Monday, November 26

Homeland Security,

Garden State Variety

Richard Canas doesn’t get invited to many cocktail parties. People don’t want him speaking to their children on career day. Although polite and gentlemanly, Canas is the director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. Burdened by this title, he finds himself called an agent of illegal snoop and torture, and peddler of fear.

In fact, as New Jersey’s director, Canas and his 160-person staff spend remarkably little time enforcing the controversial Patriots’ Act. He swears he has never tortured anyone. “And the only person I usually end up scaring is myself,” he says.

To explain to municipal and county officials and interested citizens what duties Canas’ department does perform, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes has set up a Homeland Security and Preparedness Town Meeting for Monday, November 26, at 7 p.m. at the Dempster Fire Training School in Lawrence. For more information about this free meeting, visit www.nj.gov/counties/mercer/index.shtml or call 609-278-7137.

Further information about the New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security (OHSP) is available at www.njhomelandsecurity.gov or call 609-584-4000.

Canas comes to the OHSP director’s chair from a lifetime in the field. Emigrating from El Salvador, Canas’ parents settled in San Francisco, where he was born and raised. In l972 he graduated from San Jose State University with a bachelors in law enforcement administration. “That was a funny time for folks in military and law enforcement,” says Canas. “Guys returning from Vietnam would get spit on by former classmates. But my own son was taken over into Iraq by today’s backdoor draft, which nobody likes much either. I can see the parallels.”

Regardless of the tenor of the times, Canas joined the Drug Enforcement Administration after college. For the next 20 years he served, frequently undercover, throughout the U.S. and Latin America. “Governor Corzine issued Executive Order Number 5 establishing New Jersey’s OHSP on March 16, 2006, and I took office as first director on April Fools Day,” says Canas. “Don’t you feel safer already?”

Though he may joke to set an approachable, non-frightening tone for his office, Canas is deadly serious about the work the OHSP performs. He also realizes that his, and any branch of Homeland Security, has major image problems. Too often the knee-jerk political reactions, compounded by woefully inadequate communications, mar the office’s efforts. As one caller put it, “Homeland Security is supposed to be making me safer — where is my evacuation route, where is my designated disaster shelter? What are you doing with my tax dollars?”

Officially, the mandate of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness is to administer, coordinate, lead and supervise New Jersey’s counter-terrorism and preparedness efforts. Toward this end, OHSP receives $100 million federally and $15 million from the state. Of this, $10 million runs Canas’ 160-person office, with the remainder going out to various regional, county and municipal projects.

Counter terrorism. Canas has 21 criminal investigators, seven of whom follow leads, wiretap, and seek out the international bad guys. The remainder work on domestic disruptions ranging from major cybercrimes to potential repetitions of Columbine. These investigators are backed by a team of 40 analysts who look for trends and patterns of suspected groups. Together, this operatives division works closely with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Taskforce offices in Philadelphia, Newark, and New York. They also unite forces with state and local police to detect, keep tabs on, and prevent terrorist groups, or terrorizing individuals.

The traditional definition of terrorism is any act of violence done against innocent (noncombatant) individuals in the name of a political or similar cause. “But if it is your child who is shot by someone on a rampage,” says Canas, “you don’t care whether they’re political or just deranged. Likewise if your bank account is wiped out, you don’t care if it’s a hacker or Al Qaeda.”

Being prepared. Most of the resources are devoted to setting up a leadership umbrella to handle disasters on a state level. These disasters range from floods, pandemic flu, and bomb devastation, to statewide power or computer outages. Part of the job is to establish a chain of command in cases of emergency.

“You do not want 566 municipalities establishing dispatch centers and 21 counties employing separate evacuation routes,” says Canas.

Depending on the emergency, OHSP establishes direct chains of communication and command. At a state level it works through State Police superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes, who, in New Jersey, also heads the Office of Emergency Management.

When the fires are not burning, OHSP assesses 18 vital state sectors for potential threat, vulnerability, and potential consequence if destroyed. These sectors include the state’s transportation system, power grid, water supply, petrol storage, even entertainment areas (imagine a stadium teeming with 75,000 tightly-packed fans.) Once problem areas are identified, OHSP designs ways to make the situation less vulnerable, and to mitigate the consequences.

A major part of this mitigation planning is the running of worst-case scenario exercises and developing strategies. How would state officials and PSE&G handle a total blackout of their power grid? Who would bring in the food and clean water to mass shelters after a flood or bombing? “These events, of course, are unlikely,” says Canas, but having a Plan A and B already drawn up can most literally be a life saver.”

Schools & Campuses. Recently Governor Jon Corzine put the security of the state’s schools and higher education campuses onto the already full Homeland Security Office’s plate. While it is unlikely that a school will become a political terror target, or even a stage for one individual’s terrorizing act, the vulnerability is high.

Training: The local and county authorities have the power to actually install the security measures, but the OHSP typically provides advice and training programs.

For example a county college may want to establish a terrorism education and awareness project. The Port of Newark may want to train staff members how to spot suspicious packages. The Urban Area Security Initiative may want to plan evacuation plans. They submit their proposals to Canas and his staff who from their own federal-and-state-fed budget provides projects grants to these entities.

Infrastructure. So how secure is New Jersey against disasters, both human and natural? Canas is fond of citing Stephen Flynn’s recent book “The Edge of Disaster,” which states that if the terrorists can only be patient, and America continues to do nothing, our infrastructure will become totally obsolete in a matter of decades.

“Drive the Holland and Lincoln tunnels or the G.W. Bridge,” says Canas. “Look at our roadways with everything constantly under patchwork repair. Our communication bandwidth is shrinking. Our bridges and roads have been let go. And worst of all, we have a very high apathy toward fixing them all up.” This fragility and continued decay of our infrastructure is both a Garden State and national problem, which Canas foresees as greater than any outside terrorist threat.

The Office of Homeland Security was established in 2003 as a vast national reaction to a huge, traumatic assault. It wrapped up 23 already existing agencies involving over 750,000 employees. And certainly not all of this office’s efforts have been lauded. Critics rightfully complain that many of its mandates have restricted our freedoms. It has encouraged pork barrel spending. Yet Katrina and several inexplicable individual shooting incidents have already happened in our own back yards.

The next disaster is a question of where and when, not if. But Canas is the first to admit, that as individual citizens, we also owe it to ourselves to keep watch on the OHSP. It falls to us to make sure that the next incursion on our democracy comes not from the very agency we have set up to protect it.

— Bart Jackson

Career Opportunity: Homeland Security

In January Fairleigh Dickinson University will begin offering courses toward a new Master of Science in Homeland Security. No similar program has been approved in New Jersey, and few other programs are available in the United States. A thesis will be required.

The degree is designed for homeland security professionals who want to develop their analytical, managerial and leadership skills. Each three-credit course costs about $1,300 plus a technology fee of about $144. The total tuition would be $15,642 plus from $600 to $900 in technology fees. Call 201-692-6523 or E-mail: plaubsch@fdu.edu.

After 9/11, states and local governments formed organizations to interact with the federal Department of Homeland Security. This increased the demand for homeland security professionals at the mid and upper management levels and the demand will only increase. At present more than 750,000 individuals in the United States work in homeland security jobs.

Students need to apply by Saturday, December 15, for the January term, and the next term starts in April. Most of the course work can be accomplished by distance learning, and the classroom meetings, on weeknights and Saturdays at the Hackensack campus, are limited. The online program starts two weeks after the start of the in-person classes.

Two of the courses were offered in the Master of Administrative Science degree, but the rest of the courses have not been offered before. Four required courses in the 36-credit program are homeland security and constitutional issues, research and policy analysis, weapons of mass destruction/terrorism awareness, and strategic planning, implementation and evaluation. For electives, students can specialize in terrorism and security studies, emergency management, or homeland security leadership.

“When the program was analyzed for approval by the New Jersey Presidents’ Council,” says Paulette Laubsch, MSHS program director, “the principal evaluator was Ralph Way, deputy director of homeland security for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He compared the 36-credit curriculum favorably to the Naval Academy Post Secondary Homeland Security Program as well as the programs offered by Johns Hopkins University and the Army War College.”

Take on Debt to Grow

If you know what the true cost of generating your revenue is at the outset, before taking on debt, it can save you big headaches later on. “Everybody knows of businesses that take on big loans to beautify the business right before they wind up going belly-up,” says Kenneth Horowitz, a certified public accountant.

“The fundamental requirement of financing of any sort is knowing what the capital is that you need to operate the business. Horowitz, a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, speaks on “Taking on Debt for Growth: Why Borrow Money?” on Monday, November 26, at 6:30 p.m. at the West Windsor campus of Mercer County Community College. Cost: $40. He also teaches Recordkeeping for Small Businesses on Tuesday, December 4, at 6:30 p.m. Call 609-570-3311.

“People need to have a healthy perspective on when they should limit their ventures to their own capital and when it’s an appropriate time to go out and borrow from others,” says Horowitz. “By using an appropriate amount of debt, you allow yourself to acquire an asset that you otherwise couldn’t afford. If you borrow too much and overextend that can create problems. But at the same time, if you don’t borrow enough then you are limiting yourself.”

Everyone has his own inner tolerance for how much debt he feels comfortable taking on. It is important to be aware of that side of your personality when making borrowing decisions. “Some are comfortable with a moderate debt to equity ratio. They have their mortgage and their regular obligations that they meet very well. Then there are other people who don’t spend anything. They may not have a lot, but they only feel comfortable living with everything paid up. Then there are those who constantly live on the financial edge.”

If a lender turns you down, ask him why and where else you might go to seek funding. Most likely, your application was rejected for one of two reasons: Your story wasn’t good enough or your business wasn’t good enough.

“If it is a poor business,” says Horowitz, “the lender has just done you a great favor.” Sometimes it just takes a third party to see the flaws in your plan. Or perhaps you were asking for too much money. Advice is cheap and most experienced lenders will freely provide valuable assessments. They also know other players in the lending trade and frequently can direct you past the doors of institutions, and into an individual’s office.

Look ahead, Horowitz advises. Know how much a loan will actually cost you. “There are often a number of hidden costs that borrowers must pay in addition to the stated interest rates on the loans,” says the accountant. “You don’t want to be surprised.”

November 28

Bankruptcy Offers Shelter from a Storm

Bankruptcy, unfortunately, is not something that happens only to people who are playing the game of Monopoly. It can happen to just about anyone in real life who suddenly loses a job or faces huge, unexpected medical expenses, and there is no “Pass GO and Collect $200” card they can play to avoid it.

Think of bankruptcy as a life jacket, says Richard D. Trenk of the West Orange-based law firm of Trenk, DiPasquale, Webster, Della Fera & Sodono. “It’s not something that is supposed to be permanent,” he says. “Rather, it is something designed to keep you afloat when your financial ship has capsized, usually because of an unexpected storm.”

Trenk will be a panelist at a workshop entitled, “The Bankruptcy Card and How to Play It: A Guide for Non-Bankruptcy Judges & Practitioners” on Wednesday, November 28, from 5 to 9 p.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. To be moderated by Rosemary Gambardella, United States Bankruptcy Judge for the District of New Jersey, the workshop will focus on the recently published handbook by Sarah Curley, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the District of Arizona and National Association of Women Judges Finance Committee Chair. Cost: $209. Call 732-214-8500.

Trenk graduated from American University in 1979 and earned his law degree from Western New England College. He is admitted before the New Jersey Supreme Court, United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and United States Supreme Court. He founded the Bankruptcy Inn of Court and served as its executive director. Most of his work involves representing either businesses declaring bankruptcy or creditors holding the loan on which the business is defaulting.

“I’ve always been intrigued by bankruptcy law,” Trenk says. “I get to work with a cross section of businesses in a lot of different industries. The reasons why they are declaring bankruptcy may vary. Some of them, for example, were ‘buggy whip’ manufacturers who failed to keep up with the times, but many of them have simply been poorly managed and now need a ‘life jacket’ to resuscitate them.”

The rules for declaring bankruptcy were rewritten a couple of years ago, largely because the credit card companies lobbied Congress to change them in their favor. Anyone facing a potential bankruptcy needs to know that there are two types — Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Under the old rules, most filers could choose the type of bankruptcy that seemed best for them, and most chose Chapter 7, which allowed them to completely liquidate their debt, over Chapter 13, which required them to work out a repayment plan for at least part of the debt. The new law, however, prohibits some filers with higher incomes from using Chapter 7.

Now, before you can file for bankruptcy under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, you must complete credit counseling with an agency approved by the United States Trustee’s office. To find an approved agency, go to the Trustee’s website at www.usdoj.gov/ust and click on “Credit Counseling and Debtor Education.” The purpose of this counseling is to give you an idea of whether you really need to file for bankruptcy or whether an informal repayment plan would get you back on your economic feet. This will probably cost about $50 altogether.

Counseling is required even if it is obvious that a repayment plan isn’t feasible or you are facing debts that you find unfair and don’t want to pay. You are required only to participate, not to go along with any repayment plan the agency proposes. However, if the agency does come up with a repayment plan, you will have to submit it to the court, along with a certificate showing that you completed the counseling, before you can file for bankruptcy.

Toward the end of your bankruptcy case, you will have to attend another counseling session, this time to learn personal financial management. Only after you submit proof to the court that you fulfilled this requirement can you get a bankruptcy discharge wiping out your debts. The same website that lists approved agencies also lists approved debt counselors.

Under the new rules, the first step in figuring out whether you can file for Chapter 7 is to measure your “current monthly income” against the median income for a household of your size in your state. If your income is less than or equal to the median, you can file for Chapter 7. If it is more than the median, however, you must pass “the means test,” another requirement of the new law, in order to file for Chapter 7.

The purpose of the means test is to figure out whether you have enough disposable income, after subtracting certain allowed expenses and required debt payments, to make payments on a Chapter 13 plan. To find out whether you pass the means test, you subtract certain allowed expenses and debt payments from your current monthly income. If the income that is left over after these calculations is below a certain amount, you can file for Chapter 7.

Under the old rules people who filed under Chapter 13 had to devote all of their disposable income — what they had left after paying their actual living expenses — to their repayment plan. The new law adds a wrinkle to this equation. Although Chapter 13 filers still have to hand over all of their disposable income, they have to calculate their disposable income using allowed expense amounts dictated by the IRS, not their actual expenses, if their income is higher than the median in their state. Also, these allowed expense amounts must be subtracted not from the filer’s actual earnings each month, but from the filer’s average income during the six months before filing.

In figuring your allowed expenses, be sure that you don’t take any cash advances within 70 days prior to filing. Repayment of these advances is not considered an allowed expense. Credit card charges not related to ordinary living — such as luxury items, cruises or trips, for example — are also not allowed expenses. For more detailed information on these calculations and an online calculator that will do the math for you, you can go to www.legalconsumer.com, created by Albin Renauer, the author of the Nolo Press book, “How To File For Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.”

Before and during the bankruptcy process, it is important to keep accurate records. Keep all pay stubs and canceled checks, for example, as well as your tax returns for at least the past two years. It is also critically important not to try to hide or falsify anything. Creditors can conduct their own investigation within 90 to 120 days of your filing, and, if there is anything that is not 100 percent correct, they will catch it.

Finally, because the law imposes new requirements on lawyers, it may be tougher to find an attorney to represent you in a bankruptcy case. Your local bar association will be able to give you a list of those with special expertise in bankruptcy law. Keep in mind that, although the filing fee for bankruptcy is $299, payable to the U.S. Trustee’s office, attorney’s fees will be over and above that and should be discussed in advance.

Within one week of filing, you will receive a “scheduling order,” setting up a meeting with creditors at the U.S. Trustee’s office, where you will be put under oath and required to be truthful under penalty of perjury. If you are completely honest and truthful, filing for bankruptcy can actually go pretty smoothly. The slightest attempt at deception, however, can result in severe penalties.

Other changes in the law can affect bankruptcy filers negatively, and Trenk cites “The New Bankruptcy: Will It Work For You?” by Stephen Elias (Nolo) as a useful source. The changes include how property is valued at replacement cost instead of auction value, which means more debtors are at risk of having their property taken and sold by the trustee. There are also new rules about how long a filer must live in a state to use that state’s exemption laws, which can make a big difference in the amount of property a bankruptcy filer gets to keep.

— Robert P. Baker

Jobs for Vets in Einstein’s Alley

Unemployment is rampant among veterans, especially young ones. Today’s 20 to 24-year old veterans face an unemployment rate of more than 15 percent, twice the rate of their civilian peers, according to some who testified before a Senate committee.

But New Jersey veterans and National Guard members can now get unusual support for their job-finding mission.

Einstein’s Alley, the organization that aims to assist New Jersey businesses, and Caliper, the Carnegie Center-based human resources consulting firm, have teamed to create a program called Vet Career Connect.

As announced by U.S. Representative Rush Holt and Major General Glenn K. Rieth, the Einstein’s Alley Vet Career Connect Program will reach out to New Jersey National Guard soldiers and all other vets to connect them with Einstein’s Alley employers. “Veterans Day is an opportunity to thank veterans for their service and contributions to our nation’s freedom and security, and also a reminder that we have an obligation to help them get an education, find jobs and start a business, and help them live with dignity during their senior years,” Holt said on Veterans Day.

A key part of the program is a personality assessment profile, created by Caliper at 506 Carnegie Center, which focuses on the individual’s strengths and motivations. Matching the employer’s needs with the employee’s career desires, it objectively quantifies an individual’s competencies and points the soldiers not just to a job but to a career.

“Making it easier for Einstein’s Alley companies to hire New Jersey soldiers returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan and for these soldiers to find careers not just jobs is what Einstein’s Alley Vet Career Connect is all about,” says Katherine Kish, co-executive director of Einstein’s Alley.

“Einstein’s Alley Vet Career Connect goes well beyond just posting a resume on a website by providing critical information to prospective employers of vet capabilities and goals that generally result in a long term employment relationship,” says Lou Wagman, co-executive director of EA.

Results of the Caliper Profile test can be submitted to the Vet Career Connect database along with the military record and resume. This service is free. For information call Barbara Foos of Caliper at 609-524-1228 or E-mail: bfoos@calipercorp.com

Tax Credits for the House

Replace your hot water heater with a more efficient one before the end of the year and earn a $150 tax credit. But you must get it installed before January 1.

“Consumers who purchase and install specific products, such as energy-efficient windows, insulation, doors, roofs and heating and cooling equipment in the home can receive a tax credit of up to $500,” says Gregg Semanick of the IRS. Go to www.IRS.gov and access form 5696 on residential energy credits.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides for a 10 percent credit for certain energy efficiency improvements on a principal residence. Among the eligible items are insulation systems, exterior windows including skylights, exterior doors, and metal roofs. A main air circulating fan can be worth $50, and energy-efficient air conditioning or heating equipment can be worth $300.

Tax Credits for Tech Bizes

Thirty technology and biotech companies in Central New Jersey are getting an average of $650,000 as part of New Jersey’s tax certificate transfer program.

Qualifying companies can sell their net operating losses and/or research and development tax credits to profitable corporations. They must put that money back in the business by buying equipment or expanding facilities. They may also use it for working capital.

Monies will be distributed in 2008. Applications, due by June 30, are available at www.newjerseybusiness.gov. This year’s allocation for the program, worth $60 million, has been divided among 92 companies that qualified; another 24 companies were deemed not eligible. To be eligible at least 75 percent of a company’s employees must be based in New Jersey, and the companies must have fewer than 225 employees.

The companies: Alphion Corporation, Barrier Therapeutics, Bullrun Financial, Dot Photo, Energy Photovoltaics, Knite, Lavipharm Laboratories, Lexicon Pharmaceuticals, NexMed (USA), Orchid Cellmark, Princeton Optronics, Princeton eCom Corporation, SightLogix, UDC Inc. Viocare Technologies.

Also Biomira USA, CMWare, Connotate Technologies, ExSar Corporation, Orthocon, Palatin Technologies, Pharmacopeia Drug Discovery, Princeton Lightwave, Provid Pharmaceuticals, Signum Biosciences, Songbird Hearing, Transave, TyRx Pharma, WellGen, X-Cell Medical.

“The program is an important component of Gov. Corzine’s Economic Growth Strategy to promote innovation and is a key element of our Edison Innovation Fund initiative to promote the growth of young technology and biotechnology businesses in New Jersey,” said Caren S. Franzini, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), in a prepared statement. The EDA administers the program in conjunction with the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology (CST) and the state Division of Taxation.

Shuttle to College Road

Greater Mercer TMA’s Train Link shuttle provides services to employers along College Road East, College Road West, and Forrestal Village.

Train Link can be used by train riders, obviously, but also by those who live within walking or biking distance to the Junction station. Ride the Dinky or ride any number of other bus routes that serve the station, and you can also take the shuttle. Call 609-452-8988 or www.gmtma.org

New on the Train Link sponsor list is Novo Nordisk, which has 600 employees on College Road West and is reportedly thinking about expanding to 1100 Campus Road.

Donate Please

The New Jersey Association of Realtors has created its fifth annual Housing for All Calendar, available for $5 or by calling 732-494-5616. Order forms are also available at www.njar.com. Proceeds go to the NJAR Housing Opportunity Foundation, which helps produce affordable rental and ownership housing units.

The calendar features artwork by students in grades three to six, who drew their ideas of “What equal opportunity in housing means to me” or “Keeping fair housing in mind, what changes would you like to see in your neighborhood.” This year’s calendar has the “best of the best” artwork from the previous four years.

“The Housing for All calendar is a great tool to help educate students about fair housing rights,” says Bill Hanley, NJAR president.

Tap Water Grants

With a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, in partnership with Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension, will develop a model community-based water conservation education program. The goal: To instill a responsible water-use ethic in both the private and public sectors and reduce overall water waste.

Conserving can save money by delaying or even eliminating the need to build new water supply systems and wastewater treatment plants.

Communities interested in participating in this pilot model water conservation program should contact Katie Barnett at 609-633-0764 or E-mail:Katie.barnett@dep.state.nj.us.

Corporate Angels

Tyco International and Deloitte were among the sponsors for Child Care Connection’s 19th annual conference for child care and education, held at the Princeton Hyatt Regency in October.

“Studies continue to support the need for more training in developmentally appropriate practice for those working with young children,” said Nancy Thomson, executive director of the non-profit agency based on Spruce Street in Trenton (www.childcareconnection-nj.org or 609/989-7940).”As child care providers are amongst the lowest paid workers in the nation, pursuing educational opportunities is often cost-prohibitive. For these reasons, Child Care Connection strives to offer a quality, affordable event each year.”

The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey gave the Trenton-based Women’s Heart Foundation a $15,000 grant to support its Teen Esteem Program, a school-based gym alternative program designed to increase self-esteem through a customized exercise, nutrition and wellness curriculum. The program will serve 160 young women at Trenton High School. Created by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the foundation has given $1.5 million to 62 organizations during 2007.

Ted Tenzlinger, an Allstate New Jersey agent located on George Street in New Brunswick, sponsored the “Big Chill,” a 5K race to collect toys for the needy children in New Brunswick. Over 3000 runners from the students, faculty and staff of Rutgers University were scheduled to donate more than 3,000 toys to the New Brunswick Housing Authority.

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