Xpatriated Texan - A Maverick Believer in the Garden State

Christian Liberal is not an oxymoron

Location: United States

Monday, October 31, 2005

Run as a Moderate, Govern as a Radical

Doug Forrester is trying to pass himself off as a moderate.

This is the same Doug Forrester who invited Karl Rove to campaign for him, a trip in which Mr. Rove said that liberals wanted "therapy and understanding" for terrorists.

This is the Doug Forrester who joined hands with his primary challengers and declared "Unity in our Party is everything!" A statement that was cheered by RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, who also happened to be President Bush's campaign manager. From the beginning, Mehlman made it clear that the national Republican Party would back Forrester to the hilt - which is fine (and somewhat expected), but you don't get that kind of backing for a wishy-washy return.

This is the same Doug Forrester that "negotiated a little" with Vice-President Dick Cheney on how to "get Jon Corzine out of Washington because of all the trouble he's causing". Presumably, that "trouble" would include opposing the uber-cronyism of putting Michael Brown in charge of FEMA and the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court of the United States.

This is the Doug Forrester who brough First Lady Laura Bush (who may have been the last unsullied member of the Bush Administration) to New Jersey to say that "Clean government is at the heart of democracy, and it's at the heart of Doug's campaign," and "He'll apply the principles he learned in his business career to running the state government so New Jersey can have a lean, effective and honest state government." However, Forrester can't even run a clean and honest campaign and the apparent lesson he learned about making money in business is "give money to get money". Of course, one can hardly fault Ms. Laura for this oversight, given her husband's White House legal problems of late.

This is the Doug Forrester that gleefully took credit for destroying the careers of CBS news executives.

This is the Doug Forrester that invited Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to speak, even as Forrester himself attacked Senator Corzine for having his famous friends campaign for him.
"Jon Corzine's campaign is stumbling badly," said Forrester. "I'm sure they are looking for all the help they can get."

This is the Doug Forrester that invited California's Governor Ah-nold even as California was banning companies like Forrester's from doing business with it.

New Jerseyans would do well to take a look at Washington now to see how Doug Forrester would govern if elected. Right now, he's making all the concessions he can to the political center (like a certain Compassionate Conservative - which could be a Kean Conservative - did during the elections). However, once in office, the Conservative Crows will come home to roost - and with a vengence. It is telling that President Bush's biggest failure to date has been getting conservatives to back anything less than a mouth-foaming, leg-humping ultra-Conservative Supreme Court nominee - because the next Governor of New Jersey will have to pick a new New Jersey State Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah Poditz. It isn't hard to see that Forrester, with all the IOU's he is writing, will be looking so far to his right for a nominee that he may just turn his back on New Jersey completely.

But then, by running a campaign apparently co-ordinated and incestuously linked to Washington, he may have already done that long ago.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Moral Failing for the Sake of the Country

Let me start out by saying that I agree that Bill Clinton's moral failings are legendary. It was wrong for him to violate his wedding vows - apparently many times with several different women - and it was wrong for him to lie about it under oath. Politically, I understand why he'd lie about his actions - after all, every single one of us has lied after we got caught with our hand in some cookie jar. I've done it, you've done it, Bill Clinton did it. We understand. Understanding, however, doesn't make it right.

It is also true that Bill Clinton's sin was against his marriage and against his personal integrity. There is no indication that he put his personal skirt-chasing ahead of matters of state. There is no indication that our ability to collect and interpret information on Osama Bin Laden was effected by his false insistence that he didn't have sex with Monica Lewinsky. While the investigation was embarrassing to our entire country, his lying about his actions only cost us more money spent on the investigation - it didn't make any government agency go through intense scrutiny of their own personnel or endanger any sort of ongoing covert operations (even potentially).

Yet we expect that some time today, the Vice-President's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby will be indicted on some combination of perjury and obstruction of justice charges related to the leaking of the identity of Valerie Plame. News reports this morning do say that Presidential advisor Karl Rove will not be indicted, though. At least, not today he won't.

However, every reporter connected to the issue has said that someone at the White House did reveal her name - though we still don't know if it was intentional or not. In the end, it doesn't matter. The damage was done. The CIA had to submit to an investigation by the Justice Department and FBI. Until the source of the leak is known and plugged, then any number of CIA operations could be compromised or be of reduced utility (or maybe not, too). Whereas rabid partisans couldn't wait to ignore everything in favor of a constantly expanding Clinton investigation, the Administration (and Congress) had to be pressured into investigating.

All moral failings are moral failings, and anyone who claims otherwise is simply doing so for either personal or partisan reasons. There is a significant difference, in my eyes, between a man whose moral failing exposed himself and his wife to ridicule (much of which was already being heaped upon them) and a man (or men/women) whose moral failing exposed people not directly involved in the issue at hand. In other words, it's one thing to make yourself look like the heel that you are (and cause personal pain to others), but it's another to do all of that and still manage to endanger the country's ability to gather and make use of intelligence (we are at war, remember?).

This doesn't have to be the end for President Bush. It could be the chance he needs to make "the big correction". He could publically order everyone to participate in a security training update. He could condemn the political culture that puts winning above all honorable goals - such as public service, protecting the country, and social justice. He could ask Americans to re-dedicate themselves to creating a society where liberty and justice exists for all and anyone who acts against that idea - no matter if they are in Iraq or in the West Wing annex - will be brought to justice.

He could. The President's moral failing is that he won't.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Curiouser and Curiouser

Jersey politics is always fun. Hudson County politics is even more fun.

For example, take the Steve Lipski-Steve Kush feud - the Battlin' Steves. Well, I suppose it shows if you make enough noise - or enough threats - it will finally get noticed:

In Hudson County political feuds are often so vicious that if a political shot doesn't kill its victim out right, it is considered a miss.

Political consultant Steve Kush has taken careful aim at Councilman Steve Lipski with a new website totally dedicated to destroying Lispki's political career once and for all.

While the feud started over just who owed the tab on an unpaid bill from Lipski's failed campaign for mayor earlier this year, the matter has become much more personal.

After a serious exchange of attacks on GETNJ.COM, Kush has taken the next logical step in attacking Lipski by setting up a website dedicated solely to Lipski's political demise: stopstevelipski.com.

The website which appears to have drawn the attention of the U.S. Attorney's office, raises allegations about Lipski's relationship to developer Steve Hyman that would be - if true - illegal or at best unethical.

"I didn't put anything on the site that isn't true," Kush said.

Lipski told the Hudson Reporter that the matter hasn't ended and that Kush is in for some surprises - escalating the battle if Lipski has anything up his sleeve nearly as devastating. Meanwhile, the website has become the talk of Hudson County politicos leading to the inevitable speculation of whom will replace Lipski if he is forced to resign. Top contenders on this wish list are Tom Murphy, Arnold Bettinger and Assemblyman Lou Manzo.

This week, we learn this:

Lipski/Kush continued

The feud between political consultant Steve Kush and his former client Councilman Steve Lipski took a turn for the worse over the last few weeks.

Kush - according to sources close to him - has spoken to federal law enforcement officials about allegations he raised on a website mocking Lipski.

This sparked sharp remarks on GetNJ.com's message board where Lipski and Kush have dueled in the past.

This time, however, the messages were ominous hinting of violence.

"I'm not scared," Kush said during a telephone interview from his home in Virginia.

Lipski supporters, however, claim the whole feud is a political charade designed to increase Kush's name recognition.

"This is a Kush sales pitch to get clients," one sources said.

Kush also did a call-in interview to a Hudson County political radio program where he continued his assault on Lipski.

Kush, partner, James Barracato, also called in to defend against Lipski claims that he started the feud.

Several weeks ago, Lipski claimed internet attacks began when Lipski refused to give Barracato a job.

Barracato, however, said Lipski had called him to offer the job as public information officer for Lipski's charter school.

"I didn't think the job was right for me," Barracato said, both on the air and later in a telephone interview. "But if I wanted a municipal job, I would have sought one in Weehawken where I was raised."

Expect this feud to continue.

So, the story deepens. Either Kush/Barracato wanted a nice job in return for their work or he/they were offered one for some unknown reason.

Lipski has already made public claims to be "cited, not indicted" for his "immoral, yes, criminal, no" actions and shown that he is totally willing to give his constituents the finger publically. None of that means that what Kush says is true. However, as a public official, I believe a thorough investigation into all of Mr. Lipski's dealings would give him the perfect opportunity to clear his name.

Or not.

Working on It

Hopefully, over the next few days, I'll have everything back up and running. Thanks for the patience.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Do Not Adjust Your Screen

I am experiencing technical difficulties and things will look normal when they get straight.

Thanks for understanding.


I Wonder What Truth Looks Like...

Well, Doug Forrester has been caught lying - which in Republi-speak means "campaigning".

Then, Doug Forrester was caught lying - which made Corzine supporters wonder if he knew what he was talking about.

Then Doug Forrester tried to be green - which is of doubtful truthfulness.

Now Jon Corzine's donations to churches are being questioned. Hmmm, wonder if Harriet Miers ever gave money to a church....and Doug Forrester claims he came to New Jersey to attend seminary - did he give money to churches, too?

But, Doug Forrester is one both sides of the all-important Jersey issue - Giants or Eagles?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Why Liberals Need Christians To Succeed

A few days ago, I came across a blog post concerning the Harriet Miers nomination that has turned into a sort of running dialogue. I don't believe most liberals understand what the President is saying when he tries to justify his nomination by using her faith as evidence as why she should be confirmed - and just as many conservatives don't understand that, either. The fall out between Conservative Christians, who are genuinely baffled at the opposition, and Secular Conservatives, who are genuinely outraged. Throw in a good dose of anti-intellectualism, and you have a thoroughly confused electorate.

Yet, the White House remains sure that she will be confirmed. Why? Because Democrats have nothing to offer.

Part of the problem is that liberals rushed in so fast to embrace Sandra Day O'Connor as a flaming moderate. To the ears of a conservative, a liberal calling someone a moderate is basically the same as a conservative calling someone liberal - and it ensures that the nominee will be strongly to the right of Justice O'Connor. By saying that O'Connor was acceptable, they put the President in a position where he had to appoint someone very far to the right - which he did with John Roberts. The ease with which Roberts went through confirmation (and I admit that it was hard to find anything to sink your teeth in against him) only ensured that the next nominee would be even more to the right.

Which is why Harriet Miers being an "Evangelical Christian" is so important to her credentials. If the President just wanted to put a conservative woman on the Court, there were judges waiting in the wings. No, Harriet Miers is just what she appears to be - a stealth candidate aimed at changing the Court so far right (at least on specific issues - abortion and gay rights) that it would be dangerous to allow her views to be fully known.

And yet, with all the sound and the fury of this soon-to-be-failed nomination, Democrats have not once made up any ground in the public eye. Not one Democrat has articulated a vision of what a good Justice would look like on paper, or even in theory. Simply talking about the Constitution as "a living document" is not enough. I do believe it is a living document intended to be open to limited interpretation - but the second part of that sentence is just as important as the first.

This is why liberals need their Christian brethren to speak up. There is no one with two brain cells still active who really believes there is complete separation of church and state in the United States. That idea was never meant to divorce men and women from their religious beliefs when pondering the moral and ethical implications of their actions as representatives of the People of the United States. In fact, it was meant to protect that ability - and we should be proud that we have been the foot-soldiers in that battle. But we have always fought to be more inclusive of the religions that can be used in that capacity rather than imposing one upon the entire country.

Being an Evangelical is not a qualification for a judicial seat - unless one adopts the Biblical model of judgeship, which includes judging the morality of the nation against God's Immortal Law. Christians stand ready to question that model as the proper one for America to adopt. Because Christians are (or should be) versed in the Biblical archetype of judgeship, they should allow their faith to illuminate the rest of the country - they should use their religion as a tool of enlightenment.

When James Dobson uses his pulpit to publically claim privileged information and attempt to bully the United States Senate, he should be denounced as the demogogue he has become. When elected officials claim to be above reproach, we should hold them accountable to their earthly powers. We should not be afraid to speak from our position of faith and lay claim to the values of freedom and liberty that made our country great and that has allowed more people to follow their God according to the dictates of their heart than any other in history.

Liberals need Christians because otherwise they are lost. They have no anchor to hold them tight and are seen as drifting with the tides of public opinion. They twist with the wind and scatter with the dust, and lose election after election after election. Democrats have a Black Caucus, a Women's Caucus, the New Democrats Caucus, and participate in the Hispanic Caucus. As far as I can tell, there is no Democratic Christian Caucus. For a Party that claims to be inclusive, in a country that is overwhelmingly Christian, that is more telling than any other factor as to why Democrats need Christians - because we are already here.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Jon Corzine has done it again!. He's gone and said he'll do the right thing when he's elected governor. I'm sure that will make all kinds of Republicans mad.

This time, Corzine is saying that the state should live up to its responsibilities and fully fund its pension fund. There's only a shortfall of $35 Billion - which didn't just happen to get there because Jim McGreevey was getting some hot man-love with Golan Cipel. It's a long term problem that both Democrats and Republicans have ignored. Of course, we are only moments away from hearing Dough Forrester say, The corruption in Trenton supported by the friends of Jon Corzine..." But then, that's what we've come to expect from the National Republican Party - a big thanks to Dough for bringing that particular brand of corruption (as in "a wound that seeps with puss") to New Jersey.

Another thing that will make Republicans mad - Corzine's lead in the polls remains fairly steady. It's either nine or seven percent - take your pick. Understand, though, that everytime you see Corzine's lead narrow, it's because pollsters interview fewer people. In statistical terms, that means that they are increasing their potential error. The NYT margin of error is 3% and the Monmouth margin of error is 5%. So, the NYT is saying that Corzine should win by at least six percent, but maybe as much as twelve percent. Monmouth is saying that it could be as little as two percent, but may be as much as thirteen percent.

See yesterdays remarks about reality.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Once Upon A Time In New Jersey

If you missed the Great Debate, then you missed seeing the Doug Forrester plan-of-action. His answer for everything - from lower taxes to his greatest regret in life - was "The people Jon Corzine supported in Trenton were bad. That means he's bad. That's why you should vote for me." By contrast, Corzine actually answered the questions that were asked. The two "independent" (read: sacrificial) candidates added some humor for me personally, as they proved once again why a two-party system is the only thing that will work in this country.

It's just one way that Doug is trying to mimic his hero - George W. Bush. One thing that is good for Doug - his poll numbers are better that George W. Bush's (at least for now - and of course Bush was very popular BEFORE the election). Of course, you have to be willing to stoop to any slime level (pass along link to Frogsdong for bringing it to my attention) to keep up with Georgie-boy.

The problem is that Dough's property tax proposal isn't doing anything for his popularity. Apparently, New Jersey voters don't believe his something-for-nothing promises.


Oh, How the Mighty...

Apparently, loyalty is only something the Bush Administration understands when it is owed to them - as Rick Santorum is finding out. Doug Forrester should be paying attention, but anyone who is busy trying to ride the coattails of a lame-duck, unpopular Republican in a Democratic state may have just the sort of attention deficit disorder to allow him to deny reality - which is also a quality the Bush White House values highly.

Meanwhile, Scott McClellan continues to field questions on how far up the ladder the Security Leak problem goes. It doesn't help that his boss keeps lying through his teeth on the issue. See the above remark on denial of reality.

Now we learn that the man who searched high and low for the best Vice-President in the world and only found him in every mirror, Dick Cheney, has sabotaged American foreign policy without the President knowing it. See the above remark on denial of reality.

Harriet Miers may have to scrap the "strict constructionist" from her resume, since she apparently puts great stock in a portion of the Voting Rights Act that doesn't exist. See the above remark on denial of reality.

Meanwhile, Tom DeLay had a warrant issued for his arrest and showed up for booking in Houston. An interesting thought occurs to me - if DeLay is convicted, he could technically still run for Congress, but, as a convicted felon, he could not vote for himself. I guess DeLay has a price - and those who interweave their fates with his should pay accordingly. DeLay continues to say this is only politically motivated and he will be proven innocent. See above remark on denial of reality.

Pat Robertson proves the insincerity of his almost apology by continuing to target Hugo Chavez. See above remark on denial of reality.

Let's not forget Republivangelical mouthpiece Bill O-Reilly - who is now trying to rewrite history about the lack of WMD's. But then, Billy-boy is also concerned about The Dallas Morning News and a report that says he is a mean and nasty person. Good way to proven them wrong, Billy! See above remark on denial of reality.

Having serious problems with being on the wrong side of every issue, Jerry Kilgore has adopted standard lying tactics from the Republivangelical Party. Just to be clear - see this comment on the denial of reality.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Question, An Answer, and More Questions

I received an email about an hour ago from Micah Sifry, who is a bit of a mentor to me in this writing stuff. He asked me if I had any thoughts about the God Blog Convention that has just wrapped up at Biola University. Apparently there is some buzz going on that it was mostly a Conservative Christian love-fest and that the result may be of actual benefit to the Republican Party.

Considering that the Hugh Hewitt was one of the featured speakers - and not a whisper from Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Lauren Winner, or even Cornel West - I'd say the buzz is right on target. Considering it was at Biola - which is a good school, but still very conservative (think Bob Jones without the racism) - I'd say the buzz is right on target. Considering I didn't see a single liberal Christian listed on their speakers page - I'd say the buzz is right on target.

Which presents a problem for me. You see, I've stepped out and made a couple of statements that basically say, "If you want to see it happen, then you better be working on it - anything less is just whining." That means I either need to stop whining or start working (okay, maybe working a bit harder, or with more vision, or maybe just differently).

The crux of the matter is this: Christian Liberals are ignored. We become apologists at church and we become slinking, silent liberals at the polls. How many people are willing to actually change that? I simply can't come to my political decisions without the aid of my faith. I know that there are many more out there like me. So how long do we remain in the shadows?

Jesus said that no man lights a candle to hide it under a basket. We have the opportunity to become the bright and shining beacon of hope for American politics. It should be obvious to everyone by now that the continued dueling monologues between the religious right and the secular left are getting us nowhere. Christian Liberals are in a position to be a bridge between the two camps. If it proves impossible to be a bridge (and it is likely that it will be on some issues), then we can at least provide a counter-balance where the rhetoric of the Christian right gets filtered for the ears of the secular left and vice versa.

So, how about it Christian liberals and moderates? Are you willing to remain on the sidelines while our country is destroyed around us? Would you be willing to give up a weekend to make extended contacts with other Christian liberal and moderate bloggers? Would your church or university be interested in hosting such an event or offering scholarship money for those who want to attend but can't afford it? Would you pull a hundred dollars out of your own account to help? Do you have a better clue than I do about what is really needed to pull this off?

Or, do you need to spend a few more years in the belly of the whale?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Surprises for the Mentally Challenged

Surprise! Harriet Miers is really a staunch conservative - at least on social matters, which is all that matters for many of the rabid right. Before anyone jumps up and hurts themselves pointing out how moderate this is, let's all pause and remember that the Texas law stricken down by Roe v. Wade also allowed for a woman to seek an abortion if her life was threatened. In other words, Ms. Miers stunning revelation does nothing to alter the perception that she would be willing to overturn the Roe decision and return to the bad old days when women had to overcome several legal tests in order to get an abortion.

it is increasingly clear that Cheney and others in his office have been intricately involved in events surrounding the Plame affair from its outset
. But then, the only people who ever doubted this are the ones who work in the Oval Office - and a few really sad individuals who refuse to believe anything bad about the men they supported with their money, their votes, and their voices.

Surprise! Bill Frist says he is "co-operating fully" with investigations over his history of insider trading. His story is that he divested himself of shares held in a blind trust - an account over which he is not supposed to have control or knowledge of what it holds - in order to clear a conflict of interest before 2008. It makes one wonder why he just happened to eliminate the conflict of interest when the stock had peaked and not a week or two later when it was tanking. Oh, did I mention his family runs the company in question?

Surprise! Tom DeLay has to appear in court because he's been indicted for corruption. Mr. DeLay turned down a deal that would have let him escape trial in return for a misdemeanor charge. Of course, this way he can prove that this is all politically motivated - the trial, I mean, not the corruption.

SURPRISE! SURPRISE! SURPRISE! When you cut grants in educational aid, students have to borrow more. That's so you can pay through the nose for a longer time for the opportunity to get ahead in this country. Ah, the American Dream! To be young, in debt, and unemployed!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Harriet "Dred Scott" Miers - An Assurance Wrapped in an Enigma

During the second Presidential debate in 2004, George W. Bush painfully bungled a carefully prepared answer on abortion:

I would pick somebody who would not allow their personal opinion to get in the way of the law. I would pick somebody who would strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States.

Let me give you a couple of examples, I guess, of the kind of person I wouldn't pick.

I wouldn't pick a judge who said that the Pledge of Allegiance couldn't be said in a school because it had the words "under God" in it. I think that's an example of a judge allowing personal opinion to enter into the decision-making process as opposed to a strict interpretation of the Constitution.

Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights.

That's a personal opinion. That's not what the Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we're all -- you know, it doesn't say that. It doesn't speak to the equality of America.

And so, I would pick people that would be strict constructionists. We've got plenty of lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Legislators make law; judges interpret the Constitution.

And I suspect one of us will have a pick at the end of next year -- the next four years. And that's the kind of judge I'm going to put on there. No litmus test except for how they interpret the Constitution.

The Dred Scott case is almost universally recognized as one of the most horrendous decisions the Supreme Court has ever handed down. Basically, the facts of the case were ignored because it was determined that Dred Scott - as the descendant of a slave - was not a citizen of the United States and therefore could not file suit.

Most liberals were left scratching their heads over the reference. After all, no one has claimed that Blacks are exempt from having citizenship in my lifetime (although many people were trying to limit what citizenship meant). It came off as a non-sequitor - further proof that George W. Bush simply doesn't have the public speaking skills necessary to be President.

It's evidence how badly liberals in America understand their opponents. By and large, we can't even understand the language they are speaking. This leaves us open for all kinds of rhetorical traps where we cannot get ourselves out of jeopardy and onto safe ground.

How does Dred Scott relate to abortion rights? Ask the Knights of Columbus. Ask Hans Zeiger. Ask the National Review. Ask George Caylor.

What the President was saying is that his non-litmus test is going to be a litmus test. By linking abortion to Dred Scott, he is saying that a fetus is a citizen of the United States and is thus entitled to the full protection of law. That means that all abortion is, de facto, murder and illegal.

It also provides an attack-proof defense. How is anyone going to ask, "Do you think Dred Scott was decided incorrectly?" and not come off sounding like a racist? This is what allowed John Roberts to smile and say he would not allow his personal opinions to intrude on Court deliberations - because his personal opinion has been morphed into Constitutional principle.

This is what President Bush means when he says, "...part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion." It's what Dobson meant when he said that the only thing Karl Rove had told him was, "...what we all know now, that Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian, that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life, that she had taken on the American Bar Association on the issue of abortion and had fought for a policy that would not be supportive of abortion, that she had been a member of the Texas Right to Life."

In other words, she passes the non-litmus litmus test. Her nomination is the result of liberals painting Justice O'Connor as an acceptable moderate - which meant that the President had to tack hard to the right to look like he wasn't bowing to their demands.

With the way she's kept her mouth shut over the years, there is little to raise legitimate objections. There is this, though - Do you think a fetus is entitled to full protection of law? That is a Constitutional issue because the Constitution only confers citizenship upon people at birth. To say "yes" means that she is not the strict constructionist she is being portrayed as. To say "no" will mean that the Conservative Christians will withdraw their support of her nomination. To answer anything else means that she doesn't have the scholarship necessary to fulfill the obligations of her post.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Miers, the Shifting Right, and Dred Scott

I was talking with my friend, Juan, the other day about Harriet Miers. His stance was that we aren't going to get anyone less objectionable, and there is some evidence that Miers may be somewhat moderate, so Dems should go ahead and go along with her nomination.

Apparently, Miers once stated that she supported civil rights for gays. As I told Juan, you can't take that to mean what it means today. Harriet Miers is a member of a strict conservative fundamentalist evangelical church. As someone who grew up attending churches like this, let me explain:

An "evangelical" is someone who believes the Bible is the literal word of God - every word within it is meant to be taken it its most common and ordinary sense as the 100% pure, unadulterated truth. As a preacher once said to me, "The Bible said Jonah was swallowed by a fish - not a whale. That means you can't talk about Jonah being in a whale because a whale isn't a fish. You have to believe it is a fish, but obviously a big enough one to hold a man. If the Bible meant whale, it would say whale. It doesn't. It's trying to show that God saved Jonah by divine intervention through a common fish." Yeah, it's a small point. You have to understand, though, that if they are going to argue that "fish" can't possibly mean "whale" (when did "whale" actually begin to refer to an animal that wasn't a fish?), then they are talking about the strictest literal interpretation possible.

A "fundamentalist" is someone who wants civil law to be written in accordance with, and under the authority of, divine law. There is no possible way for civil law to hold any authority when it violates divine law. Which, if you look at the paragraph above, and you take it with the Biblical warnings not to change one letter of the Bible, then you would very quickly see that it really wants a civil law that would prevent any interpretation or teaching of the Bible other than their own. You would literally be sent to jail for saying that Jonah was held in the belly of a whale, and not a fish.

"Conservative" is where all of the interpretation lies. It's what makes it imperative for Democrats and moderate Republicans to oppose Harriet Miers' nomination in the strongest possible way. You see, today's debate considers the biggest issue in gay "civil rights" to be marriage. I can assure you, this is not what Harriet Miers had on her mind in the late 1980s in Dallas. The proof of this lies directly below on that questionaire when she states that she opposed consensual sex that is considered to be an affront to God - because the fundamentalist evangelical interpretation of the Bible says very clearly that it is so. "Civil rights", to the woman who signed the questionaire, meant the right to vote, to own property, to be free from unlawful search and seizure. It most assuredly wass not, in any manner, meant to construe support for homosexuals having a legal union recognized by law.

It is important because of the two conservative activist judges already working on the Supreme Court - one of which, Clarence Thomas, has decided that prison is a good place to give birth. Or, to put it more succinctly, a convicted woman has lost the right to claim her body as her own. The state's right to not spend money is more important than a woman's right to have adequate medical care. You have to wonder if Justice Thomas has put ten seconds worth of thought of what will happen to the baby after it is born in a prison hospital wing. Does the state have a right to deny health care to the child, since it is technically the woman who is imprisoned and not the baby?

Well, that doesn't matter at all for Harriet Miers. Abortion is wrong, no matter what. In this best of all possible worlds, we should praise God that He has, in His infinite wisdom has decided that prison is, indeed, the best place for this child to be born. After all, our Lord was born in a feed stall and look how good He turned out!

They understand that they don't even have to rule on the case. After all, in just five short weeks, the law will have made the case moot - Missouri law does not allow abortions after 22 weeks. They can allow arguments to draw out, then drop the case for lack of standing. All the while, they are snickering up their Hallelujah sleeve that they have forced a woman to "pay the price of her sins" or "live up to her responsibility". All the while, they have condemned another child to a soul-destroying life.

Juan argued that the President will never nominate anyone more acceptable. I argued that it is unknown how acceptable Harriet Miers is. The stressing of her Evangelical faith is the equivalent of the President's Dred Scott debate comment. It's how the President is reaching out to his base without exposing his real position - or hers - because liberals are too damn stubborn to learn how to talk to Christians.

I agree that we are not going to get a liberal - or even a moderate - nominee out of this Administration. What we can do is force them to play openly and honestly and state what they are really trying to do. That was what the Dred Scott decision was really all about.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Cost of Corruption

This is probably the easiest thing to show since...well, since whoever it was that proved the sun always breaks the horizon in the East to start the day. Before I kill you with figures on how much it costs to run in New Jersey, though, I think it would be best to explain why that contributes to corruption.

Let's say that some random person in Hoboken decides they don't like the way the Mayor has cosied up to real estate developers and decides to challenge the sitting mayor for the seat. The cheapest way to do it would be to walk around, door to door, and talk to enough thousands of people to actually get people to remember you and remember to vote on the right day in the right place and remember that they actually wanted to vote for you. The first problem you'll have with that is that many houses in Hoboken are multi-family and if you knock on the door all you get is someone talking to you over an intercom system.

The second is that, statistically speaking, you have to talk to someone six times before they remember your message. That doesn't mean they will agree with you, that only means they'll vaguely remember that you are running for some political office. If you want to get them to actually vote for you, you generally need to get ten "touches" - with a majority of them giving you a favorable response - and at least one reminder on election day. Starting to understand now why you get so much political mail, email, phone calls, commercials, newspaper ads, etc.?

New Jersey also lacks a homegrown television advertising network. That means that candidates have to buy time in New York City and Philadelphia - the first and fourth most expensive media markets in the country. That, in turn, means that candidates have to raise a lot of money to have a legitimate chance at winning.

How much is "a lot of money" in New Jersey politics?

In 2003, without a gubernatorial race, a combined $ 57,889,286 was spent among 351 people vying for 120 seats. That includes more than four million dollars spent by the three candidates representing the 4th District. That also includes the $22 million spent by the Party Committees on behalf of their candidates - which is fine if they think that parties are the best way to run politics (I don't). This year, the two multi-million dollar candidates for Governor of New Jersey have spent a combined $45 million trying to convince voters they should be the Chief Executive. New Jersey already holds the record for the most expensive US Senate election - $55.7 million in the Corzine-Franks race in 2000.

It just isn't possible for a "normal" person to raise that kind of money. It takes special laws to govern it - such as the incredibly biased New Jersey law that lets an individual contribute less than a third of what a political committee can contribute. The limits for committees to wheel money through to other committees is astonishingly high - $37,000. Why is it that I can only contribute $2,600 directly to a candidate, but I can give up to $37,000 to the County Committee? The only possible answer is to force people to support their local county machine.

The County Committee can then make "neutral" expenditures to register and remind people to vote totally independent on the individual candidate. This forces the candidate to play ball with the County Committee, because they have to find at least 15 maximum contributors to match one single contributor to the County Committee.

Of course, an individual can give $37,000 to the County Committee, then his or her corporation can then give another $37,000, then they can form a neighborhood association (or an infinite number of them) to contribute another $37,000. The County Committee can then give UNLIMITED amounts to the candidates they favor.

Gee. No wonder the County Chairs rule the counties like a King on a Throne.

You want to directly challenge the crooked bums that rake you over the coals every year at tax time? Good luck.

There's something rotten in the Garden. It's time for some Sunshine!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Turning the Other Cheek on Corruption

One of the factors that influences the flourishing of an illiberal democracy is a "weak rule of law". It must be understood that this is referring only to the prosecution of political corruption. Political corruption can, in fact, operate a machine that viciously attacks certain types of crimes (or crimes in certain neighborhoods or against specific people). It cannnot, however, flourish in an area where court cases are routinely brought and won against it.

New Jersey is currently at a crossroads in this area. US Attorney Chris Christie has vigorously investigated and prosecuted corruption - in Republicans as well as Democrats. Because of this, he may well be as feared as "60 Minutes" was in the 1970's (when they did real investigative journalism). I don't think there's a politician in New Jersey that wants to hear their secretary say, "Mr. Christi is on the phone."

But, Mr. Christi would be largely irrelevant if State Attorney General Peter Harvey were more on the ball. While he has done some fine environmental work, I can't find a single scrap of evidence to indicate that he is even aware that political corruption exists in New Jersey. To be fair, it can be argued that Mr. Christi is making that unnecessary.

Considering the fact that Mr. Harvey was promoted to AG from being department head of the office specifically created to expose political corruption, though, that is a difficult argument to sell fully. There are always budget constraints and in-fighting between different offices and problem after problem after problem that can derail legitimate attempts to investigate corruption. The thing to remember is that problems are to be overcome and accountability is supposed to be a de facto part of holding office. Ed Neafsey showed just that point.

Holding public office is more than a title and a paycheck - even when (or maybe especially when) the position is appointed. It is a sacred public trust. I don't have the authority, the time, or the money to investigate political corruption. All I can do is catalog and comment on it. I can scream and shout and try to make it a legitimate issue. But I can't bring a case against anyone and I can't try a case against anyone and I can't force anyone to testify.

That's why we have an Attorney General and that's why he gets a budget for his investigative staff. I'll take the environmental victories and be happy about it. But the AG has to be brave enough to take on the very same people that put him in office. The evidence appears to overwhelmingly support the contention that Mr. Harvey doesn't have that quality.

That's why things are still rotten in the Garden State. That's why we still need some sunshine

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Those Good Ol' Boys of Hazzard New Jersey

The examination of New Jersey's illiberal democracy extends to the social conditions of the Jersey political atmosphere. The idea that there is a self-interested group of people running the state seems, to someone who lives here, to be almost so obvious that it is hilarious that it should need proof.

Let's start by examining the career of Senator Jon Corzine. The most often heard (at least by me) criticism is that the Senator "bought" his office and is now "buying" the Governor's office. The Senator faces these charges because he spent his own money - rather than everyone else's - to win his Senate seat in 2000. So, this year he's ran as a populist, stressing the fact that he is looking for small donations - though big ones will be accepted.

But, of course, Corzine already went through the state and connected with all the "good ol' boys" - known collectively as the County Chairs of the Democratic Party. In fact, he made heftly donations to each of the county chairs. This, deservedly, brought charges that Corzine had bought-off any primary challengers for the Governor's post.

But, so did Republican nominee Doug Forrester. Forrester says,
"Anyone who's running for governor and knows how these things work in elections needs to understand that the local organizations need resources to get out the vote."

Forrester and Corzine have both defended themselves by pointing out the truth - this is the way politics works. Tit-for-tat. I give to your campaign and you help me get elected. That part of the equation isn't going to change as long as we have elections.

What matters, in this essay, is that both Forrester and Corzine had to cough up large quantities of money to even be taken seriously. Forrester, whose gubernatorial campaign is basically an extension of his failed Senatorial campaign of two years ago, was already connected to the local County Chairs because he was a known quantity - and because he had already held office as part of a County Committee. Corzine, who eschewed county politics in his rise to the Senate, even with the millions at his disposal, found it necessary to go back to the County Chairs and (reportedly) cut deals - or at least give that appearance. They are two of a kind - men who both seem to earnestly want reform who are caught playing by the rules of a dirty machine.

Look at it logically - if either Forrester or Corzine could have successfully sewn up their nomination without handing out tons of cash to the County Chairs, they would have. Both are businessmen who aren't known for throwing money away unnecessarily. But how many people know who their County Party Chairs are? When only about one in ten (through my own unscientific polling people on the street) knows the name of either a State Senator or State Assemblyperson, I think it is fair to estimate that less than half know their County Chair - which puts it at somewhere around four percent or so.

So the County Chairs rule their counties - with all the ties to contracting, development, and political cronyism that comes with it. They are so adept at it that even the wealthiest among us have to bow down before their thrones in order to accomplish anything. And, last but not least, they do it without anyone being any the wiser.

The Garden is rotting, New Jersey. It's time for some Sunshine.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Rewarding Corruption

For political corruption to flourish, there must be both an opportunity for participation in corruption and a payoff for doing so. In short, in a sort of "gut-level" cost-benefit analysis, there must be a positive balance for those who engage in corrupt practices. It must pay more to be crooked than it does to be honest.

Of course, one can always make a fast buck if they have no morality. Yet honesty still creates a premium in such considerations. I don't believe that most people (at least outside of New Jersey) run for office just to get rich. I believe they run for legitimate reasons and then get corrupted by the "game" of politics. That's the point. A corrupt system creates corrupt politicians. An honest man doesn't stand a chance - or at least not a chance to stay around long enough to do something. The system slowly and undeniably bends people to its norms. That's why so many corrupt politicians and businessmen seem genuinely baffled when they go to court. In their eyes, they really haven't done anything wrong - they just played the game by the existing rules.

One thing that makes playing the game so appealing is that the price of being honest is prohibitively high. A State Legislator in New Jersey only pulls in $49,000 (but it is considered a part-time position). If a person were to actually try to do what is considered the "right" thing in every other state of the union - which means hold only one governmental job (usually the highest level) - they would have to try and exist in New Jersey on less than $50,000. That is actually some $4,000 less than the median income in New Jersey. By way of contrast, these individuals approved a budget of $28.3 billion for the last fiscal year. So our legislators are charged with a budget that exceeds their own salary by a factor of 566,000. How many would pay a man a dollar to supervise $566,000 fund? $10 to manage $5,660,000? $100 to manage $56,600,000?

It isn't just a question of salary and budget, though. One of the responsibilities given to State Senators (at $50,000) is to confirm gubernatorial appointees who will make (in some cases) three times that amount. Is there any better way to curry favoritism?

Well, actually, there is. You allow the state legislators to keep state and municiple jobs. So, the mayor of Union City (Brian Stack) is also a State Assemblyman. Now, I can understand why the citizens of Union City might want someone in position to favor their city in state negotiations for contracts, but Mr. Stack's district includes much more than Union City. But the real problem is in campaign financing.

Before I go on, let me state: None of this is to be taken as an attack on Mr. Stack or his character. I have no idea what his role in any negotiations are. I'm just using him to illustrate the point I am making.

"Pay-to-play" is the practice of a contractor making a campaign contribution in an attempt to influence a legislator's vote on awarding that contract. This is a huge problem in New Jersey. Holding dual offices makes it an even bigger problem, though. If I want Mr. Stack to give me a state contract, I may be limited as to how much I can contribute to his state campaign. Ah, but his municiple campaign is a different matter. I can actually give money by the bushels to him, which he could lend to himself or make contributions to himself or just spend in a general manner. I have, in fact, bought a state legislator by buying a mayor. (Again, none of this is actually directed at Mr. Stack.)

This flourishes because the system is set up to make it flourish. When billion dollar contracts are handed out by people who make relatively little and hold a lower level job that directly benefits from that contract, it is almost impossible to remain honest. To fight this system, a candidate would have to screen each donation very carefully to make sure no contractor, their spouse, child, best friend, parent, or any other relative made a campaign contribution. Why go through all this trouble when all it will do is make your live on a smaller salary?

Something is rotten in the Garden. It's time for some sunshine.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Transparent - Not in New Jersey

To continue the series on political corruption, today I'm looking at the issue of transparency. In governance, transparency infers openness, communication wth the public, and accountability. New Jersey lacks all of these.

The number one political complaint in New Jersey is high property taxes. Quick, New Jersey, who sets your tax rates? Ah, it's a trick question. The answer is: Everyone does. The city, the county, the school board, and the state legislature. We pay school taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes, and several special assessments. Who decides how much gets taxed and on whom the tax falls?

Let's try another route. How does a bill become law in New Jersey? It passes both Houses of the State Legislature - then must go through a secret, closed-door conference committee between Assembly and Senate members - before it is presented to the Governor. The Governor can sign it, veto it, pocket veto, or give a conditional veto (which sends part of the bill back to the Legislature to get straight before it becomes law). Simple, right? Yeah, except a bill must also be read three times before it can be voted on. At any time it can be sent to committee, where no one ever hears from it again, since it is up to the committee chair whether or not any action is taken on the bill. Amendments can be attached that make the bill so weak that it might as well not be passed - or change the nature of the bill entirely.

Of course, that's true for every state legislature except Nebraska - who eliminated their bicameral legislature many years ago to enforce accountability upon their government.

In New Jersey, there are so many commissions and special government task forces that it seems almost like the state is drowning in them. The actual reason for this is that it allows do-nothing politicians to escape the responsibility of showing results. You think the casinos should be run differently? Ah, well, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission is in charge of that. Think your utility provider is ripping you off? Don't call your State Senator, call the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. Concerned that over-building will destroy wetlands? Better write the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. Would you like to work in New Jersey? Try the New Jersey State Employment and Training Commission. Hey, I can keep this up. We have Economic Development Authorities, Incinerator Authorities, and board for everything from Banking to Nursing to Morticians.

This is not to say that at least some of this isn't necessary. It is. Trust me, I don't want someone who is "pretty good at patching people up" working in the hospital - I'd much rather have a certified nurse. What's different in New Jersey is the number of these boards and commissions that operate as "independent" sections of government. They receive a legislative authorization to exist, then they never seem to be under the control of law from that point on. They don't really report to anyone and, in the case of misconduct (or more commonly, no conduct - as in not even showing up for work) there is no one who even knows, much less someone to report it to.

There is no accountability because everything that matters is someone else's problem. There's no communication - I can't even get the Hudson County Assemblypersons who are running for office to answer letters asking if they would support Governor Senator Corzine's ethic reforms. There is absolutely no openness. We simply send our taxes to Trenton and hope that someone there decides to use them for something good. None of the state's newspapers can keep an accurate account of government because they would need a staff somewhere about the size of the New York Times to even track people down, much less get into closed meetings or get comments from people that should be working in our interest.

New Jersey is the only state I know of where property taxes are so heinous that the state actually refunds additional funds from income tax collection to ease the sting taken by city and county government.

Enough is enough, New Jersey. There's too many weeds in the Garden State and something is starting to rot the entire city of Trenton.

It's time for a little Sunshine in the Garden State.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Follow Up on Structuring Corruption

Pardon me (gotta be careful about saying that in Trenton - someone will think I'm a public employee), while I borrow a format from Tammany on the Hudson and post a few excerpts from a Star-Ledger report:

Codey doles out perks to his allies
From Parole Board to BPU, some appointments ensure hefty pay, pensions and influence
Friday, September 30, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

Keeping with New Jersey tradition, acting Gov. Richard Codey made a flurry of appointments this week as he began to reward key loyalists with government posts before heading out the door.

Codey, whose 14-month term in office expires in January, installed stalwarts on agencies ranging from the State Parole Board to the New Jersey Building Authority.

Two of the jobs carry six-year terms and six-figure salaries, ensuring continued state service and boosting the nominee's government pension. The appointments also ensure Codey's allies will continue to influence state government, no matter who wins the gubernatorial election.

then later:

Codey's recent appointments include:

Joe Fiordaliso, his deputy chief of staff, to the state Board of Public Utilities, for a six-year term at $125,301. As Fiordaliso turns 60 within that period, he will be able to retire at that salary, according to the Treasury Department.


Yolette Ross, an assistant to the governor, to the State Parole Board for a six-year term at $104,118. Ross already has 21 years and 7 months in the state pension system. By helping her reach the required 25-year service mark, the appointment will enable her to retire with full benefits -- including lifetime health benefits.


William Maer to the state Building Authority, which has oversight of construction of state buildings and prisons. Maer is a powerful lobbyist, Democratic strategist and political adviser to Codey. Clients of Maer's lobbying firm include engineers, architects and builders. The four-year appointment does not pay.

*snicker* In Jersey, "does not pay" means "pays from contacts made while holding that position".

Tom Carver to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. Carver served as Codey's labor commissioner, a job that would have ended along with Codey's administration. Carver, a former Casino Association president and lobbyist, signed a two-year contract for his new job, which pays $137,500.

A.J. Sabath, one of his key political advisers, to replace Carver as labor commissioner. Sabath, 35, had been serving as deputy commissioner. The promotion boosts his salary from $131,000 to $141,000, but his job will still expire in January along with the Codey administration.

Yes, but let's not make Codey out to be a bad guy (I don't think he's particularly bad in anyway). After all,

Codey is hardly the first governor to stack state government with his allies. Former Gov. James E. McGreevey made 200 appointments between the time he announced his resignation in a gay sex scandal and his official departure three months later. Those appointments included installing his chief of staff, Jamie Fox, at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in a $206,000 a year job.

Former acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, a Republican who served for only one year, appointed Jeff Michaels, his chief of staff, to the CRDA. DiFrancesco also named his daughter, Marci, to an unpaid post on the Health Care Administration Board.

and let's not forget this one

DiFrancesco also appointed his communications director, Tom Wilson, to the Economic Development Authority, before leaving office.

Wilson, now the Republican state chairman, said there was a distinction between such unpaid positions and a few of the big-salary appointments Codey has made. He said it was unusual Codey was making his moves before the election, meaning his replacement won't have input on appointments of key policy makers.

Yeah, it's very different, Mr. Wilson - you didn't get a job out of it this time. As I continue to say, this Garden needs some sunshine.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Transparent as Mud

Wikipedia lists the absence of democracy, or so-called illiberal democracy, as a condition that is favorable to the development of political corruption. Can we make a case that New Jersey is an illiberal democracy? Let me count the ways.

Technically speaking, an illiberal democracy could be any democracy that is not a liberal democracy. However, the term is almost always used to denote a particularly authoritarian kind of representative democracy, in which the leaders and lawmakers are elected by the people, but tend to be corrupt and often do not respect the law.

Well, New Jersey does have elections, so the people do, indeed, elect the leaders and lawmakers. Well, at least we elect a Governor that gets to appoint a whole lot of leaders. So we have the first part covered. Do our leaders "tend" to be corrupt?

Let's start with Anthony Russo, who was sentenced to thirty months (barely two and a half years) for soliciting a bribe. Notice that Judge Pisano, at that point, had overseen no less than a dozen convictions on political corruption charges. In his official job as head Hoboken bribe-pimp, he paid off Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski (whose name will come up again) and also accepted payments from Pino's towing service, who contracted with the city. For that last bit, he worked through ABC Chairman Frank Andreula. In Russo's defense, he didn't actually keep the money - he blew it on gambling. Although, it should be noted, that the Russo's also own a very nice house "down at the shore".

Robert Janiszewski began taking bribes "almost from the day he took office" as Hudson County Executive in 1988.

Integral to both was accountant Gerard Lisa.

Beyond this fascinating trio, there's the intriguing case of Hudson Couty Freeholders William Braker and Nidia Davila-Colon, who were actually re-elected while pending indictment for their connections with Janiszewski. Then there's Jay Booth, who was a financial advisor to the City of Jersey City and bond underwriter. Add Paul Byrne, a political consultant, to the list. Don't forget Sam Klein, a county auditor who escaped prosecution by dying. Beyond the confines of Hudson County, you can see a very long list of corrupt Jersey politicians.

Do Jersey politicians respect the rule of law? Quite to the contrary, they flaunt it. Ask anyone in Jersey if they think it's possible for an honest politician to get elected here and they'll laugh.

Spread the word. Democracy in New Jersey is illiberal. Or, as I put it quite often, the Garden is rotten and it's time for some sunshine!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Structuring Corruption

The first condition that Wikipedia lists for being favorable for political corruption is "Concentration of power in decision makers who are not practically accountable to the people." Well, let's look at the New Jersey state government for an example of how that can be pulled off.

First of all, New Jersey has one of the most powerful Governor positions in the United States. Unlike most states, there is no other state-wide election for such positions as Secretary of State, Attorney General, or State Treasurer and there isn't even a position of Lieutenant Governor. In cases where the Governor isn't able to fulfil his (or her) duties, the State Senate President becomes "acting Governor". But wait, there's more - to "act" as the Governor, the State Senate President doesn't even have to leave his post in the State Senate. So, you have the head of the state legislature who is also the chief executive of the state - in other words, it's very much like having a state Parliament.

But this is supposed to be the exception to the rule. Power is generally not given to the Senate President. The Governor's powers are thus limited by his time in office and the powers granted by the New Jersey State Constitution. Well, in Jersey, like most states, the Governor serves a four year term. This gives him (or her) carte blanche to hand out jobs to political favorites (see Golan Cipel. The list of people the Governor of New Jersey appoints is staggering - the Constitution of the State of New Jersey limits the executive to twenty direct-report appointees, including the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. Beyond that, every single "board, commission, or other body" has every member appointed by the Governor, as well as any openings in the judicial system. In fact, just about the only thing the Governor of New Jersey can't do is to investigate a member of the State Legislature.

Technically, of course, this is all with the "advise and consent" of the State Senate. However, no one that I have talked to can remember the New Jersey State Senate refusing to allow anyone to take any position given by the Governor. There is a long history, however, of complaining that every appointment - whether it is from Democrats or Republicans - is due to bossism and political patronage. Of course, everyone is generally right. They are just complaining that THEIR bosses and patrons are not being picked.

Normally, a politician is kept in line - somewhat - by the fear of re-election. Well, New Jersey holds a gubernatorial election every four years - in odd years when there is no other election going on. The result is that somewhere between a third and a half of registered voters - which make up only a slight majority of adults in the Garden State - even vote for their Governor. In such apathetic conditions, it is not difficult to avoid accountability. You don't need to fool half of the people - you only need to fool about twenty percent of them.

Beyond elections, citizens depend on the "fourth estate" to enforce public oversight of their government officials. Unfortunately, New Jersey gets its television news from either New York City (in the North and Eastern parts of the state) and Philadelphia (in the South and Western parts of the state). Tony Soprano could run for office here and never get a whimper of protest from television.

The newspapers in New Jersey have a reputation for being rather partisan - due in part to the strict geographical split in the support of the two parties. The suburban and urban northeast part of the state - Hudson, Essex, and Bergen counties - are reliably Democratic. The newspapers in these areas - the Star Ledger and the Bergen Record - tend to reflect the attitudes of their readers. That means, whether intentionally or not, they are usually a bit lighter on reporting on the dark spots in the Democratic Party (in my opinion). If you want to find out the dirt on the Dems, you read the Asbury Park Press.

As with television, though, the real force of the newspapers is dominated by New York City. For much of Hudson County, the New York Times is pretty much the same thing as a local newspaper. Those who don't like the Times will pick up the New York Post or Daily News as quickly - or quicker - than they will the Star-Ledger satellite, the Jersey Journal.

Yep. There's no such thing as public accountability. Especially in Hudson and Essex counties when Democrats control the state government and they don't have to worry about the state Attorney General launching an investigation.

Concentrated power, no oversight. It's a recipe for corruption that New Jersey has brewed up time after time after time. It's a recipe that is repeated at the county and city levels ad naseum.

It has to stop. It's time for some sunshine in the Garden State.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"Corruption" Defined as "What Others Do"

Herb Jackson is definitely on to something. It's something so big that, apparently, most people can't see it.

You see, something is rotten in the Garden State - and it ain't the vegetables. It starts at Drumthwacket and ends all the way down at the sorry sotted roots of government in our counties and cities. It's "corruption" - as long as it's someone else doing it. Congressman Bob Menendez once took down a big political boss because of it - then he turned into the same kind of boss he got rid of. I've heard many complaints about Jon Corzine and Doug Forrester both handing out cash to buy-off county chairs. It's only bad if someone else does it, though.

Wikipedia has a good article on political corruption. I plan to use it as a template for exploring exactly how well New Jersey fits as the mold for political corruption. It's not just the people in the government - though that's part of it to be sure. It's the whole system. I'm sure Mr. Menendez looks in the mirror and sees the very same champion of people's rights that took down a corrupt mentor. I'm just not so sure that's what his district gets.

I want to make it clear, though, that corrupt politicians are usually very popular. If they weren't; then they'd never win re-election. In some ways, a political machine makes a politician incredibly responsive to his or her constituents - it's just that you have to pay a price for that responsiveness. Political corruption hurts because it forces people to pay a premium for what should be basic political services.

It bothers me, both as a patriotic American - and that doesn't mean the blind-love crazy kind - and as a Christian. America is built on the dream that all men are equal before the law - without the threat of some being more equal than others. It runs afoul of the Christian notion of leadership being built on service to mankind.

It stinks. This Garden needs some sunlight.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Of Political Corruption, and the Fight for Representation and Ethics

Regular readers will know that I'm a real stickler for ethics in our elected representatives. In fact, I was so outraged by what I've found as the "business-as-usual" in Hudson County that I started another blog just to single it out and show the world what is happening. Well, the last week or so has been a busy time on the "Ethics Watch".

First, the big news is that Judith Miller has revealed that she found out that Valerie Plame (Wilson) was a CIA agent from VP Chief of Staff Scooter Libby. This has generated a lot of speculation as to why a journalist would protect what may officially become a lying scumbag who set out to destroy a valuable intelligence officer for political purposes. Of course, the grand jury is only empanneled until October 28th - so every scumbag involved may be able to get away without indictment.

Then there is the indictment against Tom DeLay - who I've often used as a punching bag. DeLay is, of course, continuing to paint Prosecutor Ronnie Earle as politically motivated - which is an odd contention when it is taken into account that Mr. Earle has prosecuted four times as many Dems as Reps. He's also ignoring the fact that Mr. Earle had to convince the grand jury - which is assuredly made up of as many Republicans as Democrats - that there is reason to include Mr. DeLay in the indictment. Even a partisan attack can be blocked by the legal system when it is unfounded. If only Mr. DeLay could get one of those activist judges he hates so badly to throw out the case...

Then there is the ongoing case in Kentucky where the Governor's former Chief of Staff has been indicted in using the government as a patronage mill. The real news there is that Governor Ernie Fletcher already moved to pardon his partner in crime - which might lead to impeachment procedings (if anyone in the Republican Party can be honest about anything).

Back here in Jersey, we get this news today:
A Superior Court Judge has ruled that uncounted ballots in the 37th district special election convention for State Senator should be opened, which likely gives the seat and the Democratic nomination to Loretta Weinberg. Ken Zisa had defeated Weinberg by one vote at the September 15th convention. Attorneys for Zisa and the Bergen County Democratic Organization are expected to appeal Peter Doyne's ruling directly to the state Supreme Court. (10/03/05)
is expected to be announced at 10AM today by Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne. Doyne ordered the ballots to be opened tomorrow, and that a Special Election Convention for Weinber's Assembly seat be held this Thursday.

This time it's the Democrats that are causing problems. Zisa is a Bergen County Democratic insider that has been slid from seat to seat for years (which is not to say he is unqualified - just that he owes his bread and butter to the Bergen County Dems). Loretta Weinberg challenged Zisa for the suddenly vacant State Senate seat of Byron Baer and "lost" by one vote with seven votes sitting uncounted in US Representative Steve Rothman's coat pocket. To be completely honest - I'm sick of this voting thing ending up in the court over and over. Can't we just count the damn votes? What the hell is wrong with us? Can we at least agree that people who are trying to not let votes be counted are probably up to something (and I don't mean democracy)?

Here in Jersey City, there is the case of "The Two Steve's". Apparently, City Councilman Steve Lipski is no longer able to determine when he is caught in a conflict-of-interest - or maybe he just wants everyone to believe that he doesn't. The story centers around the Sixth Street Embankment - a man-made bed for the railroad that was abandoned and has now been reclaimed by nature. It is an historic site and the City Council has twice moved to seize the property from Steve Hyman - who is also a financial supporter of City Councilman Steve Lipski. Hyman is trying to force the city to give him a tax abatement on another property so he can sell it and make a quick buck - but the tax abatement is worth ten times what the Embankment is. This one still bears some watching, but it's likely to take some time. Hyman has previously kept the city tied up in court for as long as eight years until he got his way.

Who says that politics isn't fun and interesting?

eXTReMe Tracker