Friday, December 29, 2006

Lead in Ringwood animals

Ten days after reporting how the Bush Administration wants to allow a massive increase in the amount of toxic substances like lead polluters can dispose of without disclosing how they do it, the front page of the Record carried the findings of lead in animals surrounding the Ringwood Superfund Site.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Ringwood, the really short version is that Ford built 6 million cars in Mahwah and dumped millions of gallons of lead paint waste in Upper Ringwood over a 25 year period ending in 1970. The site was one of the first Superfund sites, declared clean, but was relisted this fall after it was discovered the work was nowhere close to complete and Ford's subcontractor apparently misled the EPA about whether or not residents use groundwater (they do, the contractor said they didn't). By all accounts, the pollution is slowly spreading and approaching a point where it could threaten the Wanaque Reservoir, affecting the drinking water of 2.5 million people.

It's catastrophes like this that the Environmental Protection Agency was created to prevent. There are serious and costly effects of unregulated dumping. Over 35 years after the dumping stopped, the community is still dealing with the aftermath. However, the official line from the White House is that rolling back the reporting requirement will save businesses money. Here is the the gist of the new policy the Bush Administration is pushing.

The change would affect annual reports to the Toxics Release Inventory, a
20-year-old database of hazardous chemicals used, stored and released by businesses into the air, land and water.

Under the rule released Monday, companies that use up to 2,000 pounds of such material --chemicals such as asbestos or arsenic -- could file a shorter form that lists the names of chemicals, but not the amounts. Currently, companies that use more than 500 pounds of those chemicals have to report the amounts they use or release.

For the most dangerous compounds -- highly toxic materials such as mercury or lead that persist in the environment -- the threshold for reporting details would be raised from 10 or 100 pounds to 500.

Basically, what they're proposing is that over 25 years one company can dispose of roughly 12,500 pounds of lead without telling how they did it. This will be a boom for the illegal dumping business, and have potentially disastrous effects on the areas where the dumping occurs. In Ringwood, lead in the small animals was found as high as 292 parts per million. The FDA safety level for lead in candy consumed by children is 0.1 parts per million. Once again, from the Record:

Even in small amounts, lead can harm the nervous system, kidneys and red blood
cell production and can affect reproduction and development, federal health
advisories warn.

Fortunately, several members of Congress have already signaled their opposition to this move and vowed to fight it. I haven't read a statement from Garrett about the proposed rollback, but I have got to hold out hope he'll fight like hell to prevent another Ringwood.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lynch gets 39 months

Well, he didn't get all of it, but John Lynch was sentenced to 39 months and has to pay a $50,000 fine. He'll be able to be paroled after 33 months. There was a "he's a nice guy" push by advocates, as I discussed the other day, but we have to remember that this is for what he admitted to. There's no way to truly assess the damage he did.

If I was running a campaign against any of the officials who advocated for him, I would make sure every voter knew just how supportive of corruption incarnate the opposition was.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Another Corruption Indictment

For those who don't know, United States Attorney Christopher J. Christie is waging a huge battle against corruption in our State. Yesterday, he got another indictment against a bribing power broker.
The charges against Howard Schoor, 67, of Colts Neck stem from a long-running federal investigation into corruption in Monmouth County that has snared two dozen public officials. The firm Schoor founded in 1968, Schoor DePalma, has been involved in high-profile projects in the public and private sector and has showered New Jersey politicians with millions of dollars in campaign cash over the years. The firm's engineers have been involved with everything from the Asbury Park waterfront redevelopment to Jersey Gardens mall and the Turnpike's Interchange 13A.
In addition to his local activity, a quick search of the FEC's website shows just how much he's given to Federal candidates, in both parties. His donations were largely to Democrats, but he'd occasionally sprinkle in a few thousand to the Republicans. He was effective at getting what he wanted and became a very rich person by spreading cash to politicians and raking it in on the single-bid contracts he received at taxpayer expense. He faces 20 years and I hope he fights the charges, loses and they throw him away.

By contrast, former State Senator John Lynch will likely be sentenced next week to as little as 33 months, as part of a plea deal reached in September. People are pleading for the judge to go easy on him, but based on what he admitted to, I'd like to see him get a minimum of 5 years.
After an FBI investigation that spanned nearly two years, the three-term senator and longtime Democratic Party boss from New Brunswick pleaded guilty in September to fraud and tax evasion. He admitted failing to report more than $120,000 in consulting fees and said he secretly accepted at least $25,000 to write letters of support for Dallenbach Sand Co., which wanted to mine state parkland in South Brunswick.
Unfortunately, as noted yesterday, we the taxpayer still have to pay for his pension and health benefits. So Lynch can continue ripping us off while he's in jail. It's really unfortunate for us that people like Lynch and Schoor get away with what they do for as long as they do. No jail sentence or fine can begin to repay the amount this kind of corruption costs taxpayers.

Eventually, whether it's Christie throwing everybody in jail or Trenton getting a clue or voters revolting, we may be clean enough to lose our stature as the most corrupt state in the nation. It will take a while, but here's to hoping.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

NJ Legislature to OK corruption

As part of the long overdue reforms for property taxes in our fair state, provisions suspending taxpayer funded pensions for elected officials convicted of corruption was part of the proposal. It now seems the legislature has stripped the provision.
A new bill to revise taxpayer-paid pension and health benefits would let elected officials convicted of corruption keep their pensions.

A provision that would have required such officials to forfeit public retirement benefits and receive mandatory jail time was stripped from a property-tax reform measure scheduled for a vote today.

Senate President Richard J. Codey and Assemblywoman Nellie Pou, the bill sponsors, said there was support among legislators for cracking down on corrupt elected officials, but the question was whether all public workers convicted of corruption should face the same penalties.

YES, YES THEY SHOULD! You're going to tell me we should have to pay pensions for Sharpe James or Wayne Bryant when/if they're convicted? This is a large part of the reason we pay so much in taxes across the board. It's single bid contracts, it's selling public property for below market rates, it's no-show jobs at taxpayer funded institutions, etc.

One of the reasons we're stuck in this ridiculous mess is because nobody votes in Assembly elections. I don't mean to say nobody votes out the crooks, it's that nobody votes. In the last Assembly election without a Governor's race involved (2003), 40% of voters in my legislative district showed up. However, a closer look at the numbers shows many towns hovering around the 30% mark.

As a State only 34% of voters showed up. So not only do those serving in the legislature not have to worry about losing their pensions if they're corrupt, those who are protecting their corrupt legislative colleagues probably don't have to be worried about getting kicked out of office.

As voters, we do have a say in what goes on so long as we show up and hold elected officials accountable. If you're looking for a New Year's Resolution you can keep, promise to get informed and vote next November. It is the only chance we have to put an end to corruption if our officials refuse to hold themselves accountable.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What is Scott Garrett thinking?

Of the bills that passed in the flurry that ended the least productive Congress in our nation's history, two votes by Representative Garrett really stood out. He voted against both the Pool and Spa Safety Act and the Dietary Supplement and Nonprescription Drug Consumer Protection Act.

During the campaign, I probably would have put something cheeky like Garrett's "Pro-Drowning" in the Bad Garrett section of the website. But in all seriousness, I would love to know what he and those who voted against this were thinking. Proper drain filters are kind of like seat belts, they're intended to prevent accidental death and were made mandatory by similar legislation. We spend money as tax payers for commercials (which are educational expenses) for seat belts, why he'd be opposed to preventing accidental drownings is beyond me. Because of Garrett and others, this bill failed and will not be enacted.

The second vote is easier to understand. The Dietary Supplement bill closes the loopholes that led to the Ephedra nightmare of a decade ago by firmly placing the burden of proof of safety on the manufacturers of dietary supplements and nonprescription drugs. This is in diametric opposition to Garrett's co-sponsorship of HR 4282 (added as co-sponsor later). As I discussed here, 4282 would have been a massive misuse of taxpayers' funds with potentially fatal effects. Fortunately, this bill was passed in both the House and Senate and sent to the President. Hopefully, he'll sign it.

Preventing accidental drownings or "death by snake-oil" is something I would expect people serving the public to support. However, Garrett's voting record has rarely lived up to expectations.

Friday, December 8, 2006

One Marine's Story

The Record today carried the story of Marine Cpl. Visnu Gonzalez. This is how it started:

Marine Cpl. Visnu Gonzalez was manning a machine gun in battle-torn Fallujah, Iraq, three years ago when a sniper shot him in the neck, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Now, from his wheelchair, the highly decorated Purple Heart recipient is fighting another battle: to get a home of his own in the Pascack Valley.

A U.S. citizen who grew up in the Dominican Republic, Gonzalez feels at home in Hillsdale, where he spent summers with his uncle and worked as a clerk at the local ShopRite. "My family is all there," said Gonzalez, whose aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and grandmother live near Hillsdale. "I can't wait to have a place of my own and go back to school to study computers. That's all I ever wanted to do."

Until recently, the 23-year-old was receiving treatment at the James Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa, Fla. But his mother, Maria Baez, a native New
Yorker, took him back to the Dominican Republic two weeks ago because they have nowhere else to go.
This is one of those stories that makes you wonder what is wrong with Washington that they can allow this to happen. This comes on the heels of a conversation with a friend of mine who has first hand knowledge of how the VA functions, and Cpl. Gonzalez's experience is not unique.

We have to take care of our Vets. While groups like Homes For Our Troops and Hope For The Warriors have been created for individuals like Cpl. Gonzalez, the void they are filling is an unconscionable one to begin with. With over 63,500 U.S. military amputeed, wounded, severely injured, injured, mentally ill, all now out of Iraq, the non-profit and church based efforts cannot possibly piece together all of the lives impacted by this war.

The housing of Cpl. Gonzalez should have been worked out by the VA while he was in treatment, once his needs were known. And yes, taxpayers should foot the bill for the necessary renovations to the homes of the family members who would have taken him in. If it takes a massive revamping and corresponding increase of funding to the VA to honor the service provided by these men and women we have to do it. Regardless of how people felt about the war, most people I spoke with during the campaign agreed playing politics and balancing the budget on the backs of our wounded is completely immoral.

Certified Vote Count and Spending

So, the final totals appear to be in. There's a minor discrepancy between the State's numbers for Bergen and Bergen's numbers for Bergen. For the purposes of this blog I'll use the State's numbers. This is a rough chart of things, but you should get the idea.

Scott Garrett - 112,142 votes - $1,050,722 spent - $9.37 per vote
Paul Aronsohn - 89,503 votes -
$535,448 spent - $5.98 per vote
Me - 2,597 votes - $1,879 spent* - $0.72 per vote

I'm very happy with the way things turned out and how efficient we were with our donors' dollars. Thanks again to everyone for their help.

*We didn't raise/spend enough to have to file with the FEC, which is why I don't have a page.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Iraq Study Group

If you're interested in reading the report you can get it here. I'll probably get through it over the next few days on the train (still where I get most of my reading done). I'll comment after I get to look through it.

You can read Garrett's comments on it here.