Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What The Hell Are We Paying YOU For?

For a guy who uses his religious beliefs to deny marriage equality and oppose abortion, Governor Christie certainly cusses a lot (he's no Steve Sweeney, but still). During the run up to Hurricane Irene, he implored a citizen to "Get the hell off the beach." Now he's gone after President Obama with a question New Jerseyans should be asking of him. The direct quote, for the record, comes from this article on Politico: 

“I was angry this weekend, listening to the spin coming out of the administration, about the failure of the supercommittee, and that the president knew it was doomed for failure, so he didn’t get involved. Well then what the hell are we paying you for?” Christie said during a press conference in Camden, N.J. “It’s doomed for failure so I’m not getting involved? Well, what have you been doing, exactly?”

The Governor also used crass language a couple of weeks ago after saying that math and science teachers should be paid more than gym teachers. When called on his remarks by the New Jersey Education Association, his retort was, “Cut the crap,” to which NJEA spokesperson Steve Wollmer replied, “‘Cut the crap’ isn’t very gubernatorial, is it?” Wollmer said. “Each teacher contributes equally to students’ success.”

And given Christie's age and weight, perhaps disparaging physical education and health teachers is not in his best interests.

But I digress. While the governor has been excoriating the President, he hasn't been doing much governing. He went to Massachusetts to stump for Mitt Romney and keep his name afloat for national office in 2012; otherwise, he's been quiet.

That won't last for long. The legislature is gearing up for one of the busiest lame duck sessions in memory, with bills on education reform, aid to cities and a contentious telecommunications deregulation bill on the docket. Yet with New Jersey already known throughout the United States as a famously corrupt state, government ethics reform will probably not be one of the session's major accomplishments. According to this article on

New Jersey needs more honest governance, and not simply because virtue is its own reward. Conflicts of interest by elected officials and pay-to-play contracting at the municipal and county levels cost the battered taxpayers of this state uncounted millions of dollars each year and help elevate those property taxes we all complain about. It’s obvious that taxpayers lose when public contracts are steered to generous contributors instead of to vendors who can do the job more cheaply and effectively.

But the people who make policy at the Statehouse are comfortable with the status quo, and the public — which reacts with outrage anytime there’s a straightforward tax increase — doesn’t seem to see the connection between corruption and high taxes. 

Only about 26 percent of New Jersey’s voters turned out Nov. 8 to take part in an election in which all 120 seats in the Senate and Assembly were up for grabs. The result: a Legislature which, for at least two more years, will be virtually a carbon copy of the one that will expire in January — the same one that has done nothing to advance political ethics.

Governor Christie ran on ethics reform, but he hasn't pushed it, and without some kind of bill, property taxes in New Jersey will keep rising. On top of that, public sector layoffs have increased unemployment, but have done nothing to lower taxes, and increased pension and benefits payments have taken money out of consumer's pockets. And did I mention that property taxes are still too high?

So governor, I'll be polite and simply ask, "What are we paying you for?"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Republican Debate

I must say that I agree with Newt on immigration. We need to recognize that many illegal immigrants are productive members of our society and/or were brought here by their parents and have been good students. Why punish them as outlaws when we could certainly use their energy and creativity, if not their work ethic. It is time to pass legislation that would allow these people to become citizens if they follow procedures and keep their records clean. Sending someone back for a traffic violation is shortsighted.

Most everything else Newt says is inflammatory and dangerous, but polls are showing that many Republican voters like his experience. He could give Mitt a serious run, unlike Cain, who lost once and for all last night, and Perry, who didn't have much of a plan other than to say that Obama is horrible (blah, blah).

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Super Dud

So many epitaphs, so little time.

Debt panel poised to admit failure
Lawmakers Concede Budget Talks Are Close to Failure
You could even get interactive and take a look at all of the failed plans on one page. 

In the end, Americans don't do well with all-powerful groups that issue ultimatums (ultimata?). They strike us as undemocratic and untrustworthy, and they undermine the limited government ethos on which this country was founded. We're supposed to work together to solve our problems, using our representatives as proxies to fight against the noxious influence of factions and interest groups. Creating a group whose work could not be altered or debated runs so counter to our system of checks and balances, that I'm frankly surprised that nobody brought a suit against it as unconstitutional. Perhaps the lesson is that lobbying money will buy you anything, even a mini Politburo in the bowels of Washington.

The problem now is that Congress if both full of, and influenced by, the types of groups the Founders wanted Congress, and indeed representative government, to protect us from. The Tea Party believes that they are the only ones who are correctly interpreting the Constitution. The Occupy Wall Street movement believes that democracy can only truly be served with income equality, which would require a redivision of the economic pie. Both groups are certain of their orthodoxies. In large part they reflect the ideologies of the parties in Congress, who are beholden to their benefactors to the exclusion of common sense and the common good.

The first sign of problems with the supercommittee came when both sides discussed ways to maneuver around the automatic cuts prescribed in the law. Without the fear of automatic cuts, it became possible, even probable, that the committee would fail. After that came the name-calling and doom-saying. Now comes the finger-pointing.

If anything, the Republicans will bear the brunt of negative public reaction should the committee ultimately fail. Both Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney have called on President Obama to protect cuts to the military. You'll notice that they're not so quick to call for sparing cuts to programs that recession-ravaged Americans need. Also, the Republican's absolute opposition to revenue hikes flies in the face of public opinion, as the chart below from Poll Watch Daily points out.

In fact, their argument flies in the face of history. From this New York Times article: 

In the five fiscal grand bargains of the 1980s and early 1990s, tax increases accounted for an average of 61 cents of every dollar saved. In fact, in President Reagan’s 1982 and 1984 budget-trimming deals, more than 80 percent of deficit reductions came from tax increases. What’s more, the deals passed with majority support from both parties. Mr. Reagan may be remembered as an antitax hero, but he actually raised taxes 11 times over the course of his presidency, all in the name of fiscal responsibility. 

Republicans used to rank deficit reduction ahead of curbing taxes, but now the reverse is true. What changed?

What changed was that the Republicans were slowly taken over by the uncompromising right wing, most of whom took Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge (which many of them broke during George W. Bush's term, but then found religion in 2009, just in time for Obama).

So what will happen now? Not much, it seems, if the committee falls apart. From

There’s a reason Capitol Hill isn’t in panic mode ahead of the supercommittee’s dreaded Nov. 23 deadline: because nothing will actually happen in the now-likely event that the committee fails. Turns out those massive spending cuts that supposedly serve as a sword of Damocles for lawmakers don’t kick in until January 2013, the Washington Post reports, giving lawmakers plenty of time to work out a fix. Of course, they’ll probably wait to actually do so until after the next election. 

The expiration of the Bush tax cuts also kicks in at the start of January 2013, so expect yet another do-or-die legislative scramble then. A deal certainly looks unlikely right now, despite a brief bipartisan meeting last night. Max Baucus was so pessimistic that he became angry and "emotional" as he talked to the Post. “Everybody’s afraid—afraid of losing their job—to move toward the center,” he said. “Compared to the thousands who have given their lives in service to this country, I think it’s tragic and it speaks volumes.”  

Other casualties of the failure would be the expiration of the payroll tax cut, which would hit middle class families with an average hike of about $1,000, and the end of long term unemployment insurance. Tax cuts for the wealthy would not be touched.

This is a failure of leadership, bipartisanship, imagination, creativity, and will. We the people deserve better.

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