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Vapid Sound Bites Proliferate As We Surrender Democracy To Corporate Oligarchs

April 18th, 2014 No comments

Princeton Research Concludes that US is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy

Governor Christie Provides A Road Map To How Oligarchs Rule

NJ Media Ignores the Issue

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism. ~~~ Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens

We’ll get to the boxed quote above in a minute.

For those that don’t get into the weeds to follow the internal workings of government – or are too lazy to file an OPRA public records request and conduct a file review – the Mastro interview summaries provide a revealing Cliff Notes glimpse into how the Christie government operates.

I’m an in the weeds guy, so I stayed up practically all night reading the DEP summaries -

One would assume that everyone would question why 11 of the 75 interviews were of NJ environmental officials (including 1 former DEP manager now in the Gov.’s Office) – and what role DEP played in the Rockefeller development controversy at the heart of the most potentially criminal part of the scandal.

Do reporters think it is appropriate and standard operating procedure for the Gov. to have his political arm (Office of Intergovernmental Affairs) arrange a series of private Commissioner and high level DEP meetings with a major corporation like the Rockefeller Development Group to discuss DEP regulatory approvals for a billion dollar development project?

So, over the last few days, I’ve been reaching out to reporters covering the various Christie scandals to try to explain what the Mastro interview summaries reveal about how Governor Christie governs.

Or more specifically, how corrupt and beholden to corporate economic interests and the Gov.’s political agenda the DEP has become.

Let’s just say reporters have no interest in any of that.

For the most part, they prefer to focus on the scandal aspects – as opposed to the governing or policy aspects – of the story, and lazily write the Mastro cover story, e.g. Most of Hoboken Sandy Energy Grants not scored due to errors, memo’s show

Or write vapid bullshit like this:

(and Matt Katz is one of the better reporters now working at the best media outlet, in terms of serious coverage of public policy issues.)

Which brings us to the boxed quote above.

This morning, I came across that finding from a research paper published by a Princeton University professor – in straight forward statistical regression analysis, the paper demonstrates that the US is an Oligarchy, not a democracy or representative democracy.

Professor  Gilens’ paper confirms the prior theoretical work of another Princeton professor, Sheldon Wolin, laid out in his masterpiece book: Democracy Incorporated – Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism

[Robert Reich dubs it "The New Gilded Age" - while Mat Taibbi writes of  American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap]

One would think that Princeton study a rather newsworthy finding, no?

One would think it is not hard to use the Rockefeller influence on Gov. Christie and DEP as a perfect illustration of that research.

So, why isn’t that story being written? Especially after the NY Times opened the door in a scathing expose, see

The Mastro DEP summaries lay the story out on a silver platter.

But instead of serious reporting about how the Rockefeller Development Group got Gov. Christie’s support and a series of closed door meetings with the DEP on regulatory approvals – and what kind of reforms must be enacted to end those abuses –  we get more vapid blather from the press corps.

No wonder we’ve surrendered democracy to the corporate Oligarchs.

They’ve got the best media money can buy.

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Congrats To Union College Hockey On National Championship

April 16th, 2014 No comments

Cornell Knocked out of ECAC & NCAA Tournament By Eventual National Champion

Congratulations are in order for Union College, who won their first national championship on Saturday in Philadelphia, at the NCAA Frozen Four.

Just remember Union fans that – with  a few breaks – it could have been very different – photos of Union v. Cornell ECAC semifinal game in Lake Placid NY on March 21, where Cornell was eliminated.

first period

open net!

 

close

point blank shot from the slot

 

good chance

good chance for deflection

 

rebound?

rebound?

 

crashing the net

Union defenders blocked lots of shots

 

close

close

 

union4

 

 

 

 

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A Different View of Fenimore Streams Is Revealing

April 16th, 2014 No comments

Roxbury Residents Sold Out and Misled

Latest news on the Fenimore landfill fiasco is that the local politicians have bowed to Gov. Christie and now support the DEP’s closure plan. The support of local politicians comes over their residents’ strong objections and demands to “truck it out”, see:

That sell out story is no surprise here, because I always knew Jim Rilee and the Fenimore Fools were unprincipled cowards who would never defy Gov. Christie and would sell out their residents to maintain loyalty to Gov. Christie.

But, in reading the news story, I decided to hit the link and read what I thought was the Township’s independent consultant’s Report.

Right off the bat, I questioned the consultant’s independence, given their prior solid waste work, relationship with DEP, and state “LSRP” license – all that gives them financial incentives not to rock the boat, retain viability as a consultant, and not alienate or limit access to DEP. And curiously, the Report was addressed to and prepared for Mr. Bucco, not the Township, so I will call it the “Bucco report”.

I had no time this morning to read the “Bucco Report” in detail, so I scrolled through the table of contents and saw something about streams. I’ve seen the streams there so was interested in what the Report said about them.

The “Bucco Report” says this about the nearby streams that are impacted by the landfill:

Two streams flow around the landfill property. One stream flows downhill in an easterly direction south of the landfill, and the other stream flows downhill in a southeasterly direction north of the landfill. These two streams converge outside of the landfill property to the east and form a tributary of Drakes Brook (see Appendix I for a detailed report). Sampling of these streams as recent as March 2013 did not show any impacts from the landfill; see Figure 12 for a map of sample locations. As mentioned before, a program to sample these streams as well as existing groundwater monitoring wells on a regular basis should be developed and implemented as part of any closure option.

Having walked the landfill perimeter on October 15, 2011 and seen the streams with my own eyes (and camera) and having some knowledge of the health of NJ’s streams and the impacts of landfills on streams, I found that statement very hard to believe. No impacts on those streams from the landfill? No impacts from the upstream development? What?

When I toured the site, I saw leachate breakout from the landfill slope flowing into streams, various solid waste disposed in streams, and significant stream bank erosion caused by storm water runoff from the landfill (and upstream development).

All these observations strongly suggest chemical, biological and physical water quality impairment.

So, I stopped reading the Bucco Report and scrolled to Figure 12 and Appendix I to look at the sampling locations and the so called “detailed report”, including sampling methodology, and water quality  and biological monitoring data.

There are longstanding DEP approved water quality assessment methods and tools to assess water quality so that DEP can determine “impairment” and compliance with Clean Water Act standards. Did the “detailed report” follow these technical protocols?

No.

Figure 12 shows the location of 3 sample sites, which don’t look like they are located in streams. No data or methods are provided.

Appendix I does not provide any “detailed report” on the streams or any analysis of the impact of the landfill on the water quality or ecological health of the streams.

Appendix I is an extremely narrow and misleading rebuttal of a straw man argument (i.e. whether “SEP deposited waste on an existing stream that flowed across the surface of the landfill”. Here is the stated objective of Appendix I – it certainly is not a “detailed report and does not even attempt consider water quality impacts of the landfill, as clearly implied in the text of the Report. Here is the objective of Appendix I:

This report has been prepared in order to document our findings of the location of the Fenimore Landfill with respect to existing streams. The assessment was initiated in order to explore the validity of comments made by a Roxbury resident (Carlos Robert Mederos) that SEP deposited waste on an existing stream that flowed across the surface of Fenimore Landfill (the Landfill). It is our understanding that this statement was made based on personal knowledge that the SEP landfilling operation was in part upon an existing stream. The individual did not have any evidence to that effect and we conducted an investigation to assess the validity of his statement.

So what the Report did on the stream issue practically amounts to a lie. I hope that is not an indication of the credibility of the rest of the report, but I am not optimistic in that regard.

Along with the incomplete and highly misleading text of the Bucco Report on streams, I found even more misleading photos. Go look at the stream photos in that Report, and compare them with my own photos below (all shot on 10/15/11):

waste disposed outside LF permitter and property boundary - leachate seep

waste disposed outside LF perimeter and property boundary – leachate seeps

leachate seep and runoff from landfill flows into streams

leachate seep and runoff from landfill flows into streams – note orange iron content

 

drums on slope of landfill

drums on slope of landfill

 

runoff from landfill creates erosion

runoff from landfill creates erosion

 

over 5 feet high stream bank erosion downstream of landfill

Top right – over 5 feet high stream bank erosion downstream of landfill

 

more severe stream bank erosion - this is a physical "impairment"

more severe stream bank erosion – this is a physical “impairment”

 

DEP remedial action in progress public notice sign at entrance gate: New World Engineering!

Read the DEP remedial action in progress public notice sign at entrance gate: Matrix New World Engineering!

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Christie DEP Dodges Tough Decisions on Drinking Water Infrastructure Deficits

April 15th, 2014 No comments

EPA Asked To Oversee Enforcement of Permits To Prevent Sandy Failures

Gov. Christie’s Austerity Approach Accelerates Crumbling Infrastructure

A photo from Monmouth County of the affected pipe (source: Star Ledger) (June 2012)

A photo from Monmouth County of the affected pipe (source: Star Ledger) (June 2012)

In another example of hiding controversial and important policy decisions under obscure DEP website links, the Christie DEP recently posted a new “Asset Management” Guidance document.

The DEP is posting documents in dribs and drabs as part of the long delayed Water Supply Master Plan Update.

DEP apparently thinks this voluntary Guidance developed  ”by invitation only” friends behind closed doors can substitute for a robust public planning process, backed by enforceable regulations and real funding mechanisms.

But buried in the weeds of that Guidance is a huge admission by DEP – Sandy exposed the fact that water and sewer facilities violated the terms of their permits and that DEP failed to monitor, inspect and enforce these permit requirements.

According to NJ’s “Sandy Recovery Plan”

At the height of the storm, 94 wastewater treatment systems suffered failures or disruptions, including inadequate treatment, broken sewer mains, and other operational issues. The loss of electrical power rendered many water systems unable to maintain service. Even at plants where backup generation was available, the disruption of the petroleum production and delivery system caused generator fuel supplies to be limited.

The vast majority of New Jersey’s community water supply systems were impacted: 427 of 604 community water systems experienced power loss during the event. As a direct result of the service interruptions, 362,334 New Jersey residents were placed under a boil water advisory. One month after Superstorm Sandy made landfall, eight drinking water systems in Ocean County, serving approximately 10,000 households, were still subject to a boil water advisory. ”

Those severe failures were predicted and preventable.

Based on those failures, PEER requested that EPA conduct oversight and condition any future federal funding on compliance.

Get the full story, with links to the documents, from our friends at PEER:

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For Immediate Release:  Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Contact:  Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

CHRISTIE’S OTHER HIDDEN MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR DEFICIT
No Plan to Pay for Huge Water Infrastructure Shortfall Aggravated by Sandy  

Trenton — New Jersey is facing a massive and growing financial gap in its ability to protect water supplies and infrastructure but has no plan to pay for needed improvements or prevent coming water emergencies, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A water infrastructure deficit pegged at nearly $13 billion several years ago has now ballooned by impacts and implications of Super-Storm Sandy, sea level rise and expected extreme weather events.

An “Asset Management” Guidance document quietly posted earlier this month on the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) website is the latest placeholder for the long overdue Update of the State Water Supply Management Plan.  In this Guidance, the state acknowledges that in order to safeguard drinking water supplies it must invest heavily in upgrading sewage treatment plants, controlling sewer overflows, installing backup generators and shielding other waterworks.  Yet, it has no plan for doing so:

  • The Statewide Water Supply Management Plan has not been updated in nearly 20 years and is based upon hydrological data from the 1980’s;
  • The state admits its legal duty to “require drinking water and wastewater utilities to demonstrate that they have adequate facilities, and equipment, and that they regularly perform operation and maintenance to meet the conditions in their permits,” according to the Guidance document but has no timetable for enforcing these requirements; and
  • Governor Chris Christie does not want to discuss how to pay for these heavy investments, given the tough choice of impinging on private water company profits or raising customers’ utility rates.

“Our water infrastructure deficit is a yawning fiscal sinkhole which the Christie administration wants to treat like it is merely a decorative koi pond,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former long-time DEP analyst.  “The post-Sandy factors now in play make our already huge water infrastructure needs both more expensive and urgent – they will not go away.”

The state’s failure to enforce “resilience” and “asset management” requirements in DEP permits is not merely academic – it could jeopardize federal Clean Water Act funding tied to these same requirements.

Today, PEER wrote to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck to inquire when resilience and asset management requirements for water infrastructure would be invoked.

The state’s continuing malaise was underlined in the April 3rd transmittal email from DEP’s Water Supply Modeling & Planning chief, Jeffrey Hoffman, on the release of its Asset Management Guidance:

“I checked and am told that it is DEP’s goal to eventually incorporate these guidelines into regulations. DEP is open to suggestions on how to improve the guidelines in order to create more effective regulations.  I am not aware of any formal review process or meetings but comments are welcomed.”

“Unfortunately, our water infrastructure deficit is compounded by a leadership deficit,” added Wolfe. Pointing out that since the notoriously anti-regulatory Gov. Christie has no schedule for converting these thorny and costly voluntary standards into mandatory regulations, it is likely the problem will be left to his successor.  “Ensuring healthful water supplies for New Jersey should not be just another political can kicked down the road.”

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Read the PEER letter

Examine New Jersey’s vague new Guidance on Asset Management

Revisit water emergency in immediate wake of Sandy

Look at historic $12.8 billion water infrastructure deficit

See how Sandy multiplied water infrastructure needs

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability

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Delaware Bayshore History a Barometer for Measuring Climate Change Sea Level Rise

April 14th, 2014 No comments

Where is the vision and leadership to protect the people and resources of the Bayshore Region?

NJ Spotlight ran an excellent piece today on the impacts of climate change driven sea level rise on the Delaware Bayshore region, see:

It’s not just scientists and environmentalists that know about the dangers of climate change and are sounding alarming warnings.

The excellent NJ Spotlight piece uses the East Point Lighthouse and regional historical resources as very visible indicators of the rise in sea levels, mainly attributable to climate change:

East Point Lighthouse stands about 118 feet from the high-tide line on South Jersey’s Delaware Bay shore, but it used to be much further away.

The historic structure at the mouth of the Maurice River was 460 feet from the high-water mark when it was inspected in 1908, according to the Maurice River Historical Society, which has helped to restore the lighthouse, and is keeping a careful eye on its proximity to the ocean. By 2008, the margin shrunk to 174 feet, and then to 118 feet in 2013.

It’s a shame that the highly vulnerable and ecologically and historically rich Delaware Bayshore region has been ignored by the Obama/Christie post Sandy funding blitz.

The people and local/county governments of the region have recently come together to produce a forward looking regional plan to preserve the history, culture and resources of the Bayshore and adapt to climate change threats. (see this post).

That local/regional voluntary effort has been ignored by federal and state funders, as well as the non-profit and philanthropic communities.

IF adequate resources were provided, the conditions are ripe for institutionalizing a regional planning framework along the lines of the Pinelands and Highlands and Meadowlands regions.

But where is there vision and the leadership to make that happen?

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