Friday, December 19, 2008

Defending NJ Against All Odds

New Jersey often is the butt of jokes and the target of harsh criticism. Sometimes the comments that come our way are unfair. But at other times, it is not too difficult to understand why the rest of the country takes a dim view of the Garden State. Consider these recent news items:

A New Jersey couple who named their son Adolph Hitler made international headlines when a local ShopRite refused to put the boy’s name on a birthday cake. READ

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an emergency appeal from a New Jersey man who claimed that President-elect Barack Obama is not qualified for the presidency because he was not born in the United States. READ

After the Securities and Exchange Commission suspended trading of National Lampoon stock and accused chief executive officer Daniel Laikin of stock manipulation, the media reported that National Lampoon's largest outside stockholder, besides Laikin and his fellow insiders, is the New Jersey Division of Investments. READ
Not that any of this is new. Recently, while reading Lawrence and Cornelia Levine’s book on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I could not help but notice that the authors noted that although Roosevelt received thousands of letters commending his fireside chats, there also was some negative feedback, including this comment from a New Jersey resident: “I wouldn’t urinate on you if you were burning at the stake.”

Blaming the Media - Again

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear M. William Howard Jr. speak at a luncheon. His talk was compelling and captured the attention of a group of people who had busy agendas and heavy schedules.

Because of this experience, I found it especially disturbing for Howard to take pot shots at the media in – of all things – a holiday email sent to the Rutgers University community in his role as Chair of the Rutgers Board of Governors.

In the email, Howard writes:

Rutgers has been much in the news and sadly too prominently about things that cast our great university in a negative light. Of course, we know that this is only a small part of our story. While there is much to do to continue improving how we do our work, excellence abounds here at Rutgers and only skewed coverage in the media would tell us otherwise.
It wasn’t the media that gave Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano an additional $250,000 a year in compensation, unlimited use of jet and helicopter services for university business, and an escape clause from his contract without publicly disclosing these actions.

Howard is correct that there are many good things happening at Rutgers. But instead of blaming the media, the school should be taking responsibility for its mistakes and missteps.

Read an old, but related post

Caroline Kennedy, the Author

Prior to her interest in the U.S. Senate seat, Caroline Kennedy has shied away from the public spotlight throughout most of her life – an issue that has been raised by critics of her possible appointment to the seat. We don’t know how all this eventually will play out, but I do know that Caroline Kennedy is the author of a fascinating book on the issue of privacy, which I cited in a study I conducted in 2006 on news coverage of the private lives of public figures. Included in my report was this passage from The Right to Privacy, the book Kennedy co-authored with Ellen Alderman:

Privacy covers many things.It protects the solitude necessary for creative thought. It allows us the independence that is part of raising a family. It protects our right to be secure in our own homes and possessions, assured that the government cannot come barging in. Privacy also encompasses our right to self-determination and who we are. Although we live in a world of self-confession, privacy allows us to keep certain facts to ourselves if we choose. The right to privacy, it seems, is what makes us civilized.

The Year's Top Public Policy Developments

It is that time again when lists of the year’s top stories begin to emerge in newspapers and magazines, on radio and TV stations, and online in websites, blogs and emails. My list is a little different. Instead of news stories, I decided to take a crack at identifying the top public policy developments that took place in New Jersey during 2008.

This poses somewhat of a different challenge. Rather than selecting the top stories from a group of existing news reports, it requires speculating about the long-term impact of decisions made this year. And that is made even more difficult by the unusual and unexpected twists that can alter our future.

Consider for a moment the case of Charles Ingram Courtenay Wood, 2nd Earl of Halifax. When Neville Chamberlain resigned as British Prime Minister in 1940, Halifax was considered a likely successor, but Winston Churchill was selected for the post instead. As Alan Bennett relates in The History Boys, on the afternoon the decision was taken, Halifax chose to go the dentist instead. “If Halifax had had better teeth, we might have lost the war,” the Dakin character in Bennett’s film remarks.

So barring the likes of an unforeseen trip to the dentist, here are what I consider the most significant public policy developments that took place in New Jersey this year:

The Disappearing Media

The Record decided to close its main office and rely on “mobile reporters”; the New York Times shut down its State House Bureau and severely curtailed its coverage of New Jersey; the Star-Ledger nearly went up for sale and only survived by buying out some 200 employees; Gannett has laid off reporters at newspapers around the state, and retirements at New Jersey Network are shaking up the structure of the television station.

Cutbacks, layoffs and consolidation generally result in less scrutiny by news organization and coverage that is more homogenous. This is bad news for a state such as New Jersey, where an aggressive press corps has played an important role in years past. But for those who see the changing media landscape as a glass that is half full, the events of 2008 also can present an opportunity for New Jersey to emerge as a leader by developing a new model for the delivery of news and information in the 21st Century. The jury still is out on this one.

The ARC Tunnel

Governor Corzine’s ambitious and controversial plan to fund transportation infrastructure projects and pay down state debt with revenue generated by rate increases on state toll roads dominated the headlines in the early part of the year, but the project failed to gain the support it needed. Instead a more modest plan to raise tolls was enacted with much less fanfare in the fall.

While the immediate effect is the increase in tolls, the long-term impact involves a new rail tunnel to New York that will double capacity and help the regional economy. A portion of the revenue from the state’s toll roads will be used to help fund the tunnel. The tunnel is about 10 years away and there are questions about its funding on both sides of the Hudson, but if it becomes a reality, it will have a major impact on transportation, commuting, and jobs in the region.

Progressive Legislation

New Jersey cemented its position as one of the most progressive states in the nation this year by enacting laws for universal health care and paid family leave. This came on the heels of abolishing the death penalty and legalizing same sex civil unions in 2007. With gay marriage legislation on the horizon for 2009, the state is likely to remain at the forefront of progressive initiatives for years to come.

Public Pension and Health Benefit Reform

Efforts to reform New Jersey’s pension and health benefit system had their fair share of critics, but the legislation enacted in 2008 will result in substantial dividends for the state over the long-term. The Governor’s Office estimates the reforms will save $6.4 billion through 2022.

The changes, which include a higher retirement age and new income eligibility for enrollment in the major pension systems, are in addition to a series of statutory changes resulting from contract negotiations.

Higher Education

Higher education could be one of the biggest losers from this year’s economic downturn. Think about it. If the choice comes down to putting food on the table or paying college tuitions, financially-strapped families will opt to feed their bellies and not their minds.

Likewise, the state is taking a similar approach with its limited funds and the many programs and services it must finance. Higher education funding, while considered important, has become a target for cuts during each budget cycle.

In addition, the New Jersey Higher Education Students Assistance Authority has decided it no longer will allow students to defer payments until after graduation, and the state is in the process of cutting back NJ STARS, which rewarded good academic performance with free tuition and scholarships. Add in the growing impression that New Jersey colleges are fiscally irresponsible – a result of controversies involving the likes of Rutgers athletics and UMDNJ -- and the prospects are slim that the state will be providing higher education institutions with additional public monies.

This is unfortunate because, in the long run, it means more than just the fact that less kids will go to college. As Hall Institute Trustee Robert P. Haney Jr. wrote in a white paper on higher education costs:

An educated, highly productive population benefits New Jersey in the form of increased tax revenues and decreased spending on social programs like welfare. Educated citizens also make better health and retirement choices, further reducing the demand on public resources. New Jersey exceeds the national average in personal and family income in part because we have a larger proportion of households and families headed by parents with college degrees. Holding a college or graduate degree increases average household income by 35 percent.
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Monday, December 15, 2008

We Can't Let This Bank Fail

I am departing from my usual topics today to take part in an important and innovative campaign to increase public awareness of the need to keep our food pantries well-stocked. As part of Blogging Out Hunger, bloggers from all over New Jersey are posting information today about the increased demand being put on the food pantries in our state and how everyone can help.

More than 35 million Americans, including 12 million children, either live with or are on the verge of hunger. In New Jersey alone, an estimated 250,000 new clients will be seeking sustenance this year from the state's food banks. But recently, as requests for food assistance have risen, food donations are on the decline, leaving food bank shelves almost empty and hungry families waiting for something to eat.

The situation is dire, no more so than at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (CFBNJ), the largest food bank in the state, where requests for food have gone up 30 percent, but donations are down by 25 percent. Warehouse shelves that are typically stocked with food are bare and supplies have gotten so low that, for the first time in its 25 year history, the food bank is developing a rationing mechanism.

As the state's key distributor of food to local banks – serving more than 500,000 people a year and providing assistance to nearly 1,700 non-profits in the state – the stability of replenishment of the CFBNJ is essential to ensuring that individuals in need have access to food.

If everyone could just do a little, it would help those in need a lot. To help, people can:

- Make a monetary contribution: Visit
- Donate food: Drop off a bag of food at your local food pantry.
- Organize a food drive: Call 908-355-FOOD.
- Help "Check Out Hunger:" Look for the "Check Out Hunger" coupons at your local supermarket and donate. No donation is too small.

Below is a list of participating blogs. Given all the layoffs and cutbacks at New Jersey news organizations this year, blogs are likely to become an even more important means of obtaining information in the Garden State.

Participating Bloggers for “We Can’t Let This Bank Fail” campaign



3) Jersey Girl Cooks

4) Simply Sable

5) John and Lisa are eating in South Jersey

6) Padma's Kitchen

7) Chefdruck

8) Life Lightly Salted

9) My Italian Grandmother

10) Cook Appeal

11) Crotchety Old Man Yells at Cars

12) Mommy Vents

13) This Full House

14) Paper Bridges

15) Motherhood Avenue

16) The Kamienski Chronicles

17) Down the Shore with Jen

18) Fits and Giggles

19) House Hubbies Home Cooking

20) Nourish Ourselves



23) Off the broiler

24) Mrs. Mo’s New Jersey Baby




28) Savy Source Newark

29) Momlogic New Jersey




33) Best of Roxy

34) Citizen


36) Jersey Beat

37) Pop Vulture Phil




41) Mike Halfacres Blog

42) Somerset08873

43) Family, Friends and Food




47) New Jersey Real Estate Report


49) More Monmouth Musings

50) Man of Infirmity

51) Another Delco Guy in South Jersey


53) Average Noone

54) Cleary’s Notebook

55) Welcome to my Planet

56) The Center of New Jersey Life

57) Sharon’s Food Blog

58) Morristown, Chatham, Summit, and Madison NJ Real Estate

59) Midtown Direct Real Estate News

60) New Jersey Real Estate



63) The Ridgewood Blog

64) Book a Week with Jen

65) Banannie


67) Matawan Advocate

68) Take Back the Kitchen

69) The Joy of Toast

70) Route 55

71) Montclair

72) SaveJersey

73) Stompbox

74) Joe the Blogger

75) Environmental Republican

76) Stacey Snacks

77) Subversive Garden

78) New Jersey Pathfinder

79) Cooking With Friends Blog

80) Triple Venti

81) Read All About It

82) Rich Lee on Media

83) Likelihood of Success

84) Cape Cuisine

85) The Business At Hand

86) NewJerseyTaxRevolution

87) Figmentations

88) MiddletownMike

89) Caviar and Codfish

90) A Day in the Life

91) Mack’s Journey Through Life

92) Alice’s Restaurant

93) Tiger Hawk

94)Politics Patrol, The Bob Ingle Blog

95) The Food Chain

96) Henson’s Hell

97) Cranbury Conservative

98) Baristanet

99) New Jersey: Politics Unusual

100) Jersey Shore Blog

101) Plainfield Today

102) Beacon Bulletin

103) Journal Square Jersey City 07306