Archive for March, 2013

Sacrifice Zone: Fourth and Long for Paulsboro, NJ

March 26th, 2013 No comments

Surrounded by petro-chemical complex, abandoned by government

Complete Breakdown in Democracy and Governing

view from the bleachers at Paulsboro HS – would you want your kid taking a corner kick into that?

In his most recent book “Days of Destruction – Days of Revolt“, Chris Hedges writes about what he calls “sacrifice zones”: (watch Hedges talk in Seattle Town Hall)

those areas of the country that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement. We wanted to show in words and drawings what life looks like when the marketplace rules without constraints, where human beings and the natural world are used and then discarded to maximize profit. We wanted to look at what the ideology of unfettered capitalism means for families, communities, workers, and the ecosystem.

Hedges writes about Pine Ridge South Dakota, Welch West Virginia, Immokalee Florida, and Camden NJ as “sacrifice zones” – and sadly, Paulsboro also in a sacrifice zone.

It’s been almost 4 months since the Toxic Train Wreck forced evacuation of Paulsboro NJ.

Here’s what’s gone on since:

  • The toxic trains have resumed running;
  • the 100 year old bridge that caused the derailment has not been replaced; [update: it took over a year to start construction, but the bridge was replaced.]
  • there have been no improvements to local emergency management programs;
  • there has been no expansion of chemical facility, rail, or air monitoring
  • there has been no enforcement by NJ DEP or US EPA
  • there have been no efforts to strengthen chemical safety laws and regulations
  • Conrail is bribing local residents to waive rights to sue
  • the chemical industry has blackmailed federal and state officials to reopen the rail line

Bascally, nothing has been learned from the accident and no reforms have been enacted.

[Update: The NTSB issued an accident Report in 2014 documenting numerous failures – validating our severe criticism written shortly after the derailment.]

Worse, industry, local and state officials have refused to comment on proposed reforms.

scene of the crime. Rail bridge over 100 years old – millions of pounds of toxic chemicals regularly cross thie bridge.

Where are US Sentators Lautenberg and Mendendez? They should have introduced legislation to close loopholes and ramp up chemical rail safety and strengthen federal laws on the facilities that produce toxic chemicals and discharge millions of pounds of these toxic chemicals to our air, water and land.

Where are the regulators? EPA and DEP have simply abandoned the people of Paulsboro and left their health and safety to the kindness of strangers –  Conrail and the chemical industry.

Where are NJ state legislators, powerful Senate President Sweeney and Assemblyman Burzichelli, in whose district this disaster occurred?

Even local officials are in the tank.

Into this irresponsible industry and government abdication, on March 5, 2013, a group of local residents petitioned the local government (Philly Inquirer):

a Paulsboro citizens group submitted a petition to the Borough Council on Tuesday evening asking it to consider installing at least four air-quality monitors around town, to be paid for by Conrail and local industry.

What was the response of local officials?

“We will take this into consideration,” Mayor W. Jeffery Hamilton said, adding that the council would also forward it to State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assemblyman John Burzichelli, both Gloucester County Democrats.

Speaking later, Councilman Alfonso Giampola struck a cautionary note.

Giampola, also Paulsboro’s fire chief, said that equipment that can test for multiple chemicals is expensive and that it was unclear if Conrail and local industries would pay for it.

In a March 20 followup story by the Philadelphia Daily News

Representatives from the Paulsboro Refining Co., which turns crude oil into gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel, did not return requests for comment. ExxonMobil, in a statement, said the company hasn’t been contacted by the committee but said safety is a “core value” at the two facilities the company operates in the Paulsboro area.

Bill Wolfe, head of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said he doesn’t think the companies or the state will install air monitors around town.

“They don’t want to open that door, to go for fence-line air monitoring,” said Wolfe, a former DEP employee. “That would open Pandora’s box.”

Neither state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, of neighboring West Deptford, nor Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a former Paulsboro mayor, returned requests for comment.

Elvin Montero, a spokesman for the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, had no comment on the petition, calling it a “local matter.” He said all members of the chemistry council comply with “applicable local, state and federal standards and regulations, and in many cases exceed them.”

A Conrail spokesman said the company “remains committed to working with the city of Paulsboro to address their concerns.” But many residents have complained that Conrail failed to address concerns about the Mantua Creek swing bridge that was built in the late 1800s.

What is going on in Paulsboro is shameful.

And there are growing scores of Paulsboro’s all across NJ – coming to a community near you: “sacrifice zone”.

a few hundred feet from the HS, unsecured chemical rail cars, COIM chemical plant and refinery form a daily toxic nightmare for the people of Paulsboro

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A Whiff of Wallace

March 25th, 2013 2 comments

A Politician’s Rhetoric On History Suggests Values and Public Policies

In my post taking exception to Asbury Park Press columnists John Schoonejongen’s defense of Goverrnor Christie, I made reference to George Wallace.

I wrote that Chrisite’ rhetoric was “closer to George Wallace than a diverse and progressive state like NJ.”, a remark I stand by. Our Gov. exudes more than a whiff of Wallace to this nose.

Well, in a reply I just received this morning, Mr. Schoonejongen, took me to task, again defending Christie’s use of words, while calling my allusion to “white flight” “an incredible stretch“:

Did the governor use the words “white flight”? I don’t have a transcript or the full tape in front of me to know. I would assume he did not or that would have been amplified fairly quickly.

If he did not say those words, then it’s an incredible stretch to imply that he was praising white flight because he talked about how his parents moved him to Livingston as a child to provide him with a better education. He has on more than one occasion used that example to argue for school choice for those he says are trapped in underperforming districts. You can like that approach or not, but it’s a major stretch to call that a George Wallace moment.

Incredible stretch? I think it’s called a “dog whistle”.

I don’t have a transcript in front of me, but the Gov. favorably described his own family’s experience of an extremely controversial historical period in not only Newark, but urban America.

So, how can Gov. Christie’s rhetoric about the recent history of a major social issue, land use pattern, and economic phenomena that many historians refer to as “white flight“, get boiled down to just one public policy issue, i.e. so called “educational choice”?

Do words and phrases and descriptions of history only literally denote meaning?

Can there be no connotation? No implied but obvious deeper meaning? Everything is interpreted as literal?

I was past that point intellectually in grade school – how can NJ media be so naive and stupid?

Just contrast Christie’s version of history with Barbara Buono’s. Obviously, in presenting her personal narrative of upward mobility and opportunity, Buono transmits liberal values and implies a broad set of public policies.

Why does Gov. Christie’s personal history get boiled down to “educational choice”?

Here’s my reply to Mr.  Schoonejongen:


The governor DESCRIBED white flight from his own family’s experience, in a positive way. That’s praising it.

There’s a lot of cultural baggage, history, and public policy implied in that description, far more than just “educational opportunity”. Just why did all those white people leave Newark in the 1960’s?

I think the academics and liberal pundits refer to that kind of rhetorical practice as a “dog whistle”.

If you think that’s a stretch or that I’m exaggerating, then ask yourself why Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 Presidential campaign with a State’s Rights speech in Neshoba County Mississppi?

Books have been written about how Republicans have played the “southern strategy” – and it all gets tied back to George Wallace, thus my reference. See

Getting back to NJ:

Buono did a similar thing when she DESCRIBED upward mobility and opportunity in her appearance on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show. The Buono version of history transmits its own values and public policy, and is not limited to “educational opportunity” by media.

So why is the Christie version interpreted literally and delimited so narrowly?


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Missing the Point on Highlands Legal Appointment

March 24th, 2013 1 comment

Radical Doctrine of Executive Power Is Threat, Not Advocacy of Repeal of Highlands Act

The Star Ledger reports today on the controversy over appointment of a new Legal Counsel at the Highlands Commission:

CHESTER TOWNSHIP — The new chief counsel for the state’s Highlands Council, appointed last week, wrote in a November 2011 essay that the Highlands Act “should be repealed,” touching off a barrage of criticism from environmentalists and some council members.

I often criticize news coverage as misdirected, misleading, lame, etc and usually blame the reporter – but not in this case.

In this case, I blame his sources.

The environmental critics focused on the fact that Mr. Davis advocated repeal of the Highlands Act as the main reason for why he should not have been appointed.

While clearly a disturbing view, that criticism is misplaced, while the real reason Mr. Davis is not qualified is ignored.

First of all, the NJ Senate already confirmed Council members [Gov. Christie nominees] who opposed and openly called for the Highlands Act to be repealed, so Mr. Davis breaks no new ground.

But more importantly, Mr. Davis’ role as Chief Counsel to the Highlands Council is advisory, not a policy making role. His advice to the Council will reflect his legal views, analysis, and judgements, which are supposed to be based on law (yes, which are shaped by his policy views, but the law establishes constraints on policy views).

Therefore, while his policy views on the Act are relevant, the more important consideration is his legal views, not his policy views.

In the legal arena, Mr. Davis’ legal views should be disqualifying.

Mr. Davis wrote an Op-Ed – written as a lawyer, for a legal audience, and based on his legal analysis – that advocated discredited, false, and radical views on executive power.

The reason that  Mr. Davis’ views on executive power are supremely relevant is that he thinks that his policy views (i.e. repeal of the Act) legitimately can be accomplished via executive action.

That dangerous and radical notion taints every legal recommendation he will offer.

Let me be specific:

In addition to advocating the repeal of the Highlands Act, Mr. Davis argued that if the Act was NOT repealed by the Legislature, that Gov. Christie had the legal power to and should abolish the Commission by Executive action – under the Executive Reorganization Act – and transfer its functions to the State Planning Commission. (see prior use by Gov. Christie on higher education)

This is radical and discredited (in case of COAH ) legal doctrine and should be the basis for disqualification from any public office. A lawyer who advocates such legal views is either a radical, outside the legal mainstream, or incompetent. Either are grounds for rejection of his candidacy.

It is the same as if an advocate of nullification and interposition were seeking appointment as the head of the US Justice Department’s civil rights division.

We’ve seen similar abuses when religious fundamentalists have taken over school boards and injected their radical religious views into the science curriculum on Darwinian evolution or climate change.

Here are Davis’ own words, from an November 2011 Op-Ed in the NJ Law Journal, revealingly titled: A Fix for the Highlands Problem  (subscription service, so no link available. Will share upon request):

The Highlands Act should be repealed, and the planning functions of the council reallocated elsewhere in state government, preferably through an act of the Legislature. If no legislation is forthcoming, the powers of the Executive Reorganization Act could be exercised by the governor to achieve the same result. 

The planning responsibilities of the Highlands Council could be transferred to the State Planning Commission, which itself was recently transferred to the Department of State under Reorganization Plan No. 002-2011. The commission is an entity already in existence, and already charged with mapping out state land use policy, so it would make sense to incorporate all the Highlands planning data and knowledge base into this agency. Such a merger would also eliminate or reduce the overhead costs of running the council in its current form.

The Highlands Council was created by the legislature and the powers of the Council were delegated by and allocated to the Council by the Legislature.

The Council can not be abolished by action of the Governor, nor can its powers be transferred without an act of the Legislature.

This is not an arcane legal point.

Mr. Davis may attempt to implement his policy views by executive power – which directly conflict with the policy established by the Legislature in the Highlands Act – via his recommendations to the Council.

And that is the underlying problem with Mr. Davis.

He can legitimately hold any policy view under the sun, but he can’t just make up legal shit.

(ps – I am not suggesting that the Gov. will abolish the Council by executive action.

Rather, that Mr. Davis and his like minded Council members will feel empowered and that it is legally legitimate to unwind the Master Plan, dismantle the work of planners and scientists, and gut the Act via the accelerated 2014 Plan update.

They will feel that there are no legal constraints to doing what they could never accomplish through legitimate action by the legislature.

And that’s what makes them such dangerous radicals: righteousness without legal constraint.

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Ship of Fools

March 24th, 2013 No comments

“It was later than I thought when I first believed you”

Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools

Listen to the album version

Listen to a Live version

Went to see the captain, strangest I could find,

Laid my proposition down, laid it on the line.

I won’t slave for beggar’s pay, likewise gold and jewels,

But I would slave to learn the way to sink your ship of fools.

Ship of fools on a cruel sea,

Ship of fools sail away from me.

It was later than I thought when I first believed you,

Now I cannot share your laughter, ship of fools.

Saw your first ship sink and drown, from rockin’ of the boat,

And all that could not sink or swim was just left there to float.

I won’t leave you drifting down, but woh it makes me wild,

With thirty years upon my head to have you call me child.

Ship of fools on a cruel sea,

Ship of fools sail away from me.

It was later than I thought when I first believed you,

Now I cannot share your laughter, ship of fools.

The bottles stand as empty, as they were filled before,

Time there was and plenty, but from that cup no more.

Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few,

Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools.

Ship of fools on a cruel sea,

Ship of fools sail away from me.

It was later than I thought, when I first believed you,

Now I cannot share your laughter, ship of fools.

It was later than I thought when I first believed you,

Now I cannot share your laughter, ship of fools.

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Some Pundits Think Critics Are Being Unfair to Gov. Christie

March 23rd, 2013 No comments

Gov.’s critics said to “strain the bounds of civil political dialogue” and “make stuff up”

Wish I could say I got a laugh out of  Asbury Park Press columnist John Schoonejongen’s column today:  Dems go overboard on Christie attacks – because that’s what it deserved.

But, I’m in no laughing mood lately and the last thing that Gov. Christie needs is pundits with a platform scolding his critics – Christie is a well equipped YouTube attack dog himself and is surrounded by media flacks like Drewniak.

Schoonejongen accuses Gubernatorial candidate Senator Barbara Buono of  a “fevered response” (I think Buono is hot too!) and attacks Democrats and un-named “liberal bloggers” of “making stuff up” and “parsing his statements in ways that strain the bounds of civil political dialogue.”

I’ll self affiliate in this case with the “liberal blogger” camp and take umbrage – I don’t care about the “civil dialogue” hit, but am offended because I don’t “make stuff up” and none of the critics Mr. Schoonejongen doesn’t name did so either.

By definition, “parsing words” can never be “making stuff up”.

Note that Schoonejongen has not held the Governor’s own statements – the objects of the criticism – to those same standards, and the media rarely has.

So, being the direct SOB that I am lately, I just sent Mr. Schoonejongen this note:

John – just read your piece on Christie’s Paterson remarks et al.

strain the bounds of civil political dialogue” and “making stuff up” are curious double standards selectively applied to Christie critics late in the game, no?

How about applying those same standards to the Gov.? If the media did, maybe the Gov.’s public approval rating wouldn’t be 72%.

BTW, the most egregious thing Christie said in Paterson got absolutely no mention by Democrats or media.

It was the part where Christie highlighted his own family’s move out of Newark, in a favorable way and without reflection, regret, or caveat.

The Gov. praised “white flight”.

Now, that’s closer to George Wallace than a diverse and progressive state like NJ.


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