Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So, Do You Want to Watch a Shuttle Launch? Here's How

(photo by NASA)

The penultimate Space Shuttle mission, STS-134, is scheduled to launch on April 19th. This mission will be led by Commander Mark Kelly, husband of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Have you ever wanted to watch one of these launches? I asked my friend Andy, who knows somebody who knows somebody at NASA who gave us some tips. Here's what he had to say:

Go to Florida and stand on the side of the road w/ 300, 000 other people :)

Not much I can do personally. To get to the causeway or on-site, one person of the group must be a NASA badged employee.  There is currently a employee lottery to get one of these passes. Thousands of folks actually park on the sides of roads 12+ miles away.  Basically, if you stand somewhere that blocks your view of the pad, you can still see the shuttle go up after it clears the trees blocking your view.

Also, the NASA visitor center offers tickets for busses, but they are not cheap and are only good for one launch attempt (I think). I would guess they are sold out already but it may be worth a look.  Also the NASA web site has lots of suggestions (www.nasa.gov).

Things to ponder.
  • No one is closer than 3.5 miles away.  I think that is where the VIP viewing stands are.
  • The employee turning basin is about 4 miles away.
  • The employee causeway viewing is about 5 miles away (where we were when we saw STS128).
  • Areas outside KSC fence are probably 10+ miles.
  • Jetty park is a good close viewing area but you cannot see the pad.
  • Many folks simply park on A1A (hwy 528) in the Cocoa Beach area.
  • Probably more folks park along hwy 1 near Titusville.
  • There may be closer places that I am not aware of.
  • There are NO restrooms on the road side and people start “camping” many hours early for that “right spot”.
Also, if anyone plans to go and stay in the Titusville – Cocoa Beach area, reserve your room now.  If they stay in Orlando, the trip back will be bumper to bumper for 45+ miles.

So, are you game? See  you in Florida!

Click on the thumbnail for a spectacular photo! 

Monday, March 21, 2011

My OPRA Request - Answered! (well, not quite)

A recent blog post I wrote, "The Wall of Separation?", which raised questions about the First Amendment implications of Chris Christie holding a "town hall" meeting at a Catholic church, on Ash Wednesday, a Catholic holiday, sparked an interesting comment thread about the appropriateness of holding such an event at such a place on such a date.

Some commenters were interested in how much was paid for the hall rental and by whom. So on March 9th I submitted OPRA request #W56799:

Requesting information as to how the $300.00 rental fee was paid to to Jude's Church for use of the parish hall for Governor Christie's town hall meeting on Wednesday, March 9, 2011. Please provide a copy of the rental agreement, which should identify who were the parties to the agreement, and proof of payment, identifying who paid the $300.00.

I did not expect a timely response, actually I did not expect a response at all. So imagine my surprise when, less than two weeks later, I saw an email from the Governor's office on my cell phone. I could hardly wait to get back to my laptop and read the pdf, which I could not open on the phone.

Here is the non-response, from Assistant Counsel Raymond Brandes:

Please be advised that the first portion of your request is a request for information and not for a specific identifiable government record, and therefor is an invalid OPRA request, OPRA is a records law, not an "information" law. OPRA does not countenance "(w)holesale requests for general information" {..then some legalese..}

This was not a "two-portion" request. It was a request for documents; the first portion was simply the what-and-where, so the OPRA responder would know what documents I was requesting. Now, the response to the second portion:

Please be further advised that this office has reviewed its records in response to the second portion or your request, for a copy of a rental agreement and proof of payment. That search has not identified any documents responsive to your request. Accordingly this request is hereby closed.

Uh, no, Mr. Brandes, the request is not closed. You have not answered the question.
Is there no purchase order?
No agreement?
No receipt?
No cancelled check?

This is either poor fiscal housekeeping or the hall was provided free of charge to the Governor.

If it's the former, and the Governor's office cannot account for a simple $300.00 hall rental payment, how can he be trusted with a $29.4 billion state budget?

If it's the latter, we have a Catholic church providing a free venue for a Catholic Governor to hold a political event on church property. What about that wall of separation?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Open Letter to NJ Assemblyman Paul Moriarty - Has Governor Christie Violated Election Laws?

The Honorable Paul D. Moriarty
NJ State Assemblyman, Legislative District #4
129 Johnson Road
Suite 1
Turnersville, NJ 08012

Dear Mr. Moriarty:

As a citizen and taxpayer in the State of New Jersey, I applaud your recent remarks criticizing Governor Chris Christie for his partisan political rallies, masquerading as "Town Hall" meetings, at taxpayer expense. I am proud to be represented by such a dedicated public servant, looking out for the best interests of the citizens of New Jersey.

You stated:
These are taxpayer-funded events organized and promoted by the taxpayer-funded governor’s office. If the governor sticks to public policy, that’s fine. But if the governor wants to campaign, he must dip into his own wallet.

I agree with you 100%

These so-called “Town Hall” meetings are, in fact, political rallies to benefit the Governor’s political agenda, characterized by:
  • The events are purportedly open to the public, but appear to be planned in stealth and supporters are notified in advance. Public notice is typically two days before the event.
  • It appears the non-supporters have been identified and purged from the Governor’s email list.
  • The events are always held during the day, on a weekday, making it difficult or impossible for working people to attend, and all but ensuring a homogenous pro-Christie crowd.
  • Governor Christie has in the past used the Q&A section of the events to rudely berate constituents who do not agree with him, for the benefit of his taxpayer funded YouTube channel. This practice has recently subsided in favor of Q&A involving what appear to be planted questioners lobbing softballs, again to be promoted on the Governor’s taxpayer-funded YouTube channel.
  • The Governor typically makes a show of referring at least one of the questioners to his Constituent Relations staffer to make the event appear to be non-political.
  • His most recent egregious partisan move at a “town hall” was to conscript a group of students from St. James School in Woodbridge to support passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a proposed school voucher program. The students appeared wearing t-shirts supporting the Act.
In light of the above, and other examples not listed of which you are certainly aware, I respectfully request that you initiate in the Assembly, hearings and investigations of possible violations of the Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act, N.J.S.A. 19:44A-1, the Personal Financial Disclosure Act, N.J.S.A. 19:44B-1, and the Legislative and Governmental Processes Activities Disclosure Act, N.J.S.A. 52:13C-18, for the purposes of filing a complaint with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission ("ELEC") on behalf of the taxpayers of New Jersey.

Thank you for considering this request and your consistent excellent service to your constituents in the 4th Legislative District.

Respectfully Submitted,
Jeffrey R. Pickens

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Sing-Along

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and today, everyone is Irish, including the President of the United States, “Barrick O’Bama”.

Sing along with Shay Black to “There’s No One as Irish as Barack Obama”, originally written and performed by the Corrigan Brothers, a/k/a Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Where's The Outrage?

 I know, I just asked for a moratoium on press coverage of Chris Christie's sham "Town Hall" meetings, which are really campaign rallies in disguise funded by NJ's taxpayers. But if you're going to spill any ink (or megabytes) on it, at least report on something of substance.

Here is what passes for journalism in the non-blog section of the Asbury Park Press
McGreevey's dad steals show at Christie town hall
And in the Star-Ledger:
Former Gov. McGreevey's father quizzes Christie on 'hot and sexy' comment
Thank goodness for  John Schoonejongen of the APP's Capitol Quickies blog, who at least reported on Christie's remarks about pension elimination "reform", along with this nugget:

...a group of about two dozen students from St. James School in Woodbridge — there to support passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a proposed school voucher program — were part of the background.

Twenty-four students pulled from school, to lobby for public subsidizing of parochial schools? Why weren't these kids in school? Are these kids "drug mules" as well?

Remember the right-wing outrage over President Obama's televised back-to-school address to students? Where's the outrage here?

In the meantime, there is quite a lively discussion going on in the comments section of Capitol Quickies, over pensions and the like.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Town Hall, Shmown Hall - Chris Christie's Taxpayer Funded Political Rallies

How about a moratorium on reporting on Governor Christie's so-called "town hall meetings" until one or more is held in the evening or on a weekend, when working people can attend? Now, if you are not on the Governor's coveted mailing list, you must scour the news websites for announcements, which typically come out with 1-2 days notice. By then, the Faithful have already been tipped off, and can make arrangements to attend, while the rest of us must either miss the event due to work, or jeopardize our jobs by calling in sick. There is a "town hall" scheduled for Woodbridge Tuesday morning. NJ.com dutifully announced the event on Thursday but managed to leave out the date and location. This has since been corrected in later versions of the post.

I have been to one of these, and from what I witnessed and have read about subsequent town hall meetings, they are routine, the same tired stories. The same script.

The Governor approaches the stage to wild applause, talks about "reform" (since when did "reform" become a synonym for "dismantling"?), blasts the usual scapegoats, the Legislature, public workers, and reminds us that his beef is not with teachers but the NJEA.

Then comes the Q&A, which may result in a "YouTube" moment, followed by his closing remarks, a heart-wrenching story about visiting his cancer-stricken mother on her deathbed, where she tells him to get back to work because "there's nothing left unsaid between us". Every town hall ends with this story, and there is barely a dry eye in the house.

Now, I am not in any way mocking Mrs. Christie's untimely death, but I cannot help but wonder, if she was the tough cookie he often describes, would she approve of her son cynically exploiting this intimate mother-son moment to score political points? I am sure my late mother would haunt my ass, big-time, if I pulled a stunt like that.

Note that, ever since the fiasco in Parsippany, where the Governor invited a questioner to the stage, berated him, and had him expelled from the meeting by his State Police detail, there have been no more reports of confrontations at these town halls. Is this the sign of a new, mellowed, improved Chris Christie, or has his staff become more adept at packing the hall with sycophants? Lately the format has featured the Governor performing in-the-round, in a roped-off area resembling a pro wrestling ring.

In my last post about possible 1st amendment issues with holding one of these town halls at a Catholic church facility, on Ash Wednesday, a Catholic holiday, Blue Jersey staff writer Deciminyan posted the following comment:
Is it time yet to post a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that these "Town Hall' meetings are really political events and should be funded by Christie's shadow campaign organizations instead of the taxpayer?
Good question. As long as these events continue to be held at a time to maximize a pro-Christie crowd, when it is difficult or impossible for working people to attend, the question remains, are they really "town hall meetings" or partisan campaign events?

If they are the latter, and each one follows the same predictable script, why bother covering them, other than to raise this question and explore possible FEC violations?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

If You Build It, They Will Come - FROM PHILLY!

Ever since the Senators left Washington DC to become the Texas Rangers in 1971, residents of the District of Columbia and the surrounding area (those who were not Orioles fans) had been whining about not having a team of their own.

They got their wish in 2005 when the Expos headed south to the District and became the Washington Nationals. Finally, they got their team! From 2005-2007, the "Nats", as they are so fondly called, played at venerable RFK Stadium. Attendance was dismal. Wait until we get our new stadium, Nats fans said.

In 2008, Nationals Park (not yet named after a bank) opened to great fanfare. There was only one problem. Nobody came. Only the Pope was able to draw a crowd.

Enter the world's greatest fans, Phillies Phans! On Nationals' opening day in 2010, the team and the city were embarrassed by a deluge of Phans, bussed in from Phillies Nation. You see, the Phils have been on a roll these past few years, and tickets to Citizens Bank Park are difficult to come by. So some Phans headed south.

Now, a legion of Nationals fans (is there really such a thing as a "Nationals fan"?) is mobilizing to keep those mean, nasty, unruly Phans from ruining another Nationals opening day.


Don't they realize the economic jolt to the District when visiting team fans come to Nationals stadium? The parking lot fees, the beer sales, the food sales, all get a boost when Phillies Phans come to town. Likewise Yankees and Red Sox fans (do Orioles fans bother to go to DC?) but other than that on any given baseball day, Nationals Park is empty.

So, rather than embarking on a futile effort to keep Phils Phans out of DC, Nats fans ought to be welcoming us with open arms on when the Phillies come to town.

We promise not to bring Pukemon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Wall of Separation?

If you are one of the lucky few who have not been booted off Governor Christie's email list, or if you scour NJ.com as I do, you should know by now that the Governor is holding one of his "Town Hall" meetings at St Jude's Catholic Church in Hopatcong, NJ.

As a lapsed Catholic, it had only occurred to me yesterday that today is Ash Wednesday, a Catholic holiday (disclosure: my brother is a priest with the Diocese of Paterson).

How appropriate is it for the Governor to conduct State business on Catholic property, on a Catholic holiday? Will there be a photo-op of him receiving his ashes at St Jude's church before entering the parish hall to shill for vouchers, that will subsidize Catholic schools, like the ones his kids attend?

At worst, this is a blatant First Amendment violation, at best it is plain bad optics. I wonder if he plans future Town Hall meetings at other places of worship like a synagogue or a mosque.

If this troubles you, write to the Governor's office to object. Do not bother with the "Contact us" page on the Governor's website; you will not get a response.Go directly to Constituent Relations:


If you're lucky, he just may answer you.

Or, maybe you do not see a problem with this. What do you think?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Worth Repeating - Chris Matthews on the GOP Obama Haters

 Too lazy to write my own blog today, so here is the transcript from the Let Me Finish" segment of Hardball. Chris Matthews can sometimes be obnoxious and buffoonish, but when he is good, he is very very good, as he is here, calling out Mike Huckabee and his ilk for their attacks on the President and not-so-subtle appeals to the racist, right-wing base:

“Let Me Finish” tonight with this horrible talk we‘re hearing in this country.  I was out last night in California, Los Angeles, with a large of former Peace Corps volunteers like me.  We were at UCLA talking about the Corps‘ 50th anniversary this week, ever since John F.  Kennedy decided it was a good idea to get young Americans out there in the world, helping countries develop, sharing some of our American “can do” spirit, and in the process, learning something about how the rest of the world looks at things.

It came to me that everything good about that is being assaulted these days.  This guy, Huckabee, and Gingrich and W. before him were out there trashing the whole idea of learning anything from about world, anything from the rest of the world.  This whole stupidization of things that began with Bush‘s inane attempt to rename French fries.

Now, this guy, Huckabee, is going around the right wing radio world singing the song that our president isn‘t really one of us, because his father, who stayed with him until the age of 2 infected him with some kind of foreignness.  You know, he‘s a Kenyan, he‘s a secret Muslim, he‘s over there where those African people, where those different people live.

I thought we were beyond this yahoo talk, this fear of the world, this monkey trial nonsense.  But we‘re not, are we?  We‘ve got knuckleheads promenading around the right wing radio belt playing to the God knows who crowd saying how Obama was somehow involved with the Mau Maus, hanging around madrassa schools—all the while that this young kid way back then trying to make it in this country.

And all he did, everything he did was right as a regular American kid, playing basketball on a championship team in Hawaii.  That‘s what I wanted to do growing up, be a championship basketball player.  He went to Catholic school, like I did.  He got into Occidental College in California, then to Columbia University.  And then he went to Ivy League and with the Harvard Law where he made that law review.
What more do you want his kid to do?  He‘s done everything right.

Look at his marriage.  Michelle has done everything right.  Her brother is a top basketball coach out of Oregon State.  Their kids look like they‘re right out of a picture book.  This isn‘t just the American Dream, it‘s done (ph) near perfect.

And what is this right wing goon squad doing?  They keep talking about his father, his grandfather.  What about his grandfather who fought under Patton in World War II?  What do these people are looking for?  Some evidence that he‘s black?  Is that it?

They ought to be ashamed of themselves.  You know what‘s un-America? 
Huckabee and Newt and the rest of them—this stuff is.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.