Sunday, December 30, 2007

Give Bush and Cheney THEIR Walking Papers

There’s one guy who passed through NJ recently with a strong pro-impeachment message for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This guy is walking so he can help Congress give Bush et al their walking papers.

John Nirenberg is walking all the way to Washington, D.C. and will arrive around January 10, at the conclusion of a scheduled 40-day walk that began in Boston on December 1. This fall, the Air Force veteran decided to navigate Route 1 on foot to lobby House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings against President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

On Route 1 in New Jersey, Nirenberg traveled across the George Washington Bridge from NYC; and then on to Route 46 toward Jersey City; across the historic Pulaski Skyway to Newark Airport; then walked on the US 1/9 through Rahway and Elizabeth; walked on the US 1/9 toward Woodbridge, through the jughandled roads of New Brunswick, next on route 1 passing through the city of Trenton and finally on to PA. Whew.

This is a guy who walks the walk.

In November 2006, the Democrats took control of Congress for the first time since 1994. Coincidently, 1994 was also the year that I won my seat on the Flemington Borough Council, when Congress fell to the Republicans. In 2006, I left the Flemington Borough Council, the same year the Democrats won back Congress. Seems like the Democrats and I cannot hold office at the same time.

So, 2007 was the first full year since 1994 that the Democrats had control. I had high hopes, but I am disappointed. I expected an end to the war and a focus on national priorities like health care. This president has still been able to stymie all efforts by the use of his veto pen and signing statements.

When the "impeachment creatures" tasted blood and wanted take down both VP Darth Vader and President Chimpy McFlightsuit, I was one of the people who said, “No, no, no---we need to focus on a better agenda than that. Let’s not get mired down in to a national nightmare of impeachment. We have more important issues.” I was wrong.

Well, now that the year is over, I am beginning to feel differently. Let’s impeach Cheney first. I don’t need to get in to the reasons why; we all know them.

Gotta give this guy credit …..or a new pair of shoes.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mensch of the Week and [almost] Putz of the Week

Mensch of the Week 12/28/07

I have been a card carrying member of the ACLU of New Jersey for several years, having attended their state Board meetings, and helped raise money for their fine work with a comedy show. They do great work and Executive Director Deborah Jacobs and Legal Director Ed Barocas are outstanding at their respective jobs.

In 2004, I participated in an Election Day “Election Protection” action, making sure that new voters coming to the polls were informed of their rights. The ACLU was one of the groups that sponsored that action, and they do the same each year.

Said the ACLU in a press release:
“In previous elections, the ACLU-NJ, in conjunction with other public interest organizations, organized volunteers to hand out voter rights cards on election days to inform individuals of their rights at the polls. The voter rights cards provide general information and contain no mention of any individual running for office or any public question to be voted upon.”
With regard to Election Day and Primary Day in New Jersey, Attorney General Anne Milgram “banned all contact with voters entering polling sites and all contact, except 'exit polling', with people leaving polling sites." The Attorney General's Directive also requires "media representatives or representatives of a public interest groups to obtain advance approval from their county Board of Elections to conduct exit polling, and also provide the Board with two weeks notice of the exact locations where exit polling will take place, and the names of each person conducting the polls.”

The ACLU recognized that “Free speech and voting rights are core American values," and that the “Attorney General's decision to restrict such democratic activities on Election Day goes against everything this country stands for and aspires to.” Well said.

This week the fine folks at the ACLU filed a Motion seeking to stop the State AG from enforcing her prohibition on free speech activities within 100 feet of a polling place, including handing out voter rights cards.

For their commitment to free speech, and to the their ongoing efforts for election protection---especially in this year’s very important presidential Primary Day election February 5th, the ACLU of NJ is our Mensch of the Week this week at

[Almost] Putz of the Week

Last week’s Putz of the Week was Congressman Ron Paul, for his absolute refusal to return a campaign contribution from a white supremacist who founded the website. The site espouses racism and anti-Semitism rhetoric.

Assemblyman Mike Doherty is the only elected official in New Jersey who has publicly endorsed Congressman Paul. Earlier this week, I called the Doherty office to see if he had a position on whether or not Paul should have returned the contribution.

I spoke with his Constituent Services director, and sent a follow-up email. Thus far, I have received no response. Given the fact that it is a holiday week, perhaps he has been out of his office, and not attending to business. So, that makes him an ‘almost-Putz’ of the Week.

I will follow up with a final call and follow-up email after the holidays. So, until then he is merely an “almost”.

Stay tuned for more next week.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Obama for the progressive New Jersey community.

I participated recently in the presidential caucus organized by the progressive community in New Jersey. And a recent editorial in the Star-Ledger got me re-thinking the results. But first some background.

The caucus idea was conceived by John Bartlett of New Jersey’s Democratic Future and Jeff Gardner and Rosi Efthim of DFA.

The sponsors were as a virtual “Who’s Who” in the progressive community--- - the fine folks from Blue Jersey and NJ for Democracy (DFA) were abundant both in the room and at the check in table. Garden State Equality, Blue Wave NJ and Progressive Democrats of New Jersey (PDA) proudly hung their respective banners in the most’s visible spots in the room. Other sponsors from the progressive community included BALLOT, NJ's Democratic Future, and NJ Stonewall Democrats. The NJ Jewish Democratic Caucus and the NJ Arab-American Democratic Caucus shared a meal and handshake together. And last, but not least, the Progressive Caucus of the NJ Democratic State Committee was present.

A pride of progressive politicos to say the least. A gaggle of the Garden State’s finest reform minded political minds. Now, at the time, I found the night very exciting and full of fun. I was asked to provide my big round Henschel Hat Company-USA-made-hat, so that a fair choosing would be made of the names of the participating candidates as to speaking order.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is the choice of this very undemocratic caucus system itself to pick a winner of the progressive caucus, that’s what.

The rules of the Iowa caucus were to be followed, tweaked just a bit. Ordinarily in the first round, candidates must garner at least 15% of those present in order to make to the next round. Like on “Survivor” or “The Weakest Link”, those who do not, get knocked off for the next round, with attendees being able to move around and join another surviving caucus. The NJ progressive community raised the stakes just a tad by sweetening the pot to require a 20% mark on the second round. That night, the Hillary camp was unable to garner the requisite 15%, but for some reason was able to move to the second round.

At the get-go, the Obama people seemed to have it all together. They had the most number of people. They were pumped. The Obama Executive Dierctor, Mark Alexander, worked the group like a combination Final Four basketball coach, stand-up comedian, and Sunday morning preacher. And Obama brought with them the highest ranked elected official in the room: Congressman Steve Rothman. Now, the others did not actually slack off at all in the speaker department ----John Edwards brought Senate President Richard Codey and Hillary Clinton provided Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson-Coleman. But the Obama people rocked the room and had all the buzz.

One would think that progressives themselves would disdain a system so entrenched in the institutional primary system, and somewhat undemocratic in and of itself. To quote Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post’s editorial staff.
“Why should a candidate who fails to meet the 15% threshold of viability walk away empty handed? Why should the outcome depend on how those losing campaigns decide where to throw their backing when, in caucus-speak, on-viable preference groups realign for a second round?
The eventual winner of the progressive caucus, the John Edwards crew, won because the Biden people joined them. Some of the Hillary people left flat out; and the six Richardson people went who know where. The Obama caucus and the Kucinich caucus remained mostly the same.

Now, you can make the argument that in real life/in real time as the weaker candidates drop out in the earlier states, their supporters will find their way to other candidates. And the Edwards camp will make the argument that Edwards is the best second choice, and will eventually end up the winner anyway.

However, as a progressive, I am a firm believer in a system that will promote greater democracy. The caucus system favors those participants who are the best “second choices”. This system gives way too much weight to the opinion of those who end up choosing someone who at first they would not have voted for.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Postman Always Rings Twice, But You Still Can Only Vote by Mail Once

This year there are 31 states holding their primary elections earlier than usual. And some are holding them earlier still. With Vote by Mail balloting, some states are earlier than ever. New Jersey is one of them.

For example, Florida who holds their state presidential primary on January 29th, offers residents the opportunity to cast their ballots with mail in ballots. They must get in their ballots before Santa brings presents ---before Christmas day.

With early primaries, early voting in primaries, and mere percentage points separating the leading candidates on both sides of the aisle, it’s hard to call a winner. Normally, candidates gear up for the Big Day in a state. But with early voting, voters are making choices before all the mailers are mailed, all the TV commercials are aired, and all the new scandals are scandalized. That makes it tougher for a candidate to judge the race.

And New Jersey is one of the states, along with California, that has the large population, and early voting for residents. The first three primary states — New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina — do not allow early voting. That gives NJ an advantage. The downside of early voting is that with the Super-est Super Tuesday of them all---Primary Day on February 5th, and early voting going on now, you could end up casting your vote for a candidate who may have already dropped out of the race.

Vote By Mail changes election strategy quite a bit.

This observation from Mike DuHaime, Giuliani's campaign manager. "If you are telling a story (through ads) and the close comes in the final weekend, you may have missed one-third of the voters."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

We’re from the United States government. We’re here to help you.

It’s hard to believe the Democrats took control of Congress.

Last year, for the first time since 1994, the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. I was confident that the war would be placed on a path of finally winding down. But, unfortunately, the president has continued to receive the funding he needs to continue his insane war policy. Democratic leaders Pelosi and Reid have been mostly powerless to achieve their agenda as they lack a veto-proof majority.

This week a new twist and turn occurred in the Iraq War that does not bode well at all: the New York Times headline read “U.S. Helps Turkey Hit Rebel Kurds In Iraq”. This is a firm reminder of how the Administration has not at all thought through all aspects of this war. It also is shades of exactly how the Viet Nam War became expanded in to Laos and Cambodia, as that war expanded in to the entire region beyond the borders of Viet Nam.

According to the Times article, “The United States is providing Turkey with real-time intelligence that has helped the Turkish military target a series of attacks this month against Kurdish separatists holed up in northern Iraq, including a large airstrike on Sunday, according to Pentagon officials.”

“Sunday's airstrikes provoked outrage in Baghdad”Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government, called the attack "a violation of Iraq's sovereignty." He blamed the U.S. military, which controls Iraqi airspace, for "allowing Turkish warplanes to cross the border.” And our “Allies” the Iraqi parliament “condemned the attacks”

“The American role in aiding Turkey, a NATO ally, could complicate U.S. diplomatic initiatives in Iraq, particularly efforts to push Iraqi political leaders to enact legislation aimed at promoting political reconciliation.”

Finally, "Turkey has threatened to mount a full-scale, cross-border incursion to clear out PKK camps in northern Iraq. That could effectively open a new front in the Iraq war and disrupt the flow of supplies to the U.S. military in Iraq, which receives 70 percent of its air cargo and a third of its fuel through Turkey.

A very strong argument can be made that our continued presence in Iraq continues to de-stabilize the region even further. Yup, the ‘surge’ is working just fine.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mensch of the Week and Putz of the Week - Friday 12/21/07

It’s that time of the week when we span the globe and the state of New Jersey looking for the great men and women who have done ‘menschy’ things.

And not to be outdone by the Mensches, we also take a careful look for any Putzes on the horizon, those people who have done some very stupid, dense or brainless things. And there are plenty of both out there, making our choice very hard some times.

Mensch of The Week

In late 1999, I was the chairman of the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee, and was sought after for my endorsement from the various candidates for the Senate seat soon to be vacated by Senator Bill Bradley. Although there are a mere 9000 or so registered Democrats in Hunterdon County, the people seeking the Senate seat still enthusiastically sought with me [sigh]. My times have changed.

Anyway, one of the office seekers I met with was a former chairman of Goldman Sachs named Jon Corzine. We had lunch at the NJPAC, along with a Corzine advisor.

At that meeting, he shared his vision for New Jersey, what he wanted to accomplish in Washington, as well as his values on important issues. One of the issues was the death penalty. Jon Corzine shared with me that he was opposed to the death penalty, predominately on moral and ethical grounds. This was at a time when being opposed to the death penalty was not widely popular, and perhaps a statewide candidate was not wise to run on that stand. However, he stood firm, and I found his belief sincere and well-reasoned. I told him that I admired him for his stand, and that it was the right thing to do. He said that someday he’d like to see the death penalty over turned in the state.

Flash forward to this week: Governor Jon Corzine makes that vision happen by signing the legislation over turning New Jersey’s never-used death penalty. With the world watching, New Jersey became the first state to do this----inspiring other nations, other states and even the Vatican to take notice of the Garden State. Said Governor Corzine, “It's a day of progress for the state of New Jersey and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder."

Well said, Governor Corzine. We applaud him for his vision and commitment to rejecting the most cruel, the most unusual and the most unconstitutional of all punishments that a state can hand out. For that, Governor Corzine is our Mensch of the Week here at New Jersey: Politics Unusual.

Putz of the Week

This is an easy one: Congressman Ron Paul has proven himself wildly popular with the populist crowd in his run for the Republican nomination for president. He opposes the Iraqi War. He stands out as the only Republican opposed to the Bush Administration’s insane war policies. He has been a straight talk kind of a guy. And, although he polls just over 2% in New Jersey, his supporters have raised a good deal of money here. Nationally, he recently raised $4.5 million. Sounds pretty good, huh?

So, what makes him a candidate for Putz of the Week, you might ask? Well, this week Congressman Paul received a $500 campaign donation from a white supremacist, and the congressman doesn't plan to return it.

Ron Paul, who raised 4.5 million bucks in the last week or so, has decided to keep the donation. This man is a true champion of the radical right, and his candidacy is an insult to every independent thinking American citizen.

The $500 donor runs a Web site called Stormfront with the motto, "White Pride World Wide." The site welcomes postings to the "Stormfront White Nationalist Community”, and links to websites of the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and other white supremacists.

So, for his idiot move for refusing to return the donation and walking on parallel tracks with a man whose website espouses such venomous hate, Congressman Paul is the Putz of the Week.

He should be Putz of the Year with that move, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mess With Texas, ‘Cause Texas is a Mess

New Jersey was the first state to abolish the death penalty ["It’s not a penalty. You’re out of the game.”] in what we hope is a long line of states following in our foot steps. The world has recognized the extraordinary first step, as have other states now that we were number one.

But not Texas. They still lead the nation in capital punishment ---, and will probably still be number one in the future.

So it’s not strange at all that the University of Texas Longhorns (and former governors of Texas') cry at their football games is “Hook’em!”, with the strange Satanic hand gesture---it’s what they would do to those on death row, given the chance.

So, it comes as no surprise that Texas continues its march in to the dark ages with a nod towards creationism, too: A Texas higher education panel has recommended allowing a Bible-based group called the Institute for Creation Research to offer online master’s degrees in science education.

So, it’s ironic in a way that this state that puts that much stock in creation-ism balances it out with that much death-ism, too.

Texas Creationism facts:

Last month, the Texas Education Agency’s director of science, was fired for “displaying bias against creationism” and failing to be “neutral” over the teaching of evolution. Will these people ever look at their calendar and see what century we’re in?

Henry Morris III, the chief executive of the Institute for Creation Research, said “Where the difference is, we provide both sides of the story,” Mr. Morris said. On its Web site, the institute declares, “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week” and says it “equips believers with evidences of the Bible’s accuracy and authority through scientific research, educational programs, and media presentations, all conducted within a thoroughly biblical framework.”

And this what Texas will provide as an education in science.

They also say “the harmful consequences of evolutionary thinking on families and society includes abortion, promiscuity, drug abuse, and homosexuality."

Glad the fine folks from Texas have cleared all that up for us.

And glad I live in New Jersey.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Look for the union label when laughing...

Usually, I can gather up some great political humor from the professional writers for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. However, the Writers strike has dried that all up for now. Too bad, too ---with the presidential campaign about to come in to full gear in 2008. Certainly we can use a great deal of humor to get us through the next nine months till November.

So, although I risk the wrath of union writers every where, I offer some political humor written by ordinary folks out there ---who have offered to share their thoughts on the candidates from both parties:

"Former President Clinton said when he dated Hillary, he told her to dump him and focus on political office. Considering he also recently said he was opposed to war with Iraq, which Hillary supported, she may finally take him up on his offer." --Bob Hirschfeld, Maryland

"Did you see Rudy Giuliani giggle his way through that Tim Russert interview? It was a lot like Hillary Clinton’s cackle-fest, only an octave higher. And the two candidates have something else in common — they’re both slipping in the polls. But don’t worry — they can always get work as a laugh track." --Madeleine Begun Kane, New York

"Republican candidates held a presidential debate for Hispanic voters on Sunday in Florida, which aired on Spanish language television. They got a hostile reception. Almost one third of the studio audience had just been fired by Mitt Romney." --Argus Hamilton, Los Angeles

"Oprah Winfrey campaigned with Barrack Obama in Iowa. The two spoke in front of huge, enthusiastic crowds. And ten lucky people in attendance received free makeovers." --Gary Bachman, Maryland

"President Bush accidentally gave out the wrong phone number for the subprime mortgage helpline yesterday and instead announced a number that was actually for a Christian school in Texas. Unfortunately, most callers found out Jesus doesn't want to give them a loan either." --Jake Novak, New York

"Did you hear any of Oprah's Obama speeches? That woman’s one hell of an actress! She actually had me believing she's black." --Madeleine Begun Kane, New York

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Political advice from Christie to Kate: Just tell them you’re younger and shorter than me.

There are several prominent American political families in the nation. Historically, there is the Adams family [John and John Quincy, not Gomez and Morticia]; there are the distant cousins Roosevelt, Teddy and Franklin. More recently there are the Kennedys, the Rockefellers and, of course, the various members of the Bush clan [Jeb and Chimpy Flightsuit].

New Jersey, too, has our own prominent political families. There are the Frelinghuysens --- since 1793, New Jersey has sent six Frelinghuysens to Congress. The Lances [Wesley and Leonard]. And, of course, there is the Todd-Whitman clan ---with Christie Todd Whitman, her dad Webster Todd. And now, the newest addition to the Todd-Whitman political family legacy is daughter, Kate. Kate Whitman-Annis [she’s married to Craig Annis, but I wonder if she’ll run with her husband’s sir name].

Kate has got lots of Republican family connections on her side: Of course, there is mom and grand dad. Also, Kate is the great granddaughter-in-law of former Governor of New York Charles S. Whitman, who lost a re-election bid to Al Smith. Kate is also related distantly to the Bush family: Her uncle, Webster B. Todd, married Sheila O'Keefe, the stepdaughter of James Wear Walker, whose sister Dorothy Walker Bush was the mother of George H.W. Bush and grandmother of George W. Bush.

Whew. What a rookery of Republicans she comes from. That's a lot of Republican elephants mating.With all that red Republican blue-blood bursting through her veins, she has a lot to live up to.

Mom recently gave daughter some advice for the campaign trail:

“Don’t defend me....I told her, when they ask you the difference between you and your mother, just tell them you're 30 and I'm 61, you're 5-foot-7 and I'm 5-foot-8, and leave it at that,''
Whitman told The Associated Press.

Sounds like sound advice, given the elder Whitman’s recent troubles.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mensch of the Week and Putz of the Week

It’s that time again, for this week’s Mensch of the Week and Putz of the Week notables. Here goes:

From 1996 to 2000, I was the County Chairman of the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee. And during that time, the Republican chair in the county was [and still is] Henry Kuhl. There was a Republican governor in Trenton, and Kuhl wielded a great deal of power. Maybe too much. The same thing can be said for the county chairs today.

For some background, from this week’s New York Times:

“CONVENTIONAL wisdom says that most elections in New Jersey are decided in the primary, because most districts are drawn so that the dominant party doesn’t have to break a financial sweat in the general election. But in practice, the primary is often a fait accompli, too, because the real drama occurs at the county political conventions, thanks to the influence of county political bosses.”

Further more:

“State Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Bergen County...introduced a bill last week that would open up the process by which county parties operate. [Bill sponsors] have complained that the process is rife with back-room deals and is dominated by men.”

And finally, “Under the bill, the parties would be required to adopt constitutions and bylaws; use voting machines when committee members fill vacancies in the Legislature; and keep an updated list of committee members on file with the county clerk….The bill, called the Party Democracy Act…is intended to muzzle county political chairmen, who have long been perceived to wield an inordinate amount of power in picking candidates for local, county and statewide offices.”

Senator Loretta Weinberg has always been a force for good government in the state legislature. Her recent run-in with Bergen County Democratic Chair Joe Ferriero compelled her to be a strong advocate for county level political party reform.

And for her strong advocacy of this type of good government reform, Senator Weinberg is the Mensch of the Week this week at New Jersey Politics Unusual.

Governor Mike Huckabee has been surging in the polls in Iowa, appealing to the Christian Evangelicals, who have finally made up their mind on a candidate. His plain folksy manner, his sense of humor, his use of biblical references to rationalize his political positions----have been giving ulcers to those Republican candidates who have outspent him in the state.

But Huckabee is not all that he seems. From a previous post here:

Huckabee indicated that he does not believe in evolution during a GOP primary debate.
Huckabee said it is imperative to “take this nation back for Christ.” [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 6/8/98]

Huckabee called legal abortion a “holocaust.” Huckabee told the Family Research Council: "It might be for the last 35 years, we have aborted more than a million people who would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973." [CNN, 10/21/07]

On Huckabee’s campaign website, he says that religion “drives” his decisions and that he does not separate religion from his professional life. Additionally, Huckabee pledges on his website that, as President, he would “staff all relevant positions with pro-life appointees.” Huckabee also says that his efforts in Arkansas to infringe on a woman’s right to choose “are the accomplishments that give him the most pride and personal satisfaction.”

Huckabee “joked” that he lost weight because Democrats put him in a concentration camp. "I have just come from six weeks at a concentration camp held by the Democrat party of Arkansas in an undisclosed location, making a hostage tape. That's why I look that way,” he said. [Arkansas Times, 10/6/06
While Rudy, McCain and Romney appear to be somewhat rational, Huckabee has proven to be the latest scary Republican.

For giving Huckabee a ‘surge’ just three weeks out from the Iowa caucuses, the Putz of the Week goes to the voters of Iowa. Just what are they thinking?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Montana, the state that looks like Nixon

I always thought that on a map of the USA, the western boarder of Montana, the section that borders Idaho, looked a little like the profile of Richard Nixon.

“How amazing,”
I thought when my 8th grade Social Studies teacher, Mr. Kotkin pointed that fact out.

This was 1969, and the Viet Nam war was raging. I am sure Mr. Kotkin became a teacher just to avoid the draft. He never gave homework, which to a 14 year old in junior high school was just great. Kotkin was not much of a Nixon fan, and he probably had supported Eugene McCarthy or Bobby Kennedy for president the year before.

Anyway, I can’t think of Montana, without thinking of Nixon. His beady eyes are right where Missoula is. The jowly cheeks, near Butte and Anaconda.

And, at least on the Democratic side of the primary aisle, the vast majority of the primaries are on the super-est Super Tuesday of them all ---February 5th. Thus far, 22 states and all 'Democrats abroad' will cast their votes on that one day. Those state legislatures were thinking far ahead back in 2005 or 2006, and made it a priority to move their Primary Election day to an early time.

That got me thinkin’-----which states---at least on the Dems side--- simply thought to themselves---“Screw it, let’s not have any impact on who the Dems pick for President. We're gonna stick to being last.”

That state is Montana. Yup, the The Treasure State. Big Sky Country. The Bonanza State. Their 27 delagates will be picked on the same day as South Dakota’s----Tuesday, June 3rd.

Their voters will have no impact at all. While we, here in the Garden State, will [finally!] be players in the Presidential primary game. Or at least, we hope so.

So, here’s to you Montana: Your name has been popularized by the number one teenage girl show on TV ---whose viewers probably could not locate the state on a map. Your western border still looks like Nixon to me.

And your voters will have little to no impact in the Presidential primary.
Go Big Sky Country.

Monday, December 10, 2007

New Jersey: The most ethnically diverse states in the nation.

According to Wikipedia, “New Jersey is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse states in the country. It has the second largest Jewish population by percentage after New York; the second largest Muslim population by percent (after Michigan); the third highest Asian population by percent, the third highest Italian-American population by percent of any state according to the 2000 Census; and a large percentage of the population is Black, White American, Hispanic American, Arab American, and Asian American.

It has the second highest Indian American population of any state by absolute numbers. The five largest ancestry groups are: Italian (17.9%), Irish (15.9%), African (13.6%), German (12.6%), Polish (6.9%).”

Additionally, according to the New York Times of November 18th, “The United States population has grown by nearly 18 million people since 2000 and 40 percent of this growth is immigrants from other countries. New Jersey benefits from this, having the fifth-largest immigrant influx of any state.”

Plus given our history of racial profiling, race is still an important issue.

So, we are ethnically diverse, and we have lots of immigrants. What’s my point?

A book that caught my eye the other day, that I think everyone in New Jersey should read, given our population.

The book: Silent Racism: How Well-Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide, by Barbara Trepagnier.

Author Trepagnier completed her doctoral work in sociology at University of California in Santa Barbara in 1996, and at that time returned to Texas. She teaches sociology at Texas State University-San Marcos.

On Silent Racism

Vivid and engaging, Silent Racism persuasively demonstrates that silent racism—racism by people who by all accounts would be classified as “not racist”—is instrumental in the production of institutional racism. Trepagnier argues that heightened race awareness is more important in changing racial inequality than judging whether individuals are racist. The collective voices and confessions of "nonracist" white women heard in this book help reveal that all individuals harbor some racist thoughts and feelings.

Trepagnier argues that the oppositional categories of racist/not racist are outdated. The oppositional categories should be replaced in contemporary thought with a continuum model that more accurately portrays today’s racial reality in the United States.

A shift to a continuum model can raise the race awareness of well-meaning white people and improve race relations. Offering a fresh approach, Silent Racism is an essential resource for teaching and thinking about racism in the twenty-first century.

Highlights From The Book:

• Race awareness in well-meaning white people—including racial progressives—is both sorely lacking and a crucial piece of the racism puzzle.
• Well-meaning white people who are passive around others’ racism encourage it, whether or not they intend to.
• Slavery and segregation have been transformed into a less obvious structure: institutional racism.
• Race awareness entails understanding three facets of racism: the history of racism in the U.S., how institutional racism operates, and insight into one’s own silent racism and passivity.
• Both silent racism and passivity in well-meaning white people are instrumental in producing institutional racism.
• Throughout U.S. history a small group of white Americans has stood against the racist institutions of their day.

Iran, North Korea and Syria? Or France and the UK?

There is an article in the New York Times today that talks about how “New Jersey Keeps Its Execution Chamber ‘On Standby’”.

Talk about government waste and fraud.

It seems that the Department of Corrections keeps the execution chamber oiled, cranked up and ready for action ---should the state decide to off some one. Oh, yeah, the last time they used the chamber Kennedy was still President.

"The state still treats the eight men in the Capital Sentence Unit differently from those sentenced to life without parole. They have their own wing. They never interact with other prisoners. Each time a prisoner leaves his cell, two corrections officers must be there to escort him."

And since the state has had no executions since 1963, ---“the Department of Corrections has not had the necessary regulations in place to carry out an execution since 2004, and it has no plans to write new ones.”

Most of the world has abolished the death penalty. Who has not? Who does the state of New Jersey stand with on this issue?

North Korea. Iran. Iraq. Saudi Arabia. Libya. Syria. That’s who we stand with on this issue.

So, let’s help New Jersey join the civilized world. Call your state representative today.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Putz of the Week and Mensch of the Week

Yiddish is a truly amazing language. It’s a real catch for the tongue: Fun to speak and always saying exactly what it means.

Yiddish words have made their way solidly in to the American version of the English language. Many Americans speak the words that were once used only by my grandparents’ generation: Shmuck. Kibitz. Schlep. Nosh. Nearly everyone uses them, and knows what they mean. These words are even in Spell-Check now. Go figure.

Here are two others: Putz and Mensch. Putz is a kinder, gentler way of saying “schmuck”, almost in a friendlier manner. But it means the same thing.

Mensch is a good thing: Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, defines mensch this way: Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, and a sense of what is right, responsible, and decorous.

So, who is the Mensch of the Week and Putz of the Week here at NJPoliticsUnusual this week?

Mensch of the Week: It’s the folks who put together last night’s Presidential Democratic Caucus. Real mensches, the whole bunch. The sponsoring mensches were:
- NJ for Democracy (DFA)
- NJ's Democratic Future
- Blue Jersey
- Garden State Equality
- NJ Stonewall Democrats
- NJ Jewish Democratic Caucus
- Democratic State Committee Progressive Caucus
- Blue Wave
- B.A.L.L.O.T.
- NJ Arab-American Democratic Caucus
- National Jewish Democratic Council/NJ Chapter.

It was fun, fantastic, and exciting –an Iowa like caucus. My candidate, Gov. Bill Richardson, was the first to get knocked out of the box. I am still with him, though.

Senator John Edwards won the caucus, with Senator Barack Obama a close second. Hillary was knocked out early, by Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

To the group of jaded professionals in the room, it was a very inspirational event. The progressives in New Jersey got to flex their combined muscle a bit, and showed Hillary that she has got to be concerned about support here in New Jersey.

Those groups are Mensches of the Week for making politics exciting again.

Putz of the week: The folks at Red, for taking a stand opposing the abolition of the death penalty. As forward thinkers around the country march toward a more progressive society, and eliminate this cruel and unusual punishment from their state laws, the folks at wish to stay in the dark ages, clinging to a form of punishment that is morally unjust and ethically unworkable.

And, so, for their lobbying effort to block the vote in the Senate set for this week, to abolish the death penalty, they are the Putz of the Week.

Maybe next week we will do this again.

Chimpy McFlightsuit speaks in 2007

According to the Bush Countdown clock, Bush's days in office are numbered.

However, this year, his second to last year in office, he has continued his very special way of speaking, and not let us down. While his approval ratings have hovered at just about 33% here are the Top Ten Bushisms from 2007 articulated so well by our future ex-Commander in Chief:

The Dumbest Things President Bush Said in 2007:

10. "And there is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I'm sorry it's the case, and I'll work hard to try to elevate it." --interview on National Public Radio, Jan.
29, 2007

9. "I fully understand those who say you can't win this thing militarily. That's exactly what the United States military says, that you can't win this military." --on the need for political progress in Iraq, Washington, D.C.,
Oct. 17, 2007

8. "One of my concerns is that the health care not be as good as it can possibly be." --on military benefits, Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

7. "Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your introduction. Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit." --addressing Australian Prime Minister
John Howard at the APEC Summit. Later, in the same speech: "As John Howard accurately noted when he went to thank the Austrian troops there last year..."
--referring to Australian troops as "Austrian troops," Sept. 7, 2007

6. "My relationship with this good man is where I've been focused, and that's where my concentration is. And I don't regret any other aspect of it. And so I -- we filled a lot of space together." --on British Prime Minister
Tony Blair, Washington, D.C., May 17, 2007

5. "You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 -- 1976." --to
Queen Elizabeth, Washington, D.C., May 7, 2007

4. "The question is, who ought to make that decision? The Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear -- I'm a Commander Guy." --deciding
he is no longer just "The Decider," Washington, D.C., May 2, 2007

3. "Information is moving -- you know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogosphere and through the Internets."
--Washington, D.C., May 2, 2007

2. "There are some similarities, of course (between Iraq and Vietnam). Death is terrible." --Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

1. "As yesterday's positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured." --on the No Child Left Behind
Act, Washington, D.C., Sept. 26, 2007

Friday, December 7, 2007

Happy Hanukkah


Many people were taken aback when the Appellate Division ruled earlier this year in Cutler v. Dorn that police officers making fun of a colleague's Jewish heritage and saying, "Let's get rid of all those dirty Jews" was not "sufficiently severe or pervasive [behavior] to create a hostile work environment." This morning, the state Assembly's Labor Committee takes up A-4209, which would amend the Law Against Discrimination to make it absolutely clear such repeated infliction of derogatory remarks - among many other listed actions - is bad enough to create an illegally toxic workplace. Says the statement accompanying the bill, "It is the sponsor's intent to encourage a workplace where employers and employees are held accountable within their workplace for abusive conduct." 12-6-07

About ten years ago I had the opportunity of being hired to provide a keynote address for a banking conference in NYC. I was scheduled to go on after the president of the organization was to speak---I think it was the NY Community Mortgage Bankers annual dinner.

I was seated at a table with the president of the organization, and several new bank managers from around the country. One couple was from Iowa or Idaho or some southern state. He was a new bank regional manager, and his wife was with him.

We got in to a conversation about how they liked the area, and the fact that they lived in North Jersey, and how different it was from the state where they previously lived.

The wife described her current neighborhood: "Oh we really like it. It's different than before. We have a daughter, and she has found some children to play with in the neighborhood.”

So far, so good. Chit chat. Then she dropped the bombshell.

"She has several friends we really like, some we don’t. The other day she brought home this loudmouthed Jew girl. Her whole family is loud mouth Jews, and we try to discourage her from playing at her house.”

And it dawned on me that this woman had never really met many Jews. She had no idea that anyone at the table could possibly be Jewish.

Now, in my mind my response took about a nanosecond. But the reasoning was clear. Do I let the comment go? Or do I stand on the shoulders of my great grandfather Morris, grandfather Joseph, and my dad Bernie, and tell her off, and risk not getting my paycheck? Well, I thought, I have a good contract, I have a 50% deposit, and if I had to leave after telling her off, that would not be so bad. I felt their smiles.

So, I said in response: "I know exactly what you mean. I also grew up in a neighborhood with very loud mouth Jews." The woman smiled and nodded, commiserating. Then I finished the sentence. "My parents. Very loudmouthed, very Jewish. I know exactly what you're talking about." My sarcasm had apparently met its mark.

She stopped smiling, and her husband looked at me sternly and said, "Don't talk to my wife like that. She did not know you were Jewish."

And I replied, "Look, perhaps where you’re from, you may have not met many Jews. But, here in NJ and NY, you're going to meet alot of us. After all in you’re in banking. And you will not always know who we are. We don't all wear yarmulkes. Or stay kosher. Or tell you ‘Hey, don't say anything anti Semitic I am a Jew'.”

They were quiet for the rest of the night. I did my presentation, and got paid from a man who was the president, who turns out was also Jewish, by the way.

Happy Chanukah.Enjoy.

iPhone, Webkinz, TMZ, Transformers,YouTube, Club Penguin, MySpace, Heroes, Facebook, Anna Nicole Smith are all the search terms that got the most hits on Google in 2007.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Liquor vs The Lord

Let's say you’re a town looking to zone an entertainment area, and you have lots of religious institutions in town. Then the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just became your best buddy. That's because they say you’re good to go ---and you can keep religious institutions zoned out of the area. Seems like a First Amendment issue heading to the US Supreme Court real soon. Here's the rest of the story.

There is a New Jersey statute that bans the sale of liquor within a couple of hundred feet of a church. Not quite sure what the "distance" from a church has to do with either the sale of liquor or praying, but the ban does impose a burden on towns looking to beef up their night life. In this case, it was Long Branch.

Long Branch was always known for years as a popular resort town. Even presidents visited there on a regular basis for rest and relaxation----Chester A. Arthur, James Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford Hayes, William McKinley, and Woodrow Wilson ---just to name a few. Seven presidents, count’em, seven. There is even a park in town named Seven Presidents Park. How’s that for an accurate name?

Anyway, it seems The Lighthouse Institute for Evangelism wanted to set up shop in Long Branch, but was unable to. The town, it seems, has areas zoned so that churches would not impede the town’s entertainment zoning plans. Planned development includes the Broadway Center, a planned entertainment and commercial hub of Long Branch. This complex brings together retail shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and two performing arts theaters as well as 500 new residences sitting atop a 1,500 car parking garage. We’re sure Mayor Adam Schneider wants this plan to happen.

So, The Lighthouse does what everybody does in America [and New Jersey] these days: They called up their lawyer [in this case, their lawyer is Derek L. Gaubatz of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C] and sued the town. Their chief complaint: Long Branch violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). That acronym may sound like either an extinct species of fish or a pastry from a formerly communist Eastern European country, but I can assure you it’s good law. RLUIPA was even popular with both sides of the aisle. Both Senators Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy were strong sponsors of the law ----recognizing that “discrimination against religious entities in the land-use context is a major problem nationwide.” Good for you Ted and Orrin. Now that’s bi-partisanship.

Anyhow, the court said in the 2-1 majority opinion that "It would be very difficult for Long Branch to create the kind of entertainment area envisaged by [its redevelopment] plan - one full of restaurants, bars, and clubs - if sizable areas of the [district] were not available for the issuance of liquor licenses.” So it's hello Liquor, good-bye Lord, I guess.

The decision could have nationwide impact because the circuit courts are split on the issue. And yet another important case from New Jersey could end up at the U.S. Supreme Court. Do we rock or what?

New Jersey land-use lawyers had better get their act together, appeal brief-wise. With our melting pot mixture of religions, local zoning officials, and strong feelings of municipal home rule, this will see more action very soon.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Help Make the Death Penalty History

From the ACLU:

The death penalty is the ultimate denial of civil liberties. Over the past 30 years, over 100 wrongfully convicted people were released from death row. The legislature is expected to vote on S163 to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life without parole before the end of the year.

State officials and opinion leaders have finally acknowledged what advocates have said for years, the death penalty is a public policy disaster that is expensive, discriminatory, cruel and immoral. In January, the New Jersey Death Penalty Commission issued a report that found that the death penalty costs more than life in prison and doesn't deter crime.

New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982 but hasn't executed anyone since 1963. Currently eight people sit on New Jersey's death row. The Legislature imposed an execution moratorium in December 2005 when it formed the commission that studied the death penalty.

If approved by lawmakers and Governor Corzine, New Jersey would be the first state to legislatively abolish capital punishment since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. Capital punishment is in force in 38 states. If the measure passes, New Jersey would be the 13th state with no death penalty.

Contact your legislators and Governor Corzine today to support an end to the death penalty in New Jersey.

From Senator Raymond Lesniak

Repeal the death penalty

A few months ago I hosted a reception at my home in Elizabeth to welcome back Brian Halsey to the community. Brian spent 19 years in prison for murdering an 8 year old boy and a 7 year old girl. The boy was sexually assaulted, large nails were hammered into his brain and his face was slashed with scissors. The girl was brutally raped, beaten, and strangled to death. He confessed to the crime and failed a polygraph test.

Only one juror refused to vote to sentence Halsey to death. 19 years later DNA evidence proved Halsey did not commit the crime.

There are hundreds of Brian Halseys throughout the United States who were wrongly convicted of murder. No doubt, some were sentenced to death and executed. You can't say it can't happen in New Jersey. It can. It's impossible for human beings to devise a system free of the risk of human error.

It's difficult to think of a more heinous crime than the Halsey case. Yet we almost made a fatal mistake. A mistake for which there is no cure. Despite the wonders of science, we have not found a way to bring someone back from the dead.

There are some who believe that keeping the death penalty is worth the risk of killing an innocent person. I don't. But the possibility of killing an innocent person is not the only reason to do away with the death penalty.

Think of the families of the victims. While we did hear testimony before the Judiciary Committee in favor of the death penalty from a wife and a mother who had their loved ones murdered , we also heard from dozens of others who were against the death penalty. Most stated that the lengthy appeal process brought extra and unnecessary suffering into their lives.

Simple solution. Shorten the appeal process. Not so simple. The lengthy appeal process is necessary to decrease the chance of executing an innocent person.

Then there's the cost of the death penalty. To me, it's the weakest reason to repeal the death penalty, but it should be noted that the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission reported that the costs of the death penalty are greater than the costs of life in prison without parole.

More important is the waste of money and law enforcement officers' time spent investigating and proving the factors necessary in a death penalty case. Money and time that could be put to better use fighting gangs, gun runners and drug dealers.

There are those who would single out types of crimes, like child sexual abuse and types of victims, like police officers, or children, or senior citizens, to keep the penalty of death. But an innocent person can be sentenced to death under any of these exceptions.

Some would keep the death penalty for terrorists. Yet terrorists are the least concerned with the death penalty. They blow themselves up and fly planes into buildings. Being executed would only serve to make them martyrs in the eyes of their followers. They belong in jail for the rest of their lives without any chance of parole.

Thousands of murders have been committed in New Jersey since I voted to reinstate the death penalty in 1982. Only a handful of those murders resulted in a death sentence. What makes those sentenced to death different from the others? Nothing, other than the sentence of death itself.

Repealing the death penalty under the legislation before you today will put more murderers in jail for the rest of their lives, relieve victims' families of added pain and suffering and allow law enforcement officials to concentrate more on gangs, gun runners and drug dealers.

Repealing the death penalty will also guarantee that we will not execute an innocent person.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that has a death penalty, keeping company with the likes of Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Afghanistan. Let's change the company we keep starting here in New Jersey.

Who Am I to Judge?

I have a greater respect for the practice of law and for lawyers in general, now that I have been a full fledged attorney for about two years. I went to law school late in life at the age of 46 at Seton Hall School of Law. And I have met my share of lawyers and judges.

Many lawyers are way overpaid and judges, well, they’re way underpaid. When you figure that their current salary is not much higher than the highest First year associate at a top New York firm, you can understand the issue. But, of course, they would have to put in so many more hours as a first-year associate. [rim shot].

But that may change very soon. "The Public Officers Salary Review Commission, which meets every four years during lame-duck sessions of the legislature, is recommending [an increase in the salaries of judges], noting the productivity of New Jersey's judges and the fact that New Jersey is one of only two states to forbid judges from earning outside income.”

With the raise, the salary of a judge would go up 10.7 percent to $165,000 ---and include annual cost-of-living increases for the first time ever. Under their recommendations, Chief Justice Stuart J. Rabner's salary would go to $192,300. In 2003, then-Gov. Jim McGreevey opposed raising judicial pay. But Gov. Jon S. Corzine has always pushed for salary increases virtually identical to those recommended by the commission.

What did the Public Officers Salary Review Commission think about salary increases for legislators? They think we should leave well enough alone ---they made no recommendations for any increases for members of the Assembly and Senate. Those folks will remain in the $45,000 range ---about 25% of what top New York first year associates make.

Monday, December 3, 2007

ABC makes a hard Right turn

This morning WABC radio added Don Imus to their morning line-up, dropping long-time co-hosts Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby. I very much enjoyed their morning radio show and I will miss them. Curtis is right-wing, but pure New York. Kuby is a self avowed communist, and always has keen insight to the national political scene. It was the best thing on morning radio. Funny and informative. They will be missed. The irony is, of course, that Imus says something racist, and he gets to replace Kuby who is a civil rights lawyer.

I was never much of an Imus fan, and never understood his popularity. Maybe I was missing something. Imus has been off the air since April, when WFAN dropped him after his derogatory remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Apparently, WABC cares more about ratings than their integrity, but that is their business. What has changed since April? I really don’t know.

This is not the first time WABC radio has hired someone who was previously fired for making a very offensive remark on-air. ABC previously fired Bob Grant for making an extremely insensitive remark regarding the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who died in a plane crash in 1996. Recently, Grant was brought back to the station over the summer in the 8pm to 10pm slot.

I am sure they will soon bring Mike Savage on board very soon , who was fired from MSNBC for making offensive remarks about those who have suffered from AIDS.

So, now WABC has Imus, Rush, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin. They’re coming Right along, I guess.

We are a Festivus Nation

Just about a year ago, the wife of a current member of the Flemington Borough Council wrote a letter to the Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper, condemning what she described as the “attack on Christmas”. Her letter was entitled “Christmas Traditions”, and her analysis resulted in her declaration that “we are a Christian nation”, that “tolerates all others”. Her assertion was that since the majority of America is Christian, then we are a Christian nation.

Her belief that “majority means identity” was wrong on so many levels, I didn’t know where to begin to address the issue.

We get our national identity not from the ethnic, religious, racial, gender, or sexuality of the majority of our people. Our identity arises out of the principles of governance as written by the Framers in the US Constitution and those values are clearly laid out in the First Amendment:

  • "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
And in his second term, President George Washington signed the the Treaty of Tripoli, which in Article 11 stated, "As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion...".

However, IF we are to be judged on our ‘identity’ with ‘majority’ as the sole criteria, then we are a Festivus nation, if anything at all.

Festivus is the holiday invented by the Seinfeld TV show –the holiday for the rest of us. Festivus is celebrated annually on December 23, but many people celebrate it at other times, often to avoid the Christmas rush. The holiday includes novel practices such as the "Airing of Grievances", in which each person tells everyone else all the ways they've disappointed him/her over the past year. The decor for Festivus includes a simple unadorned aluminum pole. Also, after the Festivus meal, the "Feats of Strength" are performed, involving wrestling the head of the household to the floor, the holiday only ending if the head of the household is actually pinned.

More people watched the final Seinfeld episode ---78 million people---than go to church on any given Sunday. A National Election Studies poll showed that only 25% of adult Americans claim to attend church, synagogue or temple every week. With a population of about 300 million, only about 75 million people go to church on a weekly basis. Seinfeld and Festivus trumps the church goers.

Therefore, if we are to judge our national identity purely by who is in the majority, then we are a Festivus nation.

So, this season, please remember to wish everyone you see a Festive Festivus!