Sunday, March 19, 2017

#Unpresidented

My blog has been quiet of late, mostly because I've been so busy working on the resistance. And so have millions of other people all over the country.

Like the majority of Americans, the day after the election I was devastated. But my brother-in-law, who is a very wise man, predicted that something good would come out of all of this. At the time, I wasn't sure what that could possibly be. I just couldn't fathom anything good rising up from the rubble of the train wreck that was the 2016 Presidential election.  

But as the weeks leading up to the inauguration passed, and reality set in, something started stirring in the wind. As soon as the Million Women's March went global, that wind became a hurricane. Since that day, there is some sort of protest on any given day in any given city around the country.

Take, for example, my own backyard: Hunterdon County, one of the reddest counties in New Jersey. Since the election, the response has truly been, as Trump would say, 'unpresidented'. People desperate for change have come pouring out of the woodwork. About a half dozen activist and grass roots organizations, including at least two Indivisibles groups, and the Progressive Hunterdon Democrats—whose first meeting drew almost 200 attendees, many of whom had never before been involved in politics—have formed and joined together to stage protest rallies and actions aimed at Donald Trump's racist policies, and Rep. Leonard Lance's far right stance on a whole host of issues. Where once the county Democratic convention would draw a small number of mostly the same people for years, today drew a standing room only crowd. My inbox has exploded with emails from groups and individuals working toward change in the upcoming elections. And my calendar is booked solid with organizing and protest events.

This is the power of the people. This is what happens when hate and fear try to usurp justice and democracy. This is how love trumps hate. 

And we're just getting started.

I am no longer fearful about the future. The majority of people in this country did not vote for Trump, and the majority of people are fighting every day to keep this great country from devolving into a dictatorship.

This is how we make America great again.








Sunday, January 29, 2017

An Easy Action To Protest #MuslimBan & Annoy #Trump

Even though Trump ordered the White House comment phone line disconnected, you can still make a phone call and register your complaint. How? Call one of his US hotels. 

Below is a list of all US Trump hotels and contact info. When you call, please remember your manners. The person answering the phone is just doing his or her job. If you've ever stayed in an even halfway decent hotel, you know that the staff are trained to be polite and courteous. And all that politeness increases in direct correlation with the price of their rooms. Trump hotels are luxurious, so expect the staff to be super nice. Don't blame them or dump on them or curse or rant and rave. Thank them for their time and wish them a nice day. Treat them how you would want to be treated. If you email, please follow the same guidelines of respect and manners.

Here's an example:

"Hi, my name is _____________. I don't know if you know this, but President Trump ordered the White House comment line to be disconnected. I wanted to let him know how I feel about the Muslim Ban, so I thought I would call and leave a message with you."

Now, most likely the person will tell you they can't take messages such as this, etc, etc. And that's fine. The point of this action is just to jam their phone lines. People are already doing this, so I'm sure word is traveling up the food chain.

After you've made your call, post on social media using these hashtags: #MuslimBan #CallTrumpHotels #EmailTrumpHotels

And of course, share this post!




 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The First Week of the 115th Congress

NJ Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman posted this on Facebook yesterday (all emphasis mine):


The week in review:




  1. Trump fires all Ambassadors and Special Envoys, ordering them out by inauguration day.
  2. House brings back the Holman rule allowing them to reduce an individual civil service, SES position, or political appointee's salary to $1, effectively firing them by amendment to any piece of legislation. We now know why they wanted names and positions of people in [the departments of] Energy and State.
  3. Senate schedules 6 simultaneous hearings on cabinet nominees and triple-books those hearings with Trump's first press conference in months and an ACA budget vote, effectively preventing any concentrated coverage or protest.
  4. House GOP expressly forbids the Congressional Budget Office from reporting or tracking ANY costs related to the repeal of the ACA.
  5. Trump continues to throw the intelligence community under the bus to protect Putin, despite the growing mountain of evidence that the Russians deliberately interfered in our election.
  6. Trump breaks a central campaign promise to make Mexico pay for the wall by asking Congress (in other words, us, the taxpayers) to pay for it.
  7. Trump threatens Toyota over a new plant that was never coming to the US nor will take jobs out of the US.
  8. House passes the REINS act, giving them veto power over any rules enacted by any federal agency or department—for example, FDA or EPA bans a drug or pesticide, Congress can overrule based on lobbyists, not science. Don't like that endangered species designation? Congress kills it.
We - progressive, liberal, libertarian and conservative - need to all wake up to what is actually happening to our beloved country.
#UnitedWeStand
COPY AND PASTE this entire post into your own status update instead of sharing. More of your friends will see it.

****

Thank you Rep. Watson Coleman! You were a fighter when you were a New Jersey Assemblywoman and we are so glad you are fighting for us in Washington.

Folks, this is not America. This is not a democracy. My country is quickly devolving into an authoritarian regime, a puppet state with Putin pulling the strings. 

But as the saying goes, "What do we do when we're under attack? We stand up. We fight back!"

Get on the phones. Call your elected officials and demand an explanation. Then, get up, get out and fight like hell!

See you in DC on the 21st.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Hey NJ! Whatcha Gonna Do About DeVos?

On January 11, the Senate will hold confirmation hearings on Betsy DeVos. Since Trump nominated her for Secretary of Education, a great deal has been written about how she has used her money, power and influence to destroy public education in Michigan, and advance her religious beliefs. See here and here. Jersey Jazzman wrote two important pieces within the past few days. 


My religion is right for your kids!

So, what can you do? Well, if you think 'Nothing', keep reading.

Yesterday, House Republicans ditched plans to eliminate the Independent Ethics Office in part because of all the phone calls they received from angry constituents. Heck, even Donald Trump wasn't thrilled:



So, if we can get that many people to jam the phone lines of our elected officials, there may be a chance. What can I say? I'm an eternal optimist.

I created this handy form to give to members in my district. Scripts were generated by the Network for Public Education. I included PA senators because a good chunk of them live there. Feel free to edit to suit your audience.  

And if you've already called your senators, call again. And again, and again, and again. Encourage every voter you know who cares about how public money is spent, who cares about public education and who cares about separation of church and state.

Doing nothing is not an option.



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy Anniversary! NJ Pension Meltdown Hits Milestone

Happy New Year! But, more importantly, Happy Anniversary!

Who doesn't love an anniversary celebration? Well, let's get out the hats and noisemakers 'cause NJ's got a big one!




In exactly 10 years the lousiest pension fund in the United States—that's been raided for everything from plugging holes in state budgets to financing the construction of a now bankrupt casino during the height of the recession—the New Jersey public worker pension fund is scheduled to run dry! Yippee! See the counter on the right side of this screen.


But there are a couple of rays of hope:

  1. Lawmakers in both houses voted unanimously to approve a bill requiring the state make quarterly payments to the pension system
  2. Senate President Stephen Sweeney unveiled bi-partisan legislation that would allow the newly funded Transportation Trust Fund to beef up its ability to sell bonds directly to the pension fund
I do not claim to be a pension expert, but this does sound promising given that last November, NJ voters approved a constitutional amendment dedicating the gas tax to the transportation trust fund
Currently, the State Investment Council has a 10 percent cap on pension investments for any single bond sale. The proposed legislation would only remove the cap for TTF investments. 
Sweeney (D-Gloucester) argued it would give the state greater flexibility on a "risk-free return on investment." If, for example, the TTF borrowed $1.2 billion at a 5 percent interest rate, then the $60 million would go to support the pension fund, Sweeney said. 
"We're lifting the cap on investing in New Jersey," Sen. Dawn Addiego (R-Burlington), the bill's Republican co-sponsor, said. 

Both also argued putting TTF debt with the state's pension fund would save the state bond underwriting fees. 
"Why are we letting other people make interest off of us?" Sweeney asked at the Statehouse news conference announcing the legislation.
Both the TTF and the pension fund are on life support. If they can help each other—and we can pass a constitutional amendment to fund the pensions—this may just be a win-win situation. But, as Hetty Rosenstein, State Director of CWA NJ said: 
"CWA supports quarterly pension payments. However, unless the full amount due to the plan is appropriated, quarterly payments are meaningless... 
"When it comes to this state's pension, history shows we simply cannot rely on the word of the governor or legislature. So, without a constitutional amendment requiring payments, New Jersey's working men and women could be getting quarterly payments of nothing."

Last August, after promising state workers he would do so, Sen. President Steve Sweeney failed to post the Constitutional Amendment bill that would have given the voters the power to write pension payments into the state constitution. 

We must continue to demand that our state legislators to fight like hell to get that question on the ballot this year. 

ICYMI: check out this video from NJ.com. It gives a brief overview of how we got into this mess, and although it rightly claims that Gov. Christie has put more money into the pension system than the previous 6 governors combined, he has never made the full payments as required by law, and vetoed 2014 legislation requiring quarterly payments, which would go a long way toward fixing the problem. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Who Really Wins in Privatization?

Who was the biggest lottery winner in NJ in 2016? Not Joe Schmoe. Not the people in that office pool. Not even that kid in Newark trying to get into that charter school. Nope, it was the lottery company itself. Today's Star Ledger ran this story about Northstar New Jersey, the private company that Gov. Christie handed the once state-run lottery operation over to in 2012:

The private gaming joint venture that operates New Jersey's lottery received a more than $30 million bonus despite having originally over-promised a billion dollars in revenue at the start of its contract, its latest annual report shows. 
Northstar New Jersey, which oversees Powerball, MegaMillions as well as various scratch off games, was paid a $30.6 million incentive for reaching contractual obligations that were renegotiated downward in February to more easily attainable goals. 
At the urging of Gov. Chris Christie in 2012, the state entered into a 15-year contract with Northstar under which the gaming venture committed to sending "at least" $1.42 billion in additional income back to New Jersey in exchange for its making an upfront payment of $120 million in 2013. Northstar was the only bidder on the contract. 
That agreement was short-lived, however. 
After Northstar fell short of its promised income targets two years in a row, it renegotiated its contract with the state. In Feb. 2016, the company's financial targets were lowered by $1 billion through 2029, about $76 million less a year.
In 2013, Northstar had been forced to tap into a $20 million reserve established at the outset of its contract with New Jersey to pay for its shortage penalties. 
But because 2016 produced an unexpected surge in ticket sales -- more than $3.29 billion through June -- the conglomerate was able to finally reach its renegotiated contractual obligations, according to its 2016 annual report, which runs through New Jersey's fiscal year ending June 30, 2016. 
New Jersey lottery officials faced questions from state lawmakers Tuesday on a private lottery contractor's failure to live up to its promises to increase sales and payments into the state treasury. 
Northstar, a joint venture made up of lottery operators GTECH and Scientific Games along with the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, was also paid $104 million for "management and system fees" as well as advertising and marketing costs, the report said. 
The state gets back $987 million, or 30 percent of the $3.29 billion in 2016 ticket sales, the absolute minimum required by law.  
"Record-breaking sales enabled the Lottery to make a record-breaking contribution to its beneficiaries," Carole Hedinger, the lottery's executive director, said in a statement released to media. 
"The Lottery could not have achieved those goals without investments made by Northstar New Jersey in technology, marketing, personnel, retailer expansion and capital equipment," said Will Rijksen, director of communications with the state's Treasury. 
Rijksen also noted that after Northstar's contract was renegotiated, its bonus shrank to 3 percent of net income, down from 5 percent. Doing so, Rijksen said, ensured "that Northstar would not receive a windfall if (ticket) sales turned up dramatically." 
Much of the 2016 windfall was the result of greater public interest in Powerball, which had its first billion-dollar jackpot this year, resulting in $93 million more in tickets sold that had been budgeted, according to the annual report. 
But William Weld, the two-time governor of Massachusetts who's previously served as national co-chairman of the U.S. Privatization Council wrote a recent op-ed in Forbes that "even as a long-time proponent of private management, I am constrained to say that the results obtained by private managers in Illinois and New Jersey have been a disappointment." 
An email to Northstar officials requesting comment was not immediately returned, and there was no answer at the telephone number for its Princeton headquarters. (emphasis mine)


Whether it's privately run prisons, lotteries or charter schoolsthe number one goal, like any private industry, is to make a profit, not service the people. So, it's no surprise that today, Carol Burris posted this:


Read the article here. When there's no fiscal oversight, no public input, no local control, but many lobbyists and political influences, charters are free to do whatever they want with taxpayer money.

And, if Betsy DeVos is appointed the next Secretary of State, we will see privatization of public education in this country explode, and benefit mainly Christian religious schools

What to do? Call your US Senator and tell him or her to vote No on DeVos on January 11.



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

An Open Letter to @GovChristie

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" ~ The Beatles


Dear Gov. Christie,

I hear
 you're very upset about your book deal failing. You said the legislation wasn't just about you profiting from writing a book while still in office; it was also about political payback to newspapers giving some high-ranking public employees a well-deserved raise. As you said: 
"Judges today make less than they did in 2003. You don't want judges who think getting $140,000 a year is a raise... You want to appear before stupid judges? Then don't raise their pay any more."
I get that we don't want incompetent public employees in any position: 
Christie complained that paltry public sector salary caps had cost him qualified staffers, noting that legislative staffers had not received a pay raise in 15 years.  
Christie said that top candidates had turned him down because they "can't afford to live in New Jersey." 
I'm sure those judges and staffers do an admirable job. They put in an honest day's work, and most likely their workday consists of many more hours than those they are contracted for. You want to attract and retain the best people for those positions. Taxpayers deserve no less.

So, I don’t understand why you demand pay increases for them, yet you make completely false statements like this: 
Teachers are paid too much, that’s what’s bankrupting the system. Some teachers make six-figure salaries and that’s not including retirement benefits.
How can you, the governor of New Jersey, have absolutely no idea what teachers earn? I mean, you built your reputation on cracking down on "greedy" and "selfish" teachers. Surely you would want to make sure your numbers are correct. But, just in case you forgot, click on this link. You'll be reminded that the majority of us make nowhere near that amount.

And what about superintendents? I don't understand you not wanting to hire and retain the very best to run our, as you call them, "failure factories". Once you put the cap on their salaries, quality school leaders fled the state in droves to NY and PA for higher salaries—and respect. 

Judges and staffers aren’t the only ones who struggle to live in New Jersey. Everyone in this state who didn’t directly benefit from your draconian cuts over the past seven years (aka the 99%) knows that story all too well. Did you forget that property taxes rose on average 20% in 2011 after you slashed billions from public education funding as part of your war on education? Are you aware that, after you signed Chapter 78 into law, tens of thousands of public employees saw our net take home pay slashed because we now must work longer, pay more for our pensions and health insurance premiums and get less in return, with no guarantee our pensions will even be there when we retire? Hell, we can't even move to PA or NY to make ends meet because you made us indentured servants

Don’t believe me? We have the pay stubs—and the second and third jobs—to prove it.

If you want quality public employees, you have to pay them all a living wage and treat them all with respect. Anything otherwise is, quite frankly, terrible leadership.

For so many years, you've expressed so much vitriol toward so many people in this state. Why are you surprised that many feel that way about you now? Actually, I don’t think it’s hatred on the part of our elected officials. I believe it’s simply a case of what goes around, comes around.

You see, for the past seven years you have disrespected, demoralized and demonized tens of thousands of public employees who are simply putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. You've trashed and bashed and lied about elected officials, and those of us who are not as fortunate as you or those judges; who don't earn anywhere near $140,000 a year, let alone your salary of $175,000 a year with a $95,000 a year 'entertainment' stipend.

Since you took office, you have sown the seeds of hatred from High Point to Cape May and now it's time to reap what you have sown. So, no, this isn't a case of "'the haters'" [who] allowed personal animus to deny [you] the ability" to profit from a writing book while in office. No, this is karma, plain and simple.

“I am tired of you people.”
When you break promises, when you go back on your word, when you don't play fair, when you pit people against each other in some sick game of chess, when you call people names, when you act like a school yard bully, people remember. And they are not too enthusiastic about supporting legislation that would directly line your pockets and put hundreds of people out of work, even if it means denying some fellow public employees a raise.

Remember this? This is where it all started. These are your words, Governor, uttered before you even won the election. Although they are aimed specifically at educators, they are symbolic of your sleight-of-hand treatment of everyone in this state who is not like you. And now you must accept the consequences. And it’s pretty sad that judges and legislative staffers have to suffer. 



Welcome home, Governor. New Jersey is a different place since you left two years ago to pursue your presidential dreams. You can rant and rave all you want about the loss of your book deal, but remember what Lennon and McCartney said. Then look in the mirror ask yourself what you’ve done in the past seven years to deserve it, and what you're going to do during the next year for the people you were elected to serve. 

There is still time for redemption.

Marie