Posts Tagged Abuse of Power

Tesla vs Christie


Bloomberg reports that onMarch 6, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), NJ Governor Chris Christie had this to say: “We need to talk about the fact that we are for a free-market society that allows your effort and ingenuity to determine your success, not the cold, hard hand of the government.”   Your effort and ingenuity determine your success, not the government.  Sounds great, if only it were so.

In 2008, Tesla Motors began selling all electric cars to the public.  Elon Musk, an early investor and current Chairman and CEO of the company dared to enter a market with a product that experienced senior car executives said was not possible.  Through tenacity and perseverance (and a lot of government help – but I won’t go into that) he and his team created a new type of car and a new type of car company.  Because the company was developed in the 21st century they realized that they didn’t need to be shackled by old ways of doing business andcould take advantage of how consumers are doing business today. 

This clean sheet of paper would allow Tesla to sell cars directly to consumers, something that the incumbent auto companies would love to do.  A Goldman Sachs report in 2000 estimated that such direct sales would save consumers $2,225 on a $26,000 car.  One can only wonder what the savings on a $75,000 Tesla S would be.

But just like Charter Schools dramatically show the flaws in the public school system, this new distribution model shows the flaws in the existing dealer networks.  In this case the dealer lobby has played the role of the NEA and fought this new system tooth in nail state by state.

We aren’t talking about putting existing dealers out of business (like Obama did with the Chrysler and GM restructurings).  No we are just talking about competing with them side by side with a different model.  It’s as ridiculous as if HP fought Apple Stores because computers are complicated and all computers should only be purchased at a Best Buy where the consumer can get the assistance that they need.

The dealers have won in Texas and Virginia, and last week they won in NJ when the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission declared that all cars needed to be purchasedthrough franchisees.

To be clear, I do not have a dog in this hunt.  I am not anti Christie and I am not a Tesla fan boy.  (Although, I had the privilege of driving a Model S once and it was the most amazing ride I have ever had.)  I am opposed to all of the subsidies that Tesla and it’s buyers have gotten and as a NJ native I respect what Christie has been able to do as Governor.  But once again, I am disappointed in Christie.  He claims to be a new kind of Republican and then shows that he is just another politician.


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Fit to Lead?

On September 9, 2013, 2 out of 3 lanes that allowed Fort Lee, NJ residents access to the George Washington Bridge (GWB) were blocked.  Initially, it was stated that this was part of a traffic study and the lanes were reopened up after 4 days.  Then on January 8, 2014 emails were released which implicated one of NJ Governor Chris Christie’s top aides and a close confidante and political appointee.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week you undoubtedly have heard of this story as it has had wall to wall coverage on every major media outlet for the last week and was the most prominent story on the Sunday talk shows.

It is very tempting to compare this scandal and the reaction to either Benghazi, the IRS scandal or any of the Obama scandals of the week.   That is not what I want to do here.

As a small government conservative/libertarian I am vehemently against any abuse of power whether it’s from the left, the right or the middle.  In fact I view Crony Capitalism (a subject for another day) as a subset of Abuse of Power.

In my mind, Abuse of Power has three distinct flavors.  Each is bad but some are worse than others.

3 Levels of  Abuse of Power

            1. Punish Enemies

            2. Self Enrichment

            3. Impact of innocent citizens

To punish you enemies is almost expected.  It is not something that I condone, but it seem that it’s a cost of doing business in the world of politics.  As the old saying goes “politics ain’t bean bag.”  As the media has gone over everything that Christie has done for the last 20 years, stories have come out that show that his office has not responded to folks that didn’t support him in the same way or with the same speed that he has for people that did support him.  Well Duh!  It shouldn’t be that way, he should be governor for all the residents of NJ, but that’s the way that it has been since the founding of the republic.  Political supporters get better access.

Self Enrichment is the most insidious form of abuse of power.  Every year or so there is a story about a big time politician who either takes bags of cash or gets something for free.  It happens on both sides of the aisle.   From Connecticut Governor Rowland getting free contracting services at his home to Congressman Charlie Rangel and his rent controlled apartments and his other ills.  It is the basis for movie’s like “American Hustle” and TV shows like “Scandal”.  But just because it is so prevalent doesn’t mean we should accept it.  It is actually the biggest argument for reducing the size of government and putting more power in the hands of the states.   Almost anyone can turn down a $20 bribe, but it takes tremendous willpower to turn down $1,000,000 bribe.  Go ahead, tempt me!  But you wouldn’t because I have nothing to give you.  Smaller government reduces the stakes for everything.

The thing about Self Enrichment is that it typically doesn’t impact the citizens directly.  The government might end up paying more for a contract but the impact on any individual taxpayer might only be pennies.  It doesn’t make it right but that’s why some people shrug and say “Oh well, that’s just how the game is played.”  And yet, these Citizens are who every official is sworn to serve.  Often they are put on pedestals as “public servants”.  The argument is that they have sacrificed their entire lives to serve the public.  Think of the Kennedys, the Cuomos or yes even the Bushes.  How often do we hear about their public service.  

To me the worst form of Abuse of Power is when it impacts innocent citizens.  Those people that officials have sworn to serve.  And someone does it just because they can.  I don’t care if you are the cop on the corner harassing some teenagers or the Governor of NJ whose staff actions caused havoc in the lives of thousands of citizens.  We can not abide these abuses.

In a Thursday Jan 9 press conference that lasted nearly 2 hours, Governor Christie said,

“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.  Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch,”

Well he should be.  These were the actions of petty people.  And I can’t help wonder where senior staff members who have been around the Governor for decades would get the idea that this was acceptable behavior.  When I say “Seniors” we are not talking about High School or College Seniors, I know what they are like because I have one of each and I question decisions that they make on a weekly basis.  I am talking about Senior Staff members of the Governor of NJ.  They have decades of experience and because of their experience, wisdom and judgment they make over $200,000 a year.  Where in this “culture of service” do they get the idea that this is OK to abuse citizens in this way.   Or is it a culture of power that says “Whatever I do is OK”?  As Loretta Weinberg, the NJ State Senate majority leader who happens to represent Fort Lee said, “There’s a difference between a Jersey attitude of being blunt and direct and telling it like it is, and a Nixonesque act of retaliation that punishes innocent people.”

So as we think past the midterm elections and consider who we want as a standard bearer in 2016, I ask one question… Shouldn’t we expect better?

PS.  Even though I live in Massachusetts, I am proud to say that I come from Jersey!

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