Monday, February 26, 2007

The Unplanned Admirable Life of James Buckley

By Gerald and Natalie Sirkin


Gerald and Natalie Sirkin have appeared in this space several times.



It is time we review a book that offers hope for a civil and intelligent future for the United States. Such a book is not easy to find, but we have one: James L. Buckley’s Gleanings from an Unplanned Life, an Annotated Oral History ( Wilmington , Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006, pp. 308, $25). A country that can produce a man like James L. Buckley and see him rise to an important position in public life must have some chance of recovering from its present social squalor.

As a member of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Judge Buckley was interviewed for the program of the Historical Society of D. C. to record oral histories of the judges. His book is the transcript of the interviews with his notes to clarify and amplify.

Judge Buckley called his life “unplanned.” Actually he had plans. The point is that nothing went according to plan, beginning with birth in an elevator in a New York City hospital. He had planned to be a country lawyer, practicing in his home town of Sharon . However, while working at Wiggin & Dana, a law firm in New Haven, to get experience, he yielded to his father’s call for help in the family business. For 17 years, he traveled to many countries in Asia and Latin America working with the oil and gas exploration companies serviced by his father’s business.

In 1968 came his unplanned entry into politics. When the interviewer asked how he became a candidate for the U.S. Senate, he answered, “You may have heard that I have an exotic brother.”

“Exotic” was well chosen for William Buckley, founder and long-time editor of the National Review. The Conservative Party of New York was organized to exert conservative influence on New York politicians the way the Liberal Party exerted a liberal influence. It needed a candidate for Mayor of New York City. Bill Buckley was persuaded that it was his duty to run. He ran a witty, informative campaign which journalists and political buffs loved. When asked what he would do if he won, he answered, “Demand a recount.”

Three years later, the New York Conservative Party needed a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Bill Buckley persuaded brother James it was his duty to run. Reluctantly he agreed.

James Buckley ran against Republican Jacob Javits and Democrat Paul O’Dwyer with very little financial support. He lost but did astonishingly well, getting twice as many votes as any third-party candidate ever got in New York .

In the next Senate election in 1970, he ran against Republican Charles Goodell and Democrat David Ottinger. Volunteers, especially college students, flocked to help his campaign. Goodell and Ottinger faded, and third-party candidate Buckley scored an amazing victory. Journalists were horrified that a conservative could be elected. Buckley quotes with amusement a piece in Newsday titled “The Shame of New York” which shows the climate of opinion about conservatives at that time: “It is difficult to be a gracious loser when you are branded before the nation as all New Yorkers are today with the letter C for Conservative on your forehead.”

Buckley’s work in the Senate was a refreshing effort to improve the efficiency and honesty of government. An outstanding example was his amendment to index income tax rates, that is, to adjust them to offset the effect of inflation. Inflation pushed taxpayers into higher tax brackets--a stealthy tax increase. His amendment went nowhere. As one Senator pointed out, the inflation-push had the “advantage” of increasing taxes without requiring Congress to vote for it. After Buckley left the Senate, his persistence paid off. The indexing idea took root and was adopted. He did not have success with a second major idea, that the workload of the Senate was too heavy to permit Senators to do their job well. (Today it is even heavier.)

One of Buckley’s correctives was a revival of federalism. Leave to the states all business in which there is no federal interest. He was constantly against expanding the federal role in public education. The Buckley Amendment to an education bill gave parents the right to see the education records of their children in schools that received federal funds. He voted for his Amendment but against the bill to which it was attached on the ground that public education is a state and local, not a federal, function. He was an active participant in debates on defense, foreign policy, and the environment (on which he was a strong but sensible supporter).

In 1976 Buckley lost a close contest with Patrick Moynihan, a popular figure and a tough opponent. Four years later, he lost a Senate race against Christopher Dodd in Connecticut, an unhealthy locale for a conservative. (In the spirit of full disclosure, we note that one of the writers of this column collected a petition urging him to run.)

When Ronald Reagan was elected president, Buckley was offered a position in the State Department as Under Secretary for Security Assistance. Among his interesting observations was the difference between American and European mindsets. It was during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Our European allies were providing the Soviets with credits at “bargain basement rates” enabling them to acquire strategically sensitive equipment. Economic gain was more important to the Europeans than national security. Though a skilled negotiator, Buckley could not change their minds.

Following his service in the State Department, he became president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which ran two radios to Soviet satellite countries and the Soviet Union, bringing them news the U.S.S.R. was suppressing. Several years later, President Reagan nominated him to the Circuit Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia.

Buckley’s strength of character in his determination to do right regardless of consequences to himself, was demonstrated in the Watergate crisis. Having decided that President Nixon could no longer function as leader, Buckley called a press conference to urge that he resign. That action brought down upon him a flood of criticism and abuse from party loyalists. In due time his integrity earned him their admiration.

The Washingtonian magazine of June, 1996, wrote that James Buckley “has emerged by consensus of liberals and conservatives alike as the finest appellate judge” on the D.C. Circuit. With the modesty that is one of his most conspicuous traits, he denies the magazine’s assertion but concedes that “it did confirm that I approached my job as a judge and not as an ideologue.”

Gerald and Natalie Sirkin
c2007

Ted Kennedy Jr. Lends His Support To COW

Ted Kennedy Jr., the son of the senator from Massachusetts, has lent his support to COW.

COW is, of course, the anti-war group Connecticut Opposes the War, a national group opposed to the present war in Iraq. The last letter in the acronym changes according to the state in which the group operates. The Massachussets chapter would be MOW; Wisconsin would be WOW.

Connecticut’s list of endorsers, here supplied by the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, suggest that some members of COW may be opposed to war in any case, while others may be oppose to the Iraq war in particular.

Endorsers of COW, according to CCAG, include: “Sisters Of Notre Dame De Namur; Sisters of Mercy Leadership Team; Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery; CT State Legislators Chris Donovan, Andy Fleischmann, Toni Harp, Jonathan Harris, Jack Hennessy; Evelyn Mantilla, David McCluskey, Denise Merrill, Tim O’Brien, Melissa Olson, Elizabeth Ritter; Brendan Sharkey, Toni Walker; AFL-CIO CT; AFT CT; AFSCME Council 4; AFSC CT; CCAG; CT NOW; Charter Oak Cultural Center; City of New Haven Peace Commission; CT Coalition for Peace & Justice; CT State Council of Machinists IAM & AW; Citizens for Global Solutions-NE CT Chapter; Collaborative Center for Justice; Congress of CT Community Colleges Peace Caucus; CT Trans Advocacy Coalition; Communist Party USA –CT; District 1199, SEIU and Episcopal Peace Fellowship.”

Though the Soviet Union went bust shortly after the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, one supposes that the Communist Party USA–CT, one of the endorsers of COW, would not object vociferously to Vladimir Putin’s war against Chechnya’s rebels – or terrorists, as the case may be. The tug of old lapsed alliances is particularly strong in the case of communists, and the Communist Party USA rarely has found it difficult to achieve solidarity with certain credulous peace groups in countries it has unofficially pledged to subvert; the peace groups, for their part, have not been anxious to dissociate themselves from such unsavory alliances.

Connecticut appears to be living up to the tradition.

The commies are listed as “other endorsers” on a promotional site requesting funds. Other “other endorsers” are “CT NOW, Greater Hartford Coalition on Cuba; Queers Without Borders; and Socialist Party USA Central CT.”

World traveler and former Speaker of the House Irv Stolberg is listed under “conveners” along with the Executive Director of Connecticut Citizen Action Group Tom Swan and former Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan.

The COW meet at the Central Baptist Church on Main Street Hartford heard an “infuriated” US Sen. Chris Dodd declaim against non-binding congressional proposals. Dodd, according to Ken Krayeske , told the group assembled in Hartford that resolutions to cut funding for the war were easier to accomplish when citizens were encouraged to take an active role in self- government. Krayeske is a blogger and free lance journalist arrested by the Hartford police for accosting Gov. Jodi Rell during a parade. A dispute over the arrest is now in litigation.

Dodd’s various positions on the Iraq war have meandered somewhat over the years in accordance with changes on the ground in Iraq and political twists and turns here at home.

Dodd opposed the first Gulf War on the grounds that intervention would lead to a “quagmire.” It didn’t. An earlier backer of the war on terror after Islamic terrorists attacked New York, Dodd has since offered the requisite apology for his misjudgment. He now supports a bill, fashioned by himself, that would permit Congress to micro-manage troop requirements in the field. Dodd is an old hand in the anti-war anti-American military intervention business, but Edward Kennedy Jr. is a new addition to the anti-war bandwagon.

Billed to speak at a COW conference in Clinton, Edward Kennedy Jr. added nothing new to the so called “debate” on the Iraq War, but his remarks included a teaser that will excite the interests of the citizens of Camelot. Kennedy told a Hartford Newspaper that in the distant future he might take a more active role in government.

"Politics is something that I would consider getting into down the road," Kennedy said. "But not at any point in the near future."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Dodd Goes Fishing; Catches Bundles

What a difference a day makes. The day after Democrats took over the US Senate, the prospects of U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd improved considerably.

In the six weeks after Connecticut’s US senator and presidential hopeful assumed chairmanship of the powerful banking committee, Dodd “collected more than $1 million in contributions from individuals and political-action committees associated with the banks, securities firms, insurance companies, and housing developers overseen by the panel,” the Journal Inquirer reported.

More than a third of the money was shipped to Dodd in “bundles.”

They included:
* $98,800 from 70 executives and employees at Citigroup.
* $71,400 from 34 at American International Group.
* $57,450 from 34 at Merrill Lynch.
* $50,000 from 27 at Credit Suisse.
* $38,100 from 36 at Morgan Stanley.
* $27,500 from 39 at KPMG.
* $34,650 from 28 at Bear Stearns.
* $24,200 from 14 at J.P. Morgan
.”

According to the report, Dodd, “a leading proponent of deregulation in the securities industry who personally brokered the bill that led to the repeal of a New Deal-era law intended to keep commercial banking separate from investment banking… long has been favored with campaign contributions from financiers.”

And here two important questions assault us: 1) What are the campaign contribution purchasing; and 2) Is Dodd receiving money from donors because they appreciated his efforts on their behalf, or are their contributions an advance payment that will purchase the senator’s continuing attentions?

Dodd, of course, would and has argued that the contributions are simply an expression of appreciation for legislation that benefits the financial sector; the benefits, however, he would and has argued, were in no sense a quid pro quo. In other words, Dodd did not craft legislation benefiting the financial sector because he had received campaign contributions; rather, he received the contributions because -- having consulted his conscience, his wife, his children and his God – he simply “did the right thing.”

So then, the answer to question 1), according to Dodd, is: “The bundles purchase nothing. I am a man of conscience and moral probity.” The answer to question 2) is: See above.

Those who assume, wrongly, that Dodd’s soul can be sold for a puny $1 million have got the chicken before the egg, the cart before the horse. He did not write the legislation benefiting the financial sector because he was given money; he was given money because he “did the right thing,” without reference to contributions. Why should it surprise journalists that finance people would be willing to show their appreciation for Dodd’s moral courage in “doing the right thing” by contributing to his campaign? Are finance people not moral Christians? If you prick them, do they not bleed… etc., etc.…?

To Bloomberg news reporters, Dodd put the matter this way: "They've worked with me. I've worked with them. We've been in agreement in various issues; we've been in disagreement on various issues over the years."

According to the Journal Inquirer report, Dodd boasted to the Washington Post “that he will not hesitate to shake Wall Street's money tree, even though he is chairman of the committee that watches over its committees. But Dodd also said that accepting millions of dollars from industries that his committee oversees would not affect policy decisions, the Post added.”

Dodd’s chief presidential campaign spokesman, Beneva Schulte, is having a heck of a time understanding what all the fuss is about.

"As his past record indicates, parties with interests before the Senate Banking Committee expect Senator Dodd to be a thoughtful and independent chairman who listens to all sides of an issue and enacts public policy that is in the best interest of the American people," Schulte said. “As far as fundraising, he is going to do what he had always done and follow the letter of the law when it comes to members of congress and contributions.”

Some journalists probably have a tough time mastering these nuances because, like the American people, they know that money is primarily a means of exchange used to purchase, among other things, souls.

The Conference of Connecticut’s Crapulous Big Spenders

Gov. Jodi Rell already having publicly announced her defection to the Big Spenders, two radio talk show hosts who represent the last vestige of Connecticut’s disappearing “firewall” -- which is supposed to check improvident spending -- derisively refer to Connecticut’s Conference of Municipalities as “the conference of crying mayors,” an understated description.

Of course, there are firewalls that really do prevent tax pirates from running off with the gold in taxpayer’s teeth -- municipal referendums. The CCM hates referendums for much the same reason the prodigal son hated the homespun advice of his father, and the organization wants these firewall dismantled.

Municipal referendums across the state represent the voice of the people on budget matters, and the message arising from referendums has been constant and unequivocal: Town officials have been asking for increases of 10 to 14 percent; budget increases of more than 3 or 4 percent are insupportable. That is what those who pay taxes have been saying to those who spend taxes, and the messaging has been direct and clear. Across the state, in such municipalities as allow referendums, mayors and other town officials have got the message, budgets have been trimmed, and in some cases cost savings have been realized.

The difference between what referendum voters in towns across the state think it prudent to spend on town government and what the CCM wants towns to spend will be breached, if the governor has her way, by an increase in the amount of funds the state will transfer to towns to supplement educational costs.

The increase in state funding, around 12 percent, purportedly will reduce property taxes. Realists and pragmatists say that the boost in state funding will be frittered away on union mandated salary increases. But once state funding of town budgets is increased, there will no longer be a need for referendums, since town taxpayers will no longer feel the bite of a 10 to 14 percent increase in their municipal taxes.

Presently, town referendums have reduced spending and taxing in municipalities. Since there is no state referendum, the state must rely on its so called “firewall” to control spending. That firewall now has been disassembled.

In fact, the largely mythical firewall has been a amusing joke ever since the institution of the income tax, as is obvious from the bottom line increases in the state budget since former Governor Lowell Weicker first draped the income tax albatross around taxpayer’s necks: If bonding is figured into the spending mix, the state budget has nearly tripled since the last pre-income tax budget. Though the mythical “spending cap” was constitutionally mandated, the legislature never provided enabling legislation to clarify the terms of the amendment. To this day, our legislators still have not bound themselves to the bill they have promulgated because such terms in the bill as “spending” have never been defined in law. Quite literally – and ironically --the legislature and the governor do not know what “spending” means.

Firewall? What firewall?

What Connecticut desperately needs, in the absence of an opposition Republican Party that can induce spending restraint, is a binding state budget referendum, similar to municipal referendums that have controlled spending in towns.

Additionally, the state needs, as desperately, legislators who realize that Connecticut does not operate in an economic bubble. Connecticut’s business competitors in other states are reducing taxes, and tax generating businesses are leaving Connecticut to take advantage of the resulting lower business costs. As expected, graduating students have followed in the departing footprints of once tax generating businesses.

If something is not done soon to stop the exodus, Connecticut may become – especially with the recent educational “investments” outlined in Rell’s budget address – a net exporter of students, whose educational costs are borne by Connecticut taxpayers, our gift to low tax states. If Democrat legislators are successful in establishing a “millionaire’s tax,” we may also become a net exporter of millionaires and half-millionaires to, say, Florida, where the golf season is longer and legislators are considering eliminating property taxes.

Such dislocations should disturb the fearful placidity of the CCM. But according to James Finley Jr., the executive director designate of the CCM, towns want more of the same.

In a recent communiqué printed in a Hartford paper, Finley congratulates Rell for having “dramatically raised the public-policy bar in the Land of Steady Habits” and then beseeches Connecticut’s prodigal legislature to axe the modest and ineffective tax cuts proposed and increase bonding. Other tax sponges will be equally importunate in the coming days.

The rest of us in this Panglossian Land of Steady Bad Habits should be careful what the Conference of Connecticut’s Crapulous Big Spenders ask for, because we may get it -- as usual, in the neck.

ADDENDUM

More, More, More…

If the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding didn’t exist, Gov. Jodi Rell and legislators who support her extravagant proposal to increase educational spending would be forced to invent it.

The coalition, headed by former Manchester Mayor Stephen T. Cassano, wants to double the amount of money Rell proposes to give municipalities.

Cassano’s attempt to bankrupt the state brought produced the following response from co-chairman of the legislature's Education Committee Thomas Gaffey, who is kindly disposed toward the state’s powerful and metastasizing education lobby: “To go and ask for a billion dollars more after we have had the most historic proposal in education history ... really smacks of not living in reality. We're going to be lucky to get [the governor's plan] through as it is proposed," he said. Everyone ought to be grateful.”

Ah yes, gratitude.

Now see here Gaffey, one is grateful when one has had one’s fill – only then -- and the education lobby is “a little boy with two stomachs in a candy store,” a phrase the great H.L. Mencken once applied to himself to indicate the joy journalist felt when witnessing the daily political comedy rife in America.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Taking Care Of Business

The item in the Courant about Rep John Larson, a new powerhouse in the US Senate, is mercifully short, only a little more than 200 words. The Courant buried it in the fat of its folds on page 100043B. Now if only Rowland got that kind of inattention – the name of the “business” is not even mentioned – he still might be governor.

It remains for a reporter more curious than Mark Peters and a newspaper more agressive towards Democrats than the Courant -- which, during the late election, endorsed all the US Democrat congressional candidates -- to find out who is the Peter Ellef of the group. And how much do these guys make anyway?

According to the Courant story, “A federally funded technology center in East Hartford that has been championed by U.S. Rep. John B. Larson has appointed the congressman's chief of staff," Elliot Ginsberg, as its first chief executive officer.

The three year old center, which employs 35 people and "relies primarily on federal and state funding" is connected to regional technology-based companies, "including the defense industry."

“It works with companies on new products, helps small start-up firms and promotes technology careers for students. The center is currently developing laboratories for laser applications and modeling and simulation for use by regional companies.

“Ginsberg was a perfect match for the position, said John Carson, chairman of the center's board of directors.

"’He has an intimate knowledge of the industry, the economy and possesses the leadership skills,’" Carson said.

"Before working for Larson, Ginsberg served as a Superior Court magistrate, commissioner of the state Department of Human Resources and was an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work.

"Ginsberg will be prohibited from lobbying Larson's office for federal funding for a year because of his association with the congressman. The center did not disclose Ginsberg's salary."


And after the year is over, Larson and his pals can go into the campaign finance shakedown business. Move over Jack Abramoff.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

All Things Considered: Polls, Primaries and Dodd’s Prospects

The coup de grace in political campaigns ought not to be delivered by pollsters months and even years before the votes have been counted. But here it is anyway: Doug Swartz, the tea leaves reader at Quinnipiac College, commented on Sen. Chris Dodd’s meager presidential prospects, “If Dodd can't even come close to winning a Democratic primary in his home state, that's obviously a bad sign for his presidential campaign.”

One is tempted to reply with a variant of Laura Ingraham’s repeated refrain: Shut up and poll.

Dodd’s problem is long standing. In his own time, Abe Lincoln heatedly objected to the elimination of viable candidates through early and possibly misleading “canvasses” or party nominations. In our day, primaries have made the problem worse. The quibbling over who should be on the ballot in general elections used to end after political conventions, when delegates had selected their tickets. Primaries extend the early jockeying for position, deplete party resources needed to win general elections, and invariably give the edge – both in ability to raise money and enforce unity – to incumbent politicians in both parties who are able to defend their seats without debilitating primaries.

Primaries also force those engaged in them to tailor their platforms to satisfy the ideological purists within their parties – progressive Democrats or conservative Republicans. The general electorate, however, is always far less ideologically oriented than the primary electorate. Ned Lamont, the Greenwich millionaire who defeated Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman in a hotly contested primary here in Connecticut traveled so far out on an ideological plank, in order to make himself attractive to progressives in the anti-Lieberman camp, that he became vulnerable in the general election to charges he was a single issue candidate in the grip of progressive delusions. Playing to the primary gallery, Lamont lost the votes of the larger electorate in the general election.

These are perils Lincoln never had to face. Lincoln’s remarks on slavery, the imperishable union and the imprescriptible rights the founders had tucked into the Declaration of Independence – Lincoln’s lodestone during his debates with Steven Douglas – were carefully modulated so as to reap the greatest votes from the greatest numbers in a general election.

Had Lincoln faced an abolitionist candidate in a primary election, it is doubtful he would have made it to the White House intact, because an abolitionist primary candidate would have peeled off votes from him and forced Lincoln to publicly embrace the abolitionist position on slavery. Lincoln was an abolitionist at heart and in truth – after he had become president. Candidate Lincoln was, to use the biblical term, “wise as a serpent, gentle as a lamb.” Primaries do not allow for such nuances as Lincoln effectively deployed against Douglas. “Tell the truth, but tell it slant,” says the poet Emily Dickenson. Who will not slant the truth in a primary election, more often than not, loses in the general election.

Some of the Democrat presidential candidates this year are more armored with nuance than others. Hillary Clinton, one suspects, cannot move away from her present position on the war in Iraq – I voted for it; I’m now against it, but I do not intend to admit errors in judgment, ever – without driving a nail through the coffin of her husband’s legacy. It is not that the Clinton’s would rather be right than be president: They want to be both president and right – even when they are wrong. Then too, the Clintons, used to looking to the future, probably have guessed that the terrorists against whom President George Bush has declared war are not likely to disappear back into the woodwork if the United States prematurely retreats from the field, leaving victory to those who have pledged to destroy everything Lincoln, Dodd and the Clinton’s have worked so hard to preserve and pass on to posterity.

There are some ugly truths about the war that no one is telling. For instance, every war in history has been won by victors who have a) rightly identified belligerents, b) chosen among the belligerents which group they wished to support, c) supported that group with their blood, sweat and tears, and d) destroyed utterly the group they had not chosen to support. Bush’s strategy did not embrace these truths – but neither does the strategy of Bush’s opponents, both at home and abroad.

Given the nature of this war and these trans-national Islamic terrorists, those decisions will have to be made in the future, by someone other than the inept Bush. An American retreat will end nothing. And even at this remove, it is a fairly safe bet that Dodd will not be that person.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I’m Sorry. No, Really, I Am

We live in the age of apologies, but here’s a corker:

In South Carolina, African American state senator Robert Ford quickly threw his support to Senator Hillary Clinton, wife of the “first black American president,” Bill Clinton.

The press thought this curious, since Barack Obama, also running for president, is a black American and, if elected to office, would be the second black American president, Hillary's husband being the first. So a reporter asked him about it.

Ford said that if Obama got the nomination, “Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose because he's black and he's top of the ticket. We'd lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything."

In South Carolina, this sort of thing is important.

Naturally, Ford got grief. And after a few days of heavy pelting, he issued the following apology: “If I caused anybody, including myself, any pain about the comments I made earlier, then I want to apologize to myself and to Senator Obama, and any of his supporters."

That apology, thought by some to be a bit self serving, did not sit well with Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun Times. One of Ford’s pals, African American State Senator Darrell Jackson also was effusive about the Hillary campaign after his public relations firm, Sunrise Enterprises, was paid $200K by Hillary to effuse.

In South Carolina, this sort of thing is important.

Mitchell wrote, “Skepticism I understand. But when two black male legislators from the Deep South throw their hats in Hillary Clinton’s ring at the start of a wide-open election, I want to slap them upside their heads. Political leaders like Robert Ford and Darrell Jackson are guarding their political turf in the same way drug dealers guard street corners. But worse, they are hatin' on a brother who dares to believe anything is possible.”

South Carolina politicians are not afraid to state the truth baldly and take their consequences. At CBS News, when Dan Rather ruled the roost, subtlety was king.

Rather was shown the door when he relied on questionable documents sometime after having offered the following apology:

“Now, after extensive additional interviews, I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically. I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers. That, combined with some of the questions that have been raised in public and in the press, leads me to a point where-if I knew then what I know now-I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.”

Sometime after President Richard Nixon evicted the longsuffering and heroic Cardinal Josef Mindszenty from the American embassy in Budapest – the cardinal wanted to die in Hungary, where his body would have served as a permanent reproach to his communist overlords – the president, a Quaker bowed low by Watergate, fell on his knees and prayed with Henry Kissinger. His prayer, one assumes, must have been clothed in apologetic garb; whether it was sincere only the God of Cardinal Mindszenty and the Quakers knows for certain.

And then, of course, there are the few, the brave who, acknowledging that they have been wrong, manfully refuse to apologize, much to the annoyance of their friends and enemies.

Hillary Clinton falls, almost alone among Democrats, into this category. Nearly every prominent Democrat who had left his fingerprints on the congressional authorization for the Iraq war has apologized profusely for their error.

Not Hillary .

“Someone ought to tell Hillary that just because she wants to take Bush’s job, it doesn’t mean she needs to adopt his mannerisms too," wrote a critic. "Infallibility may get her a job at the Vatican, but not as US president.”

In apologetics, Hillary might take a lesson from the oleaginous Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, also a presidential candidate. His non-apology includes a varient of the now indispensable standard phrase: If I knew then what I know now…

Thank God for the nutmeggers, so called from their habit of mixing wooden nutmegs in with the real deal to maximize their sales and turn a healthier profit

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Rell To Republican Party: Drop Dead

Richard Armey, co-chairman of FreedomWorks in Washington (DC) and a former Republican U.S. House Majority Leader, has stuck his toe into Connecticut politics. So far, his reception has been chilly.

Armey issued a mass e-mailing and press release critical of Gov. Jodi Rell, the titular head of the state’s Republican Party, that took aim at her promised income tax hike.

"With a current budget surplus,” Armey wrote, “the idea of a new multi-billion-dollar tax hike is even more outrageous. If enacted, this tax hike will drive businesses and residents out of the state to seek more tax-friendly havens. As a result, Connecticut's economy will be left in ruins, and Gov. Rell's bloated education budget will do little for the residents of Connecticut."

These are strange times in Connecticut politics. During her rather uneventful gubernatorial campaign, Rell emerge from the ordeal as a tax and spend Republican; who’da thunk it? Recent polls indicate that most voters and taxpayers in Connecticut do not favor the Rell plan, which includes a 10% increase in the state income tax for educational spending, and Connecticut has been for some time – thanks to lethargic Republicans -- a Democrat Party playground.

Armey’s objection places him in company with Democrat Speaker of the state House of Representatives Jim Amman, one of Rell’s more persistent critics. Calling a spade a spade, Amann has questioned the need for a tax hike when Connecticut has been reaping a rich harvest in surpluses. Amman is reputed to be a “fiscal conservative.”

Rell’s spokesman, Rich Harris, first heard about Armey’s entrée into Connecticut politics from a reporter and noted pointedly that Armey was from Texas, unlike the majority of Connecticut residents who oppose the Rell plan. Amman is also a resident, unlike Armey.

According to one news report, “When asked if Rell is concerned that she is being criticized by a nationally known Republican, Harris responded, ‘We don't really get all that hung up on the partisan label thing. She's not that worried about Republican vs. Republican or Republican vs. Democrat. Her focus is on doing what's right.’”

During her campaign, Rell had very carefully steered clear of the more alarming Republican potholes – including President George Bush, whose flawed prosecution of the war against terror in Iraq has caused him to plummet in polls. Rell seemed to be wary of appearing within spitting distance of nearly anyone who had a beef against any notable Democrat, and her “debate” with New Haven Mayor John DeStefano was decidedly low key. Her refusal to confront DeStefano on the central plank of his platform – raising taxes to provide putative state support for townspeople suffering from high property taxes – may now be seen retrospectively as an strategic appendage to her own plan, which includes a 10% increase in the income tax to provide so called “property tax relief.”

Rell’s tax increase to support an ever sprawling pedagogical empire has also been seen by progressives in the state as an effort to combat what progressives call “sprawl” or unregulated economic development.

In the face of such major ideological defections, Republicans stand to loose their party – such as it is – if they do not take a stand in support of traditional Republican principles. Having been hung separately during the past two decades, Republicans now are in danger of being hung together.

The state has witnessed one quasi-Republican governor, Lowell Weicker, impose an income tax that has caused business flight from Connecticut to states some of which are now considering abolishing their state income tax; another, John Rowland, has been newly released from prison for having allowed his political associates to treat the state as his private piggy bank; and now we have the Rell/Moody non-partisan alliance, which has managed to position itself to the left of Speaker Amman and Armey.

With this kind of non-partisanship, who needs political parties? One suspects that if the question had been put to Rell or Moody after polls continue to show the governor floating in the stratosphere, both would have replied, “Not I.”

Though it is a useless appendage to Rell, the Republican Party continues to be a useful instrument for other aspiring office holders lower on the food chain – and it will not survive unless partisan Republicans bestir themselves.

Two Republicans - Rep. Clark J. Chapin of New Milford and Rep. Craig Miner of Litchfield – have proposed a state referendum that would allow voters to express their wishes on a ballot that would eliminate the state’s constitutional cap on spending. The ballot referendum would be non-partisan – a promising beginning to a restoration common sense in budgeting.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

When Pigs Fly

Despite chief gubernatorial aide Lisa Moody’s attempt to put some rouge and lipstick on the thing, a pig is a pig is a pig.

When Gov. Jodi Rell last week astonished everyone, including wary Democrats and shell shocked Republicans, by agreeing to raise the income tax to purchase the affections of Connecticut powerful education lobby, she threw a Gibraltar into a small pond, and the ripples continue to splash on the shore.

Governor Rowland’s former chief of staff Dean Pagani said Rell dropped a bomb on the Capitol and then waltzed off stage.

Moody said no, the governor intends to “work the issue.” Tom D’Amore, last seen advising Ned Lamont’s failed campaign, said, “It's pretty substantial what she is doing. It's going to take time to educate folks. I don't think there is any real ... necessity to be jumping on it overnight. You can let it sink in and seek what you are getting in feedback from folks.”

Here’s some feedback: Connecticut Republicans are not anxious to toss on the ash bin of history their hard earned reputation for responsible spending. D’Amore, it should be recalled, was appointed Republican Party Chairman by former senator and governor Lowell Weicker and a compliant Republican State Central Committee. At the time of his appointment, D’Amore crowed that he had not become party chairman to preside over the destruction of the Republican Party. This was a few years before Weicker, who bolted the party to run as governor, hinted at his opposition to an income tax by saying in his campaign that instituting such a tax would be like “pouring gas on a fire.”

Burn, baby burn.

In the post-income tax period, Connecticut has more than doubled its budget -- this within the space of only three governors, two Republicans and “No man but yours” Weicker. When bonding is tossed into the mix, the state has more than tripled its budget since those halcyon days of yore when Weicker sort of promised to veto an income tax and D’Amore sort of promised not to preside over the destruction of the Republican Party.

So, how are we doing?

Lisa Moody thinks everything is swell. Some people, not all of them conservatives, think that Rell’s great spending leap forward at a time when businesses are fleeing the state is imprudent, to say the least. Weicker’s last word on the budget was his shock and awe statement: “Where did all the money go?”

Where did the Republican Party go?

A month ago, some Republicans supposed that Jodi Rell was the Republican Party. Sure, the party had shriveled to nothing. Sure none of the post income tax governors, two and a half Republicans, had coattails – not Weicker, not Rowland, not Rell. But one of the two Republicans, Rowland, claimed to be a firewall that would prevent excessive spending, and the other, Rell, luxuriated in his shadow as Lieutenant Governor. Her silence on the subject of raising taxes during her recent campaign led many of her supporters to believe that, at least in this respect, she would be a formidable firewall.

Where did Jodi Rell go?

Pretty much over the fence.

“The governor's credibility, having been earned painstakingly after the resignation of her corrupt predecessor, began to crumble,” wrote Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer. “Like her predecessor once removed, Lowell P. Weicker Jr., father of the state income tax, Rell quickly capitulated to the government class without a fight.”

So here we are: All of the annoying inconveniences that caused many opinion makers to back an income tax – budgets in the red, the inability of the sales tax to generate sufficient funds, the revenue volatility caused by the absence of an income tax, the niggling little taxes that were nibbling taxpayers to death – are back with a vengeance. The budget is growing by leaps and bounds, businesses are fleeing the state, and students Rell intends to pamper with cradle to grave schooling will also leave the state – in search of jobs they cannot find in Connecticut.

Here we are again, back at square one But don’t worry, everything’s swell.

Rell has little support outside the tight circle of friends and advisors who helped her to set her course, and Republicans concerned about their party cannot afford to allow themselves to be absorbed into a sink hole of spendthrift notions that are the hallmark of the Democrat Party. Unlike D’Amore and his playmate Weicker, they do not want to preside over the destruction of their party.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On Sense And Satire

Everyone knows John Petroski by now: He was the hapless editor of a student newspaper at Central State College in New Britain who, attempting to write a satire about an “R” subject – Rape – got an “F” in satire and was roundly pilloried in the press, within the Central Connecticut State College community and, for all we know, at his family’s breakfast table. Everyone hates rape except rapists, and pretty much everyone is agreed that the subject ought to be treated gingerly.

Following the onslaught, Colin McEnroe, no amateur in the art of satire, attempted to make a few general points about satire and mercy on his blog site. The guy's a student, not Rush Limbaugh, and presumably students, as well as the rest of us, should be permitted to learn from their mistakes.

He wrote: “I don’t know this guy Petroski, and I certainly don't condone the stupid article he wrote, but let me say this: Enough. He actually stood there and took questions from the most angry audience imaginable, which is more than most people would have done. He may have written a wildly insensitive and ill-considered article, but it seems to me he stands corrected and has done proper penance.”

Alas, we live in merciless times. McEnroe’s ritualistic denunciations – “don’t condone the stupid article… insensitive and ill-considered article” – don’t mean a hoot when the mob wants to cut off Petroski’s head, fix it to a pike and wave it in the air -- to send a message of course; we live in the age of messaging.

Petroski’s attempt at satire, one commentator wrote, “embodied (*maybe* satirized) the sense of entitlement and self-absorption that are at the root of not only rape, but also many of the unilateralist, power-abusing injustices people impose upon each other.”

Got it.

McEnroe quickly discovered that this was not the time to make general observations about the nature of satire to his frothing audience. He would have been wiser – though far less courageous – to maintain a dignified silence. His denunciations of Petroski were rendered pointless by another of his remarks, certain to be denounced as insensitive, if not worse: “This has been the most over-hyped Connecticut story of the young year.”

Oh dear, I wrote to the stricken McEnroe in commiseration, “You just got your head a little too close to the feminist jabberwock. Nothing for it but to take an aspirin and go to bed. But watch those jaws that snap in your own satire (You’re a master at it, but we all fall short sometimes) and beware the frumious bandersnatch."

A quick visit to the Hartford Courant’s internet site shows an even dozen stories on Petroski, none of them flattering: “Rape Article Author Apologizes At CCSU: Removed As Opinion Editor, Petroski Says He Will Continue To Write For The Paper; “Student Writer Faces Angry Audience
Petroski Apologises For ‘Satire’ On Rape
”; “These Are Sorry Days For `Satire'” .

Only the stories on Ken Krayeske in the paper were more profuse. Of all the writers at the Courant, McEnroe now has the distinction of defending First Amendment right of freedom of speech both for Krayeske, for the moment a bright light to those fearless few who assert the right of dissenters to throw wrenches into the machine, and Petroski, the dark angel who summons up our worst misogynistic fears.

That is courage of a kind. And when one see’s it, one does not want to forget to tip one’s hat to it.

The Dirty Little Secret About Taxes And Education

Everything you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask about taxes, spending and education is here on Connecticut Taxed. To put it briefly: Whatever you tax tends to disappear.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Connecticut Conservative Congress Meeting

Even Kevin Rennie, widely regarded as a moderate Republican, took a hatchet to Gov. Rell following her budget address.

“But Rell now worships in the Capitol village,” Rennie wrote from his berth at the Hartford Courant, “She's gone native. The harder fight would have been to enforce discipline on the state behemoth. That would have required some hard slogging and backbone, and that's no longer Rell's way."

Both Rell and Rennie were Republicans together at the Capitol when former Governor Lowell Weicker jammed the income tax through a legislature that resisted the imposition -- to a point. Conservative talk show host Brad Davis recalls both Rell and Rennie ringing him up on the phone during those tumultuous days and telling him they thought they had the votes necessary to axe the tax. The Republicans hadn't counted on the defectors.

“‘Trust me,’ the governor said on Wednesday. But why would anyone be so foolish as to do that? She insulted the public by calling her historic proposal for billions in more taxes "a fractional increase in the income tax." She accompanies her assault on the public with an attack on clear and honest language.

“The rest of her rhetoric was no better. ‘Connecticut will never be about standing still.’ True enough, but don't send the economy into reverse at a time when even New York City and New Jersey are cutting taxes. The flight of jobs and workers went virtually unnoticed in Rell's address.

“’We are in a state of transition,’ she insists. Indeed we are. Stunted Michigan holds itself out in advertisements as a better place to do business.

“’It is long past the time that we become fiscally responsible,’ she declared, and then went on to crown herself the duchess of irresponsibility. She paid homage to the state's constitutional spending cap, a device for controlling what she once saw as a plague and now dresses as a virtue. She supports smashing through it because the blinkered and tiny group of people she listens to believe they can get away with it if it's wrapped in aid to moppets.

“One party controls Connecticut: the Establishment Party. Rell has assumed leadership of that conniving group. Whether other Republicans in public office debase themselves and join in disbanding their party will be a crucial question.”


A gathering of the Connecticut Conservative Congress in West Hartford, two days after Rell in her budget address canoodled with far left progressives, was a somewhat awkward affair. Present as a speaker at the gathering was newly appointed Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy who, in his brief remarks, outlined his impressive conservative credentials.

Healy lived near Bill Buckley when the conservative movement was but a gleam in his eye, worked on both Bill's and his brother Jim Buckly's New York campaigns and cut his political teeth on the Goldwater campaign, a precursor to Ronald Reagan's successful presidential run. Much later, Healy hitched up with former Sen. Rob Simmons and was laboring in the conservative vinyards when Rell eased his way into the chairmanship of the Republican Party. Apparently he was chosen to make straight to conservatives the rather crooked ways of the present governor, a tough row to hoe.

In deference to Healy, whose conservativism is deep and abiding, the other speakers were careful not to mention the pink elephant in the room; Rell’s name never crossed the lips of any of the speakers, among whom were Alan Schlesinger, Dr. Miriam Masullo, Paul Streitz and Mike McGarry, but in the audience there were murmurs of rebellion that did not reach the dais.

The pleasant and unexpected surprise of the afternoon meeting was African American Hartford Republican mayoralty candidate Reverend Stanley McCauley, the Executive Director of Hartford Public Access Television, who was called to the dais in the absence of another speaker; the Hartford minister regaled the conservatives with an improvised talk that was both captivating and effortlessly delivered. Barack Obama move over.

While the clarion call from the dais was “Don’t give up the ship,” conservatives sitting in the audience were already bailing, and Schlesinger hit a hot button when he mentioned the great failing of the Connecticut Republican Party. The party has become unmoored from its traditional principles: limited government, personal responsibility and rule from the roots up. If it does not stand for something, the Republican Party will stand for anything and, sadly, disappear as an effective alternative to Democrats in what is fast becoming a one party state.

That theme was roundly applauded by an audience that packed the Elmwood Community Center, but then conservatives have always known that if the product is non-sellable, the packaging is unimportant, and many of them are anxiously looking forward to Rell’s mock battle with the Democrat dominated legislature; it will be like watching an anaconda swallowing a mouse.

Plaudits For Jodi: Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Jodi’s New Friends

Gov. Jodi Rell’s budget address – the one in which she surrenders all the silver in the Republican Party cabinet to Democrats – was received differently in different parts of the political barracks.

Asked about the Governor Rell’s budget address by host Colin McEnroe on his radio talk show, Hartford Courant columnist and failed gubernatorial candidate Bill Curry said, “I thought it was great. I thought it was the best speech I ever heard her give. I think that it’s the second time that she’s taken a great Democratic trophy and put it on herself. This is a woman with a collector’s eye for Democratic issues. The first one was campaign finance reform, now property taxes… My reaction to her calling for this much change in the worst public policy we have – kudos… What she said today went far beyond my expectations.”

President Pro Tem of the Senate Don Williams was astonished. “It kind of blew our minds, when we heard the rumor at the end of the day yesterday. It’s not what we expected at all – to see a Republican governor come out with a budget, big spending initiatives. It’s unlike a budget that any Republican governor in my memory has come out with.”

John DeStefano, who ran against Rell as governor and was thumped after having laid out in painfully specific detail his Big Plan for the state, was pleasantly blindsided. The DeStefano Plan involved a hike in taxes to pay for Utopia, gobs of money for education, and the promise of a millionaire’s tax so the common folk would not flee Connecticut for, say, South Carolina, a state that is in the process of throwing off its own income tax incubus. Referring to Rell’s budget address, leftist radio talk show host Colin McEnroe asked DeStefano, “Did you see yesterday coming?”

DeStefano answered, “Nope, pleasant surprise. I gotta tell you I didn’t see it coming both in terms of the willingness to grab an issue like education and just like push it out there, and frankly to do something no Democrat’s done: putting the income tax on the table. Whether you agree with her or not, give her credit for putting it on the table, and for blowing past the cap… In the general direction the governor went, she got it right.”

DeStefano agreed with McEnroe that Rell had effectively repositioned herself to the left of Jim Amann and the New Haven mayor wondered where the Rell defection would leave Republicans: “If you’re a Republican there in the chamber, I don’t know where that leaves you. I mean, frankly it leaves you nowhere…Maybe it says more about where Connecticut is right now, where our politics in the state are right now and that we’ve gone to a very different place, where fairly progressive policies say, 'Look it’s smart to invest in our kids; it’s smart to invest in transit.' You know, the vocabulary has changed in Connecticut.”

Will The Middle Hold?

As usual, Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer provided the most trenchant analysis of the governor’s speech. In his regular column – pretty much worth the price of the whole newspaper – Powell strips away the grosser pretensions.

In blowing away the cap while insisting that it should remain the cornerstone of Connecticut’s fiscal policy, Rell has exposed her devious side.

“And thus the governor's credibility, having been earned painstakingly after the resignation of her corrupt predecessor, began to crumble. Like her predecessor once removed, Lowell P. Weicker Jr., father of the state income tax, Rell quickly capitulated to the government class without a fight."

The decision to evade the constitutional cap on spending that legislators inserted at the time the income tax debate was raging – mostly in order to pull the wool over the eyes of the booboisie – is, on the face of it, unconstitutional, Powell says.

“For, in the first place, while the spending limit amendment in the state Constitution is a bit fuzzy, it does not allow exceptions for "targeted" spending. Rather, exceeding the limit is allowed only upon declaration of "an emergency" or "extraordinary circumstances." Of course there is no "emergency" and nothing "extraordinary" about school spending. As even the governor acknowledged, school spending is an old issue that has been and will be faced every year; it is not war, terrorist attack, or insurrection. "Emergency" does not mean merely "tiresome."

“Second, the amendment does not care about particulars of spending; it applies to total spending, to restrain everything.

“And third, proposing to bust the spending cap to aid education even as she warned the legislature against busting the cap for anything else, the governor proclaimed a double standard, which is always the worst blow to public confidence. That is, the governor said busting the cap would be OK for her purposes but not for anyone else's.

“Rell's immediate predecessor went to jail because he thought himself above the law. The law Rell is violating is not criminal but this distinction may not prevent the public from realizing that it has been duped again -- and so soon!

“The spending limit amendment, enacted in 1992 to mollify voters for the state income tax that was passed the previous year, meant to reconnect state government's standard of living with that of the taxpayers. The amendment tied the growth in spending to the growth in personal income in the state. Lately, under the weight of ever more pervasive and yet less effectual government, personal income has stagnated along with population. Anticipating that, the amendment requires that any hardship for the public must be matched by economy in government. But for years now government has responded to the public's hardship not by getting more value for taxes but by moving expenses outside the jurisdiction of the spending cap and by exempting more expenses from ordinary democratic review, turning them into "fixed costs," costs that can't be touched, just accepted and paid without discussion. This is contempt for the public, democracy, and the Constitution, contempt in which Governor Rell now has heartily joined, as if it could be camouflaged by the young students she planted as props on the floor of the House during her budget address.”


Liberating the Right

The Right in Connecticut – which has no voice in the mainstream media and whose message cannot reach the “vital center” in the state, placid and positioned in the center of the political church, all waiting quietly for the sermon to end – has been in open rebellion against the governor for some time. They view Lisa Moody as Rell’s Rovian brain and point to her disposition to make private deals with Democrats while she was a political force to be reckoned with in Vernon as an indication that Rell's administration has passed it’s Rubicon. The Rell budget will liberate conservatives and libertarians from any suspicion that this governor and her enablers in the Republican Party can advance Republican Party interests.

The Right has now adopted a Archimedian view of politics. Archimedes, it will be recalled, was celebrated for having said, “Give me a place outside the world where I can place my lever, and I will move the world.” Nothing useful or edifying can be done from within Republican Party precincts.

“On a practical level,” one conservative told me, “there’s much work to be done. Republicans and Democrats should be encouraged to write letters not to their newspapers, which are a lost cause, but to both the Republican and Democratic Party central committees, requesting them to remove their names from all mailing lists used to generate funds for the parties. Why should we pay a Republican Party to advance the interests of the Democratic Party? That money should be spent to purchase the services of a top-notch constitutional lawyer – NOT RICHARD BLUMENTHAL – to challenge Rell and the Democrats for having UNCONSTITUTIONALLY busted the cap.”

It’s a beginning.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Unpacking the Progressive Verbiage

It is apparent, even after even a cursory study of Jodi Rell’s budget message, that Mayor of New Haven John DeStefano, slain as a gubernatorial candidate, lives on as a ghost inhabiting the body of the current governor. Rell's comments on previous budgets mark the change. At the same time, it is also apparent that Rell’s proposal to boost education spending through an increase in the income tax, rather than a tax on half-millionaires, has exposed Democrat pretensions.

Sounding very much like a conservative the day after Gov. Jodi Rell’s Budget address, Democrat Speaker of House Jim Amann, touched by the performance, said of the increasingly progressive governor, “First of all, she's all wet. We raised too many taxes already or else we wouldn't have a surplus. Somebody's being overtaxed, and I think the governor should understand that. I don't need to be lectured by someone who was part of the Rowland-Rell administration. Give me a break! She's also taxing the same people who got nailed with huge utility increases, and the middle class is tired of it."

And then he went and spoiled it all by adding, “She's taxing the wrong people.” A true progressive, Amann believes that millionaires – Connecticut for the moment is flush with them – are the right people to tax. Rell has said the millionaire’s tax is negotiable. Having given away the silver in the Republican Party’s cabinet, she has very little left to negotiate, but both she and Amann are comfortable taxing someone to pay for additions to Connecticut’s sprawling educational empire. Down the road -- and the end of the road comes on you quickly in the progressive era we appear to be entering -- someone will have to pay. Rell believes that those who consume state services ought to pay for them; Amann and his Democrat brethren at the capitol believe that the “guy behind the tree” who earns more than $500,000 per year should pick up the bill. “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me,” Huey Long once said, “tax the guy behind the tree.”

Few taxpayers in Connecticut unconnected to the state’s education bureaucracy would agree, if asked, to shell out more tax money for overpaid teachers. In fact, at the municipal level, the little people have been remarkably persistent in saying “no” through referendums to unreasonable increases in town budgets.

So then, when a spokesperson for the education establishment says that stringent municipal budgets are “causing problems at the local level,” the statement ought to be taken as a short and misleading way of saying this: “Look, we – teachers, boards of educations and representatives of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities – wanted a budget increase in (place the name of your town here) of 10 to 12 percent. However, since (place the name of your town here) appears to be inhabited by folk who resent being burglarized by third grade teachers, easily intimidated boards of education members, panting members of the Conference of Connecticut Municipalities and Edith Prague, the budget we proposed was rejected four times until our increase was pared down to a miserly four percent. We cannot survive with a four percent increase. We need at least 10; 12 is better, otherwise problems will be caused at the local level.”

The so called “problem” at the local level is not a problem at all. It is, in fact, a democratic solution to a problem of overspending mentioned by Amann in his reaction to Rell’s budget. When you spend beyond your means, someone other than Jim Amann is supposed to tell you to moderate your appetite, and that is exactly what happens when the little people in towns across Connecticut tell boards of education in referendums that they cannot accept unreasonable increases in education spending.

But – surely state level politicians have noticed – there is no state referendum. So then, when Rell increases to 50% the amount of money paid by the state to towns for inflated educational costs she is providing “relief” to precisely those people who have a personal interest in boosting educational costs. They will be relieved that the additional money will allow them to forgo embarrassing referendums.

Both the Rell plan and the Amann plan are, in the precise sense of the words, licenses to spend without political consequences – which means that spending, out of control right now, will not be reigned in anytime soon. And in the absence of rational politicians, the state is much in need of a state-wide referendum on state budgets that will allow the little people to say no to extravagant spending – even if millionaires pick up the bulk of the tab.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Rell Unleashed, The 2007 Budget

We’ve been here – multiple times. Gov. Jodi Rell’s budget plan increases to 50% the funds given to municipalities by the state, largely for education. It is, in a word, warmed over DeStefano, the Democrat candidate who ran against Rell for governor. Rell prevailed in that contest because most voters thought she would be a less high maintenance governor than her Democrat counterpart.

It is doubtful whether there is one legislator at the capitol, with the possible exception of Edith Prague, who sincerely believes there is a direct correlation between money spent on education, most of which is consumed in salaries, and the quality of education.

If there were such a correlation, urban students in Hartford would be outpacing students in the suburbs, and the performance of students from the Amistad Academy, an “Achievement First” college preparatory school in New Haven, would not exceed that of public schools that draw from the same pool of students. By every measure of academic excellence, the Amistad students outperform their pedagogical counterparts in public schools -- even in toney New Canaan. The myth that more money produces more educated scholars persists because legislators at the beck and call of powerful and resourceful teacher unions lack the intestinal fortitude to do what has to be done to improve the educational product, especially in urban pedagogical environments.

Non-performing urban public schools should have been closed down long ago; that measure at least would have saved the state and municipalities some money. The Rell budget plan finances failure; it maintains non-performing public schools and adds to the mix money – lots of new money – that will finance both failing public schools and a smattering of magnet schools.

In addition, the Rell plan will finance with new tax money – lots of new money -- earlier schooling, which ought never to be confused with earlier education. The difference between schooling and education is the difference between the educational product offered in non-performing urban schools and that offered in the Amistad Academy. Pre-pre-kindergarten classes are pedagogical holding pens for the children of parents many of whom must hold down multiple jobs or work longer hours to meet their own private budget obligations -- which will be increased by the Rell budget.

Moments after Rell unveiled her budget plan, Greenwich Republican William Nickerson said he needed to take a pill. Some Democrats were more ebullient and described the two-year, $35.8 billion budget plan as “historic” and “brilliant.” The sinking of the Lusitania, it may be recalled, also was “historic,” and it is not at all surprising that a plan which borrows heavily from “Big Idea” Democrats would be described by them as “brilliant.”

The powerful Speaker of the state House of Representatives, Jim Amman, was not among those throwing rose petals at Rell’s feet.

Scratching his head, Amman pondered, “The big question here right now is: Do we really need all that revenue?” Raising the state income tax by $3.4 billion over five years may seem to some more fiscally conservative Democrats a tad excessive. The additional spending proposed by Rell would break the constitutionally mandated spending cap and increase the state income tax by 10%, not the brightest of strategies at a time when businesses and young people are fleeing the state.

Ordinarily, one could count on Republicans to be guided by perceptions that low tax states serve as magnets for new business, but in the Rell plan one sees the lead Republican in Connecticut jumping the ideological barricades, with a flash of petticoats, in a crude attempt to be more Democratic than the Democrats.

Some southern states are laying plans to eliminate state income taxes, and the legislature in Utah is on the point of passing, by one slender vote, a voucher system for their public schools. Under such a system, parents are given vouchers representing the amount taxpayers shell out for education per child to purchase education in schools of their choice. A voucher system in Connecticut undoubtedly would result in more Amistad Academies and fewer non-performing public schools, which would be definanced by empowered consumers. The “historic” voucher system sprang from the fertile and “brilliant” brain of noted conservative economist Milton Friedman. The Iowa voucher plan will, over a period of time, separate the pedagogical chaff from the wheat and encourage education rather than schooling.

No such luck here.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Where Are They Now?

Alan Schlesinger, the Republican nominee for governor in the last election, has a home in Florida. And from this redoubt he plans to challenge new U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, according to recent news reports (read: “rumors”).

Ned Lamont, the heartbeat of the progressive movement in Connecticut – John DeStefano appears to be temporarily satisfied with his current position as mayor of New Haven – is planning an assault on Chris Shays’ seat in the US House of Representatives, according to recent news reports (read: “rumors”). This one seems plausible because bored millionaires are much in the habit of spending chunks of their fortune on easily purchased prestige acquired through political means.

Dianne Farrell, Shays' challenger mentioned in a recent interview that she once had taught Angelina Jolie, who is not married to Brad Pitt. Farrell revealed in the interview that Jolie's puffy lips were the real deal; no artificial insemination there. Farrell simply did not posses the political acumen to persuade Jolie to campaign for her. Had she done so, most of the red-blooded males in her district might have fled Shays like the plague, making a future Lamont campaign unnecessary. Life is full of missed cues like this.

Lowell Weicker, another bored millionaire, will, of course, back the Lamont candidacy: Former Republican Party Chairman Tom D'Amore, once Weicker's chief aide, is getting antsy hanging around the house, and the two haven't conspired to destroy Republican prospects since the last time -- which, come to think of it, was only a few months ago. They could have backed Schlesinger, now forced to beg for votes in Florida.

Nancy Johnson – dubbed the “Queen of Mean” by progressive detractors – is tending to housewifely chores and seemingly enjoying her forced retirement.

And someone is spreading ugly rumors that Edith Prague, a fixture in the state legislature, intends to write a bill establishing a People’s Toll Booth at the front of the Legislative Office Building, recently the scene of a Watergate style break-in. Governor Rell also is anxious to raise more revenue for the state, mostly to support failing schools that the ruling elite, with a curtsey to teacher’s unions, is determined not to shut down, to which end the governor has proposed an increase in the income tax. Both Prague and Rell, unappeasable revenue boosters, will be with us for some time – unless, though this seems unlikely, the state Republican Party begins to offer some resistance to the status quo: higher taxes, more spending and accelerated business flight.

Finally, Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat perennial favorite for governor is still, alas, the state attorney general, but two recent miss-steps – his appointment as the Connecticut chairman for Sen. Chris Dodd’s nose-diving presidential campaign and his failure to sue Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez for something (for anything actually) – have given hope to millions that he might, with a little persuasion, agree to abandon his sinecure for either Rell’s or Dodd’s present position.

These speculations are tentative because a) only a few benighted idiots believe that Dodd was not a lying Pinocchio when the wrote the federal campaign commission that he would not run for senator ever again, b) Blumenthal 1s a great prankster, one in spirit with the two plumbers who revived hope among silver-haired news hounds that Watergate is not dead, and c) Governor Rell likely will not retire to Florida after her current terms ends, a rumor begun, some suppose, by the disgruntled Schlesinger in repayment of the governor's non-support during his late race against Lamont and Senator Joe Lieberman, who is, much to the regret of sore-loser progressives, still alive and kicking against the pricks in Washington DC.

But the final nail in the Blumenthal-for-governor campaign may be his recent attempt to reduce energy costs for consumers by encouraging Rell to enter the extremely competitive and complex energy business. The same state that finds it necessary to raise taxes to support an educational structure that cannot teach urban children to read by the fourth grade now wants to help citizens crushed by high taxes with their energy bills by becoming an energy broker.

That final step toward the Rubicon would be what real brokers call a bad investment.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

LOBGate We Hardly Knew’Ya

After LOBgaters Rick Lopes and Stephen Palmer had been disciplined, the usually verbose Senate Democratic spokesman, Patrick Scully issued a brief statement: "Although the actions of the employees were not criminal, it should be clear that Senate Democrats take this situation very seriously and consider the behavior of the individuals unprofessional and unacceptable. Such conduct will not be tolerated. Appropriate disciplinary action has been taken in this case."

The two aides, both attached to the government administration and elections committee, the legislative committee that earlier investigated improprieties committed by Gov. Jodi Rell’s chief aide Lisa Moody, were caught on tape rifling through the desk of Republican aide Juliannna Simone, who was interviewed after the event by channel 8 reporter Mark Davis.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., who in an early report had briefly mentioned Watergate in connection with the high jinks of the two fun loving Democrat aides, thought the punishment was unsatisfactory. One aide was suspended and another is due for reassignment. At the very least, Lopes and Palmer had created “a hostile work environment for Simone,” Caferno said. "This just moves the hostile work environment to another location."

Apparently, there will be no further investigation by the government administration and elections committee, which has exhausted itself holding hearings on Republican misdeeds.

The Moody hearing, it will be recalled, followed an investigation in which Moody was cleared of criminal wrongdoing. At hearings, it becomes possible to catch the person being interrogated by legislators in a misrepresentation and afterwards prosecute, or threaten to prosecute, for perjury. No such indignity will await the two amateur plumbers whose discipline has satisfied Scully and the leadership of the Democrat dominated legislature. Power does, after all, have its prerogatives.

The inspector Javier of the Moody hearings was co-chairman of the government administration and elections committee Christopher Caruso, a Bridgeport Democrat who is to ethical probity what Mother Teresa was to charitable works. Moody claimed she had not read with sufficient attention a memo on which she had made marginal comments. My own insignificant contribution to the Moody affair was a column in which I wondered why no one, defending those who cannot remember memos they have signed, had yet proposed the Bronson Alcott defense on Moody’s behalf.

“Alcott,” I wrote, “was the father of Lousia May Alcott and a noted transcendentalist. One day while walking in the woods with a friend, thinking deep transcendental thoughts, he collided with tree and was promptly felled. He picked himself up, brushed himself off, and proceeded to explain to his friend that the accident had occurred because, while he had seen the tree, he hadn’t realized it.”

The Alcott defense may profitably be invoked in the present case.

For instance, we saw the video showing the two Democrat staffers riffling through the drawers of the only Republican staffer on the government administration and elections committee – the very same group of erstwhile ethicists that eased Republican Gov. John Rowland into a Loretto, Pennsylvania prison – but we hadn’t realized it.

We suspect that the harassment endured by Simone was either personal or political but, preferring to regard it as a prank, rather as if Lopes and Palmer were preadolescents dipping their victim’s pigtail in an inkwell, we have yet to realize it. Perhaps the ransacking of her workspace did have a political dimension that will never be fully appreciated in the absence of a legislative investigation.

To get to a legislative hearing we must first get by the gatekeepers, all of whom have an interest in persuading objective observers that Democrat functionaries need not be inconvenienced by such political puff-puffery.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Ken Krayeske Show

A good part of Ken Krayeske’s adult life has been one of provocation. There is nothing unseemly in this; the same is true of some journalists and other adult provocateurs – artists, for example. Andres Serrano who, several years back, dipped a crucifix in a vial of his own urine, dubbing the final product “art,” was robustly provocative. Serrano, implausibly, was surprised at all the fuss he had caused. Sometimes, when you provoke, the provocation is successful. There is nothing alarming in all this; it’s simply the way the world works. You set out to insult Catholics; your provocation is successful; Catholics are insulted. So then Serrano, non-artists and people with ordinary sensibility said, you are surprised? Come off it.

On Sunday, in front of the courthouse in Hartford, the Ken Krayeske show was in full flower. A picture in the Hartford Courant – there have been dozens in Connecticut newspapers since Krayeske was detained by the Hartford police, shuttled off to a holding pen and penalized with an unreasonably high bond, later withdrawn -- is worth a thousand words. It shows the Krayeske ensemble, a half dozen protestors, one on a mountain bike, stretched before the courthouse holding several placards celebrating their First Amendment rights. Congress… Shall Make… No law… Abridging… The Freedom... Of Speech... Or Of The Press.

The most judicious piece on the Krayeske show was written by Stan Simpson of the Hartford Courant. Simpson allows that Krayeske was not a bomb thrower, but he also gently suggests that provocateurs, encouraged by the equivalent of a roiling peace-in-our-times-mob, may sometimes go over the cliff. To the Hartford police, Krayeske’s actions on the day of his arrest certainly seemed alarming enough to cause them to intervene. But then, Simpson perhaps has a more just appreciation of life on the blood stained streets of Hartford than, say, the guy on the mountain bike and racer hat featured in the picture who came to lend his support to the cause. Simpson noted that one of his fellow ink stained wretches at the paper had compared Krayeske’s plight to that of Martin Luther King’s and commented, “Wow!”

The police were right to intervene, Simpson said – it’s always better to be safe than sorry – but let’s call the whole thing off anyway. We now know that Krayeske was on that day packing nothing more harmless than a camera in his carrying pouch and that he was racing toward the front of the parade on his bike to snap a fetching picture of Governor Rell as she marched down the street to her inaugural ball. Krayske was detained, according to the arrest report, as he ditched the bike and stepped off the curb. Can’t we back away from this?

All very sensible.

But, to vary a phrase of Tina Turner, what’s sense got to do with it?

Krayeske, and the crowd that now surrounds him, are in the provocation business, and they do not plan to discard the lemon until they have rung out of it the last drop of bitter juice. What’s the point in making a point if you are unwilling to shove it’s sharp edge into the breast of your enemy?

In an early blog on Krayeske, I had inadvertently misspelled his name. I received from him a polite note noting the misspelling in the title of the blog and asking for a correction. I was happy to oblige – his name was spelled correctly in the text – because mispronunciations of proper names send me into minor tailspins. Before Joe Pesci started stuffing bodies in trunks, my own name was mauled by a thousand tongues. I wrote back that in the days ahead no one would ever again misspell “Krayeske.” I will treasure that note: It marks the point when Krayeske passed from the usually allotted fifteen minutes of fame into celebrityhood.

Before he’s sucked totally into the vortex, a direct appeal may not be out of place. So then Ken, if Simpson is successful in persuading the cops to drop the charges, can we back away from this one?

Ken Replies

Don

Blogger's comment are down, otherwise I would reply to you. I just may
do so on my blog at some point this weekend.

And, uh, I hate to say this again, but you've got a few more name
misspellings (not just one instance of mine, but you leave a P out of
Simpson's name in one spot).

Whatever the case with copyediting (and I understand the difficulties of
one man copyediting, trust me on this), I enjoyed the column and thought
it was a well-written, reasonable exploration of the situation.

And one small question: Is Samuel Adams - one of the premier Sons of
Liberty - not inviting his countrymen to provocation in the quote on top
of your blog? "If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of
servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We
seek not your counsel or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that
feeds you; may your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity
forget that ye were our countrymen!"

According to wikipedia: "Samuel Adams is best remembered for helping
organize the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, in
response to the Tea Act — a tax law passed in London that was simply an
increase in the taxes on tea paid by American colonists. As British
tea-ships sat in Boston Harbor waiting for payment of the import tax,
Samuel Adams energized a large crowd that was gathered at the port and
sent several men to dump all of the tea from the three ships into the
Boston Harbor to the delight of the assembled spectators on shore. In
response to this escapade, Parliament passed the "Intolerable Acts"; which called for the
revocation of the colonial charter of Massachusetts and the closing of
the ports of Boston. The angry reaction from all the colonies was to
expedite the opening of a Continental Congress, and when the
Massachusetts legislature met in Salem on June 17, 1774, Adams locked the doors and made a motion for the formation of a colonial delegation to attend the
Congress. A loyalist member, faking illness, was excused from the
assembly and immediately went to the governor, who issued a writ for the
legislature's dissolution; however, when the legislator returned to find
a locked door, he could do nothing."

If what is happening to me isn't the animating contest of freedom, well
then I'm a monkey's uncle, or maybe I'm a flea bit peanut monkey (and
all my friends are junkies - but that's not really true (h/t mick
jagger)). Or as John Lennon said, everyone's got something to hide
except for me and my monkey. Or perhaps this is all just shocking to us
monkeys.

Peace (and plenty of rock and roll primate allusions),
KK

Ken,

Surely you don't think I have anything against provocation. Me???!!!

But when you do provoke intentionally, you ought to leave both your innocence and your surprise at the door. What, me arrested!!! Sam didn't do it that way. And by the by, I noticed in your reply that you did not answer the question for which this piece was written. Your lawyer says you are directing the course of events here. So, if charges are dropped, are you going to pack it in -- maybe listen to a few Beatles records, or what?