Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Governor Rell, The Democrats And Connecticut's Failing Economy

Democrats seem to be frustrated rather than perplexed by Governor Jodi Rell. She was supposed to have been a lightweight, a pushover politically and somewhat na├»ve. The Democrats were prepared for a caretaker governor. They wanted to knock her off after a first term and claim the prize that has eluded them ever since Gov. William O’Neill left town under a hail of rhetoric, but Rell has proven to be too clever by half.

Here in Connecticut, as everyone knows, an effective conservative response to reckless spending is impossible. Rowland knew this; Rell knows it. Politically, what this means is that there is no enemy to the right – especially within the Democratic Party. So, to succeed in politics, a Republican need only shore up redoubts on the left. There is no need to fear the slings and arrows of non-existent Democrat conservatives.

The easiest way to disarm ones political opponents is to spend a lot of money, a method favored by Republican moderates surrounded by liberal Democrats. This was the method favored by Rell’s predecessors: Throw a lot of money around and don’t attack publicly any of your real enemies. The coin of the realm in politics is not always pork. More often it’s compromise. Politicians generally are nice -- when you give them what they want, and most professional politicians are too high-minded to be bought off with ready cash. The public in Connecticut lost patience with Rowland after one of his underlings was caught burying in his back yard gold coins procured from a contractor friendly to the governor – very, very tacky. Politicians want their opponents to be nice. And Rell has been very nice to Democrats. She might be vulnerable on the right, but an attack from that quarter will not be forthcoming in Connecticut until Hell freezes over.

Republican governors have been far less frugal than either Ella Grasso or Bill O’Neill, both of whom were penny-pinching anti-income-tax Democrats. It was Weicker, a “turd in the punch bowl” Republican, who gave the state an income tax and put Connecticut on the road to reckless and seemingly endless spending.

No moderate Republican governor will put much of a dent in spending. Republicrat governors who have lost their salt are much too busy appeasing their fellow Democrats. In fact, would this not be a persuasive argument for the presence in office of a Democratic governor: Republicans spend money like drunken sailors; they just can’t get the job of spending reduction done?

This is what is wrong with political parties in the state. They are both very tightly scripted; there are things that cannot be said.

Like what?

Everyone has heard the expression “One picture is worth a thousand words.” Here is a variant on the same theme: One company--that has not been sent packing to another state because the cost of business in Connecticut is too burdensome--is worth a thousand political promises; so, for that matter, is one urban public high school that graduates what we used to call “scholars.”

Economic conditions in Connecticut are very bad, and they are getting worse. We are bleeding manufacturing jobs; and of the 50 states, we rank last in job growth. One understands why a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature would want to keep in the closet such embarrassing admissions of collective failure. But a rational politics would do something about the problem. We live in a flow economy. If we stand still, the world will pass us by. The world is passing us by. That was the clear and unambiguous message of “Connecticut’s New Economy Benchmarks: a report for the Governor’s Council on Economic Competitiveness & Technology” completed three years ago.

“If Connecticut received an ‘A’ in its concentration score,” the report concluded, “it did no better than an ‘F’ on its growth performance, ranking 47th among all states, a marked drop from the 2002 report where we ranked 32nd.” The concentration score is a measure of the state’s ability to compete in the new economy. Connecticut had all the necessary infrastructure components to fare well in international competition, the report found, but its growth score, a measure of the state’s actual performance, was an alarming “F.”

This means that other states are utilizing their possibilities to grow their businesses, attract new businesses and fill their coffers not from tax increases but from increased business activity and new taxpayers. Connecticut, dead last in the nation in job creation, now is losing its young entrepreneurs to other high growth states. It is a gross underestimation, bordering on a lie, to say that economic growth in Connecticut is anemic: The patient is neither moving nor breathing.

Ordinarily, one might rely on conservative Republicans and Democrats to take measures that might reverse the decline. But there is no one in the state politically on-line who will deliver this distressing message to a tax and spend legislature and an accommodating governor. Past Republican governors have not done so. And the present governor may be too nice for the task.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Prague, McDonald and the “Koskoff Clause”

Even after the Rowland corruption scandal, life goes on. But sensitive noses have detected the odor of fish in the air, and an amendment to Senate Bill 956 seems to give off a radiant glow, like the proverbial mackerel in moonlight.

Two writers at the Hartford Advocate – a paper not known for its conservative leanings; see Alan Bisport’s frequent eruptions on the moronic and possibly traitorous Bush II regime – have zeroed in on the legislation and found it wanting.

The amendment, the brainchild of liberal state senators Edith Prague and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Andrew McDonald, is a gerrymandered piece of legislation, slipped surreptitiously into a bill extending compensation for prison workers to account for times when they travel to and from their jobs, and cunningly designed to benefit only one constituent – as well as a law firm that has contributed to the campaigns of both obliging legislators.

The genesis of the bill’s subsection, signed into law by a somnambulant Gov. Jodi Rell in the beginning of July, begins with the death of Guenther Kuehl in a car accident. Kuehl’s widow, Sylvia, hired the prestigious and politically connected law firm of Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder to represent her interests, but her attorneys neglected to tell her that she would have been eligible for workers compensation had she applied within a year of her husband’s demise.

So, the widow did what any other aggrieved client might do in such straights: She hired another law firm to sue Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder for legal malpractice. Sylvia Kuehl and her new lawyers thought her discharged attorneys should have told her to file a workers compensation claim within the specified time period, so that she could acquire the benefits due her under the law.

Enter Prague and McDonald, clutching in their fists the amendment to Bill 959.

Alistair Highet, an Advocate columnist, writes that the subsection’s verbiage “will make you want to abandon language forever in favor of grunts and groans,” and he supplies a specimen.

A person who was barred from filing a worker’s comp claim for an employee “whose date of injury was between November 1, 1992 and November 30, 1992, because of the failure of the dependent to timely file a separate death benefit claim, shall be allowed to file a written notice of claim for compensation not later than one year after the date of this section.” The unnamed “person” mentioned in the bill’s subsection would appear to be Kuehl and, as the rather precise language of the bill would seem to suggest, no one else on planet earth.

The amendment that effectively gives Kuehl a second bite of the compensation apple was necessary because Connecticut’s Supreme Court had decided that the one year limit on compensation claims was legal and reasonable. The amended subsection of Bill 959 is inherently unjust, because justice in the application of the law requires that laws themselves should be general. Free and representative societies since the time of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill have regarded as inadmissible specific orders and prohibitions, which are incompatible with the rule of law.

Not only does the amendment provide to Kuehl compensation that the Supreme Court has decided was not due to her, the Prague-McDonald amendment also renders moot Kuehl’s lawsuit against Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder.

And here, in the post Rowland era, when politicians are supposed to have acquired a new sensitivity to possible conflicts of interest, difficulties arise.

The Koskoff family is solidly connected to the Democratic Party – Charlotte Koskoff ran against U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson in 1996 and came within a whisker of beating her – and members of the firm and family have generously contributed to specific politicians, among whom are Prague and McDonald, authors of what Highet calls “the Koskoff Clause.”

In a report that preceded Highet’s column, the Advocate disclosed that “Michael Koskoff and his colleagues together gave at least $1,150 to Sen. McDonald's campaign and $2,500 to Leadership in Action, a political action committee that receives contributions primarily from lawyers. It gave $5,000 to Prague's campaign last year… In addition, Michael Koskoff and other members of the firm have headed or served in various positions at the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, which endorsed the Senate bill that helps Rosalind Koskoff. They regularly give money to the association's PAC, which donates widely to candidates. In September the PAC gave $1,000 to McDonald's campaign — he is a trial lawyer and association member — and has donated to Prague in the past.”

McDonald claims that he did not know the people who were so generous to him in the past were being sued when he authored the “Koskoff Clause.” And Prague, unsparing in her condemnations of “that bum Rowland,” has been unusually silent on the question of conflicts of interest these days.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Able Danger Disabled by Concerned Democrats

The Able Danger disaster will soon be coming to a newspaper near you. Much of the information contained in this column can be found on various blog sites, both liberal and conservative, now crackling with the story. This is what is known so far about the brewing scandal:

• Able Danger, an intelligence unit established by the Pentagon in 1999 to identify al-Quada affiliated members and cells for U.S. Special Operations Command, hit pay dirt sometime in August or September of 2000. According to a military intelligence official and U.S. Rep Kurt Weldon, who claims to have spoken to four people involved with Able Danger, the intelligence unit identified Mohammed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi as members of an al-Quada cell named “Brooklyn” by the internet sleuths because of the cell’s loose connection with Brooklyn, New York. Atta and two other cell members went on to achieve notoriety by steering planes into the Trade Tower buildings in New York, killing upwards of 3,000 Americans.

• The analysts recommended that the information they had gathered from internet sites by a process called “data mining from open sources” – along with a photograph of Atta, the mastermind of 9/11 – be passed along to the FBI so that the members of the cell could be rounded up.

• According to accounts written in the New York Times and the Associated Press, pentagon lawyers determined that anyone possessing a green card had to be given the same legal protections afforded U.S. citizens; therefore the information assembled by Able Danger could not be shared with the FBI. This determination was in accord with a policy established in 1995 by President Bill Clinton’s Assistant Attorney General Jamie Gorelik. The policy, since dismantled by the Patriot Act, placed a wall between intelligence gatherers and law enforcement officials, directing both to exceed what the law demanded to keep both functions separated, a prohibition that should not have applied to the Brooklyn cell since its members were in the country on visas and did not have permanent resident status.

• Gorelik, chiefly responsible for the erection of an informational Berlin Wall, was a member of the commission. Her own political interests could not have been advanced by the inclusion of the information excluded in the report.

• The Sept. 11 commission looked into the matter, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, but chose not to include the information in its final report, apparently because time line data concerning Atta’s presence in the United States supplied by the military investigators attached to Able Danger did not mesh with the time line information accepted by the commission.

• Important critical details recently have been disputed by members of the commission. A statement recently released by commission members noted that the committee had interviewed the military officer who reported he had seen Atta’s name and photo recorded in an analyst’s notebook chart in 2,000. The interviewee, the commissioners noted, “said he had only seen the document briefly some years earlier. The interviewee had no documentary evidence, and The Department of Defense documents had mentioned nothing about Atta, nor had anyone come forward between September 2001 and July 2004 with any similar information. He could not describe what information had led to this supposed Atta identification. Nor could the interviewee recall, when questioned, any details about how he thought a link to Atta could have been made by this DOD program in 2000 or any time before 9/11. Weighing this with the information about Atta’s actual activities, the negligible information available about Atta to other U.S. government agencies and the German government before 9/11, and the interviewer’s assessment of the interviewee’s knowledge and credibility, the Commission staff concluded that the officer’s account was not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.”

The conflicting claims no doubt will be sifted and adjusted by relevant agencies, and eventually the truth will emerge. But important unanswered questions ought to be answered, foremost among them:

• Did the military lawyers who intervened to stop the flow of information involve their superiors in making such decisions? It strains credulity to believe that legal functionaries would not have passed on information collected by Able Danger to Secretary of Defense William Cohen, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger or Richard Clarke, President Bill Clinton’s chief advisor on counterterrorism.

Apprised of the new information concerning the monitoring of al-Quada that had been available during the Clinton administration, the September 11 Advocates, a group of politically active widows of the Twin Tower workers murdered by Atta, professed they were “horrified” to learn of the existence of evidence undisclosed by the 9/11 commission.

"The revelation of this information,” the group said in a letter, “demands answers that are forthcoming, clear and concise," the statement said. "The Sept. 11 attacks could have and should have been prevented."
Amen to that.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

God Save The Court: No One Else Can

The few sentences that follow below were selected almost at random from a commentary on Judge John Roberts, whose nomination to the U S Supreme Court, we are told by the commentator, “has reignited the controversy over faith and the confirmation process… From everything that has been reported so far, Roberts looks eminently qualified for the high court. His record paints a picture of a temperamentally moderate jurist who would be very unlikely to challenge precedent in the name of ideology, or to use his public position to advance his personal values. But what if there was a nominee who showed less restraint? Would that candidate's beliefs still be out of bounds for questioning as long as they were religious in nature?”

Now, the first thing we should notice in this commentary is the author’s use of the devil word “ideology. Is religion an ideology? If it is an ideology, and if it is the only ideology not to be permitted to inform the decisions of Supreme Court justices, have we not given an unjust advantage to other competing ideologies, such as atheism, feminism and secularism?

The current beef with Roberts is not over ideology or a disposition to violate precedent. It is Robert’s religion, Roman Catholicism, that has become a problem for political interest groups who wish to maintain the status quo.

Commentators who only recently have become frighteningly conservative on the matter of precedent, most especially the recent precedent set by the Supreme Court when it overthrew state statutes banning abortion, cannot plausibly claim that the weight of precedent should make it impossible for judges to display their ideologies in their written opinions. Supreme Court justices are far more ideological on this score – but, one supposes, less religious – than ministers and priests.

There is nothing wrong with permitting one’s personal or religious values to inform judicial and political decisions. When Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion in Roe v Wade, could not find a clear sanction in the US Constitution to overthrow centuries of legal precedent banning abortion, he deduced what amounted to a “privacy right” from constitutional penumbras formed by emanation discovered only a few years earlier by the court. Blackmun proceeded to interpret his fictional constitutional “text” in such a way as to provide reasonable grounds for ringing in the era of abortion on demand. The personal values of pro-abortionists certainly were advanced by the decision.

Now, whatever one may think of Blackmun’s interpretive methods – and some honest-to-God liberals insisted at the time that Blackmun’s interpretation was, to put it politely, all wet – there can be no disagreement that Blackmun’s decision was the work of an ideologue who certainly was not on friendly terms with legal precedent. The so called “ideologues” in the Catholic Church – Catholics call them theologians and philosophers -- have been far less bold than Brenner.

Can we be honest?

Roe v Wade and a companion decision that together provided abortion on demand are not ancient precedents. They are barely newborn: The umbilical cord on these precedents is still visible. The political interests groups that support abortion on demand only recently have become comfortable with legal precedent because they do not wish justices who may be as ideological as Blackmun, though more conservative in their constitutional interpretation, to overthrow what they perceive to be their settled interests.

The current problems with nominees to the Supreme Court arise from a clash of political interests. Despite the usual comforting chatter about the separation of church and state, there is nothing in the U. S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the deduced “penumbra of rights” surrounding the constitution that would reduce to second class citizens Catholics who wish to practice their faith while in office.

While all ideas certainly are not equal, the terrain upon which the battle for ideas are fought should be level, and persons embracing ideas stigmatized as “religious” should not be barred from the contest.

The real problem – which will remain unless it is boldly confronted – is rooted in the changing nature of the Supreme Court. Appellate courts have become engines of social change, which in democracies is necessarily a political rather than a judicial function; that is to say, it is a function that can only properly be performed by the representatives of the people, who may discharge those who displease them.

Alexander Hamilton said in the Federalist that the courts could not substitute their pleasure to that of the legislative body because they were constitutionally empowered to exercise their judgment rather than their will.

Given the inflated powers of the court, Hamilton’s notion seems quaint. If it were true, not even Sen. Edward Kennedy would trouble himself over the nomination of Supreme Court justices. The fire that now scorches the heads of Supreme Court nominees has been brought down upon them by the excesses of past justices.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Rell The Reformer

Though she was Lieutenant Governor in former Governor John Rowland’s administration, Governor Jodi Rell has managed to position herself as a reformer, a marvel to opposition Democrats. Leaders in the dominant opposition party look upon Rell as a puritan in petticoats. But the governor has trumped the Democrats on ethics, and her critics are not marveling too loudly.

There is some reason to believe that the amusingly frantic concern for ethical behavior among state politicians when Rowland almost daily was being turned on a media spit for several months has waned since the former governor, an annoying threat to Democratic hegemony, had been removed from office.

The tepid reaction of leading Democrats to the FBI investigation of state Sen. Ernest E. Newton suggests a nostalgic desire for a return to business as usual. The Newton case eerily parallels Rowland’s downward spiral. Newton is accused of accepting a $5,000 bribe from Warren Godbolt, the executive director of Progressive Training Associates in Bridgeport, a payment intended to purchase Newton’s aid in procuring a $100,000 grant from the State Bond Commission to renovate Godbolt’s headquarters.

Godbolt only recently pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy to embezzlement charges -- six months after the scandal had first surfaced in the press. During this period, Republicans had been beseeching Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams to remove Newton as deputy president pro tem, but their earnest entreaties had fallen on deaf partisan ears.

Newton’s Democrat friends in high places have been biting their swelling tongues for months. Even after Godbolt’s guilty plea, Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan, a persistent critic of Rowland and one of Newton’s mentors and friends, declined to comment, though he has had a little over 4,000 hours to think of something clever to say.

The governor’s popularity ratings are driving the opposition batty. With the juicy Rowland scandal in hand, Democrats had a veritable bazooka to blow up Republican gubernatorial prospects. Yet, Rell has been able to dodge the missiles. So far, none of the muck attaching to Rowland has stuck to Rell.

The media seems favorably disposed towards the governor, perhaps because she has taken care to wave liberal flags in the air: Rell supports campaign finance reform and civil unions. She has deemed “reasonable” a hike in the minimum wage and at one point seemed willing to consider a millionaire’s tax, the third rail of Republican politics, causing both Democrats and Republicans to gag on a spoon.

The watchword of moderate Republican governors in Connecticut, out numbered and out financed in the legislature by opposition Democrats, has been compromise, half a loaf being more nourishing than no loaf at all. The problem with premature compromise as a strategy is that the political undertow in the state pushes all the players off center to the left. Opposition Democrats prefer opening any negotiating session with a demand for the whole loaf. And if the Republican Party – weak and ineffective -- surrenders half a loaf before negotiations have begun, they end up with crumbs. Then too, if you are a compromise prone governor, every attempt at conciliation softens and deflates the resolve of your political base.

Rell’s poll numbers are being driven upwards by, among other things, her uncompromising attitude towards ethics reform – not her willingness to give way on issues dear to the heart of Democrats who, not so long ago, were crying from the rooftops for Rowland’s political execution, but who now suffer in embarrassing silence when one of their own finds himself in a tumbril traveling towards the guillotine.

The lesson that voters are likely to draw from Rell’s resolute stand on ethics reform is that resolve equals seriousness, a message fatal to Democrats who use compromise as a castration device. Democrats have not been willing to extend the standard for ethics they supported during the Rowland scandal beyond gubernatorial precincts because, most people are beginning to realize, they wanted to use the scandal as a crowbar to wedge Republicans from the executive office. Democrats already own most other centers of power and influence in Connecticut politics.

Republican resolution – which, when you come to think of it, is pretty much the opposite of compromise and conciliation – presents a danger to Democratic hegemony. Parties are not built up through compromise. The centrifugal force of principles is the generative center of parties. Democrats have nothing to fear from a Republican governor inclined to go along to get along – as long as the usual power brokers are in the driver’s seat plotting the travel route. What Democrats fear most is a resurgence of Republican principles that may be more enticing to voters than the political snake oil routinely peddled by both parties in Connecticut.

It is not Rell’s success in compromise that is giving the opposition mind cramps. It is the dread suspicion that there is a stiff spine somewhere concealed behind the petticoat.