Thursday, March 10, 2016

How To Fight Corruption In South Jersey And South Florida


The DC establishment has long ago decided that the way they want campaigns to unfold is for people to pick a team-- red vs blue or conservative vs progressive, say-- and then vote based on "identity politics." Most voters prefer campaigns that are based on issues that concern them. Tuesday night the Clinton Machine sputtered in Michigan when voters decided to cast their ballots on the clear, simple issues Bernie had been talking about-- particularly job-killing trade pacts the Clintons and their allies have been shoving down Americans' throats for decades. Remember, George H.W. Bush failed in his attempts to pass NAFTA and it wasn't until Bill Clinton took over that Wall Street got it's way... with an especially vicious assist from Clinton henchman Rahm Emanuel.

The candidates Blue America has been endorsing make their rationales for support based on a progressive vision and policy agenda and they run their campaigns based on them. Tuesday we looked at some of the issues informing Tim Canova's valiant campaign against establishment crook Debbie Wasserman Schultz in South Florida. One was trade policy. It's a good issue for Canova, not just because he knows it inside and out, but because Wasserman Schultz, a member of the Wall Street-owned New Dems, has been pushing it and was one of the faithless Democrats who voted to fast track it.

The following day, he released a paper to voters in Broward and Miami-Dade counties explaining where he stands on fracking and climate change... and why. "Here in Florida," he explained, "the legislature is debating putting our state’s water resources at risk by allowing fracking in the Everglades, an issue Wasserman Schultz has been eerily silent on. She recently sent around a weekly survey by email touting her supposed concern for Everglades restoration without even a word about the fracking threat to the Everglades, and not a word about all the money she’s been raising from energy companies hell-bent on fracking everywhere. Meanwhile, I am proud to stand with environmental groups, community activists, and labor in supporting a statewide ban on fracking."

For some people they may be enough. If they oppose fracking, they may decide right them and there to support Canova. If they favor fracking, they could immediately pledge their allegiance to Wasserman Schultz. But Canova did't leave it there. He decided to offer-- to those interested-- a much fuller explanation called Reversing Climate Change With An Alternative Energy Program.
In January 2015, it was reported that a team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, concluded that life in our oceans are on the verge of mass extinction, a result of a number of destructive human activities. Carbon emissions are making seawater more acidic, altering the very chemistry of our oceans, while warming temperatures are killing off our coral reefs. And it may be only a matter of time before acidic ocean water, evaporating into the atmosphere and returning to earth as rain, seriously poisons the land and all plant, animal, and human life.

Climate change is a global challenge. Here in South Florida, it is not simply a theoretical problem, but instead a very real and growing threat to our homes, businesses, and neighborhoods. Rising sea levels are already reflected by the “sunny day” flooding at high tide both along our coasts and inland. Already we see erosion of our seawalls, corrosion of critical infrastructure, and salt water intruding on the aquifers needed for clean drinking water. The National Academy of Sciences predicts that major parts of South Florida will be underwater in less than a decade.

Yet, our elected officials have dithered. Addressing climate change must be a national priority. We need to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses into the environment. To do so, we must aggressively reduce our dependence on burning fossil fuels, shifting our energy sources from oil, coal, and gas to sustainable, renewable, clean energy, such as wind and solar. This would also have the added benefit of rebalancing our Middle East foreign policy, which far too long has been greatly influenced by our enormous consumption of oil from a part of the world ruled by regimes that largely do not share our democratic values.

For many years, I have supported a carbon tax, as well as cap-and-trade proposals. And I reject arguments that somehow these initiatives would hamper our economy. Nine states in the Northeast have already lowered their total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap-and-trade program that was first implemented in 2008. Studies show that these states can save a combined $5.2 billion over the next fifteen years and create 50,000 new jobs each year in the region. This is because deeper emission reductions are made possible by such cost-effective measures as energy efficiency, wind and solar generation in the electric sector, and conversion from gas-powered to electric light-duty vehicles in the transportation sector. There is no good reason for the U.S. to be lagging behind other major countries, like Germany, in converting to alternative, renewable, environmentally-sound energy. Indeed, by ceding to other countries the research, development and innovation in this growing market, we put at risk our country’s dominant role in technological advancement and the resulting economic power that flows from such leadership.

I am also opposed to hydraulic fracturing, a dangerous method of gas extraction: pipelines are drilled deep into the ground and then horizontally across shale beds; fracking fluids composed of enormous amounts of water drawn from local rivers, lakes, and streams, and mixed with a brew of toxic chemicals, are injected with tremendous pressure into the shale bed; the rock is broken open to release trapped gases, which then flow to the surface for capture; and the toxic slushy water also rises back to the surface for “disposal.” Hydro fracking accelerates global warming, particularly with the release of substantial amounts of methane, one of the most serious heat-trapping greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere. It also introduces into the environment known carcinogens and neurotoxins - posing tremendous dangers to our drinking water, food supplies, and air and soil quality. It destroys habitats and poisons our wildlife. And at a time of severe drought and fires, and dwindling clean water supplies, hydro fracking significantly reduces the availability of massive amounts of water in various communities.

Floridians are especially alarmed as we witness increasing instances of contamination of underground fresh water supplies, and even earthquakes, where fracking operations are taking place across the country. We cannot sit still as the Florida State Legislature now considers putting at terrible risk the state’s water resources including our lakes, rivers, streams, bays, canals, coastline, and the Everglades, as well as our underground fresh and clean water supply, the very life source of our communities.

I am proud to stand with South Florida environmental groups, labor, community activists, the League of Cities and the Association of Counties to oppose the harmful state legislative bills (HB 191 and SB 318) currently being debated in the Florida State Legislature that would make it easier for big oil and gas companies to bring hydro fracking to our state. In addition to clearing a path to potential environmental disasters, these fracking bills also take away local municipalities’ ability to pass local ordinances and resolutions to protect their own constituents. Under these bills, no local zoning laws would be allowed to ban or even regulate fracking, thereby leaving all oversight and regulation to the already under-staffed, and overworked Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). And in any event, we cannot reasonably rely on sufficient protection from the Florida DEP, since it is subject to review by the very same energy industry-backed state legislature and governor responsible for putting forth these disastrous fracking bills.

Since January 2015, 65 cities and counties across the state of Florida, including Miami-Dade and Broward, have passed anti-fracking ordinances and resolutions. That should be proof enough that the majority of Floridians support a statewide ban on fracking-- as I do.

Many of these crucial measures-- a carbon tax, cap-and-trade, and a ban on fracking-- would be made far more difficult and costly by investment provisions in trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP’s investor rights provisions would allow large corporations to bring lawsuits against our country’s federal, state, and local laws as infringing on future corporate profit opportunities - which could have a serious debilitating effect on all kinds of health, safety, consumer, and environmental protections, from product labeling laws and the regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply, to measures intended to address climate change. These lawsuits would be decided by offshore arbitration panels made up largely of the same corporate lawyers who regularly represent the same giant companies in other cases. Although these lawyers-- while wearing the hat of arbitration judges-- would not be able to overturn our laws, they could order huge compensation awards, effectively shifting the costs of compliance from corporations to taxpayers. And there would be no meaningful judicial review by U.S. courts.

For these and other reasons, I have been a strong opponent of the TPP, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and other treaties and trade deals that include these kinds of investor protections that infringe on our national sovereignty and constitutional framework.

Significantly, these are not mere theoretical matters. Under a similar investor rights provision in NAFTA, the energy giant TransCanada recently announced it was suing the U.S. government for $15 billion for the Obama administration’s decision to not move forward with the Keystone XL Pipeline because of concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. My opponent, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, may say that she’s for addressing climate change, but by voting to fast-track the TPP, such words ring hollow.

Finally, the reality of climate change requires us to make huge investments in critical infrastructure in the coming years, from reinforcing sea walls and raising streets to protecting our electrical grid and modernizing sewage and water treatment facilities. Even without the effects of climate change, this country is facing an enormous infrastructure deficit. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need to invest nearly $4 trillion in critical infrastructure in the next few years. Addressing climate change will therefore require the mobilization of our financial resources, such as by creating a federal infrastructure bank modeled on the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) that helped finance so much of our country’s great infrastructure building projects from the 1930s to late 1950s. Because the RFC was set up as a revolving fund, it did not add much to public sector deficits, and by putting taxpaying citizens back to work, it did a lot to actually reduce our deficits. But Wall Street banks would rather we forget such lessons, do without a federal infrastructure bank, and rely instead on expensive bond markets-- all of which will only make addressing climate change far more expensive.

Like with so many of our most pressing problems, addressing climate change will require reforming our politics to reduce the influence of Wall Street, big oil and gas companies, and their corporate treasuries.

Like I said, all the Blue America candidates, not just Tim Canova, make their appeals based on showing voters what to expect from them on the issues. I was happy on Tuesday morning to see that Alex Law, our candidate in South Jersey across the river from Philly, Alex Law, had taken to HuffPo to reach out to voters, in a cost-effective way, to make the case, in concrete policy-oriented terms, why they should jettison Machine incumbent Donald Norcross and elect him instead. It's a compelling narrative for why voters should do just that. If Alex can communicate it to enough voters, he'll win the seat.
Camden, New Jersey maintains a reputation as a violent morass that swallows economic opportunity. Decades of failed economic programs had led many people to conclude Camden is the quintessential unsolvable quagmire of urban plight. Then, in a sweeping series of legislation and press releases, the world learned that New Jersey was going to send hundreds of millions to the struggling city in order to-- once again-- rebuild. A newly formed economic agency would give sellable tax credits to companies that promised to hire in the city. National and statewide observers offered a tired cheer. With the satisfaction that Camden was once again being taken care of, we shifted our crusade to other neglected towns like Flint, Michigan. Yet we turned our heads too soon. Behind the cascade of taxpayer money purportedly ameliorating Camden's woes is a far more insidious strategy, undertaken by a political faction that has organized a network of operatives to work backroom deals in order to profit from the state and federal purse, and prevent any other person, organization, or movement from stymieing their cause. It is the Norcross machine.

A trio of brothers heads the machine: George, Phil, and Donald Norcross. George Norcross, the oldest, is the undisputed leader of the gang. George owns or sits on the board of a few major companies in New Jersey and is the de facto dictator of the South Jersey Democratic Party. Phil Norcross, the middle brother, is the lawyer and lobbyist that apply the grease to make the political machine run. Donald Norcross, the youngest, is the United States Congressman from New Jersey's 1st District and acts as the conciliatory public relations piece that assures the public that Norcross interests are, in fact, your interests. Other powerful figures such as State Senate President and soon-to-be Governor candidate Steve Sweeney and Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. are the officers that marshal the operation. Through constant pressure, control of donors, and good-old-fashioned bullying, nearly every elected Democratic official south of Trenton is in some way connected to George Norcross's empire. This empire is one based on a very old, simple concept: Pay-to-Play. If you want to do business on Norcross turf, you are expected to donate to their politicians, PACs, and charities. Depending on how much you give and how little you resist their wishes, you can earn yourself lucrative government contracts and partnerships. Business gets done, the Norcross machine gets their cut, democracy is rampantly stifled, and any complaints or resistance are crushed with employment threats or other bullying. Welcome to life in South Jersey.

Over the last 30 years, George Norcross has shown an adept ability to buy, evade, or bully any enemy or impediment to his political machine's growth. Somehow, even when caught red-handed doing this in the Palmyra Tapes, it never led to any prosecution under then Attorney General Chris Christie. In return for Christie's partnership, George withheld substantial Democratic support from Christie's gubernatorial opponent Barbara Buono (she publically blasted Norcross in her concession speech). Moreover, the Philadelphia Inquirer investigated George in the early and mid 2000's. Once journalists got close, George bought the paper, fired the editor, and required journalists to investigate other stories (in 2014, a lawsuit took the paper away from George).

This article, however, is an examination of how the Norcross Machine has beset Camden with a host of new economic, education and governmental problems, while sharing huge profits with themselves and major corporations.

After years of solidifying his political machine, George finally pushed for the kind of major economic legislation that could be plainly rife with graft but impossible to stop because of his legion of underlings. Through Donald's position as a State Senator before he was a Congressman, coupled with support from State Senate President Steve Sweeney, George was able to pass the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) in 2013. The bill spent billions of tax dollars to stimulate economic opportunity in at risk areas. Camden was given a near blank check for development, just so long as corporations were willing to create some jobs. On the surface, the bill sounds harmless. However, among the fine print the EOA has funneled hundreds of millions of our tax-dollars into the Norcross family's companies and other organizations that donate to their campaign.

Of the $1.1 Billion sent to Camden, over half has gone to companies that the Norcross family has a financial interest in or have donated heavily to their campaigns. The relief did not address some of the main problems that plague Camden. None of it has gone towards addressing the fact that the city is a food desert. None of it went to small, Camden resident owned businesses. Most of the money actually given out to companies resulted in jobs being moved from their current suburban locations into the new Camden location. Of the very little actual job creation that happened, the cost per new job to tax payers has been exorbitant. Below is a brief overview of the nepotism associated with the Norcross tax credits:

1. Holtec International

Holtec received $260 million from EOA legislation to move their headquarters from nearby suburb Marlton to Camden. George Norcross leads their board of directors. On top of that, company executives have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Norcross campaigns.

Estimated cost per new job created: $215,000

2. Cooper Health System

Cooper received $40 million from EOA legislation to expand operations in Camden. George Norcross leads their board of directors. Company executives contributed tens of thousands to Norcross companies. 
Estimated cost per new job created: $250,00

3. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers received $82 million from EOA legislation to build their practice facility in Camden. Phil Norcross was the broker on the deal between the Sixers and the state. Most jobs are just being moved from the current facility staff in Philadelphia.

Estimated cost per new job created: $328,00

4. Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin received $107 million from EOA legislation to move a facility to Camden. Lockheed has been one of the biggest supporters of Norcross campaigns in recent years, support that has been reciprocated by votes by Donald Norcross to expand their defense contracts with the federal government.

Estimated cost per new job created: $300,000

5. American Water Works

American Water Works received $164 million from EOA legislation to move from their already state of the art facility in Voorhees to a new facility in Camden. The company has donated thousands to Donald Norcross' congressional campaign. Many of the jobs will just be moved from the Voorhees plant.

Estimated cost per new job created: $500,000

One of the more pernicious effects of the EOA has been to cause a dramatic rise in land prices in Camden. Since the State gave exorbitant sums of money to corporations to develop the city, a vacant lot in Camden that might have been worth $20,000 five years ago is now worth millions. Because of this rise in land value, property taxes and also rising. But, the property taxes aren't going up for the corporations. At the direction of the State, the corporations that bought land through the EOA Act all use the Cooper's Ferry Partnership to avoid full property taxes for 20 years. The Cooper's Ferry Partnership acts as a real estate holding company. The corporations that buy the land give it to Cooper's Ferry and pay them a management fee, with an agreement in place to buy it back from them after 20 years for $1. Because of Cooper's Ferry's non-profit status, if it holds onto the real estate for the corporations, a special piece of the EOA Act is activated which keeps the landholder from paying property taxes for 20 years.

Meanwhile, Camden's education system has also undergone a series of major changes that benefit the Norcross family. Through Donald, Phil, and Steve Sweeny legislation, some state aid for Camden public schools has been reallocated to charter/Renaissance schools. Unsurprisingly, most of the new charter/Renaissance schools are either directly owned by or partnered with the Norcross Foundation. These charter schools have been accused of expelling underperforming kids back to the public schools. Because of this process, the Norcross charter schools reap the statistical benefit of improving test scores by removing the students who bring down the average. To the unaware, it seems as though the charter schools are performing well. This statistical trick provides false evidence to policymakers that the Norcross charter school experiment is succeeding and should receive more money for their schools. Meanwhile, the public schools are faced with educating more students with less and less funding.

Finally, Camden's problems delve into the police force created to maintain law and order. Camden's reputation has always included violence. Prior to 2012, the Camden City Police was a struggling under-funded and under-staffed unit. Funding pressure caused the police force to disband, leaving the city virtually unprotected aside from a contingent of State Troopers. In 2012, crime spiked to all time highs. Since then, the Metro police-- controlled by a Norcross led Freeholder Board-- police Camden. The Board praises its success by pointing to improved crime rates. But similar to the success of charter schools in the city, it is merely a statistical trick. Not only does the Metro compare their current crime rates to 2012 when the Camden City police disbanded, it also lumps in statistics from some suburbs even though they have nothing to do with Camden. So, of course crime is down from the year where there was essentially no police in America's most violent city. However, crime is not noticeably lower from pre-2012 levels, even with heavy investment in equipment and manpower.

In every single facet of governing, the Norcross family has taken advantage of Camden for their own economic and political gain. Jobs have been created, but at a cost of over a billion in taxpayer dollars. With upcoming vacancies expected in the US Senate in New Jersey, Donald Norcross has his eye on moving up. State Senate President Sweeney is a favorite for the 2017 Governor's race. Both of these races could result in an expansion of this horrific political machine. The untold story of Camden should be a cautionary and alarming tale for unchecked power in America.
Alex Law and Tim Canova are both candidates who identify themselves as part of Bernie's political revolution. You can contribute to both of them or to either of them, or to other Bernie congressional candidates by tapping on the thermometer. I hope you will.
Goal Thermometer

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


At 6:39 AM, Blogger VG said...

About Tim Canova

I just donated. I hope it's not to late to help.

Worth reprising are these two articles from January

Glenn Greenwald

David Dayen


Post a Comment

<< Home