Thursday, December 29, 2005

Jodi Rell, Saint or Sinner

"This is not, I think, what any of us would have expected,” said a disappointed Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan, “from a governor who has set a very high standard for everyone else.”

Sullivan, a Democrat, said he withheld comment on what some are calling Moodygate for a couple of weeks so as to give the governor an opportunity to clear her head, but Rell simply had not measured up to her own high ethical expectations of the behavior of other politicians, mostly Democrats. The governor’s Chief of Staff, Lisa Moody, may have broken the law when she distributed fundraising invitations to several of the governor’s commissioners. Investigations by Chief State’s Attorney Christopher Morano and the State Elections Enforcement Commission are underway. The governor has suspended Moody without pay for two weeks, a sanction characterized by New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, one of two Democrat candidates for governor, as “a holiday vacation.”

“I have been very reluctant to comment on these serious allegations of illegal and unethical conduct,” Sullivan said. “Since Governor Rell has made so much of her high standards for others, we all expected her to be even tougher and more forthcoming when the misconduct involves her own office. Instead, it has been disappointing to see the Governor try to minimize the situation. Worse still, she refuses to disclose the campaign contributions that have been returned in a way that avoids any official record and then invites the same suspect donors to contribute again anyway. But it’s not too late, and full disclosure should not require that this information be extracted through the freedom of information laws or subpoenaed by either those investigating or legislative authorities.”

Rell got the jump on Democrats in the matter of ethics reform, and the loyal opposition now is attempting to scuff up the governor’s squeaky clean image in hopes of bringing down her sky-high poll ratings. In politics, this is called “making the best of a bad situation.” Now that Rell is bent over an ethical barrel, Democrat leaders, despite Sullivan’s touching solicitude, may be expected to roll it down the slippery slope. The governor’s ethical strictures, Democrats gleefully point out, are more stringent that the law Moody may have broken, and the governor’s chief of staff violated both with impunity.

So, what happens now?

The investigations will proceed slowly and deliberately. It took Morano months to investigate charges in connection with Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy’s campaign fundraising activities, making Malloy the only gubernatorial contestant put through the investigatory ringer and found innocent. Democrats will continue to press their considerable advantages. With one fell swoop, Moody’s putative “illegal” solicitation implicated all the governor’s commissioners. Rell first raised expectations of full disclosure and then refused to release the names of the solicited commissioners. The governor’s press secretary, Rich Harris, argued that the return of the contributions relieved her of the necessity of revealing the names because the contributions never made it to the bank. Democrats have polished their campaign lines and may be expected to sing in chorus that the governor is chronically incapable of noticing the ethical flaws of her compatriots, a tad hypocritical in insisting that others do what she says but not what she does, and unwilling to purge offenders that are close to her.

All this may or may not affect the polls -- for reasons that may seem odd to politicians and ethicists. Politicians, who see themselves darkly in media mirrors, do not always understand that most people are not like them. Common folk have a realistic understanding of the frailty of human nature, which is why slighting references to former governor John Rowland in the upcoming campaign, after he is released from prison, may not fall on fertile ground. Most people have an appreciation of reality different and more faithful to essential truths that of politicians, whose perceptions are altered by considerations that lie outside the experience of ordinary people. People admire politicians who are authentic, and the attack on Rell is an assault on her authenticity. Rowland did wrong, and paid for it dearly. Any attempt to use him as a political foil to skewer the governor, now that he has given up a pound of flesh for his wrongdoing, may seem too much like the act of a schoolyard bully, and authenticity itself is the most effective response to assaults on character.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Thanks Andy: How Sauer and the Democrats Achieved Compromise

Andy Sauer is the executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Common Cause, which bills itself, according to an introductory blurb provided in a recent interview, as “a non-profit lobbying group that says it promotes responsible, accountable government, and has long fought for campaign finance reform.”

Part of this is true. Common Cause is a liberal lobbying group that has aggressively pushed campaign finance reform. The whole gaggle of liberal lobbying groups was there, according to Sauer, at the birth of the campaign finance reform bill, and their influence cannot be overstated. They shaped the bill voted into law by the legislature.

Praising Gov. Jodi Rell, Sauer remarked in the interview, “One of the first things she did was [to] meet with campaign finance reform advocates. I was there ... Tom Swan [of Connecticut Citizen Action Group], Karen Hobert Flynn as the chair of Common Cause was there, the League of Women Voters, CONNpirg ... We were the first, and to the best of my knowledge, the only registered lobbyists she has met with in the Capitol. So she made this issue very important. She put it on the radar screen for everyone.”

Most of these groups have what might be described as a money problem. It was the baleful influence of money in politics that drew Sauer to campaign finance reform. Asked why he was so passionate on the issue, Sauer said it was the mother of all reforms: “All reforms, whether it's education, property tax, environmental reforms - all those reforms require debate. It requires a dialogue between all points of view to construct the best reform. Each reform is multi-faceted. The point is, get in a room, talk, and work it out. Money distorts the debate. Time and time again, every single reform that is discussed at the Capitol, money is distorting the debate… It's a bidding war, and anyone who says otherwise is not being honest. Because there have been so many examples at the Capitol where money has trumped - end of story.”

Democracy depends upon debate; money distorts debate; therefore politics must be purged of money: That has been pretty much Sauer’s argument throughout the struggle for campaign finance reform. Liberals are not often willing to entertain debate on this point. It is taken as “given,” an unquestionable premise not open to discussion.

It is doubtful, however, whether the campaign finance reform dear to Sauer’s heart will wring money out of politics. Money will find a way. Business lobbyists swarm around the capitol because, as has been shown in three stunning economic reports, legislators are capable of distorting the market place, and not to the benefit of people who live and work in the state. It is legislation unfriendly to business that has, over the past thirty years, contributed to Connecticut’s last place position among states in job production. Everybody but Sauer knows that influence peddling by business lobbyists in the legislature is directly related to punitive bills cranked out by legislators.

Money -- and politicians too clever by half -- already have found a way in the reform bill Sauer and others regard as imperfect but perfectible at some unspecified later date. The bill contains loopholes large enough to allow through them a jingling sleigh containing the entire Democrat and Republican legislative caucuses and eight tiny reindeer.

It was the high threshold amounts challengers were forced to meet before acquiring public funds that excited the interest of former Gov. Lowell Weicker and other pro third party Independistas. These hurdles are a “pay to play” measure for challengers that somehow have not offended reformist true believers. The bill restricts funds from business agents, usually regarded as friendly towards Republicans but does not prohibit in-kind campaign contributions from unions friendly towards Democrats. Some critics of the bill feel that unregulated legislative PAC contributions open a window of possible corruption that the bill itself sought to mitigate by restricting contributions identified in the public imagination as questionable and possibly unethical.

The bill in its final form, friendly to incumbents, is hostile to primary challengers and independent campaigners. It gives a decisive edge in the distribution of campaign funds to Democrats, since party leaders control the distribution of PAC money and Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state, for which every one – not least of all leading Democrats – should offer formal thanks to Sauer and other liberal lobbying groups that fashioned the bill.

Way to go Andy!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Lisa Moody's Blues

In handing out invitations to state commissioners and inviting them both to contribute to Gov. Jodi Rell’s campaign and to solicit funds, Lisa Moody, the governor’s chief of staff, was violating a well known regulation. Her claim that the violation was inadvertent is not plausible. As one commentator pointed out, Moody has been attached to Rell by the hip every since the governor’s more uneventful days as Lieutenant Governor and she has earned a reputation as a detail hawk.

The open question therefore is: Shall Moody be hanged; or hanged and quartered; or hanged and quartered and burned at the state capitol, her ashes to be sown over the lawn as an example to politicians that Connecticut, at long last, has become serious about ethics reform?

Two Democrat gubernatorial aspirants, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, called upon Rell to suspend Moody immediately. There is no need, DeStefano said, for Rell to wait upon the completion of investigations begun by Chief State's Attorney Christopher L. Morano or the State Elections Enforcement Commission. And Malloy called upon Rell to have her “ethics czar,” Rachel Rubin, conduct a separate investigation. Wondering darkly if Rubin was aware of Moody’s improper activity, Malloy hinted that Rubin might well find her own head on the ethics execution block.

Moody’s slide down the ethical chutey-chute occurred only a few days after Rell announced she would take no funds for her gubernatorial campaign from the Republican Party. Other Republicans, adverse to financial suicide, will accept money from some sources banned by the governor.

Democrats were quick to point out the loopholes in Rell’s plan: The governor would still accept some in-kind contributions, such as shared polling data from her party, and her donor ban would apply only to people who have "personally solicited, negotiated or signed a contract with the state since July 1, 2004." Owners of companies that have live contracts with the state could continue under the Rell plan to supply campaign contributions, provided the owners played no personal role in arranging the contract. Rell was using her party as a money laundering instrument, Democrats charged.

What we have brewing here is a mini French Revolution. That revolution, begun on a promising note, ended in a bloodbath in which successive revolutionists, each purer and more dedicated than their predecessors, guillotined each other with reckless abandon. In the end, the revolution assumed a life of its own, engorging itself upon the corpses of impure revolutionists. Such has been the case with every radical reform that has insisted on the perfectibility of human nature. The American Revolution, grounded philosophically upon the imperfectability of human nature, wisely set factions against each other so that imperfect purists could not achieve supremacy.

The Dantons in the Democrat Party now putting themselves forward as ethicists purer than the driven snow – though, in this regard, it would be difficult to outdo Rell -- seem to be unaware that they are sitting astride a rolling stone that may crush them as well.

What the state desperately needs are critics of radical reform. In past times, critics of the perfectibility of human nature, historically an anti-human notion that usually has ended in grief, were plentiful in politics and the press. John Adams, a close student of human nature in the raw, consistently railed against Thomas Jefferson’s angelism. Both had witnessed a revolution in France that inspired Jefferson and repulsed Adams. Among notable American journalists, Henry Mencken, who counted Ambrose Bierce as his friend and compatriot, buried moralistic legislators under mountains of hostile rhetoric.

“It must be plain,” Mencken wrote, “that this process of law-making by orgy, with fanatics supplying the motive-power and unconscionable knaves steering the machine, is bound to fill the statute-books with enactments that have no rational use or value save that of serving as instruments of psychopathological persecution and private revenge… They involve gross invasions of the most elementary rights of the free citizen, but they are popular with the mob because they have a virtuous smack and provide it with an endless succession of barbarous but thrilling shows.”

The danger always is that reformists will carry their impractical reforms too far. It is one thing to rail against contractors who can be shown to have purchased legislation through campaign contributions, and even in this case legislative prescriptions should be narrowly focused so as not to deprive citizens of their inviolable constitutional rights; but it is lunacy to insist that political parties should not be able to provide candidates for office with sufficient funds to win elections, provided that such funds are transparent and well publicized.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

When A Weicker Meets A Maverick, Coming Through The Rye

Here is a thumbnail view, admittedly incomplete, of former governor and senator Lowell Weicker’s political philosophy:

The United States is a republic, not a democracy. In a republican form of government, the people rule through elected representatives. As a practical matter, at least for Weicker, this means that the whole apparatus of modern politics is hopelessly defective. Polls and especially referendums are useless excrescences. Politicians should conduct themselves as if they were above polls, the media, clamorous political commentators and even, Weicker does not blush to say it, political parties. The former Republican senator is notorious for having defined himself as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl.” Anything that comes between a politician and what the politician knows to be right, judging from his own experience, must be brushed away with a sneer and a catcall. The primary virtue of a politician, overriding all lesser virtues, is guts: Do what you think is right though, in doing it, you pull down on your head and others the edifice in which you work, live and breathe. Wear your defeats proudly on your breast as a red badge of courage, and if the people you represent do not like living in the ruins you have made, they can always vote you out of office. It is this last virtue that has throughout his career endeared Weicker to people who would rather win a political battle and lose a war.

This philosophy can be seen baring its teeth in Weicker’s latest political pronouncement. His is an operative and not merely a speculative philosophy, which may be why Weicker will not be challenging Senator Joe Lieberman in a political contest any time soon, though hopes of a rematch among liberals and anti-war proponents were raised recently after Weicker had been interrogated by a talk show host and did not deny in absolute terms the possibility of a re-entry into politics.

As everyone in Connecticut must know by now, Lieberman has put himself at odds with his party’s leaders – Shades of Weicker! – by upholding President George Bush’s view of the war in Iraq, thus earning the contumely of Democrats and much of the media. Passing over the question whether Lieberman’s position is right or wrong, the senator’s lonely stand should be regarded by Weicker’s measure as principled and “gutsy.”

Had not Lieberman, following a path once trodden by Weicker, screwed his courage to the hitching post and bucked his party? Indeed, had Lieberman “played it safe” -- an expression used by professor Weicker at the University of Virginia to dazzle admiring students and cast luster on his own public career as a maverick -- Weicker would not now be enticing Democrats to throw Lieberman out of the party boat by hinting broadly that, if no one else is up to it, the old political war horse might come out of retirement, toss his cane aside and enter the race as an independent. Weicker has ruled out affiliating himself with the Democrat Party to run against Lieberman in a primary, possibly the only way he might beat the incumbent senator.

Lieberman, in fact, is the mirror image of Weicker in reverse: He votes with his party on most issues, as did Weicker when he was senator, and yet parts company with liberal Democrats on foreign policy; as senator, Weicker parted company with the conservative wing of his party on foreign policy. Weicker, of course, was much more abrasive as senator than Lieberman, which is why, at the end of his political career Republicans did not shed tears in the punch bowl as Weicker left the political stage.

There are, to be sure, some important differences between Weicker and Lieberman, other than temperament. Lieberman is as placid and contemplative as Weicker is stormy and emotional. They are the odd couple of Connecticut politics. Lieberman, who admired Democrat party boss John Bailey enough to write a book about him --Weicker’s book was about Weicker -- understands the utility of parties and has never claimed to be an independent, except on those rare occasions when principle guided by pragmatism has forced a breach.

It is still an open question whether Iraq will emerge as a nascent democracy or deteriorate, once American troops leave, into a theocratic steam pot hostile to Western interests. But there is little doubt that Lieberman’s take on Iraq does not please his party and is, at bottom, courageous and firmly anchored in principle. The louder Weicker’s protest becomes, the more he sounds like a parody of his bitterest opponents.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

After the Ball Is Over: Connecticut's Great Experiment in Campaign Finance Reform

So then, almost everyone is happy, though murmurs continue to be heard from some corners of the political barracks.

After the Democrat plan for campaign finance reform passed through the legislature, minority Republicans dissenting, Democrats launched whole symphony of now familiar sound bites. Nothing in this veil of tears is perfect they acknowledged, but imperfections in the bill could be settled later on. As Bill Curry used to say, “We should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good.” Connecticut once again had shown itself to be a reformist bellwether that got the jump on other less progressive sister states in the blue Northeast corridor. Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams advised that everyone should look upon the new legislation as a learning opportunity and a grand experiment.

There were bits and pieces in the legislation to dissatisfy almost every political interest group, with the possible exception of the Democratic caucus. Democrat leaders managed to secure the interests of their majority party while sticking a sharp pencil in the eyes of Republicans. The reform legislation prevents the usual business culprits from lobbying the legislature with dollars during campaigns but does not – surprise! – much affect the continuing raid and capture of the Democratic Party by union interests.

Among the parties dissatisfied by the legislation are: 1) some few Jeffersonian rebels in the state who feel, along with their hero, that forcing people to contribute to the maintenance of politicians with whom they disagree is a form of tyranny; 2) House Minority Leader Robert Ward, who refreshingly refuses to be pushed around by bully boys in the opposition party; 3) some liberal supporters of the legislation who continue to be torn by nagging doubts; 4) lobbyists who fear the legislation will make it less possible for them to put bread on the table and help send their sons and daughters to college; and, last but not least, 5) former governor and senator Lowell Weicker allied with Connecticut’s American Civil Liberties Union.

The good government legislation, it is safe to predict, will make for some very, very, very strange bedfellows.

Ironies abound. For instance, is it not odd to find Weicker at sword points with unions that stand to benefit from the legislation, if only by hobbling business interests? As governor, Weicker was unusually friendly toward unions. The former governor has said that his opposition is narrowly focused upon one point only. The legislation would, according to the Weickerian view, make it less possible for third parties to prevail in elections. “No Man But Yours” and political parties have never mixed well. Weicker make his reputation early on by bucking Republicans, a strategy that served him in good stead throughout his career. On the other hand, the state’s most successful lobbyist was at one time closely affiliated with Weicker: Jay Malcynsky surely would not wish to restrain his old friend and former boss from filing suits that will directly benefit both him and fellow toilers in the legislature’s vineyard.

The suit promised by the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union rests upon a decision made by the Supreme Court in a case brought forward by Weicker’s old nemesis, the Buckley clan. In Buckley v Valeo, the court ruled that “limitations on campaign expenditures, on independent expenditures by individuals and groups, and on expenditures by a candidate from his personal funds are constitutionally infirm,” which means it is constitutionally dicey to prohibit the expenditure of funds provided by political action committees and others to favored politicians. So, the sword point of Weicker’s prosecutorial thrust was fashioned in the smithy of National Review magazine by, among others, William F Buckley, brother of Jim Buckley, a true Jeffersonian rebel. Despite Weicker’s claim that his focus is narrow and he is not interested in securing the prosperity of lobbyists, the Weicker/CCLU suit will sweep the whole bill into the dust bin of history. As a lawyer, Weicker is well aware that courts are not adept at saving the baby when they toss out the wash water.

At this point, no one knows what the Supreme Court will make of Connecticut’s efforts, the most aggressive in the nation, to clean its house of corrupt influences. A court that paid close attention in its decisions to what has been called original intent likely would be inclined to permit most of the proposed reforms, unless they violate the letter of the Constitution. The Supreme Court, lately tacking in a conservative direction, has been permitting state legislatures a wide door of liberty. It is yet another irony that a conservative court, hewing to conservative principles, would be more likely than a liberal court to uphold such far reaching campaign finance reforms.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Shame Me Twice, Shame on Me: Rell, Democrats and Unions

In announcing her veto of a Clean Contracting Bill that contained, as Republicans believe, a legislative “rat” contrived by Democrats to aid unions and sink the bill, Gov. Jodi Rell brought to a press conference two “disabled” Connecticut citizens who stood beside her as she made her remarks. The presence of the two mentally retarded citizens caused a certain amount of discomfort among leading Democrats.

Democrats had smuggled into their Clean Contracting Bill a provision triggering an audit whenever the state enters into a contract worth more than $500,000 and seeks to privatize services that are “substantially similar to, and in lieu of services provided by employees of the particular state agency.” Viewing the provision as a legislative raid on executive powers, the governor vetoed the bill.

Rep. Christopher Caruso, who has gained a reputation as an ardent Democrat proponent of campaign finance reform, asserted that the two retarded citizens had been used – one might almost say “abused” – as props. Mr. Caruso said, “To use mentally retarded clients at a political event - and that's what it is - is shameless. Have we no decency? Using the mentally retarded that way is cruel and wrong. I'm sorry.”

Through a spokesperson, Rell answered, “The parents, the clients, and the providers were the faces of those who would be the most adversely affected by the legislation the governor vetoed. They wanted to be there. They wanted to be seen and heard and wanted the governor to veto that bill.”

Republican leader Robert Ward said he was shocked “that the Democratic leaders believe retarded citizens should be hidden from public view. The Democrats have become arrogant. These charges are just another example of that.”

Republicans did not insist that the noble sentiments expressed by President Pro Tem of the Senate Donald Williams and Mr. Caruso concerning the shameless use of the disabled should guide Democrats the next time a strike is declared at a nursing home and unionized workers leave their abandoned and vulnerable charges at the mercy of non-unionized temporary workers called in to tend to their needs.

The pursuit of the moral high ground, especially as a prelude to a campaign in which Democrats hope to unhorse a Republican governor, is always highly entertaining. But the closet “debate” on The Clean Contracting Bill, such as it was, missed the target.

Relative to other states, Connecticut is permanently stuck in economic doldrums. The national economy easily shook off the last recession several years ago; Connecticut has not. Among fifty states, recent studies show, Connecticut is dead last in job production, and the state is losing its entrepreneurial talent to other states that, many economists feel, are more hospitable to business interests.

What measures do the governor and state legislators intend to take to restore Connecticut’s once competitive and now flagging position in the global economy? And, more importantly, how are prospective new industries likely to view Connecticut’s struggle – assuming there is to be a struggle – to hoist itself up from last place by its own bootstraps? These are question that should be constantly in the minds legislators charged with crafting bills to solve one or another of the state’s myriad problems. Not only in politics is it true that perceptions are sometimes more important than realities; the maxim is doubly true in the marketplace.

The eyes of the world and of other states are on us. What have those eyes seen so far? Following the institution of a new income tax, they’ve witnessed a doubling of the state’s budget, which means a doubling of state spending, and a shift in collections from consumer sales taxes to less business friendly income taxes that drive up wages. Even the father of the state income tax, former senator and governor Lowell Weicker, emerged from obscurity a little over a year ago to register his dismay that legislators had so quickly consumed their new financial resources.

“Where did it all go?” an astonished Weicker asked.

Viewed against the backdrop of steadily increasing taxes and spending, every straw may be seen as breaking the camel’s back – including the provision of a Clean Contracting Bill that will make it less possible for Connecticut governors to reign in spending by challenging the political dominance of unions in the public arena. The eyes upon us are certain to see the Democratic legislature’s political favors for state unions as yet another nail in Connecticut’s coffin.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bring Back Honorifics

One possible solution to the growing acidity in communications, including political columns and increasingly rude bloggers, is to bring back honorifics: Mr. for men; Miss or Mrs. for women; and Ms. on those doubtful occasions when good manners is likely to get you castrated by a radical feminist in full fury.

Public discourse without honorifics sounds too much like a bar brawl. As anyone who has ever been involved in a bar brawl will know, there is a world of difference between saying 1) “Smith is an ass,” and 2) “Mr. Smith is an ass,” even when sorrowful bad news is brought to Mr. Smith in a bar. (As an aside, it should be noted that the absence of honorifics in bars has become especially troublesome since smoking, a much frowned upon habit that seemed to have had a calming effect on inebriated patrons, has been criminalized.)

The only thing that might upset bar patrons more than the prohibition of smoking would be the criminalization of hard liquor – not an impossibility when one considers the undiluted asininity of the new puritans -- or the drinking of beer in baseball stadiums. But the secular temperance folk who promulgated the law forbidding smoking in bars, thank Bacchus, have not got there yet.

Consider a mal de fleur plucked at random from a communiqué issued by al-Qaida’s man in Iraq, Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who may or may not by the time this column sees print be associating in heaven with seven nubile virgins.

Some background is necessary. Two of Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s ardent admirers, an Iraqi married couple, strapped themselves with explosive material, crashed a marriage ceremony in Jordan, the native land of Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and pushed the “blow me up” button. The husband went off properly, but the wife failed to explode and later modeled her wired cummerbund during her interrogation by an unusually patient police chief. The people of Jordan were mighty sore at their native son, especially since there are religious prohibitions in the holy book of Islam forbidding the murder of innocent practitioners of that noble faith. The married couple whose ceremony was disturbed by rude Iraqi gate crashers was, by all accounts, innocent and Islamic. Realizing that Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had violated two religious prohibitions, Jordanians took to the streets and proclaimed Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a “coward”. Later his own family denounced him. "A Jordanian doesn't stab himself with his own spear," said a statement issued by 57 members of the al-Khalayleh family, including al-Zarqawi's brother and cousin. "We sever links with him until doomsday."

Around this time Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was struck, as if by a thunderbolt, by a bright idea. Something had to be done to restore his good name; so Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi issued yet another communiqué assuring the home folk, some of whom he had arranged to blow up, “We love you more than ourselves.” His target was not Jordanians about to be wed but Jews and other sons of Satan like Bush, most often referred to in terrorist literature, sadly, without honorifics.

A few honorifics sprinkled through Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s correspondence might make him appear more soft and cuddly.

Or consider a case closer to home. Miss Maureen Dowd, a columnist for the venerable New York Times, has lately come under fire for having written a book provocatively entitled "Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide.” It is not machete wielding men who are after Miss Dowd, but ladies of the feminist persuasion who, post publication, have begun referring to her ominously as “Dowd.” One feminist has already asked, “Is Dowd necessary?”

About her new book, Miss Dowd said recently in an interview with Mr. Howard Kurtz: “I thought that men would be bristly about it. But as it turns out, men seem to be dying to discuss the topic of men and women and where they stand today. And I didn't realize women would be so bristly about some points in it, because I thought they already knew that. I think I single-handedly revived feminism. They've been revivified to vivisection me.”

An incurable romantic, Miss Dowd is about to be rasped by old guard feminists, who ought to be mindful of the advice their mothers may have given them: A little manners -- and the strategic placement of an honorific -- goes a long way. As for Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his mother ought to have told him when he was knee high to a toadstool that the trouble with bad manners is they sometimes lead to murder.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Doing the Math on Property Tax Reform

“Tax reform,” Democrat gubernatorial aspirant Dannel Malloy wrote in an op-ed piece, “should mean something very clear and very simple: The state must shoulder a far larger share of education costs. One of my first acts as governor would be to set a goal for the state share of education - an absolute minimum of 50 percent in the short term - and commit to reach that goal within a reasonable period of time.”

Malloy’s new tax reform measure is very much like Bill Curry’s old tax reform measure, which is not surprising since Malloy’s campaign staff is top heavy with advisors who previously worked for Curry. The idea, back when Curry was running for governor against John Rowland, was to provide tax relief to municipalities by having the state assume a larger portion of education taxes.

The state currently pays about 38% of the cost of education, down from 45% in 1989. A Governor Malloy would immediately increase the state’s portion to 50%. Assuming the legislature was to adopt Malloy’s program, municipalities would be paying 12% less in taxes, and the state would pick up the difference. The shift in payments would provide taxpayers with “relief” in the amount of … what?

If there is no net increase or decrease in tax receipts, the percentage of tax relief for taxpayers would be zero, all things else being equal.

The reason for this is not usually touched upon in debates about tax reform. It is not the municipality or the state that “pays” the tax. Taxes are paid by taxpayers; they are collected and distributed by municipalities and state government. Therefore, a net change of zero in collections will result in zero “tax relief” to taxpayers.

And zero is zero, as the mathematicians say.

However, it is not at all certain that all things else will remain equal if Malloy’s tax reform is adopted by the state legislature. Some economists and students of the legislature argue that the 12% shift may well result in tax increases.

In the absence of a provision written into property tax reform legislation certifying that the state will not assume an increase of 12% in tax payments unless the municipalities reduce their property tax collections by a commensurate percentage , there can be no assurance of any property tax relief, and it is doubtful the reformers would agree to such a provision.

Even if relief is provided to taxpayers in the form of a reduction in town taxes, the long term effect of the Malloy/Curry reform still may result in increased spending by both municipalities and the state -- because property tax increases are more easily resisted than other tax increases.

True tax relief for taxpayers is achieved only when municipalities or the state reduces taxes. At the municipal level, taxpayers seem to understand the elemental connection between getting and spending, which is why voters in many towns have resisted proposed spending increases in multiple referendums. In my own town, a highly inflammable property tax increase was tamped down to a manageable level after three referendums, a pre-election ritual that routinely occurs in many towns. At the state level, where tax increases cannot be diminished by referendums generally referred to in oppositional literature as “a prescription for strife and discord,” incremental increases can only be opposed by voting out of office those who spend improvidently. For this reason, sanctions against reckless spending at the state level are less effective and, as always, open to interpretation, reinterpretation and misinterpretation.

Put in plain language, spending increases are easier on the hides of state politicians, which may be why both municipal and state policy makers favor a tax reform that shifts collections from municipalities, where citizens have a right of referendum, to the state, where the tax bite is both less obvious and less painful for politicians in its consequences. The shift in collections gives a new meaning to the words “tax relief:” Under a scheme in which tax payments are shifted from municipalities to the state, taxpayers may not be relieved of taxes, but politicians will be relieved of the consequences of improvident spending.

In the gubernatorial election Curry lost to Rowland, voters easily penetrated the rhetorical veil covering promises of property tax reform. Rowland’s popularity arose from a misperception that he was seriously concerned with the spending side of the budget ledger. Only a fiscally conservative Democrat serious about reigning in spending may have an even chance of defeating a governor as popular as Rell.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Rowland and His Enemies

Two appointments made by Governor Jodi Rell recently have come under criticism. Rell has chosen Ross Garber, formerly John Rowland’s attorney during his impeachment hearing, as a legal advisor and George Gallo as state chairman. Gallo managed Rowland’s 2002 campaign and was the executive director of the state GOP for a little more than nine years.

Ross Garber has been disqualified by his critics because he committed the unpardonable sin of defending his client to the best of his ability. But no one, not even highly sensitive political commentators, has accused Garber of accepting hot tubs from pay-to-play state contractors. And, despite objections from the authoritative New York Times, there is no reason why Garber should not be advising the Rell campaignon legal issues, especially since Democrats and others are even now making attempts to cast aspersions on Rell’s reputation through her presumed association with former Governor John Rowland.

Rell was Rowland’s Lieutenant Governor, during which time she no doubt busied herself crocheting, presiding over the senate and waiting patiently for the governor to die or to be carried off to jail by ambitious federal prosecutors so that, next in line in accession, she might become governor.

Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan, who ascended to his present position after Rell assumed the job he would have preferred, has a more than notional understanding of sometimes wearisome duties of the office. The acerbic former President Pro Tem of the senate has complained more than once that he had not been invited to important meetings involving the governor and legislative leaders. It is a safe bet that when William Tomasso’s employees installed a hot tub at Rowland’s lake estate, the packing slip did not pass through Lieutenant Governor Jodi Rell’s office.

Even this early in the gubernatorial campaign, it is being said on radio talk shows by the underlings of leading Democratic legislators that Rell’s nose must have been very insensitive not to catch a whiff of the corruption pervading the Rowland administration. These charges are made by people who are reasoning backwards from what they now know to be true to what they could not have known with certainty before Rowland accepted a plea deal offered by federal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, super sleuths in the media have got into the nasty habit of throwing mud at everyone associated with Rowland, a tactic found useful by “Tail gunner” Joe McCarthy, until the mudslinger’s career was brought to a screeching halt by Boston lawyer Joseph Welch, who said, after McCarthy had defiled yet another blameless victim, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?” The lad to whom Welch was referring was one of his assistants.

Garber, it should be noted, was not at the switches during Rowland’s administration, and it was Rowland himself who terminated the impeachment process by resigning his office, no doubt with the concurrence of his lawyer. The resignation aborted an impeachment hearing that was widely understood at the time as a ploy used successfully to pry Rowland from office. But does anyone, including Rowland’s most ruthless critics, doubt that the entire legislature breathed a sigh of relief at the announcement?

The aborted impeachment shut down a possibility, by no means remote, that chilled the blood of politicians who had in the past conducted business with lobbyists and state contractor who favored them with campaign contributions and amenities. Might not an impeachment get out of hand and flatten them all like pancakes? The same fear hovered like a goblin over the possibility of a trial.

The aborted trial that denied the public an honest and public accounting of Rowland’s participation in a corrupt administration was initiated by prosecutors who might have gone to trial had they not preferred to terminate what should have been an instructive public proceeding by arranging a plea deal with the ex-governor. None of Rowland critics, some of whom now throb with indignation that the truth about corruption in the state has been buried in negotiated settlements, have demanded that such plea bargains should never be permitted in the prosecution of elected officials.

Public men and woman should be given their day in court before the public they are sworn to serve. And if prosecutors cannot obtain convictions other than through extraordinary means, so be it. The certainty of a public trial or impeachment will keep both deal making prosecutors and politicians honest and upright.

That is the only way of outing the truth, and it is only because the truth still lies in chains that the new McCarthyites may be as successful as the old McCarthyites in slinging mud, some of which may stick to but not stain the reputations of honest and upright men and women.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Republicans in the Poor House

Said the wizened Republican Party activist, “Rell won’t have a problem raising money (for the upcoming gubernatorial campaign), but any other Republican unfortunate enough to embrace her ideas is going to find himself down and out.”

Governor Rell, dubbed “Snow White” by former Democrat Party Chairman John Droney, can well afford to forego tainted campaign contributions from the usual suspects, lobbyists and state contractors on the make, but her fellow Republicans may find themselves unable to mount successful campaigns by relying solely upon the kindness of strangers.

It is no secret that Democrats who control the legislature are not anxious to adopt before statewide elections begin many of the reforms proposed by Rell. In the absence of statutory restrictions, they can plausibly argue that the acceptance of funds frowned upon by Rell is perfectly legal, though it may be morally questionable. But Republicans who support Rell’s vow to forgo such funding in the current election season will have a very hard moral row to hoe, because they are being invited to commit political suicide.

Both Democrat and Republican contestants find themselves in the same pickle: They need one last swig at the bottle before they go on the wagon, if ever. In both parties one finds dissenters who argue that some aspects of the proposed reforms are unnecessary.

In the bad old days, money was donated to political parties and distributed to candidates by anonymous cigar chomping, party hacks who gave off a faint odor of corruption. This did not sit well with the reformers, and before you could say, along with Tammany Hall boss George Washington Plunkitt, “I seen my chances and took’em,” the bosses were shooed off the stage and a new crop of financial wizards, unattached to parties, were making donations directly to powerful politicians, most often incumbents or unelectable challengers. The new crew was non-partisan, spreading largess indifferently to Republicans and Democrats. Their anonymity disappeared when reformers insisted on what has come to be called “transparency.” Forced to report their contributions, the new campaign financiers were easily picked off by ethicists who argued persuasively that they must be getting some quid for all that quo and were almost certainly corrupt. At the very least, they were knee deep in “the appearance of corruption.”

So here we are, nearly a century after Tammany Hall was reformed by muckraking journalists, once again up to our ankles in muck. So gummy has the stuff become that anyone who comes into contact with it is permanently marked, as if he were Brer Rabbit laying into the proverbial Tar-Baby in the Tales of Uncle Remus.

The application of RICO statutes to political skullduggery and new promising techniques wielded by prosecutors has made the conviction of malodorous politicians a near certainty. For very good reasons, the professor who designed the RICO legislation -- intended to be used only against mob figures, gang bangers and drug dealers – said that political crimes should never be prosecuted under the statutes. A guilty plea to lesser charges was secured from state Sen. Ernest Newton by dangling punishments under his nose and then holding out the possibility that Newton’s wife might not see the inside of a jail if he copped a plea. In a trial, the truth is brought forward into the public square. But plea bargains are the graveyards of truth.

Will corruption be a sweepstakes issue in the coming gubernatorial campaign? Does the electorate care how politicians get the cash that fuels their campaigns? Will the clean campaign provisions hawked by ethicists further erode political parties and strengthen the lock incumbents have on their seats? What would a politics in which political parties are marginalized look like? Would it resemble the utopia of Thomas More or the dystopia of Thomas Hobbes, a theatre of human action in which politicians operate on the pre-social maxim “Every man for himself?”

These are the questions that ought to engage reformers. Politics in the United States has become more brutal and destructive as reformers have piled up reform after reform. National reforms have shifted the function of money raising from party regulars to Hessians outside the party devoted to advancing their own narrow interests. Here in Connecticut, the titular head of the Republican Party and her troops in the trenches have parted ways on several important issues, a routine occurrence in the Rowland administration. It’s always a discouraging sign when the General goes East and the troops go West on the eve of a decisive battle. But then, when was the last time a Republican governor in Connecticut asked not what his party could do for him, but what he could do for his party?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Rell's Petticoat Tails

Though the gubernatorial campaign is still in its infancy, Governor Jodi Rell’s prospects look promising. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat Party’s great white hope, is out of the race, and the governor’s poll numbers are stratospheric.

But in the recent past, improved prospects for Republican governors have meant little or nothing for the party with which they have loosely associated themselves. As one end of the see-saw goes up, the other end goes down. Former Governor John Rowland was popular enough to win a record three terms in office, but Republicans are still the minority party in the legislature. Rowland’s star power was not enough to pull other Republicans into office partially because all politics is local, but also because of the atomization of political parties.

The war on the parties, waged mostly by reformers who view them as vessels of corruption and division, has been hugely successful. There are no longer any party bosses, the role of the boss having been supplanted by the chief politician in the state, usually the governor. Formerly, bosses picked governors; now governors pick bosses, if one may regard much diminished party chairmen as bosses. The elimination of party levers, which invites voters to split their tickets, is directly related to the rise in importance of the independent voter. Party conventions are gaudy shows only. In the age of primaries, the time has long passed when the choice of office holders made by conventions was definitive. Reforms also have had consequences, and they often have not been the consequences intended by reformers.

There are only two ways to organize a political party: Parties form around ideas or persons. A party that forms around persons rather than ideas is not long for this world. Rowland entered office as a presumptive conservative and campaigned vigorously against a newly established income tax.

But a governor, once in office, must govern on behalf of all the people, if he wishes to be re-elected. So, once in office, committed politicians quickly moderate their views and govern on what strategists call “bridge issues.” A bridge issue is one that does not divide people along philosophical lines. The reality of governing, which involves assembling coalitions to move programs forward, itself tends to soften sharp political views.

That may be a benefit for governors, but an unprincipled convergence makes it difficult for voters to choose between politicians, not to mention parties. Rowland’s coattails were short – practically non-existent – because a coherent political philosophy is a politician’s coattails. Politicians who do not serve ideas serve themselves. In the end, Rowland’s political program was patched together from notions borrowed from both ends of the political spectrum. What better way to guarantee one’s longevity in office? But, as a whole, Rowland’s program was unprincipled. It was a bridge attaching nothing to nothing. Detached from the orbit of his own party’s leading ideas, he became the plaything of the forces that make or break most incumbents. Those who do not swim against the tide are carried along with it. You can either be a man or woman of substance -- or a cork on the tide.

Will Rell be any different, if less corrupt, than Rowland? Is she, as one commentator suggested, a woman of substance?

There’s little question that there’s a “there” there. It would be fatal for any serious challenger to attempt to slime Rell with mud drawn from the Rowland scandal. That lurid scandal has been effectively contained by aborted impeachment proceedings and plea deals arranged between federal prosecutors and indicted members of the Rowland team. But there is nothing inherently “Republican” about using political office for private gain, and Rell’s response to the scandals has been vigorous, far more potent, some would argue, than the tepid response of Democrat leaders.

But is there anything distinctively Republican about Rell? Does she have coat tails?

That’s the question. Corruption is a bridge issue, like high taxes and improvident spending, that cuts across ideological lines and appeals to voters without strong philosophical attachments to the major parties. Rell chose to bend rather than break on the question of public funding of campaigns, a measure supported by liberals in the Democrat Party. But then, Rell attached conditions to the measure unpalatable to certain Democrats who want to inherit, rather than reform, the gubernatorial office. It is a dangerous game of “chicken” that turns on the question: Who is the true agent of reform?

Casting a massive shadow behind the scenes, the larger and more important question – whether the proposed reforms will or will not result in better government -- remains very much in doubt.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Supreme Court and Defiant Presidents: FDR, Lincoln and Jackson

“The Court, in addition to the proper use of its judicial functions, has improperly set itself up as a third house of the Congress - a super-legislature, as one of the justices has called it - reading into the Constitution words and implications which are not there, and which were never intended to be there.

“I want - as all Americans want - an independent judiciary as proposed by the framers of the Constitution. That means a Supreme Court that will enforce the Constitution as written, that will refuse to amend the Constitution by the arbitrary exercise of judicial power - in other words by judicial say-so.”

The author of these words was not Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, still less Robert Bork, an originalist interpreter of the U.S. Constitution whose name has given rise to the expression “borked.” To be borked means to be publicly assaulted in congress by ideologically committed legislators who profoundly disagree with the words Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered to the American public in a fireside chat on March 9, 1937.

But FDR was not the only president to quarrel with the courts. At least one pronouncement of the court, the infamous Dred Scott decision, was roundly assailed by Abraham Lincoln in his “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision,” delivered on June 26, 1857.

Judge Steven Douglas had appeared at the same venue two weeks before Lincoln and declared that “whoever resists the final decision of the highest judicial tribunal, aims a deadly blow to our whole Republican system of government—a blow, which if successful would place all our rights and liberties at the mercy of passion, anarchy and violence.” Any resistance to the Dred Scott decision, Douglas said, “shall be forced upon the country as a political issue, it will become a distinct and naked issue between the friends and the enemies of the Constitution—the friends and the enemies of the supremacy of the laws."

Having determined that African Americans were not “persons” according to the law and so not entitled to constitutional protections, The Supreme Court, Lincoln said, had decided “that a negro cannot sue in the U.S. Courts; and secondly, that Congress cannot prohibit slavery in the Territories.”

Republicans offer no violent resistance to the decision of the court, Lincoln said, and then outlined several conditions that must be met for fair-minded people to give internal assent to a Supreme Court decision as a precedent: “If this important decision had been made by the unanimous concurrence of the judges, and without any apparent partisan bias, and in accordance with legal public expectation, and with the steady practice of the departments throughout our history, and had been in no part, based on assumed historical facts which are not really true; or, if wanting in some of these, it had been before the court more than once, and had there been affirmed and re-affirmed through a course of years, it then might be, perhaps would be, factious, nay, even revolutionary, to not acquiesce in it as a precedent.”

A close student of history, Lincoln recalled that President Andrew Jackson, had defied a Supreme Court decision on the matter of a national bank, and it was with great glee that he ran Douglas through with a sword taken from Jackson’s armory. Lincoln quoted Jackson: “Mere precedent is a dangerous source of authority and should not be regarded as deciding questions of constitutional power, except where the acquiescence of the people and the States can be considered as well settled.” But Jackson went further than even Lincoln was prepared to go in assaulting the preeminent authority of the court.

"If the opinion of the Supreme Court covered the whole ground of this act,” said Lincoln quoting Jackson -- who was to the Democratic Party of the day what Lincoln later became to the Republican Party – “it ought not to control the co-ordinate authorities of this Government. The Congress, the executive and the court, must each for itself be guided by its own opinion of the Constitution. Each public officer, who takes an oath to support the Constitution, swears that he will support it as he understands it, and not as it is understood by others.”

While Lincoln was not willing to go quite so far in his opposition to Supreme Court decision as Jackson or Roosevelt -- who proposed to pack a court that had resisted programs affirmed by the congress -- the arguments put forward by all three presidents show us, if nothing else, that resistance to Supreme Court decisions from the other co-equal branches of government is nothing new under the sun.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rats In The Attic

"Sometimes you take a good piece of legislation, and you tack on a rat. This is some huge rat." -- Robert Genuario, Governor Jodi Rell’s budget director.

Actually, said State President Pro Tem Donald Williams in a disquisition worthy of a 12th century Dominican, or a modern lawyer, the rat that Mr. Genuario thought he smelled in Clean Contracting Bill was a mythical rodent.

Mr. Williams was not quite certain whether Mr. Genuario's metaphor was purposeful or not – It may have been negligence -- but both he and State Senator Donald DeFronzo called a news conference to protest the “lack of truthfulness” on the part of Republicans and call upon Governor Jodi Rell to “stop the campaign of misinformation against the Clean Contracting Bill passed by the General Assembly” which, Mr. Williams did not note in his press conference, is controlled by majority Democrats.

Mr. Williams was particularly disturbed that the possibly mendacious misinformation campaign waged by Republicans against a provision of the Clean Contracting Bill especially favorable to unions, a key constituency of the Democrat Party, continued after he had gone through the trouble of “setting the record straight.” And so, he and Mr. DeFronzo stepped forward to make some sharp and necessary distinctions between Republican “myths” and Democrat “truths.”

The problem with the analysis is that some of the “truths” put forward by Mr. Williams are stranger than fiction. For instance, Mr. Williams strenuously denies Republican claims that a provision of the larger bill he calls “the privatization protection section” was not, as Republicans claim, “put in at the behest of labor unions.”

Even though a scouring of Mr. Williams’s e-mails may not disclose a direct request from union leaders that he include in the Clean Contracting Bill a provision that would “set standards” for state contracts favorable to unions, this does not mean that Mr. Williams is not acting in concert with union wishes.

It is noteworthy that no union leader has yet stepped forward to denounce the provision as hostile to union interests, and for a very good reason: The provision advances union interests.

One liberal political commentator views the provision as a redraft of an earlier bill vetoed by Governor Rell, and she provides a short history of the redraft.

Union leaders earlier had asked Democratic leaders to fashion a bill that would declare a two year moratorium on the privatization of state services. That bill was vetoed by Mrs. Rell, who argued that the measure would put at risk services currently being provided through contracts with private firms. Since such contracts are negotiated by the executive department, legislation depriving the executive department of its constitutional prerogatives might be, not to put too fine a point on it, unconstitutional.

Democrats rolled with Mrs. Rell's punch and came back with the present provision that, in the words of Mr. Williams, “sets standards” for contracting work.

The union friendly provision, according to the liberal commentator, “scraps the moratorium idea and replaces it with a requirement for a cost-benefit analysis before a state service can be farmed out. The analysis must look at the effect that privatization would have on public health and safety. Also, the 59-page bill says bidders must make an effort to retain the affected state agency's ‘qualified employees’ and pay fair wages. Lastly, it exempts nonprofit providers until Jan. 1, 2008, with a couple of exceptions.”

The provision has driven a wedge between Democrats and groups previously supportive of liberal interests, such as the Connecticut Community Providers Association, whose president and CEO, Terry Edelstein, offered the following comment: "Despite assertions by the proponents that the ... legislation includes protections for community human service providers, we see no such language in the bill. We continue to believe that its provisions would devastate agencies and hamper their ability to serve nearly half a million children and adults across the state."

What is true of roses is true of rats. A legislative “rat” by any other name is still a rat – provided the provision is potent enough to sink the bill. The whole point of a rat is to avoid an honest up and down vote by including within a bill at least one provision that cannot be accepted by the opposition.

Since the Democrat dominated legislature can override a gubernatorial veto, Mrs. Rell should invite Mr. Williams to detach the privatization protection section from the Clean Contracting Bill and reintroduce it as a separate piece of legislation. In that way, both parties will get the reforms they claim they want.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sullivan Agonistes

In one respect, Connecticut’s Lieutenant Governor’s position is similar to the office of Vice President of the United States, famously described by John Nance Garner, who gave up his position as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to run as Vice President in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, as “not worth a bucket of warm spit:” Both positions leave its occupants with lots of time on their hands.

Idle time sits heavily on the shoulders of Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan, once president pro tem of the senate, now a wilting Napoleon at Elba, gnashing his teeth and plotting a return to power.

Like vice presidents, lieutenant governors preside over the senate and are traditionally support persons. But one can hardly expect Sullivan, a Democrat who once led the loyal opposition in the senate against former Governor John Rowland, to ease the way for current Republican Governor Jodi Rell. There is no future for a Democrat in that sort of sycophancy.

Both the governor and lieutenant governor came by their positions the old fashioned way: They inherited them after scandal showed the door to Rowland. But Sullivan quickly reinvented the office and soon was launching lampoons at Rell, whereupon doors were shut, windows were locked.

Finding himself uninvited to a recent meeting in the governor’s office on campaign finance reform, an irritated Sullivan erupted in an eight paragraph treatise addressed to the governor, “I get that you are governor and I am not. I understand and accept that you and your staff get to call the shots. But I do not understand the pattern of disrespect from your office and your staff toward me and mine."

Ooops, a Rell functionary replied -- my bad; so sorry for the unintentional oversight. But Sullivan was having none of this pretended sympathy and snorted, "There are too many honest-to-goodness oversights," a snippy response that occasioned from House Republican leader Robert Ward the unkindest cut of all.

Said Ward, “It’s the petulant, childish behavior he's been involved in for the past year. I think he is frustrated, which is understandable, that he has no political clout… He has nowhere to go. He has no political office to run for. There is no Democrat in the state who thinks he's a viable candidate for governor now. You have to recognize sometimes that legislative careers come to an end."

Napoleon would have sympathized.

Not to insert an ad here for term limits, but it ought to have occurred to Sullivan that all good things come to an end. And if there were term limits, his career in politics could easily be extended. For the problem he and other politicians face is related to political inflation, caused by too many politicians chasing too few jobs. It is often said that term limits would deprive the political theatre experienced politicians. But, in fact, very nearly the opposite is true: Term limits would simply transport experienced men and women to other positions in government, free politicians from the controlling grasp of special interest groups, introduce new blood into political parties, and open the way for real political campaigns. It is possible, for instance, to imagine Attorney General Richard Blumenthal running for governor only on the assumption that his present office is term limited.

For Sullivan, the lieutenant governor’s position has been less a stopping off place than a political coffin. But those who know him say he is a rubbery sort, certain to bounce back. Just now, Sullivan is tinkering with the notion of filling the oversized shoes of Bill Cibes, due to retire as Chancellor of the Connecticut State University system, a fake job created for him by a grateful Democratic controlled legislature after the former head of the state’s Office of Policy Management and his boss, the redoubtable Lowell Weicker, had favored the state with an income tax.

The gubernatorial campaign is a year off, but two stout-hearted Democrats, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, are already out of the gate, and no one at this point takes seriously a possible Sullivan candidacy.

If there anything sadder than a political warhorse sitting on the curb and watching the parade pass him by, it may be watching the same political warhorse, hobbled by political inflation, scouring the countryside in search of a make work job such as the position soon to be vacated by ex-political warhorse Bill Cibes.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Dodd Bill of Immunity for Journalists

Asked what he would do if he was forced to choose to betray either his friend or his country, an English wit replied that he hoped to God he would have the good sense to betray his country. This was something of a trick question anyway, the answer to which was sure to leave in its wake scads of contentious people. But the answer had illuminated what we would now call the gentleman’s “priorities.” Though no rational country would willingly have the Englishman as a citizen, who would not want to be his friend?

A bill sponsored solely by Senator Chris Dodd, the “Free Speech Protection Act of 2004,” puts journalists in the same uncomfortable situation as the hapless Englishman. Compelled to betray a source during a legal proceeding by disclosing his identity or maintaining silence and subverting justice, what would you do?

How do you like your babies -- boiled or fried?

Presently, journalists need not answer such stupid questions because the law is very plain on the point: Journalists may be found in contempt when they withhold information that may – just to pick one example out of the hat – result in the non-prosecution of the Englishman who refuses to betray his friend and consequently betrays his country.

Every citizen is under the obligation to say the truth when sworn to do so under oath. Dodd has yet to tell us why journalists should be exempt from a solemn obligation that, with few exceptions, binds all other citizens. The law, when it is not an ass, very sensibly makes exceptions: Information gathered by priests during confessions is exempted; husbands and wives are not forced to testify against each other; and persons may not be forced to give testimony at trial against themselves, if they plead the Fifth Amendment.

Dodd’s bill prevents federal agencies from sanctioning information providers who will not disclosure their sources. But the bill allows federal entities to compel other testimony under stringent conditions. Disclosure of information may be compelled only by a court, and only if the court finds that the party seeking the information has established by clear and convincing evidence that “(1) the news or information is critical and necessary to the resolution of a significant legal issue before an entity of the judicial, legislative, or executive branch of the Federal Government that has the power to issue a subpoena; (2) the news or information could not be obtained by any alternative means; and (3) there is an overriding public interest in the disclosure.”

Even from a journalistic point of view, the bill is mischievous because it makes the journalism industry beholden to Dodd and other legislators foolish enough to vote to affirm a bill that provides immunity for sources, elevating them far above the position once enjoyed by Caesar’s wife, universally acknowledged to be above criticism.

The Dodd bill, worth its weight in gold, is a huge payout to journalists, is it not? Usually, such favors are bought by special interest groups in the form of campaign contributions, but journalists may reward their pet politicians in a far different coin – by providing to them either a good or a non-critical press.

An immunity provided by politicians to the media is no less corrupting than a money pay out. Joseph Pulitzer, after whom the coveted Pulitzer Prize is named, used to say that reporters should have no friends because he understood that gratitude corrupts. And gratitude on such a massive scale corrupts absolutely.

Recent scandals in the Bush administration are instructive. If media sources could not be compelled to disgorge information necessary for prosecution, no one in the Bush administration could ever be frog marched off to jail in handcuffs for having outed a CIA agent; Times news reporter Judith Miller would never have been reproved by her editors for having become “entangled” with her source; her editors would not have been reproved by political columnist Maureen Dowd for leaving their reporter untethered; and the rest of us would have missed a farce of rare proportions.

Bad bills can only have bad consequences. Dodd’s bill, unnecessary and fraught with unforeseen dangers, ought to be frog marched off the legislative stage, preferably in handcuffs.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gubernatorial Race: It's the Economy, Stupid

Jodi Rell teared up during her announcement that she was making herself available to run again as governor. Rell’s stratospheric popularity quotient humbled her, the governor said, and she wanted everyone to know she was serious about de-horning the devil of corruption that has plagued Connecticut ever since most of us were knee high to toadstools.

Sentimentalism is the enemy of clear thought.

There is little doubt that Rell has stolen the corruption issue from the clenched teeth of the Democrats. She did this by bowing to liberals on the issue of public financing of campaigns, much to the chagrin of her fellow Republicans, and then attempting to force Democrats to swallow unpalatable conditions, such porcupines as the abolition of ad-books, guaranteed to pierce Democratic throats with painful quills, and a prohibition preventing lobbyists and contractors doing business with the state from contributing to campaigns.

But the edge Republicans have had in the past over the loyal opposition – and here, unfortunately, one must discount President George Bush – is that the GOP has had a reputation as a spending watchdog. Here again, unfortunately, one must discount former Governor John Rowland, a chief executive never averse to using the public perception as a bargaining chip with Democrats, then and now the dominant party in control of the legislature.

Rowland liked to portray himself as a firewall that prevented Democrats from spending recklessly. But the firewall was paper thin. Rowland favored tax credits, revocable at the whim of governors and legislators, over permanent cuts. The benefit of a permanent tax cut is that it produces a temporary deficit, which helps to dampen the ardor of those economically reckless politicians who prefer, by acceding to the wishes of powerful special interest groups, to spend themselves into popularity. Deficits, like nagging mothers, sometimes are successful in controlling spending – unless, of course, one is Bush or Rowland. Serious attempts at budget cutting create an economic climate that anchor Connecticut businesses to the spot and lure promising business prospects from other states, conditions that, over the long run, increase tax revenues.

The problem for Republicans is that the perception of the state GOP as being bullish on tax cuts may be changing, and there are Democrats in the field anxious to exploit any Achilles’ heal Republicans may have.

In the first serious campaign ad of the season, designed by media consultants who worked on President Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano has introduced himself to the voting public as a candidate capable of lifting the state out of its economic doldrums.

“Fifty states,” the ad intones, “but Connecticut is last in job growth… We can do better. John DeStefano. The son of a police officer. Devoted husband and father. As New Haven mayor, new jobs created, crime cut over 40 percent, drop-out rate cut over 40 percent.”

The purpose of early ads is to give shape and direction to campaigns. The gauntlet has been thrown down: It’s the economy, stupid.

But what can it mean to say that Connecticut rates last in job creation, and what are the prescriptive remedies?

Entreprenurial states in the South have stolen both jobs and entrepreneurs from anemic Northern states because the cost of doing business is cheaper there – which means that the Northeast may recover some of it lost advantage by reducing the cost of business, rather than by bribing businesses, usually by means of tax forgiveness, to stay in an area that punishes economic growth.

Connecticut in the process of paying a profitable insurance company that reported $4.2 billion in profits for the first half of this year oodles of cash, in the form of tax deferments, to move from Hartford to East Hartford, a shameful form of bribery condemned by Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer as a not so polite form of “extortion.”

Business tax deferments of this kind and tax rebates do not improve economies: They make beggars of us all.

A serious proposal to raise Connecticut from last place in job creation would cut spending and reduce taxes for all businesses and all tax payers, a message that in the past has been associated with the Republican Party.

But that message has been distorted by the last two governors, and it remains an open question whether any gubernatorial candidate whose hats now are in the ring is serious about making Connecticut’s economy competitive. The fine lines on the contender’s economic programs have not yet been inked in.

Monday, October 10, 2005

An October Primer on Campaign Finance Reform

Money, the mother’s milk of politics, is given by lobbyists, mostly to incumbents. So, what’s wrong with this?

The conventional answer is that it creates the impression that politicians are on the take. And, as we know, in politics, impressions – or is that “appearances?” – are determinative.

Here in Connecticut, some politicians have been sunk by the “appearance of corruption” torpedo, but others who frequently have accepted campaign contributions from lobbyists affected by legislation they promote have escaped serious injury.

U.S Sen. Chris Dodd says that his contributors, many from the financial sector, do not affect how he votes on issues. Contributors apparently send money to the senator as an expression of political solidarity: It is not the contribution that occasions the vote, but the vote that occasions the contribution. It’s very important in these matters to get the right horse in front of the right cart.

There are critics of campaign finance reform who say that the reforms create distortions in the political market place and do little to combat corruption. The reform cure very well may be worse than the disease.

There are hurdles to be overcome, not the least of which is a Supreme Court decision that campaign contributions are an inviolable form of free speech protected by the Constitution. However, that hurdle may gingerly be surmounted by a court prone to fanciful interpretation.

And there are other obstacles. The campaign finance reform plans now afoot all drive political parties from adequately financing politics. One school of thought holds that transparency – the publication of contributions and contributors – may be the least disruptive means of preventing incumbent politicians from falling down the rabbit hole of corruption.

The real obstacles to a healthy turnover of incumbents, according to this view, is not the stranglehold lobbyists have on political financing but gerrymandered districts, a media that fears to upset powerful incumbents they have conscripted to press their views, and the refusal to eliminate those means of filling campaign coffers incumbents do not wish to surrender – campaign revenue from ad-books, for example.

Money, like water, will always find a way. National campaign finance reform succeeded in depriving political parties of necessary funds; but it is largely responsible for the mushrooming of extra-party organizations that water ideological fellow travelers with cash. Not a good thing, say those who continue to believe that political parties are indispensable in functioning democracies.

The struggle in Connecticut appears to be waged between a chastened Gov. Jodi Rell, lifted into office after former Governor John Rowland’s resignation, and a Democratic controlled legislature that has turned a baleful eye on campaign finance reform.

That view is partly true. Leading Democrats have in the past supported the public financing of campaigns – at least, they’ve given lip service to the notion. They were taken by surprise – routed, actually – when Rell came out publicly in favor of the idea. But Rell linked public financing with other reforms, less desirable from their point of view, that will not bode well for incumbents: She proposed, for instance, a ban on contributions from contractors and others who do business with the state, as well as an end to ad-books.

That hurt! It was a spear through the heart of the mostly Democratic incumbentocracy. In fact, any reform, however ill advised, disturbs the status quo. Therefore, any reform will give a temporary advantage to Republicans.

Unsurprisingly, there is an understandable resistance to effective reform from all the usual suspects. Three groups are engaged in the battle, which may cross party lines.

The first group are those professing reform for reform’s sake. This group is convinced that the whole body of reforms will drive the devil of corruption from Connecticut’s politics. Members in good stranding are Andy Sauer, the executive director of Common Cause, energetic reform minded Democrats such as state Rep. Christopher Caruso, Republican well-wishers who hope that some reforms proposed by Rell will serve as a poison pill for Democrat incumbents, and the governor, who thinks certain kinds of contributions are corrupting, an odd confederation of interests.

The second group are incumbents who wish to retain their campaign advantages.

And the third group, negligible at this point, are those who want a healthy turnover in state government. They see rotation in office as one of the safeguards that insure, if not a pristine, perhaps a competent and responsive government.

In any rational politics, this last sober and sane group would carry the day. But no one should hold his breath waiting for sanity to shower Connecticut’s parched republic.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Vatican and Homosexuals

The Vatican wants to purge homosexuals from its seminaries, and at least one paper, The Hartford Courant, thinks this is a bad idea.

The paper does not presume to quarrel with the Vatican over dogma. Of course, most journalists, especially break-away Roman Catholics, regard dogma as irrational, faith based propositions at variance with science and enlightened opinion; so, what is the point in wasting one’s time being disputatious? The paper questions the Vatican’s “strategy” and asks “When is the Vatican going to get it?”

The Catholic Church’s strategy, is “punitive and shows a woeful misunderstanding of the genesis of the scandals that have undermined its credibility. The scandals were perpetrated by pedophile priests who preyed on young parishioners (virtually all of them boys) and got away with it, sometimes for years, thanks to an enabling hierarchy. These criminals should have been sent to jail. Instead, they were transferred to other parishes where they could prey upon a new set of victims (virtually all of them boys.)”

It should be noted that the “strategy” for dealing with pedophiliac priests recommended by the paper is far more “punitive” that the one adopted by the Vatican in dealing with homosexual behavior in Catholic seminaries. Pedophiliac priests and their enablers who winked at their crimes should be driven from the priesthood and then prosecuted and sent to jail. The Vatican’s “strategy” with respect to homosexuals would involve a screening process that would not permit the admittance of homosexuals to seminaries and, in the case of priests who already are homosexual, a restriction of duties. Whether or not one regards either strategy as practical or enlightened, certainly everyone can agree that prosecution and imprisonment is the more “punitive” sanction.

The paper therefore does not object to punitive measures as such. It recommends such measures in the case of pedophiles but not homosexuals.

According to the editorial, which relies on an unnamed source cited in a New York Times story, “To equate such unconscionable behavior (as pedophilia) only with homosexuality is akin to assuming that all heterosexuals, given the opportunity, are potential rapists.”

But it is not necessary for the church to equate the two. Its “strategy” is aimed at preventing homosexuality in seminaries. It is true that medical science tells us both heterosexuals and homosexuals may be pedophiles. Fr. Shanley of Boston was an aggressive homosexual who preyed on young boys, while the equally shameless and obscene Fr. Gehogan was not a homosexual. Most homosexuals regard pedophilia as abhorrent behavior.

But why should anyone expect the Roman Catholic Church to allow in seminaries an activity it regards as sinful, even if the activity falls short of pedophilia? The most practical way of preventing homosexual behavior in seminaries is through the restriction of admittance – particularly if one accepts the view of homosexuality current among many homosexuals and enlightened commentators.

According to the prevailing view, homosexuality is not a choice; it is determined by one’s genetic makeup. This is a view that has not – up until now – been accepted by the Vatican.

The Roman Catholic Church holds that homosexuality is not irresistible – which is why the church began to accept homosexuals to the priesthood a few decades ago on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis. If homosexuality was a choice, the church reasoned, then both homosexuals and heterosexuals could choose celibacy. But if one accepts the current view that homosexuality is not a choice but a genetically determined, irresistible disposition, certainly the paper would agree that a male-only seminary presents greater opportunities, if one is inclined to erotic behavior, for homosexuals. Many heterosexuals are culturally disposed to regard homosexuality as deviant behavior, though in this regard the times they are a'changing.

The real unexplored danger is that the Roman Catholic Church will accept the populist view that homosexuality is genetically determined and therefore irresistible. Celibacy is less possible for homosexuals under such circumstances, particularly since candidates for the priesthood find themselves sequestered in male-only seminaries.

Most of this has nothing to do with Roman Catholic dogma. A false populist “science” may be the demon here.

Add to this toxic ideological cocktail the possibility that "unwanted" genetic distortions may be eliminated through abortion on demand, and the future may not look bright for homosexuals. If a “homosexual gene” may be detected in fetuses prior to birth, a mother who does not wish to bring into the world a child that may be “imperfect,” as the prevailing culture judges perfection and imperfection, will have the option of aborting the fetus at any stage of birth. The Roman Catholic Church’s view on this matter – that the state has in interest in preventing abortion, except in well defined narrow cases – may serve as a necessary restraint preventing the elimination of homosexuality through feticide.

And that's a good thing.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Cindy or Bring in the Clowns

When media folk want to validate their prejudices, they commission a poll to verify them, a junk in, junk out phenomena.

It is a foolhardy fallacy to think that people believe everything they read. The opposite may be true: We are dealing with a readership that has “come of age” and tends to be hypercritical. But you cannot form a sound opinion around an empty space: People cannot mentally grope data that has never registered in their minds. The media’s sins of commission pale in respect of their sins of omission. And, of course, if it’s not there, a poll cannot measure it.

Here is a harmless example: In September, a political commentator wrote a column asserting that Cindy Sheehan’s protest against the war in Iraq was rendered ineffective because people were too easily distracted. The column was titled, “Weather Distracts Nation From Iraq War.”

“As a nation,” the commentator wrote, “we seem to be unable to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Iraq, Iraq - whoa! Look at those gas prices! Gas, gas - whoa! Look at that hurricane!”

No doubt the writer had her own reasons for wishing to keep the nation’s eyes fixed on Sheehan. But there is abundant evidence, much of it printed in the newspaper for which she writes, that nothing short of Armageddon would distract the media from focusing on the Iraq war -- particularly those aspects of it that are nettlesome to President George Bush.

It is true that Ms. Sheehan’s Washington protest was shoved off the front pages by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But then, “All Cindy All the Time” would have been – indeed, is – an insufferable bore.

And here we arrive at the nub of the problem. It could plausibly be argued that by the end of September 2005, the nation had a surfeit of Sheehan reportage. We were up to our necks with Cindy, and most of the incidents reported were, in any case, plucked from an anti-Viet Nam war script more weathered than New Orleans.

See Cindy say “this country is not worth dying for.” See Cindy say her son Casey “was killed in the Global War of Terrorism waged on the world and its own citizens by the biggest terrorist outfit in the world: George and his destructive neo-con cabal.” See Cindy refer to foreign terrorists in Iraq as “Freedom Fighters.” See Cindy refer to President Bush as "a lying bastard… that jerk… that filth spewer and war monger... that evil maniac,” and wonder plaintively, while the cameras are yet rolling, why the president should refuse to meet with her a second time.

During Cindy’s first audience with Bush, she was a bit more passive, perhaps because her new friends – particularly International Answer, one of the sponsoring groups of the Washington peace rally and a front group for jihadism -- had not yet stuck their pitchforks in her.

See Cindy arrested by Washington DC police for obstructing a public pathway. See her booked and returned to the street for photo ops.

How retro 70’s can you get?

War protests are necessary, even advisable. But this protest was bound to alienate the affections of those who had come of age in our brave new world.

Even former New York City Mayor Ed Koch – no rightist; Koch thinks the president should bring the troops home , the sooner the better, and deposit the whole mid-East tar baby into the hands of the United Nations – was prepared to write off Sheehan after her Washington DC performance.

“Many Americans, myself included,” Koch wrote in one of his columns, “now see her as a person who has come to enjoy the celebratory status accorded to her by the radicals on the extreme left who see America as the outlaw of the world. These radicals are not content to be constructive critics. They are bent on destroying this country.”

Right on!

It wasn’t Katrina or Rita that elbowed Sheehan off the front pages: It was Cindy’s runaway mouth, her too ardent friends, and a host of incurious reporters who omitted in their stories many of her quotes presented here.

You just can’t do that and expect to be convincing in an age as robust and foolproof as ours.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Group Lays an Egg

The bipartisan legislative working group formed two months ago to resolve differences between Democrats and Republicans in the matter of campaign finance reform is a signal failure. In order to understand the failure, it helps to remember that “bipartisan” working groups are not non-partisan working groups.

According to one news report, the working group concluded its business by agreeing on a “broad framework” for a voluntary system of public financing; the group also agreed to apply campaign restrictions to lobbyists, state contractors and political action committees.

Un-huh.

The “broad framework” recalls the infamous “framework for peace” Viet Cong and U.S. negotiators struggled to bring about during the Vietnam War. The groups that sat down together to resolve matters of war and peace ended up spending months deciding what shape the negotiating table should be. The perpetual meeting provided an illusion of conciliation, but peace escaped the negotiators, and eventually the war was decided by the communist Viet Cong and Jane Fonda.

The campaign finance reform working group has disbanded after two months of negotiations, and none of the divisive issues that necessitated the formation of the committee have been settled. In fact, the respective positions of both Democrats and Republicans have not evolved materially since the Big Bang.

The act of creation that was supposed to usher in the age of campaign finance reform began when Gov. Jodi Rell, much to the dismay of her Republican rear guard, announced that she had leapt over the political fence. The governor said she was prepared to accept public financing of campaigns, a position that long had been the darling of campaign reform advocates and liberal commentators in Connecticut’s media.

The Republican’s newly minted reform posture was that they would agree to public financing of campaigns – provided Democrats would assent to a broad framework of reforms that, taken collectively, would separate politicians from political corruption.

Standing alone, public financing of campaigns would do little to end corruption in Connecticut as we know it; additional measures would be needed. Republicans proposed measures that, if adopted, would put a serious dent in the cozy relationship between incumbents, lobbyists and state contractors. They insisted that anti-corruption measures and public financing should be yoked together. Additionally, Republicans wanted to put an end to “ad-book” solicitations, a method used by incumbents to extort campaign contributions from lobbyists and state contractors.

And here was the sticking point – at the beginning, now and ever after, world without end, amen.

Around the time former Sen. Ernest Newton was accepting a bribe from a non-profit agency, an indiscretion that very well may land him in jail, Speaker of the House James Amann was shaking down lobbyists and contractors for contributions to a charity that has retained him on its payroll.

Democrats and Republicans have been dancing around the negotiating table ever since the proposals were launched by Rell.

It is the Democrat’s flaccid response towards the anti-corruption part of the campaign reform package that has made some commentators suspect that the party of forward progress has now become the party of the status quo.

Democrats control every position of power in state government but the governor’s office. Their lukewarm response to measures that immediately would impact the state’s putrid lobbyist/politician complex suggests that they desperately want to hang on to their sinecures and fear substantial change the way one suffering from vertigo fears the heights.

It is a great pity to see the party reduced to such a low estate – because none of the reform proposals will affect the distribution of power in state government. Term limits and an anti-gerrymandering provision that redraws district lines so as to make them as much as possible contiguous with town lines would change the political universe for the better, strengthen political parties and increase the political influence of municipalities. But Republicans – fast becoming the new party of forward progress in Connecticut – are not there yet.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ernest Newton's Plea Bargain

Sen. Ernest Newton, the fourth ranking Democrat in the state legislature, pleaded guilty in a Bridgeport court on a charge he received a bribe. Prosecutors also charged that Newton used campaign contributions as a “private piggy bank.”

The plea bargain surprised no one who had been following the story.

Very early on, newspapers reported that prosecutors had in their hot little hands reams of recorded conversations allegedly showing that Newton had solicited and then accepted a bribe from Warren Godbolt, the director of Progressive Training Associates, in return for which the senator secured a grant for Godbolt’s non-profit agency.

Connecticut is wearily familiar with such prosecutions, and charges of this kind are not lightly made. That an incumbent politician, safe in his political sinecure, would be sorely tempted to use campaign funds for private purposes should surprise no one who believes in the frailty of human nature. Now that ethicists have made a concerted effort to clean up political precincts,” errant behaviors winked at in the bad old days of Tammany Hall have been criminalized -- and this presents any number of problems.

One problem is related to the ease of prosecution. RICO legislation has facilitated the prosecution of political crimes, even though the architect of the legislation, a Massachusetts professor, had warned that the legislation was not designed for use in political prosecutions.

As such prosecutions become more effortless, the question arises: Who shall face investigation and possible prosecution?

In an op-ed article in a Hartford newspaper, Rep. Arthur O’Neill, who served with distinction on a panel charged with recommending the impeachment of former Gov. John Rowland, applied some moral pressure on leading Democrat legislators to begin an investigation of Newton.

O’Neill wrote that “failure by the Senate to investigate Newton would imply either a double standard or a fear of what such an investigation might expose. According to ethics filings, there are more than two dozen legislators who have jobs similar to the one Newton claimed to have at Godbolt's nonprofit. These nonprofit and for-profit entities derive significant portions of their income from the state, money legislators must approve. Questions may be asked about other projects funded through the same process as the Godbolt grant.”

So then, circumstances similar to those that ensnared Newton also brood over more than two dozen legislators who have jobs like the one the senator claimed to have at Godbolt’s nonprofit. And two dozen legislators represent a sizable load of frail human nature. Is state prosecutor Kevin O’Connor investigating them? And if not, why not?

O’Conner has said that prosecutors stumbled upon Newton’s irregularities in the course of an investigation that targeted former Bridgeport mayor Joe Ganim. The lit fuse of corruption led irregularly from Ganim to Newton. It is possible that the fuse is connected to other powder kegs. In their investigation of Newton, is it possible that state prosecutors had stumbled upon incriminating facts that might lead to an investigation of the more than two dozen legislators who have jobs similar to Newton’s?

Newton has claimed that his ethnicity had caused prosecutorial lightening bolts to strike only him, a view derided by politicians and commentators alike who assert correctly that politicians now jailed for corrupt activity -- including former Gov. John Rowland, Ganim and former Mayor of Waterbury Phillip Giordano – do not belong to Newton’s ethnic grouping. But Newton’s view might be partially vindicated if it could be shown that none or few of the more than two dozen uninvestigated legislators mentioned in O’Neill’s opinion piece were African Americans.

Justice requires an impartial application of the laws -- which is why Lady Justice wears a blindfold. And if two dozen other legislators similarly situated escape close scrutiny, Newton may well ask: Why me? Why not them?

In political prosecutions, plea bargains offered by prosecutors and assented to in secret corners always will resemble Star Chamber proceedings. In open public proceedings – trials, impeachments and the like – justice wears the blindfold, and one may be relatively certain that the truth will emerge in the adversarial process; in private plea bargain agreements, the public is blindfolded and asked to trust in the virtue of prosecutors.

And when the truth is not tried in open proceedings, those who have been forced to plea under threat always will be able to claim, however implausibility, that they had been unjustly sent up the river.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Twilight Zoning Board in Chester

In a government of laws not of men, citizens ought to be able to appreciate the difference between the following two propositions: 1) whatever is not proscribed is permitted; and 2) only actions prescribed by law are permitted.

The first proposition means that the governing authority cannot prohibit the actions of a person living in a free state unless those actions violate a law. The second proposition means that every action unaddressed by the laws is illegal and actionable.

A zoning officer in Chester, Connecticut, a town that apparently has managed to escape 2,000 years of Western law, has told a widow that she must disinter the eight month old remains of her husband, buried on private property they own, because private burials are not addressed in zoning regulations and therefore are not allowed.

The burial, overseen by a funeral director, was in accord with common practices. The violation of the non-existent zoning regulations was discovered after the widow had donated a large portion of her estate to the Chester Land Conservation Trust. Apparently, town cemeteries in Chester are full and the widow wanted to spend her last days enjoying the fruits of a successful marriage with her departed husband close at hand.

But zoning officials in Chester have determined that if an action is not expressly permitted in the town’s zoning regulations, it cannot be allowed.

Not everyone in Connecticut may have the pleasure of living in Chester, but its zoning regulations very likely are not much different than those of other towns. It may be safely assumed that since the town fathers of Chester have not included in their zoning regulations permissions and prohibitions against the burial of husbands on private property, neither do the regulations remark on the burial of household pets.

Does the failure to mention the disposition of pets in Chester’s zoning regulations mean that the town is prepared to order its citizens to disinter the cremated remains of family dogs that some householders may have buried in their back yards or farms?

What about cats? If the zoning regulations in Chester do not prohibit Mrs. Smith from planting Fluffy’s remains by the flower garden where the good lady on warm July days may visit the spot and remember hallowed times spent with her pet, is Mrs. Smith safe from the storm troopers who will invade her privacy and order her to dig up Fluffy so that zoning regulations in Chester, which make no mention of the burial of cats, may suffer no violation?

What about mosquitoes? If Mr. Smith slaps a mosquito at a family picnic and it falls to the ground mortally wounded, will Mr. Smith be forced to move the remains to an adjoining town because zoning regulations in Chester do not mention a word concerning the proper disposition of mosquito carcasses?

It is a safe bet that the zoning regulations in Chester, though they be they a mile long and two miles high, probably do not mention whether it is permitted to outwit pestiferous moles by placing a square of Ex-lax in their holes – Try it, it works – and yet, according to zoning regulators in Chester, this reliable method of mole riddance is illegal because there is no mention of the proper disposition of moles in Chester’s zoning book.

The mind reels and swoons when it considers the vast number of things and human actions not mentioned in zoning books in Connecticut – all of them, according to the Solons of Chester, illegal.

It is through such misinterpretations of the rule of law – not a series of statutes but rules and conventions that affect the making of governments and laws – that republics and democracies fail. Romans in the twilight of their republic suffering under the rule of a succession of Caesars, each nuttier than the tyrant he supplanted, knew that Nero could make the trains run on time; but they also knew that power vested in people rather than in laws corrupts absolutely – which is why the praetorian guard stood idly by when Nero poisoned himself. Julius Caesar was murdered in the senate by patriots yearning for a return to republican self rule.

According to news reports, the widow intends to sue Chester’s Twilight Zoning Board. May she find a judge who agrees with the doctrine that what the law does not prohibit is permitted, a rule of law neatly encapsulated in the familiar provision that rights and immunities unmentioned in constitutions are retained by the people.

And after the widow wins her case, here's hoping she might consider running for Chester’s zoning board.