Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Where are my free speech rights? I think I left them around here somewhere.

An old joke:

This guy is walking around and around a lamp post at night. This cop passes by and demands an explanation. "I lost my keys”, slurs the guy.

Cop: "Oh, so you lost them under the lamp post?"
Guy: "Naw, lost 'em two blocks down there. Under my car."
Cop (angrilly): "So why look for them under the lamp post?"
Guy: "Cause the light's so much better here!"

Unfortunately, the light’s not that good anymore in private planned urban communities in New Jersey like Twin Rivers. You’ll have to look elsewhere for your free speech rights –---maybe where the light is better.

Here in New Jersey, our Supreme Court says it’s OK to sign away your free speech rights if you want to live in a private community. When someone buys in to Twin Rivers, they sign an agreement that signs away a portion of their free speech rights. And the court said, in this case, that that is okay as long as the restrictions are not “unreasonable”. One may think that the act of signing away your constitutional rights in and of itself is an "unreasonable" requirement.

“This is America! How can they sign away their constitutional rights so easily?” you may inquire. I think as others do, that you need to be very careful about which rights you sign away. Some day you may discover that you need it bad: “Aha! Where is my freedom of speech? I think I put it here someplace….”

The trend in corporate America is to develop more and more large privatized areas –where the First Amendment must be given up at the door. Restrictions to freedom of speech in shopping malls in NJ were first challenged some years ago. Now the arena it's private condo communities. This is not a trend that bodes well for civil liberties. What could be next?

On the side of COMMITTEE FOR A BETTER TWIN RIVERS was the A-Team --- Prof. Frank Askin and the ACLU [Ed Barocas, the Legal Director of the ACLU explains why he thinks his team scored a ‘victory, anyway].

On the other side was the TWIN RIVERS HOMEOWNERS’ ASSOCIATION and their great attorney, ----my good friend, Barry Goodman. Barry and his team are the key reasons for the Twin Rivers 7-0 victory. Go ahead, Barry –do your victory lap. You deserve it.

The Twin Rivers-type communities of America may be wonderfully looking private neighborhoods with perfectly landscaped sloping lawns. The homes have doors and window fixtures all the same contractually-agreed-to-color. But, it is a slippery slope off of those lawns in to a privatized/corporatized America where people are willing to give up constitutional rights to achieve a little security ---and aesthetic beauty.

Maybe the folks who’ve bought into the private planned urban communities don’t even know they have waived their free speech rights to begin with. I don’t know.

But, remember what Ben Franklin said, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety [and in this case, some aesthetic beauty] , deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Wonder if Ben would have moved in to Twin Rivers?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Every candidate has a silver punchline

I have been speaking on the topic of humor in politics for about fifteen years to the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. And I have been the keynote speaker at about 20 other state leagues and national conferences of elected officials. When humor is used appropriately, it can make important points, diffuse tension, bring new people to see your point of view ---and most importantly ----show your human side.

Sometimes politicos do very well on TV when trying to be funny. Some do not.

The 2008 candidates for president have been sort of funny in the debates. Sometimes there are planned ‘quips’. Sometimes spontaneous. But I am sure that with most of the candidates hitting The Daily Show, The Tonight Show, Letterman, Leno, Conan O’Brien ----they each have someone on their staff to write good one-liners or to consult with them on how to deliver a punch line. I was once even called on to help Jim Florio be funny at the New Jersey Legislative Correspondents Dinner.

Here are some of the better one-liners from recent appearances by the 2008 candidates from USA Today, that voters may use to decide who they support:

Sen. Joseph Biden, made short, funny work of a question about his propensity for verbal gaffes and verbosity in general.

"Can you reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage?" moderator Brian Williams asked him at an MSNBC debate in April.

"Yes," Biden said. As it became clear that was his entire answer, the audience roared.

What do you pray for? Was asked of Senator Hillary Clinton, at a forum on faith: "Oh Lord, why can't you help me lose weight?"

John Edwards and the $400 haircut: The haircut was a private expense that was listed on a publicly disclosed campaign-spending report. The former North Carolina senator did damage control last month on NBC's The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. Asked why he and his wife, Elizabeth, eat at Wendy's on their wedding anniversary, Edwards said: "You can't spend money on food when you're spending money on haircuts"

Sen. Chris Dodd, is making pre-emptive cracks about his age (63) and late-in-life fatherhood (his daughters are 5 and 2). "I'm probably the only one who gets mailings from AARP and diaper services," he often says.

Barack Obama faces potential wariness about his name. He introduces the topic by describing his first run for office: People everywhere asked, "Where did you get this name, Barack Obama? They'd mispronounce it to me. They would call me Alabama or Yo-Mama, and I'd have to explain it was Obama; my father was from Kenya, from Africa; my mother was from Kansas."

Sometimes funny ads can help:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has moved up to double-digits in Iowa polls since starting a series of ads called "Job Interview." Each is a skit with a crass interviewer and the bemused governor.

In one, the interviewer reviews the Democrat's résumé — congressman, U.S. energy secretary, United Nations ambassador, Nobel Peace Prize nominee — and chews food as he asks, "So, what makes you think you can be president?"

Even the Republicans try their hand at humor:

Mitt Romney: The Mormon faith, with its polygamous past, poses a similar challenge for Romney. He handled it this way at a St. Patrick's Day breakfast in 2005, when he was governor: "I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman … and a woman …and a woman."

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani pulled that off at a CNN debate last month when microphone problems interrupted his answer to a question about his differences with Catholic bishops. Told lightning was the culprit, he laughed and said: "For someone who went to parochial schools his whole life, this is a very frightening thing."

How long did God take to create the world? Was asked of Mike Huckabee, at a debate: "I don't know. I wasn't there."

And two old standards from both sides of the political aisle:

One classic was the fake telegram then-senator John F. Kennedy read from his father at the 1958 Gridiron Dinner in Washington: "Don't buy a single vote more than is necessary — I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide." With that, Kennedy defused allegations that his rich father was trying to buy him the 1960 election.

Reagan scored a similar coup regarding his age, 73, when he ran for re-election in 1984 against Walter Mondale, then 56. "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience," Reagan said during a debate. Mondale laughed and the issue became moot.

Humor: A tool in the rights hands. A horrible mistake in others'.

Friday, July 27, 2007

STOP THE PRESSES: Republicans in Warren County Want MORE Government

"Warren County voters will decide this November whether the freeholder board should expand from three members to five. The current three-member board authorized the public referendum Wednesday. A group of residents had been circulating a nonpartisan petition to get the expansion question on November's ballot.” (Olanoff, Express-Times)

The good bet is that this year in November the voters in the northwest county of Warren will add two new Freeholders to their ranks. Currently, they have three freeholders, and they are the last holdout in the state to have a freeholder board that size. All the current freeholders are Republicans.

Hunterdon County added two more freeholders in 1998. And, quite frankly, I am not sure if it has made any difference with regard to the efficiency in the County workload or the cost of running the government.

However, I am always shocked when those purveyors of smaller and smaller government ---the conservative libertarian Republicans --- actually wish to increase its size. Their reason can be summed up in the words of Hackettstown Councilwoman Nancy Brown who said, “It's not bigger government, it's better representation.”

Yeah! That’s the ticket! When Republicans want bigger government, they just say that it’s ‘better representative government’ that they want. Now, I see. Why wasn’t that clear before?

The truth is, even with just three freeholders, Warren County residents have outstanding representation. Case in point: Hudson County has a population of 608,975, and nine freeholders. That’s 67,663 people per freeholder. Now, Warren County has a population of just 102,437 and the current three freeholders. That’s 34,145 per freeholder. Warren County has fewer residents per freeholder by almost half: So, even with just three freeholders, Warren County residents have better representation than those who live in Hudson.

Another supporter of bigger government in Warren, is Mr. Libertarian Conservative Republican himself, the former Warren County freeholder and current Assemblyman, Mike Doherty. Of course, when it comes to stem cell research, that’s where his desire for bigger government stops. He firmly opposed the New Jersey Stem Cell Research Bond Act, a $450 million bond referendum that will provide financing for stem cell research grants to eligible institutions over a 10-year period. This is even though the people in a completely democratic process will decide this on in November.

The real reason Doherty wants bigger government in Warren: So that the Republicans can meet privately in caucus to discuss county legislation without violating the Sunshine Law. That’s it: Private meetings of Republicans to discuss legislation.

Right now, if two of the three Republican legislators meet to discuss any county issue ---even casually at a political event --- it is possible that they could violate the Sunshine Law.

Doherty told the Express-Times, "Down in Trenton, we caucus before we go in for a vote…[A]nd we cannot do that here in Warren County, and that's a detriment to good government."

So, a “detriment” to good government is the lack of secret meetings of Republicans? Because the Republican freeholders cannot meet privately to discuss county business, Doherty wants bigger government? Is this better government?

Folks in Warren County should have a better reason than that to increase the size and cost of their county government.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Spin Doctors

I do read RedJersey every once in a while, just to see what the other side blogs on and on and on about. This week it is the Iraq war.

And FYI ---imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: Previously, they were "Red Generation", and now they are "RedJersey.net" ---trying desperately to model themselves after BlueJersey.

And, by the way, they are not “RedJersey.com”. RedJersey.com is a bicycle racing shop up in New Hampshire. And they probably get more hits than RedJersey.net.

Anyway, this post was recently on RedJersey, and it caught my attention:
Perceptions Can Change
By Eric Pasternack | July 25, 2007
The public opinion about the war may be changing. Back in May, a CBS/NY Times poll reported that only 23% of the public thought the war effort in Iraq was going well. Furthermore, 45% of respondents indicated that the war was going badly. These statistics stand in stark contrast to the latest CBS/NY Times poll where only 35% of people think the war is going badly while 29% percent think the war is going well.
This trend is encouraging. But it will also mean that the Democrats will increase their rhetoric and will stop at nothing to prevent success in Iraq.

“The trend is encouraging”? Less than 30% of the American public thinks the war effort is going well, and RedJersey cites that as trending in a positive direction?

And then RedJersey states that, “These statistics stand in stark contrast…" ---where in May a poll showed that 23% though the war was going well, and now 29% think the war is going well. That is what RedJersey calls “Stark contrast”?

OK, so they are bad at analyzing numbers. But RedJersey showed their real chutzpah when they questioned the patriotism of the Democrats in Congress with a statement like:

“But it will also mean that the Democrats will increase their rhetoric and will stop at nothing to prevent success in Iraq.”

The delusional assumption that the Democrats wish to prevent success in Iraq is offensive to every independent thinking resident of New Jersey. And Red Jersey owes our Congressional delegation an apology ---both the Ds and the Rs. While the members of our Congressional delegation may differ on their points if view on the war, neither side has ever questioned the other side's patriotism.

Success in Iraq is measured by your president’s own criteria:
Your president said we went in to Iraq because there were WMDs.
Current status: None.

Your president said we needed to oust Saddam Hussein.
Status: Hussein is dead.

Your president said we needed to establish democracy there.
Status: The Iraqi Parliament was elected earlier this year.

And now they are acting just like Congress ---- they are taking off for the summer.

The ultimate support of the troops in Iraq is to bring them home.

If RedJersey.net is going to put that kind of a ‘spin’ on public poll numbers about the war or the Democrats' patriotism ---then maybe they should point their URL to "RedJersey.com" ----and at least let their readership learn something about real ‘spinning’ ----in the form of information about cycling.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Farewell to the front end

"New Jersey motorists would say farewell to front license plates under a proposal from a key state lawmaker. Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Parlin, said Monday he would introduce legislation in the fall that would require only a rear license plate. "New Jersey is one of the few states that require tags in the front and back" of vehicles said Wisniewski, who chairs the Assembly Transportation Committee.” (Jennings, Daily Record)

Property taxes. Auto insurance. Global climate change. Sprawl. Property taxes. Stem cell research. Cost of keeping the beach's clean. Property taxes. Corruption. Pay to Play. Did I mention property taxes?

These are all very important issues.

But the issue that has got Assemblyman John Wisniewski all in a snit are ‘front end license’ plates. The Parlin Assemblyman is going to introduce legislation that will require tags only in the rear of your New Jersey car.

Has this replaced “Property taxes, auto insurance, global climate change, property taxes and corruption” as the top issues in NJ? Are people marching on Wisniewski’s office demanding that he fight for their rights to be ‘back-enders’ only? Is there a boycott of foreign cars that have a spot for a special license plate up front?

How did this become an issue?

Now, I know that Wisniewski has supported some very important and progressive bills in the Assembly. And he is the chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee. For example, he has supported A4, which Implements CORE proposals, including "Uniform Shared Services and Consolidation Act"; user -friendly budgets; revision of county superintendent of schools title and duties. He has supported A 1936 {"Concerns coverage for childhood immunizations]. And he supported A1955 "Transportation Trust Fund Renewal and Reform Act of 2005."

All in all, he seems like a pretty nice guy and a concerned legislator. So, why the focus on eliminating the front license plates in NJ?

Possible reasons:

Perhaps Assemblyman Wisniewski wants to make sure that New Jersey drivers can assert their First Amendment rights while driving:

“If we eliminate the front plate, that would be the perfect place for individuals to display whatever their cause may be.”

Also, the state has 17 specialty plates dedicated to causes ranging from organ donation to agriculture to Liberty State Park to the Pinelands to cancer research. Alumni from eight colleges can also get plates touting their school.

Maybe it's peer pressure from other states: Assemblyman Wisniewski wants New Jersey to be just like the other states: "New Jersey is one of the few states that require tags in the front and back of vehicles.” And we certainly cannot be alone in our ways when it comes to our cars’ front ends.

Could be that he likes to use analogies: "The front plate is really superfluous; To use an analogy, it's like the appendix in humans.”

Well, the only time doctors remove an appendix is when it causes problems. Are the front plates really causing that much of a pain in the rear to drivers in NJ?

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Healthcare debate

Paul Mulshine is a conservative opinion columnist for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey. By 'conservative', I think he is a neo-con. Yesterday, he wrote a column on SICKO, the new Michael Moore doc on healthcare in America. With more than 40 million people uninsured, and millions more under-insured this has reached beyond a screaming crisis. And Republicans and so-called neo-cons are poised to kill any attempt to make national health care a priority. Mulshine is one of them.

His column from the Sunday, July 22, 2007 of the Star-Ledger:
Moore's the real sicko

I drove to the local multiplex the other night to see Michael Moore's latest movie. My wife came along, but she wisely choose to see the latest Harry Potter flick instead. I envied her.
Michael Moore has always seemed to me to embody the essence of the middle-class socialist as described by George Orwell. "The underlying motive of many socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order," Orwell wrote. "The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because it is untidy."

That certainly seems to be the case with Moore. He has no real empathy with the forlorn characters he puts up on the screen. They are just vehicles for his enduring urge to have the government run things. And in Moore's world, the government always runs things better.
The supposed high point of "Sicko" is a trip to Cuba he makes with some rescue workers who claim various injuries from responding to the 9/11 attacks. After a quick tour of Havana, he trots them off to a gleaming hospital where they receive top-notch medical care. Moore assures us that the care is exactly the same as a typical Cuban would receive.
Not quite. Anthony Boadle, the Havana correspondent for Reuters, reported that the hospital featured in the film was "Cuba's flagship hospital with a view of the Caribbean sea, a sharp contrast to many Cuban hospitals that are crumbling, badly lit, and which lack equipment and medicines."
Moore also glosses over the fact that the average Cuban lives in conditions that would appall the typical American. When I traveled there in 1994, I was amazed to find people raising pigs and chickens in the halls of what had once been gracious apartment buildings. The livestock supplements a diet of rice, beans and not much else. This points to the sole unique accomplishment of the Cuban socialists in the area of health care: They have cured obesity. I kept waiting for just one lighthearted moment during which Moore would contrast his own immense bulk with the trim physiques of the Cubans.
But there are no light moments in "Sicko." Moore pounds his points home the same way those immense hams of his pound the sidewalks as he visits Canada, Cuba, France and England.
The central premise of the movie is Moore's assertion that "we remain the only country in the Western world without free and universal health care." This is nonsense. Moore spends day after day in France, for example, without discovering that the French do not have a no-fee system like the English, but in fact have a system of basic insurance, supplemental insurance and co-pays. The typical resident of neighboring Germany, meanwhile, has 14 percent of gross pay deducted for a so-called "sickness fund." The big difference between other countries and the United States is not that they have free health coverage. It's that they have mandatory health coverage.
And even those countries that have entirely state-run systems are not quite as "free" as Moore makes them out to be. Early in the movie, he highlights the case of an American couple with a deaf child whose insurance company would not pay for cochlear implants in both ears. Being able to hear from just one ear was sufficient, the company said.
That may sound cruel, but according to a recent article in the Nottingham Post, an English family was told the same thing by the national health service there. The big difference was that the American company eventually relented and let the kid have his implants. As for the English kid, his parents had to shell out $63,000 for the second im plant.
Moore highlights an American cancer victim who died after he was denied a bone-marrow transplant. But that patient might not have fared any better in England, where a so-called "post-code lottery" either awards or denies treatment to patients based on how much money is in the budget of the health care district in which they live.
There is indeed plenty wrong with the American health-care system. But the government takeover Moore advocates would not cure it. Later in the movie he notes that 65 percent of American kids don't know where England is. In other words, the same government that can't teach kids to read a map is going to somehow be entrusted with our lives.
This sort of thing might be amusing if Moore had a lighter touch. But the movie didn't induce a single chuckle in the audience the other night. Perhaps that's because there was only one other person in the theater with me. The other theater-goers were all off watching something the English really are good at: acting out the Harry Potter books.

My answer:

Mr. Mulshine,

I assume that you trust the current for-profit health care system because you have health care. If you did not, and had not for years on end, you might feel differently.
There will always be problems with the limited resources of ‘healthcare’ per se ----whether such resources are distributed by the for-profit industry or by the government in a socialized single payer system. The real issue is the current system of for-profit healthcare in America has left more than 40 million uninsured and millions of others grossly under-insured, period.

Your critique of the system in the UK does not address that issue.
Just as the capitalist system needs regulation and systematic adjustment by the FED in order to operate functionally and provide people with the foundation of credibility in order to operate successfully, so now does the healthcare system in America. The government would never allow 40 million people to be under-educated or under-fed or un-housed without some major initiative to correct the issue.

The Clintons had the right idea: Everyone in America deserves and needs to be covered, period. Whether this comes about by a single payer system or Congress requiring all private companies to cover everyone in America in an affordable way if they wish to operate as companies ---and figure out a way to do it, is fine by me.
But this will continue to be an issue until it is solved.

Joseph R. Novick

His response:

"If you understood your own point, you would be opposed to it.”
Snippy, pointless, and typical for a neo-con. The neo-cons, on just about any issue, are as predictable as ever.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Laughing AND Thinking

I perform around the state and the nation at comedy clubs, national and state conferences and for corporations [www.comedyworks.org]. Many times audience members will ask me, “What makes you laugh?”.

Good political comedy makes me laugh. Humor that not only brings down the house….but the Senate, too. And presidents--- ---showing the hypocrisy and the contradictions in their politics, by poking fun at them. Author Richard Delgado in “Storytelling for Oppositionists and Others: A Plea for Narrative”, 87 MICH. L. REV. 2411, 2413-14 (1989) said, “Stories told by underdogs are frequently ironic or satiric; a root word for "humor" is humus-bringing low, down to earth.”

Historically Mark Twain and Will Rogers were both great political humorists. In the 1960s Mort Sahl set the standard for a generation of political comedians to come. Today we have Lewis Black, Jon Stewart, Will Durst, and Jimmy Tingle ---just to name a few. And the road show, "Laughing Liberally" is very popular. We even have President Bush in 2006 debating Governor Bush from 2000, moderated by Jon Stewart.

The use of humor is a great way to hold accountable the powers that be; in this case His Majesty The Decider is great grist for political humor. Making people think and laugh at the same time.

Here are some of the best lines from Late Night TV for this week:

"A report card on Iraq shows progress on only eight of 18 areas. Eight out of 18. And, of course, President Bush is thrilled. That's the best report card he's ever got in his life." --Jay Leno

"Louisiana Senator David Vitter held a press conference this week, where he admitted yes, he was a client of the DC madam, but he said those stories of hookers dressing him in diapers were not true. Boy, what do you do there? Are you supposed to take the word of a politician over a hooker? It's a tough decision for people." --Jay Leno

"This week, President Bush announced he's launching a new campaign to solve the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. When asked why, Bush said, 'It's fun to finally be working on a problem that I didn't cause."--Conan O'Brien

"At his press conference yesterday, where he admitted being involved with prostitutes, Louisiana Senator David Vitter apologized to his longtime supporters -- the working men and the working girls of Louisiana." --Jay Leno

"The DC madam said he sometimes paid $300 an hour just to have the hookers talk to him ... and they didn't have sex. Another example of government waste." --Jay Leno

"In other political news, John McCain's communications director has quit. McCain did not have an immediate comment ... because his communications director quit." --Jay Leno

"Things not looking good for President Bush. His approval rating has dropped so low the only thing he's above now is the law." --Jay Leno

"As you know, we are now entering our fifth year of making very good progress in Iraq. Obviously, the president defining progress now as 'moving forward through time.' ... But this spring, Congress finally asked the president for some specifics about our progress and its level of goodness. They required him to submit regular reports, and our first report card is in [on screen: Bush saying the Iraqis have made progress on eight of 18 benchmarks]. Yes! There you have it -- eight of 18. Otherwise known as a 'Gentleman's F.'" --Jon Stewart

"According to a new AP poll, the most popular presidential candidate among registered Republicans is 'none of the above.' At the moment, Rudy Giuliani is running third, just behind 'Good Lord, not him.'"--Conan O'Brien

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The King of Schnorrers?

At times I take great inspiration from quotes that pop up serendipitously during web research. This week the quote ---
“The Past: our cradle, not our prison; there is danger as well as appeal in its glamor. The past is for inspiration, not imitation, for continuation, not repetition.”
---popped up for me in a Google search on an entirely different topic.

The quote is from Israel Zangwill, a humorist, journalist, writer, and political activist. He counted amongst his friends and colleagues, H.G. Wells. He coined the phrase The Melting Pot”, in a play of the same name. He also wrote social satire such as "The King of Schnorrers" (1894). He was a political activist and humorist --- a combination I greatly admire. Oh, for those of you who don't know and might be afraid to inquire: A schnorrer is a person "who asks for little things like cigarettes or little sums of money, without offering a return" or someone who "will get money out of you any way he can, often through an air of entitlement...[but] chide you for not giving enough. A schnorrer is distinguished from an ordinary beggar by dint of his boundless chutzpah." But I digress.

The quote moved me to think about the upcoming 2008 election, and which direction we need to take the nation.

I believe we need to embrace the empowerment that the past ---the 1960s---has made us know we are capable of. I believe we need to create a progressive vision for America that is inclusive, democratic and self-sustaining. Check out, if you have not already done so, OpenLeft.com.

We need to shed ‘political spin’ for ‘intelligent discourse’. We need to be skeptical, but not cynical. To that effect, I recommend Al Gore's new book, ----The Assault on Reason."

From the Amazon.com description of Gore’s new book ---
“It's the political environment he's concerned about in The Assault on Reason: the way we debate and decide on the critical issues of the day. In an account that balances theoretical discussion of the foundations of democracy with a lacerating critique of the Bush administration, Gore argues that the marketplace of reasoned debate our country was founded on is being endangered by a variety of allied forces: the use of fear and the misuse of faith, the distractions of our entertainment culture, and the concentrations of power in the national media and the executive branch."
Yup, the past is prologue. We have lots of work to do for 2008.

Go hypocritical ‘libertarians’!

I served on the Flemington Borough Council for twelve years, eleven of them with Mayor Ken Kustcher. Ken in his professional life is a cardiologist. As a doctor, he was an ardent anti-smoking advocate, and he took this activism very seriously in his role as mayor.

Before he left office at the tail end of 2005, Ken tried to enact a ban on smoking at close outdoor gatherings in our town. When that failed, he attempted to create by ordinance a smoking section at outdoor events. Without getting in to the merits of the issues, suffice it to say the Republicans and the more libertarian residents and libertarian business owners in town fought him tooth and nail on the issue. So it goes.

Both the Republicans and libertarians are great at opposing what they look at as "too much government interference" in their lives when the issue is one that does not affect them personally. However, they love big government when they need to protect their own personal interests. Then they immediately define the issue as one in the “public interest”. Go hypocritical ‘libertarians’!

Anyway, the state eventually banned smoking in all indoor facilities [except for the AC casinos], and Ken was ahead of his time on the issue.

I don’t usually like to print an entire article from the news media, but this one caught my eye, and needed no comment:

Former supervisor suing Tropicana for firing him

ATLANTIC CITY - A former supervisor at the Tropicana Casino & Resort who says his lung cancer was caused by decades of exposure to secondhand smoke is suing the casino, contending it fired him for speaking out in favor of a smoking ban.

Vince Rennich was fired from the Tropicana in March, when he was the most vocal supporter of a proposed smoking ban that the City Council was considering. Originally set to ban all smoking in the city's 11 casinos, the council later agreed to a compromise in which 75 percent of the gambling floor had to be smoke-free. It took effect April 15.

"They tried to silence me," Rennich said. "It's not going to work. It was wrong, and I'm going to prove it. I'm still speaking out against smoking throughout the country."

The Tropicana had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, a spokeswoman said.

Rennich, 49, of Somers Point, has become for many the face of the casino antismoking movement, and has sought to publicize working conditions on the casino floors.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Talkin' About My Red Generation...

There's an old joke that Woody Allen uses to sum up the main premise in his Academy Award winning classic from 1977, "Annie Hall":
Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions.

That is the way I feel about the politics and policy emanating from the New Jersey Republican Party these days. Their ideas are really terrible, and they come in such small portions.

However, I do enjoy listening to Republican apologists such as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Savage, and Mark Levin on talk radio. Of late, they have become apoplectic with callers on the issue of the war. Or stem cell research. Or global climate change. As their president drops lower and lower in the polls, they have become like the band that played on ---- as the Titanic was sinking. There are icebergs all around, there are not enough lifeboats, and Sean, Rush, Savage and Levin still squawk on.

In New Jersey, if I want to know what the right is blogging on about, I do check on Red Jersey -recently changing their name from Red Generation. Don't know why they changed their name; maybe they can enlighten me.

This week, a blogger named ‘DBeck’ makes a startling suggestion for the NJGOP in his/her post entitled, “Bring on the L-word!”.

First, DBeck shares a brief history of just how the Democrats won back the state in 2001 ---“through constant moderation and selection of candidates who re-asserted these credentials" DeBeck says. Ok, that is a big “Duh!”, DBeck. So, the Democrats ran moderate candidates who espoused centrist values.... And somehow that is a problem or some sort of sneaky strategy because…?

Next, DBeck observes that the “successful labeling of GOP nominee Bret Schundler as an extremist”....“created the McGreevey landslide which brought Democrats back into power in a state where they have slight but not overwhelming legislative advantages.” Huh? The “Labeling” of Bret Schundler as an extremist? Double Huh? Schundler is a guy who was a pro-life candidate who was out of touch with main stream centrist New Jersey, period. The Democratic campaign of 2001 did not have to “label” him anything. They just told the truth. The majority of the state was not willing to elect a pro-life extremely conservative Republican as governor. You guys chose the wrong candidate in your primary that year. You had a choice of Congressman Bob Franks or Bret Schundler. You chose unwisely.

Finally, DBeck has the be-all plan to end all plans for the Republicans to take back New Jersey:

“Replace ‘corruption’ [as an issue] with, ‘Tax and Spend Liberal’ on those mailers this fall and I have a feeling we will be seeing a GOP-controlled State Senate.

And the comment following this sage advice declares agreement with DBeck by saying,
“I agree. I really hope someone over at the NJGOP read this post.”

Dig up from the campaign graveyard “Tax and Spend Liberal” ? Huh?

Is that the best you guys can come up with to help the Republican Party win back New Jersey? Quite frankly, I also hope someone over at the NJGOP reads this post. And follows your advice. It will be fun to watch this fall.

If you’re going back that far “slogan-wise”, why not try Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”? Or maybe “Save the Union”. That worked pretty well for the guy who was the last good Republican president.

Or maybe “A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage”. That seems to have worked for Hoover. Well, at least in his first election, anyway.

The only time I will be concerned about Republicans taking back the state, is when they start thinking like the Democratic Party —opposing this insane war, supporting a pro-choice agenda, supporting embryonic stem cell research, or or maybe supporting legislation that deals with global climate change.

Until then, come up with as many old slogans as you can.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Joe Cryan: Doing The Right Things

“A Republican could not have said it any better. This week, Joseph Cryan, the Democratic Party chairman in New Jersey, gave the state’s political establishment a bit of a start when he said on a television program that two state senators under indictment on corruption charges — Sharpe James, Newark’s former mayor, and Wayne R. Bryant of Camden — should resign immediately……………This is not the way these things ordinarily play out, especially when the cases have not yet gone to court. As Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst with The Cook Political Report, put it, “It’s pretty unusual for the party chairman to say, ‘Time to go.’” (Chen, New York Times)

It has been said that “Leadership is the courage to say what is on everyone else’s mind, whether it’s profane or profound.” And State Democratic Chairman Joe Cryan is doing the courageous ----and right ---thing by calling for Senators Wayne Bryant and Sharpe James to step down. It is tough for an elected official to focus his/her attention on representing their constituents while under indictment for corruption charges. And, yes, as ordinary citizens they are innocent until proven guilty. But they are not ordinary citizens. To give their districts the benefit of the best representation possible, their districts deserve representatives who can give full time attention. Cryan does the right thing by asking his own party members to step down.

Assemblyman Joe Cryan is also a good leader in the state legislature, and a strong supporter of a progressive agenda for working families and labor. He serves as the Deputy Majority Leader, Human Services Chair and the Appropriations Vice Chair.

He is a strong supporter of greater access to open government [A2004 -Decreases certain public document copy fees to up to $0.10 or less per letter size page and up to $0.15 or less per legal size page.]; a supporter of a more equitable way to elect the president [A4225 - Enacts the "Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote”] ; and a strong supporter of a healthy environment in the workplace [A2067 - Eliminates smoking ban exemption for casinos and simulcasting facilities.]

New Jersey has a good legislator ---and good leader --- in Joe Cryan.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Best Places to Live in America: NJ Style

The cynics among us always blast New Jersey at every conceivable moment for our high property taxes, high auto insurance rates, crowded highways, and sprawl being built upon more and more sprawl. We are the home of “The Sopranos”, the state where Miss New Jersey was blackmailed, and where we see the backside of the Statue of Liberty each morning from our side of the Hudson. The state song should be “I’m from New Jersey” by John Gorka.

When my New York City friends come to New Jersey for a visit, they lament over having to figure out how to handle jug-handle turns. They also love being able to make a right turn on a red light. They love our gas prices and the fact that they pump the gas for you, but they hate the toll roads. You gotta take the good with the bad in any state, I say. And the Garden State is no different.

Money magazine recently released their list of the “Top 100 BEST PLACES TO LIVE” in America. While no city in New Jersey made the top ten, we did place six towns in the top 50, and eight towns altogether. If you include all the towns nearby these eight, you get a pretty impressive number for a state the size of NJ.

The most impressive statistic: California has a population of 36,457,549 and 155,959.34 square miles of state ---- and they have the most number of cities in the “Top 100 BEST PLACES TO LIVE” at NINE. What about New Jersey? Well, with only 8,724,560 people, and just 7,417.34 square miles --- we have EIGHT cities in the “Top 100 BEST PLACES TO LIVE”. Our neighbors to the east and west of us have only 3 and 4 respectively in top 100.

Take that Los Angeles. Stick it where the sun don't shine, ‘Frisco.

Here are our proud winners:

13. Montville, N.J.
Population: 22,100

23. Hillsborough, NJ
Population: 41,100

29. River Vale, NJ
Population: 9,500

33. Marlboro, NJ
Population: 38,500

45.Berkeley Heights, NJ
Population: 14,000

47.Sayreville, NJ
Population: 45,200

58.Readington, NJ
Population: 19,000

78.Moorestown, NJ
Population: 20,700

And we have a better ocean than California, too. Everyone knows the Atlantic is better than the Pacific.

Monday, July 16, 2007

New Jersey Congressional Delegation Marches Lockstep on the War

“When House lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that would compel President Bush to start withdrawing troops from Iraq after four months, only four Republicans supported the measure, while 10 Democrats opposed it. All six New Jersey Republicans voted against H.R. 2956, which would require Bush to effect "a transition to a limited presence" in Iraq by April 1, 2008. The Garden State Republicans, however, did not come to the floor to defend Bush's policy in Iraq, including the president's determination to surge 30,000 additional American soldiers and Marines into Baghdad, al Anbar Province and Diyala Province.” (Cahir, Gloucester County Times).

Duncan. Emerson. Gilchrest. Jones.

These were the Republicans who supported H.R. 2956, which would require the president to effect "a transition to a limited presence" in Iraq by April 1, 2008. The vote in the House except for these four Republicans [and the ten Democrats who opposed the bill] went pretty much along political party lines. And while the Republican New Jersey Congressional Delegation marched in lockstep with Bush on the War, at least four Republicans showed good sense and opposed President Bush war policies.

As Seinfeld might say, “Who ARE these people?” And why did they vote against their president?

John James Duncan Jr. was elected as a Republican to the One Hundredth Congress, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of his father, John J. Duncan.

He represents the Second Congressional District in Tennessee, which is mostly made up of citizens residing in the Knoxville metropolitan area. He has been named among the five most fiscally conservative Members of Congress by the National Taxpayers Union and is one of the few Members of Congress to receive the Citizens Against Government Waste Super Hero Award.

Perhaps Congressman Duncan is a 'thinking conservative' --- and does not want to waste taxpayers dollars on the Iraqi War.

Jo Ann Emerson represents the 8th District in Missouri, from the Mississippi River valley, through the Bootheel flatlands, and to the timberlands and clear streams of the Ozarks. Agricultural products including cotton, corn, rice, grapes, trout, forest products, and livestock are produced there. Over 90% of America's lead production is located in the Eighth District. She is very strong on support for her rural district, made up of many family farms.

Ms. Emerson is a mother and grandmother. Perhaps she does not wish to see her children's children pay for a long-term war with their lives or tax dollars. And she is from the 'Show Me State'. That says it all.

Congressman Wayne Gilchrest [1st District of Maryland] is most often described as an independent voice for his constituents on Capitol Hill. His willingness to champion issues and vote his conscience regardless of party affiliation has earned him respect from both sides of the political spectrum. He continues to be a strong advocate for fiscal responsibility and environmental protection. His consistent support for reducing federal spending and eliminating the deficit has won him accolades from many taxpayer watchdog groups since his first term in 1991.

Gilchrest serves as a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Perhaps it is Mr. Gilchrest's independence that is his hallmark on the issue of the war.

Walter B. Jones represents the 3rd District in North Carolina, home of the world famous Outer Banks --- the home of the world's first airplane flight, Kitty Hawk. His dedication and commitment to providing tax relief for American families, retirement security for our nation's seniors, a strong national defense and a quality education for every child has earned him respect among his colleagues on both sides of the political aisle.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Jones has concentrated on safeguarding the well being of our nation's veterans and our men and women on active duty. His concern for Vietnam-era veterans led him to introduce the War Crimes Act of 1996, which allows prisoners of war, the opportunity to bring their persecutors to justice in U.S. courts.

√ Congressman Jones concentrating on the "safeguarding the well being of our nation's veterans and our men and women on active duty" may have something to do with his willingness to support a time table for withdrawal.

So while New Jersey’s own Republican congressional delegation has traveled lockstep with their president on this insane war policy, at least these four Republicans have shown independence, intelligence and insight. They vote their conscience first before their party.

So, a big thumbs up to these independent thinking Republicans from this lifelong Democrat. The NJ Repubs could learn a thing or two.

State Sen. James “Sonny” McCullough's 'Macaca' monent.

“State Sen. James “Sonny” McCullough is learning the hard way that jokes from another era with ethnic punch lines tend to punch back in today's political campaigns. Democrats on Thursday jumped all over McCullough, R-Atlantic — who is running for his first full term in the state Senate — after he told a reporter from a political Web site a joke about an Asian couple with a black baby.” (McAleer, Press of Atlantic City

I have been doing professional stand-up comedy for more than twenty years, and I have heard just about every racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, ageist, anti-feminist, and anti-transgender joke there is. Sometimes the jokes emanate from other comedians and sometimes from comedy club audience members. However, very infrequently do they come from fellow elected officials. In this case, however, that is not true. State Sen. James “Sonny” McCullough is setting himself to lose his seat on the basis of his exposed racist values.

And he made it worse by declaring afterwards:
"It was not an ethnic slur...It was never said in a slanderous way toward African-Americans or the Chinese. If they took it that way, I certainly would apologize. I never took it that way."

"...If they took it that way, I certainly would apologize."??? That's just like saying, “Hey! Come on. It’s just a joke! Lighten up.”

However, it’s not just a joke. Your sense of humor is a great window into your core value system. We should judge people’s core value system not just on the basis of what they say during prepared speeches. But what they say in spontaneous moments. This is especially true of those in public office. Remember Virginia Senator George Allen in 2oo6. His casual use of the racist term 'macaca' for a dark skinned person was caught on YouTube, and cost him the election.

At my annual program for the New Jersey State League of Municipalities on humor in government, we always have a panel consisting of myself, a professional political stand-up comedian, political cartoonist Jimmy Margulies, and sometimes another elected official. In the past, we have had the pleasure of having join us Dena Blizzard, the former Ms. New Jersey, and current stand-up comedian. We have had comedian Scott Blakeman from The Late Show with David Letterman and Barry Weintraub from ComedyCentral. And Assemblyman Jon Bramnick has joined us as well, as he is listed as the Funniest Lawyer in New Jersey’.

There are great lessons to be learned from those elected officials who used humor wisely ---like John Kennedy and Ronald Reagen. And from those who used it poorly ---like Dan Qualye, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon.

The question of what is appropriate humor will be debated for years. However, at the NJSLOM session we have always come away with the following universal truths regarding humor:

1-Always make yourself the butt of any joke.
2-Never make an ethic joke.
3-Always know your audience.

State Sen. James “Sonny” McCullough is most definitely learning the hard way. He should have attended my program at the League.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What is the voting age in dog years, anyway?

Jane Balogh got herself in trouble for submitting voided election ballots in the name of “Duncan M. MacDonald” in the last three elections. Reason: “Duncan M. MacDonald” is her shepherd-terrier. One tip-off for the election authorities: One of the envelopes was signed with a picture of a paw print.

Apparently, she was protesting a 2005 Washington state law that in her opinion made it too easy for non-citizens to vote. She first put her phone bill in the name of her dog Duncan. Following that, she used the phone bill as identification to register Duncan as a voter. She then had Duncan cast ballots in September and November 2006 and May 2007.

While I applaud her sense of humor combined with her sense of civic involvement, the real issue is not ‘voter fraud’, but ‘election fraud'.

There is a difference.

Voter fraud is when a single voter may try to vote more than once or votes in a district where he or she may not be registered. Election fraud, however, is much more insidious and much more dangerous.

Election fraud is perpetrated on a massive scale. “Electoral fraud is illegal interference with the process of an election. Acts of fraud tend to involve affecting vote counts to bring about a desired election outcome, whether by increasing the vote share of the favored candidate, depressing the vote share of the rival candidates, or both.” Like perpetrated by the Republicans in Florida in 2000. Or Ohio in 2004.

So, for all the Mrs. Baloghs and their dogs out there: A big thumbs up for your hard work at trying to keep elections clean and free of voter fraud. Let’s get to work now on election fraud ----in time for 2008. And don’t forget your pooper-scooper if you’re going to the polls.

What is the voting age in dog years, anyway?

"A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls."
George W. Bush