New post at Blue Jersey re: Gov. Rendell’s praise of Gov. Christie.
Read it here.
With the devastation in Japan and conflict in the Middle East, we can’t overlook the local stories that are equally important. Tragedy struck overnight in my hometown of Chatham, NJ where I’m staying for spring break, and this is the top story of the day.
CHATHAM — Officials and townspeople in the borough are saddened to learn that their first sculpture, Attic Trophy, was vandalized Monday evening in Memorial Park, to the west of the Library of the Chathams, said Mayor Nelson Vaughan on Wednesday.
The sculpture, which is on loan from the Sculpture Foundation, was pushed over on its side and, as a consequence, the sculpture’s ankle was fractured. The sculpture depicts a young girl playing with a hula hoop and was originally made possible by a grant from Investor’s Savings Bank and a donation of transportation services by Westy Storage Centers.
Hopefully the perpetrators will be quickly identified and apprehended. I just love the pictures of the “crime” scene.
The clarifying truth is that this actually IS the worst thing that’s happened in Chatham this week. With very low poverty and unemployment and virtually no crime, we’re free to mourn the loss of “Attic Trophy,” and flush enough to offer a ridiculous $1,000 reward for information about her “fractured ankle.” So in that sense, I’m extremely lucky.
The good folks at Blue Jersey drew my attention to this story earlier this week, which details the steps New Jersey is taking to implement its medical marijuana law which was passed last year. The Christie administration is slow-walking implementation of the law, and the state has proposed several regulations which at first glance might seem pretty tame:
Parents’ and caregivers’ frustration came through as they told Health Department officials that they object to a proposed limit on potency of the medical cannabis, a requirement that physicians go through more training before recommending the drug, and a $200 fee for patients to register for the program. The fee would cover two years; patients on state or federal assistance could register for $20.
Now, you might think, these pot-heads sure are complaining a lot about nothing! But the key here is that these patients are already obtaining marijuana illegally on the black market. The goal of the regulations, therefore, should be to first displace and then ultimately replace this black market for the sickest New Jerseyans. That’s why the legislature passed the law — so that HIV and cancer patients wouldn’t be branded criminals for taking their medicine.
But these regulations throw up roadblocks that would incentivize people to keep buying illegally. Does your pot dealer need a $200 license to carry your bag of weed? Is she limited to growing three strains of pot? Another proposed regulation bans home-delivery of marijuana through licensed alternative-care centers. That sounds nice, until you realize that a lot of marijuana dealers will gladly offer home-delivery. And they won’t be limiting the “potency” of their product.
It would be one thing if marijuana was truly dangerous or there was a high risk of overdose. But there isn’t. Do we really need to mandate that physicians get extra training to prescribe a drug that’s safer than virtually all prescription pain medication? I’m not sure if these regulations are well-intentioned or not; regardless, they will effectively neuter the law, despite their ring of common sense. Until they’re changed, I’d have to reluctantly agree with patient Sandra Failoa: “I would rather wait until [new] regulations are created rather than see a program with these problems.” Replacing the black market with a more expensive, more annoying market won’t get us very far.
A couple weeks back, Greg Sargent had a great post where he essentially argued that the term “fiscal hawk” does not actually mean what progressives think it means (or want it to mean) — namely, someone who wants to aggressively tackle the deficit. Rather, since the media regularly confers the term on people like Paul Ryan, someone who voted for debt-financed Medicare expansion and tax cuts without offsets, the term “fiscal hawk” actually means “someone who is fully committed to reducing the deficit through tax cuts, entitlement reform and frequent expressions of general hostility towards government.” And I think the upshot of Greg’s post is that progressives need to realize that the media has internalized this definition to such a degree that it might no longer be worth fighting a losing battle with a mere dictionary in hand.
Well, I think we might be reaching that point with “fiscal conservative.” From an article about NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s new budget:
Gov. Chris Christie’s budget will include about $200 million in business tax cuts, with more proposed for the next four years, according to sources familiar with the proposal to be laid out later today…
The tax cuts would fulfill a Christie pledge to make New Jersey more business friendly and help solidify his image as a fiscal conservative. It’s unclear whether the cuts will include income taxes, which he has said would come only after the economy improved.
I thought there was a consensus that “fiscally conservative” meant “fiscally responsible,” not “supports corporate tax cuts.” The accepted definition, by the way, is a huge triumph for the conservative movement, as conservatism has been anything but responsible when it comes to the federal budget. But there are few more annoying tics of cosmopolitan elites than the tendency to reflexively describe their politics as “socially liberal, fiscally conservative.” What they mean by this is, “I’m not like those crazy religious people, but I don’t know anything about fiscal or budget policy and want to show I’m not (Heaven forbid) a knee-jerk liberal, so I’ll attach the word conservative to fiscal and go on my merry way.”
But maybe that is changing. The article quoted above is evidence that at least some in the media are actually using a more accurate definition of the term — as in, being “fiscally conservative” means you support the fiscal policies promoted by conservatives when in power, which, as the article correctly notes, is tax cuts for corporations and wealthy people.
This is actually good news, as a change here will actually add clarity and vastly improve the debate. Unlike the “fiscal hawk” situation (who doesn’t like being a hawk?), what’s left is for progressives not to change the definition of fiscal conservatism but to convince people who aren’t orthodox Republicans that they are not, in fact, fiscally conservative. Much like the generation-long conservative crusade to demagague progressive judicial rulings as dreaded “judicial activism” run amok, it turns out that they were so successful that “judicial activism” lost even the thinnest thread of its original meaning. Even neutral observers began to notice that Scalia and Thomas were striking down plenty of Congressional statutes they disagreed with, which is the actual definition of judicial activism. But just like last year when Ted Olson admitted on Fox News that “judicial activism” really means “a ruling you don’t like” and Chris Wallace chuckled along, maybe progressives should realize that in this case, too, there’s a golden opportunity to come full circle.
Tom Friedman’s latest column calls for an $1.00/gallon federal gasoline tax (unclear if he means total or on top of current rate), phased in at $.05/month starting in 2012. He argues, “With one little gasoline tax, we can make ourselves more economically and strategically secure” and he’s absolutely correct. If we define “grand bargain” as a “compromise blessed by everyone who matters without worrying the beautiful minds of voters,” this is the one that elites of all stripes should be pushing. Right now.
The policy is an absolute no-brainer, but most objections on the progressive side stem from the fact that gasoline taxes are typically regressive. First, while that’s generally true, many of the poorest Americans (especially in urban areas) do not own cars. Second, progressives need to break out of the knee-jerk analysis that a non-progressive tax cannot have progressive impacts or is by definition a bad thing. Environmental damage disproportionally affects vulnerable communities, and furthermore almost all government spending has a disproportionally progressive impact. Governments are facing a revenue crisis right now, and refusing to budge on this point will simply enable deeper spending cuts, which will most hurt the people progressives claim to represent.
The situation in New Jersey is approaching parody. New Jersey’s gas tax of 10.5 cents/gallon has not be raised in since 1988, and is the third-lowest in the nation behind Wyoming and Alaska (see something wrong here?). Meanwhile, our Transportation Trust Fund, primarily funded by the gas tax, is on life-support due to a series of one-time budget gimmicks, and we apparently cannot afford things like infrastructure projects that are essential for future economic growth in the state. If I were Gov. Christie’s Budget Advisor, this is the one area where I would beg him to break from Republican orthodoxy. The revenue potential is enormous. Raising the gas tax by 20 cents/gallon would raise an additional $1 billion per year, and New Jersey’s gas tax would still be below that of neighboring New York.
Now it’s true, as Yglesias notes, that now’s not exactly the best time to be imposing additional tax burdens, and Atrios is correct that — especially with oil prices topping $100/barrel — there’s a potential for an “American Riot.” All the more reason to hope for elite overlords in both parties to hold hands and do what’s right, even if politically perilous. Honestly, with the musings about Social Security “reform” and our open-ended bipartisan commitment to Afghanistan, I think there’s evidence that they don’t listen to public opinion anyway… but that’s a separate post.