Sunday, April 30, 2006

Out of the Mouths of Bloggers: or Who, Whom?

Here is a little back-and-forth between two anonymous bloggers, ctkeith and Genghis Conn, on a popular Connecticut blog.


ctkeith said...

GC Wrote,
“What's interesting about this is that in the past, Rell has been able to make compromises break her way. Stem cells, civil unions, public funding of campaigns and even the recent transportation bill have somehow ended up making the governor look good.”


Can you tell me which one of those issues made REPUBLICANS happy?

11:56 PM, April 29, 2006
Genghis Conn said...

To Republican partisans and social conservatives? None of them. In fact, most of the Republicans in the legislature didn't support those initiatives.

Legislative Republicans are irrelevant, and Rell doesn't really care what social conservatives think. This leaves her trying to pass her own agenda all by herself. She may be most effective when she's proposing compromises to Democratic plans.


That exchange pretty much says everything needful about Rell, compromise, the Republican Party, and the nature of reporting in Connecticut.

Most reporters in Connecticut would agree with ctkeith that Rell’s positions on stem cell research, civil unions, public funding of campaigns were arrived at by way of compromise. Gengis Conn lodges an objection: Look, he says, Republican partisans and legislators supported none of these positions. But legislative Republicans, a dwindling minority, are irrelevant, and Rell doesn’t really care what social conservatives think. So, she is trying to pass her own agenda all by herself. And then Gengis Conn adds: “She may be most effective when she's proposing compromises to Democratic plans.”

What do the words “effective” and “compromise” mean in this context?

Now, a compromise is an arrangement between two disputants both of whom give a little to get a little. As titular head of the party, Rell presumably represents the interests of Republicans, while Democrat leaders in the House and Senate represent the interests of Democrats. If Rell gave way to Democrats on the matters mentioned – stem cell research, etc. -- certainly her position on these issues cannot be described as a compromise: At least on these issues, she gave to Democrats everything they wanted and received nothing in return. “Surrender” might be an more accurate word to describe this transaction.

But, Gengis Conn says, since legislative Republicans are unimportant, and since Rell does not care what social conservatives think, she finds herself alone on the wine-dark political sea attempting to fashion an agenda all by herself . And, Gengis Conn adds, She may be most effective when she's proposing compromises to Democratic plans.

What meaning should we here attach to the word “effective?” If Rell’s service as titular head of her party lies only in her ability to edit Democrat plans, in what sense is she effective?

Effective for what – other than accomplishing Democrat Party goals? And effective for whom?

Friday, April 28, 2006

Zarella in the Dock

The nomination of Judge Peter Zarella as Chief Justice of Connecticut’s Supreme Court was seriously compromised when retiring Chief Justice William Sullivan held up the publication of a decision the release of which, Sullivan apparently thought, might harm Zarella’s prospects. The case itself meandered through the usual judicial maze before the Supreme Court rendered an en-banc decision that some case information should not be made available to the media through Freedom of Information petitions.

It should be noted that the media does have a dog in this fight. The champions of open government cannot be expected to approve final court decisions that authorize the withholding of information. In calling upon Governor Jodi Rell to nominate someone else – anyone else but Judge Zarella -- for the post of Chief Justice, a Hartford newspaper advised that the governor should promote someone who “has an unwavering commitment to open government.” This is an argument for degrading all the justices who supported the court’s majority decision – not just Zarella. And it is a somewhat contradictory position for an institution to take that would rather have its employees serve time in jail than surrender information concerning reporter’s sources and raw notes to courts that need the information to render just decisions during trials.

Big media recently lauded Senator Chris Dodd for writing a bill exempting reporters from the obligations of ordinary citizens to give relevant and necessary testimony at trial, an extraordinary privilege that should be opposed by the entire judiciary, even though their opposition would not be effective. Judges are not in the position of providing good press for senators, and professional politicians like Dodd certainly know what side their bread is buttered on. Having delivered such a boon to the media, how can anyone trust the grateful recipients of such a favor to report unfavorably on their beneficiary?

Transparency in government should be the general rule; the fear that someone somewhere may be watching is an indispensable aid to truthfulness and integrity in government. But there is no rule on earth, Cardinal John Henry Newman used to say, to which there is not at least one exception, and the quarrel between the Supreme Court majority and the media over a majority decision that Zarella had approved is a quarrel over exceptions. The court decided that some case information could not be made available to the media through petitions filed with the Freedom of Information Council; such information, the court said, could only be made available through suits grounded in First Amendment rights.

This dispute between the media and the court should have no bearing on Sullivan’s inept attempt to shove under the judicial bed Zarella’s favorable vote in a majority opinion. If it can be shown that Zarella conspired with Sullivan to conceal from the legislature important information bearing upon his nomination, his nomination should not go forward. But a favorable vote on Zarella’s nomination should not turn on a decision he supported that did not find favor with newspaper editors and journalists.

Rell’s response to Sullivan’s farcical attempt at politicking is refreshingly sane. The governor has said that Sullivan was wrong. But before Sullivan’s sins are visited upon the heads of possibly blameless jurists, shouldn’t everyone wait until the relevant authorities hear all the facts and make a just determination? Connecticut is not yet the Wonderland of Alice, and none of us is the Queen of Hearts: “First the verdict,” says the imperious queen, “then the trial.”

Those who believe that the only thing the courts have to fear about transparency is the fear of transparency itself certainly have made a strong case. Transparency allows the governed, the final architects of the shape and purpose of our government, to exercise their constitutional franchise. Shady and questionable deals usually are made in shadowy backrooms out of sight of the public. It is an open question how open the judicial department must be to satisfy the demands of democracy without eviscerating the courts and damaging other imprescriptible rights -- the right to a fair trial, for example – provided by the constitution.

A Supreme Court whose decisions are not determinative is a supreme court in name only. If the legislature were to invest the Freedom of Information Council with a power of veto over Supreme Court decisions, where would injured parties turn for justice when the council makes, as it may, a decision that unjustly injures a party involved in a dispute that the council has been called upon to adjudicate? Some Supreme Court justices worry about the answers to such question when they render decisions, and others do not.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Who Knew What When?

“While I cannot comment directly on Judge Zarella’s qualifications to serve as State Supreme Chief Justice – it is clear that Gov. Rell should not re-nominate him and that former Chief Justice Sullivan’s actions have irrevocably harmed the confirmation process. Additionally, the sudden resignation of Chief Justice Sullivan and Gov. Rell’s immediate nomination of Judge Zarella to replace him, have already been troubling. Those concerns were immediately compounded yesterday as it is now clear that Judge Sullivan’s acted to protect Judge Zarella’s nomination at a point in time prior to Gov. Rell even saying she knew there was a vacancy. Either Judge Sullivan or Gov. Rell don’t have their stories straight, either way this harkens back to a way of doing business that Connecticut residents thought they put behind them. They deserve better.”

This little missive is from gubernatorial hopeful John DeStefano, and it suggests that Democrats are fully prepared to turn the nominating process for Judge Zarella into an Alito moment.

It is certain that retiring Supreme Court Chief Justice William Sullivan was attempting to grease the skids under Judge Peter Zarella when he withheld publication of a court decision that might have impeded the judge’s nomination. Zarella’s decision is easily defensible, particularly since the judge voted with the majority, and Sullivan’s ham-fisted attempt to ease the way for Zarella shows that the judiciary is not practiced in the ways of politics.

The question of the moment appears to be: Who knew what and when did they know it?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Thinking Dangerously

“Seeking to create more Connecticut jobs, “the lead line ran, “the state Senate voted unanimously Friday night for tax cuts for manufacturers and incentives for movie-production companies.”

The tax cuts for manufacturers and incentives for movie production companies, senators reasoned unanimously, were necessary because businesses in Connecticut are going south – no pun intended – and start struck legislators have realized that the best way to encourage start-up industries is to create a climate in which industries do not feel preyed upon by rapacious state governments.

For Connecticut, this is a revolutionary perception and a significant admission. Practically speaking, it means that the proclivity of our state legislature to tax everything that breaths is, as the film stars might say, a real drag: Less taxes good, more taxes bad.

Economists who graduate from one of our state’s ivory league colleges might put it this way, “Whatever you tax tends to disappear” – including state businesses and millionaires. And unfunded mandates, the labyrinthine regulatory structure favored by local in-the-closet socialists, count as taxes.

So, should we assume that state legislators have had a Damascus Road experience? May we now count them among he converted?

Don’t bet on it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Zarella and the Opposition

Judge Peter Zarella, nominated by Governor Jodi Rell to be the next Chief Justice of Connecticut’s Supreme Court, begins his masterful disquisition on the separation of powers doctrine, printed in the Connecticut Bar Journal under the title “Judicial Independence at a Crossroad,” with a quote from Robert Frost: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Frost, like Walt Whitman before him, first gorged himself on all things American before spewing out his poetic pearls; and with either poet it may truly be said that little from sea to shining sea was beyond their ken. Some of Frost’s poems are shockingly political; others, like “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” are allegories that outline the central truths of the American experience.

One has the same feeling reading Zarella’s “Judicial Independence at the Crossroad.” Everything American and familiar is here: Montesquieu on the laws; John Locke, the tutor of the founders who established our tri-partite form of government and thereby destroyed the possibility of tyranny; Hamilton on the independence of the judiciary; Jefferson and Alexis de Tocqueville; other political luminaries and former Chief Justice of Connecticut’s Supreme Court Ellen Ash Peters, who thought that the “functional blurring of the lines of executive, legislative and judicial power” might erode the authority of judges as independent judgers of fact.

Zarella begins his paper on the separation of powers doctrine with a worry expressed by Peters. The lady fretted that the independence of the judiciary would suffer from legislative and executive department accretions. The more the courts take on functions that overleap the bright constitutional boundary lines that separates judicial from legislative and executive responsibilities, the less independent and the more prone to conflicts of interest the courts must become.

These changes, Zarella warns, will affect the practice of the judiciary. They are not theoretical problems; they are sticks of cordite placed at the very cornerstone of judicial independence and threaten to politicize a department of government that, till now, has been respected by politicians, the media and the people, the final preservers and maintainers of constitutional government.

Citing Adams v. Rubinow, Zarella writes that “an
assignment by the General Assembly to the judiciary of a nonjudicial function will be unconstitutional under the following circumstances: (1) if the act requires a judge to perform a nonjudicial function in his or her judicial role; (2) if the assigned nonjudicial function unreasonably interferes with the performance of judicial duties; or (3) if the assigned function does not reasonably relate to the function of the judiciary.”

That passage was bound to catch the eyes of members of the General Assembly many of whom prefer that judges, rather than legislators or members of the executive department, should perform difficult functions that are legislative or executive by nature.

Under a constitutionally permissible apportionment of duties and responsibilities, Zarella writes, there is sound reason to believe that the following functions should not be administered by the judicial department: “the operation of juvenile detention facilities, the civil enforcement of child support obligations, victim advocacy, the operation of alternate incarceration centers, the administration of the alternative sanctions programs, and the transportation of incarcerated defendants between correctional centers and courthouses,” while “probation and bail … should be scrutinized to determine whether their retention within the Branch unreasonably interferes with its central purpose.”

The good fence that surrounds the judicial department is a combination of a constitutional grant of powers and a settled impression in the mind of the public that judges are fit to judge objectively and disinterestedly because they are not tainted by conflicts of interest.

In the last few decades the General Assembly has compromised both the separation of powers doctrine and the public’s impression of judicial disinterest by assigning to the judiciary functions and powers that belong elsewhere. It is only a matter of time before the judiciary is compromised by scandals involving serious conflicts of interest. When that happens, Zarella’s remarks will have served as sufficient warning.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

On Force and Compromise

When is a compromise not a compromise? There are two answers to this question: 1) When the Hartford Courant says it is a compromise; and 2) when compromise is impossible.

Examples of the impossibility of compromise abound. For instance, if the Courant were compelled by a judge to reveal a source of information whose testimony was sought at trial, the paper would resist the order as a matter of principle. No compromise would be possible. The Courant would not yield to the variety of forces that could be brought to bear against it. Papers that cannot provide anonymity to their sources are not long for this world.

The Catholic Church regards abortion as a moral disorder and a crime against canon law. Any attempt to compel the church to allow abortion in any of its facilities would be resisted, and compromise on the point would be impossible.

So, when the Courant editorialized recently, “We had hoped Roman Catholic hospitals would find a way to provide emergency contraception known as Plan B to rape victims without being forced to do so by the legislature,” some Catholics drew a deep breath. Apparently, the paper’s hope had been dashed. Would the Courant now support legislative force to compel the Catholic Church to violate its view of the moral order and its own cannon laws?

In the Courant’s view, compromise – or at least the kind of compromise the paper and anti-Catholic legislators want – is impossible.

“Hospitals that get public funds, as all four of Connecticut's Catholic hospitals do, owe rape victims a full range of emergency care,” the Courant advised. But why not be clear? The paper is saying that Catholic hospitals do not presently provide Plan B pills to rape victims who are pregnant or ovulating. “A more restrictive change in church policies,” the paper says, “was instituted in January by Hartford Archbishop Henry Mansell and Bishop William Lori of the Bridgeport Diocese. Previously, Catholic hospitals could provide emergency contraception if the woman was not pregnant. The new policy requires that a pill be dispensed only if a woman is not ovulating.” By instituting this new and more restrictive policy, the bishop and arch-bishop “provoked” the legislature, which then produced two measures that deny funds to Catholic hospitals that did not, in the words of the editorial, “provide a full range of services” to its clients.

Let us leave aside for a moment the question of whether the Plan B pill is an aborticide if used when a woman is ovulating. The “full range of services” demanded by the Courant would seem to include ordinary abortions, legal in the United States at virtually any stage of pregnancy. Catholic hospitals do not provide this service. Should state funds be denied to Catholic Hospitals that withhold this service for religious reasons?

The Courant is silent on this question; but implicitly the paper’s answer to this question is "yes," because every argument so far made to force Catholic hospitals to provide Plan B pills to rape victims is also an argument that may be used in the future – or even now – to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions at any stage of pregnancy.

“Government,” George Washington said, “is force,” which is why he and the architects of the Republic created a system of government in which force is tempered by reason. Reason knows the difference between compromise and surrender. The editors at the Courant do not.

A bill to provide immunity from prosecution for reporters who defy court subpoenas is now snaking its way through the legislature. That bill, incidentally, takes all the glory out of civil disobedience. Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay a tax he knew would buy bullets to support an unjust war. Poor Henry never thought of lobbying the legislature to make him an exception to the rule. But even as the press in this state lobbies the legislature to immunize its reporters from the ordinary obligations of citizens to give truthful testimony at trial, the same press encourages legislators to form punitive laws that would force religious people to violate their consciences -- and they call this "compromise."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Lieberman Lamont Debate Worth Having

The beef about U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman is that he is out of touch with his constituents concerning the war in Iraq. The beefing comes mostly from bloggers who support Ned Lamont’s attempt to oust Lieberman in a Democrat primary, a few Democrat town committees that have drafted official rebukes, and a sizable chunk of Connecticut voters. President George Bush’s flagging poll numbers in Connecticut suggest a broad dissatisfaction with the Iraq war.

The anti-Iraq war contingent received an assist from an unlikely quarter recently when the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported that Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House that progressives love to hate, leapt off the burning deck, telling students at the University of South Dakota, "It was an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June of 2003. We have to pull back, and we have to recognize it."

Gingrich did not suggest a time table for the rug pull.

Fox news, the TV station progressives love to hate, has reported that Gingrich – now on the literary stump promoting his newest book, “"Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America" – might be available as a presidential candidate at some unspecified point in the future.

"For an Army brat from Pennsylvania who became the only Georgia Republican in the House and the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years,” Gingrich said, “anything seems possible. I don't think it's very likely. On the other hand, if I have an impact on public policy and do it in a way that is exciting and positive, why wouldn't I want to do that?"

It is only a matter of time before Gingrich’s remarks on the Iraq war begin to appear in anti-Joe Lieberman ads.

Verily, politics doth make strange bedfellows.

How much longer will Lieberman be able to hold out against the fierce political winds blowing against the war? Much of the opposition to Bush has centered upon the question when should the troops be withdrawn. Bush perhaps undercut his own stiff-necked position—Victory is not for sale at any price -- by presenting a scenario in which American troops will be replaced by Iraqi security forces at some point to be determined by his generals on the ground. Why not now, some Democrats asked; why not tomorrow; why not the day after tomorrow? Americans always will prefer certain victory to what President Richard Nixon used to call, during the Vietnam War rout, an “honorable withdrawal.” And if certain victory cannot be attained, well then …

Politics on the ground in Iraq suggests a bloody rout if American troops withdraw precipitously. Iraq always has been a nation of religious tribes held together by scotch tape, chewing gum and Saddam Hussein’s exquisite terrorist techniques. No one is certain whether tribal and religious loyalties will trump a nationalism in which democracy is little more than a promise. Not for nothing has Saddam been compared to Hitler and Stalin.

Add to the volatile political mix Bush’s lameduckerry and we have a recipe for massive failure in the Middle East. Conservative Republicans, positioning themselves for the next election, may be expected to return to their old ideological haunts. It was conservatives, in the rosy days of Reagan, who use to quote John Quincy Adams on American foreign policy to the effect that Americans are “friends of liberty everywhere but the guarantor and provisioner of ours alone.”

Progressives may be expected to use the outgoing president as a political piƱata in the next election – unless the gods of war surprise both conservatives and liberals by tilting the field in favor of liberty, justice and the good life in the Middle East. It is always easier to run against a president who is leaving the stage and cannot answer his critics.

And this brings us back to Lieberman. Can he do it? In a debate with anti-war warriors like Ned Lamont, can Lieberman prevail, when everyone else on the war ship is bailing? Ned Lamont and the anti-war warriors have studiously avoided answering what is perhaps the most important question: What are the likely consequences of an American failure in the Middle East for Europe and the United States? Americans are an intensely practical people. And practical people look to consequences; they want to know – what comes next?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Ghost Monologues: Caligula and Stalin



Hilliare Belloc’s advice to the rich – “Learn something about the internal combustion engine, and remember: Soon, you will die.”


Caligula




So, I have become a ghost, the nearest I shall ever be to a God again; for, in life, I was a God. Divinity, you know, is the highest form of politics. What is higher or nobler than a God? … But wait: Nobility has nothing to do with it, as if nobility and Godliness could ever share the same frame; a God is above that sort of thing … As a former Emperor – now, God and ghost – everything to me was permissible, and understandable. I comprehend by grasping my subject from the inside; nothing was alien to me. I am solid as earth now, though I know it does not seem so to you, because I know everything; I am in everything, and everything is in me. That is how I know; through a process of identity and self revelation. I become the thing I want to know – say, a tree, or a young boy, or a virgin – and then, at will, I revert to Godliness. You, on the other hand, seem very transparent to me. I’ll bet I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: He’s mad …Well, in a sense, you are right. What is permissible for the God is forbidden to men. There are borders; but God is he who transgresses all borders. And in my time, no God/Emperor – there were a few of them -- transgressed more lustily than I … That is all you need to know about God: He is opaque and impenetrable. Nothing can pierce His surface. And yet, He is accessible to men, glad, as they say, to be of service – for a price. And, of course, I – as God – set the price; it is my Godly prerogative. Madness is only Divinity by another name. When Dionysius entered men, he drove them mad, and they knew what it meant to participate in Godliness – much to their surprise … Some lessons come hard, others are hard. Men always think God favors them; pile sacrifices at His feet, and He will look favorably upon you. But God is other than you; the thing so large and so far above you it cannot be comprehended, which is why priests and prophets speak of God in a kind of storied poetry. Since God is ineffable, He must be worshipped … It was my responsibility, while I lived, to convince men that God was not for them; nor was he against them. He was merely indifferent to men. And so, penetrated by God, I was also indifferent to men. One day, I would be laughing with them; the next day, I would have them for my supper. Ah, you understand me! God the cannibal! I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: He is mad … But we’ve been through that. Anyway, all this must bore you. You moderns have gotten away from God, and He, always a slippery fellow, has gotten away from you. You are hiding from each other, playing hide-and-seek, as children sometimes do. You have become practical atheists; perhaps it is better so. You do not know God, and he does not know you. I was a corrective to my time and place. I became God so that men would know God. So, you want God, I said to my fellow men: I’ll give you God, Goddammit! … There is no one like me in your universe, though there have been poor carbon copies. Your world, however, is not much different than mine. Do you know how modern Rome was? Just for a minute, forget all the foreign elements, the window-dressing of the culture that haunts and misleads you, and think of Rome as a modern empire: We had armies, you have armies; we had marriages and divorces – too many divorces -- you have marriages and divorces; we had abortion and infanticide, you have abortion and … not infanticide yet, but you are steadily progressing and some day you will have it; we had condominiums, you have condominiums; we had a plague of lawyers, you have a plague of lawyers; senates, lobbyists, contractors corrupting senators; senators corrupting contractors; publicists, engorged political commentators, queers, actors, musicians, mimes, disturbed artists, drug dealers, witches, savants, priests, even tender young lovers, troublemakers of all sorts – we had them all. And you have them too … Are we so very different then? If you had looked out your condo window on a bright Monday morning in ancient Rome, and saw attorney Livio pounding up the pavement heading to his office near the government complex to file a brief for the widow Rostia, carrying in his hand a laptop computer, breathing heavily – for he had been neglecting his workouts at the gym – and dressed in the height of fashion, splendidly attired in , let’s say, a Pal Zileri suit and a Zenia tie – would you not think you were in any large city in Europe or America, circa 2006? … So then, it is the funny robes that make the man -- and the era too. It is the dress and improvements in technology that puts distance – You call it history – between Caligula the God and, shall we say, Senator Edward Kennedy, about whom your social critic, Gore Vidal, once said, “I do not mind Kennedy; every state should have at least one Caligula.” Thanks, Gore a’preciate it … Distance! So very important! One does not want to get too close to a God, an era or an emperor. That is why I have come to you dressed this way (He appears in modern suit, very conventional), so as to abolish the alienating distance between us. You have a saying: “Don’t be a stranger.” Well now, am I so very strange in these well fitting clothes? I know what you are thinking: You are thinking – he is mad. But we’ve been through all that … Of the twelve Caesars of Rome, I am the one least hedged round by firm facts; though, God knows, rumors abound. It has become accepted lore, through that notorious scold Suetonius, that I thought of nominated my horse to the Senate. But Incitatus was a very bright horse, much more patriotic – and, I may say, less ambitious – than the average senator. And why not a horse to keep company with the horse’s asses? Oh, what I suffered. You don’t know the half of it. Rome was a dead Republic long before I became emperor. In my time, there was no one living who knew the glorious Republic, except in their diseased imaginations. But the Republic had always been an emotive idea, very popular among the people. The Republic, the Republic, the Republic – the Res Publica Romanorum, assassinated long ago by ambition and of necessity. It lasted from the overthrow of the monarchy in 510 BC until Julius Cesar and Octavian put an end to the business in 44 BC. But the Republic was buried with the corpses of the Gracchi brothers a hundred years earlier. After them, mobs and money ruled Rome. It was this corrupted Republic, rotten from the inside out, that turned to Cesar for order and peace. And it was Cesar who delivered to the people of Rome the Republican reforms of the Gracchi -- a Republic, one popular Roman actor friend declared, without the bother of a Republican government. First Julius, then Octavius – then Caligula, the God. It was an inevitable logical development, though some people, taking the libels of Suetonius as fact, persist in thinking me mad. But I was an honest to god God, without subterfuge. Gods must not stand on ceremony with their worshippers. The movement from Cesar to God is not a lateral one; it is an upward thrust that necessarily must change the nature of things. When God appears, dead nature blooms. Before my time, Caesars used to parade themselves before the public as Princeps, “equals among men.” But, in fact, they were far removed from the common folk and simply pretended to be ordinary so as not to alarm those below them, who were more numerous and collectively powerful. Since the death of the Gracchi, Rome was moved only by organized mobs. “Let them hate,” I said, “so long as they fear.” And they feared me – because I ruled by contraries, in the manner of a God. And what does a God have to do with men? God moves men by terror and love. So, to be a God is something different than to be an emperor; and an emperor is different than a Princeps, an “equal among equals.” To be God is to be other. Augustus Cesar established the Cult of the Deified Emperor and promoted it, especially in the new colonies in the Western Empire. Augustus, however, always insisted that he was not divine. The Cult worshiped his numen – What would you people call it? – the personal spirits surrounding him, and his gens, the spirit of his family and ancestors. The Cult of the Deified Emperor languished under Tiberius and came to full flower only under my hand. I made the temple of Castor and Polix in the Forum a part of the Imperial Palace. There I appeared on occasion in a Godly form, magnificently dressed. You cannot tell from my present appearance how awesome I was. My religious policy spread like fire throughout the empire. I replaced the heads of the statues of the Gods at Rome with my own, including, of course, the female deities. The people groveled appropriately and worshipped me, not merely in spirit but in truth; not merely some idea of me, but me myself – in the flesh. Judea, as usual, resisted. A plan to place a statue of myself as Zeus in the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple at Jerusalem was stalled by the Syrian governor. And Herod Agrippa forecasted riots here in Rome and an insurrection in Judea should my plan go forward. Who needs riots? Since the demise of the Republic, only mobs and money move Rome. And on the point of my deification, it was necessary that Rome remain immovable. I know what you are thinking: He is mad … Rumors and half-baked truths swirled furiously around me. Some said I was mad; these I disposed of. Others whispered I had suffered a mental collapse because I had lived a reclusive life before being thrust on the public stage. Like an actor coming into the foreground from a twilight background, the bright lights of empire and notoriety wounded my mind. Well, reclusive – yes. When one is hunted as a child, in constant danger of death and destruction, one tends to prefer invisibility and solitude. One wants to disappear into the background, or go masked like an actor. Others said I was brilliant, disposing of a sometimes caustic and cruel wit. Philo of Alexandria, the philosopher, was of this mind. Caligula was mad; no, Caligula was a vicious jokester; he was dissolute, arrogant, egotistical, cuttingly witty … So it went. God has many faces but escapes all attempts to imprison him in terrestrial categories. Speaking of jokesters, the comic genius Aristophanes, a real gadfly, once was rebuked by an offended and pious patron. Said the furious patron – who likely was politically connected – “Don’t you take anything seriously?” Aristophanes replied, “Of course, my fine fellow: I take comedy seriously.” In the same way, I took divinity seriously – and found myself utterly alone in an ocean of agnostics. I was serious, you understand, about my Godly prerogatives, which were limitless. Emperors – and still more Gods – are bound only by the limits they impose upon themselves. Is this madness? I think it is extreme sanity. Other emperors before me had plumbed the extent of their powers; only I realized it … My death was disappointingly pedestrian to me. The emperor Tiberius had left Rome very much in the black. I blew through this public fortune quickly, recovered from the Senate some of the imperial powers ceded to it by Tiberius – quite the Republican, Tiberius -- expanded the imperial court, and grievously disappointed the people. I gave them everything but one thing. They had bread and circuses; they wanted a Republic. The people had been spoon-fed the notion that the Republic inhered in the senate, which had become, by my time, thoroughly corrupt. “How I wish,” some near contemporaries misquoted me, “their heads were mounted in one neck; so that with one swift blow of the sword, I could decapitate them all.” Fantasies are often more fruitful than truths, and the Romans, it must be said, were never comfortable with Divine prerogatives. Most of all, they wanted to believe that their emperor was, like them, an “equal among equals.” Other emperors had encouraged this fantasy. So … at 37 years of age, I, Caligula the God, was murdered by officers of the Praetorian Guard, it has been said, for purely personal reasons. What a joke! Cassius Chaerea, joined by others, did the deed. Suetonius, who sometimes told the truth, claims Cassius had been stung by my caustic wit and nursed in his shrunken soul a suitable revenge. We had known each other since infancy. How ironic that it was my many attempts to put the two of us on the same footing – my joking – that finally did me in. In the service of his country, Chaerea had suffered an unfortunate wound in his genitallia. Whenever Chaerea was on duty, I gave out the watchwords “Priapus,” which means “erection,” or Venus,” Roman slang indicating a “eunuch.” Late in January, Chaerea requested the watchword of me, and I responded as usual. I had been addressing an acting troupe of young men. Enraged, Chaerea struck the first blow, and before my German guard could respond, the other conspirators quickly moved in and slew me. They carved me up good. Another conspirator, Cornelius Sabinus, murdered my wife and disposed of my infant daughter by smashing her skull against a wall. I had become emperor at thirty-seven, and was ghosted after nine short years. The good die young, don’t they?

It was revenge that killed the God, the pedestrian snit of a former school chum. Can you believe it? We Romans love our revenge more than life itself; a dish, it is said, better served cold. And it is this emotion, coiled in the heart like a serpent, that explains everything you need to know about the God Caligula, whose life went by contraries.



An Afterword by Chaerea


Don’t believe a word that bitch says. It’s true he lived his life by contraries – because he was perverse. He was always so, even as a young frightened boy. And it’s true that those in Rome who often claimed to be Republicans were no friends of the Republic; a Republic would have swept the whole lot of them into the dustbin. And that bit about revenge – too true. Of all of us, Caligula was the most artful in his vengeance. Vengeance is the justice of the powerless. But Caligula was not powerless, and his vengeance was not just. The very fact that it was not just was to him a spur and a permission. There was no bar he would not cross; his only friends were sycophants and actors. But what is an actor? A mask, an empty vessel, a significant gesture. How he acted! What a show he put on! Vengeance was his audience, Rome his theatre. Two things you must know about Caligua: First, that he was a sublime actor; second, that he told the truth, and told it in such a way that no one would believe him.


Stalin




Khrushchev, that clown, ruined everything. (He wiggles his little finger) With this little finger, I could have destroyed him … if I had not died. The tragedy of my life was that I died. Listen to him, this clown, bloviating to the 20th Party Congress in 1956 on the Personality Cult and its Consequences. (He reads from the speech): “We have to consider seriously and analyze correctly this matter in order that we may preclude any possibility of a repetition in any form whatever of what took place during the life of Stalin, ... who practiced brutal violence, not only toward everything which opposed him, but also toward that which seemed, to his capricious and despotic character, contrary to his concepts. Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Whoever opposed these concepts or tried to prove his [own] viewpoint and the correctness of his [own] position was doomed to removal from the leadership collective and to subsequent moral and physical annihilation." … Brutal violence, eh? The sniveling little turd. We used to make Nikita dance for us. I’d call him on the phone, usually late at night. Well you know, when you got a call from Stalin, you were instantly apprehensive. “What does the ogre want me for?” They knew that Stalin, the man of steel, rarely called to chit-chat. “Nikita, we need you here.” And so his roundness would scurry over. “Nikita, dance for us.” And then, after we had our fun with him, we’d all settle down to watch a gangster movie from Hollywood. Everyone would breathe a sign of relief; at least this night won’t end for me in the Lubyanka … Every great country should have a Hollywood and a Lubyanka. With a proper propaganda instrument and an effective rack, I could have ruled the world. But this Khrushchev: There was always something odd about him – his eyes; they were not stone dead. Behind them was a little shiver of joy. Even when he danced, in his humiliation, his eyes danced too. Now, Lavrentiya Beriya had the eyes of a dead fish. He was a competent administrator too, a flawed revolutionary. The true revolutionary, the indispensable foot soldier -- not the always disposable theoretician – is like one of those Russian boxes within boxes; you open one that reveals another inside, and yet another inside that – mystery within mystery. It is proper for the Father of his people to present a mysterious face to his children. No man willingly becomes the servant of the thing he knows, because as soon as you know something, you attain mastery over it. Mystery – capriciousness, some people called it – and terror, always terror, were my true ministers of state. The people, busy about their lives, will always be easy to control; I never once worried about them. But these viperous theoreticians represented a danger to me and to the Soviet State. I dealt with them … capriciously. Trotsky, that blockhead, I dispatched by sending an assassin to Mexico, where he was hiding out, awaiting an opportunity. Trotsky went there to escape this (He wiggles his little finger), but our assassin found him and parted his hair with an ice axe. Tito, on the other hand, survived the assassins we sent to Yugoslavia. None of them were successful. One day I received a note from Tito. Comrade Stalin, it said, if you send one more assassin here, I will send to Moscow one man with one pistol and one bullet – and he will not fail. Who needed that? A most unaccommodating man was Tito. We tossed him out of the Cominform. But after I died, he snuck in through a back window, with Khrushchev’s blessing. Trotsky’s assassin was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison in Mexico for 20 years; then, in 1953, ten years after the assassination, his true identity was discovered. His NKVD connections had remained hidden until after the fall of the Soviet Union. Can you imagine? Now, that assassin was a formidable revolutionary: Tell him to go and he goes; tell him to come and he comes … Ah, it was wonderful to be alive before the walls came crashing down – at least for me. We hid everything in broad daylight; no one noticed. We knew how to shut up and, more importantly, how to shut others up – even Westerners not entirely committed to the Soviet vision. If you want to know how it is possible to tuck under a rug a few million corpses without anyone noticing the lump, ask Khrushchev, my man in Ukraine during the famine and subsequent purges that followed in the 30’s and 40’s. Of course, I have no right to cry “hypocrite” in connection with all this. But it would be criminal of me not to mention that Khrushchev, who denounced me for brutal crimes committed against certain anti-soviet elements, was my primary instrument of destruction in Ukraine. And what an efficient turd he was! How proficiently he set about the business of destroying his own back yard! Khrushchev’s parents, you know, were agricultural peasants in Ukraine. He was never able entirely to kick the clogs of dirt from his shoes. He was barely literate until he reached manhood, though few regarded him as stupid. No man who crawls over so many corpses to become Premier of the Soviet Union may be called stupid. Let’s see: I have a list here of Krushchev’s casualties in Ukraine. (Reading from a report) “Human deaths, 4,800,000; livestock dead, 5,300,000 horses, 8,600,000 cattle, 7,000,000 swine …” – not a bad job. Pity the swine did not include Krushchev. That is what it took in the golden years of the Soviet Union to subdue nations clinging by their bloody fingertip to outmoded forms; for there was no question that the future was our. All this earned me the title: “Stalin, Breaker of Nations.” Krushchev was more modestly known as “The Butcher of Ukraine.” We waded through oceans of blood together, Krushchev and I – Beriya too. In the end, I also became a victim. Me, can you believe it? Krushchev and Beriya had learned their lessons well. They got me with rat poison; poetic justice, some said. And then Krushchev got Beriya. More poetic justice. The Soviet Union stumbled forward under Krushchev’s stewardship; he was followed by others, each softer and more merciful than his predecessor, and finally it ended in that swamp of sympathy -- Michael Gorbachov… Terror, terror and fear were the cross joists of our structure. Remove them and the whole edifice was bound to collapse. Before me there were other Russians who inspired fear; believe me, Ivan the Terrible was no slouch in this regard. But none used terror so efficiently. During the famine in Ukraine, there was an Englishman in Moscow who I thought understood me. “Watch Stalin,” he said to the West, “he’ll yoke the peasants to the plows” -- to accomplish my Five Year Plan. And later, visiting his friends in the United States, some of whom were queasy about the number of corpses upon which the Five Year Plan was built, he’d say, “Well, you can’t make omelets without breaking eggs.” I liked that. But the Plan was a convenient mask. So long as Stalin was pulling Russia into the 20th century by its long beard, the West seemed to understand well enough. And then there was the depression, which helped to draw people’s attention away from the work of revolution. Really -- we got away with murder. Apologists popped out of the Western woodwork; one could see that enlightened opinion was with us. We hid everything in plain sight; no one saw. People see what they want to see. In the West, they saw Stalin fighting Hitler, and forgot all about the pact we had formed with the Fuehrer, which was easily repudiated. Over here of course, the people saw what we wanted them to see. Forbidden sights led straight to the Lubyanka. Terror focuses the mind wonderfully. The curtain was rung in by the denunciations of the terrorists. It became possible to think, to breathe. Finis! … What a run though: An Empire of lies and terror such as the world has not seen since Cassius Chaerea murdered Caligula.



An Afterword by Gareth Jones

We were a small knot of journalists living, thinking and writing together in Moscow in the early 1930’s. Some – Malcom Muggeridge, for instance – came from the socialist camp. Muggeridge’s wife was related to the Webbs, Sidney and Beatrice, English Fabians, like George Bernard Shaw, who later on would play a walk on role in the Terror Famine. The event that parted us was the 1932-33 famine itself, not the first time that food had been used as a weapon of war by the soviets… To bring Ukraine within the soviet orbit, Stalin knew he would have to destroy all resistance. First he and his agents decapitated Ukraine: He murdered all the intellectuals – teachers, scientists, politicians, the clergy, anyone attached to the nation through their remembered affections. The peasantry was a hard nut to crack. From Roman times until the Terror Famine, Ukraine was known as “the bread basket of Europe.” Under cover of modernization, Stalin’s Five Year Plan, private farms were displaced by collectives. When the peasants proved intractable, Stalin destroyed them by creating and sustaining a famine. Communist cadres went into the villages and collected all the seed grain for the next year; they even destroyed the ovens used by the peasants to make bread. Famine stretched its boney hand over Ukraine. Whole villages died out; the trees were stripped bare by starving peasants who boiled leaves for nourishment. Rotting corpses of people and farm animals made the air unbreathable. That is what was covered from the rest of the world by the mask of Stalin’s Five Year Plan – murder on a mass scale. I saw what lay behind the mask when I defied the censors in Moscow, boarded a train and went into the countryside; so did Muggeridge. And we saw the sickening sight, Stalin’s hand lying over Ukraine, reduced to swollen belies and silent screams. We got the story out, Muggeridge in diplomatic pouches. Much good it did… We tried to say the truth, but it was smothered with lies, manufactured most effectively by Walter Duranty, the chief correspondent in Russia for the New York Times. Other journalists called him “The Great Durranty.” Muggeridge called him the worst pathological liar he had ever met in all his years in journalism. Duranty knew about the famine but suppressed news of it in his dispatches to the Times. Privately, he guessed that as many as six million people died between 1932-32; publicly, he joked that “you couldn’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” For his reportage on Stalin’s Five Year Plan, Durranty was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. It was a prize earned at a great price. Stalin himself finally was murdered by two of his henchmen, Beryia and Krushchev. Funny, Beryia kicked the corpse and swore at it. But when it twitched, probably the result of involuntary movement, the marrow of his bones ran cold, and he ran off. That, at least is what Krushchev said. As for myself, I went to China following Moscow, and here I was murdered by communist bandits. Such were the times we lived in – bloody Times. I received no Pulitzer Prize.

c2006 Don Pesci

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Zing This

The Hartford Courant has now zinged – in an unsigned column in the paper’s Northeast newszine – Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia. The piece in which Scalia is zinged is titled, appropriately, “Zingers.”

The lead line is breathtaking: “There's nothing like a visit from the biggest homophobe on the U.S. Supreme Court to stir up emotions at the University of Connecticut School of Law.”

Scalia agreed to teach two classes in constitutional and administrative law at UConn and then – Perhaps Scalia read about Ann Coulter’s reception at UConn earlier in the year – give a lecture to “invited guests.” Coulter’s event, open to the general public, was dismantled by grunting students shouting obscenities at her from the safe remove of the galleries. And what they said could not be printed in the pages of Northeast.

So then, it’s come to this at UConn, a place where the rights specified in the First Amendment are in full retreat – a private lecture; in other words, a frank admission that in this university it is mobs of pampered liberals that rule, not the constitution. Scalia could not have come at a better time. Unlike UConn, Scalia is said to be rather liberal in matters of the First Amendment. He also sings opera.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s Statement of Shared Purpose

The Project for Excellence in Journalism has issued a statement outlining nine core journalistic principles. A contentious group by nature, most journalists would have no difficulty in agreeing that the stated principles are central to the practice of journalism.

Styled “shared purposes” in the statement, the principles are: 1) Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth; 2) its first loyalty is to citizens; 3) its essence is a discipline of verification; 4) its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover; 5) it must serve as an independent monitor of power; 6) it must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise; 7) it must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant; 8) it must keep the news comprehensive and proportional; 9) its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

On journalism’s first obligation, the statement notes that “Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context.” Journalism pursues truth in a "practical" rather than philosophical or absolute sense, a discipline that relies upon the accurate assembling of verifiable facts. The meanings conveyed in the resulting story -- which may involve multiple reports -- are “valid for now” but subject to further investigation. “Journalists,” the statement continues, “should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods so audiences can make their own assessment of the information… The truth overt time emerges from this forum.”

In principle 3, the statement further comments upon the “discipline of verification." Objectivity does not mean that journalists are free of biases. The journalistic method is objective, “not the journalist.” Journalism relies upon “a consistent method of testing information--a transparent approach to evidence--precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy” of the journalist’s work. “Seeking out multiple witnesses, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment, all signal such standards.”

Principles 2, 4, and 5 are all closely related. Journalists cannot retain an “(2) allegiance to citizens and the larger public interest above any other” nor can they “(5) serve as watchdog over those whose power and position most affect citizens” if they do not maintain “(4) an independence from those they cover.” This independence requires a willingness to follow the facts were they lead, most especially when they lead us away from our most deeply held biases.

On principle 4, the statement reads, “Independence of spirit and mind, rather than neutrality, is the principle journalists must keep in focus. While editorialists and commentators are not neutral, the source of their credibility is still their accuracy, intellectual fairness and ability to inform--not their devotion to a certain group or outcome.” More than nations, journalists must be wary of “entangling alliances.” Objectivity is sacrificed more often for those with whom we agree in most essentials. The facts, not desired outcomes, should determine the shape and substance of the story.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism also is critical of the trade: “This discipline of verification is what separates journalism from other modes of communication, such as propaganda, fiction or entertainment. But the need for professional method is not always fully recognized or refined. While journalism has developed various techniques for determining facts, for instance, it has done less to develop a system for testing the reliability of journalistic interpretation.”

Indeed, correct interpretation occasionally depends upon facts not yet in evidence. News reports evolve; which is to say, new facts are introduced into the stream of information as the story unfolds. A conscientious review of the finished story by editors would reveal weak journalistic interpretation as the story progresses. But newspapers are a business, and editors often lack the time and resources for such reviews. In areas dominated by one newspaper or one political philosophy such reviews are unlikely. In newspapers dominated by one political ideology, such reviews are even less likey.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Voting With Their Feet


"It's a great budget. Nobody can say we're throwing the money away wastefully” -- Sen.
Edith Prague.

"This budget leaves no dollar left unspent. Tax relief is nowhere to be found - no car tax cut, no estate tax cut, no energy tax cut for consumers - while bloated spending proposals are to be found throughout" – Governor Jodi Rell

The 2006 budget offered by Democrats makes sense only as a campaign document. In every other sense – as a serious budget, for instance – it is an irresponsible horror. It folds the entire current surplus into their spending plan and is particularly generous to supportive Democrat interest groups.

Details of the Democrat spending program were released at the same time Mass Mutual Insurance Company announced that it was packing its bags, kicking the dust of Connecticut from its feet, and returning to Massachusetts, as state nutmeggers used to refer to derisively as “Taxachussetts.” If Democrats who control the legislature cannot put a cap on spending, other businesses are certain to follow suit and vote with their feet against Connecticut.

As usual, most of the discussion concerning the budget has revolved around the state’s surplus and how to spend it. All the discussion should focus on how to reduce spending – which has increased from $7.5 billion under the last Democrat governor, William O’Neill, to a crapulous $16 billion under the direction of Speaker of the House Jim Amann and President Pro Tem of the Senate Donald Williams.

Governor Jodi Rell’s budget is not quite so swollen with arrogance as the Democrat’s version, but it must be said that Republicans have not in the past offered an effective rhetorical resistance to the Democrats penchant for satisfying their pet special interest groups, which certainly will be gratified with their budget proposal.

Surpluses folded into general budgets increase spending and contribute to an economic environment that is toxic for Connecticut businesses. Mass Mutual is only the latest company that has voted with their feet against Connecticut’s stumble bum economy. Others will follow.

If Republicans can throw off their lethargy, this campaign year could be different. The state budget has increased every fiscal year since the income tax had been adopted because there are no mechanisms at the state level to discipline congressmen who spend beyond their means. The cumulative increases in the budget are now so weighty that any additional spending, like the straw that broke the camel’s back, may break tax payers’ budgets. That seems to be the message that municipal taxpayers are sending town governments. In many municipalities, politicians who offer extravagant spending plans have been rebuffed in referendums. But state politicians need not worry that their budgets will be similarly voted down, because ballot initiatives and referendums are not available at the state level.

Is it too much to hope that this year Republicans might campaign on a platform to offer referendums and ballot initiatives to voters? The unsustainable arc in spending over the past two decades is strong evidence that Republicans are powerless to restrain Democrats. But nothing is preventing them from calling upon people to join a grassroots campaign for ballot initiatives and referendums.

Rell appears to have struck both a responsive chord among hard pressed taxpayers and a nerve among her political opposition with the release of an ad that supports her view of tax relief. For Rell, tax relief means tax cuts. The ad chides Democrats for dismissing her proposal to eliminate the car tax. The chief objection to the ad from Democrats has been that it was financed by – Gasp! – the Republican Party. Imagine that: A party financing an ad that ties the state Republican Party to tax cuts. Shameless!

Rell, her Democrat gubernatorial opponents argued, was using her party to skirt a political promise made by the governor to purge from her campaign contributions made by entities that do business with the state. Not really, Rell replied. The ad expresses the view of her party and is a legitimate use of party funds.

Democrats are secretly fuming about the ad’s message, not its financing. What would happen if voters in the state got it into their heads that Rell and her party believe the best way to provide tax relief is to reduce taxes and cut spending?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Johnson, Murphy and the Sleaze merchants

One can well understand why U.S. Rep Nancy Johnson would wish to put a ten foot pole between herself and Jack Abramoff, the beltway lobbyist and wheeler dealer recently sentenced for sleaze peddling.The once powerful Republican Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, this morning announced he will be resigning his seat, news reports indicate, because he failed to put a ten foot pole between himself and Abramoff.

And so, smeared by a MoveOn.org ad that “links” Johnson with Abramoff, the Johnson campaign called upon her likely Democrat opponent, Christopher Murphy, to condemn the add.

The “link” between Johnson and Abramoff is more than tenuous; it is non-existent. Johnson had never accepted money from Abramoff, unlike Democrat Party Chairman Harry Reid who, according to a February Associated Press report, “collected nearly $68,000 in donations from Abramoff’s firm, lobbying partners and clients” over a three year period.

The MoveOn.org ad “links” Johnson with more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from the energy industry during her 24-year tenure in Congress. An announcer then paints “Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney, and Jack Abramoff ’’as protective of Big Oil. “And now Nancy Johnson,” the announcer continues, “Another Republican caught red-handed.”

The ad does not explain what, precisely, Johnson was caught doing. No less sleazy than Abramoff himself, the ad probably will pass a legal sniff test. It does not specifically accuse Johnson of accepting bribes from Abramoff, but the senior citizens Johnson has been in the habit of courting during her campaigns are not likely to note such subtleties. The object of such ads is to throw mud and hope some of it sticks to the innocent victims of the ads.

Often described by the main stream media as “a liberal advocacy group,” MoveOn.org is an offshore, extra-party political apparatus of the Democrat Party in hiding. The left-wing anti-Republican apparatchiks are financed by George Soros, a multi-billionaire funny money handler who made oodles of cash years ago breaking the Bank of London.

On “Black Wednesday, September 16, 1992, Soros earned a little more that $1 billion when he capitalized on the reluctance of the Bank of England to raise its interest rates or float its currency. By buying stocks and selling short, Soros became known as “the man who broke the bank of England.” And during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, he was accused by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad of bringing down the Malaysian currency, the ringgit.

“Most ways of earning money,” Henry David Thoreau once said, “lead downward.” But not always: Abramoff went down; Soros went up.

Johnson’s campaign responded quickly to the MoveOn ad by releasing an ad that says, “"A radical group whose ads have been called `shameful' and `misleading' is at it again - helping politician Chris Murphy. This group compared America's leaders to Nazis."

Murphy responded to the Johnson ad by pointing out that he is not connected to MoveOn.org and accusing Johnson of hypocrisy. "The difference,” Murphy said, “is she controls the content of her ad. I don't control or have anything to do with the content of the MoveOn.org ad. It seems totally hypocritical to respond to an ad that she thinks unfairly links her with Jack Abramoff with her own ad that unfairly links me to MoveOn.org."

The Johnson campaign called upon Murphy to address and denounce the content of the MoveOn ad -- which should be a snap for someone who does not seek to benefit from his non-connection to MoveOn.org, Soros, Abramoff or Nazis.

The real villains here are extra-party organizations financed by groups of people who, because they operate outside major political institutions, are answerable to no one. Murphy’s campaign probably would not have released the objectionable Johnson ad because Murphy would have been held responsible for such patent misrepresentations by Connecticut voters – who have no influence upon MoveOn.org or its financiers.

This mess is a perfect example of the downside of campaign finance reform: Regulations that trim the influence of political parties increase, at the same time, the influence of both lobbyists like Abramoff and extra-party political activist groups like MoveOn.org. A party capable of funding all its own candidates, both incumbents and challengers, would need neither Abramoff nor MoveOn. org.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Plan B Returns

The disclaimer by Rep. Denise Merrill, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was hilarious. Merrill claimed that the provision smuggled into the state’s budget was “not aimed at Catholic hospitals.” The measure, which penalizes with a withdrawal of state funds hospitals that do not provide Plan B pills to rape victims, will adversely affect only those hospitals that, for religious reasons, do not dispense the pills to women who are pregnant or ovulating. That would be the state’s four Catholic hospitals.

The disclaimer was no less disingenuous than the measure itself. A bill forcing the staff of Catholic hospitals to violate religious precepts earlier had not been reported out of the appropriate Public Health Committee. A provision securing the same objective was quietly tucked into the Democrat budget plan, where it gestated until it was spotted by Rep. Ruth Fahrbach of Windsor, an eagle-eyed congresswoman known for reading bills closely. The single sentence section read: “"The sum of $5,000,000 appropriated to the Department of Social Services, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006, for hospital energy needs, shall only be given to hospitals providing full pharmaceutical services to victims of rape."

Should anyone think that the purpose of the measure was to punish Catholic Hospitals with a withdrawal of funds until the Catholic Church in Connecticut agreed to the unrestricted use of Plan B pills, they might be relieved to know that surreptitious line slipped into the budget is not, according to Appropriations co-chairwoman Denise Merrill, “aimed at Catholic hospitals. The debate was not about Catholic hospitals.”

Properly speaking, the bill is not aimed at hospitals at all. In adopting a policy that restricts use of the Plan B pill in hospitals only when a rape victim is pregnant or ovulating, the Catholic hospitals are observing religious precepts that govern abortion. Whether or not those precepts are or are not theologically mandated is a matter that should be decided by the church, not politicians. Both the bill that died in committee and the budget provision, both of which offend orthodox Catholics, are aimed at the Catholic Church. It is the Catholic Church, not the hospitals, that sets the policy these legislative acts seek to overthrow.

Even so, it takes a great deal of chutzpah to argue that the bill and the offensive budget provision are not “aimed” at orthodox Catholics because the provisions “cover all hospitals.” If the chairman and co-chairman of the Appropriations committee were to slip into a massive budget bill a provision withdrawing funds from all schools in Connecticut that permit students to wear headgear in classes, would they be surprised when Jews objected that the provision was invidious because it would discourage the use of yarmulkes in Yeshivas?

Now then, it is perfectly true, as Cardinal John Henry Newman says, “that there is no rule on earth to which there is not at least one exception.” The Catholic Church has laid down a series of rules governing abortion, which it regards as both a serious sin and a crime against cannon law, the penalty for which is excommunication.

Excommunication, because it involves a withdrawal of sacramental grace, is the most serious punishment meted out by the church. With respect to the application of its rules on abortion in Catholic hospitals, the church has made accommodations to its observances. While the church forbids hospitals from dispensing Plan B pills if they are used as aborticides, the staff in its hospitals has been instructed to make accommodations that include referrals to other hospitals when its staff cannot in good conscience provide Plan B pills to rape victims.

Applying Newman’s rule, there may be occasions when the state should intervene to require a church to observe a law. Justice involves an impartial weighing of rights, which is why lady justice is often shown blindfolded carrying a scale in her hand. If a woman is impregnated by a rapist, she should be able to obtain aborticides if she wishes. What is it, in the present procedures in Catholic hospitals, that prevent the rape victim from receiving effective aborticides? Where there are timely referrals – Plan B is effective for 72 hours after conception – there can be no attempt to prevent abortion.

A bill requiring first responders to advise rape victims that Catholic hospitals will not dispense Plan B if the victim is pregnant or ovulating would not offend Catholic conscience; nor would such a bill require the state to force a church to violate its religious precepts.

But this was not the bill first offered to meet the needs of rape victims; and this is not the provision that the Appropriation committee chairman and co-chairman smuggled into the Democrat’s bloated budget. The Plan B bill and the budget provision were designed to punish the Catholic Church and to satisfy insatiable abortion rights activists.