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Go after GoFundMe scammers, regulate their hosts | Editorial

A new legislative proposal would raise the punishment stakes for fraudsters who use charity crowdfunding sites, but the sites' operators should get some scrutiny, too.

If you Google "gofundme," the first thing on the search engine's list is a paid ad for the official GoFundMe platform, whose headline describes it as "Free & Trusted Fundraising."

After the Johnny Bobbitt Jr. debacle, we know that neither claim is entirely true. GoFundMe might be "free" and "trusted" for those who set up web pages for donations, but they can be false for anyone who contributes.

The apparent scam perpetuated by Bobbitt, a homeless veteran, and a South Jersey couple who purported to "help" him, turned out to be the kind of fraud that fake cancer sufferers used to perpetuate with donation cans and beef-and-beer benefits. Crowdfunding sites -- GoFundMe is not the only one -- are a higher-tech solution for those with genuine financial need, but they're just as susceptible to would-be embezzlers. 

Prosecutors allege that Bobbitt and cohorts Kate McClure and Mark D'Amico concocted the story that Bobbitt gave his last $20 to aid McClure as a stranded motorist, and that the parties had misspent some of the $400,000 that poured into the GoFundMe page they'd set up.

The Bobbitt case also made clear that while GoFundMe.com doesn't charge to set up a donation page, it extracts a "processing fee," usually 2.9 percent, plus 30 cents, for each personal/charity donation. Crowdfunding sites are entitled to defray processing costs for credit-and debit-cards transactions, but it's not readily apparent that GoFundMe is a for-profit company.

Enter state Assemblyman Ron Dancer, R-Ocean, with proposed state legislation as charges in the Bobbitt case move forward. All three defendants are charged with theft by deception of more than $75,000 and conspiracy, second-degree crimes carrying prison five-to-10-year prison sentences.

Text of Dancer's proposal was not on the Legislature's website Monday, but a press release explained it would kick the penalties up a notch when the theft by deception involves crowdfunding, presumably making future Bobbitts, McClures and D'Amicos eligible for more serious first-degree penalties. The legislation would also add fines of up to $500 for each fraudulent donation collected -- money that would go into a fund for the homeless.

There's nothing wrong with Dancer's bill, because, as he states in the release, "Taking advantage of someone's good nature is appalling." 

At the same time, why should profit-making crowdfunding aggregators be let off the hook when they can't vouch for the veracity of campaigns they promote? In the wake of the Bobbitt case, GoFundMe says it has refunded the $400,000 that donors gave unsuspectingly. We applaud the company for stating that it now offers crowdfunding's first "guarantee" of refunds of donations that later are exposed as non-kosher.

It's likely beyond the New Jersey Legislature's grasp to regulate crowdfunding platforms whose appeals reach national and international audiences. But what about the federal government?

It would ruin the crowdfunding concept if host sites, for-profit or nonprofit, had to hire detectives to find out every teacher who asks for funds for classroom supplies is legitimate. These sites have done tons of good that should not be needlessly disrupted. 

Again, we propose some kind of circuit breaker. When a single appeal reaches, say, $100,000, regulations should compel the host sites to perform some vetting. Maybe a cursory criminal background check or a requirement to provide references would be sufficient.

Verification procedures won't catch every determined fraudster, but might trip up some of them before they can abscond with hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Get tough on the scammers, as Dancer's legislation proposes. But don't forget that crowdfunding hosts whose revenue grows as donations climb have obligations, too.

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Gov. Murphy's dark money grab | Moran

He promised transparency. Now his senior aides are raising big money from secret donors, and breaking their promise to reveal the names.

One great advantage of electing a governor as rich as Phil Murphy, we were told, is that he could not be bought. With his own chest full of gold coins, he would never need to scrape and beg for help from special interest groups seeking his favor.

But it hasn't worked out that way. A month after his election, Murphy's senior political team opened a dark money fund and began soliciting donations.

It came as a surprise, since Murphy had promised to bring new transparency to Trenton, and the identity of the new donors was kept secret, along with how much they gave. To quiet the critics, Murphy's campaign manager and senior advisor, Brendan Gill, who helps manage the fund, promised to come clean by the end of 2018 and reveal the identity of the donors.

They just broke that promise. So, today, special interest groups are giving money to Murphy's cause -- no doubt because they expect him to do their bidding -- and the public has no clue who they are.

Is the money coming from public worker unions who negotiate contracts with Murphy? Is it coming from marijuana firms that are scrambling to shape the law legalizing adult sales? Is it coming from law firms that have contracts with the state government? They won't say.

It gets worse. Murphy himself has been soliciting money for this group, according to three sources with direct knowledge of his efforts. "He called me on Nov. 28 and asked me if I could contribute," said one of them, a union official who requested anonymity.

The federal law governing this type of group, known as a 501c4, prohibits the governor from directly managing the organization. But that legal separation is farcical. Murphy has appeared in TV ads the group bought, and he solicits the money. The buck stops with him.

On Friday, four days after this news broke, Murphy finally said he believes the donors should be revealed. But he would not confirm or deny that he has been soliciting donations. That's called stonewalling.

What is Murphy hiding? He has to know that breaking this promise damages his reputation. So, his team must believe that opening these books would do even greater damage.

Facing scandal and fiscal crisis, Murphy's challenges deepen | Moran

The official explanation for the secrecy is ludicrous: "Our supporters have come under increased attacks from powerful special interests seeking to preserve the status quo in recent months," said Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for the organization, New Direction New Jersey.

Really? They've come under attack, even though their names haven't been revealed? How does that work?

This is another inexplicable rookie mistake by Murphy and his senior team. Until they come clean, they should at least spare us the happy talk about bringing a new brand of politics to New Jersey. This smells just like the old brand.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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Booker for president? First, two big hurdles | Moran

His Wall Street ties will hurt him in a Democratic primary. And is America hasn't picked a bachelor in more than a century.

 Sen. Cory Booker is running for president, even if it's not official yet. The visits to Iowa and New Hampshire are a dead giveaway.

And why not? He's a rare talent, the field is wide open, and if a guy like Donald Trump can do the job, then Booker can do it with one hand.

But he faces two big problems from the start.

One is quirky and personal: He is a bachelor and America hasn't elected a bachelor since Grover Cleveland won in 1886. So perhaps his New Year's resolution should be to find a bride. (He's a vegan, too, but I have no scary stats on that.)

The second is that Booker is among the top recipients of Wall Street money in Congress, and in some years he takes first place.

"That's going to weigh down on him," says Julian Zelizer, a political science professor at Princeton. "That's been his vulnerability from the time he started to be floated as a candidate. He is a Democrat who has not shied away from connections to Wall Street. It's going to be a problem. Pre-2016 it might been less so, but I think Bernie Sanders showed that this sentiment is strong."

The irony is that Booker is no friend of Wall Street, when you look at his policies. He opposes the infamous carried-interest provision of the tax code, which allows venture capitalists like Warren Buffett to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. He supports the Dodd-Franks regulations, which Wall Street hates. And he wants higher taxes on the rich across the board.

His ties to the drug industry are similar. He gets lots of money from the industry, but he does not dance for those dollars. He favors using Medicare to bargain for lower drug prices, a plan that big pharma fights with all its might. And he joined with Sen. Bernie Sanders to sponsor a bill allowing cheaper imports from Canada.

To me, that matters. If Booker were selling his soul for this money, then he should pay a political price. But that's not what's happening.

Sadly, all that stuff about policy substance might not matter much. Hillary Clinton took the same tough stances on Wall Street issues, but Sanders was able to convince a good share of primary voters that she was a shill for big money. It didn't help, of course, that she was politically blind enough to give eight speeches to big banks at $225,000 a clip.

Booker has his own political millstone, an appearance on Meet the Press in 2012 when he defended the venture capital industry with enthusiasm and said that the Obama campaign's attacks on Mitt Romney over his leadership of Bain Capital left him "nauseated."

"I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity," said Booker, then mayor of Newark and a surrogate for the Obama campaign. "To me, we're getting to a ridiculous point in America. If you look at the totality of Bain's record, they've done a lot to support businesses that grow businesses."

For a populist candidate like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who became the first Democrat to jump into the race this week, that stuff is gold.

"That will be played in the primary many times over," Zelizer says. "Many people won't be able to get over it, regardless of what his record is."

Booker's team argues that his high rank as a recipient of money from Wall Street and Big Pharma stems from geography. When an investment banker who lives in Westfield sends him a check, it counts as a donation from Wall Street.

Campaign finance records show that Booker's Wall Street money comes almost entirely from individuals, not from the political action committees of Wall Street firms. In February, Booker announced that he would take no more money from the PACs at all.

Still, how much can Booker explain in a 30-second TV spot? His Wall Street ranking, and his Meet the Press moment, can fit into that slot easily.

"It's going to hurt him," says former Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who was chairman of Bernie Sanders' campaign in New Jersey. "It's a legitimate concern for voters. And on the left side of the party, several people are now trying to outdo each other as to who has the greater purity on money issues."

Zelizer argues that voters have good reason to worry about the donations from Wall Street and Big Pharma, even though Booker has taken positions that are hostile to those industries.

"It's a trust issue," he says. "If Democrats continue to rely on these relationships, ultimately many of their policy promises will never come true. There is a reality to that."

Make a deal: Build the wall, protect the Dreamers | Moran

So, would a President Booker push hard to increase taxes on venture capitalists? Or would that go onto the list of broken promises?

I'd be surprised if we ever find out. At this stage, it's a long shot for any single candidate. And while the knock may be unfair, it is a political reality that will hurt.

As for the absent wife, I'm not so sure that will count for much. We just elected a guy who bragged about sexually assaulting women on tape. To embrace a vegan bachelor seems quite tame by comparison.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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'Force Report' the last word on need for N.J. police change | Opinion

NJ Advance Media's project says all that needs to be said. Now is the time to focus on correcting the problem of officers who use force far too frequently.

Empirical evidence from fact-based statistical data is undeniable. Such evidence is very different from feelings, beliefs or suppositions that may be valid, but lack any real proof. Data-based evidence is a very powerful tool and can be a major step toward bringing about change to address critical issues.

About a month ago, a team of NJ Advance Media journalists released "The Force Report," the culmination of a 16-month investigation. It created a database that tracks use of force by local police officers in New Jersey, compiled from data provided by their departments. 

The Force Report is comprehensive, well researched and well analyzed, packed with information on how our police departments engage citizens. The report, covering 2012-2016, validates the experiences of many in the minority community that there are too many biased, poorly trained police officers who have been allowed to use unnecessary force against citizens time and time again. 

The findings showed that 10 percent of police officers accounted for 38 percent of all use of force, that there were more than 250 officers who used force at more than five times the state average, and that black citizens are three times more likely to encounter force than whites. This demonstrates unequivocally that police officers throughout the state have sidestepped their own departmental policies regarding the use of force. 

The Force Report also shows that the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, at least since 2001, failed to do what they committed to do: collect and analyze use-of-force data in the way that NJ Advance Media has now done.

Until now, I have been silent on The Force Report's disclosures, waiting to hear how officials or groups that would be expected to react regarding this critical issue had responded. A professional, dedicated, law-enforcement community plays a vital role in our society. We need -- and everyone should want -- police officers who are dedicated to serving the community fairly and impartially, while realizing that their use of force is sometimes necessary. But data revealing that a small group of officers whose elevated use of force often goes unchallenged, unaddressed, and even unreported by some departments, is a disturbing trend.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, in office for less than a year, has stated that it was always in the attorney general's office's power to fix this situation; it just never had. It is a reasonable question to ask, as NJ Advance Media did, why one officer in Millville more used force more times than any other in the entire state. The answer may be because no one had eyes on what he was doing. 

Rutgers University criminal justice Professor Wayne Fisher, a former deputy director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, correctly described The Force Report report as an indicator of agencies and officers that deserve further scrutiny. Yet, few, if any, individuals or organizations have provided it.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has cited The Force Report on the Senate floor, but, as Congress begins begins its new term, I have not heard any House members from our region comment on it. If any state legislators, police chiefs, governing body members, mayors or police union officials in the southern part of the state have responded, I have not heard about it. Nor have I not heard any faith leaders in our area, nor any NAACP state or branch officials, respond. This muted reaction by clergy and advocacy groups appears to be a flawed strategy, one that is not in the best interest of the membership or the public.  

Reportedly, civil rights and faith leaders will conduct their own forums to document stories of people who say they were unfairly subjected to police force. Once the sessions are completed, a state NAACP official said the association would "deliver a strong message and plan to the attorney general and administration on our expectations moving forward."

Really? If the NAACP believes that it is a leading civil rights organization, the time to speak up is right now. There is nothing to meet or talk about, no need to hear from anyone else. Doing so would be unnecessary and redundant. The Force Report says all that needs to be said. Now is the time to focus on the long-overdue steps to correct the problem.

Those in law enforcement already know some of the solutions: better screening of potential officers with increased hiring standards; improved police academy training -- including courses taught by criminal justice and social science professionals -- not just police officers who can pass on their bad habits to recruits; and better supervision of current officers.  

The knowledge and ability to make law enforcement better exists. The will to do so appears to be lacking, as evidenced by the silence from too many regarding The Force Report.

Milton W. Hinton Jr. recently retired as director of equal opportunity for the Gloucester County government, and is past president of the Gloucester County Branch NAACP. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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New year, same economy | Sheneman cartoon

While the governor has had a reasonably successful first year in office, year two is where he'll be expected to start making good on some of those promises.

I love the New Year. It's a time of renewal, of hope. It feels like the chance for a fresh start. This is the year I'm going to get my act together. I'll start exercising. I'll finally get organized. I'll write that novel I've been kicking around for years.  A new calendar brings with it infinite possibilities, endless opportunity! 

Unless you're the governor of New Jersey, then you're pretty much hosed.

Phil Murphy ran a campaign that promised the moon and stars. He had a progressive agenda that included things like massive increases in public school funding, a public transportation overhaul and flashy policy initiatives like free community college for all.

 Drew Sheneman's 18 political cartoons that sum up 2018

Then he took office.

While the governor has had a reasonably successful first year in office, year two is where he'll be expected to start making good on some of those promises. But as you probably know -- and he has since learned -- the cupboard is bare. 

The crushing weight of our debt obligations, the vast majority through the under funded pension system, makes the type of progressive agenda focused spending Gov. Murphy promised seem like a fever dream.

There is barely enough money for basic services much less complementary college courses.

The governor's predecessors, aided and abetted by the Democratic Legislature, have been cooking the books for so long they now have the consistency of porridge.

The can has been kicked down the road so far it's now part of the great Pacific garbage patch. Maybe that's why Murphy wanted to legalize weed. Who cares about the implosion of the pension system when you're high?

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Donald Trump is bad at politics | Sheneman cartoon

And everything else.

The following is brief history of President Trump's signature issue, the southern border wall.

  • The idea for a wall traversing the southern border of the nation is birthed in the midst of the campaign by alt-right/actual trolls like Steve Bannon and Steven Miller (sans aerosol hairpiece).
  • The wall is launched as a major policy initiative in a campaign that doesn't know what that is. The incredibly dumb idea carries an estimated initial price tag of $25 billion. 
  • The president successfully employs "the wall" to rile up the froth-mouthed xenophobes attending his campaign rallies. The excitement culminates in chants of "Build The Wall!" followed by chants of "Lock Her Up!" and some misdemeanor assault. 
  • Donald Trump wins the election, loses the popular vote and the zombie apocalypse inches ever closer.
  • The wall remains a racist fever dream, until Democrats, in an effort to preserve DACA, offer to fund the very dumb idea. 
  • In a truly remarkable self-own, the president refuses. 
  • Time passes. Nothing good happens except for the Great British Baking Show and the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl. Go birds.
  • The Democrats retake the House
  • The president, facing the certainty of congressional investigations and the looming specter of Bob Mueller, tries to reinvigorate his base with renewed pledges to build the wall.
  • Wounded and lacking any leverage, the president lowers his ask from $25 billion to $5 billion and says that the wall he promised is actually some fencing and a bunch of metal slats. 
  • The Democrats, and Mexico, refuse to fund the slats.
  • The president throws a tantrum and shuts down the government, depriving government employees of their paychecks during the holidays.

This is all so dumb. 

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To end racial bias in police violence, face these facts | Editorial

Hard data, gathered by police themselves, shows that local police in New Jersey are far more likely to use force against African-Americans. Will Gov. Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal fight hard to end the disparity?

In April of 1998, troopers with the New Jersey State Police fired their guns at a van carrying four young men, all of them unarmed, and all of them African-American or Latino. Three were hit, but by some miracle, none were killed.

That shooting decisively tipped the balance in the long argument over racism in the State Police, their well-documented habit of pulling over black drivers for the sin of being black. It led to a decade of federal oversight that created real change. Cameras were installed on cruisers, training was revamped, minority troopers were hired and promoted, and internal affairs started cracking down.

"They had great success," says the Rev. Reginald Jackson, who led the political campaign demanding change as head of the Black Minister's Council. "But the local police were always worse. The State Police got the attention."

Twenty years later, it's time for Round Two. And this fight, against racism in local police departments, is going to be much tougher for several reasons we'll discuss below.

But let's start with the facts. A 16-month investigation by NJ Advance Media for NJ.com produced hard data, collected by police themselves, showing that African-Americans are far more likely to be punched, kicked, pepper sprayed, or struck with a baton. They are more than twice as likely to be shot.

It's not just that blacks are arrested more often. Among those arrested, blacks are 41 percent more likely than whites to face violence at the hands of local police, according to data gathered by police from 2012 to 2016. And that is despite the fact that white people are more likely to threaten police, and to attack them with a car, knife or gun. Black people are more likely to run away, the data shows.

Facing the hard facts is the first step towards reform. It's true, as police union leaders point out, that data itself does not prove misbehavior. It is a warning flag only. But given America's long and undeniable history of racist violence, often fortified today by video, it takes willful blindness to ignore the extreme likelihood that bias is at work.

At a minimum, the data demands a deeper dive into police behavior, and the kind of vigorous oversight we saw with the State Police. And the fight to reform local police will be a much steeper climb.

New Jersey has more than 500 police departments, and some are bound to resist. Two years ago, the police chief in Wyckoff, Benjamin Fox, was forced out after he encouraged his officers in an e-mail to target African-American drivers based solely on race, saying black gangs in nearby Teaneck were committing burglaries in town. How would a chief like that react to a reform ordered up in Trenton?

In Millville, where blacks are seven times as likely as whites to be subject to police force, Chief Jody Farabella sees no need to dig deeper. "It doesn't concern me," Farabella said. "We don't have any complaints about it."

The state attorney general doesn't have the resources to adequately oversee all local departments, a pinch made worse in recent years by the fiscal crisis in Trenton. "The attorney general can put out guidance and triage emergencies, but I frankly don't think they have the kind of funding even I had to oversee local police and prosecutors," says John Farmer, who was attorney general when he welcomed federal oversight in 1999. "That makes the job a real challenge."

And unlike 1998, there is no grand political push to get this done today. Racial profiling was a core political issue in 1998, a top subject in political debates, and a key goal of civil rights groups. Will this new data kick off an equally determined drive?

The biggest change today, though, is that President Trump has abandoned efforts to reform state and local police departments, explicitly ruling out federal interventions like the one that reformed the State Police two decades ago, and the one that is reforming the Newark Police Department today. In those cases, the Department of Justice sent crews to oversee reform, based on plans approved by federal judges, who regularly checked progress.

All that's gone now, as long as Trump is with us. We've lost the heavyweight player in this fight.

"We are the only game in town now," says former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, whose 2014 investigation of Newark led to the federal intervention in 2016.

For Gov. Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, this will be a legacy issue. They have both expressed deep concern about the data, while both have emphasized that most police officers do good work and deserve the public's support. But at some point, a vigorous reform effort is almost certain to provoke opposition from politically potent police unions.

So, the real test for Murphy and Grewal has yet to come. Will they start to collect this data on their own, rather than rely on the media? Will they provide the resources needed to do this job right -- to establish best practices, to put supervisory teams in troubled departments, even to help locals buy body cameras and computers?

Bishop Jackson's frank talk on race, as he leave NJ | Moran

Local governments need to step up as well. In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka and Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose have both embraced the federal intervention, and all sides say that improves the odds of success dramatically. Will political leaders and police in other New Jersey towns treat a reform drive coming from Trenton with the same respect?

We face a daunting task. But with this data as a starting point, New Jersey could break new ground on police reform and set a model nationally. Here's to fighting Round Two with unrelenting vigor in 2019.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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Mike and Julie on Murphy's first year, Mattis resignation, GOP loyalty to Trump

By Star-Ledger Staff Can Americans still have a sensible and friendly political discussion across the partisan divide? The answer is yes, and we intend to prove it. Julie Roginsky, a Democrat, and Mike DuHaime, a Republican, are consultants who have worked on opposite teams for their entire careers yet have remained friends throughout. Here, they discuss the week's events, with...

By Star-Ledger Staff

Can Americans still have a sensible and friendly political discussion across the partisan divide? The answer is yes, and we intend to prove it. Julie Roginsky, a Democrat, and Mike DuHaime, a Republican, are consultants who have worked on opposite teams for their entire careers yet have remained friends throughout. Here, they discuss the week's events, with prompts from Tom Moran, editorial page editor of The Star-Ledger.

Q. Merry Christmas, the federal government is shut down again. Typically, the party that provokes a shutdown pays a price. How do you expect this one to play out?

 DuHaime: I generally believe the party with control of the executive branch suffers politically.   Most voters know the President, the Governor and the Mayor, but they're not as sure about who controls the legislature or care as much.  As such, the president gets credit when things are going well or blame when they are going poorly.   But at this point, I am not sure anyone cares about the shutdown too much.  Not many people have been personally impacted yet.  If they shut down TSA and the airports are a mess, then the shutdown will be solved quickly.

Roginsky: This has been the third shutdown during the Trump presidency and it will likely be forgotten by 2020. If anything, it contributes to the general sense that this administration does not have its act together but there are many data points to buttress that thesis and the shutdown is just one of them.  As for how it turns out, it will not end as the president and House Republicans insist. Trump is not getting funding for the wall -- either, as promised, from Mexico or from American taxpayers. 

 Q. The resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis struck many Senate Republicans as a dangerous turning point, a sign that national security decisions hinge more and more on President's Trump's gut feelings. Should I be as scared as I feel?

DuHaime: The presence of long-time high-ranking generals like Mattis and Kelly in positions of high authority gave many people across the political spectrum comfort that the President had professionals and patriots key positions.  Senate Republicans will watch closely to see who the permanent replacements are.

Roginsky: I keep hearing that Republican senators are hand-wringing with respect Trump's national security, but have you noticed that they are doing it on background or only if they are departing the Senate next week? The reality is that Republicans in Washington are generally too terrified of primaries and of being the subject of mean presidential tweets to stand up for what the Republican Party has traditionally stood for: a muscular foreign policy, with a healthy dose of moralpolitik. And that should frighten all of us, because they are largely abandoning our national security to a know-nothing, autocrat-obsessed man child, who has done more to destroy the Pax America that both parties worked so assiduously to establish for the last seventy years. 

Q. Stock markets in December are headed towards their worst month in a decade. What's the political threat to Trump?

DuHaime: Anyone who gets elected to any office must prove to be really good at the one thing they claim to be really good at.  Rudy Giuliani campaigned on lowering crime in New York.  He could have done everything else right, but if crime didn't go down, he would have never been re-elected.  In NJ, Jon Corzine suffered from the hemorrhaging of jobs on his watch after campaigning on his Goldman Sachs credentials.  In many ways, Donald Trump won because of the impression that he is a tough, successful businessman.  There is nothing a businessman should know better than the economy.  Any president would suffer politically if the economy faltered.  But a businessman will be blamed even more so.  

Roginsky: The main reason Trump still has the base of support he has is because the economy has been robust. If the economy tanks, so does his presidency. 

Q. In his first two years, Trump's firm hold on the Republican Party has been unchallenged. What would it take for that to change in 2019?

DuHaime: Nothing politically is going to challenge Trump's hold on the GOP.  He remains extraordinarily popular with a wide swath of the Republican Party, not just "the base" as some claim in a derogatory way.  No person could credibly challenge him for the nomination, and the Republicans in Congress have only become more in line with the President, because so many of the more moderate members lost.   The only person that could have an impact on the President's hold over the Republican Party is Robert Mueller.

Roginsky: Mike is generally right. Nothing is going to change Trump's hold on the GOP. Sadly, the party is in such thrall to him and to his media enablers/handlers that even Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican who has served without an ethical blemish, is now considered a Democratic hack by the president's supporters. 

Q. Gov. Phil Murphy said he's considering another round of tax hikes next year, but legislative leaders say they won't consider it unless he cuts spending first. Do you see a stalemate taking shape, or the makings a grand bargain?

DuHaime: I think a stalemate over tax increases is shaping up.  The vast majority of our state budget is already dedicated to school funding, pensions, benefits and Medicaid.  I hope the leaders of the legislature stick to their word about no new taxes, but that would mean the governor agreeing to real spending cuts in discretionary spending, reforming the pension system or simply underfunding the pension by a few billion dollars.  Good luck to everyone who tries to stick to their campaign promises next year.

Roginsky: My New Year's wish is that they meet regularly and talk openly about how to move the state forward.  I suspect that a grand bargain could be struck if everyone decides to work towards a grand bargain. 

Q. Final question: Murphy is in Tanzania on safari this week. How would you grade his performance during his first year in office? What do you see as the high points and low points?

DuHaime: It's too easy for one side to blindly say F while the other says A.  I would offer constructive observations instead.  The governor needs to get into the weeds of governing.  The Katie Brennan allegation troubles me even beyond the significance of her serious allegation.  If staff kept the governor in the dark on something this serious, and no one has been fired for it or offered a real explanation as to why, what else is he unaware of?   Voters are not going to blame some unknown staff lawyer for the bungling of this, nor will they blame the DOT commissioner regarding snow removal, or the legislative leaders when key parts of his agenda fail to pass.  

The governor has every advantage one could ever want in politics.  He is the independently wealthy Democrat governor of a Democratic state with Democrats in controls of both houses of the legislature, the congressional delegation, most of the big counties and all of our biggest cities.  The governor seems to be a good man with his heart in the right place, even if we disagree on some policies.  But the people of NJ are looking for him to be a strong leader, one who takes responsibility, and takes charge on issues that matter to everyday people.  

Roginsky: I would give him an "Incomplete." He did not create the mess the state is in and he cannot solve it in one year, so it would be unfair to grade him on a job partially done. I would no sooner grade the Yankees' season in May. He has accomplished quite a great deal already: equal pay, funding for women's health, an ambitious off-shore wind plan, strengthening gun safety laws. But much more remains to be done to turn the state around, from fixing our long-term finances to New Jersey Transit. Let's check in again next December, after the fifth inning.


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Student wrestler 'valiant' after forced haircut | Feedback

Tod M. Thedy writes in admiration of how Buena High School's Andrew Johnson and his family are handling this situation.

I am writing to applaud Buena Regional High School student wrestler Andrew Johnson and his parents for the dignified manner in which they are addressing the controversy surrounding the cutting of Andrew's dreadlocks under duress prior to a match.  

Neither Andrew nor his parents have sought media prominence. We have not seen them or their attorneys making the rounds on television news shows or holding press conferences (although a family attorney spoke at a Dec. 26 school board meeting.)  We have not heard pronouncements of "racism" from the wrestler and his family. 

This is a departure from what our society has devolved into, and I commend the Johnson family's decorum in allowing the system and regulators to investigate and act appropriately.  

Andrew can be seen in a video of this incident allowing his hair to be cut without fanfare or outrageous protest, then proceeding to compete valiantly in the match for the benefit of his team. He put his team ahead of himself. He was graceful and reserved.  

I, for one, admire and respect the manner in which Andrew and his family are seeking resolution. I hope that their restraint and civility will serve as a model for others who may follow in similar situations.

Tod M. Thedy, El Paso, Texas

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Facing scandal and fiscal crisis, Murphy's challenges deepen | Moran

The governor's claim that he knew nothing of Katie Brennan's rape accusation faces deeper scrutiny next month. Then comes the budget, with legislators saying he's given them no hint how he might move to solve the crisis.

Gov. Phil Murphy left on Friday for a 12-day safari in Tanzania with his family, and one of my Christmas wishes is that he has a grand time. He's a decent man, and he deserves a break.

Plus, he's going to get crushed when he returns to Jersey. This could be his last chance to chill for quite a while.

The big fight will center on taxes, and it will flare up in February when the governor is due to present his budget address. The governor is almost certain to lose that fight, and I'll get to that.

But his first problem is Katie Brennan, the woman who says she was raped by a senior Murphy aide, Al Alvarez, during the campaign. She told Murphy's senior people, and they ignored her, month after month, she testified during a special legislative investigation. Meanwhile, they rewarded her alleged rapist with a $140,000 job. She had to walk past the man in hallways, and still her complaints were ignored.

That can't be mansplained away. It's frat-boy behavior, and it is going to hit Murphy right in his sweet spot -- his popularity among women and hard-core liberals.

This scandal will go nuclear if Murphy's claim that he knew nothing until reading press reports is proven untrue. "That would be a really big thing," says Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, the co-chair of an investigative committee digging at this. "If it's shown that he knew, that would undermine whatever his plans are for the future."

Here's my prediction: Murphy's story is not going to hold up. The governor is either lying about his knowledge of Brennan's complaint, or he chose to look away.

At Tuesday's investigative hearing, Chief of Staff Pete Cammarano told legislators the governor was unaware of Brennan's complaint "as far as I know" -- a phrase that tells us even he's not so sure. He said he didn't tell the governor because two attorneys, both appointed by Murphy, advised him that the state's confidentiality rules forbid it.

Think about that one: How could the rules allow Cammarano to know, but not the governor?

I asked the four women legislators who are leading this investigation if that made any sense to them, and they all shook their heads in a bipartisan "no."

The state's confidentiality rules explicitly allow information to be shared with those who have "a legitimate need to know." Are we supposed to believe that Cammarano had a need to know, but the governor did not?

The line of the day on Tuesday came from Charlie McKenna, who served as chief counsel to former Gov. Chris Christie before switching to run the agency in charge of school construction. He was called because he was the direct supervisor to Alvarez during the first seven months of the Murphy administration, when he served as a holdover

Legislators asked how Christie would have reacted if McKenna withheld this kind of information when he was chief counsel.

"I would still be feeling the pain today," McKenna answered.

Legislators intend to dig at this again, and that can't be good for Murphy. Information will dribble out slowly, and painfully. The warm evening breezes of Tanzania will seem like a distant dream from another lifetime.

In February, bruised from all this, Murphy has to present a budget. He says he may want to raise taxes again, a strategy that's been explicitly rejected by both Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex.

Murphy has no plan to solve the state's fiscal crisis. Believe me, I've asked his people, over and over. And it's not just me. Legislators don't know of any plan either. He's done nothing to prepare the public for any painful measures, and even less to marshal legislative support.

That, folks, is not normal.

Remember Christie's first year? Like him or not, he knew where he wanted to go and had a plan to get there. He held about 1,000 town hall meetings emphasizing the need to reduce health and pension benefits, to cap property tax hikes, to lower health costs. He met with Democratic legislative leaders constantly and found a bipartisan coalition that got most of that done.

Murphy has no plan. He has no coalition in the Legislature. He meets with legislative leaders once every few months, and they come away saying he doesn't know the material well and doesn't close deals.

"The governor is just not taking this seriously, and that's a real problem," says Sweeney.

The February fight will center on taxes. Murphy said last week he won't rule out more tax hikes, but he'd need support from Sweeney and Coughlin to do that, and they both say it's not going to happen - at least not until Murphy gets serious about cutting spending by reducing pension and health benefits. Sweeney has presented a plan to do just that, and Murphy hasn't offered a speck of support.

Do women govern differently? Look at Trenton this week. | Moran

"If you don't like my plan, where is yours?" Sweeney asks. "To raise taxes just kicks the can down the road. That is the problem. If revenue is needed as part of a solution, then ok, let's have that conversation. But we have to fix the structural problems first."

If Murphy is smart, he'll take that deal. He'll agree to Sweeney's spending cuts, in return for legislative support for a hike in the millionaire's tax, everyone's favorite.

I hope that happens. Because this fiscal crisis is a slow-moving disaster. It's the reason NJ Transit is such a mess. And if we don't fix it, education and health care could be next.

Murphy will return from Tanzania just as legislators resume the investigation into Brennan's treatment. A month or so later, he's required by law to present his budget.

So let's hope he's getting a lot of rest on the safari. He's going to need all the mojo he's got when he arrives home.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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