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Mike and Julie on Murphy's first year, Mattis resignation, GOP loyalty to Trump

By Star-Ledger Staff Can Americans still have a sensible and friendly political discussion across the partisan divide? The answer is yes, and we intend to prove it. Julie Roginsky, a Democrat, and Mike DuHaime, a Republican, are consultants who have worked on opposite teams for their entire careers yet have remained friends throughout. Here, they discuss the week's events, with...

By Star-Ledger Staff

Can Americans still have a sensible and friendly political discussion across the partisan divide? The answer is yes, and we intend to prove it. Julie Roginsky, a Democrat, and Mike DuHaime, a Republican, are consultants who have worked on opposite teams for their entire careers yet have remained friends throughout. Here, they discuss the week's events, with prompts from Tom Moran, editorial page editor of The Star-Ledger.

Q. Merry Christmas, the federal government is shut down again. Typically, the party that provokes a shutdown pays a price. How do you expect this one to play out?

 DuHaime: I generally believe the party with control of the executive branch suffers politically.   Most voters know the President, the Governor and the Mayor, but they're not as sure about who controls the legislature or care as much.  As such, the president gets credit when things are going well or blame when they are going poorly.   But at this point, I am not sure anyone cares about the shutdown too much.  Not many people have been personally impacted yet.  If they shut down TSA and the airports are a mess, then the shutdown will be solved quickly.

Roginsky: This has been the third shutdown during the Trump presidency and it will likely be forgotten by 2020. If anything, it contributes to the general sense that this administration does not have its act together but there are many data points to buttress that thesis and the shutdown is just one of them.  As for how it turns out, it will not end as the president and House Republicans insist. Trump is not getting funding for the wall -- either, as promised, from Mexico or from American taxpayers. 

 Q. The resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis struck many Senate Republicans as a dangerous turning point, a sign that national security decisions hinge more and more on President's Trump's gut feelings. Should I be as scared as I feel?

DuHaime: The presence of long-time high-ranking generals like Mattis and Kelly in positions of high authority gave many people across the political spectrum comfort that the President had professionals and patriots key positions.  Senate Republicans will watch closely to see who the permanent replacements are.

Roginsky: I keep hearing that Republican senators are hand-wringing with respect Trump's national security, but have you noticed that they are doing it on background or only if they are departing the Senate next week? The reality is that Republicans in Washington are generally too terrified of primaries and of being the subject of mean presidential tweets to stand up for what the Republican Party has traditionally stood for: a muscular foreign policy, with a healthy dose of moralpolitik. And that should frighten all of us, because they are largely abandoning our national security to a know-nothing, autocrat-obsessed man child, who has done more to destroy the Pax America that both parties worked so assiduously to establish for the last seventy years. 

Q. Stock markets in December are headed towards their worst month in a decade. What's the political threat to Trump?

DuHaime: Anyone who gets elected to any office must prove to be really good at the one thing they claim to be really good at.  Rudy Giuliani campaigned on lowering crime in New York.  He could have done everything else right, but if crime didn't go down, he would have never been re-elected.  In NJ, Jon Corzine suffered from the hemorrhaging of jobs on his watch after campaigning on his Goldman Sachs credentials.  In many ways, Donald Trump won because of the impression that he is a tough, successful businessman.  There is nothing a businessman should know better than the economy.  Any president would suffer politically if the economy faltered.  But a businessman will be blamed even more so.  

Roginsky: The main reason Trump still has the base of support he has is because the economy has been robust. If the economy tanks, so does his presidency. 

Q. In his first two years, Trump's firm hold on the Republican Party has been unchallenged. What would it take for that to change in 2019?

DuHaime: Nothing politically is going to challenge Trump's hold on the GOP.  He remains extraordinarily popular with a wide swath of the Republican Party, not just "the base" as some claim in a derogatory way.  No person could credibly challenge him for the nomination, and the Republicans in Congress have only become more in line with the President, because so many of the more moderate members lost.   The only person that could have an impact on the President's hold over the Republican Party is Robert Mueller.

Roginsky: Mike is generally right. Nothing is going to change Trump's hold on the GOP. Sadly, the party is in such thrall to him and to his media enablers/handlers that even Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican who has served without an ethical blemish, is now considered a Democratic hack by the president's supporters. 

Q. Gov. Phil Murphy said he's considering another round of tax hikes next year, but legislative leaders say they won't consider it unless he cuts spending first. Do you see a stalemate taking shape, or the makings a grand bargain?

DuHaime: I think a stalemate over tax increases is shaping up.  The vast majority of our state budget is already dedicated to school funding, pensions, benefits and Medicaid.  I hope the leaders of the legislature stick to their word about no new taxes, but that would mean the governor agreeing to real spending cuts in discretionary spending, reforming the pension system or simply underfunding the pension by a few billion dollars.  Good luck to everyone who tries to stick to their campaign promises next year.

Roginsky: My New Year's wish is that they meet regularly and talk openly about how to move the state forward.  I suspect that a grand bargain could be struck if everyone decides to work towards a grand bargain. 

Q. Final question: Murphy is in Tanzania on safari this week. How would you grade his performance during his first year in office? What do you see as the high points and low points?

DuHaime: It's too easy for one side to blindly say F while the other says A.  I would offer constructive observations instead.  The governor needs to get into the weeds of governing.  The Katie Brennan allegation troubles me even beyond the significance of her serious allegation.  If staff kept the governor in the dark on something this serious, and no one has been fired for it or offered a real explanation as to why, what else is he unaware of?   Voters are not going to blame some unknown staff lawyer for the bungling of this, nor will they blame the DOT commissioner regarding snow removal, or the legislative leaders when key parts of his agenda fail to pass.  

The governor has every advantage one could ever want in politics.  He is the independently wealthy Democrat governor of a Democratic state with Democrats in controls of both houses of the legislature, the congressional delegation, most of the big counties and all of our biggest cities.  The governor seems to be a good man with his heart in the right place, even if we disagree on some policies.  But the people of NJ are looking for him to be a strong leader, one who takes responsibility, and takes charge on issues that matter to everyday people.  

Roginsky: I would give him an "Incomplete." He did not create the mess the state is in and he cannot solve it in one year, so it would be unfair to grade him on a job partially done. I would no sooner grade the Yankees' season in May. He has accomplished quite a great deal already: equal pay, funding for women's health, an ambitious off-shore wind plan, strengthening gun safety laws. But much more remains to be done to turn the state around, from fixing our long-term finances to New Jersey Transit. Let's check in again next December, after the fifth inning.

Read full article at NJ.com


Student wrestler 'valiant' after forced haircut | Feedback

Tod M. Thedy writes in admiration of how Buena High School's Andrew Johnson and his family are handling this situation.

I am writing to applaud Buena Regional High School student wrestler Andrew Johnson and his parents for the dignified manner in which they are addressing the controversy surrounding the cutting of Andrew's dreadlocks under duress prior to a match.  

Neither Andrew nor his parents have sought media prominence. We have not seen them or their attorneys making the rounds on television news shows or holding press conferences (although a family attorney spoke at a Dec. 26 school board meeting.)  We have not heard pronouncements of "racism" from the wrestler and his family. 

This is a departure from what our society has devolved into, and I commend the Johnson family's decorum in allowing the system and regulators to investigate and act appropriately.  

Andrew can be seen in a video of this incident allowing his hair to be cut without fanfare or outrageous protest, then proceeding to compete valiantly in the match for the benefit of his team. He put his team ahead of himself. He was graceful and reserved.  

I, for one, admire and respect the manner in which Andrew and his family are seeking resolution. I hope that their restraint and civility will serve as a model for others who may follow in similar situations.

Tod M. Thedy, El Paso, Texas

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.

Read full article at NJ.com


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

The governor's claim that he knew nothing of Katie Brennan's rape accusation faces deeper scrutiny next month. Then comes the budget, with legislators saying he's given them no hint how he might move to solve the crisis.

Gov. Phil Murphy left on Friday for a 12-day safari in Tanzania with his family, and one of my Christmas wishes is that he has a grand time. He's a decent man, and he deserves a break.

Plus, he's going to get crushed when he returns to Jersey. This could be his last chance to chill for quite a while.

The big fight will center on taxes, and it will flare up in February when the governor is due to present his budget address. The governor is almost certain to lose that fight, and I'll get to that.

But his first problem is Katie Brennan, the woman who says she was raped by a senior Murphy aide, Al Alvarez, during the campaign. She told Murphy's senior people, and they ignored her, month after month, she testified during a special legislative investigation. Meanwhile, they rewarded her alleged rapist with a $140,000 job. She had to walk past the man in hallways, and still her complaints were ignored.

That can't be mansplained away. It's frat-boy behavior, and it is going to hit Murphy right in his sweet spot -- his popularity among women and hard-core liberals.

This scandal will go nuclear if Murphy's claim that he knew nothing until reading press reports is proven untrue. "That would be a really big thing," says Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, the co-chair of an investigative committee digging at this. "If it's shown that he knew, that would undermine whatever his plans are for the future."

Here's my prediction: Murphy's story is not going to hold up. The governor is either lying about his knowledge of Brennan's complaint, or he chose to look away.

At Tuesday's investigative hearing, Chief of Staff Pete Cammarano told legislators the governor was unaware of Brennan's complaint "as far as I know" -- a phrase that tells us even he's not so sure. He said he didn't tell the governor because two attorneys, both appointed by Murphy, advised him that the state's confidentiality rules forbid it.

Think about that one: How could the rules allow Cammarano to know, but not the governor?

I asked the four women legislators who are leading this investigation if that made any sense to them, and they all shook their heads in a bipartisan "no."

The state's confidentiality rules explicitly allow information to be shared with those who have "a legitimate need to know." Are we supposed to believe that Cammarano had a need to know, but the governor did not?

The line of the day on Tuesday came from Charlie McKenna, who served as chief counsel to former Gov. Chris Christie before switching to run the agency in charge of school construction. He was called because he was the direct supervisor to Alvarez during the first seven months of the Murphy administration, when he served as a holdover

Legislators asked how Christie would have reacted if McKenna withheld this kind of information when he was chief counsel.

"I would still be feeling the pain today," McKenna answered.

Legislators intend to dig at this again, and that can't be good for Murphy. Information will dribble out slowly, and painfully. The warm evening breezes of Tanzania will seem like a distant dream from another lifetime.

In February, bruised from all this, Murphy has to present a budget. He says he may want to raise taxes again, a strategy that's been explicitly rejected by both Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex.

Murphy has no plan to solve the state's fiscal crisis. Believe me, I've asked his people, over and over. And it's not just me. Legislators don't know of any plan either. He's done nothing to prepare the public for any painful measures, and even less to marshal legislative support.

That, folks, is not normal.

Remember Christie's first year? Like him or not, he knew where he wanted to go and had a plan to get there. He held about 1,000 town hall meetings emphasizing the need to reduce health and pension benefits, to cap property tax hikes, to lower health costs. He met with Democratic legislative leaders constantly and found a bipartisan coalition that got most of that done.

Murphy has no plan. He has no coalition in the Legislature. He meets with legislative leaders once every few months, and they come away saying he doesn't know the material well and doesn't close deals.

"The governor is just not taking this seriously, and that's a real problem," says Sweeney.

The February fight will center on taxes. Murphy said last week he won't rule out more tax hikes, but he'd need support from Sweeney and Coughlin to do that, and they both say it's not going to happen - at least not until Murphy gets serious about cutting spending by reducing pension and health benefits. Sweeney has presented a plan to do just that, and Murphy hasn't offered a speck of support.

Do women govern differently? Look at Trenton this week. | Moran

"If you don't like my plan, where is yours?" Sweeney asks. "To raise taxes just kicks the can down the road. That is the problem. If revenue is needed as part of a solution, then ok, let's have that conversation. But we have to fix the structural problems first."

If Murphy is smart, he'll take that deal. He'll agree to Sweeney's spending cuts, in return for legislative support for a hike in the millionaire's tax, everyone's favorite.

I hope that happens. Because this fiscal crisis is a slow-moving disaster. It's the reason NJ Transit is such a mess. And if we don't fix it, education and health care could be next.

Murphy will return from Tanzania just as legislators resume the investigation into Brennan's treatment. A month or so later, he's required by law to present his budget.

So let's hope he's getting a lot of rest on the safari. He's going to need all the mojo he's got when he arrives home.

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.

Read full article at NJ.com


On the Census, Trump and GOP allies target Latinos | Moran

Where is the sense of fair play? Trump's move to add a question about citizenship status is bound to reduce the count in states and cities with large immigrant populations.

New Jersey's top legislative leaders just tried to pull a slippery stunt that would have cheapened our democracy by tilting the electoral map in their favor, but they were forced to abandon it last weekend after the party's base revolted.

"We don't have to cheat to win," said Analilia Mejia, head of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance.

Imagine if the Republican base in this Trump era had the same respect for fair play.

The question is relevant today as a federal judge prepares to rule on a challenge to the Trump administration's shameless effort to undercount Latinos in the 2020 census by adding a question on citizenship status. There is no doubt that the question will scare off a portion of the Latino population, leading to an undercount.

That means states like New Jersey, with heavy Latino populations, will not get their fair share of political power in Congress, since the size of each state's delegation is based on Census data. It means that within New Jersey, cities and towns with heavy Latino populations will not get their fair share of political power in Trenton, since the state's political map is based on Census data as well.

And because Washington distributes hundreds of billions of dollars based on this same data, states like New Jersey will get less than they deserve, again. Keep in mind that New Jersey already ranks among the biggest losers when it comes to federal aid, receiving 74 cents for every dollar we send to Washington, according to a 2015 study by the Rockefeller Institute. The Trump tax plan added to the imbalance by capping the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, and Trump Census plan will now make it worse again.

But it's the offense to democracy that really stings. The Trump administration pretends that its only goal is to accurately describe the country's population, as if they are adding a question about pet ownership. Wilbur Ross, who runs the Census as the Secretary of Commerce, told Congress that he had added this question without even discussing it with Trump or his senior aides. That, we know now, was a flat-out lie. The idea was first raised to him by Steven Bannon, Trump's former political strategist.

Why would Ross lie about that? The only reasonable answer is that he was trying to hide the political nature of this move. It's not about accuracy. It's about gaining partisan advantage.

Since Trump opened his campaign, he has been bashing immigrants with malicious lies, starting with his claim that they are more likely to commit crimes. He has threatened mass deportations. He has taken every opportunity to rile up his base by describing desperate parents and their children as threats to our national security.

The Census Bureau is barred by law from sharing information with immigration officials. But if you were an undocumented immigrant, would you trust this administration to play by the rules at the risk of being deported? Suppose you are a legal immigrant but are one of the estimated 500,000 people in New Jersey living in a home with at least one undocumented immigrant. Would you want to draw the attention of the federal government these days? In focus groups organized by experts at the Census Bureau, legal and illegal immigrants expressed fear that their information would be shared.

Saudi Arabia is committing war crimes with American weapons | Moran

A handful of Republicans in New Jersey have objected to this scheme, including Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, who warns that it will cut into federal aid to New Jersey. But most Republicans are going along quietly, either because they agree with Trump or they are scared of his ability to rile up the party's base voters against his critics. New Jersey is one of 18 states that have joined this suit, but not a single Republican attorney general has joined them.

These are scary times. Our democracy is not about to collapse into chaos or military rule, but that's now how democracies usually die. They die from 1,000 small cuts, as authoritarian leaders attack the press, challenge the independence of judges, and corrupt the integrity of elections. This attempt to undermine the accuracy of the Census for political advantage would be just one more cut. Given the indifference of most Republicans, our best hope to prevent it lies with the federal courts.

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.

Read full article at NJ.com


An inspiring moment as Democrats back off gerrymandering scam | Moran

The most fierce opposition to plan by Democratic leaders came not from Republicans, but from fellow Democrats who want to win elections fair and square.

On Saturday, the top two Democrats in the Legislature did what any sensible burglars would do when the alarm sounds and the floodlights snap on - they dropped their loot and ran.

The leaders, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, couldn't drum up enough votes to do their mischief. Their plan was to redraw New Jersey's political map in a way that would lock in an unfair advantage for Democrats over the next decade. They tried to do it in the dark, during lame duck session of the Legislature, when they thought everyone in the house was asleep.

But the alarm did sound, and suddenly the villagers were aroused, charging at Sweeney and Coughlin with torches in hand.

The surprise - and the glory of this moment - is that most of those charging at them were not Republicans, a party that has been worn down to a nub in New Jersey after the Christie years.

The storm of protest came mostly from the left, from Democrats and liberal activists who want to win elections fair and square. They signed the petitions, organized the marches, and testified against the plan. Citizen groups like the League of Women Voters, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey all called this a partisan gerrymander. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project warned that Republicans could someday use these same rules to gain unfair advantage against Democrats.

Grassroots groups joined the protest. They include leaders of NJ 11th for Change, South Jersey Progressive Women for Change, and the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, whose leader, Analilia Mejia, put the case against it succinctly: "We do not have to cheat to win," she says.

In the end, what started as another unseemly moment in Trenton turned into an inspiring one. Democrats have been watching Trump Republicans across the country cheapen our democracy with stunts like this, and much worse. And they wanted no part of it. Instead of reaching for a club to strike back, they reached for higher ground.

They listened to national Democrats like Eric Holder, the former attorney general, who said this stunt would damage the national fight against far more radical gerrymandering in states like Texas and North Carolina, along with shamelessly partisan and racist efforts to suppress turnout by restricting voting hours and imposing unreasonable ID requirements.

Republicans in Wisconsin just offered fresh insult. After losing in November, they used their final weeks in power to strip away key powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general. Vladimir Putin must be delighted to find such effective allies in his fight to cheapen our democracy and inflame our divisions.

Saudi Arabia is committing war crimes with American weapons | Moran

For now at least, New Jersey Democrats are going to do the right thing, having exhausted all the other alternatives. Sweeney and Coughlin both put out statements that left them wiggle room to try again next year, but it's tough to take that seriously. Gov. Phil Murphy, to his credit, opposed this stunt from the start.

The irony is that New Jersey is ahead of most states today when it come to gerrymandering, We don't allow the legislature to draw the political map, as in most states. We hand the job to an independent commission, split between the two parties, and with a tie-breaker appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Why fix what's not broken?

This amendment would have tied the hands of the "independent" commission for the first time by requiring that it consider only statewide elections when devising its map. That includes races for president, U.S. Senate, and the governorship, where Democrats dominate. The commission would be barred from weighing the results of legislative elections, where Republicans are more competitive.

For now, let's relish the moment. With Donald Trump in the White House, these are scary times for our democracy. This time, though, democracy pushed back.

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.

Read full article at NJ.com


A farewell love note from columnist Mark Di Ionno

Veteran Star-Ledger journalist was Pulitzer finalist in 2013

The newspaper was never wrapped in plastic and tossed in the driveway. It was nestled in the skinny space between the storm and front doors of our house in Summit, dry and intact.

That is where I found The Star-Ledger every day after school, for as long as I can remember.

Many people my age recall getting The Newark Evening News until it folded in 1972, but I don't. We always were a Star-Ledger family.

Like most boys my age, I went right to the Sports section. First stop was Jerry Izenberg. The guy had the best job in the world, writing about sports, and I knew I wanted to do that someday.

The dreams of that prepubescent boy came true, as did others.  Those dreams began with this newspaper and today the "working part" of this wonderful half-century association comes to an end. This is my farewell column.

I say the working part because I will always be associated with this paper. It is, and will remain, my identity. My obituary will say "former Star-Ledger columnist," foremost.

 I'm proud of that. I always was, and always will be. Every time I introduced myself or made a call and said the words "Mark Di Ionno, from The Star-Ledger," I felt a heart race of pride. It was a physical effect.

Each time I received a letter or email or, later, an appreciative comment on NJ.com, I felt publicly validated. Each time a reader reached out with a problem to solve or a story to tell, I felt called upon to do something meaningful. There were thousands upon thousands of those communications over the years. Thank you all -- for reading, for reaching out, for your part in that telepathic relationship between writer and reader. I was blessed to have you all on the receiving end of my work.

At Thanksgiving this year, I wrote a column about the practice of gratitude. Several of you sensed I was winding down and wondered if that was a farewell column. Let's say it was Part I, because when I look back on my career, all I can think is how grateful I am it unfolded this way.

Mostly, I'm grateful for the all the friendships I made in this frenetic business, the bonds formed chasing stories, making deadlines and reflecting on whatever good it accomplished. There are too many people to name. But over the years I have had mentors, and people I have mentored, people who were like big brothers and sisters to me, or I to them. We were a Star-Ledger family.

When all is said and done, it's not the stories or awards that matter. It's the people I loved. And loved working with.  And loved talking with. I loved coming to the newsroom every day and still do. That's the hardest part of leaving.

The recent evolution of this business is well-documented but, technology aside, media always has been a young person's business. It needs fresh eyes, fresh legs and fresh ideas. A smart man knows when to move over.

Accepting that now allows me to evolve as a writer and make a greater investment in my novels. A theme of my most recent, "Gods of Wood & Stone," is about staying relevant. A retired ballplayer headed to the Hall of Fame feels lost and fears all he is, is who he was. The other main character, a Cooperstown blacksmith, fights to make history relevant in a sports- and celebrity-obsessed world. I know the feeling of both.

Readers of this column know I used it to advocate for better promotion of New Jersey's under-appreciated Revolutionary War history. I'm especially thankful to have the opportunity and voice to do that.

Thankful is the best word to sum up how I feel about my career. Lucky is the second-best word.

Fresh out of the Navy, I was lucky to get Izenberg in a sports writing course at Rutgers-Newark, and he became my lifelong mentor. In appreciation, I dedicated my first novel, "The Last Newspaperman" to him.

In a few short years, I, too, was a sports columnist at the New York Post.

In New York, I was lucky to get to know Pete Hamill, and the world of a street columnist enticed me. I dreamed of that job, and eventually got it here, in my home state at my home paper.

My former editor, Jim Willse, despite being a New Yorker, luckily appreciated my Jersey authenticity, in both knowledge and voice and gave me this space. His successor, Kevin Whitmer, let me keep it, through very tough times. I'm grateful to both.  

My first column editor, David Tucker, and I were a high-wire act. A poet, he understood the cadence of language. He knew exactly what a column needed to sing but, like all great editors, also knew to get out the way and let me do the singing. Same for Rosemary Parrillo, who took over after David retired. I was lucky to have both.

I'm grateful that my career here dates enough years to have worked for both Sid Dorfman and Mort Pye, the shoulders on which this paper's editorial legacy was built. I am the last person in the company to have worked for both. That's how much this place is in my DNA.

It was Sid - he was always just "Sid" to the people who worked for him -- who helped me make the transition from sports to news by saying the magic words all journalists dream of.

"Do what you want," he said. "Go out and find the stories and write them."

I did that, the best I could.

And there is one more piece of gratitude and luck I have to mention.

When I came to work at The Star-Ledger in 1990, I got to learn so much about this crazy state of ours.

It, too, became part of my DNA and I was determined to represent it, and its people, well. I covered New Jersey. I never seriously looked to go anywhere else. I wanted to end my journalism career at The Star-Ledger, New Jersey's greatest newspaper.

And now I have.

Mark Di Ionno may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow him on Twitter @MarkDiIonno or at www.markdiionno.com

Read full article at NJ.com


Saudi Arabia is committing war crimes with American weapons | Moran

President Trump doesn't give a damn. But last week's bipartisan revolt in the Senate is a sign that this alliance is in deep trouble.

Americans are told over and over that Iran is the menace in the Mideast, that its Islamic rulers are bloodthirsty terrorists spreading mayhem as they force a sectarian showdown between Shiites and Sunnis across the region.

All of which is equally true of our close ally, Saudi Arabia, under its young ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He is a murderer and a tyrant, and his war in neighboring Yemen is killing innocent people on a scale that could soon rival or exceed the body count in Syria.

President Trump has made it clear he doesn't give a damn. As long as Saudi Arabia delivers the oil and buys our weapons, our president is willing to sell this country's soul.

But the U.S. Senate last week finally drew a line, unanimously endorsing a resolution acknowledging that MBS personally ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was killed in the Saudi embassy in Turkey on Oct. 2. That was the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies, who found evidence that MBS communicated with the team of 15 killers as they strangled and dismembered Khashoggi in the most brazen and brutal murder of our time.

The Senate also voted overwhelmingly to end United States support for MBS's war in Yemen, which relies on American weaponry, targeting assistance, and intelligence. The vote was 56-41, a rare and bipartisan rebuke of Trump.

If there is any consolation to be drawn from Khashoggi's murder, it is the attention it drew to the disaster in Yemen, where Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are fighting a proxy war as part of their sectarian showdown. It's a bloody stalemate, and the brutality is on both sides. But the Saudi bombing campaign of Yemen is the worst of it, and it directly implicates America.

The bombing has killed thousands of civilians at weddings, funerals, and on school buses, according to the United Nations. It has left the Yemeni economy in ruins, its ports unable to absorb needed international aid. Save the Children estimates that 85,000 children have died during the three years of fighting, and the forecast is for death on a scale that is almost unimaginable.

According to the United Nations' World Food Programme, 12 million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation, with children most vulnerable of all. Relief workers say they are bracing for the worst global famine of their lifetimes.

Stop the shameless power grab by NJ Democrats | Moran

The Senate's action will change nothing on its own, given opposition from Trump and Republican leaders in the House. But with Democrats taking control of the House soon, that could change. And in any case, the defiance of our amoral president is long overdue.

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.

Read full article at NJ.com


The Katie Brennan case: What didn't Phil Murphy know and when didn't he know it? | Mulshine

Gov. Phil Murphy has claimed he was unaware of the sexual assault charges by Katie Brennan until the Wall Street Journal article two months ago; if so, why didn't his staff tell him about this ticking time bomb?

A lot of people are saying that Gov. Phil Murphy must have known about the accusation that one of his top campaign aides sexually assaulted a woman who was also working on the campaign.

Murphy says he didn't know. And maybe he didn't.

But in that case he qualifies as the single most incompetent politician in recent New Jersey history.

That was my conclusion after discussing the matter with Loretta Weinberg. She's the Democratic state senator from Bergen County who is leading the charge to find out just why Katie Brennan was stonewalled at every turn after she first reported that alleged assault last year.

Murphy's campaign for governor was in full swing at the time. After work one day, Brennan went out with a number of people from the campaign including Al Alvarez, a longtime Murphy ally who was serving as the Latino/Islamic outreach director.

According to Brennan, Alvarez offered to drop her off at her Jersey City residence. When they got there, he asked if he could come in to use the  bathroom. Once he was inside, she said, he began a sexual assault that ended only when she escaped long enough to lock herself in the bathroom.

Brennan reported the incident to the Jersey City Police  the next day. The subsequent investigation by the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office dragged on for months -  through Murphy's November victory and into the transition. Both Brennan and Alvarez were seeking posts with the new administration.

The timing of what happened next raises a lot of questions, said Weinberg, who was herself a sexual assault victim in her youth.

Brennan testified last week that after the election she told a member of the transition team that a highly placed campaign aide was the subject of a criminal complaint.

"Within an hour or so, she got a call from the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office to say, 'We're dropping the case,'" said Weinberg. "That's one of the unanswered questions: What are the parameters for dropping a case?"

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Perhaps Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez has an explanation for why her staff declined to let Brennan tell her story to a grand jury. But the case Brennan presented to the Legislature over five hours last week sure sounded like it needed to be heard.

Her candor and sincerity bring up a question that goes to the heart of Murphy's leadership abilities: Why did no one in the transition team bother to inform the governor about an accusation concerning the most explosive issue of the time?

From a pure political perspective, the conduct of Alvarez revealed him to be someone unsuited for employment in the administration of a liberal Democrat in the era of the "me-too" movement. Yet he was given a plum $140,000-a-year job with the Schools Development Authority.

Brennan testified that in her new job as chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, she dreaded the thought of running into Alvarez at state functions. That led her to keep pressing the case with state officials, she said.

When she got no answers, Brennan said, she emailed the governor himself to tell him about a "sensitive matter" she needed to discuss with him.

What Murphy did next raises the most difficult questions the governor faces, said Weinberg.

After sending her back an email saying he was "on it," Murphy turned the email over to his lawyers. One was the governor's chief counsel, Matt Platkin, as might be expected. But the other was Jonathan Berkon.

 "He's the campaign attorney from Washington, D.C.," said Weinberg  of  Berkon.  "I'm not quite sure why he was involved in a personnel decision for state government."

According to Brennan's testimony, Berkon called her and assured her that Alvarez would be leaving government employment. But Brennan hadn't mentioned Alvarez by name in the email.

"How did the attorney for the campaign know that it was Al Alvarez?" asked Weinberg.

More important, how did Murphy not know?

At a press conference last week, Murphy maintained that he didn't learn about the alleged sexual assault until three months later, when Brennan went to the Wall Street Journal after finding out that Alvarez was still on the payroll - despite Berkon's assurances he would leave.

If Murphy is telling the truth, his campaign attorney was just one of many top aides who failed to tell him of a matter that could be deadly to his administration.

As of Friday, there were news reports that Murphy's chief of staff, Pete Cammarano, will soon be leaving the administration.

The reports didn't say whether the governor is aware of this.

Perhaps he didn't get his Wall Street Journal yet.


Murphy's attorney general, Gurbir S. Grewal, has a habit of turning a blind eye to questionable behavior by public officials.

Back when he was the Bergen County prosecutor, Grewal had a chance to follow up on a complaint of misconduct in office filed against then-Gov. Chris Christie by Bill Brennan, a former fireman turned attorney. Brennan alleged that Christie  failed to stop the fake "traffic study" at the heart of the Bridgegate scandal.

Municipal Court Judge Roy McGeady ruled there was enough evidence to go forward. McGeady said Christie had direct authority over Bridget Kelly and "at the very least could have influenced her to reach out to Fort Lee and stop that traffic study and the resultant traffic jams. He chose not to do that."    

Instead of pursing the politically sensitive case, Grewal dropped it without explanation. Now in the Katie Brennan case he cleared his fellow Democrat, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez, of any wrongdoing - again without giving us an explanation of just why the Alvarez prosecution was dropped.

In his letter on the matter, Grewal states that Suarez did not interfere with the investigation. But he doesn't address the issue of whether other officials in the office were in any way pressured because the defendant had a high rank in the Murphy staff. 

Why didn't his people interview Brennan? If they had, they would have found her account entirely believable. As for the defense put up by Alvarez - that any contact was consensual - if that had been the case she certainly would not have immediately called her husband to tell him about it.

Murphy's fellow Democrats didn't do him any favors. And his "I was just following orders" defense is the lamest excuse I've ever heard.

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NJ Transit promises to inform you when you're not getting home | Sheneman cartoon

Has it not heard of Twitter?

According to NJ Transit one of their top customer complaints is not the wretched state of its fleet or the crumbling infrastructure it runs on, but communication. Riders don't care so much that the trains don't run, apparently, they just really wish you would give them a heads up. 

The solution to this problem, like many troubled relationships, is communication.

After a lengthy and expensive audit at the behest of Governor Murphy found a profound lack of resources for providing information to riders, NJ Transit will be instituting new measures to let their patrons know exactly why they won't be getting home on time.

Apparently there will be a new app to update riders on delays and service outages.

Did NJ Transit officials know that they already have a website? Have they not heard of Twitter? It's 2018, there are a bevy of technological tools available at little or no cost to the user that would allow a state agency to keep its customers updated with ease.

I'm no computer expert, but I'm pretty sure the technology to update a website with pertinent information has existed for a few years now. If they couldn't be bothered to post about service issues on the website, why am I supposed to trust an app?

In addition, NJ Transit has spent $250,000 they don't have to contract a public relations firm to teach them how to communicate with the public. Here's an idea: If trains and buses are delayed or out of service, tell somebody.

Your welcome. Where's my $250,000?

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Jersey City fire displaces family of 5: Red Cross

The Red Cross of New Jersey has provided the family with emergency assistance.

JERSEY CITY -- A family of five has been displaced from their home following a fire on Summit Avenue early this morning.

The Red Cross of New Jersey has provided the family with emergency assistance for temporary lodging, food and clothing needs, according to a tweet.

Disaster Action Team responded to a #fire on Summit Ave in #JerseyCity, helping a family of 5 with Red Cross emergency assistance for temporary lodging, food and clothing needs.

— Red Cross New Jersey (@NJRedCross) December 9, 2018

The fire appears to have originated at 1180 Summit Ave. Additional information on the fire was not immediately available.

A spokesperson for the city did not respond to a request for comment.

Corey W. McDonald may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow him on Twitter @coreymacc. Find The Jersey Journal on Facebook.

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