An express trains speeds past Ramsey station in this 2003 photo, ruffling Mayor Richard Muti's jacket, but not the mayor.

IN MY OPINION . . .

MAG not MAGA

June 10, 2018

Tags: A frank look at America's past and hope for its future

“Make America Great Again,” the never-ending Trump campaign’s slogan, presupposes that America was once great. There’s no question that the United States of America has done great things during the course of its history. Winning the Second World War, putting a man on the moon, and engineering the demise of the Soviet Union come immediately to mind. There are hundreds more examples. But doing one or two or a hundred great things does not make a nation fundamentally great. I contend that America has never been great in that sense and that the goal of our leaders should be to make us so, not to dupe the public into believing one man’s shallow understanding of American history. MAG not MAGA.

I’ve earned the right to hold this brazen point of view, so contrary to the American ethos. I served my country in uniform for nine years; I served my community as a local elected official for 10 years; I served my county and state as a prosecutor for 19 years. And, I am a citizen of a country that values freedom of speech and freedom of the press – or, at least, of a country that used to cherish those principles.

The era of America’s former greatness – that is, the standard to be once again attained -- is left unspecified by President Donald Trump and his adherents. Most of them anyway. Republican candidate Roy Moore, whom the president enthusiastically endorsed in the recent U.S. Senate race in Alabama, was asked that very question – “When was America great?” – at a campaign event. America “was great at a time when families were united,” Moore opined, “even though we had slavery.”

On another occasion, Moore suggested that the nation would be better off if all amendments to the Constitution after the Bill of Rights had never been enacted. In other words, if slavery had never been abolished (13th Amendment), if equal protection of laws had not been declared a fundamental right (14th Amendment), if the right of former slaves to vote had not been ensured (15th Amendment), and if women’s suffrage had never been achieved (19th amendment).

Despite those and other extreme views, and despite credible allegations of child molestation against him, Roy Moore garnered 49 percent of the vote, bolstered by 81-percent support among white evangelicals – not exactly a harbinger of greatness to come during the Trump era.

What then might be the answer to that question, “When was American Great?” Perhaps the four-year span in which our Constitution and its Bill of Rights were crafted and ratified, 1787-1791, would qualify, were it not for the fact that nearly half the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 were slave owners and the fact that the venerable document, itself, while not mentioning the word slavery, per se, preserved the institution of slavery until the Civil War bloodbath of 1861-1865 abolished it. Not the stuff of greatness.

Indeed, the first 250 years of our existence, from colonial times to the end of slavery, must be removed from any consideration of greatness, solely on the slavery issue. The period of Reconstruction, when the victorious North kept the defeated South under its heel, and the Jim Crow era that followed, legalizing segregation and subjugation of blacks in the South and elsewhere, must similarly be eliminated as contenders for greatness. Not until Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was race discrimination made illegal, though it would take decades more for most of society to banish the concept from its collective mind.

In my view, the Second World War, and its immediate aftermath, was the time when we nearly achieved greatness. President Franklin Roosevelt made us the “arsenal of democracy” in the run-up to our direct involvement, but once we were forced into the fray by the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was the ingenuity, productivity and spirit of the American people that defeated the Axis powers and won it. Still, two moral failings prevent this era from being the standard of greatness.

It was a segregated military that prosecuted the war. The top brass argued that integrating blacks into the armed forces would destroy unit cohesiveness, a lame excuse proven false when President Truman ended segregation in the military by executive order in 1948. Our country’s response to Nazi persecution of European Jews was equally reprehensible. We set extremely low immigration quotas for those fleeing the Holocaust. A more liberal policy might have saved a million lives, but anti-Semitism here was widespread at the time, and President Roosevelt, despite First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s urgings to the contrary, bowed to the public will.

More examples of governmental action weaken any claims to greatness in the decades that followed. The abuse of civil rights protestors by local, county and state officials throughout the South was rampant in the 1950s and early 1960s, some of it rising to unbelievable levels of violence, like the fire hosing of young people and the use of attack dogs on them in Birmingham and the Pettus Bridge police attack on voting rights marchers, including future U.S. Representative John Lewis (D., GA), in Selma.

In another affront to decency, the U.S. Public Health Service withheld proper medical treatment from hundreds of black sharecroppers in Alabama to study the effects of “Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” a program that lasted from the early thirties until 1972. Using unsuspecting humans as medical guinea pigs? For 40 years? A great nation does not treat its citizens, or anyone, in so despicable a way, no matter how humble their social status.

The sustained wars that followed the Second World War – the Korean “police action,” the Vietnam War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – all were entered into and conducted without the declaration of war by Congress that is required under our Constitution. And all were unnecessary wars, in my opinion. Some military strikes in Afghanistan were necessary to roust Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda from safe havens, but a military engagement of sixteen years? And one that seems to have no end in sight? Not the stuff of great foreign policy.

A nation that suffers tens of millions of its citizens to be without proper health care, a nation that allows such disparities of wealth among its citizens as exist today and that enacts tax policies designed to make those disparities even larger, a nation that denigrates science and that denies truth – such a nation cannot be considered great. Not in its past, not now, and not in its future.

Resolving the gun rights/gun control dichotomy

August 25, 2017

Tags: gun rights, Second Amendment, gun control, NRA

I'm a gun owner and former member of the National Rifle Association, the nation's largest gun lobby. In 2003 when I ran, unsuccessfully, for state senate in New Jersey's 39th legislative district, the NRA gave me a B+ rating, an unusually high grade for a Democrat. I later resigned my membership over disgusting remarks made by rock star Ted Nugent, who sits on the NRA's board of directors.

At a 2007 concert, Nugent described presidential candidate Barack Obama as a piece of excrement, using the vulgar four-letter term. Obama can "suck on my machine gun," he said. Candidate Hillary Clinton was dismissed as a "worthless bitch." During the 2012 campaign, Nugent said publicly that if Obama was reelected, "I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year," prompting a Secret Service investigation.

Celebrities engaging in over-the-top political commentary is nothing new and, judging from the spate of anti-Trump tirades by Hollywood-types, à la Kathy Griffin, it may be a growing phenomenon. But hope for a more civilized discourse, at least as it relates to the gun issue, recently sprang from an unlikely source: rock star and, apparently, reformed provocateur Ted Nugent. (more…)

Treatment of Veterans -- A National Disgrace

June 1, 2017

Tags: Veterans, VA claims

Too many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have had to wait inordinate lengths of time—some, a year or more—to have their claims for disability benefits processed by the VA. We are all properly outraged when we see news reports about this national disgrace.

Part of the problem is mushrooming claims from two simultaneous wars of more than 10 years duration, involving 2.5 million Americans who have served in combat zones, one-third of them on multiple deployments. The number of traumatic head injuries, amputations, PTSD cases, and other serious wounds has overwhelmed the VA. The incidence of PTSD has not only affected VA claims, it has also contributed to record numbers of veterans and active service personnel committing suicide in recent years. (more…)

Remembering JFK on his 100th Birthday

May 27, 2017

Tags: Kennedy Centennial

I wrote this piece to remember and honor President Kennedy in November 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. It's a happier occasion now to repeat it on his centennial, May 29, 2017.

As commander-in-chief of all our armed services, President John F. Kennedy was supposed to be impartial, especially regarding that greatest of inter-service rivalries, the Army-Navy game. In the two games Kennedy attended as president, he dutifully spent part of each contest in the company of roaring West Point cadets, before striding across the field at halftime to join the roaring brigade of midshipmen. But we midshipmen knew whose side the skipper of PT 109 was really on.

President Kennedy was a Navy man, through and through, and his death affected the Naval Academy community all the more deeply because of that association. He was not just our commander-in-chief; he was also our brother in arms. (more…)

President Donald J. Trump

January 7, 2017

Tags: Trump presidency

I originally posted this in the spring of 2016, before the Republican National Convention. While I don't claim prescience on all things political, I nailed this one.

Remember when we speculated that NJ Governor Chris Christie's abrasive manner wouldn't play well in the heartland of America, where people were too polite and civil to accept an obnoxious bully as a presidential candidate? Ta---daaa! Introducing Donald J. Trump, the "presumptive" Republican nominee for President of the United States and leader of the free world and, in my opinion, probable next president. In 1920, the great American satirist and acerbic wit, H. L. Mencken, gave his take on the future of the American presidency. Take a moment to read it and reflect.

"When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost... All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

Governor Christie's Siren Song

August 27, 2016

Tags: Chris Christie, school funding, Fairness Formula

Governor Chris Christie's "Fairness Formula" for public education funding plays upon the frustrations and anxieties of property tax-weary suburbanites like the song of the sirens played upon the ears of ancient Greek sailors. If listened to, it will surely lead our ship of state onto rocky shoals as perilous as those that threatened Odysseus and his men in Homer's immortal tale. (more…)

Memorial Day 2016

June 5, 2016

Tags: B-17 Flying Fortress, air war over Europe

Ninety-two-year-old Joe De Luccia has seen quite a few Memorial days, as have the dwindling ranks of his fellow World War II veterans – the men and women we’ve come to revere as “the greatest generation.” De Luccia, a widower, appears in fine health and fit enough to observe many more commemorations as he engages a visitor in his modest Saddle Brook home with tales of flak-filled bombing missions over Nazi-controlled France and Germany. “It was like flying through a cloud of steel,” he says, no small measure of pride in his voice at having survived the harrowing experience. The silver-haired nonagenarian’s recall is impressive, considering that the events he relates happened more than seven decades ago. (more…)

The God Factor in Politics

May 4, 2016

Tags: politics and religion

After his recent double-digit win in the Wisconsin Republican primary, Sen. Ted Cruz (R., TX) opened his victory speech with the same words he's employed after every other victory, changing only the state name: "God bless the State of Wisconsin," he shouted to a cheering throng.

Cruz, the son of a Baptist minister, has (more…)

A "bomb-the-hell-out-of-them" foreign policy approach

February 26, 2016

Tags: 2016 Presidential Race, Foreign Policy Creds

As Donald Trump rolls into South Carolina, on the heels of his stunning victory in New Hampshire, it will be interesting to see how this real estate developer's approach to foreign policy and the war on terror plays in the Palmetto State, home to the highest percentage of retired military personnel in the nation – (more…)

Veterans Day 2015

November 19, 2015

Tags: Immigrants in the military

Immigrants and their first-generation offspring have been the backbone of our nation's military for as long as we have been a nation. On this Veterans Day, when immigrants, both legal and illegal, have become a political football in a presidential election, that fact is worth remembering.

Half of U.S. troops in the 1840s were immigrants, mostly Irish recruited right off the ships that brought them. According to the Center for American Progress, Irish and German immigrants constituted almost one-fifth of the expanding Union army during the Civil War, or close to 500,000 men under arms. If one assumes that their casualty rates were proportionate, 125,000 of them died or were grievously wounded. As ranks became depleted during that war, blacks were finally allowed to serve and were formed into regiments of U.S. Colored Troops, as they were then called—almost all of them descended from involuntary immigrants to this country. One hundred, seventy-eight thousand of these former slaves served; 68,000 of them died. (more…)

Selected Works

Biography
A fast-paced, one-volume study of the most fascinating entertainer of the 20th century. The book isn't an academic tome, although it is extensively researched and footnoted; rather, it is designed to be a highly readable page-turner, for avid Sinatraphiles as well as more casual fans of his music and films. It examines the forces, both positive and negative, that made Sinatra Sinatra, with special attention given to the love-hate relationship he maintained toward Hoboken and New Jersey for most of his life. He once called the city of his birth a "sewer," but later observed, "When I was there, I just wanted to get out. It took me a long time to realize how much of it I took with me."
Essays
"Richard Muti's essays are smart and provocative, personal and political."
–Linda Fairstein, former prosecutor
and crime novelist
As this eBook is published, Gov. Chris Christie enjoys a 72 percent approval rating, the highest level attained by any governor in New Jersey history. Yet, the man still evokes passionate feelings from supporters and foes, alike.
"Much needed fresh air out of New Jersey, where the political atmosphere has long been foul."
Kirkus Discoveries
True Crime
"The Charmer is definitely one of 2012's 'must read' books."
True Crime Book Reviews
Novel
Filled with “brilliant plot twists, vivid descriptions, and great dialogue, with a smooth, easy-to-read writing style.”

Quick Links

Find Authors