of many GOP powerful politicians who hold back false tears while confessing to an extra-marital affair. Yet his ethical behavior leaves many questions unanswered, such as his friend’s dealing with the lucrative halfway house privatization business or his questionable “charity” to help hurricane victims.

He claims he’s a friend of the environment while simultaneously and unilaterally waiving environmental regulations. He vows to rebuild the Jersey Shore while ignoring the root cause of the magnitude of the destruction – man-made global climate change.

Unlike Mitt Romney, who had multiple and changing positions on just about everything, Christie invariably stands firm on the issues. Once he makes up his mind, he rarely changes it. And that, in a nutshell, is Christie’s problem.

There’s a difference between flip-flopping and evolving on one’s position. President Obama and New Jersey  Senate President Stephen Sweeney evolved on their position on gay rights and marriage equality. They weren’t for it one day and against it the next. They moved slowly along the continuum toward the side of tolerance and then equality.

Chris Christie can leverage his popularity to fill the post-election void in Republican party leadership. If he does, how will he use that power? Will he continue to allow the party to slide down the abyss created by the extreme right wing? Or will he lead the charge to form a neo-moderate power base within the party? Will he embrace the thoughts of Michelle Bachman and Steve King, or will he move the party toward the more moderate positions of former Governor Christine Todd Whitman and State Senator Diane Allen?

His actions over the next few weeks and months should provide us with a hint. Now that Obamacare has been affirmed by the Supreme Court and the popular electorate, will Christie finally sign the health exchange bill? Now that the influence peddling of the Koch Brothers has been neutered, will Christie evolve into a friend of the environment? Now that both polls and referenda have shown that marriage equality has the overwhelming support of the population, will Christie release the lock he has on GOP legislators and allow them to vote their conscience? All of this will play out over the next twelve months as New Jersey elects its Governor and legislature in what we hope is the post-Tea Party era.

Make no mistake about it – Christie is governed not by ideology, but by his supersized ego. He craves power and attention. The question is, will he achieve his goal by creating a winnable scenario as a neo-moderate, or will he continue down the destructive path of allying himself with Tea Party and corporate extremism?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Deciminyan Endorsements

This year, the Deciminyan blog presents its first set of election endorsements. In a presidential election year, there are hundreds of contests that I could weigh in on, but I've chosen to formally endorse candidates in contests in which I have had some personal involvement – either through personal contact, campaign activity, or just because I felt these candidates were people I’d like to contribute money to. In some instances, I enthusiastically endorse these candidates. In other cases, I pick the lesser of two evils. But in all cases, I feel these people are the best choice for the office they aspire to.

President and Vice President

Barack Obama and Joe Biden

Despite a Republican-dominated Congress with a very public statement that their number one mission was to make Obama a one-term president, Mr. Obama has accomplished much. If you’re an Obama supporter, you know what he’s done. If you’re an Obama opponent, you either rationalize that these initiatives are detrimental, or give the GOP credit for them.

Unfortunately, the President’s accomplishments also come with disappointments and missed opportunities. The centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s first term is the Affordable Care Act. I’m glad to see that the President embraced the term that the GOP invented to denigrate this initiative, “Obamacare.” And I’m glad to see the President running on it. Obamacare will make health care available to tens of millions more Americans, through affordability, elimination of pre-existing condition clauses, and availability to young citizens on their parents’ policy. Despite the warbling rhetoric of the right, it will save the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars. Most importantly, it will save lives. But let’s keep in mind a few disappointing things about Obamacare.

First, in the battle to pass the first comprehensive health insurance reform law in generations the legislation moved through the sausage factory that we call Congress. Right off the bat, the President took the best option off the table. Medicare for all would have augmented the for-profit insurance cartel with a demonstrably more efficient system. Call it “socialism” if you want, but it would have been a simpler, more modern way of bringing American health care into line with that in other developed countries. Secondly, credit for the passage of Obamacare really belongs to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The President stood on the sidelines while the Democratic congressional leadership herded all the diverse cats in the party, from Bart Stupak to Russ Feingold, to make things happen. I’m fine with giving Obama credit for this, but if he had been more effective in using his bully pulpit (a la FDR and LBJ), we might have made this good system even better.

The repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is another major accomplishment – and here the President deserves full credit. He recognizes gay rights as the next great civil rights struggle and in the grand scheme of history, this may prove to be more important in his legacy than the Affordable Care Act.

The President and Vice President came into office with the nation on the precipice of Great Depression II, and their stewardship of the economy, the saving of the American automobile industry, and their successful job creation program – in spite of GOP intransigence – have literally saved the country.

There’s a much longer list of accomplishments including appointing two fabulous women to the Supreme Court, ending the Koch/Halliburton war in Iraq, improving automobile mileage standards, restoring funding for stem cell research – the list goes on and on.
I would have liked to have seen the President do more – closing Guantanamo, eliminating the unconstitutional surveillance of American citizens, and showing more proactive movement on renewable energy. But these disappointments are tempered by the frightening prospect of a President Romney. We need to let the Obama/Biden team finish the job.

U.S. Senate

New Jersey

Senator Robert Menendez is being challenged by a man unknown outside the State of New Jersey, and hardly known inside the Garden State. State Senator Joe Kyrillos, a foe of the Abbot decision that levels the playing field for access to education, touts his great friendship with Governor Chris Christie.

Menendez has been an effective senator, despite the (literal) roadblocks that have been placed in his path by the Governor. Senator Menendez has promoted much-needed job-creating infrastructure and civil rights for all Americans.

Kyrillos is channeling Mitt Romney in his desire to appear moderate while kowtowing to the Tea Party line. He’s voted against women’s health, gay rights, and aid to the less advantaged. While there are a few moderates in the New Jersey Senate, Kyrillos is not one of them.

We endorse Bob Menendez for another term in the U.S. Senate.


While I’m not fond of Blue Dog Democrats, I abhor extremists like Todd Akin. So when Akin espoused his position on rape, I immediately sent a donation to the campaign of Claire McCaskill, whom I endorse in her race for re-election.

U.S. House of Representatives


In 2008, then-State Senator John Adler broke a century-long GOP stranglehold on this district. Adler won the election on Barack Obama’s coattails, replacing long-term (and moderate) Republican Congressman Jim Saxton, who retired.

The Tea Party revolution of 2010 doomed Adler’s campaign. Instead of nominating a qualified candidate, the Republicans decide to go the celebrity route and nominate former NFL bad boy, Jon Runyan. Runyan’s victory in 2010 was bad enough, but after the election, John Adler’s life was cut short by a fatal medical condition.

Taking from the GOP playbook, the Democratic establishment decided to exploit name recognition in the 2012 congressional race, even though this ploy was a spectacular failure last year when they ran Olympic hero and local icon Carl Lewis for the state senate. Adler’s widow, Shelley was tapped to run for Congress even though her residence was moved out of the district in the decennial congressional redistricting. The difference here, though, is that Shelley Adler is qualified to sit in Congress, while Runyan has proven that he isn’t.

Shelley Adler has an uphill battle. She’s behind in the polls in a heavily Republican district that became even more Republican in the 2010 redistricting activity. Her support from the DCCC has been cut back, so she can’t match the onslaught of GOP money being sent to Runyan.

Adler is no great progressive, but Runyan is clearly in the Tea Party camp. We need to turn 25 seats in the House to oust John Boehner from the Speaker’s chair. And we need a woman’s voice in the New Jersey congressional delegation. For those reasons, I support Shelley Adler in NJ-3.


New Jersey’s congressional delegation is split – there are 6 incumbent Republicans and 6 incumbent Democrats running for re-election. The best chance the Democrats have of taking a majority is in NJ-7, where State Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula is vying to oust incumbent Leonard Lance.

Like many formerly moderate Republicans, Lance has drunk the Tea Party Kool Aid and his voting record has demonstrated his rightward movement. Chivukula has been in the New Jersey General Assembly for a decade, and has been the force behind innovative legislation promoting renewable energy and modern telecommunications. As an engineer, Chivukula is trained to solve problems and has been a voice of reason against a governor whose policies are geared to benefit the Koch Brothers, not the consumer and the environment.

I’ve gotten to know Chivukula over the past year, and he is a true gentleman, always making time to discuss issues with me even though I am not a constituent. His election would bring diversity, intelligence, and common sense to our House of Representatives. I’m proud to endorse Upendra Chivukula in his race this year.


OK. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about this race. But it piqued my interest when I learned that an acquaintance from New Jersey is working as a field organizer for Democratic challenger Anthony Flaccavento.

VA-9 is a district in southwest Virginia about the size of New Jersey. Flaccavento’s incumbent GOP opponent’s web site touts more coal mining as one of his keynote platform items. For that reason, and because I trust the judgment of my friend, I’m happy to endorse Anthony Flaccavento for Congress.

State Legislatures

NJ-16 Assembly

Outside of the presidential election, this race is the most important in New Jersey. It’s a referendum on Governor Christie’s policies, especially in education.

In a total disregard for election ethics, when Governor Christie is not campaigning for the 2016 presidential nomination out of state (on the taxpayer’s dime), he is campaigning for his own re-election throughout New Jersey, also on the taxpayer’s dime. Christie has held about 100 political rallies, which he calls “Town Halls.” These are elaborate affairs, complete with overwhelming security and professional stagecraft, and they are geared to self-promotion, not substantive discussion.

At the start of the 2010 school year, an art teacher from Flemington decided to attend one of these so-called Town Halls on her lunch hour. She was fortunate that the venue was across the street from her school because Christie holds these rallies during the day when it is inconvenient for working people to attend.

That teacher, Marie Corfield, attempted to engage in a civil discussion with the Governor during the question-and-answer period. But instead of answering the question, the Governor decided to produce one of his made-for-YouTube moments and excoriate Corfield for no apparent reason other than that she is a public school teacher concerned with the Governor’s policies.

Christie’s rudeness catapulted Corfield on the national scene, with interviews on Fox News, The Ed Show, and other media outlets. Corfield demonstrated her intelligence, passion, and coolness under pressure. Through some politically-savvy progressive activists in her home town, Corfield was urged to run for the New Jersey General Assembly in 2011. Although she didn't win, her opponent’s margin of victory was small in the Republican-dominated district.

What many voters didn't know at the time was that Corfield’s opponent was extremely ill, and he tragically passed away a few days after the election. Under New Jersey law, the Republicans were then permitted to appoint a replacement, and they did so, elevating Tea Party sympathizer Donna Simon to the Assembly. But the appointment was only through the next election cycle, so Corfield is running again, and has the energy, enthusiasm, and endorsements to win this year. She was the top vote-getter in the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s nationwide grass roots campaign. She’s got the endorsement of Howard Dean’s Democracy for America organization and is supported by numerous unions including her own New Jersey Education Association. But even though she was catapulted to fame by her encounter with our bully governor, Corfield is not a one-issue candidate. She understands that to make the state better, investments are needed – in small business and infrastructure, as well as in education. She’s for marriage equality and the middle class. Her opponent voted against women’s health programs. Marie will support all New Jerseyans.

Marie is a rare breed of Democrat. Her ascendancy did not come from the party establishment, but rather via grass roots support. Her election would be a great tribute to traditional democracy.

I’ve worked on Marie’s campaigns, contributed funds, and am pleased to endorse Marie Corfield for the New Jersey General Assembly.

NJ-4 Assembly

The first time I met Gabby Mosquera was when she ran for the New Jersey General Assembly in 2011. Despite her impressive and inspiring life story, I was not impressed. An immigrant from Ecuador, Mosquera earned an MBA and landed a job as Chief of Staff to a local mayor. But when she ran in 2011, I felt that she did not have a good grasp of the issues that confront a member of the Assembly.

Nevertheless, Mosquera won an overwhelming victory, but the local GOP worked relentlessly to suppress the will of the voters. It turns out that her residency in the district was one month short of the year required by law – a law that was declared unconstitutional a decade before.

Even though Mosquera’s opponent - Shelley Lovett - a GOP operative prevailed in the court’s reversal of precedents, by state law the Democrats had the opportunity to fill the empty seat, and they appointed Mosquera. Now, Lovett and Mosquera are facing off again to fill the final year of the two-year term that Mosquera won but was annulled by the court.

I spoke with Mosquera recently, and found that she has come a long way. Her year as a legislator has been a great learning experience, and my concerns about her knowledge of the issues are gone. With Chris Christie in office, it is essential that the Democrats come closer to a veto-proof majority, and I’m pleased to endorse Gabriela Mosquera this time around.

NY-49 Senate

It’s tough enough to keep track of the politicians in one’s own area, let alone those in other state legislatures. But I’ve been acquainted with New York State Senator Dave Valesky of upstate New York for several decades. When I knew him, he had not held elective office but was a staffer for another local politician. We met when he was an executive of a non-profit organization that I chose to help. There, he was always appreciative of his volunteers, and was an all-around nice guy.

After I moved away, I was pleased to discover that he was elected to the New York State Senate in 2004. I was especially pleased to learn that Valesky, a practicing Catholic in a conservative-leaning district, voted in favor of marriage equality. So based on my friendship and his courageous vote, I am pleased to endorse Dave Valesky in his re-election bid this year.

County Freeholders

If you’re not from New Jersey, you probably don’t know what a Freeholder is. They’re essentially a panel of elected officials who run county government. Here in Burlington County, there are five of them – all Republicans.

Freeholders have an awesome responsibility – they spend the taxpayer’s money on infrastructure and services. Ideally, this would be done with maximum transparency and ethical conduct, but one-party rule tends to work in the opposite direction.

This year’s sale of a county hospital to a for-profit entity begs many unanswered fiscal questions. It seems the Freeholders are balancing the budget using one-shot gimmicks (a skill they apparently learned from Governor Christie), while they accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from companies who receive county contracts.

We need a change in Burlington County government, and there are two open seats on the Freeholder board this election cycle. I’m proud to work for, support, and contribute to the campaign of two women who will bring transparency and fiscal responsibility to the board – Aimee Belgard and Joanne Schwartz, running for county freeholder.


It probably comes as no surprise that there are no Republicans on this list. That makes me sad. A once-great party has succumbed to the corruption of the almighty dollar by Citizens United and the corruption of the Fourth Estate by Rupert Murdoch.  

There are exceptions of course. My own state senator, Diane Allen, is a moderate Republican – a rare breed. But she’s got enough courage to buck the pressure from the Christie cabal when she thinks they are wrong.  I’d like to see more moderates return the GOP to its roots.

If you think I’m partisan, you’re probably right. I’m active in local Democratic politics. But when I see a moderate Republican who is clearly better than a mediocre Democrat, I’ll support him or her – as I did last year in a state legislative race in a nearby district.

I’m also not so naïve to ignore the fact that Democrats are not perfect – especially here in South Jersey where the endorsement of unelected power brokers is a prerequisite to getting on the ballot. That’s not the way democracy is supposed to work, but even then, we have some great Democrats who I am proud to support.

If you got this far, I salute you. These posts are cathartic for me, and I enjoyed putting my thoughts on (virtual) paper here. And if it encourages you to vote for or contribute to one or more of these fine people, that’s even better.

Thoughts on an Inspiring Man in a Different Time

It was a different time when I chose to do door-to-door campaigning for George McGovern as he sought the presidency. I was pretty naïve politically back then, but I had a feeling in my gut that Richard Nixon was, indeed, a crook. Nixon to me was untrustworthy and sleazy. And McGovern was talking about ending the war in Viet Nam, which made a lot of sense.  I was young and single and felt I needed to do something.

So I volunteered to go door to door in my then home town of Syracuse and talk about the campaign. I was assigned to a blue-collar neighborhood on the near east side.

All we had was a list of names and addresses. No sophisticated voter lists like we get today. No scripts. No surveys. We knocked on doors and actually talked to people. Republicans. Democrats. Undecideds.

Most people were welcoming. Many invited me in to sit at their kitchen table and discuss our views over a cup of coffee. I talked about a man I had never met, but who I felt could lead the country out of a war that would never end. But the thing that sticks in my mind is that whether the person I was talking to was for or against the war, whether that person was for or against Nixon – we had a comprehensive and civil discourse. Talking points and sound bites had not yet been invented.

My profound disappointment in McGovern’s landslide loss, coupled with my subsequent marriage and family, and a demanding career led me away from active participation in politics until another inspiring man came onto the scene – this one a relatively young Senator from Illinois. And I got involved in campaigning again – working for Barack Obama in New Jersey and Florida. But campaigns in 2008 and 2012 are different. Voter lists are sanitized and the whole process is automated and impersonal.

Since the death of Ted Kennedy, we have not had any progressive liberals in positions of significant power at the national scene. George McGovern influenced a young man in upstate New York in the early 70s. Wouldn't it be a great tribute to his legacy if another liberal lion could emerge from today’s bifurcated political system and reverse the movement of the national agenda from its rightward trajectory? That would be the ultimate tribute to the great South Dakotan who influenced me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Who Lost the Debate?

While President Obama clearly won last night’s Town Hall debate, the biggest loser was not Mitt Romney. Rather, it was the environment.

It was disconcerting to hear both men argue about who could drill more on Federal land, or who could mine more dirty coal.

Renewable energy like solar, wind, and geothermal only received lip service from both candidates with no specific plans divulged.

Romney did talk about energy independence. But his plan involves more dependence on drilling and mining – both processes are environmentally hostile to the land, air, and water. Note that Romney keeps talking about North American energy independence – not (U.S.) American energy independence. Is his plan to replace Saudi Arabia with Canada as our source of dirty energy? While I’d rather see our dollars go north to help fund Canada’s (gasp!) socialized medical care than have it go to the sheiks, a far better solution would be to help balance the trade deficit by promoting indigenous energy sources.

No single issue exists in isolation. Promoting clean energy development to make it affordable helps energy-dependent businesses, improves the health of Americans through clean air and water, and creates millions of jobs. I would have liked to see the President outline an Apollo-like program with specific energy independence goals that would include boosting the training of scientists and engineers in the energy field, promoting science in the elementary schools, and providing businesses with incentives for them to act as co-investors in this important initiative. This could all be paid for by the elimination of the billions of dollars we spend subsidizing dirty fuels.

We need not only to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we need to reduce our dependence on dirty fuel. Neither candidate convinced me that he has a plan.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ryan's Hopelessness

It took a lot of chutzpah for Paul Ryan to conflate his policies with those of John F. Kennedy at last night’s Vice Presidential debate. I half expected Joe Biden to steal Lloyd Bentsen’s line and proclaim to the bratty congressman, “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you, sir, are no Jack Kennedy.” But then I realized that Biden was only 21 years old when Kennedy was assassinated. It would be eight more years before Biden went to Washington as a U.S. Senator.

Kennedy’s approach to governing was the antithesis of that of the Ryan/Romney ticket.  JFK’s greatest accomplishment during his tragically short tenure was the commitment to send Americans to the moon.  In today’s dollars, President Kennedy committed $165 billion to a program that promoted science, infrastructure, and technology and which had tremendous payoff in the emergence of semiconductor technology, computers, and life science. The Apollo program boosted education at all levels.  It galvanized a nation toward meeting a difficult goal and arguably helped end the Cold War. Ryan, by contrast, would commit large sums of national treasure to tax breaks for the rich, subsidies for the oil companies, privatization (i.e. profitization) of essential government services, and bail outs of his Wall Street friends. Infrastructure investments like high-speed rail and clean energy should be this generation’s Apollo program, but they are not priorities on the Ryan/Romney agenda.

So, Mr. Ryan, if you are going to use a doppelganger to promote your campaign, you should not mention JFK, whose policies you abhor. Instead, invoke the former president you really emulate – George W. Bush – the guy who brought this nation’s economy to the brink of Great Depression II before the Obama/Biden team rescued it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Debate Proposal

Jim Lehrer’s performance as moderator of the first of this year’s Presidential Debates was dismal. He allowed Mitt Romney to run all over him. But how can we blame Lehrer? He’s trying to control both the President of the United States and a bully vulture capitalist while literally sitting at their feet. That can be quite intimidating.

The job of the moderator is to keep the candidates on topic, not be the timekeeper. So why not have an automatic mechanism that shuts off the candidates’ microphone at the end of their allotted time? If the speakers know their remarks are not being broadcast, they’d stop talking immediately.

Friday, September 14, 2012

3:00 a.m.

"When you shoot from the hip, you inevitably end up shooting yourself in the foot." - Deciminyan

During the 2008 presidential primary, Senator Hillary Clinton ran television ads asking how an inexperienced Senator from Illinois would react to a middle-of-the-night phone call about an overseas crisis. The purpose of the ad was to highlight Senator Obama’s limited experience in foreign policy.

Fortunately, Obama’s performance has belied the assumption in that video. His foreign policy has not been exceptional, but it has been pretty good. His first foreign policy action as president was one of his best - the appointment of Senator Clinton as Secretary of State. Clinton has immersed herself in the job, and while many of her efforts never make the nightly news, she has become as masterful in the job as her previous Democratic colleague, Madeline Albright. Choosing the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as his vice president also brought substantial foreign policy experience to the Obama administration.

Obama ended the foolish war in Iraq and is well on his way in extricating us from the quagmire in Afghanistan. He eliminated Qaddafi and Bin Laden. He’s kept (so far) Israel from engaging in a no-win war with Iran.

On the other hand, Mitt Romney has amply demonstrated that he has neither the temperament nor the experience to handle the 3 a.m. phone call. His shoot-from-the-hip response to the Libya crisis, announcing that the President of the United States sympathizes with the enemy, was foolish, bordering on downright traitorous.  Rarely do presidential challengers second-guess the incumbent during times of overseas crisis. Romney’s foreign policy experience is limited to sending American jobs offshore and his own money to the Cayman Islands.

The Republicans criticize Obama for his prior work as a community organizer. Yet, that’s a job that requires the use of persuasion over power - a key component of a successful foreign policy portfolio (if only Dubya and his war-monger advisers had understood this, many more Americans and Iraqis would be alive today.)  Romney’s claim to fame is the generation of wealth through non-value-added financial transactions. His skill set includes guile and exploitation of others. Maybe that works in his  business, but it’s not a qualification to be Leader of the Free World.

If Romney becomes President and that 3 a.m. phone call comes in, the world suddenly becomes a more dangerous place.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I Support Chris Christie

I can’t match Sheldon Adelson or the Koch Brothers, but I contribute some money to political candidates I would like to see elected. I’ve given to local and state wide candidates like Aimee Belgard and Marie Corfield, and to out-of-state contenders like Dan Maffei, who is running against a tea party candidate in my former home town of Syracuse, and to Claire McCaskill, the Blue Dog Democrat who is running against extremist Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin.

And I’ve also given to Chris Christie’s political campaign.

This may sound odd, but it isn’t.

You see, I’m a New Jersey taxpayer, and some of the money I send to Trenton goes to Christie’s political activities. I’m referring to his so-called “town hall” meetings, the 90th one of which was held this week. I’ve been to two of them myself, and have seen a few of the hundreds of YouTube videos which I am also paying for. These are all political events, not a “listening tour” and not geared to keeping voters informed.

Recent press reports reveal that the cost of Christie’s executive office has risen about 14%. While (I hope) much of this is for legitimate state business, the governor is bilking the taxpayer while simultaneously demanding other departments to do more with less. Part of this increase is the staff that arranges and runs his so-called “town hall” meetings and his entourage of videographers who produce his state-funded political ads.

Certainly, the governor should stay in touch with the populace. But the present format does not do that. It only serves as a forum for his political agenda and for rants that are inappropriate for a chief executive but get him on the news. If the governor wants to hold a political rally, that’s fine – but it should be paid for by the Republican Party, not by me. If only the mainstream media would call him out on this misappropriation of taxpayer funds.

Cross-posted from Blue Jersey

Thursday, August 30, 2012


The old adage goes something like this: “If it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.”

There’s a corollary to this: “If it doesn’t look like a duck, and it doesn’t smell like a duck, and doesn’t quack like a duck, then calling it a duck doesn’t make it a duck.”

Nowhere is this more evident than the Ryan/Romney plan to “save” Medicare.

While they may call their proposed outcome “Medicare”, it’s just one more Republican reverse Robin Hood ploy to take from those who can least afford it in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and unnecessary foreign wars.

Ryan and Romney propose to replace Medicare with vouchers that would be used by senior citizens to purchase health insurance on the open market, thus enriching the for-profit insurance donors.

Let’s say their plan gives each senior a voucher for $8,000. While this may be adequate for relatively healthy people without pre-existing conditions, it will force many to make difficult choices between food and medical care. Policies for a 68 year old with cancer could cost well over $30,000 a year. Those seniors who have spent a lifetime paying into the system will have the rug pulled out from under their safety net. Calling the Ryan/Romney proposal “Medicare” is cruel and misleading.

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare” neé “Romneycare”) is a better solution. With Ryan’s and Romney’s approach to repeal the ACA, many with pre-existing conditions would simply not be able to afford insurance and many more would not be able to afford preventative care, bringing emergency room costs through the roof, and raising the overall cost to the nation.

The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. Single-payer (“Medicare for all”) is a better solution and would bring America in line with our other developed partners. But the election of the Ryan/Romney ticket would move the health insurance industry right into pure quackery.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In This Race Between Christie and O'Malley, I'm Rooting for Christie

There's a chance that Chris Christie may face Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley in the race for President in 2016. That's a race I'd work hard for an O'Malley win. But there's another race - today - between these two men, and that's one that I'd like Chris Christie to win, even though he's not acting like he's even in the game.

The race I'm referring to is to become the predominant state for the offshore wind manufacturing and support industry. The Atlantic Ocean is a ripe territory to harness this energy, both in terms of favorable wind patterns and proximity to millions of consumers. In this race, O'Malley is preparing his state to reap these economic benefits while Christie has hitched his energy wagon to the Koch Brothers and the "drill, baby, drill" GOP platform.

Two years ago, Christie signed the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act (OWEDA), but his administration has been stagnant on providing regulations and support to make any progress. Today, at the site of the Paulsboro Marine Terminal, elected officials and the Director of the Sierra Club held a press conference to urge the governor to take action.

The site, across the river from Philadelphia International Airport, is 193 acres, formerly an oil tank storage facility. It's been remediated and is ready for economic development.

Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club opened the press conference, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, and Assemblywoman Celeste Riley spoke. Sweeney indicated that there are developers interested in the site, adjacent to the Delaware River and major overland highways, but nothing can happen until the governor directs his bureaucracy to issue the required permits and regulations. Once this happens, several thousand jobs will be created. These are manufacturing jobs to build the turbines, blades, and other portions of the offshore wind farms, and support jobs for transportation and distribution. But if we wait too long, other states like Maryland may beat us in becoming the center of wind energy on the east coast.

I spoke with Senator Sweeney right after the press conference - his remarks as well as video of the press conference are below.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Making the Media "Pro-Truth"

Now that the issues of women’s reproductive rights have come to the forefront in the 2012 Presidential election, it’s time to re-examine how the mainstream media continues to succumb to the position of the extreme right on these issues. Specifically, I’m referring to their choice of terminology. The media use the term “pro-life” to describe the anti-abortion partisans. The term is inappropriate and misleading.

Use of “pro-life” implies that those of us who support women are somehow “anti-life.” Let’s examine the policies that the so-called “pro-life” right wing supports, either implicitly or explicitly:

If the policies of the so-called “pro-life” folks are enacted, women will go back to having back-alley abortions or self-medicating to terminate unwanted pregnancies. If forced to carry to term, some will abandon their babies, putting infants in peril. Women and children will die from “pro-life” policies.

Not all people who oppose abortion are from the right-wing fringe. Some people oppose abortion on religious grounds. So to them, I say, don’t get an abortion. But keep your religion out of my government.

In general, those who oppose abortions due to the “sanctity of life” argument support unnecessary wars and the death penalty. Those are things that belie the “pro-life” moniker. And if someone is in favor of free access to assault weapons or limiting medical care for those who can’t afford it, they can’t be “pro-life” at the same time.

So it’s time for the so-called “liberal media” to tell the truth. People like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are not “pro-life”. They are “anti-abortion” and should be described that way.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A "Solution" in Search of a Problem

While neither of the two major political parties is known for altruism, it is clear the Republicans place their lust for power above the needs of the electorate. This has become profoundly apparent in this year’s election with their nationwide voter suppression initiative.

This is not the first time the GOP has pulled out all the stops to grab power. The 2000 presidential election was won by Al Gore - both in the popular vote and, if Florida had been allowed to count all its votes, in the Electoral College. But a politically-motivated Supreme Court would not permit the votes in the Sunshine State to be counted, giving the election to a man who drove the nation into debt, widened the income gap, ignored warnings of a horrific terrorist attack, and placed young American men and women in harm’s way under false pretenses. The Supreme Court’s rationale was so flawed that the justices even noted that their decision should not be considered a precedent for future cases of this type.

Now, in 2012, the Republican oligarchs are taking another tack at usurping the will of the electorate. They are doing everything they can to ensure that groups that vote overwhelmingly Democratic are denied the fundamental right to vote. It started with their destruction of ACORN, whose only “crime” was trying to get African-Americans registered to vote. Now, they are hard at work suppressing Democratic voters in key swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio under the guise of “voter fraud”, even though it has been amply demonstrated that such fraud is virtually non-existent.

Voter advocacy groups are fighting these tactics in the courts with very limited success. In Ohio, after protesters rallied against extended voting hours only in Republican counties, election officials relented and reduced voting hours consistently across the state - hardly a victory for the people of Ohio. In Pennsylvania, a Republican judge ruled that hypothetical unworkable scenarios (like each denied voter appealing to a judge on election day) trump common sense - showing that the U.S. Supreme Court is not the only part of the judiciary that is under the influence of corporate despots.

The judicial battle will certainly extend to Election Day and beyond. But we are clearly on a path to inaugurate the second un-elected President in 12 years. The Pennsylvania decision will be appealed to the state supreme court, but those in the know don’t hold out much hope for a reversal. The U.S. Justice Department is looking into violations of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, but with GOP voter suppression so widespread, is this too little too late?

But there’s another approach to ensure a fair election. While continuing to fight these draconian laws, activists should, in parallel, work within the system and get the requisite voter ID cards in the hands of the underrepresented electorate. They can do this by providing rides to senior citizens to the voter registration offices and by promoting vote-by-mail in those states where it is allowed. They can help voters to navigate through the government bureaucracy to obtain the proof needed to secure ID cards.

There’s not a lot of time between now and election day, and the GOP is counting on making legitimate voting more difficult. But if we do nothing, we get the government we deserve. We observed that lesson in 2000. Did we learn anything from it?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fire in a Crowded Theater

The First Amendment to the US Constitution gives us the right to free speech. But that right is not absolute. Back in 1919, when we had a sensible Supreme Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled that falsely shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater was not speech protected by the Constitution. Similarly, things like child pornography and false advertising are not considered to be “free speech.” Some amount of nuance is applied to the First Amendment.

Yet the gun killing machine lobby, spearheaded by the National Rifle Association, becomes apoplectic when similar common sense measures are applied to their beloved Second Amendment. But take a close look at the text of that amendment. It starts out with the premise, “A well-regulated militia..”, the key word being “regulated.” The Second Amendment calls for Congress to impose regulations at the Federal level, on killing machines.

Ordinary citizens in the United States are prohibited from having tactical nuclear weapons. Frankly, I’m surprised that the absolutists in the NRA aren’t fighting this. But most people are allowed to own an unlimited number of assault weapons similar to the one that the Aurora killer used. Just like it makes absolutely no sense for me to own a nuke, it makes absolutely no sense for me to own an assault weapon, yet I can if I want to. In many states I could purchase one without a background check, and I could carry it in a concealed manner. Because of the gun show loophole, I could purchase additional killing machines without anyone blinking an eye.

There are those who argue that if we criminalize guns in any way, only criminals will have guns. That’s a cute turn of phrase, and there’s a grain of truth to it. If we had strict laws on killing machines, perhaps the Aurora killer, or the Fort Hood killer, or the Columbine killers, or the Long Island Railroad killer, or the Tuscon killer, or a litany of others could have still performed their dastardly deeds. But if stricter laws on the books prevented even one of these madmen from getting their name in lights, it would be worth it.

Some say that they need a gun in their home for self-protection, despite the fact that statistics show that having a gun increases the danger of being killed or injured. But if that’s what they want, let them. Let them have one or two guns in their home after a background check, training, and licensing. You need a license to drive a car, or cut someones hair. Why not require a license to own a killing machine? And no one needs to own more than one or two. No one needs to own “cop killer” ammunition. No one needs to own an assault weapon. Self-protection is one thing. Making killing machines prolific and easily obtainable defies common sense and decency.

The NRA is a powerful lobby, with members of both parties solidly in their pocket and deathly afraid to buck the lovers of killing machines. This nation has stood up to powerful lobbies before. Who would have thought that the tobacco lobby could be tamed? But it was. It’s time for some courageous lawmakers to start the conversation to incapacitate the killing machine lobby. Like with tobacco, it may take a generation to do so. But one more Aurora is one more too many. It’s time to do what the Second Amendment tells us to do.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Through the Runyan Looking Glass

Freshman New Jersey Congressman Jon Runyan has demonstrated that he is a reliable and consistent acolyte of the Koch Brothers. But you wouldn’t know it by reading a four-page slick taxpayer-funded campaign brochure sent to voters in his district (shown below).

In an assumedly legal but ethically dubious use of his franking privilege, Runyan touts his “bipartisan” record by cherry-picking some bills he signed on to without mentioning his votes on major issues.

Runyan talks about supporting Gold Star mothers with a monument while omitting the fact that he has consistently voted with the GOP on reduction of benefits. He talks about “supporting” education by informing students and parents about terms and conditions on student loans while failing to work to make higher education more affordable. His brochure never mentions his support of off-shore drilling in the Atlantic so as not to alienate his Ocean County constituents involved in tourism.

Republicans excel at Orwellspeak, and Runyan is no exception (remember Dubya’s evisceration of the Constitution? It was called the Patriot Act).

There are major differences between Runyan and his opponent, Shelley Adler. Let’s hope that as the campaign progresses the mainstream media points out these differences with clarity and accuracy. I'm not holding my breath. Runyan Looking Glass

Friday, June 15, 2012

Does Chris Christie Want the State Government to Shut Down?

Like his comrades in the national Republican Party, Chris Christie puts his own political ambition ahead of what's good for his constituents. And shutting down state government for a week or so will endear Christie in the eyes of his government-hating fellow travelers. If there's no budget in place by June 30, that's what will happen.

Never mind the fact that a shutdown will cost the taxpayers more in the long term. Never mind the fact that only essential services like State Police and Atlantic City gambling inspectors (yes, they are on the "essential" list) will continue on the job. Never mind the added inconvenience, pain, and misery that a shutdown will impose on "non-essential" workers and the general public. A shutdown will endear Christie to the skeptical Tea Partiers of the GOP going into the Tampa Convention.

Of course, Christie can't make his plan that obvious. So he will continue with the kabuki dance with the legislature, saying that he's willing to compromise out of one side of his mouth while drawing a line in the sand on rescinding the tax breaks that were given to millionaires.

We need a governor who governs. The next election can't come soon enough.

Cross-posted from

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Photos from Netroots Nation

Seamus, Mitt Romney's dog, at the debut of Jeff Santos' Real Romney Tour

The Rhode Island Convention Center

Occupy Providence, in front of the Providence Journal building across the street from the convention center

Providence Mayor Angel Tavares

Unionized hotel workers presenting an award to Adam Bonin of Netroots Nation for support during a labor dispute 

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards

Tammy Baldwin - the next senator from Wisconsin

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on stage and on the big screen

Comedian and Campaign Manager Joey Novick at the Laughing Liberally Comedy Show

Education panel

Darcy Burner - a dynamite candidate for Congress from Washington State

Elizabeth Warren - the next Senator from Massachusetts

Senators Sherrod Brown and Sheldon Whitehouse at a panel discussion on Citizens United

Panel on upcoming Supreme Court decisions

Van Jones

Comedienne and Writer Lizz Winstead

Television commentator David Shuster

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Domestic Workers' Advocate Ai-Jen Poo

Panel on the Right Wing Assault on Education

Rapper Jasiri X

Rashad Robinson of Color of Change

Panel on Criminal Justice

Friday, June 8, 2012

Netroots Notes - Friday, June 8

A daily diary from the annual Netroots Nation conference

Two amazing women highlighted the second full day at Netroots Nation. Following the standard morning comedy panel emceed by Lizz Winstead, I attended a breakout session "What Progressives Can Do to Stop the War on Public Education. One of the panelists was Diane Ravitch who can best be described as a public education activist. I had the pleasure of speaking with her prior to the start of the session about Marie Corfield's campaign for State Assembly. The other panelists were John Jackson from the Alliance for Excellence in Education, and Kenneth Bernstein, a public school teacher and blogger.

Ravitch talked about the great school privatization effort sponsored by ALEC and how schools don't matter to the hedge fund managers that are behind that effort. "Sadly," she lamented, "the Obama administration supports a big part of this agenda" and there are few people in leadership postions that are defending public education. Ravitch called the evaluation of teachers using test scores "junk science."

Jackson pointed out that we are re-litigating issues in America that were settled long ago - issues like unions and citizenship. "The public education system works, but as Blacks and Latinos are becoming the majority in urban areas, there's action to kill it." He said we need to increase support for initiatives that work such as early childhood education, and kill programs that don't work like out-of-school suspension. "We are trying to determine if students can swim by throwing them in a pool with no water," he said.

Bernstein told the audience that over 20% of students attend rural schools and these districts are generally ignored. Educational outcomes are highly correlated with other needs such as nutrition and even the availability of affordable dental care.

The consensus among the panel was that we need to ramp up parent involvement in the future of public schools, and make better use of the Netroots to promote the agenda.

It was made clear that the panel is not against all charter schools. They would support non-profit charters that serve underserved constituents on a case-by-case basis.

The next session I attended was a panel of three women running for Congress. Darcy Burner is a former software engineer running for the House of Represenatives in Washington State, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono is running for Senate in Hawaii, and Elizabeth Warren is vying to replace Scott Brown in that upper chamber.

Burner, who worked for Lotus and Microsoft in the days of the office apps wars pointed out that while Lotus had the better products, Microsoft understood the game better. She used this to analogize the Democrats to Lotus and the GOP to Microsoft. We may have the better policies, but the Republicans know how to game the system.

Hirono faces a Blue Dog Democratic challenger in Hawaii, but she pointed out that she fills four diversity categories - she's a woman, an immigrant, an Asian, and a Buddist. She said that when she pointed this out to someone, they asked if she was also gay, and her answer was “nobody's perfect!”

Of course the rock star at this session was Elizabeth Warren. When she came to the podium in a darkened auditorium, people rushed to the front of the stage, cell phones in hand to snap a photo, and the scene where dozens of people were holding phones with lighted screens in outstretched arms looked just like a rock concert.

Despite a failing voice, Warren's message was powerful and resonated with the crowd. She told the group how it was important to change the national conversation and bring attention back to the middle class.

Some of the progressives that Warren hopes to join in Washington were part of an afternoon panel. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) were joined by former Virginia Congressman Tom Periello, elections attorney Trevor Potter, and activist Becky Bond to discuss Citizens United. Of the three senators, only Brown is up for re-election this year, and he is being outspent 6 to 1 by the Koch Brothers and their ilk. In fact, he pointed out that about half of the money that his opponent has raised has come from only 17 people.

Merkley pointed out that Citizens United effectively modifies the preamble of the Constitution from “We the People” to “We the Powerful.” Just the threat of big money to the opposition tends to intimidate some elected officials.

Potter, who works for the Stephen Colbert PAC, told the group that Citizens United does not even work the way the Supreme Court intended. The court's decision was based on transparency, but the billionaires have found ways to circimvent that.

Bond, who runs a progressive Super PAC, will use that group to support candidates who oppose Citizens United and who will help reverse it.

My next breakout was a panel discussion on the Supreme Court – decisions that will be announced this term and what's on the docket for next term. The moderator, Nan Aron, President of the Alliance for Justice, said that the behavior of judges have been outside public purview and need to be examined. She specifically mentioned the proactive involvement of Justices Thomas and Scalia in extremist right-wing groups.

Dalia Lithwick of Slate pointed out that several sitting justices are in their late 70s, so this election will be important in shaping the court in the decades ahead. This court is one of the most conservative in a generation and each member replaced someone who was less conservative. Fully one third of the federal court system is populated by appointees of George W Bush – mostly young conservatives -and the country will feel their impact for a long time.

Debo Adegbile of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund discussed the Arizona “papers please” case which will be decided soon. “There's always a rationale in support of a ruling” he asserted. There's also a higher education diversity case that may chip away at Affirmative Action, and a voting rights case that is pending.

Lani Guinier of Harvard said it's time for people to get involved in pressuring SCOTUS to make it's operations and decisions more understandable and transparent. She said the public has a role to play in influencing their decisions.

Tomorrow is the last day of sessions, and they'll announce where next year's Netroots Nation will take place. It's gone by fast.