So we begin. I will be writing about issues that concerned me for most of my career at The Star-Ledger. Public education. It’s in trouble. Elementary and secondary schools are underfunded and, along with their teachers, under vicious attack. Demagogues and billionaires—sometimes, demagogic billionaires—and their friends in politics simply do not get public education. They do not see what it has done for the nation, how it created the unum out of the pluribus. The privatizers want to put public education on the market, for sale to the highest bidder.
Law. I’ve always believed in two constants: The role of the press as defender of freedom and the role of law as the guarantor of justice. It’s not an accident I am both a journalist and a lawyer. But both our system of justice and the independent media are under attack by the corporatizers and their apologists—and are only weakly defended by their own.
In New Jersey, one of the greatest state supreme courts in the land has been assailed by Gov. Chris Christie and his weak-kneed partners, Democrats and Republicans, in the Legislature. Think of last year’s referendum on pay for judges. That was pure demagoguery. An outrage. Think, too, of the non-tenured justice whose husband is an at-will employee of the governor. She should have disqualified herself on the school funding case—and every other issue where her husband’s boss has a political interest.
Now we are once again witnessing an all-out attack on the independence of Rutgers University. The latest scandal to hit Rutgers has nothing to do with basketball. It is the full frontal assault on the university’s integrity by Christie and his cronies George Norcross and Steve Sweeney. Sadly, Rutgers President Robert Barchi has been weakened by the absurd publicity attached to athletics—and he now all but owes his job to Christie. The same scenario rendered former Rutgers President Francis Lawrence politically impotent after Gov. Christie Todd Whitman “saved” his job back nearly 20 years ago.
In both cases, the media asked the governor whether the president would be fired. But governors cannot fire Rutgers presidents. Just scare them into submission. Christie and Sweeney now want to take away the last defense of academic freedom at Rutgers, an independent board of trustees.
There is so much more. Race, for example. Does anyone really believe New Jersey is a racially integrated state? Does anyone really believe that our problems involving education, jobs, housing, health care, crime, transportation, pollution, taxes and other important areas will be solved as long as we live in a state where the poor and minority are isolated from the rich and the white? I began my career in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and was convinced that, by the time I got to be as old as I am now, this would be a different and much better world. I was wrong. Just think of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on voting rights last week.
I want to write about the brilliant young people The Star-Ledger once nurtured through The Star-Ledger Scholars Program. Like Megan Coffee who runs a TB clinic in Haiti. James Wray who helped plan the journey of the Mars lander. Utpal Sandesera who wrote a riveting book about one of the greatest disasters in Indian history. Suki Dorfman Wong, the materials scientist working at EFPL in Switzerland. Chris Herzog, an internationally known physicist. These young people and more than 200 like them who can call themselves Star-Ledger Scholars—I want them and their stories to be part of this blog.
I know I cannot immediately reach the audience I once had at The Star-Ledger. But I have to begin somewhere and this is it.
And if you ever want to meet in person, chances are good you’ll find me any Friday night at The Garden on Magie Avenue in Union. Let’s talk.