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Hudson Regional Hospital signs on as presenter of The Jersey Journal's 60th annual Hudson County Spelling Bee

The winner of the bee goes on to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee outside of Washington, D.C., in the spring.

Hudson Regional Hospital has signed on as the presenter of the 2019 Jersey Journal-Hudson County Spelling Bee.

"We jumped at the chance to support the Hudson County Spelling Bee as a great educational opportunity for the elementary and middle school students in our community who participate," said Dr. Nizar Kifaieh, president and CEO of the Secaucus hospital. "Good luck to all the participants and their families."

So far, 62 Hudson County schools have signed up to participate in the bee, which is set for Saturday, Feb. 23, at Secaucus High School's Arthur F. Couch Performing Arts Center. In case of very inclement weather, the bee will be held March 2.

The winner of the bee goes on to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee outside of Washington, D.C., in the spring.

All elementary school programs in Hudson County are invited to register to send their top speller to compete, said David Blomquist, editor and publisher of The Jersey Journal.

The bee, now in its 60th year, is sponsored by the Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, and County Executive Tom DeGise underwrites the champion's national participation. It is organized and directed by The Jersey Journal.

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"We're thrilled to welcome Hudson Regional Hospital as this year's bee presenter,'' Jersey Journal editor-at-large Margaret Schmidt said. "It's so important for the larger community to support educational opportunities like this for the county's children." 

The bee is open to students through grade 8 who attend Hudson County schools that have registered to participate.

Participating schools receive a virtual bee-in-a-box that includes study words, rules, pronunciation guides and an array of materials they may use to implement their own school spelling bees.

In addition to the grand prize of competing on the national stage at the Scripps bee, a variety of prizes will be given out at the local bee to the top Hudson speller and several runners-up.

To enroll, go to spellingbee.com. The deadline for registration is Jan. 31.

For more information, contact Spelling Bee Director Harvey Zucker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

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Can Dems use the shutdown to help immigrants? | Moran

When a little boy throws a temper tantrum, the last thing you should do is yield to his demands. The next time he screams for a lollipop, your problem will only have grown. But what if the child is president of the United States? It changes things. Democrats can't send Donald Trump to his room for a time out....

When a little boy throws a temper tantrum, the last thing you should do is yield to his demands. The next time he screams for a lollipop, your problem will only have grown.

But what if the child is president of the United States? It changes things.

Democrats can't send Donald Trump to his room for a time out. They can't force him to end this shutdown. They have to search for a more clever answer.

The path Democrats have chosen would make perfect sense in normal times. They are refusing to yield an inch, giving him nothing for his pointless wall. The polls are moving in their direction, and the hope is that the growing pressure will force Trump to face the fact that he can't have his lollipop.

"We feel we have a strong hand," says Rep. Tom Malinowski, a freshman Democrat in the 7th district. "This is not about border security. It's about how we resolve disputes in Washington. We have an overwhelming interest in not letting the president get his way by shutting down the government. And I think that position will prevail."

In normal times, it would. But Trump has an advantage in this fight: He's a heartless scoundrel who doesn't give a damn about the families of the 800,000 federal workers who can't pay their rent, or the Native Americans who can't get health care, or the 38 million people who will soon lose food stamps.

Trump cares about Trump, as we have learned over and over. Why would Democrats think he's going to change that now?

If you look into the crystal ball, the best guess is that Trump will declare a state of emergency, or plunder disaster aid, to build his wall, and then reopen government and declare victory. Democrats will file suit to block him, but Trump will win something either way.

If he prevails in court, which many experts believe he will, he'll have his wall. If he loses, he'll have the issue to inflame his base in 2020.

In a tweet two days after Christmas, Trump seemed to relish that prospect, even as he noted that he lacked the votes in the Senate to win this fight through the normal rules of politics. "They may have the 10 Senate votes, but we have the issue, Border Security. 2020!"

Bring it on, say most Democrats.

"He made the mid-terms about fear of immigration, and I don't think that worked out well for him," Malinowski says. "I don't think it's going to help the president to run the same play that failed in the mid-terms."

Maybe. But I have two big concerns, one on politics and one on policy.

Mike DuHaime, a Republican consultant with wide national experience, notes that the big Democratic gains in the mid-terms came in blue states like California and New Jersey, where Malinowski was one of four Democrats to take Republican seats.

To win a presidential election, Duhaime says, Democrats will need to win swing states like Florida and Ohio, where Republicans made solid gains in 2018.

"It's an electoral college map," DuHaime says. "So, it doesn't matter that Malinowski won. Trump supporters hear border security, get rid of cop killers, get rid of drug dealers. They see Trump as taking a stand against bad guys. Whereas Trump haters see it as a wall that says we hate everyone who is not American. So, it mobilizes both sides."

Maybe I'm traumatized by the 2016 vote, but that scares me, a little.

The bigger concern, though, is that a crisis like this is also an opportunity, one that Democrats could try to use as leverage to protect the Dreamers from deportation, and scale back the other cruelties, like Trump's separation of parents and children seeking asylum, and his aggressive deportation of people with no criminal records.

I get it, Trump would probably reject a deal that included funding for his wall, along with a dose of humanity. He rejected an offer like that last year, one that Sen. Robert Menendez helped negotiate. And Vice President Mike Pence rejected that kind of trade just last week.

But Trump changes his mind like a nervous high school kid changes outfits before a prom. The wall is his obsession, his white whale. Any deal that gives him that has a chance.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked Thursday if she'd take a deal like that, one that included funding for the wall. "We have always stood ready to discuss comprehensive immigration reform, and of course, the Dreamers," she said.

Malinowski, despite his anguish over appeasing a spoiled child, is ready to go along, if the reforms were ambitious enough. Protecting the 800,000 Dreamers facing deportation, he said, would not be enough.

"It's been raised by one or two people in our very large caucus, and almost unanimously and passionately shot down by everyone," he said. "A true compromise involves pain for all sides, and relief for the Dreamers is not painful for Donald Trump. He was for it last year, and only stopped because he decided to hold them hostage for the wall.

Facing scandal and fiscal crisis, Murphy's challenges deepen | Moran

"If we were to give him that, it would be the last deal on any immigration issue we'd see for the duration of this administration. The Dreamers don't even want that."

I'm rooting for that grand bargain, but I'm not banking on it. More likely, we'll wind up in precisely this same spot in 2020. Here's hoping that next time, Trump's venom doesn't sell so well in Florida and the Rust Belt.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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Sweeney, like Murphy, is caught in dark money web. Time to clean house. | Moran

A reform bill would fix this problem, requiring full disclosure of political money. Let's watch to see if Murphy and Sweeney will support it. So far, no commitments.

PSEG just got caught making a secret contribution of $55,000 to a shady political fund supporting Senate President Steve Sweeney, four months after Sweeney pushed through an outrageous bill to subsidize the company's nuclear power plants by $300 million a year.

Wow. We live in a cynical age for damn good reason. How is a regular working family in New Jersey, saddled with Sweeney's hefty surcharges on their electric bills, supposed to believe the game is not rigged?

This news, first reported by Politico, comes less than a week after we learned that Gov. Phil Murphy is playing the same sleazy game. A dark money fund set up by four of his top political advisors in 2017 just broke its promise to reveal the names of its donors. The governor, after days of hand-wringing, issued a weak statement Friday calling on the group to reveal the donors.

On Monday, though, a spokesman for the group, New Direction New Jersey, said it will keep the donor list secret. The group is run by Brendan Gill, who was the governor's campaign manager, along with three other senior Murphy advisors. We are supposed to believe that Gill and his crew are defying their boss, a man who is critical to their ability to pay their mortgages.

Please. This kabuki dance is silly. Murphy could stop this by snapping his fingers. He is instead sticking with the money, even if it makes him the world's most fake advocate of transparency and ethics in government. Murphy appears in the group's ads, and several sources say he has been making phone calls to raise money for its treasury, a claim that Murphy will not confirm or deny.

Let's look at the bright side: The fact that both Sweeney and Murphy are now covered with this same slime presents a rare political opportunity.

The two of them dislike each other, to put it mildly. But if they want to scrub off the slime, they need to work together and move a bill that has been sitting dormant for years, one that would require full disclose of political spending in the state.

"It's clear that we need full disclosure." says Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, a prime sponsor. "I'm hopeful the legislative leadership will move it forward."

Without full disclosure, every other campaign finance restriction is rendered pointless. New Jersey limits donations to political candidates and parties. It limits donations from companies that do business with state and local governments. It requires candidates and parties to reveal who gives them money, and how they spend it.

But if PSEG can slip a fat check to Sweeney's allies in secret, none of those restrictions have any meaning.

The bill sponsored by Singleton, along with Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Mercer, was drafted in consultation with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, which has pressed for this kind of reform for a decade. It has the full-throated endorsement of the Brennan Center, a leading voice for campaign finance reform, and follows the example of several other states, including New York and Connecticut.

In New Jersey, the bill has gathered dust for years. Sweeney and Murphy's office both said Monday they needed more time to study the details. Stay tuned for follow ups later this week.

As for PSEG, the company seems determined to ruin its reputation. It spent $2.4 million lobbying for the nuclear subsidy bill, a gift to PSEG shareholders that drew roars of protest from consumers groups, business groups, environmentalists, impartial energy experts and PSEG's competitors.

For PSEG, a windfall. For us, the shaft | Moran

The donation became public because PSEG mistakenly sent the check to the wrong fund, a political action committee that is required by law to reveal its donors. Both funds are under the effective control of George Norcross, the political boss allied with Sweeney. Norcross didn't respond to a request for comment.

For now, let us pray that PSEG shows more care in operating its nuclear plants than it does in spending its political cash. In this case, though, the company's stumble might prove useful in the end if it embarrasses Sweeney and Murphy enough to force reform.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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Go after GoFundMe scammers, regulate their hosts | Editorial

A new legislative proposal would raise the punishment stakes for fraudsters who use charity crowdfunding sites, but the sites' operators should get some scrutiny, too.

If you Google "gofundme," the first thing on the search engine's list is a paid ad for the official GoFundMe platform, whose headline describes it as "Free & Trusted Fundraising."

After the Johnny Bobbitt Jr. debacle, we know that neither claim is entirely true. GoFundMe might be "free" and "trusted" for those who set up web pages for donations, but they can be false for anyone who contributes.

The apparent scam perpetuated by Bobbitt, a homeless veteran, and a South Jersey couple who purported to "help" him, turned out to be the kind of fraud that fake cancer sufferers used to perpetuate with donation cans and beef-and-beer benefits. Crowdfunding sites -- GoFundMe is not the only one -- are a higher-tech solution for those with genuine financial need, but they're just as susceptible to would-be embezzlers. 

Prosecutors allege that Bobbitt and cohorts Kate McClure and Mark D'Amico concocted the story that Bobbitt gave his last $20 to aid McClure as a stranded motorist, and that the parties had misspent some of the $400,000 that poured into the GoFundMe page they'd set up.

The Bobbitt case also made clear that while GoFundMe.com doesn't charge to set up a donation page, it extracts a "processing fee," usually 2.9 percent, plus 30 cents, for each personal/charity donation. Crowdfunding sites are entitled to defray processing costs for credit-and debit-cards transactions, but it's not readily apparent that GoFundMe is a for-profit company.

Enter state Assemblyman Ron Dancer, R-Ocean, with proposed state legislation as charges in the Bobbitt case move forward. All three defendants are charged with theft by deception of more than $75,000 and conspiracy, second-degree crimes carrying prison five-to-10-year prison sentences.

Text of Dancer's proposal was not on the Legislature's website Monday, but a press release explained it would kick the penalties up a notch when the theft by deception involves crowdfunding, presumably making future Bobbitts, McClures and D'Amicos eligible for more serious first-degree penalties. The legislation would also add fines of up to $500 for each fraudulent donation collected -- money that would go into a fund for the homeless.

There's nothing wrong with Dancer's bill, because, as he states in the release, "Taking advantage of someone's good nature is appalling." 

At the same time, why should profit-making crowdfunding aggregators be let off the hook when they can't vouch for the veracity of campaigns they promote? In the wake of the Bobbitt case, GoFundMe says it has refunded the $400,000 that donors gave unsuspectingly. We applaud the company for stating that it now offers crowdfunding's first "guarantee" of refunds of donations that later are exposed as non-kosher.

It's likely beyond the New Jersey Legislature's grasp to regulate crowdfunding platforms whose appeals reach national and international audiences. But what about the federal government?

It would ruin the crowdfunding concept if host sites, for-profit or nonprofit, had to hire detectives to find out every teacher who asks for funds for classroom supplies is legitimate. These sites have done tons of good that should not be needlessly disrupted. 

Again, we propose some kind of circuit breaker. When a single appeal reaches, say, $100,000, regulations should compel the host sites to perform some vetting. Maybe a cursory criminal background check or a requirement to provide references would be sufficient.

Verification procedures won't catch every determined fraudster, but might trip up some of them before they can abscond with hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Get tough on the scammers, as Dancer's legislation proposes. But don't forget that crowdfunding hosts whose revenue grows as donations climb have obligations, too.

Send a letter to the editor of South Jersey Times at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Gov. Murphy's dark money grab | Moran

He promised transparency. Now his senior aides are raising big money from secret donors, and breaking their promise to reveal the names.

One great advantage of electing a governor as rich as Phil Murphy, we were told, is that he could not be bought. With his own chest full of gold coins, he would never need to scrape and beg for help from special interest groups seeking his favor.

But it hasn't worked out that way. A month after his election, Murphy's senior political team opened a dark money fund and began soliciting donations.

It came as a surprise, since Murphy had promised to bring new transparency to Trenton, and the identity of the new donors was kept secret, along with how much they gave. To quiet the critics, Murphy's campaign manager and senior advisor, Brendan Gill, who helps manage the fund, promised to come clean by the end of 2018 and reveal the identity of the donors.

They just broke that promise. So, today, special interest groups are giving money to Murphy's cause -- no doubt because they expect him to do their bidding -- and the public has no clue who they are.

Is the money coming from public worker unions who negotiate contracts with Murphy? Is it coming from marijuana firms that are scrambling to shape the law legalizing adult sales? Is it coming from law firms that have contracts with the state government? They won't say.

It gets worse. Murphy himself has been soliciting money for this group, according to three sources with direct knowledge of his efforts. "He called me on Nov. 28 and asked me if I could contribute," said one of them, a union official who requested anonymity.

The federal law governing this type of group, known as a 501c4, prohibits the governor from directly managing the organization. But that legal separation is farcical. Murphy has appeared in TV ads the group bought, and he solicits the money. The buck stops with him.

On Friday, four days after this news broke, Murphy finally said he believes the donors should be revealed. But he would not confirm or deny that he has been soliciting donations. That's called stonewalling.

What is Murphy hiding? He has to know that breaking this promise damages his reputation. So, his team must believe that opening these books would do even greater damage.

Facing scandal and fiscal crisis, Murphy's challenges deepen | Moran

The official explanation for the secrecy is ludicrous: "Our supporters have come under increased attacks from powerful special interests seeking to preserve the status quo in recent months," said Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for the organization, New Direction New Jersey.

Really? They've come under attack, even though their names haven't been revealed? How does that work?

This is another inexplicable rookie mistake by Murphy and his senior team. Until they come clean, they should at least spare us the happy talk about bringing a new brand of politics to New Jersey. This smells just like the old brand.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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Booker for president? First, two big hurdles | Moran

His Wall Street ties will hurt him in a Democratic primary. And is America hasn't picked a bachelor in more than a century.

 Sen. Cory Booker is running for president, even if it's not official yet. The visits to Iowa and New Hampshire are a dead giveaway.

And why not? He's a rare talent, the field is wide open, and if a guy like Donald Trump can do the job, then Booker can do it with one hand.

But he faces two big problems from the start.

One is quirky and personal: He is a bachelor and America hasn't elected a bachelor since Grover Cleveland won in 1886. So perhaps his New Year's resolution should be to find a bride. (He's a vegan, too, but I have no scary stats on that.)

The second is that Booker is among the top recipients of Wall Street money in Congress, and in some years he takes first place.

"That's going to weigh down on him," says Julian Zelizer, a political science professor at Princeton. "That's been his vulnerability from the time he started to be floated as a candidate. He is a Democrat who has not shied away from connections to Wall Street. It's going to be a problem. Pre-2016 it might been less so, but I think Bernie Sanders showed that this sentiment is strong."

The irony is that Booker is no friend of Wall Street, when you look at his policies. He opposes the infamous carried-interest provision of the tax code, which allows venture capitalists like Warren Buffett to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. He supports the Dodd-Franks regulations, which Wall Street hates. And he wants higher taxes on the rich across the board.

His ties to the drug industry are similar. He gets lots of money from the industry, but he does not dance for those dollars. He favors using Medicare to bargain for lower drug prices, a plan that big pharma fights with all its might. And he joined with Sen. Bernie Sanders to sponsor a bill allowing cheaper imports from Canada.

To me, that matters. If Booker were selling his soul for this money, then he should pay a political price. But that's not what's happening.

Sadly, all that stuff about policy substance might not matter much. Hillary Clinton took the same tough stances on Wall Street issues, but Sanders was able to convince a good share of primary voters that she was a shill for big money. It didn't help, of course, that she was politically blind enough to give eight speeches to big banks at $225,000 a clip.

Booker has his own political millstone, an appearance on Meet the Press in 2012 when he defended the venture capital industry with enthusiasm and said that the Obama campaign's attacks on Mitt Romney over his leadership of Bain Capital left him "nauseated."

"I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity," said Booker, then mayor of Newark and a surrogate for the Obama campaign. "To me, we're getting to a ridiculous point in America. If you look at the totality of Bain's record, they've done a lot to support businesses that grow businesses."

For a populist candidate like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who became the first Democrat to jump into the race this week, that stuff is gold.

"That will be played in the primary many times over," Zelizer says. "Many people won't be able to get over it, regardless of what his record is."

Booker's team argues that his high rank as a recipient of money from Wall Street and Big Pharma stems from geography. When an investment banker who lives in Westfield sends him a check, it counts as a donation from Wall Street.

Campaign finance records show that Booker's Wall Street money comes almost entirely from individuals, not from the political action committees of Wall Street firms. In February, Booker announced that he would take no more money from the PACs at all.

Still, how much can Booker explain in a 30-second TV spot? His Wall Street ranking, and his Meet the Press moment, can fit into that slot easily.

"It's going to hurt him," says former Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who was chairman of Bernie Sanders' campaign in New Jersey. "It's a legitimate concern for voters. And on the left side of the party, several people are now trying to outdo each other as to who has the greater purity on money issues."

Zelizer argues that voters have good reason to worry about the donations from Wall Street and Big Pharma, even though Booker has taken positions that are hostile to those industries.

"It's a trust issue," he says. "If Democrats continue to rely on these relationships, ultimately many of their policy promises will never come true. There is a reality to that."

Make a deal: Build the wall, protect the Dreamers | Moran

So, would a President Booker push hard to increase taxes on venture capitalists? Or would that go onto the list of broken promises?

I'd be surprised if we ever find out. At this stage, it's a long shot for any single candidate. And while the knock may be unfair, it is a political reality that will hurt.

As for the absent wife, I'm not so sure that will count for much. We just elected a guy who bragged about sexually assaulting women on tape. To embrace a vegan bachelor seems quite tame by comparison.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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'Force Report' the last word on need for N.J. police change | Opinion

NJ Advance Media's project says all that needs to be said. Now is the time to focus on correcting the problem of officers who use force far too frequently.

Empirical evidence from fact-based statistical data is undeniable. Such evidence is very different from feelings, beliefs or suppositions that may be valid, but lack any real proof. Data-based evidence is a very powerful tool and can be a major step toward bringing about change to address critical issues.

About a month ago, a team of NJ Advance Media journalists released "The Force Report," the culmination of a 16-month investigation. It created a database that tracks use of force by local police officers in New Jersey, compiled from data provided by their departments. 

The Force Report is comprehensive, well researched and well analyzed, packed with information on how our police departments engage citizens. The report, covering 2012-2016, validates the experiences of many in the minority community that there are too many biased, poorly trained police officers who have been allowed to use unnecessary force against citizens time and time again. 

The findings showed that 10 percent of police officers accounted for 38 percent of all use of force, that there were more than 250 officers who used force at more than five times the state average, and that black citizens are three times more likely to encounter force than whites. This demonstrates unequivocally that police officers throughout the state have sidestepped their own departmental policies regarding the use of force. 

The Force Report also shows that the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, at least since 2001, failed to do what they committed to do: collect and analyze use-of-force data in the way that NJ Advance Media has now done.

Until now, I have been silent on The Force Report's disclosures, waiting to hear how officials or groups that would be expected to react regarding this critical issue had responded. A professional, dedicated, law-enforcement community plays a vital role in our society. We need -- and everyone should want -- police officers who are dedicated to serving the community fairly and impartially, while realizing that their use of force is sometimes necessary. But data revealing that a small group of officers whose elevated use of force often goes unchallenged, unaddressed, and even unreported by some departments, is a disturbing trend.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, in office for less than a year, has stated that it was always in the attorney general's office's power to fix this situation; it just never had. It is a reasonable question to ask, as NJ Advance Media did, why one officer in Millville more used force more times than any other in the entire state. The answer may be because no one had eyes on what he was doing. 

Rutgers University criminal justice Professor Wayne Fisher, a former deputy director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, correctly described The Force Report report as an indicator of agencies and officers that deserve further scrutiny. Yet, few, if any, individuals or organizations have provided it.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has cited The Force Report on the Senate floor, but, as Congress begins begins its new term, I have not heard any House members from our region comment on it. If any state legislators, police chiefs, governing body members, mayors or police union officials in the southern part of the state have responded, I have not heard about it. Nor have I not heard any faith leaders in our area, nor any NAACP state or branch officials, respond. This muted reaction by clergy and advocacy groups appears to be a flawed strategy, one that is not in the best interest of the membership or the public.  

Reportedly, civil rights and faith leaders will conduct their own forums to document stories of people who say they were unfairly subjected to police force. Once the sessions are completed, a state NAACP official said the association would "deliver a strong message and plan to the attorney general and administration on our expectations moving forward."

Really? If the NAACP believes that it is a leading civil rights organization, the time to speak up is right now. There is nothing to meet or talk about, no need to hear from anyone else. Doing so would be unnecessary and redundant. The Force Report says all that needs to be said. Now is the time to focus on the long-overdue steps to correct the problem.

Those in law enforcement already know some of the solutions: better screening of potential officers with increased hiring standards; improved police academy training -- including courses taught by criminal justice and social science professionals -- not just police officers who can pass on their bad habits to recruits; and better supervision of current officers.  

The knowledge and ability to make law enforcement better exists. The will to do so appears to be lacking, as evidenced by the silence from too many regarding The Force Report.

Milton W. Hinton Jr. recently retired as director of equal opportunity for the Gloucester County government, and is past president of the Gloucester County Branch NAACP. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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New year, same economy | Sheneman cartoon

While the governor has had a reasonably successful first year in office, year two is where he'll be expected to start making good on some of those promises.

I love the New Year. It's a time of renewal, of hope. It feels like the chance for a fresh start. This is the year I'm going to get my act together. I'll start exercising. I'll finally get organized. I'll write that novel I've been kicking around for years.  A new calendar brings with it infinite possibilities, endless opportunity! 

Unless you're the governor of New Jersey, then you're pretty much hosed.

Phil Murphy ran a campaign that promised the moon and stars. He had a progressive agenda that included things like massive increases in public school funding, a public transportation overhaul and flashy policy initiatives like free community college for all.

 Drew Sheneman's 18 political cartoons that sum up 2018

Then he took office.

While the governor has had a reasonably successful first year in office, year two is where he'll be expected to start making good on some of those promises. But as you probably know -- and he has since learned -- the cupboard is bare. 

The crushing weight of our debt obligations, the vast majority through the under funded pension system, makes the type of progressive agenda focused spending Gov. Murphy promised seem like a fever dream.

There is barely enough money for basic services much less complementary college courses.

The governor's predecessors, aided and abetted by the Democratic Legislature, have been cooking the books for so long they now have the consistency of porridge.

The can has been kicked down the road so far it's now part of the great Pacific garbage patch. Maybe that's why Murphy wanted to legalize weed. Who cares about the implosion of the pension system when you're high?

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Donald Trump is bad at politics | Sheneman cartoon

And everything else.

The following is brief history of President Trump's signature issue, the southern border wall.

  • The idea for a wall traversing the southern border of the nation is birthed in the midst of the campaign by alt-right/actual trolls like Steve Bannon and Steven Miller (sans aerosol hairpiece).
  • The wall is launched as a major policy initiative in a campaign that doesn't know what that is. The incredibly dumb idea carries an estimated initial price tag of $25 billion. 
  • The president successfully employs "the wall" to rile up the froth-mouthed xenophobes attending his campaign rallies. The excitement culminates in chants of "Build The Wall!" followed by chants of "Lock Her Up!" and some misdemeanor assault. 
  • Donald Trump wins the election, loses the popular vote and the zombie apocalypse inches ever closer.
  • The wall remains a racist fever dream, until Democrats, in an effort to preserve DACA, offer to fund the very dumb idea. 
  • In a truly remarkable self-own, the president refuses. 
  • Time passes. Nothing good happens except for the Great British Baking Show and the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl. Go birds.
  • The Democrats retake the House
  • The president, facing the certainty of congressional investigations and the looming specter of Bob Mueller, tries to reinvigorate his base with renewed pledges to build the wall.
  • Wounded and lacking any leverage, the president lowers his ask from $25 billion to $5 billion and says that the wall he promised is actually some fencing and a bunch of metal slats. 
  • The Democrats, and Mexico, refuse to fund the slats.
  • The president throws a tantrum and shuts down the government, depriving government employees of their paychecks during the holidays.

This is all so dumb. 

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To end racial bias in police violence, face these facts | Editorial

Hard data, gathered by police themselves, shows that local police in New Jersey are far more likely to use force against African-Americans. Will Gov. Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal fight hard to end the disparity?

In April of 1998, troopers with the New Jersey State Police fired their guns at a van carrying four young men, all of them unarmed, and all of them African-American or Latino. Three were hit, but by some miracle, none were killed.

That shooting decisively tipped the balance in the long argument over racism in the State Police, their well-documented habit of pulling over black drivers for the sin of being black. It led to a decade of federal oversight that created real change. Cameras were installed on cruisers, training was revamped, minority troopers were hired and promoted, and internal affairs started cracking down.

"They had great success," says the Rev. Reginald Jackson, who led the political campaign demanding change as head of the Black Minister's Council. "But the local police were always worse. The State Police got the attention."

Twenty years later, it's time for Round Two. And this fight, against racism in local police departments, is going to be much tougher for several reasons we'll discuss below.

But let's start with the facts. A 16-month investigation by NJ Advance Media for NJ.com produced hard data, collected by police themselves, showing that African-Americans are far more likely to be punched, kicked, pepper sprayed, or struck with a baton. They are more than twice as likely to be shot.

It's not just that blacks are arrested more often. Among those arrested, blacks are 41 percent more likely than whites to face violence at the hands of local police, according to data gathered by police from 2012 to 2016. And that is despite the fact that white people are more likely to threaten police, and to attack them with a car, knife or gun. Black people are more likely to run away, the data shows.

Facing the hard facts is the first step towards reform. It's true, as police union leaders point out, that data itself does not prove misbehavior. It is a warning flag only. But given America's long and undeniable history of racist violence, often fortified today by video, it takes willful blindness to ignore the extreme likelihood that bias is at work.

At a minimum, the data demands a deeper dive into police behavior, and the kind of vigorous oversight we saw with the State Police. And the fight to reform local police will be a much steeper climb.

New Jersey has more than 500 police departments, and some are bound to resist. Two years ago, the police chief in Wyckoff, Benjamin Fox, was forced out after he encouraged his officers in an e-mail to target African-American drivers based solely on race, saying black gangs in nearby Teaneck were committing burglaries in town. How would a chief like that react to a reform ordered up in Trenton?

In Millville, where blacks are seven times as likely as whites to be subject to police force, Chief Jody Farabella sees no need to dig deeper. "It doesn't concern me," Farabella said. "We don't have any complaints about it."

The state attorney general doesn't have the resources to adequately oversee all local departments, a pinch made worse in recent years by the fiscal crisis in Trenton. "The attorney general can put out guidance and triage emergencies, but I frankly don't think they have the kind of funding even I had to oversee local police and prosecutors," says John Farmer, who was attorney general when he welcomed federal oversight in 1999. "That makes the job a real challenge."

And unlike 1998, there is no grand political push to get this done today. Racial profiling was a core political issue in 1998, a top subject in political debates, and a key goal of civil rights groups. Will this new data kick off an equally determined drive?

The biggest change today, though, is that President Trump has abandoned efforts to reform state and local police departments, explicitly ruling out federal interventions like the one that reformed the State Police two decades ago, and the one that is reforming the Newark Police Department today. In those cases, the Department of Justice sent crews to oversee reform, based on plans approved by federal judges, who regularly checked progress.

All that's gone now, as long as Trump is with us. We've lost the heavyweight player in this fight.

"We are the only game in town now," says former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, whose 2014 investigation of Newark led to the federal intervention in 2016.

For Gov. Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, this will be a legacy issue. They have both expressed deep concern about the data, while both have emphasized that most police officers do good work and deserve the public's support. But at some point, a vigorous reform effort is almost certain to provoke opposition from politically potent police unions.

So, the real test for Murphy and Grewal has yet to come. Will they start to collect this data on their own, rather than rely on the media? Will they provide the resources needed to do this job right -- to establish best practices, to put supervisory teams in troubled departments, even to help locals buy body cameras and computers?

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Local governments need to step up as well. In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka and Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose have both embraced the federal intervention, and all sides say that improves the odds of success dramatically. Will political leaders and police in other New Jersey towns treat a reform drive coming from Trenton with the same respect?

We face a daunting task. But with this data as a starting point, New Jersey could break new ground on police reform and set a model nationally. Here's to fighting Round Two with unrelenting vigor in 2019.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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