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Larry Benjamin's blog

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The move's complete

Another reminder: My blogs and those of my Press colleagues - and now readers, too - are available at the Press' new Web site: See you there.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Moving on

It's time to move on. No, not me, just how to find my blog. The Press has redesigned its Web site and my blog goes with it. So after 2 p.m. Tuesday, you can find me at the new Follow me there.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Baseball, the year-round story

That three different baseball players would show up on the news pages on the same mid-November day is too much to ask, even for this baseball 24/7/365 fan.

Barry Bonds being indicted for lying about his steroid use should come as no surprise. His statements about the probe over four years have indicated how egotistical and detached from reality he is. If he had come clean, so to speak, about his use of performance enhancers, he might have saved his reputation, such as it was, and probably have avoided the grand jury's action. It's hard to remember that he had a Hall of Fame career before his bulked-up body and pursuit of the hallowed home run record became so obvious.

Alex Rodriguez reupping with the Yankees for $275 million over 10 years is surprising, given how he dissed his team by opting out of his contract during World Series game 4. But don't for a moment believe that he's divorced from agent Scott Boros. They just wanted the Yankees and the public to think A-Rod can act on his own. Let's see: 5 percent of $275 million is a cool $13.75 million. Not bad, even by Boros' standards. But how much money do you really need, even if you think you are - and sometimes play as if - you're the best player on the planet.

The truly shocking news involved squeaky clean Derek Jeter and his troubles with the New York state tax people. Jeter's agent says he's resided in Florida, which doesn't have an income tax, since the mid-1990s. But the New York tax folks say that from 2001-03, Jeter was really domiciled in New York City and owes back taxes big time: hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Of course, he can afford it. But Derek Jeter snagged in a tax dodge is mind-boggling.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Whose side is she on?

Lest you think ethical lapses reside only in Trenton, consider the fuzzy thinking of Nancy Nord, acting head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington. She sees nothing wrong with taking trips paid for by the industries her agency regulates. What better way to preview the season's hottest new toys than to attend the American International Toy Fair in New York on the Toy Industry Association's dime? Taking the trips is legal, she said, and have been going on for years with the approval of commission attorneys. Sure, it may be legal. But ethical? No way. How can you honestly regulate an industry that's paying your way?

Nord is the same administrator who voiced reservations about congressional plans to double the commission's budget and authorize hiring more staff. She would like the money and people, but opposed provisions that would protect whistleblowers about product safety from repercussions and make it easier for the government to release reports of faulty products to the public. Isn't that what an agency overseeing product safety is supposed to do?

This "It's legal so it's OK'' excuse is wearing thin. Ask former Sen. John O. Bennett III (attorney billing practices) and soon-to-be former Sen. Ellen Karcher (farmland assessment) how that argument played with the voters.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The results, in real time

Putting together the election edition for our newspaper with complete results used to depend on machines that worked, election clerks who didn't leave before letting us know who won and the ingenuity of reporters to get it all straight when things didn't go smoothly. No more. The Web sites put up in both Monmouth and Ocean counties bring the results in real time - a real service to their residents and to us.

And if you're following a close race, like the one for Monmouth County freeholder this year, it can be exciting ... much like a horse race. One candidate is ahead by 75, then he's behind by 100 and then he pulls ahead by 125. There are only a handful of polling districts still to report. Will they swing the race? And wouldn't you like to know whether they're traditional strongholds for one party or the other?

Elections have entered the high-tech age with candidate and party Web sites, blogs and ready commentary about all developments. Election night results should not be a waiting game. Those county Web sites make sure you know the score.

But you have to know your Monmouth County history to follow the strange list of towns, seemingly in alphabetical order, on the Web site. Aberdeen is between Matawan and Middletown, Hazlet is after Oceanport and before Red Bank and Lake Como is between Shrewsbury Township and Spring Lake. That's because Aberdeen used to be Matawan Township, Hazlet was Raritan Township and Lake Como only recently was called South Belmar. I suspect its Webmaster(s) will get working on that, too.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Campaign '07. Spare us!

This old political science major is bummed out. I love politics, but ... The amount of money being spent to win hotly contested legislative seats is obscene. And the money too often goes for negative advertising that leads you to wonder what new mailing or TV spot will strike a new low in tastelessness. Why would anyone want to run for public office if all you can look forward to is putting your hand out for money and devising ways to distort your opponent's image or record?
Why should voters cast their ballot based on which candidate was less obnoxious?

If public service is a calling, this isn't the way to answer. The flow of money argues for limits and public financing. The playing field must be leveled for the major parties and third parties, too. The state's Clean Elections experiment - with the public footing the bill in three districts this year, one more than in 2005 - has been too limited. It should be extended statewide, for both the primary and general elections, with a low public ceiling of, say, $25,000 for the primary and $50,000 for the general, which each candidate can match. But no political action committee, corporate or professional services money is allowed. Campaign finance reports to prove the candidates are clean must be filed weekly.

We want legislators who know how to manage state finances on our behalf. So let them figure out how to get their message out on a budget. If they can't, they won't be elected. As for those who say such limits interfere with free speech rights, tough!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Board snubs blogger

Barnegat Board of Education members can use a lesson in the First Amendment. They barred a parent, by unanimous vote Monday, from volunteering at school activities because she blogs on her own Web site. Lisa Becker's site focuses on Barnegat's municipal government and school board. It seems the board is afraid the district will be named a defendant in any lawsuit prompted by anything offensive posted online on a volunteer's Web site such as Becker's.

The board members are being overly cautious, even in our overly litigious society. They're not impressed that Becker already deletes parent or teacher names from reader comments on her blog. The board has to recognize that Internet blogs - like newspapers, fliers or other soapboxes - are a form of opinion protected by the First Amendment. It's not clear yet whether barring Becker from volunteering because she's exercising her right of expression violates the Constitution. It should be a violation. The consequences of free speech cannot be separated from the right itself.

By making such a big issue about her blog, the board is inadvertently doing Becker a favor. More people know about her Web site and her volunteer spirit than ever before. She's gained name-recognition - and a cause - she can use if she goes through with plans to run for a school board seat in April. The board members would have been much better off had they left well enough alone and allowed her to continue volunteering.