Monday, April 27, 2015

American Aspiration

I realize I've been dormant for a long time on this front.  Since last I wrote, Representative Scott Garrett is still representing the Fifth District, Gov. Chris Christie is still the governor, but Papa Joe was convicted on racketeering.  

I'm writing not because I've moved back into the Fifth district, but because I've published a small book on politics.  I missed writing about politics, and decided instead of a new blog I'd release my thoughts in book form.  American Aspiration: Where We Are and Ways to Get Where We Want to Be is now available in the Kindle Store, with additional formats coming soon.  A little sample of topics and the introduction is below.  Enjoy!

Here's the table of contents:

Introduction. 2

Part One:  Where We Stand. 4
  • Facts to Keep in Mind
  • Government Deficit & Spending
  • Household Wealth and Debt
  • Our Lack of Information

Part Two:  Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. 12
  • Political Industrial Establishment
  • Privatization of Essential Services & No Bid Contracts
  • Congress & Our Lack of Participation

Part Three:  How We Begin to Make Things Better. 19
  • Vote in the Next Election, and the Next, and the Next
  • Get Informed in 10 minutes a Week
  • Buy American like Your Job Depends on It
  • Take a Breath and Think
  • Start Talking To Each Other

Part Four:  Nice Things We Could Have. 30
  • Infrastructure
  • Vocational Training & Higher Education
  • Honoring Those That Serve
  • Stuff Others Already Have
  • Where Do We Go Now?

Notes. 37

And the Introduction:

This began innocently enough as my latest blog creation, and became this collection of short essays.  Like many, I see the direction the country has been moving as troublesome.  Politics has always been a bit of a love/hate relationship for me, I have always believed better things are possible when our system works the way it should, and have rarely seen that happen.  I was a Boys State Senator, ran my county’s Republican office, went to the New Hampshire primaries, ran for Congress as an Independent, wrote a blog visited by the press, as well as staffers in Congress and the White House, and attended President Obama’s Inauguration.  As one of my former Political Science professors noted, I like to get my hands dirty.  
Probably where I felt I had the most impact during my run for office was during my classroom chats.  You got the sense there was optimism and energy in students, despite the cynicism of some of the adults in the room.  Years later, through conversations around the lunch table at work, I realized optimism or even a basic understanding of government is lacking.  It’s not just the millennials, many of my peers and elders have been so overwhelmed by the 24/7 political sniping and institutional ineptitude that they’ve thrown up their hands. 
So, I sat down with the hope/intention of writing something that would make it easy to find the information to make decisions and (hopefully) have readers feel more comfortable participating in the system.  It honestly isn’t that hard if you know where to look, but as I wrote I realized some background and context would probably be helpful.  The idea of telling people to go to such and such a website blind didn’t feel right, so here we are.  The collection is broken into four parts:
  • Where We Stand covers some interesting facts like how we’re spending money, the United States ranking 25th in median income, and how little we know.
  • Why We Can’t Have Nice Things reviews special interests, privatization and our lack of participation as it relates to our “leaders” in Washington, our states and school boards.
  • How We Begin to Make Things Better dives into voting and becoming informed with an e-mail a week, as well as buying Made in the USA, digesting information and talking politics with others.
  • Nice Things We Could Have goes over items many nations ranking higher already have, and asks about the things we could have that we don’t.
 My hope is that you’ll read this, talk about it, and gift it to friends and family on your way to a more involved citizenship.  If you’re already involved, I hope you will recommend or gift it to someone you know is not involved but would be receptive.  While I could have put it up as “just another” blog, the grand experiment is that the insights in this book are enough that it is gifted and paid forward to others. 
While I tried to make it approachable, some of it may seem technical.  I’ve been told by some it’s a quick read, and by others it’s very heavy, so I believe it’s probably just about right.  It’s not intended to be an overly scholarly piece, more of a conversation starter, but I do have lots of end notes for those who may wish to dig deeper.  If nothing else, my hope is that you benefit in some way from reading this.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Signing Off for Now

After taking the heart of the election season off, this is pretty much a forgone conclusion, but I figured I would make it official. Blog the Fifth, for now, is going on the shelf. I have a number of reasons, but I leave it feeling a sense of accomplishment.

The first goal of Blog the Fifth was to hold Representative Scott Garrett accountable, and I did. He and his staff went from making stuff up to sticking by his beliefs without spinning like crazy. In a sense, he's been rewarded, absolutely crushing all comers. I'm not saying I agree with the man, but he's earned my respect for not wavering and not resorting to the distortions so many of his fellow Republicans did in recent months.

Even though he may no longer be my Congressman after redistricting, there is something to be said of knowing exactly where your guy stands and that he usually gets about 60-65% of his constituents to support him.

The second goal was to shine light on the corruption in Bergen County. When I started this thing, Papa Joe and his cronies were running everything and making an open mockery of what good government should be. Papa Joe and his chosen officials are all but gone now, and that's something everyone in Bergen County should be happy about.

County Executive-elect Kathe Donovan is someone I met back in '96 when I was interning at the BCRO, and she was as genuine then as she is now. She was endorsed by Democrats and Republicans alike, and hopefully will lead a thoughtful course correction in the way Bergen County has done business for far too long.

This whole thing isn't to say that I'm going to stop writing.

I've already reserved a new address for a new blog: Mighty Moderate

I plan to start posting over there soon, but for now, thanks to everyone who encouraged this project, read, and commented. Until next time...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Garrett Loves Christie's Budget

The tax credit post is coming, but for those that missed it, here's Garrett's statement praising Governor Christie's budget:

(Washington, DC)– Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) released the following statement praising the bold and necessary moves proposed by Governor Chris Christie in his FY2011 budget proposal.

“It is not an easy task Governor Christie is being faced with but the FY2011 budget proposal is the first commonsense and fiscally responsible initiative a New Jersey executive has taken in years,” said Garrett about Christie’s budget.

In addition to the FY2011 budget, the governor has announced two other initiatives Congressman Garrett supports. First, has initiated a task force to find ways to privatize government jobs and cut government spending. Second, the Governor is proposing an Amendment to the New Jersey Constitution that will restrict property tax increases that are more than 2.5%.

“Years of reckless spending have caught up with New Jersey and we need to stand together and start thinking of new ways to run our state,” said Garrett. “The days of fixing wounds by raising taxes to unprecedented heights have left New Jersey with the highest taxes in the country, a budgetary deficit and a fleeing population. Governor Christie has said ‘enough’.

“The first step to this process is less government spending, which will lead to a more efficiently run government, a lower tax burden for everyone and better government service to the people of New Jersey.”

While I will be discussing other parts of the budget later, Tod Theise (Garrett's likely opponent) would do well to explain to the voters of Paramus that Garrett supports Christie's efforts to force an end to the Blue Laws.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Christie's Budget: Repeal Blue Laws?

I want to begin this post by praising Governor Chris Christie for putting his budget proposals on-line and seeming to welcome the public's eyes into what is sure to be a difficult process. This sort of transparency is needed more not less.

I'm going to use the resources to really look at what he's planning and do a number of posts, some positive and some negative.

This first one is more of a "And exactly how is this going to work?"

From Christie's budget proposal:
Sales Tax - Repeal of Bergen County Blue Laws 65,000
That's $65 million, actually.

The governor's staff seem to believe the people of Bergen County will simply repeal the Blue Laws that are repeatedly upheld by voters. Or is he going to force that down everyone's throats? Pinning $65 million of new revenue on something that, as far as I know, is completely out of his hands is a little dicey to say the least. He has to know that, because it wasn't highlighted in his budget address.

Christie's said many times he doesn't want to resort to one time gimmicks, but realistically speaking, relying on something completely out of your hands to raise $65 million is a gimmick. If/when it doesn't happen, the budget goes out of balance and we have to go back to borrowing.

To make matters worse, even if it was approved by voters, when would it go into effect and how much money would it raise from that point?

Questions that need to be answered.

My next post will be on the film and high tech tax credits. More to come...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Why Deficits Matter

The news today about Social Security should remind all of us why deficits matter. From the AP:

The retirement nest egg of an entire generation is stashed away in this small town along the Ohio River: $2.5 trillion in IOUs from the federal government, payable to the Social Security Administration.

It's time to start cashing them in.

For more than two decades, Social Security collected more money in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits — billions more each year.


For more than two decades, regardless of which political party was in power, Congress has been accused of raiding the Social Security trust funds to pay for other programs, masking the size of the budget deficit.
This is part of the reason I'm so frustrated with the Republican Party. Yes the Republicans. When the calendar flipped to January 2001, they supplanted the PAYGO Republicans of the '90's with the "Deficits Don't Matter" Republicans of the 2000's, many of whom are still there.

Repeatedly voting for deficit spending, the news on Social Security is a reminder that each one of the caucus who held office in the 2000's should be removed. Representatives like our own Scott Garrett voted to add $1.8 trillion to the on-budget deficit himself. That was in just four years, and doesn't include Iraq or Afghanistan.

Now out of power, the Republicans on the Hill have taken a "Born Again" deficit-hawk stance in the press that's about as flimsy as wet newspaper. Garrett and others still assail PAYGO budgeting, preferring to borrow instead of plugging tax loopholes. They also completely ignore, and even defend, the harmful financial consequences of programs like Medicare Advantage.

While it's nice that Garrett and the Republicans feel an election year is a good time not to pursue earmarks, most of these Representatives were the biggest pigs at the trough for the better part of a decade. One can't forget Garrett acquired earmarks for a program after the Army had ended the program and the recipient announced the end to their stockholders.

I'm sure the Republicans will grab this report and run with it in their fiscally irrational stance against health insurance reform. If they really cared about deficits, they'd look at the billions in deficit reduction as a good thing.

But what are facts but a nusance to the practitioners of partisan politics? Voters need to be reminded of this, constantly, heading into the fall.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Republicans' Publicity Stunt

Well, today Republicans launched their latest publicity stunt. Today's "We're Fiscal Conservatives, we promise" moment: Republicans placed a self-imposed ban on earmarks. From the AP:
The move is an election-year appeal to voters frustrated with Washington's free-spending ways. But it is a one-year pause, not a permanent ban.
I've written many times about how much I dislike earmarks, however this is nothing more than a publicity stunt. They ban them for a year, possibly get the House back, and then have folks like our Representative Scott Garrett go right back to sending money to programs people don't want.

This politically motivated "moratorium" has been brought about from the same Republicans that vote against PAYGO on a regular basis. This is the fundamental problem Republicans have had for the last decade, they govern by soundbite instead of sound policy.

While one can only hope voters recognize this as the stunt it is, the only meaningful way to ban earmarks is to legislatively eliminate them. If the Democrats had any gumption, they would get an up or down vote on a five to ten year moratorium and see what happens.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Love Transparency

The good folks at Sunlight Foundation have a nifty new tool for folks around the country to see what their Representative is spending on their behalf. This is a simple way to glance and compare Congress and their spending, as opposed to the House PDFs that literally will tell you every bottle of water they've bought (okay, maybe case). Both are useful in their own way, and this is so much better than what we had a couple of years ago.

For example, our Representative Scott Garrett ran his office last year for a touch over $1.2 million dollars, which is a touch on the low side compared to others I looked at (Frank, Rothman, Sires, etc.). Of course, Garrett did plow another $100,000 into franked mail pieces (the ones taxpayers pay for), but as it's not an election year he seems to have dialed it back by more than half over 2008.

We need more efforts like this in government. Really, it's our money they're spending, and the only way to prevent waste and abuse is going to be good accounting and ways to access the information.