Is Bob Jordan a Journalist or a Marketing Rep?

Writing about Governor Chris Christie's recent veto of two bills -- S816 (mandating distributors to sell so-called smart guns), and A3689 (codifying regulations on the justifiable need to carry) -- Asbury Park Press reporter Bob Jordan blamed the National Rifle Association (NRA).  Jordan wrote:

"The NRA pressured Christie to kill two bills including one that would have mandated distributors to sell so-called smart guns, which proponents say stem accidental shootings and 'child proof' weapons."

Sure, the NRA lobbied the Governor, but does mere lobbying make you responsible for the actions of an adult elected official?  When the LGBTQ movement lobbied President Obama and Hillary Clinton to change their position on same-sex marriage, were they "pressured" into adopting their new beliefs?

As Bob Jordan must know, "pressured" is a very charged word.  When Garden State Equality's Steve Goldstein issued a press release threatening to withhold "gay" money from the New Jersey Democratic State Committee unless Senate President Steve Sweeney and other Democratic Party leaders changed their position on same-sex marriage, were they being "pressured" into executing their eventual flip-flop?

"Pressured" conjures images of extortion and the NRA hasn't been particularly good at "pressuring" Governor Christie, who managed just a "C" rating with the NRA as Governor.  If a journalist is going to use words like "pressured," he or she should cite more than lobbying as evidence of that "pressure."

Reporter Jordan lamely tries with a quote from Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, a Democrat from Bergen County.  Assemblyman Johnson blames Christie's veto on, wait for it... the Governor's  "bid for the Republican presidential nomination and now his support of Donald Trump."  Wow, what a dickhead!  Maybe he hasn't heard that Christie's presidential campaign crashed and burned months ago.  As for Donald Trump, when did his campaign put out a position paper on S816 and A3689?

The Assemblyman goes on:  "The governor’s veto statement is alarmingly replete with right-wing political talking points and grandstanding."  Yes, and the Assemblyman's statement may be said to be "alarmingly replete with left-wing political talking points and grandstanding."  So what?  What do these cookie-cutter insults even mean that you and your brethren in the other party endlessly use? 

Assemblyman Johnson went on to say (and how he kept a straight face, we can't tell you):  “This bill was a start toward making our streets safer, particularly in our urban areas, but sadly, Gov. Christie has once again put his political ambitions above the public safety of New Jersey residents.  That’s shameful.” 

Listen, Assemblyman Dickful, why don't you try to enforce the laws against everything that is currently unlawful -- make those streets "safer" -- "particularly in our urban areas" by making illegal drugs unavailable, for a start.  Do that one thing, accomplish that, before making new laws to create new crimes that will be obeyed only by those who care to obey them, new laws that will force the police (government's men-with-guns) into greater confrontation with individuals in the community.

Assemblyman, unless you are prepared to post a police officer on every street in New Jersey, our citizens (urban, suburban, and rural) are pretty much their own first line of protection.  Leave them alone.  If you want to do something to make them safer, get the heroin that floods every community in this state off the streets.  There have been laws against that for nearly a century and you haven't got it done yet, have you?

As for Bob Jordan, decide whether you are reporting or selling. 

Bankrupting the TTF is a Pyrrhic victory

"A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has been victorious in some way. However, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit.  The phrase Pyrrhic victory is named after king Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War."  Pyrrhus said of his victory at Heraclea, "one more such victory and I will be utterly undone."

It is beginning to look as if elements of the GOP, the talk radio wing of the populist movement, and the petroleum industry (including AFP) have got their way so that in 16 short months we will see an increase in the tax on gasoline without any accompanying tax cuts.  The phase out of the Estate Tax -- long a conservative dream, long a priority of groups like AFP -- which was so close, will be gone, perhaps for a decade or two or forever. 

Economists will continue to advise people to take their money and flee New Jersey upon reaching retirement age -- so the flight of wealth, which could have been checked by the elimination of the tax on retirement income, will continue unabated.  Instead of making their donations to New Jersey charities, those donations will go to charities in states like Florida and North Carolina.

Early in 2018, the Transportation Trust Fund will finally be funded -- but low income working people and commuters and seniors and military veterans will not get their tax cuts.  They will be off the table -- and if they find their way back into legislation, the Republicans will have nothing to do with it.  It will be a gift, in whole, from the Democrats.

The crisis brought by willfully bankrupting the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is already causing county and local governments to consider raising property taxes to cover the shortfall in road and bridge repair funding that had been provided by the TTF.  The bill will come due next year -- when the whole Legislature and the Governor's office is up before the voters.  If a 23 cents per gallon increase in the tax on gasoline had been passed in June, the decline in the retail price per gallon since would have made up for that 23 cents and more.  The increase in property taxes brought on by the bankruptcy of the TTF will not be so painless. 

But still, there are some in the GOP who look on the "no gas tax" message as the gimmick they need to at least hang on to what they have in the Legislature.  It is easy to chant, so that even the very stupid can understand it.  It is to be the GOP version of "Black Lives Matter" -- and is meant to be just as angry and misdirected and violent.  For hatred of "the police", substitute "Trenton" and you have it in a nutshell (or case).

In fact, what the NJGOP needs are well-thought-out, adult, fully-fledged policies -- policies that are informed by principles.  Once you have these, any old advertising executive can figure out how to message it, package it, sell it.  The problem with the NJGOP is that they have nothing to sell.  So it ends up selling mistrust, anger, and even hate.  That's not a product to be proud of.

The conservative movement has found itself here before.  In the 1970's there were two competing brands -- the angry, emotional, populist "conservatism" of George Wallace (a Southern Democrat); and the optimistic, ideas-driven, ideological conservatism of Ronald Reagan (a California Republican).  Happily Reagan's ideas won out over Wallace's anger.  Today, it sometimes seems like it's anger on steroids.

The dearth of principle is such and the anger so keen that there are those out there who have turned a rather pedestrian decision about how to fund road and bridge maintenance (a users' tax on gasoline vs. property taxes vs. the general fund and so on) into a question as serious as "when does life begin"  or "does the state have the right to impose the death penalty"?  These are roads we are talking about -- there's nothing metaphysical about a road -- presumably we all agree that we need roads and we assume there's nobody out there who thinks they get built and maintained for free by the Keebler elves.

But the hatred -- both fringe and corporate -- has been astounding.  President Reagan himself believed in users' taxes as a fair form of taxation and raised the tax on gasoline as the fairest way to fund transportation projects.  But that hasn't stopped fringe folk like tea partier Mark Quick and NJ101.5's Bill Spadea from cranking up the hate.  They make it sound like a debate over transubstantiation. 

The world is going to hell and these people are making the means to fund road and bridge maintenance an article of faith.  How intellectually bankrupt must they be?

America is under an intense and sustained threat from abroad and elements of that threat are possibly slipping undetected through our borders.  Our economy has turned grey -- with unemployment and underemployment, foreclosure and poverty, as its major features.  Our culture is being frog-marched in a direction chosen, not at the ballot box, not by the people, but by elites in (of all things) the entertainment industry and their corporate and judicial fellow-travelers.  Nothing democratic about it.  In the history of this Republic, have people of faith ever been less fashionable and more under threat? 

Instead of standing up for freedom of conscience, what calls itself "Republican" now, what calls itself "conservative", the best they can muster is an appeal to a gimme.  The cost per gallon hasn't kept up with inflation, hasn't gone up in 28 years, states like Pennsylvania pay over 50 cents a gallon for their roads while we pay just 14 1/2 cents, but I don't care I want mine and I want it cheap, and I don't care if my daughter has to shower with a sex offender or if my church is closed down because its practice offends the ruling fashion.  I want cheap gas!

Well, for the next 16 months, you will.  While every other problem ignored gets worse.  This is what we are now.

Will the NJGOP adopt the RNC platform?

How far does Governor Chris Christie's support for Donald Trump go?  Does it go far enough for Christie to allow his vassals at the NJGOP to formally adopt the platform of the Republican National Convention that nominated Trump?

If the NJGOP is permitted to adopt the Republican Party platform, it will be the first such action since Chris Christie won the GOP nomination for Governor in June 2009.  Shortly after Christie won the Republican nomination, he and the NJGOP were asked by members of the State Committee to embrace the platform of the national Republican Party that was debated and passed at the Republican National Convention in 2008.  Christie declined to endorse that platform and the State Party Chairman -- Assemblyman Jay Webber --  promised to put a committee together to draft a "statement of principles" for the NJGOP.  That was in 2009.  That committee has yet to meet.

Another Republican National Convention came in 2012 and an updated party platform was debated and passed by the assembled delegates.  Governor Christie was the keynote speaker at that convention.  Nevertheless, he did not endorse or to allow his state party to adopt the platform that was democratically chosen at that convention.

In 2013, the NJGOP went a step further and launched a campaign to defeat sitting members of the State Committee who supported the national Republican Party platform and candidates who said they would do so.  They used state party funds, supposedly under the control of the State Committee, to defeat sitting members of the State Committee, without any formal vote allowing them to do so. 

One of their chief targets was Gloucester County State Committeeman Rob Eichmann, a conservative who was hospitalized, suffering from cancer, and who was in no position to fight back.  The NJGOP ignored pleas to take this into consideration and launched an aggressive and negative campaign to defeat Committeeman Eichmann using the State Committee's own money.  Eichmann was defeated along with the other conservatives who supported the Republican Party platform.  Rob Eichmann died a few months later, aged 48.

Now it's 2016 and yet another Republican National Convention has come and gone.  The NJGOP has still not formally adopted the platform of the national Republican Party as its own.  The candidates being recruited to run next year have no guidance as to the principles and policies that inform their party.  Without a written explanation of what the Republican Party stands for and what it means to be a Republican, our ability to recruit and train others to recruit new members is limited.

It is time for the NJGOP to declare what it is and what it stands for.  If it is informed by the principles of the national Republican Party and the platform of Donald Trump, then say so.  If it is not, then please explain what it is that you stand for and the policies that you intend to pursue if elected.  Simply having the word "Republican" in your name is not enough.

Public Education: We pretend to teach, they pretend to learn

By William Maxwell

Years ago there was the running gag among communist workers in the old Soviet Union: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” With the recent release of the dismal New Jersey public school results by the  Pacific Research Institute, a contemporary narrative about the government-run public school system, goes like this: “We pretend to teach and they pretend to learn.”

All levity aside, it would only be a matter of time before the failure of the public education system would rival that of the failed Soviet socialist system. Both systems are a lot alike. Both are government run. Both employ cronyism, not merit, to fill positions and promote. Both espouse the noble rhetoric of the individual (Workers of the world unite! “We are working in the best interests of the children”), but like all socialist systems, the individual is disposable if they are not serving the interests of the system. Both operate under a rigid orthodoxy and demand total loyalty. Those who dissent, either internally or externally will be met with intimidation, harassment or retaliation. Finally, both systems expend great effort to hide their failings and rely on propaganda to promote themselves as altruistic entities. The public school system, like all socialist systems, so often results in misery for those not in the privileged elite.

The Pacific Research Institute has done a great service by providing the citizens of New Jersey with an alternative set of data regarding the performance of public schools. Most conspicuously, they dispelled the myth that public school failure only happens in the urban schools, but rather is also common in the non-low-income suburban schools as well. Consider the following instructive research outcomes involving student proficiency measures as determined for non-low-income schools by the National Assessment for Education Progress (aka “The Nation’s Report Card”):

1.      At nearly 3 in 10 non-low-income New Jersey High schools, more than half of the students failed to meet the college readiness benchmark score of 1550.

2.      On the 2015 NAEP fourth-grade reading test, 43 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers failed to score at proficient level.

3.      On the NAEP fourth-grade math test, 38 percent of non-low-income New Jersey students failed to score at the proficient level.

4.      On the 2015 NAEP eighth-grade reading exam, 49 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers, roughly half failed to score at the proficient level.

5.      On the NAEP eighth-grade math exam, 42 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers failed to score at the proficient level

Note: Only New York State has a higher per student annual spend than New Jersey – over 150% of the national average!

No one should be surprised at these outcomes. The public schools, with their centralized curriculums and teaching methods are not in a position to adequately educate a student population that presents an ever increasing array of educational challenges. As student populations and needs become more diverse, the public school systems become more rigid. Today’s student population is increasingly ethnically, culturally, emotionally, developmentally, and psychologically diverse. As such, they require appropriate specialized education services  of sufficient quality  to adequately educate students with such diverse backgrounds and needs.  Such a task is simply too difficult for any one institution, even if well-intentioned, to provide.   Consider that 90% of all students attend public school. With that overwhelming workload, it is impossible to expect a consistently high performance across all types of student cohorts – particularly when the public school system, so similar to socialist systems, inherently discourages any type of creativity, innovation, initiative and risk taking. Instead, like all bureaucracies and socialistic systems, it fosters mind-numbing conformity, procedural box-checking, and apathy. Such a system has no chance to meet the educational needs of today’s student.

Tragically, the default setting for all parents is public school enrollment. To obtain even a modestly priced private education setting is out of the financial reach of the great majority of parents. For parents of special needs children, to obtain a private school education is even more daunting. The tuition for a special needs private school in New Jersey generally runs from $50,000 – $75,000. Out of desperation many parents of special needs children seek a “Unilateral Placement” where the parents pay up front and proceed with a legal due process to attempt to have the school district reimburse the parents for the tuition costs. However, this requires tens of thousands of dollars to be spent on legal fees for an uncertain outcome.  Once again, this avenue of redress is only open to the well-off.

The public school default setting needs to change. Instead of a powerful active transport force pulling students into the public school system and keeping them there, there needs to be a system of dynamic equilibrium at work whereby parents of all economic strata can easily place their children in an appropriate private school educational setting. At issue is the level of freedom that should be afforded all families with respect to education choice.  Currently many public schools, by virtue of denying school choice to those not economically able to pay the private school, are literally holding children hostage to serve the needs of the state.  

The Center for Garden State Families (GSF) recognizes that the government-run school system is failing students, and by extension, their families. With the data showing poor performance, not only in urban schools, but now in suburban schools, the public school system no longer has the moral authority to be the default student placement. A new paradigm is needed where by school choice is available for all families. As one of its key objectives to serve the family, GSF will be developing and promoting innovative school choice legislation. The legislation will be ordered towards changing the education environment in a way that will break the public school monopoly on education.  In its place we envision a bold new 21st century model that is in line with the times. Our vision is an education environment that respects the inherent dignity of each child and the families that produce and nurture them. It allows their families the freedom to choose appropriate alternative educational offerings that will treat each student as the unique, precious and unrepeatable individual that they are.

William Maxwell is a member of the Board of the Center for Garden State Families.  For more information, please visit their website at www.gardenstatefamilies.org .          

With no facts, AFP is left with parables

On the TTF crisis they have now helped to create, AFP assures us that it is holding something  firm or firmly holding or something like that.  Look, we all get it that Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is owned by the Koch Brothers -- those Trump hating, Hillary embracing petroleum industry (as in G-A-S-O-L-I-N-E) billionaires.  

AFP was on record its whole existence as opposing the job-killing, business destroying Estate Tax -- until the price of ending it was raising the tax on the Koch Brothers' favorite product.  Then it was all hands firmly opposed to raising the gas tax.  And to this end they have thrown a lot of shit against the wall hoping that some of it stuck.  The latest is a parable from New Jersey's answer to Ayn Rand herself.

Look, we don't need silly parables with clunky characters like "Uncle Sam State."  What is that about?  With a polity that worships political beings as if they were gods on earth, "Uncle Hand State" would be far more appropriate.

Once upon a time, New Jersey's answer to Ayn Rand sold books wholesale to public and private entities.  Nothing wrong in that.  We love books.  But selling a product over time presumably introduces you to the concept of inflation.

The gas tax hasn't kept up with inflation.  Since 1988, New Jersey has charged drivers just 14 1/2 cents a gallon of gas to maintain and repair our roads and bridges.  The price hasn't gone up in 28 years.  

What business doesn't raise its prices in 28 years and survives?

Other states have raised their prices in line with inflation.  New York charges over 40 cents a gallon and Pennsylvania over 50 cents.  If New Jersey had raised its price little by little, in line with inflation, that 14 1/2 cents would be 29 cents today.  

What happened instead was that TTF spending was uncapped in the 1990's and successive administrations extended the life of the debt so they could borrow and spend more.  They spent and spent but didn't raise the tax to pay for it.   Today it will take all of that 14 1/2 cents and the first 10 1/2 cents of any gas tax increase just to pay the interest on that debt.

That's why the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is broke and road and bridge maintenance and repair has stopped.  There is simply no money to pay for it.  And now, because of the mistakes made in the past, the gas tax or some other tax will have to be raised or roads and bridges will have to close.

The gas tax is a users' tax.  President Ronald Reagan believed it was the fairest way of paying for road and bridge maintenance, repair, and construction -- charge the drivers who use it.

The gas tax is also fairer to the taxpayers of New Jersey.  

New Jersey is a pass-through state on the busiest travelled corridor in the East Coast.  I-95 is the nation's busiest road.  35 percent of those who use New Jersey's roads and bridges are from out-of-state.  Instead of raising the gas tax, for years New Jersey has borrowed more and paid more and more interest on that debt.  In-effect, New Jersey taxpayers are paying interest on debt in order to subsidize out-of-state drivers who continue to use our roads and bridges at the 1988 price per gallon.

The ONLY way to get out-of-state drivers to pay their fair share is through a users' tax on gasoline.  Without an increase in this users' tax -- the gas tax -- local road and bridge maintenance and repair will have to be paid for in higher property taxes.  Now who wants that?