An Open Letter to Governor Christie
I penned the following letter to the Honorable Christopher Christie, Governor of the State of New Jersey. I thought all of you might want to read it, as well.
Dear Governor Christie:
I am writing to bring your attention to the case of MGySgt Richard Zahn (retired), USMC. I consider it probable that you are personally unaware of his situation, otherwise I cannot believe you would allow him to be in his current circumstances.
MGySgt Zahn is currently incarcerated at the Bergen County Jail, having been convicted of several weapons offenses. Yet, the conviction and offenses are related to his defending himself from a known member of the Latin Kings street gang while in New Jersey to visit his ailing (since deceased) mother. His weapon was never discharged, and in point of fact, his actions that day led to a de-escalation of what would have otherwise been a tragic and lethal encounter.
MGySgt Zahn has served this nation with distinction for nearly 40 years. In his 26 years as an active duty Marine, he deployed into combat on 5 occassions and earned more commendations than can be listed here. They include two Purple Hearts for combat injuries and a Bronze Star. Since his retirement, MGySgt Zahn worked with Homeland Security, training FBI agents and other LEOs (including our own State Police) in anti-terrorism tactics and techniques. For his efforts and success in this work, he received a personal commendation from Louis Freeh. He has also received personal letters of commendation from the Commandant of the Marine Corps (and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) Gen. James Dunford and Gen. James Mattis, former commander of USCentCom.
Given your strong positions against terrorism and the threats it poses to our nation, I’m certain you are aware that anyone receiving these types of personal commendations cannot be someone of poor character, or someone who is given to making rash and impetuous decisons that would risk public safety. That MGySgt Zahn is sitting behind bars for simply doing as he was trained – and has trained others – to do is a miscarriage of justice. Worse, it’s an affront to every law abiding citizen in the United States. Further, I know as a former prosecutor, once you’ve reviewed his case you’ll be left to wonder why (as have many thousands of citizens around the country) it was ever brought to trial. You might also want to note that his case is beginning to receive national attention. The kind of attention that is not doing our state’s reputation any good.
Do the right and honorable thing, Governor. Pardon MGySgt Zahn and have him released today.
Once again, if you haven’t signed the petition demanding Chris Christie pardon Rich Zahn, you can find it here. Please do so soon. The more pressure we bring to bear on the Governor, the better. That any man should sit behind bars in these United States simply because he uses a weapon to defend himself is insane. If that person happens to be a true American hero, like Rich Zahn, and we do nothing to defend him, then we shouldn’t be able to look at ourselves in the mirror.
A Memorial Day Outrage – and How You Can Help Fix It
February 24, 2014. Hackensack, NJ. A relatively quiet town in the Garden State. A highly decorated combat veteran of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with Kosovo and Kuwait, driving from his current home in North Carolina to visit his extremely ill mother at Hackensack University Medical Center. Little did he know that he was about to become a victim – not of a crime, but of New Jersey’s draconian and antiquated anti-gun laws.
MGySgt Richard Zahn served for 26 years in the US Marine Corps, earning a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. After retiring, Rich worked as a civilian contractor for Homeland Security. His job? Training FBI agents and young Marine leaders in anti-terrorism tactics. Rich also possesses a concealed carry permit in North Carolina. In addition to his military honors, he’s also received personal commendations from General James Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (select); General James Mattis, former US Central Command commander and Louis Freeh, former Director of the FBI.
None of that would matter at 9:30 that morning, though. After receiving the call about his mother’s turn for the worse the night before, Rich was nearing the end of his 10 hour drive to be with her. Since he had just finished a live a fire exercise right before receiving the call, he still had his TO weapons in his truck: a .306 sniper rifle and AR-15. As is his custom, he also carried his legally licensed sidearm, a M&P .40 caliber pistol (he is on Al-Qeada’s hit list, after all). As he rounded a bend in the road, a SUV suddenly veered in front of him – and Richard Zahn’s day was about to get much, much worse.
The SUV was driven by one Jorge Polo, a previously convicted and known member of the Latin Kings street gang. Polo forced Rich off the road and began approaching Rich’s truck. Reacting in accordance with his training and experience, Rich produced his sidearm – finger off the trigger-guard, weapon up and away from his assailant. When Polo continued his advance, Rich reached into his truck and grabbed his .306, again pointing the weapon up and away from any target. At that point, Polo realized he had bitten off more than he could chew, clambered back into his car and drove off. Rich, thinking nothing more than that he was glad he had left New Jersey and it’s crazy drivers years ago, continued on to visit his mother in the hospital. You can read more about the incident at Allen West’s blog.
That’s where he was arrested by the Hackensack Police Department, for having illegal and unlawful weapons, transporting “assault weapons” across state lines, and two counts of brandishing a firearm in a threatening manner. Right outside his mother’s hospital room, the Hackensack police made every effort to ensure that the ever dangerous criminal MGySgt Richard Zahn was quickly taken into custody, thereby protecting the citizens of the Garden State from a twice wounded combat veteran.
After more than a year of trying to fight his way through New Jersey’s byzantine legal system, especially when it comes to guns and gun ownership, Rich was sentenced on March 27 of this year. A detachment of Marines from around the country was present, including me. The prosecutor had Mr. Polo read a victim statement. That Mr. Polo could be considered a victim in this shows you just how screwed up this state’s laws are. (Sidebar: one of the Marines present is a resident of Bergen County and through a few connections, found that Jorge Polo had outstanding warrants in NY and PA. Immediately after reading his statement, in which he described how he damn near pooped his pants, and exiting the courtroom, Mr. Polo was taken into custody by the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department. Karma is a bitch.) The judge, Liliana Deavila-Sibeli, then pronounced sentence: 5 years, with a 42 month period of parole ineligibility. In her remarks, Ms. Sibeli noted that Richard Zahn, retired Marine with more commendations than letters in her name, is a deranged individual and extremely dangerous person. She made sure to note that guns are inherently dangerous in the hands of any but law enforcement. She also dropped this bombshell: if it were up to her, combat veterans should never be allowed to have weapons, because “combat veterans are homicidal psychopaths in waiting.”
That’s right. Hide the women and children – a combat veteran might be in your midst! They kill people for no reason! That such pure left wing dreck could actually occupy a Superior Court bench in the United States is a topic for another time, though.
That’s the story of what happened, Now for your chance to change the ending to this tale, help free a Marine guilty of nothing more than defending himself and – HEAVEN FORBID! – owning a US Constitutionally allowed gun. This past week, Rich’s lawyer exhausted his last appeal to get the sentence overturned. As you’re probably aware, the Governor of New Jersey is the honorable Christopher J. Christie, potential Republican nominee for President of the United States. Recently, Gov. Christie pardoned a woman from Philadelphia in a similar case. It certainly seems if Chris Christie can find reason to pardon a welfare mother from Philly for having a firearm in her vehicle, he can do the same for decorated combat Marine veteran. Especially if he wants to be taken seriously as a candidate in the Republican primary.
There is currently a petition circulating, asking Chris Christie to pardon Richard Zahn. All I am asking of you is to review the facts of this case as described here (they are not disputed by anyone) and then take two minutes of your time to sign the petition. You can find it here.
And Governor Christie? We’ll be watching. Don’t make Rich Zahn wait for justice any longer.
It’s Time to Leave the GOP to the Elephants
There’s this notion that Republican Party is America’s “conservative” political force. It was true 30 years ago, when Ronald Reagan remade the Republican coalition. It was still true 20 years ago, when rank-and-file Republicans essentially told the reliably milquetoast George Herbert Walker Bush to take his Maine pragmatism and shove it up his Kennebunkport.
There are still conservatives in the Republican Party, but the idea that the Republican Party is conservative is about as accurate as saying CNN is a relevant news organization. It might have been true a generation ago. But not today.
There’s this common theme in mass media and even among members of the party, the idea that Republican Party of today is undergoing a civil war of sorts. It’s the RINOs vs the Tea Party for the heart and soul of the Republican band. Of course, according to those same experts, we should all hope that the RINOs win and put those racist, extremist Tea Party nut jobs out to pasture. Oh, those insane whack-jobs in the Tea Party! How dare they suggest limits on governmental authority, reductions in general debt or enforcing our borders? Hey, it’s a great narrative for selling outdated copies of print magazines and filling dead air during “sweeps” months. And the articles practically write themselves!
Indeed, every “news” organization was so certain of the outcomes of Tuesday’s elections they already had the obituaries for the Tea Party written. The double whammy of blowout victories for this generation’s GHW Bush in New Jersey and Clinton surrogate Terry McAuliffe in Virginia would demonstrate to the entire world that those radical Tea Party gun loving inbreds were finally out of American civic life.
This is modern reality. The Republican Party is no longer a community of like-minded conservatives. We Tea Partiers, those who hold fealty to the conservative ideals of fiscal prudence and personal responsibility, who value life and shun totalitarianism, are no longer welcome members of the Grand Old Party. We’ve mistakenly taken to calling the John McCain’s and Reince Priebuses RINOs. The fact is, in the 21st century we’ve become the RINO: and the party could care less what we have to say. They want our money and our votes, but more importantly, they want us to sit in the corner and shut up. No, these people are not the RINOs we’ve fretted about. They are the Elephants, true to their party’s symbol – large, in charge and afraid to fight even a mouse.
You know what? I’m all for leaving the GOP to the Elephants. They’ve proven they are incapable of fighting for conservative principles. Like all good elephants, the only thing they care to fight for are a few peanuts from their masters in the Democrat Party. If they trample the American people and their own reputations while scurrying after a bit of hay, why should it concern them? After all, they have their junkets to Syria and if they play real nice, maybe an invite to a White House dinner.
They’ve already chosen their standard bearer for the next election, another elephant who talks a great conservative game but runs behind the phantasm of higher elected office when asked to stand and deliver. Yes, Governor Christie talks all the right things on conservative issues – right before capitulating on gay marriage or promoting an Islamic law cleric to the state Supreme Court. He’ll talk about how sacred the Constitution is, before signing into law some of the most draconian gun control measures in the country.
He talks about pragmatism as a governing function, but has defined pragmatism to man capitulation. First, he threw his party’s Presidential nominee under a bus, just to ensure he could get a seat at the federal feeding trough. Now, the incoming chair of the Republican Governor’s Association throws a conservative running for governor under a bus, just to ensure the media plays up how his “pragmatic” approach to campaigning delivers 30 point wins over political nobodies.
In the Elephant Man, the modern Republican Party has found its truest representative, indeed. So I say it is high time for the last conservatives who call themselves Republicans to form a new party, a truly conservative political force that will fight for those bedrock principles that made America great once and can again. We are not abandoning the Republican brand; the Republican brand no longer stands for anything meaningful or trustworthy. So, if you’re a conservative in more than name only, join us! and leave the peanuts for the Republicans!
The Party’s Over. Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!
Last night, the GOP brought the curtain down on their quadrennial convention. It certainly was a spectacle, from Clint Eastwood’s oddly mesmerizing “interview” through Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech. Although nobody would have ever bet that the stiff from Boston would outperform the Hollywood legend, he certainly seemed smoother, more polished and saner. Then again, Clint could have been allowing Romney to simply look more natural and less robotic – in which case he’s getting the last laugh.
The Republicans entered the week with seven principle goals in mind for this convention. By and large, they accomplished them all, a feat that is as unusual in political events as their candidate actually seeming likable. Those seven goals were:
- Make Mitt Romney more relatable
- Turn Barack Obama’s personal popularity into a liability
- Emphasize the fact that the economy sucks and has sucked throughout Obama’s first term
- Tell a story of how and why things improve under a Romney administration (and not coincidentally, a GOP led Congress)
- Dispel the idea that Republicans have no room in the Big Tent for women and minorities
- Demonstrate that conservative ideas are more about an optimistic future than a pessimistic past
- Create party unity behind the Romney/Ryan ticket and party platform
That they accomplished all this, despite having to deal with Hurricane Isaac’s interference with both schedule and coverage, is testament to Republican determination for a clean sweep in the Fall elections. It’s also quite a testament to the organizing ability of the party’s leadership, from Reince Priebus right through Mr. Romney, himself. That there was coordination between speechwriters, speakers, candidates and party elders is not unusual. That the coordination was as tight as it was is definitely not indicative of the fractured party that many in the liberal press were hoping to present to the world. From Chris Christie’s keynote address and Condoleeza Rice’s extolling Republican virtue in international affairs, through both the Presidential and Vice-Presidential acceptance speeches, the GOP continued to hammer away on those same seven themes. The speeches could be summed up this way:
“Barack Obama is a likable guy. But he is in over his head and rather than lead us into prosperity, he gives us the same arguments and cliches from 4 years ago. Instead of fixing what’s broken, he’s paying back his liberal cronies, be they businesses, unions or foreign powers. Instead of earning his Nobel Prize, he allows dangerous elements throughout the world to stockpile weapons that actually pose a threat to the US and our allies. Instead of providing us with hope, he dallies in the backroom brawl of divisive politics.
“Mitt Romney may not be as likable, but at least he is an honest, dependable guy like millions of you. And he has a plan; a solid plan based on 40+ years of business experience to get the economy moving again, get Americans working again and get the fiscal mess in order.
“In other words, Barack Obama is yesterday’s flavor-of-the-month. Face it, America – we’ve tried it and while it was exciting at first, we’ve come to realize the excitement has led to heartburn. It’s time to ditch the heartburn and get back to plain vanilla. Vanilla may never be the flavor-of-the-month, but it will also never let you down.”
It can be a powerful message. Powerful precisely because it is reassuring, not flashy. Can it be torn assunder? So far, the President’s team hasn’t been able to rip apart the individual components, each of which has been brought individually over the 8 weeks or so leading up to the convention. They get their biggest chance next week, during their own convention in Charlotte.
Regardless of how the Democrats perform, they better realize one thing if they hope to get their candidate reelected in 68 days. If they thought Team Romney was a featherweight to their heavyweight boxer, then they need to get their champ into the gym – quick. Or else, like the theme music playing at the end of Mr. Romney’s speech, they may just find their guy got knocked out by the better fighter.
The Education Crisis
One of the truest things in politics is that facts are easily obscured by perceptions, especially in cases where children are involved. Such is the case with the state of education in this country. There are problems with both the primary and secondary education systems, but the issues get clouded by how the public views both.
I’m not claiming any great insights on this. But I understand parents’ concerns, since I am one. I understand teachers and professors concerns; I have close friends who chose those professions. I understand administrators concerns; a substantial part of my professional life revolves around addressing them. I understand taxpayer concerns; like you a hefty portion of my tax bill goes towards education. I understand student concerns. I’ve been one. I understand employer concerns – I am one.
There are, in my experience, two central reasons that improving education in this country has become nearly impossible. The most crucial is perception. Once you get past teacher’s unions, tenure, and all of those bugaboo topics, the underlying cause for the distrust between the public and the schools is perception. The second is the exponential increase in federal involvement in education over the past 32 years. And we’ll never get around to addressing the second until we address the first.
As mentioned above, I’ve developed personal and professional relationships with educators over the years. The vast majority – regardless of whether they’re involved in primary or secondary education, at public or private institutions – are dedicated. I do not mean they are primarily dedicated to their unions or schools (although many are). No, I mean that well over 95% of the education professionals I know are dedicated to the idea of helping young minds grow, learn and achieve. Most are probably underpaid, most are disrespected and yet they trudge off to their classrooms and lecture halls every day because they believe if they make a difference in one student’s life it was a good day.
As I mentioned, most are disrespected, unappreciated and underpaid. Many parents look at teachers as little more than high-salaried day care workers. Worse, as new stories of public corruption and felony criminal conduct in school administrations, local school boards and public universities take hold, many parents now look at their local educators with a distrusting eye. Every time a story gets published about how American school children lag behind other nations in math or science achievement, the public view bends further to the belief that our children are being taught by people who don’t care – or don’t know their jobs and don’t care.
Of course, teachers unions and school administrators are partly to blame behind the perception. Every time a criminal teacher winds up in a “rubber room” for a decade, it sheds a bad light on the entire profession. Rather than working with the public to identify and quickly remove the 5% that are bad apples, they allow them to fester. While it is understandable that a community that feels under siege is loathe to admit there could be problems within its ranks, the approach they’ve adopted has done little to end the perceived siege.
In the meantime, the common misperceptions continue. The public remains wary of their educators, the educators remain wary of the public. I often wonder why anyone who isn’t misogynistic would enter the profession willingly. As a result, reforms that could work – or at least worthy of a try – or jettisoned before they ever get a chance. Instead, we get the sort of acrimony seen in New York, DC and LA. And of course, New Jersey – where the governor has built national notoriety by bashing the NJEA.
What all of this acrimony and recrimination has concealed is the horrible effects that the federal government in general, and Congress and the Department of Education in particular, have had on the education of American schoolchildren over the past three decades.
In 1979, the Office of Education was a subset of the (now defunct) Department of Housing, Education and Welfare. It had 3,000 employees and an annual budget of $1.2 billion. When the Department of Education began operation in 1980, Congress appropriated $14.2 billion and staffing increased to 17,000. By 2011, DoE funding had increased to $113 billion, outstripping inflation by $74 billion. Most of that growth has come 2002, when the budget was $46 billion – a direct result of the past two administrations pet education programs. I’m talking, of course about No Child Left Behind and The Race to the Top.
Aside from additional layers of bureaucracy, what has all of that growth accomplished? Not much, actually. In 2002, the United States ranked 15th worldwide in reading, with an average score of 504 on the PISA assessment. We ranked 24th in mathematics (score: 483) and 21st in science literacy (score: 487). By 2010, those ranking had dropped to 17th, 31st and 23rd. Scores dropped in reading, to 500, held steady in math but did improve in science – to 502.
What the feds have succeeded in doing is making life harder for America’s educators. New regulations and requirements have taken resources from the classroom and redirected them to administration offices. Often, I work with administrators who spend more time ensuring federal requirements are met than actually looking after students. The other effect, whether intended or not, has been to stifle the individual creativity of educators. The great laboratories that were once America’s classrooms – where teachers were relatively unencumbered in their pursuit of instructing students – now more often resemble the efficiency of Bell Labs. Don’t get me wrong – Bell Labs came up with some great products, and today’s schools still produce some great scholars. But top-down oriented research proved a model that was unsustainable; the same is the inevitable result of top-down oriented education.
But we can’t focus on ridding our local schools of undue federal intervention until we get past the mistrust that now permeates our conversations regarding education. How we get there isn’t as hard as it may sound. It starts with parents actually taking time to talk to educators; it takes community members actually showing up at school board meetings to do more than complain about school taxes or school closures. It takes parents willing to take more than a token interest in their youngsters education. It takes educators not dismissing community concerns out of hand. Parents, educators and administrators shouldn’t allow schools to become political footballs. So long as we treat them as such, we’ll keep falling behind the rest of the world in achievement. That’s something that should scare every single person in the country.
The Scarlet Knight to the Rescue?
The GOP is finally starting to get it’s act together. Some of the “headliners” are throwing their hats in the ring for the upcoming primaries. Over the past week, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have officially launched campaigns. They join Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum as officially declared candidates. By this evening we’ll know if Mike Huckabee is running and by the end of the month, we’ll have Donald Trump’s decision. Mitt Romney hasn’t officially declared yet, but he certainly acts as though he’s in the race. Then there are those who are playing coy and may yet run, such as Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Buddy Roemer.
Color most rank-and-file Republicans unimpressed by their options. Each of the above carries significant baggage. The staunchest conservatives, such as Palin, Bachmann and Santorum, have negative ratings among the general electorate as high – or higher – than their positives and are generally considered “unelectable.” Romney and Gingrich are know commodities but known for the wrong reasons, namely, they change positions so often they’re perceived as standing for whatever will get them elected. Pawlenty and Huckabee are seen by many Republicans as not being conservative enough. Paul is a libertarian at heart; his stances on drug and foreign policy leave many Republicans cold. Everyone else in the race is a virtual unknown – except for Trump, who’s considered so Loony even Bugs Bunny wouldn’t vote for him.
So, the Republican base is still casting about for their dream candidate: someone who embodies conservative principles, wins in liberal regions and has the national name recognition needed if entering a national race. The names most often floated in conservative circles are Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels, governors of New Jersey and Indiana respectively, and Marco Rubio and Col. Allen West, Senator and Representative from Florida respectively. West would be a long-shot; while he meets the first two criteria, he doesn’t have national name recognition.
Of the remaining three, the rank-and-file and power brokers may be coalescing around one potential candidate in particular: Christie. Why Christie? He’s been on the national stage and fought many of the battles that others are now wading into. Public employee unions, school reform, budget reform; check, done all that. Additionally, his blunt speaking style and deft humor have drawn favorable comparisons to another Republican icon, Ronald Reagan. And like Reagan, regardless of where you align politically, the man is genuinely likable – the kind of guy the average Joe could picture himself having a beer with after a long day at work.
We’ll soon find out if the rubber is meeting the road here. A delegation of Iowa donors is coming to New Jersey at the end of the month to meet with Christie, presumably to persuade the New Jersey governor to enter the primary campaign. This is unique in recent political memory. Where once the primaries were mere formalities and the actual candidate was selected during the convention, that hasn’t been the case in a couple of generations. This could be the ultimate play for Christie, as well. He’s been adamant about not running for President, despite numerous speaking engagements around the country (including a memorable one in which he lambasted politicians for refusing to acknowledge the need to cut entitlement spending). But if he jumps in at the behest of party and country, then abandoning his first term could actually be cast as a positive: I didn’t want to, but was convinced the country needed me – and I can best serve my state by serving my country. Already, the establishment Republicans are lashing out at Christie, as evidenced by this article I came across. They know if he is in the race, then their chances are immediately dwarfed by a Tea Party darling.
Will Christie answer the siren song sung by the Iowans? Time will tell. And this story won’t be over before the convention, especially if the current field continues to uninspirationally march through the primaries and caucuses of 2012.