Archive for May, 2011

PEER Profile -“Elliot Ness of Environmental Community”

May 25th, 2011 No comments

‘Being disliked, but feared’ is swaggering group’s ambition

I thought I’d post this piece which provides a DC Beltway perspective of PEER – “annonymous activism” is what we do. No link available so I’ll post the whole thing.

ADVOCACY: ‘Being disliked, but feared’ is swaggering group’s ambition (05/24/2011)

John McArdle, E&E reporter

The federal Merit System Protection Board reinstatement this year of U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers was a landmark victory in the annals of whistleblower protection law and a crowning achievement for Chambers’ legal team at the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

But PEER executive director Jeff Ruch is the first to admit his group’s mission of “protecting employees who protect our environment” is not necessarily best served through drawn-out legal battles like the seven-year Chambers case.

“Talking people out of blowing the whistle is one of the best things we do,” Ruch said in a recent interview.

PEER prefers to accomplish its mission by allowing public employees to use the organization to anonymously expose wrongdoing they come across in their work, he said. Often it is through document leaks or tipping off PEER as to where to direct its frequent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The organization’s goal is to use an agency’s own documents and internal communications to shine a light on issues while at the same time keeping a concerned public employee on the job and protected from the perils that can often come with whistleblowing.

But despite high-profile achievements like its successful effort in 2007 on behalf of U.S. EPA librarians to reopen closed agency libraries, PEER’s tactics occasionally open it to criticism from agency officials who say the watchdog group is more interested in throwing bombs than solving problems.

Criticism does not bother Ruch.

“If we can be an effective boogeyman of ‘You better do right or we’ll call in those assholes from PEER,’ then we’ve done our job,” he said while sitting in his Dupont Circle office surrounded by memorabilia from his many environmental battles.

Among Ruch’s mementos is a photo of Chambers on the day she was sworn in as park police chief. Chambers — who lost her job after talking to reporters about how staff shortages endanger park visitors — is flanked in the photo by two George W. Bush administration officials who were involved in her 2004 dismissal.

Chambers had given the picture to Ruch on the day she cleaned out her office. Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who is in the photo, had signed “Chief — Thanks for your great leadership.”

Ruch made sure the photo was in the room when he took depositions from government officials in the Chambers case.

“Being disliked, but feared, is really kind of the attitude we want,” he said.

Winning cases fill coffers

Although founded in 1992 as an organization for whistleblowers, PEER’s advocacy for anonymous agency employees has today become its niche and helps set it apart from other Washington, D.C., environmental groups.

“PEER is sort of like the Elliot Ness of the environmental community,” said Rob Perks, a deputy program director with the Natural Resources Defense Council who spent three years at PEER in the late 1990s.

PEER “is really about … ‘Back off and let these employees do what they do,’ and they take on incredible forces in doing that,” Perks said.

At the outset, PEER was almost entirely run through foundation grants. Today, grants still fund a majority of the group’s efforts, but the group’s legal operation brings in enough money to fund about 30 percent of the $1.3 million needed to run the group’s D.C. headquarters and seven regional offices. For example, after the Chambers victory, PEER received a check for $675,000 from the Department of the Interior to cover its legal fees. And updates to the FOIA law in 2007 have made it easier for PEER to collect attorneys’ fees when those cases go to court.

Another 10 percent of the group’s funding comes through membership dues and donations.

Although it is currently involved in a dozen enforcement suits against the government, another 10 whistleblower matters and a FOIA effort that submits about one request every third week, Ruch described the group’s work as simply an exercise in transparency.

“When the agency is dysfunctional and doing things they shouldn’t do and for the most part doesn’t want people to know about, that’s when we go in,” he said. “The agency is forced to confront what they thought was going to remain behind closed doors.”

PEER calls it “anonymous activism,” and the best symbol of its work can be found in the one piece of apparel the group sells on its website: underwear, with the words “undercover activist” written across the back side.

“PEER boxer shorts are the apparel undercover activists can wear in the office!” the site proclaims.

When it comes to PEER’s involvement in, say, the environmental impacts of rebuilding of eroded beaches in Florida with dredged material (which was the subject of one release last week), the group relies on concerned agency employees their scientific and subject matter expertise.

“We don’t have staff scientists,” Ruch said. “We don’t really have experts. We’re experts in agitation.”

That last statement brought quick agreement from several current and former agency officials who have tangled with PEER over the years.

Attention-grabbing press releases

An example of PEER’s fondness for stirring the pot can easily be found in an eyebrow-raising press release from early April.

Entitled, “Gulag EPA: Report Finds Discrimination Meltdown,” PEER went for shock value in equating the agency’s Office of Civil Rights with Soviet-era forced labor camps.

PEER based its press release on an EPA-commissioned report that was highly critical of the civil rights office, but one agency official said he thought PEER lost credibility in trying to write a memorable press release.

“We’re accustomed to the fact that there are going to be folks, and there should be folks, outside the agency who are keeping an eye on what we’re doing,” the official said. “I just think there’s a difference between the way that some folks do it and the way PEER does it. … I think taking ammunition and throwing bombs is very different from taking ammunition and trying to get problems solved. And it’s not always clear that that’s what [PEER’s] focus is.”

One former agency senior manager who had several run-ins with PEER over the years said the problems that are brought to the watchdog group are often brought by a small minority of employees while the rest either do not have a problem or choose to handle their concerns through more appropriate channels inside the agency. By going to PEER, the former manager said, some employees may not realize the collateral damage they will cause or the time that can be wasted in trying to set the record straight.

One high-profile incident that backfired on PEER came in late 2006, when the group issued a press release criticizing the fact the Park Service had yet to conduct a promised review of its approval for a book sold in the park visitor center that offers a creationist view of the formation of the Grand Canyon.

PEER began its release by saying, “Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees.”

That accusation touched off a firestorm after the Park Service categorically denied that any gag order was in place and noted that rangers are fully instructed to describe for visitors the geological science that indicates that the Grand Canyon to be somewhere between 5 to 6 million years old.

PEER eventually issued an updated release that removed the inflammatory first sentence. Ruch said this week that that was the only time he remembers having to take such a step in his 15 years with the group.

But Ruch does not apologize for drawing attention to what he still believes is a serious example of the Park Service abdicating its responsibility to come up with a coherent policy.

“You’re doing a press release so you’re trying to draw media attention,” Ruch said. “So what’s the point of doing a press release if nobody picks it up? … You have to explain why this translates into a matter of some public interest.”

The former senior agency manager said the group’s desire to simply make headlines is a big reason why it was viewed as more of “an extreme frustration” rather than a constructive environmental watchdog.

“When you’re trying to manage a large organization in the federal government, it’s of no benefit to have someone constantly stirring the pot and that’s exactly what they were doing,” the manager said

Still the former manager did not dismiss all of PEER’s work.

“At times they do unearth some legitimate problems, but that occurs in maybe 5 percent of their issues,” the manager said. “The rest of the time the government has to put up with their tactics and the collateral damage they cause in other areas.”

But if PEER is an irritant to federal managers, Ruch said he is proud his group is an equal opportunity pest.

‘Obama Watch’

While there was abundant optimism among environmentalists in 2008 that public employees working on environmental and public health issues would be better off under the Obama administration than they were under the George W. Bush administration, PEER began taking on the new administration even before President Obama was sworn in.

In December 2008, the group issued a release on “Why Lisa Jackson Should Not Run EPA.” The release decried Jackson’s “disastrous record” as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and chided her for embracing policies in New Jersey that echoed the practices of the Bush EPA.

Four months later, PEER was already hitting Obama for his failure to improve whistleblower protections despite pledges to do so during the presidential campaign.

Today the group runs a separate section of its Web site called “Obama Watch” with the tag line “Change We Still Need.”

As a nonprofit 501c(3) group, PEER is prohibited from engaging in political activities, so Ruch said he could not offer an opinion on Obama’s upcoming re-election campaign. But he was more than happy to discuss the administration’s environmental policy — or what he sees as a lack thereof.

“I don’t think they really have an environmental policy,” he said. “They have an energy/environmental policy and so environment is a handmaiden to an energy strategy. … On a lot of these issues I think the Obama people view environmental concerns as a bargaining chip and if the environmental concerns win or lose, it’s because they have been lucky at the political gaming tables, not because there’s any sort of overall concern or priority or strategy.”

Ruch is particularly critical of the administration’s efforts when it comes to drilling. After the White House announced an ambitious interagency plan to accelerate the permitting of exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean and in the National Petroleum Reserve, Ruch noted that Obama has now pushed four different offshore drilling plans in less than three years in office.

“Somebody asked what’s the difference between Obama on this issue and [former Vice President] Dick Cheney,” Ruch said. “My answer? At least Dick Cheney was decisive.”

But Ruch does give the Obama administration some credit for the steps it is taking toward protecting scientific integrity.

Last December, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released guidelines aimed at ensuring that government scientists’ work is not altered for political purposes. Since then, only Interior has issued a final policy, but OSTP has said that every major agency is moving forward with creating their own policies.

“The scientific integrity stuff is like a whole new body of law being created,” Ruch said. “It’s like a volcanic creation of an island of law that heretofore didn’t exist. … We often said the reason the Bush admin could manipulate science so routinely is because there were no rules against it.”

Ruch said the effort, despite its numerous delays, is nevertheless exciting for PEER because the group often deals with scientists whose work has fallen outside of legal protections.

“These rules are right on the verge of protecting scientific information, giving it legal status,” he said. “It’s empowering the pencil pushers.”

And that’s what PEER is all about.

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DEP Plans To Expand Beach Access – for Builders

May 24th, 2011 No comments
Wildwood, NJ

Wildwood, NJ (photo by “Greg” from “Doo Wopper” website)

It’s funny how perspective and learning randomly happens sometimes.

I was planning to write another post today on the controversial DEP public access rule proposal. (see today’s Kirk Moore story for the latest developments Beach access advocates say Shore towns can’t be trusted to craft public access plans)

I wanted to emphasize the fact that the DEP proposal – which essentially delegates State responsibility and DEP regulatory power to local land use planning – originated in the Christie DEP Transition report and the Red Tape review process.

The DEP Transition report targeted the access issue with this recommendation (@page 7):

Reexamine regulations to ensure they are properly focused on specific, well defined goals, and minimize or eliminate peripheral requirements. An example of this is the waterfront Public Access rule adopted by DEP in 2007 without direction from the Legislature, which completely changed the existing waterfront public access framework and imposed onerous new fees without standards for how the fee would be applied or calculated.

The Red Tape report went further and harshly blasted the DEP access rules as an example of regulations that “offend common sense“:

2. Examples of Rules that Appear to Offend Common Sense

N.J.A.C. 7:7 and N.J.A.C. 7:7E, respectively – Public Access Rules

The Group heard testimony at the Montclair State University meeting regarding the implementation of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Public Access Rules. The regulations were adopted in December 2007 as amendments to the rules governing the administration of the Coastal Permit Program and Coastal Zone Management regulations, addressing the public’s right to the access and use of tidal waterways and their shores “ including the ocean, bays and tidal rivers in the State. Specifically, the regulations require that as a condition of receiving a permit, on-site, permanent, unobstructed public access to the tidal waterways and shores need be provided on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis. If the access is not practicable, then DEP regulations require that a payment be made to DEP to provide off-site access somewhere else. The Group heard testimony from marina operators, the business community and port operators that the regulations will impact security at military installations, sensitive industrial facilities, commercial ports and harbors and energy facilities.

Understanding this history is key because this origin and original intent completely destroys current DEP spin that the intent is to “enhance” and “expand” public access, as DEP’s May 23 press release falsely claimed.

This has absolutely NOTHING to do with expanding or enhancing public access.

The obvious intent of the proposal is to deregulate and promote development and developers’ access to the shore.

[Update: here is DEP deregulatory Q&A spin: DEP has gone from prescriptive rules to local delegation: 

How do these requirements differ from previous public access requirements?

The Department believes that environmental and policy goals can be accomplished without extensive and proscriptive (sic) regulatory requirements.
Curiously, DEP has not posted their over the top May 23 press release on the DEP website, but Orwell lives in a “DEP fact sheet” linked to in that press release, where DEP claims:
Purpose of This Rule Proposal

This rule seeks to maintain and enhance the public’s access to coastal and tidal waters in a reasonable, planned manner. It seeks to build on the Public Trust Doctrine, which is a piecemeal, site-specific, common law doctrine, by developing a comprehensive, yet flexible, public access plan for the entire state.

That’s a load of crap. Does Ray Cantor think we’re stupid?

I previously wrote about the Red Tape origins. In that March 2010 post, I highlighted the testimony of a Wildwood developer at the March 23, 2010 Montclair State public hearing.

According to the Bergen Record coverage of that hearing:

Richard Patterson, managing member of Martinique Resorts LLC, said the company has spent almost $2 million trying to comply with the permit process on a plan to build a high-rise hotel in Wildwood.

While state law requires 292 spaces, the Department of Environmental Protection wants 686, Patterson said, adding that the project is now in its sixth year of planning.

“More than a handful of brand-name hotel chains have walked away” because of the parking issue, he said.

So I just went back and researched some of the regulatory history of the Wildwood hotel project and the DEP CAFRA rules regarding parking.

It turns out, that the Corzine DEP already made major regulatory concessions to promote shore redevelopment by dramatically reducing parking requirements for new hotels and other commercial developments.

As Mr. Patterson or Martinique Resorts noted above and testified to the Red Tape Commission, developers hate parking requirements because they cost up to $25,000 per space and reduce the development intensity of income earning development (e.g. less square feet for profitable hotel rooms, and more for expensive parking).

DEP CAFRA parking regulations are far more stringent (i.e. require more spaces) than local parking under the Municipal Land Use Law (under formulas in the Residential Site Improvement Standards).

Parking requirements are directly related to the public access issues. Simply, off site hotel parking displaces public parking required for beach access. Here DEP’s reason for regulating parking:

N.J.A.C. 7:7E-8.14, traffic, contains the requirements for the movement of vehicles and pedestrians within the coastal zone. N.J.A.C. 7:7E-8.14(e) addresses the provision of parking to accompany coastal residential development. Adequate onsite or off-site parking for residential development ensures that on-street parking remains available for use by beachgoers, consistent with public trust rights, the Shore Protection Master Plan, and with the coastal goal regarding meaningful public access to and use of tidal waterways and their shores (see N.J.A.C. 7:7E-1.1(c)3).

I admit that I missed this DEP CAFRA rulemaking, but I don’t recall any organized opposition to it. I failed to realize how huge a giveaway it was to developers and fully understand the significant relationship of parking requirements to the public access issues.

The Corzine DEP proposed new CAFRA rules that relaxed parking requirements in January 2009. The Corzine proposal, although delayed by the Christie regulatory moratorium under Executive Order #1, was later adopted in June 2010 by the Christie DEP.

Back in March 2010, I wrote that the 2009 Corzine proposal had expired, and it actually may have. I noted that at the Red Tape March 2010 hearing, DEP Commissioner Martin was embarrassed by the fact that he was unaware of this issue, and he looked ill informed and unable to respond to the developer’s testimony at the hearing. From the developers perspective, expiration of a Corzine rule proposal to relax DEP rules to promote development was an embarrassing example of why the Christie regulatory moratorium was ill advised.

Here is how a a major development consulting firm described the Corzine DEP’s Jan. 2009 proposed relaxed parking rules.

WILDWOOD – For many years the, parking requirements under the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) regulations have made coastal redevelopment of hotels a difficult venture. These standards required as many as four parking spaces for each hotel unit – an overburden strangling the economic vitality of hotel redevelopment.

The Lomax Consulting Group, a local consulting firm, teamed with municipalities, local hotel owners, and the construction trades to establish reasonable design standards that balance parking needs with parking demands based on hotel unit size. Wildwood Crest Mayor Carl Groon indicated that he had approached the NJDEP to provide a more realistic parking standard that would foster urban redevelopment in the Wildwoods and to encourage hotels to replace room stock lost to condominium conversions.

Concurrently, the City of Wildwood went through a master planning process that identified limited zones in the community that encouraged redevelopment with hotels that would support the Wildwoods Convention Center, a $68 million facility designed to host and expand local tourism.

Peter Lomax, president of The Lomax Consulting Group, noted that, “The rule overhaul is a watershed moment for advancing redevelopment in the coastal zone. Having worked for decades on key economic development projects, like the Wildwoods Convention Center, a reasonable parking requirement puts in place the keystone for economic vitality – year-round rooms at premier resorts along our local coastline.”

So, the Christie DEP proposed public access restrictions share the exact same policy objective as the Corzine DEP – relax DEP regulations in order to promote shore access for developers!

But at least the Corzine DEP honestly and openly stated this policy objective in the original January 2009 proposal, with explicit mention of hotel and motel parking: 

Proposed N.J.A.C. 7:7E-8.14(e)2 provides that, with the exception of certain types of development specified in proposed N.J.A.C. 7:7E-8.14(e)2i through 2iii, the requirement to provide two onsite or off-site parking spaces per dwelling unit, currently part of the lead in language of N.J.A.C. 7:7E-8.14(e), applies only to dwelling units within one-half mile of an oceanfront beach or dune. Landward of this area, development will continue to be required to provide parking sufficient to serve the development’s anticipated needs. This proposed amendment will protect on-street parking in the area within a reasonable walking distance from the oceanfront for use by beachgoers, while allowing flexibility in areas of some municipalities that border the ocean that are not as likely to be utilized for public access purposes. Dwelling units are defined in CAFRA and at N.J.A.C. 7:7E-1.8 to include houses, townhouses, apartments, cooperatives, condominiums, cabanas, and hotel or motel rooms.

But, in a continuing pattern to obfuscate and avoid accountability for its pro-development policies, the Christie DEP tried to hide the hotel and motel parking relaxation under the totally misleading banner of “changing” parking for  “residential development“:

The Department of Environmental Protection (Department) is adopting amendments to the Coastal Zone Management rules, N.J.A.C. 7:7E, to add Bader Field in the City of Atlantic City, Atlantic County, to the list of areas which, for the purposes of this chapter, are not considered bay islands; to allow future development of Bader Field to incorporate a public walkway in lieu of setting aside 100 foot wide area along the waterfront for future water-dependent use; to modify the list of protected street ends in the City of Atlantic City by adding additional street ends and opening other streets based on the in-flux of recent commercial and casino development; and to change the parking requirements for residential development in the coastal zone.

And in closing, funny, I don’t recall an organized shore environmental group campaign against giving shore hotel developers a break on parking – a “watershed moment according to developers  – which undermined public parking and beach access.

But, that kind of campaign would require a battle with powerful developers and criticism of a self described pro-environmental Democratic Administration.

Guess its a lot easier and safer battling shore towns and an anti-environmental Republican Administration.

I got mine jack,...

I got mine jack,…

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“Reporting” on Lt. Gov. Guadagno’s “image” and “hurt feelings”

May 23rd, 2011 No comments
Lt. Gov. Guadagno Chairs Red Tape Commission public hearing at Montclair State.

Lt. Gov. Guadagno Chairs Red Tape Commission public hearing at Montclair State.

In a remarkably vapid piece of reporting, the Star Ledger today writes a page one above the fold story (with huge photo!) about Lt. Governor Guadagno’s “image” in the Christie Administration and her “hurt feelings” at being boo’d and heckled during her William Paterson Commencement speech. (see: Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno says her role is more than a ‘stand-in’ for Gov. Christie

Aside from the likelihood that if a man ever wrote a story like that it would immediately be blasted as sexist, the story was amazingly fact free.

We’re fairly certain that the lobbyists for the Chamber of Commerce, Manhattan Institute, and other corporations are not meeting with the Lt. Governor to discuss her feelings or her “image” (or her blue outfits – even the story’s photo was empty and sexist. In comparison, our photos depict Guadagno acting in an official capacity, shot from the neck up ).

Is the Star Ledger not even curious about what those meetings entail and how they impact the people of NJ?

Is their state house reporter even capable of writing a policy piece?

Guadagno’s record as Christie’s “Red Tape Czar” is robust, and we have written about it here several times, and somehow never deigned to discuss her “image” or “feelings”.

You see, it’s a complicated story, but it all started here: Christie Regulatory Czar Given The Power and Tools To Rollback Environmental and Public Health Protections

So if any intrepid reporters out there are looking for substance to hold a female elected official as accountable as a male, see:

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The Fracking Lies of Oil Lobbyists

May 22nd, 2011 No comments
Jim Benton, NJ Petroleum Council

Jim Benton, NJ Petroleum Council

[Update: 5/25/11 – Assuming he knows the difference between horizontal and vertical, Jim Benton is lying again in this NJ Herald story. He claims fracking technology is 60 years old. That is false. Horizontal fracking is a new technique – it was this new technique that made Marcellus shale gas desposits recoverable. And he misleads about threats to drinking water, which include not only groundwater, but pollution threats to surface water from the BILLIONS of gallons of radioactive and toxic chemical laced fracking wastewater that is generated:

Benton said fracking has been used to extract natural gas for 60 years.

“This is not a new practice, but certainly the ability to go deeper (is), which is well beyond (where) drinking water is typically found.” [end update]

Jim Benton, lobbyist for the oily NJ Petroleum Council, just made claims he must know are false and/or misleading. In other words, assuming Benton was quoted accurately, he lied and/or intentionally misled the public.

Benton was quoted in a Morris Daily Record story:

Jim Benton, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Petroleum Industry Council, called Tittel’s claim of 15 acres of clear-cutting per well a “gross exaggeration.” Benton also characterized Tittel’s projection of 70,000 wells as “an unfounded exaggeration that will inflame the public” […]

Benton said he looked at Department of Environmental Protection comments and documents concerning the immediate proposed drilling for the Delaware River Basin.

“They’re talking about 30 wells in the Delaware River Basin” he said. “This can be done, this can be managed, and it can really make a difference. What we want is something that adheres to the highest industry standards across the board. We believe these extractions can be done without contamination.”

Benton is flat out wrong about the number of wells and “contamination”, and he must know it, or else he is a truly incompetent hack.

As we’ve written here:

Lifting the current DRBC moratorium would open the door to over 18,000 wells in NY and Pennsylvania, according to DRBC. Those wells would use over 100 BILLION gallons of water; generate more than 25 BILLION gallons of toxic hazardous wastewater with unsafe levels of radioactive contaminants; and destroy over 150,000 aces of forests and farms, more than all the land protected by the NJ Highlands Act.

Our citation of 18,000 wells – and water use, land consumption, land disturbance, and wastewater generation – were based on the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) data, which formed the basis of proposed DRBC regulations (read DRBC facts here). DRBC estimates development of 15,000 – 18,000 wells in the next 10 – 20 year period. This includes only horizontal wells, and not vertical wells, so it is a low estimate.

DRBC estimate of 12,000 – 18,000 wells makes Benton wrong by a factor of 400 – 600.

Benton also seriously misleads about the claim of 30 wells in the DEP’s comments on DRBC proposed rule (but only by a factor of 10 this time).

The DEP April 14, 2011 comment letter requested that the DRBC include new provisions to limit interim drilling – over just the next 2 years – to “30 production well pads, not to exceed 300 wells”.

That’s 300 wells – not 30 wells – Jim. There is a huge difference between well pads and wells.

DEP’s “request” is not a reality. It is very unlikely to be included in DRBC final regulations. And, even if it were to be, it is certainly unenforceable.

Benton must know all this. AN he accuses Tittle of exaggerating.

Benton’s deceptions are perfect illustrations of what noted journalist and author Rick Perlstein recently wrote in his powerful essay: Inside the GOP’s Fact-Free Nation – From Nixon’s plumbers to James O’Keefe’s video smears: How political lying became normal.

Perlstein noted:

IT TAKES TWO THINGS to make a political lie work: a powerful person or institution willing to utter it, and another set of powerful institutions to amplify it. The former has always been with us: Kings, corporate executives, politicians, and ideologues from both sides of the aisle have been entirely willing to bend the truth when they felt it necessary or convenient. So why does it seem as if we’re living in a time of overwhelmingly brazen deception? What’s changed?

Today’s marquee fibs almost always evolve the same way: A tree falls in the forest say, the claim that Saddam Hussein has “weapons of mass destruction,” or that Barack Obama has an infernal scheme to parade our nation’s senior citizens before death panels. But then a network of media enablers helps it to make a sound – until enough people believe the untruth to make the lie an operative part of our political discourse.

And I haven’t even focused on the numerous environmental problems from gas fracking that Benton claims “can be done without contamination“.

Benton sure has a big pair – he attacks Tittel’s credibility with his own lies and distortions.

Just more of the “old normal” among lobbyists.

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Christie Princeton Speech – A Dangerous Demagogue

May 21st, 2011 No comments

Defending Millionaires and Tax Avoidance – While Championing The Shock Doctrine

“It never ceases to amaze me” said the Governor, “the outrageous things that liberal academics in ivory towers are willing to say to try to preserve their failed status quo – and that is disgusting…he should be ashamed of himself.”

Christie added “but I’m not the least bit surprised, because I’ve been dealing with these type of liberal ivory tower academics who are completely in the tank for their liberal causes for my entire career…I guess they wanted to give the liberal academic in the ivory tower a chance to grand-stand – to try to vilify the administration…  Governor Christie  4/21/11

[Update below]

Governor Christie spoke at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School last evening, in an event sponsored by the Center for Economic Policy Studies.

Let’s just hope that during the day, Princeton professors provide real substantive economic policy to the students, because they didn’t get any economic thought from the Governor last night.

The Governor was warmly welcomed by the Princeton community. I guess few of them read or heard the Governor’s paranoid smear and shaming of “liberal academics in ivory Towers” (or maybe they did).

He was introduced by Princeton President Tilghman – who also appeared oblivious to the Governor’s views of Princeton and academic policy rigor. Tilghman gave unqualified gushing praise that virtually parroted Christie’s press releases.

Didn’t Tilghman have time to research or the courage to deliver her own remarks?

If not, given the obvious political controversy and role of the University, she shoud have simply given a standard factual introduction of the speaker, instead of uncritical praise and support of a litany of Christie policies.

I nearly gagged on Tilghman’s praise of Christie’s so called “commitment to reforming the public sector”, the 2% cap on local spending, and slashing state benefits and pensions. She cavalierly noted a list of these Christie accomplishments as talking points, as if these were universal and consensus great accomlishments. In doing so, she revealed her own complete lack of compassion and understanding of the many people and communities harmed by the Governor’s policies.

In a time of increasing political polarization and concentration of wealth and power in an oligarchic class, Tilghman should have avoided going there, if only to avoid reinforcing the negative stereotypes of Ivy League elitism.

And I just disagree with her “he said/she said ” framing of the Governor’s performance as based on one’s point of view: Christie was either “a breath of fresh air, or a gale force wind” – as if governing and politics is all a matter of simple personal and/or partisan perception.

While that may be a diplomatic way to evade controversy, it stains the notion of the noble role of the University as truth seeker and truth teller. And it provides a veneer of academic or intellectual legitimacy to controversial and ideological Christie policies.

I spent this much time on Tilghman, because I have high regard and great expectations for a University of Princeton’s caliber.

On the other hand, I had low expectations for the governor, and was not disappointed.

However, I was impressed by Christie’s rhetorical power. The last (and only) full Christie speech I watched was his State of the State. (I rarely watch TV). He has really grown far beyond his YouTube reputation and confrontational performances.

In fact, he was so good on some topics that he has become a dangerous demagogue – as in “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.”

And the irrational “popular desires” Christie appeals to are not our better angels of solidarity, compassion, and meaningful higher or transcendent purpose.

Instead, Christie appeals to prejudices – greed, envy, resentment, alienation, class conflict, racism, and anger.

The demagogic dimensions of Christie’s rhetorical style were in full display as he explained why he thinks that the wealthy and highly profitable corporations shouldn’t pay their fair share in taxes.

Despite recent research, ironically by the “liberal [pointy headed] Princeton professors in ivory Towers” Christie so recently and so disdainfully mocked, Christie basically rehashed these derogatory and misleading remarks:

“I’m shocked to know that a liberal professor from Princeton believes in higher taxes on rich people,” Christie said when asked about the study. “What’s your next news flash? That President Obama’s running for reelection?” …

Cuomo have to deal with what’s real, and what’s real is what happens on the ground,” Christie said. “And what happens on the ground is, when they raise taxes, people leave to go other places, because they’re the most mobile people to begin with.”

Christie went on to defend tax avoidance as a rational – perhaps even noble – activity.

Of course rich people and corporations are going to evade taxes!  Of course the only thing they care about in life is the tax rate. And of course they would immediately move to Florida or relocate to North Carolina if NJ tax rates were increased! We’re not stupid. We know this. We don’t need facts and academic studies to tell us how our rich friends behave.

The same things with teachers. Don’t tell us were’s stupid. We don’t ned complex studies to know who the good teachers are and who are incompetent. And we know all this by back to school night!

But Christie immediately then put a human face on this unpopular and empirically false view about the millionaire’s tax.

You see, the reason that he doesn’t want to tax rich people is because it would force them to move out of state and miss all those special moments with their kids and grandchildren! Who knew?

You know, the little league games, birthday parties, school plays, family gatherings, and Spring concerts that make our lives meaningful.

Rich grandparents should only have to drive 30 minutes to see their grandkids, not fly in from Florida.

You see, he’s really a compassionate conservative who cares about kids, not a craven politician rewarding the rich and powerful!

Along a similar demagogic rhetorical line, at a time when he’s slashing educational spending and threatening to defy the Supreme Court on Abbott District funding, Christie cried crocodile tears for the poor kids trapped in failing public schools in Newark, Camden, Paterson, Tenton and Jersey City.

Christie then went on to validate Naomi Kline’s “Shock Doctrine”.

Basically, the “shock doctrine”  is when politicians manufacture or opportunistically use various crises or emergencies to impose highly unpopular and radical policies.

Christie confirmed the Shock Doctrine when he spoke about the alleged $11 billion State budget deficit, an alleged cash flow emergency, and fiscal crises he used to impose his deeply unpopular agenda. He did so in a matter of weeks and with very little legislative deliberation and no real democratic legitimacy.

Christie went even further, and openly expressed an affinity with and appreciation of – literally – dictatorial power – his words: the “need for a strong hand” that could “act with singular authority” to respond to the fiscal crisis by executive power instead of democratic legislative deliberation.

Bragging about his “Caesarian” like Executive Order declaring a financial emergency, in extraordinary and revealing remarks, Christie said:

“one stroke of the pen and you don’t have to deal with [the legislature or democracy].  It’s a wonderful power. I had no time for debate.”

That, my friends, is the Shock Doctrine in spades.

And the rhetorical veneer of protecting quality time with grandkids and the educational opportunity of poor black kids is pure Demagoguery.

Be warned – he is a dangerous man.

[Update: 5/27/11 – Asbury Park Press Statehouse reporter Mike Symons fact checks Christie’s speech – catches several lies and mis-statements: Gov. Christie slips when citing economic data -end]

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