Politics As Usual – Alex Giannattasio

As Of Yet Untitled

Corruption in New Jersey politics is not a new phenomenon. Rather, it is a part of everyday political life in New Jersey, the lard that keeps the densely packed population from grating against each other. The topic has even been touched upon in the Johnsonville Press in months past. Even so, never in my time in New Jersey have I seen the hailstorm that is Jersey politics reign down so openly and violently as it has in July, 2009. Rallies, races and arrests are converging on our tiny state, making for a near perfect political storm. The weather, at least, seems to be in agreement; is it coincidence that we’ve had two tornados in two weeks this month in the Jers, or are there dark forces at work here…

I was driving home to Johnsonville last night, lightning flashing all around me. I was enjoying a particularly relevant NPR piece on the recent arrests of five New Jersey politicians among 39 other community and religious leaders throughout New Jersey and New York. These included the Mayors of three major New Jersey metropolises: Secaucus, Hoboken, and Jersey City. The commentator, with a slightly smug tone, was discussing the implications of these arrests for upcoming gubernatorial race between incumbent Jon Corzine and Republican Chris Christie of the State Attorney General’s office. He did not fail to note that nearly all of the politicians arrested are in fact, Democratic Party members, and speculated that this would have a negative effect on Corzine’s campaign.

“Thanks, tell me something I don’t know, you smug bastard”, I said to my radio, as I am prone to do.To date, Chris Christie still leads in the polls, demonstrating New Jersey’s skepticism with Jon Corzine, and their willingness to support a new candidate, even (gasp!) a republican! But what I find really interesting is not so much that New Jersey is fed up with Corzine (he’s so easy to hate) but that his strategy for reclaiming office has seemed so impotent. He came out in the primary days with the decision not to involve himself in Republican infighting that would inevitably occur in the grab for the nomination. This gave Christie the chance to get his face and name out there as an alternative to the norm (that is, to corruption) uncontested and unchallenged by the Dems. And now, Corzine finds himself in the awkward position of trying to reinstate himself at the top of the polls with a late start.

Perhaps the most surprising piece of the puzzle is that Corzine’s trump card, President Barack Obama’s visit to PNC Arts Center to rally for Corzine, has had little effect on the voting population. In fact, the forty minute unorganized rally in the sweltering heat seemed more to concern health care reform than Corzine’s reelection. It’s as if the Corzine people just figured that bringing Barack to Jersey would spell an automatic win, reenergizing the grassroots and solidifying the association between Corzine and Obama. Forget the fact that Corzine was an early supporter of Hillary Clinton for President; for all we should care, these two are longtime buddies.

Of course, that is not the case; but what fascinates me is that this sort of standard political hypocrisy failed to have the desired effect on this occasion. Perhaps it’s the fact that Corzine is one of the most disingenuous public speakers I’ve ever had the distaste to listen to. Perhaps it’s that Celebrity in Chief’s slipping popularity just doesn’t have the same pull it did six months ago. Perhaps it’s the fact that Obama chose to talk more forcefully about Healthcare reform than about Corzine’s positive characteristics (are there any?). Or perhaps it is simply that this new corruption scandal has drowned out any excitement over seeing the President step onto Jersey soil. One question I have: in light of this new scandal, shouldn’t Obama keep Jersey at arm’s length? Truly, he can hardly afford further attachment to the state. One thing is for sure, demonstrated by his very visit to an old rival: Democrats are loath to give up New Jersey, an old stronghold of the Democratic Party.

About halfway home to New Brunswick, it started to rain enormous drops on my windshield, just a few massive splashes here and there. The sky was bright with sun AND lightning, and other drivers were beginning to nervously slow down. At that moment, my radio switched over to the obnoxious cascade of static and beeps that is the Emergency Broadcast Station. Steven Hawking’s computer interrupted the beeping to inform me that I was driving directly into a tornado area and that for my safety I should proceed to the nearest basement. My third story attic-apartment would have to do.

As the AM kicked back on, I was drawn sharply away from my weather-worries at the mention of a landmark I’ve known well for the past several years: Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. Among those arrested in the NJ-FBI sting were some Rabbis who had been using the black market sale of organs to facilitate their money laundering ring. Apparently, some of these transplants had been taking place in New Brunswick! To date, we do not know anymore about how this was allowed, and so speculation as to who if anyone was involved will have to wait. But, for me at least, it came as a shock to find out that this massive piece of national news was unfolding, in part, just blocks from my residence. What effect, if any, this will have on the upcoming Mayoral race in New Brunswick in 2010 remains to be seen. But we can rest assured that the FBI will push the probe as far as it will reach.

Rounding a turn in the road, my mind was violently forced back to the weather. Before me, about 50 yards down the road, I faced a massive wall of water. It was as if the cloud had very specific boundaries; I could have stood one foot in the rain one foot out…had it not been for the hail the size of grapes pounding along with the rain. I smashed into the wall at 60 miles per hour and immediately began to skid. Pumping my breaks and slowing to 15, I corrected the slip and turned on my hazards. On the other side of the wall, seeing more than 10 feet in front of me was impossible, causing most cars to pull over to the side of the road, next to bikers hiding under bridges. Not being most drivers, I continued, though in serious fear that I would soon hit some nervous driver in front of me, or perhaps that a well placed tree would take me out from above. The carnage was brutal and frightening….and short-lived. Minutes later, I was on the other side of the storm, speeding onwards towards my goal at a revived 70 mph. Having weathered the storm, I was rewarded with a clean and empty road, all for the taking.

The perfect storm of New Jersey politics is forming now. As the economy continues to falter, the bacon fat that has always greased the gears of power in the most densely populated state in the country will start to burn up. I expect to see much more political reorganization in the near future. The question is, after the storm is over, who will step up to grab the reigns? Certainly not those with connections to the old, defamed guard…Young blossoming politicians should be at the ready; weather the storm, and you may well meet an open road in front of you. It will be entertaining to watch the changing of the guard in NJ over the next few years

16 thoughts on “Politics As Usual – Alex Giannattasio

  1. I understand this website does not value accuracy and probably doesn’t stringently fact check, so I just though I would correct the following statement: “Among those arrested in the NJ-FBI sting were some Rabbis who had been using the black market sale of organs to facilitate their money laundering ring.”

    Most of the rabbis in this case were involved in the money laundering through various charities and community organizations. However, as I understand it, only one (from Brooklyn) was doing the organ trafficking. The other rabbis were also not involved in the political extortion part of the bust.

    Of course, this information in no way mitigates their wrong doings. I personally feel their actions are indefensible. However, I often spot these mistakes when I come across this website, and just wanted to point it out.

  2. Tali Rasis is correct (if my reading of the papers is correct). The only one on the hook for black market organ sales is the Brooklyn guy.

    The point is valid, however; N.J. politics – and health care – are both in
    [bigger] trouble.

    The investigation that led to the latest batch of arrests is ongoing, according to Ralph Marra, so we can only wait and see what happens. This is just the tip of the gigantic dirty iceberg of Jersey corruption.

    Crazy thing is, many of those arrested haven’t resigned. It’s as if these guys are saying, “Come on, this is Jersey! Our constituents know we’re all crooked anyway! Who cares?”

    There was a mini-protest outside Peter Cammarano’s house in Hoboken the other day and one person left a giant check on his doorstep with the words “TO RESIGN” in the memo line.

  3. Thank you for your input Tali, I’m glad you still find the time to check out our little newspaper regularly, and even comment once in a while. It always surprises me to find that often the readers who are most offended by our work continue to visit on a regular basis. Still, I wish you wouldn’t be so rude, particularly when you are flat out wrong. Everything in my article is based on fact, researched in other articles.

    Ill say this: if I was careless with regard to the wording, please, blame it on the late time at which I wrote it. But in addition, I’m not really quite sure how your argument makes sense, nor why you were so offended by mine. If there is a group of say five people involved in a money laundering scheme, and one of them specifically uses organ procurement as a means of furthering that business, and another uses fake Gucci bags, are the two some how not connected? Of course they are; every member of the ring will be culpable for these actions, not simply the man who was caught on tape. Further, you should wait until trial before you so confidentially make claims like “only one Rabbi was involved”. The fact is we just won’t know who was really involved until the trial.

    Further, I’m sorry that the mention of Jews by a non-Jew so regularly offends you, but to be fair, almost everything you say in your comments regularly offends me. Please, if you can help it, keep your comments to yourself (unless, as I suspect, that’s too much to ask).

  4. I don’t believe the man accused of selling black market organs is a rabbi, nor is he affiliated with the money-laundering operation.

    It appears, at least, according to the papers, that the only connection between the N.J. corruption sting, the rabbis’ money-laundering operation and the organ business is the cooperating witness, Solomon Dwek, a dirty real estate developer who worked for the FBI after they arrested him in 2006.

    From the New York Times July 23:

    “In the money laundering scheme, the rabbis arrested included Saul J. Kassin, 87, a leader of the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn and New Jersey; Mordchai Fish and Lavel Schwartz, both rabbis in Brooklyn; and Eliahu Ben Haim and Edmund Nahum, who lead congregations in Deal.

    Rabbi Nahum, prosecutors said, told Mr. Dwek that he should spread his money through a number of rabbis. “The more it’s spread the better,” Rabbi Nahum said, according to the complaint.

    Another man in Brooklyn, Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, was accused of enticing vulnerable people to give up a kidney for $10,000 and then selling the organ for $160,000. Mr. Dwek pretended to be soliciting a kidney on behalf of someone and Mr. Rosenbaum said that he had been in business of buying organs for years, according to the complaint.”

    Anyway, that’s my take on it.

  5. Tali:

    Please justify the following statements with factual evidence:

    “I understand this website does not value accuracy and probably doesn’t stringently fact check …”

    and,

    “I often spot these mistakes when I come across this website…”

    Thanks for reading

  6. I’m not offended because you mentioned rabbis– these lot deserve all the criticism thrown at them. I just value accuracy.

  7. Michael, much like this website, I do not bind myself to any “arbitrary code of objectivity”. It is only my own subjective account of my experiences when I read this website.

  8. I find this back and forth highly amusing. If I add in jell-o and popcorn, how much would people pay for tickets?

    Seriously though, the vast majority of politicians may be considered corrupt. They are beholden to donors for getting them elected; donors want some return on their investment, so to speak. The only solution to this problem, as I see it, is to mandate that candidates running for public office may only use publicly appropriated dollars. If each candidate were given the same lump sum of cash, it would be an interesting exercise to see how resourceful they can be and to see how they would pull the levers of power if they were not already in somebody’s pocket.

    I find the whole Jewish aspect of this hilarious. They probably should’ve just called their mothers more often…

  9. Jell-o? popcorn? How about water balloons and paintball guns?

    Seriously though, after some thought, I’ve decided to reevaluate my former statement, for the sake of accuracy. The original was this:

    “Among those arrested in the NJ-FBI sting were some Rabbis who had been using the black market sale of organs to facilitate their money laundering ring.”

    I withdraw that statement, to be replaced with this:

    “Among those arrested in the NJ-FBI sting were some Rabbis, at least one of whom had been using the black market sale of organs to facilitate the money laundering ring.”

    I hope this clears up any confusion regarding the original article.

    On the limiting of political campaigns to public funding, I’ve always been atracted to the idea. But a question: how would that work for third, fourth, and fifth parties? What kind of distribution would you get? one based on the percentage of supporters you have? Or perfectly equitably? I worry that the latter would give undue advantage to the third and fourth party…Rather, I like a system where the funding you get is all public, but based upon the percentage of voters registered as members of your party. This might give more impetus for third parties to go looking for voters, rather than sitting on donated funds. Another consequence would hopefully be a greater diversity of politicians, particularly local politicians.

    One thing I expect of the technologies of the near future is the increased capacity for personal interaction on a massive scale. Political interaction and activism will surge. Of course, all incumbent upon the continued rate of technological improvement.

    These thoughts got me thinking on a bit of a tangent:

    The more accountable our politicians become, the more empowered their constituents become…but the slower the capital class can motivate the economic gears to turn. One of the more interesting aspects of the economic upheaval we are currently experiencing is the increased presence of all things politics. What we end up seeing is what we never cared to see when the system was working for us.

    Production, another word for economic progress, is the force by which the living standards of the masses are improved. It is made possible by investments of capital. If capital investment is encumbered to the point where it is not worth it to invest, then production does not take place, and the living standards of the masses plateau, or drop. This has been true through out our country’s history.

    However, we can notice now two things. One, the standard of living in this country is extremely high; why should we be afraid to maintain it or let it drop a bit (not to much, but just a healthy diet). Two, technology is so ubiquitous, and so much more powerful than it need be; the result is that only a negligable part of the population will be without it in the very near future. Thus, groups of individuals, not necessarily of the capitalist (investing) class, can still get together and produce a product or service for a fee. As a consequence of these facts, the capitalist class will, eventually, become no longer necessary to the sustenance of civilization or even the improvement of the population as a whole.

    This is a goal I would aspire to reach as a nation, one capable of maintaining its independence and freedoms, our rights and liberties, our economic and environmental sustainability, our global dominance over standard of living. All this CAN be attained and with it the complete obsolescence of aggressive military force. The human race is at a very interesting time in its life.

    Thoughts?

  10. I like the idea of apportioning public campaign funds based on the proportion of registered voters who affiliate themselves with a party, but this would require an alternative way of dispensing funds for primary campaigns, for example. I don’t have a proposal for that yet, but will be sure to let you know when I do.

    I’m not sure by what you mean “but the slower the capital class can motivate the economic gears to turn”. Do you mean that increased political activism is inversely proportional to economic growth? I think that would only hold true if government actions/interventions are always bad. While legislation and regulations may impede the ability of business to act with impunity, it should not be accepted as a blanket statement that government intervention is necessarily bad.

    I also feel that it would be very impossible to get to a point where “capital investment is encumbered to the point where it is not worth it to invest”. This is akin to the argument that if taxes increase, people will simply stop working. There will always be an incentive to work or invest excess savings; the return on the investment may simply be less than before. People always want to be rich and always want to own things. I would like to add that capital investment is a necessary part of the equation but has often been elevated to a mythical status. As you have correctly pointed out, technological advancement has been the engine driving economic growth. The increase in real standards of living is a recent phenomenon, dating back to the origins of the industrial revolution in England. It should be noted, however, that the end goal of any economic system should be increased consumption by the population. Any system will be judged by its ability to deliver increased standards of living to the working class.

    That the so-called capitalist class may become obsolete is contingent upon common sense. Through the financial system, especially banks, savers and borrowers are matched. If the vast majority of the working-class (and everyone really) simply lived within their means and saved at a reasonable rate (3%-10%), there would be excess savings which could be channeled into worthy capital investments. There is no real need for an “owner’s class”, if that is what you mean.

  11. That is precisely what I mean. At an earlier stage in our nation’s lifespan, the capitalist class and the investment it provided was imperative to the progress of society towards a more “civilized” peak, progressively increasing the living standards of the people. But today, society, and particularly technology, have reached a level of maturity such that the capitalist class will continue to become less and less necessary. Modern man, coupled with modern technology, is capable of investing, producing and communicating with such exaction and efficiency that meaningful profits can be extracted from much smaller investments than had previously been the case.

    Now, the whole scenario sounds rather….Marxist?….to me. But in truth, I believe that this, the essential progress of the nation, can provide an elegant model for us to strive for, one in which every man is equalized by the incredible power technology places at his fingertips. (Just think of Mike’s new Blackberry–he immediately sees whats in his mailbox, and that’s just the beginning. Our nation needs to come to terms with a new kind of business model, one that strives to make reasonable profits making use of the worker-run corporate model, which provides for a more sustainable source of income. I believe these will become a hot ticket in the future, as the fear of socialism wears off, and we begin to find that the only people still trying to do business in America after Obama’s Presidency are Americans.

    Of course, the use of technology is a race against the depletion of the earths fossil fuels. We’ll see how quickly alternatives are developed.

    I will say this; there is nothing wrong with a leaner America in some ways, provided the SUFFERING is kept to a minimum. I see the financial crisis as a bank run of sorts, an exodus of capital from the USA. Hopefully, the American people are willing to pick up the slack. There is going to be a lot of slack to pick up…we neeeeed savings.

  12. It’s always especially ironic when rabi’s get arrested for stealing from charities or priests stand accused of molesting small children.

  13. Yo, Alex G. I appreciate your trying to clear things up but even this statement is not entirely accurate.

    You said, “Among those arrested in the NJ-FBI sting were some Rabbis, at least one of whom had been using the black market sale of organs to facilitate the money laundering ring.”

    The “organ matchmaker,” Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, 58, of Borough Park, Brooklyn, is a member of the Orthodox Jewish community but not himself a rabbi. He also has no alleged connection to N.J. politics or the rabbis in Deal, N.J. who ran the money laundering operation.

    Rosenbaum was in black market organ sales, not money laundering. The FBI probe into his criminal activities included using a snitch to catch him on tape setting up a deal for a black market kidney. The snitch, one Solomon Dwek, happened to be the same crooked developer who wore a wire while working for the F.B.I. as part of a plea agreement in order to catch the rabbis in Deal and the N.J. politicians, none of whom are accused of involvement in the organ-trafficking.

  14. I tried to post the following at NJ.COM, but it has not yet appeared:

    Also in The Johnsonville Press, is this enlightening article:

    http://johnsonvillepress.com/2009/03/the-popular-capitalist-view-carl-peter-klapper-2/

    In it I describe the political parties as the unions for career politicians and what that means for campaign finances. The implications for Jersey corruption come down to this:

    1. New Jersey is a state controlled by the career politician unions aka the Democratic and Republican parties.

    2. Thus New Jersey office holders, as a class, require huge amounts of funds to buy absentee campaigning in the most expensive television advertising market. This far exceeds the ability of state and local parties to finance.

    3. New Jersey office holders do not have access to the multi-trillion dollar grand larceny committed by the Democratic Senatorial Committee under Jon Corzine and his allies on Wall Street. Relief for Corzine and his New Jersey bailiwick, by the way, was supposed to come from the Democratic Senators, whom he got elected and beholden to the Street, NOT from the President.

    4. New Jersey office holders, however, have traditionally had access to bribes from developers serving NYC and Philadelphia interests.

    5. Ergo, New Jersey office holders, specifically career politicians in one of the political parties with upcoming contested elections and insufficient or no real source of income, i.e. outside of elected office and patronage sinecures, will be desperate enough to accept campaign funds via the traditional NJ source: bribery.

    6. That desperation is accentuated by their desire to reach the tenured, emeritus political nirvana offered by the State of New Jersey: a hefty pension paid by the taxpayers. Such can be scuttled by losing an election as well as by a corruption charge, so they really have nothing to lose but their integrity. If one does not have integrity to begin with, then one has absolutely nothing to lose.

    The solution is therefore to overthrow the political parties. This would be accomplished by the following:

    1. Ordinary New Jerseyans need to take back their government at every level WITHOUT RECOURSE OR SUPPORT FROM ANY POLITICAL PARTY and certainly not from the Democratic or Republican parties. That is, people need to not just vote but RUN FOR OFFICE.

    2. Since local elections for offices in small jurisdictions are the most accessible to the people, we need to reject the Governor’s prescription of eliminating those jurisdictions and thus cementing party control as it exists in the larger cities.

    3. We need to enter a ballot referendum for eliminating the party line and funding for primary elections.

  15. I think this story proves that the Jews are bred for only two things: Accounting and being doctors. And really, you just can’t take the Jew out of the rabbi can you?

    My personal opinion regarding economics is that there is absolutely no ideal way to go about regulating resources because economists just think about money. Go figure. I think Americans somehow equate money with happiness, especially my ever miserable overbearing Jewish side with the millions of dollars in the bank and dollar store bargain excitement.

    Like you, Alex, I believe that most countries would benefit from ensuring their citizens the unalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”However, happiness, we must recognize, can never be guaranteed. Ever disheartening Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert believes humans tend to consistently overestimate the fulfillment we might get from the future. In a similar vein, policy analyst Will Wilkinson argues that although nations with higher GDP’s tend to be happier than extreme cases of poverty stricken nations, average family income in a particular country does not seem to correlate with average happiness of the people in the nation.

    Isn’t it happiness we’re really talking about here? Some people believe that selling kidney’s on the black market will apparently do that for them. Unfortunately, I am pretty sure that backfired and someone’s going to require a lot of extra bread this Yom Kippur. This is the reason I think Marxism fails- because people assume that even slices of pie are equal opportunities for smiles. Nor are smiles even remotely related to having that whole pie to yourself. In fact, maybe smiles aren’t so vested in the pie at all?

    However happiness might have something to do with the Jello. Jello pudding, specifically. I am definitely willing to test this theory.

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