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Larry Benjamin's blog

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.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Alas, it's winter ... almost

The calendar may read only Oct. 29, but winter started today.Yes, it was the first morning I had to scrape ice from my car windows. Can't say anything good about it. That was followed by maneuvering through my development dealing with sun glare on my mostly defrosted front windshield. (And when I got to work, that sun was still glaring just above my work station.) April, or a return of our really warm fall temperatures, can't come soon enough.

Speaking of soon enough, the World Series has ended the 2007 season so it's soon enough time for Hot Stove talk for this 24/7/365 fan. It's beyond rational explanation to normal people, but it makes perfect sense to baseball fans. Just think --only three and a half months to pitchers and catchers reporting to prepare for Grapefruit and Cactus baseball, then opening day, a hot start, the dog days, surviving September and, all fans everywhere hope, really meaningful October baseball like the Red Sox and Rockies gave us this year.

I've already had enough of A-Rod talk. I lump him in with our state politicians who know only one way to campaign - negative. None of them displays any class. Bottom line: I wouldn't invite any of them to dinner at home.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blue is in, sign-wise

Those roadside campaign signs add visual pollution to the landscape this time of year. I can't imagine anyone casts a vote in response. But the candidates obviously think they make a difference. However, when it comes to signs in the hot race for state Senate in the 12th District, there's little to distinguish between Democratic Sen. Ellen Karcher and Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck because both campaigns are using royal blue. So that instant recognition both were seeking is gone.

It's been years since candidates have attached party labels to names on the signs, and this year is no different. Name, not party, counts. Nonsense! If only the candidates were as independent of the party bosses as they - and their signs - want us to believe.

Rarely does a sign display any creativity, but the Democrats in the 11th District have shown some spark. Senate candidate Villapiano and his Assembly running mates Napolitani and Pirmat all share the same first name - John. So their sign reads "John'' vertically at left, with their last names stacked horizontally at right. How clever. If we must have campaign signs, at least make us smile.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Conflict? Oops!

You've got to wonder what kind of background checks Gov. Corzine's office conducts before making nominations. Case in point: His naming Monday of Gabriella E. Morris to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, which oversees lobbying and campaign finance. Only problem: Morris is registered with ELEC as a lobbyist for Prudential Insurance.

The conflict is clear and is reflected in ELEC's code of ethics: No commissioner or employee can engage in any profession ELEC regulates. Once informed of the no-no, Morris withdrew her name from consideration Tuesday.

Doesn't anybody in Trenton ask hard questions before filling vacancies? With all the talk about potential conflicts of interest, didn't somebody seek assurance that Morris' resume was beyond dispute? Assuming she knew the ELEC's scope of responsibilities, why didn't she mention the conflict to somebody in Corzine's office? It's yet another example of an administration that doesn't show an ethical pulse. No wonder it's open to embarrassment.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Library loses its domain

Isn't anything sacred? Something as benign as the Web address for the Ocean County Library? Yes, no longer gets Internet users to see the offerings of the county's library. Instead, you get a home page referring to all sorts of online library stuff, including one marked "Meet Sexy Singles.'' Not exactly what the county library folks have in mind.

The domain name for the site, which the library system has owned since 2000, was bought by someone else after the registration expired Aug. 31. It's a cheap trick Web entrepreneurs use to gain access to a heavily trafficked site. Someone at the library dropped the ball in failing to renew the registration. Now the library is trying to buy it back - not the best use of taxpayer money if it's much higher than the typical domain fee (as little as $35 a year).

But all is not lost. The publicity about the name and the library's new Web address - - just might drive new users to the very helpful site. Meanwhile, library officials should use the experience to inform the public about domain names - how to get them, their cost and re-registration - and the people who might poach them. They now have firsthand knowledge.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Snagged in hypocrisy

Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan is no stranger to headlines. He's an aggressive politician who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor in 2005. But this time, the limelight might be a tad uncomfortable as the stories expose his private actions clashing with his public statements.

The public Lonegan wants to see stricter policies on illegal immigration. But that didn't stop the private Lonegan from picking up two Guatemalan men at a muster zone along Route 46 last week and taking them to a residence to assemble campaign signs, for $80 each. The men said Lonegan never asked for documentation or even questioned them about their legal status in the U.S. Turns out, they aren't here legally.

Lonegan brushed off the embarrassment, reported in The Record of Bergen County: "I will hire anybody I want. And if they don't prove to be proper, they don't get paid.'' That doesn't quite square with being a public figure calling for tougher immigration policies. He'd be hard-pressed to deny that he's contributing to the problem, whether he pays them or not.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Walking for the cure

There's something about seeing the names of so many cancer victims and survivors on pink papers pinned to the backs of so many walkers that makes a breast cancer awareness walk so compelling. So it was for the thousands at the Komen Walk for the Cure at Great Adventure Sunday morning. But it's a celebration, too, which is obvious from the hugs and cheers and laughter, with nary an agitated voice, all along the 4K route around the parking lot perimeter and through Hurricane Harbor and back.

The organizers must have great faith in the race savvy of the participants, for event staffers were hard to find and security was all but invisible. The emcee was telling people about joining him at the stage area, but unless you could follow your downloaded event map, you had not a clue where he was. My wife and I never did locate where the survivors' photo was to be taken. But it seems the free parking until 9 a.m. was a ruse to get people there well ahead of time (no doubt to get freebies at the sponsor booths). We knew it would be hard to separate the morning Komen attendees from the afternoon park-goers, so several in our group weren't penalized for arriving past 9 a.m.

Parking was surprisingly smoooth, though it did take at least a half-hour to finally clear traffic exiting the park and heading up Route 537. However, finding your car tested your powers of observation. One vehicle was parked between signposts Tweety Bird 4 and 5. Another was near Marvin the Martian 6. As one son warned, "Of course, you have to know what Marvin the Martian looks like.'' Somebody in our party did. So, as with all things at the Komen walk, it was all good.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The entitled class

Entitlements. It's become a term of derision from those who find Social Security, Medicare or other government programs too expensive.

But that feeling of being entitled extends to federal employees. The Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday that 67 percent of the premium-class air travel by executives and their employees was unauthorized or otherwise unjustified. The bill for that wasted travel: at least $146 million. And why did these public servants do it? Because they felt they were entitled to the perk. What an outrage!

But it's not just a national problem. It can also apply to those serving the public sector in New Jersey, too. Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, has a bill in the hopper to bar public entities from hiring lobbyists. She cites, as one abuse, the "power breakfasts'' that lobbyists for NJ Transit enjoy at a Manhattan hotel at up to $60 a person. All charged to the state's cash-strapped transit agency and, eventually, the state's taxpayers. That's a lot of muffins and bagels - and for what? Another outrage!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Waiting 'til next year

As noted in my bio, I'm a baseball fan before all other extracurrics. And the Mets have been my team since before they were formed in '62. So these are sad times after their September swoon? Not really, because as much as I love baseball, it's only a game. I do believe my "Baseball is Life'' T-shirt because the game holds so many life lessons about preparation, discipline, redemption and, thanks to Yogi, "It ain't over 'til it's over.'' But in the big picture, it's just an escape, though one that can be so satisfying.

That being said, I'd like this off season to bring my team an ace pitcher, starters who get into the seventh inning or later, a bullpen with guys who throw strikes and get outs, hitters who really know what clutch means, some role players who know how to play the game and, most importantly, a collective "refuse to lose'' attitude - confidence without cockiness - that turns losses into victories. Then, we'd be playing meaningful games next October.