Monday Mashup Part One (6/7/10)

June 7, 2010

I have some leftover items from last week I couldn’t quite get to until now.

  • 1) To begin, I give you the latest in the slow-motion train wreck that is the NJ gubernatorial administration of Chris Christie (here)…

    All seven members of an advisory panel charged with reviewing nominations to New Jersey’s Superior Court resigned Wednesday, with six saying they objected to Gov. Christie’s decision not to renominate Justice John Wallace Jr. to the state Supreme Court.

    The members, all appointed by former Gov. Jon S. Corzine, had letters hand-delivered to Christie’s office.

    “The panel has understood a judge serving honorably and effectively, with competence and integrity, will achieve tenure in judicial office,” states one letter signed by six of the members. “This understanding is supported by the intent of the framers of our constitution and is firmly grounded in our traditions and history, and has been followed consistently for over 60 years by all governors of both political parties.”

    “You have expressed publicly a profoundly different view of the governor’s appointive responsibilities,” the letter continues. “This was exemplified by your actions and remarks in refusing to reappoint Justice John Wallace to the Supreme Court, a jurist who indisputably exemplified all the qualifications for honorable judicial services. It is a view that is inconsistent with an independent judiciary.

    “Because of our abiding commitment to the independence of the judiciary, we cannot in good conscience continue to serve on the Judiciary Advisory Panel.”

    The six members were retired state Supreme Court justices James H. Coleman and Stewart Pollock, the cochairmen, and Alan B. Handler and Deborah T. Poritz; a lawyer in private practice, Carlos G. Ortiz; and a university professor, Susan Lederman.

    The seventh, retired Appellate Division judge Harold B. Wells III, a Republican, sent a brief, separate letter saying he had resigned for “personal reasons.”

    This is kind of interesting I suppose, given that Christie, a former U.S. attorney, is assumed to have a respect for the functions of the judiciary over that of partisan politics. Clearly, though, the latter holds sway with him, which should be no surprise I know.

    Oh, and did you also know that Christie wants to put the State Commission on Investigation’s budget under the Office of the Comptroller, thereby putting the state’s investigative agency, which should be independent, under Christie’s purview (here)?

    Lastly, this Inquirer editorial tells us today that Christie and his State Education Commissioner Bret Schundler brokered a deal with the New Jersey Education Association that addressed key issues – such as merit pay, which the union has long opposed. However, that deal is now off the table because Christie and Schundler apparently weren’t “on the same page,” which could end up costing the state millions of dollars in federal education funds.

    I hope all of those Democrats who sat on their hands during the NJ gubernatorial election last year are proud of themselves (to say nothing of Repugs and independents who supported this thug).

  • 2) Also, I tried really, really hard to avoid saying anything over the Gore divorce last week (I mean, it’s not like there isn’t a whole bunch of more important stuff going on), but it just got so thick that I had to weigh in (one pundit somewhere said something like divorce may be a defining “baby boomer” moment, or something…as Atrios says, our discourse is ruled by fools).

    And this column by Linda Chavez was the proverbial last straw…

    I know it’s wishful thinking to hope that the Gores will reconsider their decision. But they have already survived many ordeals that would challenge even the strongest of marriages — their son’s near-fatal accident, myriad political campaigns, including the 2000 presidential election whose outcome dragged on forever, Tipper’s battle against depression and who knows what private disappointments, slights, and pains.

    The Gores, like most couples, made a vow when they married to remain together “until death do us part.” Couples make those vows in front of family and friends and with the blessings of religious institutions and the state. They are not private promises; they are public affirmations. So if the Gores decide to break those vows, they’ve hurt all of us, not just each other, and they’ve chipped away at the very institution of marriage. Let’s hope they don’t move from separation to divorce, for all our sakes.

    Oh, please…

    What is sad here is that Chavez actually makes some good points about the effect of divorce on kids, but for her to claim that the Gore’s divorce “hurts all of us” is pathetic.

    Well then, do infidelities of public figures “hurt us” also? What about David Vitter (who, for some reason, always seems to get a pass on this subject even though he’s been “busted” at least twice)? John Ensign? Mark Sanford? Mark Souder (for whom Michael Gerson unctuously asked for “grace” here)? And yes, to be fair, John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer (and of course, Bill Clinton)?

    At least the Gores realized that it was time to part, and they have done so. There are a myriad of reasons why couples stay together and a myriad of reasons why they don’t. And as long as moral scolds like Chavez feel like it’s their duty to pass judgment, how about giving the Clintons some credit for enduring all they have and raising a daughter for whom they should be proud?

    This is all beyond a joke anyway when you consider that Chavez, as noted by Bob Somerby here, once said that Gore gave a “confusing” speech in 2002 in which “Gore said that a unilateral War on Saddam (Hussein) would hurt the ongoing War on Terror, because it would alienate various nations on whom we must rely for intelligence” (and fellow Beltway hyena Mort Kondracke dutifully echoed Chavez also).

    Like almost everything else Al Gore has said, the passage of time has proven these words to be damn prescient as well. And Chavez’s ridicule has “hurt all of us” a lot more than the Gore’s divorce ever could.

  • 3) Finally, I give you the late Irving Kristol’s boy here…

    So the one part of government the Obama administration—which is spending unprecedented amounts on every domestic department of government—has decided to squeeze is the military. This is outrageous and pathetic—taking money out of the already inadequate baseline defense budget to pay for a domestic spending spree.

    The linked New York Times story from last week tells us the following…

    The goal is to force all of the Defense Department agencies and organizations, and all of the armed services, to save enough money in their management, personnel policies and logistics to guarantee 3 percent real growth each year, beyond inflation, in the accounts that pay for combat operations.

    Current budget plans project growth of only 1 percent in the Pentagon budget, after inflation, over the next five years.

    “Given the nation’s fiscal situation, there is an urgency to doing this, rather than shifting more of the nation’s resources toward national defense,” William J. Lynn III, the deputy defense secretary, said in an interview.

    (Defense Secretary Robert) Gates’s spending orders offer a considerable incentive to the armed services. Each dollar in spending cuts found by a military department would be reinvested in the combat force of that branch, and not siphoned away for other purposes.

    Senior officials acknowledge that powerful constituencies are expected to line up in opposition to cuts of favorite programs — with criticism anticipated from the defense industry, Congress, military headquarters, Pentagon personnel and retirees.

    “We will need to address the reasons things are in the budget in order to be able to reduce overhead,” Mr. Lynn said. “We are going to have to be engaged in dialogue with industry, with Congress, with other agencies, with the White House and inside the Pentagon — all the stakeholders.”

    The new directives are aimed at three distinct areas of spending.

    The first is management and personnel, overhead, logistics and base operations, and support missions.

    The second is the war-fighting accounts themselves. Major targets for the next fiscal year already identified by the Pentagon leadership, and supported by the White House, include canceling a program to buy an alternative engine for the F-35 warplane and ending production of the C-17 cargo aircraft. Officials said a range of lower-priority programs would also be under review.

    The third area is Mr. Gates’s own Defense Department staff and agencies.

    And in case you were wondering how much this country spends on defense, this tells you that this country’s spending isn’t even close to any other in the world.

    There is only one good thing I can say about Kristol Mess’s post, and it is that he uses hyperlinks effectively (would that the Philadelphia Inquirer decided to follow suit one of these days).

  • Update: And heaven forbid that this falls under the “budget axe” also…

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    Friday Mashup (4/23/10)

    April 23, 2010

  • 1) Oh noes! It looks like the Dems are in trouble for the fall!

    I mean, Little Petey Beinart says so here. And he has to be right, doesn’t he?

    NEW YORK – Yes, the Democrats are going to get throttled this fall. But Obama has had so much success that he can afford spending a little time playing defense.

    It’s a strange moment in Washington. With the stimulus bill and health-care reform now law, and serious financial regulation gaining momentum, Democrats are witnessing the greatest run of policy success of my lifetime. The victories have been so large that I suspect some liberal wonks are actually having trouble adjusting. As a liberal (not to mention a Jew who grew up rooting for the Boston Red Sox) I know that when you’ve grown accustomed tragedy, and built an entire communal identity around it, triumph can be destabilizing.

    When it comes to politics, however, an arena where Democrats were actually growing comfortable with success after the landslides of 2006 and 2008, things are ugly. President Obama’s approval ratings, which belly-flopped to less than 50 percent over the course of 2009, have been treading water there ever since. Despite some liberal wishful thinking, in fact, Obama and his party’s fortunes now look even worse than before health care passed. On April 12, Gallup recorded Obama’s lowest approval rating ever (47 percent). The next day, it reported that Republicans have opened up a lead in generic congressional balloting (“Which party’s candidate would you vote for if the midterms were held today?”). Intrade now predicts that Democrats will lose seven seats in the Senate and 36 in the House.

    In the matter of Obama’s approval numbers (and of the polling I’ve seen, the lowest is 46 percent), that still puts him at roughly twice the number of his predecessor for about the last 2-3 years of his wretched reign. And as noted here, if the 2012 presidential election were held tomorrow – and no, I cannot stomach that at the moment either – he would still handily beat presumptive nominees Willard Mitt Romney and a certain former Alaska governor who quit so she could cash in.

    Also, I have hardly seen this Gallup/USA Today poll mentioned anywhere from about a month ago, which shows that those polled favored health care reform by a 49-40 percent margin.

    But of course, this is to be expected I suppose from Beinart, who has already blamed Obama for “(failing)” in his effort to be “the nonpolarizing president” here.

    I don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall, because it’s still a long ways off (we haven’t even made it through the primaries yet, people). Will the Dems lose seats? Probably, but that depends on how much they ignore the dreaded “conventional wisdom” and run on their accomplishments instead.

    If they campaign with guts, the losses will be manageable. If they campaign like they’re afraid of their own collective shadow, they’ll lose big. And they’ll deserve it.

  • 2) And in the matter of what happens when an indecisive base sits on its collective hands and lets a Repug seize the momentum and win an election instead, I give you the following on the recent school district votes in New Jersey (here, and once again, I apologize for not getting to this video sooner so I could put it up before the vote)…

    (Wednesday), New Jersey voters did something they haven’t done in more than 30 years: defeated a majority of school district tax levies. [Note: I’m calling them “levies” here because that is more accurate. Voters don’t really have a say on the spending portion of the operational budgets of their local schools. They only get to vote on the amount in property taxes that the district proposes levying for the year.]

    They also turned out in record numbers. The final statewide vote count hasn’t been compiled, but it is somewhere north of 20% of all registered voters. That may not sound like much, but the previous high for school elections, going back to at least 1976, was 18.6%. 1976 was also the last time a majority of school levies failed. That year, 56% went down. This year, it looks like 59% have been tossed out by voters.

    A Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll released last week found that 29% of registered voters – if they did vote – would support their local school levies, while 37% would oppose them. Based on a sampling of county returns, it looks like that 8 point margin may hold up in the final statewide vote.

    There are some other interesting findings as well. Taking Middlesex County as just one example, compared to the April 2009 election, turnout in this one county was up by 65%. The number of “No” votes went up by 90%. But the number of “Yes” votes also went up, albeit by a lower 40%. In other words, turnout increased on both sides of the issue.

    So what does this all mean?

    Chris Christie and his supporters have claimed victory, saying that New Jersey voters sided with the governor in his battle with the state teacher’s union, the NJEA. However, the governor urged voters to defeat budgets in districts where the teachers made no concessions – and a good number of these actually passed. On the flip side, in the few districts where teachers actually agreed to wage freezes or other concessions – the districts one would expect to be rewarded if voters were out to show support for the governor – a good number (anywhere between 6 and 13 depending on what you count as a “concession”) of the school budget levies failed.

    So, here’s what we know about the New Jersey public:

    1. They think the size of the cuts in state aid to local schools is unfair.
    2. They think the teachers’ unions should be willing to come to the table and agree to a wage freeze and benefit contributions.
    3. They don’t want educational programs cut.
    4. They don’t want their property taxes raised.

    All of these are reasons why Garden State voters voted yesterday. They are the reasons why more people than usual turned out to vote “No.” And they are also the reasons why more people than usual turned out to vote “Yes.”

    Anyone who claims with certainty that any of these reasons is the main factor behind a majority of school levies going down yesterday is just blowing smoke.

    And all of this has managed to deflect attention (for the moment) from the following about Christie’s budget (noted here)…

    Here’s the concern: The federal government pays 65 percent of the tab for NJ FamilyCare. When we cut people from the program, they often wind up in emergency rooms where the cost is picked up by the state and by insured patients. Sen. Joe Vitale, the Legislature’s leading voice on health policy, says this cut will wind up costing New Jersey more than it saves.

    Democrats should ask other questions as well. Christie would raid a clean energy fund that subsidizes solar and wind power, and energy conservation efforts. It is paid for by ratepayers on each month’s electric bill, and it’s not clear that the state has the legal authority to grab it for other purposes.

    Do we really need to cut money to food pantries now, or can Democrats find a substitute cut?

    And can we soften these cuts by reducing the planned state surplus of roughly $500 million? Or by reinstating the income tax surcharge on families earning more than $400,000, which would bring in about $300 million during this fiscal year?

    And when asked about the tax surcharge, Christie said the following here…

    “They (the Democrats) made a political judgment: it was either raise the tax, or we could have the issue to use against a Republican governor,” Christie told reporters, referring to Democratic Party lawmakers.

    “They chose the issue over the revenue,” he added. “Well, they got the issue. They’re not getting the revenue.”

    Spoken like a true Repug.

    Christie is nothing but a bully looking out for his pals and sticking it to everyone else, people (and let’s not forget this either, by the way…Update from 4/24/10: The AP has since corrected itself and said that Christie’s people make collectively about $440K more than Corzine’s, not $2 million).

  • 3) Finally, yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the ATF raid that took Elian Gonzalez from the home of a Florida relative so he could be reunited with his father in Cuba (as noted in this Wikipedia article, the whole affair generated a truly rare moment of wisdom from the WaPo’s Richard Cohen, among other things).

    I don’t have anything particularly brilliant to add here, only to point out that the issue should have been about reuniting him with his father and absolutely nothing more, especially considering the circumstances under which he was taken by his mother from Cuba to begin with.

    However, even this story can generate some partisan mythology, as noted here…

    More than 300 protesters were arrested in the hours after the raid, and the community’s outrage did not subside. Al Gore, the sitting vice president, lost Florida that November to George W. Bush by a mere 537 votes, and with it the White House. Many pundits said the Elian debacle made the difference.

    Watch the movie “Recount” with Kevin Spacey as Gore attorney Ron Klain and take note of the final shot of the movie – namely, all of the boxes of uncounted Miami Dade County votes sitting in a warehouse – and then try peddling that nonsense to me again.


  • Some “Stugots” By The Murdoch Street Journal On Corzine (updates)

    July 28, 2009

    corzine_smI have to tell you that William McGurn’s editorial rant today about the New Jersey governor’s campaign conjures up some odious ethnic stereotyping, so be prepared; God forbid that you criticize the rich as far as Rupert and his minions are concerned, though, lest you engage in “class warfare.”

    And the timing of such propaganda definitely favors McGurn, given the recent revelations here about the 44 individuals swept up in a corruption probe centered in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Deal, N.J. (how apropos); and Israel (they include three mayors, two state lawmakers and several rabbis…and apparently, a whole bunch of black market kidneys hawking $160G apiece – Gail Collins of the New York Times had an uproarious column about this last Saturday…and yes, I know it really isn’t funny).

    Here is some of what McGurn said ostensibly about New Jersey (in a column written in Rome, thus giving him an excuse to compare the “Garden State” machinations to that which currently embroil Italian Prime Minister “Uh Oh” Silvio Berlusconi…note: I used to track the “ups and downs” of Italy’s most famous – and probably most notorious – politician, but my time grew short and his excesses grew too large, so I gave up).

    Much depends on (Corzine’s Repug Gubernatorial challenger Chris) Christie. As a U.S. Attorney, Mr. Christie put scores of dirty New Jersey officials behind bars. And his lead in the polls—one of them puts it at 12 points—is bound to widen with the indictment of so many officials from his opponent’s political party in an investigation he initiated.

    Really? Christie supposedly got this ball rolling, as they say? Well then, he should have been featured prominently in the MSNBC story (if you search for his name in the story, though, you’ll find Christie isn’t featured – or even mentioned – at all).

    And by the way, as noted here, the Christie Campaign a Christie ally is facing bribery allegations; we also learn the following…

    You may recall that the corpulent Christie recently hit some head winds with revelations of his authorizing tracking people through their cell phones without first obtaining a warrant when he was district attorney (as the ACLU charges), the $50 million no-bid contract he gave to John Ashcroft (John Ashcroft was the U.S. Attorney General in 2003 when the decision not to prosecute Chris Christie’s brother Todd Christie for insider trading was made, though everyone else in the scandal was prosecuted), and the no bid contract he gave to David Kelley, also on the Todd Christie case.

    And that doesn’t even mention Christie’s treatment of Essex County executive James Treffinger, a popular Republican who spent more than six hours in handcuffs and leg shackles allegedly because he made a comment about Christie’s “hulking frame,” as noted here.

    Back to McGurn…

    But even harder than winning an election will be transforming the New Jersey political culture. If he is to succeed as governor, (Christie) will need to use the remaining time in the campaign to build public support for a radical reform agenda. Primarily this requires bringing home to Garden State voters something he does not yet seem to recognize himself: the link between his program to fight corruption and his program to revive the state’s economy.

    And we all know the reason, don’t we, according to McGurn (wait for it)…

    That link has to do with reducing Big Government. Big Government is why New Jersey created only 6,800 private sector jobs from 2000 to 2007—while public sector jobs grew by more than 55,800. Big Government is the reason New Jersey ranks as the worst of 50 states on the Small Business Survival Index. And Big Government is a leading reason New Jersey has a “corruption problem” that an FBI agent at Friday’s press conference characterized as “one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation.”

    See, as far as McGurn is concerned, Big Government = Fewer Private Sector Jobs = More Crime. Got that?

    However, I think the following should be considered (from here)…

    Adjusted for population, New Jersey’s in the middle of the pack (in terms of private sector job losses). Twenty-six states have had larger declines in private-sector employment than New Jersey’s 3.82% drop over the last 15 months. Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., are faring better, including three – Alaska, North Dakota, D.C., Wyoming and Louisiana — that have added jobs in that time.

    Since the Democrats took control of the New Jersey governor’s office in 2002 (including the tenures of Jim McGreevey and Dick Codey), the state is down 86,900 private-sector jobs. Only three states have lost more. Six states have had bigger declines than the state’s 2.56% drop since January ‘02.

    Actually, at this point, I very reluctantly have to give McGurn a bit of a nod here, particularly since the bottom line is that only eight states have lost more private sector jobs than New Jersey because the line about only six states losing more private sector jobs is telling indeed.

    I try to avoid posting on the Garden State since it has its own – how shall I put it – peculiar political environment, and what inevitably happens is that voters, probably out of abject disgust more than any other reason, “return to the fold” and vote Democratic come election time.

    However, that is entirely problematic this time around (particularly with Christie leading Corzine here by 12 points, as noted here; again, I have to “give the devil his due” and point out that McGurn is right on that number). Also, Corzine recently signed a stimulus bill of sorts for New Jersey which, as noted here, is opposed by New Jersey Policy Perspective, a Trenton-based liberal think tank, and the Sierra Club of New Jersey (if you’re a Dem seeking re-election, those definitely are NOT groups that you want opposing you instead of supporting you).

    In short, there are legitimate reasons to criticize the job performance of Governor Jon Corzine (who, like all governors, has to deal with the worst economic climate this country has seen in about 70 years – Dubya’s “gift that keeps on giving”…and by the way, I admire the hell out of him for this). However, you’d have to be a real “mook” to blame it solely on some stereotypical, and rather cartoonish, criminal (in all likelihood) behavior.

    Update 8/12/09: Hmmm, Christie and Turd Blossom, huh?

    Update 8/18/09: Christie’s bad week continues.

    Update 8/19/09: Somehow I don’t quite think “oops” covers this on Christie.

    Update 8/22/09: Is it just me, or is Christie’s whole “law and order” facade starting to crumble (here)?

    Update 8/24/09: Is the Christie juggernaut “off the rails” (here)?

    Update 9/5/09: Christie is nothing but a bully and a thug (here – h/t The Daily Kos).

    Update 9/6/09: It’s getting harder to keep up with all of the Christie revelations (here and here…this guy shouldn’t be running for dog catcher, let alone governor of New Jersey).

    Update 9/12/09: And it sounds like Christie’s running mate has a case of foot-in-mouth disease herself (here).

    Update 9/24/09: Not an appearance of wrongdoing by Christie on this, but interesting anyway,


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