Monday, March 30, 2009

End the War on Terror

According to Al Kamen of the Washington Post, a low level career servant in the Obama administration is making strenuous efforts to end the phrase “global war on terror.”

Mr. Kamen has unearthed an e-mail that has been circulating for some time among senior administrative officials.

"’Recently, in a LtGen [John] Bergman, USMC, statement for the 25 March [congressional] hearing, OMB required that the following change be made before going to the Hill,’ Dave Riedel, of the Office of Security Review, wrote in an e-mail.

"’OMB says: “This Administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT]. Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.'”

“Riedel asked recipients to ‘Please pass on to your speech writers and try to catch this change before the statements make it to OMB.’

“An OMB spokesman took issue with the interpretation of OMB's wishes. ‘There was no memo, no guidance," said Kenneth Baer. "This is the opinion of a career civil servant.’

“Referring to the phrase ‘global war on terror,’ Baer said, ‘I have no reason to believe that would be stricken" from Hill testimony.”

The prospective change has produced something of a cottage industry among some bloggers offering suggested titles for the late lamented “global war on terror.”

* The War of Northern American Aggression

* That Trouble in the Middle East

* Overseas Man-Caused Conflict

* The Roosting of Our Chickens

* Operation Wacky Iraqi Attacky (wait, that was Bush’s suggestion)

* Our Contribution to the Zionist Conspiracy

* Bush’s Mess

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Fishwrap


Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, the closest thing Connecticut has to a Delphic oracle, has said that the 90 per cent tax Democrats want to levy against AIG bonuses is constitutional. Now, helpfully, a law professor at Quinnipiac, William Dunlap, has written a piece in the Hartford Courant [“There’s Nothing Illegal About Tax to Take Back Bonuses”] that asks and answers the question, “Is confiscatory taxation constitutional?”

Short (honest) answer: It’s okay, if Democrats do it.”

Another professor, Ken Dautrich in the Department of Public Policy at UConn, asks a question dear to the heart of every Democrat, “Is Dodd Beatable?”

Short answer: Maybe yes, maybe no.

On the plus side, Dodd has money, fame and the good will of much of Connecticut’s liberal press. On the downside, there is Kevin Rennie.

“Is Mrs. Rell ‘Dishonest?’” asked the authoritorial Hartford Courant in one of its editorial epistles.

Short answer: We just don’t know.

Is the state budget deficit $7.4 billion, Mrs. Rell’s figure, or $8.7 billion, a figure favored by Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams?

We just don’t know.

The editorial makes no attempt to answer the question: “How, after the institution of an income tax favored by the Courant in the early 90’s of the last century, did we end up with a defict larger than the last pre-income tax budget? And answer to that question might make interesting reading, and it also might point the way out of Connecticut doldrums. But, alas, such an answer might point a crooked finger at past Democrat controlled legislatures and gubernatorial offices controlled by the moderate Republicans the paper so idolizes.

Which brings us back to Blumenthal. Could he not sue someone to liquidate the defict?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What’s in a Word? Pope Blumenthal, Bishop McDonald and Archbishop Lawlor Seek Shelter From The Pitiless Storm

The thousands of Catholics who descended upon the state’s Capitol to protest Raised Bill No. 1098 will be gratified to learn that the whole sorry business was the result, according to a news report in the Journal Inquirer, of a misunderstanding concerning the meaning of the expression “ex-officio.”

Those Latin formulations; they get you every time.

Sen. Andrew McDonald, who along with Rep. Michael Lawlor in the House is one of the two co-chairmen of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, received in 2007 a communication from an understandably upset parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church in Greenwich, Mr. Thomas Gallagher.

Three years ago, a Stamford detective hired by parishioners of St. John’s Roman Catholic Church to investigate strange goings-on in the rectory of the church had documented that its pastor, the Reverend Michael Jude Fay, had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars of church money to finance a lavish lifestyle with another man. The Reverend Fay, then a member of the diocese’s sexual misconduct review board formed to look into allegations of clerical sexual misconduct, spent the money on limousine rides, a Florida condo, restaurants and cruises, according to a story in the Hartford Advocate.

The Rev. Fay was in due course defrocked and sentenced, and measures were put in place across the state to make Catholic church financing as transparent as that of Sen. Chris Dodd and the co-chairs of the judiciary committee. At his sentencing hearing, a repentant Fay addressed the judge: “I beg your mercy not to send me to prison. I am already in prison,” to which the judge responded, “Forgiveness is going to have to come from elsewhere and from others because that is not a part of what the court is charged with doing.”

The letter written by Gallagher to McDonald has now been produced by McDonald at the tail end of a controversy in which both McDonald and Lawlor have accepted responsibility, sort of, for having supported a bill, Raised Bill No 1098, that, had it passed, would have changed the apostolic nature of the Catholic Church.

Gallagher earlier professed “surprise” at the bill that was shaped under the direction of both co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee. Gallagher never intended, he said, to deprive bishops and archbishops of his church of their authority to direct the finances of their parishes. The bill that emerged from the judiciary nursery did exactly that, and when Raised Bill No. 1098 blew up in the faces of judiciary co-chairs McDonald and Lawlor, both professed surprise.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee professed surprise that a bill constructed from a two year old letter written by an understandably upset parishioner had been concealed from them, only to pop out of news reports a few days before the co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee had arranged a hearing on the matter. They were further surprised when the co-chairs unaccountably called off the hearing.

In the interim, thousands of Catholics had shown up on the Capitol lawn to profess their discomfort with the bill; Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had appeared in print announcing that the bill was, in his opinion, a violation of First Amendment rights; and the legal foundation upon which the bill rested had been yanked away by constitutional law scholars, priests, Republican and Democrat members of the Judiciary Committee and others who testified before a hastily called Republican forum on Raised Bill No. 1098.

When the bill collapsed, all the homeowners had fled the premises. Out of the ruins, Lawlor and McDonald stepped forward to declare that they never had intended to deceive their colleagues on the Judiciary Committee; this despite the fact that Republicans, priests and constitutional scholars were never notified concerning the content of the co-chairmen’s pig in a poke.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal got a smidgen of dust in his hair.

If Raised Bill No. 1098 had been a Shakespearian play – say Hamlet – the attorney general, who has often worked hand in glove with Mr. Lawlor and Mr. McDonald to push legislation all three favor, would be playing the part of Hamlet in the play, so central was his role in Raised Bill No. 1098.

In the bill, which reorganizes the apostolic structure of the Catholic Church, an act of supererogation comparable to rearranging the Milky Way, Blumenthal was assigned the role of decider-in-chief. The bill replaced the present apostolic structure of the Catholic Church with a corporation board, similar to that of Protestant churches. The operative assumption seemed to be that in making Catholic churches more Protestant, the architects of the bill would be making the church less prone to financial irregularities. The purpose of the board, created out of whole cloth by McDonald and Lawlor, was to receive complaints regarding finances and refer to Blumenthal, the decider-in-chief, any legally questionable ones. In such matters, the bill would give to Blumenthal the authority to settle the disputes – a role now assigned to bishops and archbishops and popes.

But central casting, it would now appear, never contacted the attorney general, in his words, “before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly… Far from seeking the powers or role such a proposal might authorize, I have explicitly rejected them.”

Here is a tentative theory: The oleaginous co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, Lawlor and McDonald, concealed the nature of their bill from their Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee because they wished to slide their pig-in-a-poke past vigilant Catholics.

And they may have sandbagged the usually vigilant Blumenthal along the way.

Pope Blumenthal has not yet divulged whether he intends to grant McDonald and Lawlor a plenary indulgence, but the attorney general – whose powers and authority apparently are omniscient and omnipresent – has not yet abandoned his plans to review statutory regulations that facilitate the constitutional liberties of Connecticut’s religious institutions and pronounce, in one of the papal bulls he regularly releases to Connecticut's facile media, on their constitutionality.

The co-chairs of the judiciary committee, bishop McDonald and archbishop Lawlor, no doubt will be useful to pope Blumenthal in his future efforts.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Blumie and Me: A Matter of Opinion

Monday, March 23, 2009 1:37:56

Dear Mr. Pesci,

I write regarding a gross factual error in your recent column in the Greenwich Citizen on a proposed bill concerning the finances of the Roman Catholic Church. Your column completely misstates and misrepresents my position on this proposal. In fact, the position you attribute to me is the exact opposite of the one I have taken.

Neither I nor my office played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly. When asked about the proposal, I have stated consistently and repeatedly that it appears to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. Far from seeking the powers or role such a proposal might authorize, I have explicitly rejected them.

Fortunately, the proposal now appears to be dead, its supporters having effectively withdrawn it.

I respectfully request that you issue a correction and edit any future versions of the column -- as well as posts on your website -- to accurately reflect my position and public statements on this bill.

Sincerely Yours,

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

______________________________


Monday, March 23, 2009 8:58

Attorney General Blumenthal,

Your letter makes reference to a column, but does not identify the column.
So far as I know, the only column written by me and printed in the Greenwich paper is the one that begins:

“Serious questions have been raised concerning the language of Raised Bill 1098. This is a bill that essentially compels a re-formation of Catholic Church authority, which now resides in its bishops, archbishops and the pope, considered to be the head of the Catholic Church.”

Is this the column you are objecting to?

Yours

Don Pesci

______________


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mr. Pesci,

This is Chris Hoffman in the ag’s press office. The article the ag is referring to is attached.

__________________


This is the column as it appeared in the Greenwich paper:

CAPITOL COMMENTARY/ Don Pesci

Pope Blumenthal, Bishops Lawlor, McDonald church reformers?
Posted: 03/13/2009 10:33:10 AM EDT

Serious questions have been raised concerning the language of Raised Bill 1098. This is a bill that essentially compels a re-formation of Catholic Church authority, which now resides in its bishops, archbishops and the pope, considered to be the head of the Catholic Church.

The bill establishes for Catholics churches boards that would direct the finances of the churches and at the same time makes bishops and arch bishops powerless witnesses to the actions of the board.

According to the bill, "The corporation shall have a board of directors consisting of not less than seven nor more than 13 lay members. The archbishop or bishop of the diocese or his designee shall serve as an ex-officio member of the board of directors without the right to vote."

The stated purpose of the bill is "To revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church and provide for the investigation of the misappropriation of funds by religious corporations."

The powers of the board, enumerated in the bill, include establishing and approving budgets; managing the financial affairs of the corporation; providing for the auditing of the financial records of the corporation; developing and implementing strategic plans and capital projects and developing outreach programs and other services to be provided to the community.

Having deprived the bishops and archbishops of the Catholic Church of the power, right and authority to direct its finances, the bill amusingly notes in closing that "nothing in this section shall be construed to limit, restrict or derogate from any power, right, authority, duty or responsibility of the bishop or pastor in matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and practices."

The bill providentially orders the board it has invented from whole cloth to report financial irregularities to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a busy bee who apparently has enough time on his hands to stand in for prelates of the Catholic Church, yet another power added to the attorney general's borderless reservoir of powers, few of which are enumerated in his job description.

Worst of all, the bill is church specific. The title of the bill is "An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Corporations," and the opening line of the bill reads, "A corporation may be organized in connection with any Roman Catholic Church or congregation in this state."

The first rule of law, more ancient than constitutions, is that laws should be general rather than specific, since specific bills tend to be regarded as punitive, affecting, in this case, one church in Connecticut rather than all religious institutions in the state.

As lawmakers, both Blumenthal and the co-chairs of the state judiciary committee, Michael Lawlor and Andrew McDonald both know, or should know, that "The movement of progressive societies," in the words of Sir Henry Maine (Ancient Law, London 1861) "has hitherto been a movement from status to contract."

And they must know that the "true contrast to a reign of status," in the words of Fredrich Hayak (The Constitution of Liberty) "is the reign of general and equal laws, of the rules which are the same for all, or, as we might say, of the rule of leges, in the original meaning of the Latin word for laws - leges, that is, as opposed to priv-leges."

The current bill brazenly targets a specific religious sub group (Catholics) rather than the proper general category (religious organizations of all kinds).
There are two reasons for writing specific laws: the first is to grant a privilege to a favored group. And the second is to punish the specific group for which the law was written. That is likely in this case. The law removes from Catholic bishops and archbishops a right of the church that the law does not remove from, say, Episcopalians, Jews, etc, other members of the sub group to which the specific law does not apply.

One newspaper reported that the bill was written in response to a misuse of funds in a Darien church whose gay pastor lavished expensive gifts on his boyfriend, a problem settled several months ago without assistance from Raised Bill 1098.
Several questions beg to be answered. If this law is a solution to a problem, what is the problem to which the church specific law is the solution? Why is the bill written to apply only to the Catholic Church and not all other religious affiliations? Who suggested and/or wrote the legislation?

Do not Blumenthal, Lawlor, McDonald, et al regard invidious specific rather than general laws as a profound violation of the rule of law, which holds that laws to be just must be general in nature?

Who died and elected these guys pope?

Don Pesci is a Vernon-based writer. E-mail: donaldpesci@sbcglobal.net.


____________________


Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11:42 AM

Attorney General Blumenthal,

Your e-mail to me complains of “a gross factual error” in the column printed in the Greenwich Citizen paper that begins “Serious questions have been raised concerning the language of Raised Bill 1098. This is a bill that essentially compels a re-formation of Catholic Church authority, which now resides in its bishops, archbishops and the pope, considered to be the head of the Catholic Church…”

You are mentioned three times in the column as follows:

1)“The bill providentially orders the board it has invented from whole cloth to report financial irregularities to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a busy nuisance who apparently has enough time on his hands to stand in for prelates of the Catholic Church, yet another power added to the attorney general’s borderless reservoir of powers, few of which are enumerated in his job description.”

2 “As law makers, both Blumenthal and the co-chairs of the state judiciary committee, Michael Lawlor and Andrew McDonald both know, or should know, that ‘The movement of progressive societies,’ in the words of Sir Henry Maine (Ancient Law, London 1861) ‘has hitherto been a movement from status to contract.’ And they must know that the ‘true contrast to a reign of status,’ in the words of Fredrich Hayak (The Constitution of Liberty) ‘is the reign of general and equal laws, of the rules which are the same for all, or, as we might say, of the rule of leges, in the original meaning of the Latin word for laws – leges, that is, as opposed to priv-leges…’”

3) “We do not know on whose behalf this disgraceful bill was promulgated, but they should be asked a few questions: If this law is a solution to a problem, what is the problem to which this law is the solution? Why is the bill necessary for the Catholic Church and not for all other religious affiliations? Who suggested and/or wrote the legislation? Do not Blumenthal, Lawlor, McDonald et al regard invidious specific rather than general laws as a profound violation of the rule of law, which holds that laws to be just must be general in nature?”

You object that the “column completely misstates and misrepresents my position on this proposal. In fact, the position you attribute to me is the exact opposite of the one I have taken, and add “Neither I nor my office played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly. When asked about the proposal, I have stated consistently and repeatedly that it appears to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. Far from seeking the powers or role such a proposal might authorize, I have explicitly rejected them.”

Re-reading the three paragraphs in which your name appears, I cannot agree with you that the column “completely misstates and misrepresents” your opinion on the proposal, and this for a very good reason: The column does not state your opinion on the proposal.

Graph 1 asserts a fact – “The bill providentially orders the board it has invented from whole cloth to report financial irregularities to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal” – and an opinion – “a busy nuisance who apparently has enough time on his hands to stand in for prelates of the Catholic Church, yet another power added to the attorney general’s borderless reservoir of powers, few of which are enumerated in his job description.”

You have not, in your e-mail to me, asked me to withdraw any opinions, for which I am grateful, because my opinion columns do contain numerous opinions for which, I hope you will agree, I need not offer corrections. The fact reported in Graph 1) is correct.

Graph 2) asserts that you “should know” something I am pleased to know from your e-mail you may know. The graph says you should know that the movement in progressive societies is from privilege to contract. You write, “When asked about the proposal, I have stated consistently and repeatedly that it appears to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion.” The constitution is, among other things, a contract, and I am dizzy with gladness that you realize the importance of contracts in our society. This graph mentions neither the constitution nor the First Amendment. The reference is to what some have called the “rule of law.”

Graph 3 is nothing but a series of questions, and questions are not thumbscrews; still less are they factual assertions.

Incidentally, while the blog and column printed in the Greenwich Citizen paper does not mention the Constitution or the First Amendment, there is another blog and column printed in a different newspaper that does, and it mentions your name in connection with First Amendment rights. This is the reference:

“To be sure, the three days that the co-chairs of the judiciary committee allowed for public pre-hearing discussion did not allow Blumenthal to do his usual primp-walk before television cameras, but a statement he gave to the Advocate suggests Blumenthal is not really disposed to shred the religious protections afforded by the US Constitution, even to the Catholic Church. The First Amendment generously permits religious institution to pursue their way in the world unhampered by possibly vindictive legislators and hungry lawyers, who would love to dive head first into Catholic treasuries, a prospect this bill makes easier.

“Said Blumenthal, hours before the hearing, ‘I think what this amendment has revealed is a much broader and bigger issue relating to the existing statutory framework, which clearly is fraught with grave constitutional issues. There’s a very strong argument that this entire section relating to governance and structure of religious institutions violates the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.’

“Blumenthal’s appearance at the hearing should have been compelled, under subpoena if necessary, so that he might be asked under oath how far in advance of the hearing he knew that Lawlor and McDonald had recruited him to play Pope in their scheme to reform the Catholic Church and deprive it of its constitutional rights.”

That blog and column – not printed, so far as I know in the Greenwich paper -- clearly states your opinion on the bill with respect to First Amendment rights: “…a statement he gave to the Advocate suggests Blumenthal is not really disposed to shred the religious protections afforded by the US Constitution…”

That bog and column was written within hours of my seeing it in the Advocate on line, and it was sent out to various newspapers almost immediately after it was posted on the blog site. The blogs and columns here mentioned were posted on the blog site within a day of each other.

As you know from your time in journalism on a college law review, columns are a little bit like sunbeams: Once they are sent out and printed, they cannot be recalled. And as you may also realize, writers do not tell editors what they may print. It is still a free country, sort of. One newspaper prints this, another that. But I know – and now you know – that I did mention that “you were not really disposed to shred the religious protections afforded by the US Constitution.” May I assume you do not wish me to correct this opinion?

Editors do make provisions for commentary on columns. I do not know of any newspaper in the state of Connecticut that would not allow you to comment in the pages of their paper on any column written by any columnist, including me.

I’m sure, if you wrote a column in the Greenwich paper criticizing a column written by me, it would be printed. And perhaps the paper would show me the courtesy of a reply to your column castigating me for misrepresenting “facts” you have yet to identify.

Virtually all the blog sites I know, including my own, have comment sections where it not unusual to find orderly disputation, as well as corrections written by commentators.

You write in your e-mail to me:

“Neither I nor my office played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly. When asked about the proposal, I have stated consistently and repeatedly that it appears to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. Far from seeking the powers or role such a proposal might authorize, I have explicitly rejected them.”

This was acknowledged in both a column and a blog written within two days of each other.

“Fortunately,” you continue, “the proposal now appears to be dead, its supporters having effectively withdrawn it.

"I respectfully request that you issue a correction and edit any future versions of the column -- as well as posts on your website -- to accurately reflect my position and public statements on this bill.”

I am very happy to hear and print on the blog site, with your permission, an addendum stating that neither you nor your office “played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly. When asked about the proposal, I have stated consistently and repeatedly that it appears to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. Far from seeking the powers or role such a proposal might authorize, I have explicitly rejected them.”

I am pleased to know that neither you nor your staff “played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly.”

That is news to me. I do not recall reading that disavowal in any news account on the subject of Raised Bill No. 1098, but I am always pleased to print fresh news.

I do want to call to your attention that several prominent news stories on the now killed bill attributed to you a very prominent role in the architecture of Raised Bill No. 1098 – because the bill assigned you the responsibility as sitting judge and jury – and, as I stated in both blogs and columns, Pope -- in any final determination concerning complaints made against the Catholic Church by a board that the bill set up to replace the Apostolic structure of the Catholic Church.

I do believe this fact is correct, and any reasonable reader, reviewing all the blogs and columns I have written on Raised Bill No. 1098, would agree that this fact was at the center of every blog and every column I’ve so far written on the subject.

Is it your position that neither you nor anyone in your office, including your communications director, knew that you were assigned this position in the now killed bill?

And in what newspaper did you unambiguously decline to accept this exalted position because you believed Raised Bill No. 1098 was in violation of the First Amendment?

Is there any communication between you and Mr. Lawlor or Mr. McDonald that says something of this sort: “Look Lawlor, look McDonald, your bill is unconstitutional, and I reject unambiguously any role you have assigned me in that bill to facilitate the destruction of the Apostolic structure of the Catholic Church?”

A statement of that kind from you would have killed this bill at its birth. Does anyone doubt that if you had sent such a communication to Mr. Lawlor or Mr. McDonald – and, per your usual practice, to select members of the press – that Raised Bill No. 1098 would not have survived a day or an hour or a minute after the receipt of your communication and its publication in an appropriate venue that respects facts and is able to distinguish them from opinions?

Just to review:

I deny that there are misstated facts in the column you mention in your letter to me.

Your request that I point out that you regard Raised Bill No. 1098 as unconstitutional has already been satisfied, without your prompting, in a column and blog that was written and sent to newspapers within one day of another column in the Greenwich paper the subject of which was the relation of Raised Bill No. 1098 to natural law theory, not constitutional law.

With your permission, I would be happy to include in an appropriate venue your statement that “Neither I nor my office played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly.”

Yours,

Don Pesci

__________________


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dear Mr. Pesci,

The attorney general asked me to send you the following email:

Dear Mr. Pesci,

Thank you for your March 24, 2009 response to my email of March 23, 2009. I am disappointed that you decline to correct the glaring factual errors in your column that appeared in the Greenwich Citizen.

Regarding your request to publish my email, you may do so on the condition that you post or print it in its entirety.

Sincerely Yours,

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

Chris Hoffman

Policy and Communications Advisor

Office of the Attorney General

__________________________


Thursday, March 26, 2009 7:52:05 AM

Att. General Blumenthal,

Your response to my response is, as the lawyers would have it, non-responsive, and I think any further response from me about the column to which you have taken exception would be needlessly repetitive.

This communication, however, would be glaringly incomplete if I did not register my profound surprise that neither you nor your staff were consulted before Raised Bill No. 1098 was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly.

I believe your assertion to be true – though I do not recall reading this disclaimer in news account of the controversy before the column was sent to the Greenwich paper – and I wonder about two things:

1) Why didn’t Mr. McDonald contact you regarding his bill? If the bill were a Shakespearian play – say, Hamlet – you would be playing the part of Hamlet in the play, so central is your role in Raised Bill No. 1098. In the bill, which reorganizes the apostolic structure of the Catholic Church, you are assigned the role of decider-in-chief. As you no doubt are well aware from reading the column to which you have objected, the bill replaces the present apostolic structure of the Catholic Church with a corporation board, similar to that in Protestant church. The purpose of the board is to receive complaints regarding finances, referring to you the legally questionable ones. In these matters, the bill would give to you the authority to settle such disputes – a role now assigned to bishops and archbishops and popes.

2) Were you or your staff contacted regarding Raised Bill No. 1098 at any time prior to its withdrawal?

I am thinking of doing another column on the subject – now that Mr. McDonald has apologized for having failed to communicate adequately with Republicans on the Judiciary Committee -- and would not want to misrepresent your answers to these two questions.

I would appreciate a prompt, non-dismissive, reply.


Yours,

Don

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mohegans to Blumenthal: No Smokes, No Slots

The Mohegan Indian tribe of Connecticut – for purposes of law, a sovereign nation – has written a letter to Governor Jodi Rell and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on the subject of a smoking ban the governor and attorney general wish to impose upon the Indian owned casinos.

Following a bi-partisan passage in the state legislature of the ban, Tribe Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum wrote in a letter to the governor: "I must inform you that if this legislation is approved, that action will force us to vigorously defend our federally recognized right to govern our lands. I will be compelled to initiate legal action on behalf of the Mohegan Tribe to stop this assault on our rights. ... As you will see, legal action may put in jeopardy our slot contribution to the state of Connecticut."

And a statement from Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council spokeswoman Lori Potter expresses solidarity: "The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council agrees with the Mohegan Tribal Council that this issue concerning smoking areas is not an issue of whether or not to allow smoking. We are concerned primarily with the protection of tribal sovereignty. With respect to government-to-government relations, our tribal council is working very diligently to remedy this issue directly with the governor's office with the intent to bring about an amicable solution for the wellbeing of the tribe, the state, our employees, and our patrons."

If the tribes withhold the contributions they make to the state in lieu of taxes, Connecticut will be poorer by nearly a half million dollars annually.

The agreement the tribes made with former Governor Lowell Weicker to surrender a part of their coin operated slot machine earnings to the state, some commentators and lawyers believe, is more in the nature of a gentleman’s agreement than a legally binding arrangement.

Blumenthal's office sometimes boasts that it returns more cash to the state in money wrested from malefactors than it cost the state to run the office. But the attorney general’s budget probably falls well below half a million a year.

AIG and the Mob

The poor, says the good book, we shall always have with us.

Lately, we are not so sure about the rich.

As information trickles down to the general public via news reports, the rich – which in Connecticut would be anyone in anyway associated with AIG, considered by many to have poisoned the public marketplace with toxic derivatives – are heading for the foxholes.

Over in Scotland, an anti-capitalist vigilante group calling itself Bank Bosses Are Criminals attacked the house and car of Sir Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

“A storm of controversy has engulfed Sir Fred over the £16.9 million pension he negotiated as he was made to leave RBS for his part in bringing the bank to its knees,” the Times Online has reported.

One of the ringleaders of the vigilante mob later e-mailed a helpful note: “We are angry that rich people, like him, are paying themselves a huge amount of money, and living in luxury, while ordinary people are made unemployed, destitute and homeless. This is a crime. Bank bosses should be jailed. This is just the beginning.”

Here at home, employees of AIG in Fairfield County are considered dodging subpoenas issued by the state legislature and Connecticut’s omnipresent Attorney General Richard Blumenthal because some of the employees did not wish to share a fate similar to that of Sir Goodwin.

According to one report, more than a dozen AIG employees or former employees with Connecticut residences, all in Fairfield County, “were ordered to appear at a legislative hearing. A subpoena was also issued to AIG Chief Executive Edward M. Liddy.” Some of the other subpoenas did not have in them pertinent identification information because the job status of those subpoenaed was unknown at the time the subpoenas were issued.

Republican Leader Stewart McKinny offered a suggestion: “I would recommend that they drop the subpoenas on the individuals and get AIG up here to answer questions through one person.” Limiting testimony to one knowledgeable person who could help the committee craft legislation would insure that the committee would receive cleaner data, and it also would protect employees of AIG from unwanted repercussions of a kind that have incommoded Sir Fred.

McKinney strained the bonds of collegiality when he said that a less showy and more focused inquiry would be more purposeful.

McKinney fervently hoped his colleagues "will not have some sort of a show trial where 13 private citizens are hauled up to the Capitol and exposed. While I believe that the Capitol grounds will be very safe, these individuals will have their pictures all over the paper and will be subjected to even more danger."

In a story on the subpoenas issued by Blumenthal and legislative leaders, the Hartford Courant mentioned the names of three current AIG executives who had been subpoenaed because the names already had been cited in media reports. The paper added, “The Courant is not publishing a complete list out of concern for the safety of those whose names have not already been widely disseminated.”

After a great deal of palavering, it was decided to call but one person, the head of human resources for AIG’s financial products division to testify before the legislature, a compromise characterized by Blumenthal as "a first step and an initial stage in an ongoing investigation."

This is just the beginning.

Blumenthal earlier had speculated that in his considered opinion the names of those called to testify would have to be released under Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission law. He says he was told by AIG that the company would refuse to release the names of those who got bonuses because Connecticut’s FOI legislation was "too broad."

The company would be delinquent in its responsibility for the safety of its employees if it did not mention that, given the circumstances involved, appearing under subpoena was also dangerous. The signals that it is hunting season for AIG employees are everywhere, and in the past those who have had the temerity to get between Mr. Blumenthal and a television camera or a radio microphone always have run the risk of taking their lives in their hands.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dodd and the Appearance of Corruption

Ages ago, long before the Damoclean sword of the “appearance of corruption” was hanging menacingly over US Sen. Chris Dodd’s head, the senator was asked to dilate on the connection between campaign receipts and political favors. He said there was no connection in his case; any perceived connection simply meant that those who contributed to his campaigns were voting with dollars for his programs.

Of all the Sherlock Holmes’ in the world, certainly Dodd would know better than most whether he had received a quid for a quo. And he was quite sure he hadn’t – ever.

This analysis is mistaken in several important points, not the least of which is that it is not Dodd’s role to sniff out political corruption. Politicians are what lawyers would call interested parties. Journalists are, sometimes, disinterested parties. They are the bloodhounds of corruption. It is their chosen calling to sniff out corruption and expose it to the cleansing light of day, where it may be disinfected.

Somehow along the way, Dodd fell from grace. His precipitous fall is not the result of Dodd’s politics. In Connecticut, largely Democratic and largely liberal, Dodd’s politics has always stood him in good stead. The journalistic gods in his state generally have looked with favor on Dodd’s liberal policies. In this regard, he often has been compared favorably with Massachusetts US Sen. Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion of the senate. Both are convivial Irishmen; both have mastered the craft of the US senate’s arcane wheeling and dealing; both are pedigreed politicians. Ted Kennedy is a chip off the old Camelot block, and Dodd’s father, before he suffered his own fall from grace, was among Connecticut’s most able and distinguished public servants.

It is altogether possible that Dodd believed so heartily in his own rectitude -- he knew he was not accepting favors – that he became insensible to the niceties of corrupt politics.

Certainly, the possibility of corruption has surrounded Dodd’s head like a black aureole for some time. Dodd is head of the banking committee, a position from which a corrupt politician could easily parcel out favors for campaign cash. Dodd has received oodles of campaign contributions from the finance industry, an interested party in the quid pro quo business; he was responsible, as Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer reminds us, for the dismantling of the Glass-Steagall Act, a legislative breakwater that prevented financial institution from engaging in the banking business. The Banking Act of 1933 separated commercial and investment banking, and after it was partially dismantled, a tsunami of transformative economic changes washed over the country, laying waste to sound banking practices. After 12 attempts in 25 years to repeal obstructive provisions of Glass-Steagall, lobbying efforts were rewarded in Nov 1999 when Glass-Steagall was gutted.



Not only did Dodd vote to repeal Glass-Steagall, his whole record is pockmarked by votes to loosen controls on the financial industry.

While the left is in rebellion over the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the right points to the Community Reinvestment Act as institutionalizing the poor standards that led to the mortgage meltdown on Dodd’s watch.

“In an earlier newspaper story extolling the virtues of relaxed underwriting standards,” wrote Stan Liebowitz, the Ashbel Smith professor of Economics in the Business School at the University of Texas at Dallas in a prescient opinion piece in the New York Post a year ago, “Countrywide's chief executive [Angelo Mozilo] bragged that, to approve minority applications that would otherwise be rejected "lenders have had to stretch the rules a bit." He's not bragging now.

Indeed – neither is Dodd.

In a survey of the dismemberment of Glass-Steagall, Frontline reports:

“Just days after the administration (including the Treasury Department) agrees to support the repeal, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the former co-chairman of a major Wall Street investment bank, Goldman Sachs, raises eyebrows by accepting a top job at Citigroup as Weill's chief lieutenant. The previous year, Weill had called Secretary Rubin to give him advance notice of the upcoming merger announcement. When Weill told Rubin he had some important news, the secretary reportedly quipped, ‘You're buying the government?’"

In a Marketwatch piece Rubin, the 70th United States Secretary of the Treasury during both the first and second Clinton administrations, is named as one of the ten most unethical people in business.

How would Dodd fair in a similar rating?.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In Defense Of Chris Dodd, Or Why Wolf Blitzer Is A Jerk

Thursday’s Hartford Courant shows a picture of US Sen. Chris Dodd above the fold looking for all the world like a man who has seen the beginning of the end, and over his head there is a bothersome headline in three quarter inch caps proclaiming DODD’S FLIP-FLOP.

What to make of all this?

A senator has flip-flopped? Oh my! What is the country coming to?

The headline, the picture and the story follow a stunning interview with Wolf Blitzer in which Wolf pins Dodd’s ears back, slams him to the floor and dances on his chest?

But Wolf Blitzer is a jerk; always was, always will be.

Some will say he is doing his job.

Possibly -- if it is the job of a jackal to lunge into the side of a wounded wilderbeast.

Jackal? Wilderbeast? What the….



There should be something in us that recoils whenever we see jackals advancing on a corpse.

Dodd, who all his political life had shown some mastery of the legislative sausage machine, got caught up in it this time. The organ has swallowed the organ master. The first few graphs of the Keating story in the Courant contain all the usual well worn slings and arrows: “Dodd, already reeling… In a retreat from earlier statements… Dodd admitted… negative attention… Dodd is already vulnerable… AIG’s controversial bonuses…”

Now then, the bonuses received by the administrators of AIG are, everyone agrees, obscene. But that is becasue AIG, a governmental industrial complex, also is obscene. If we had not forgotten the meaning of revolution, the guillotine long ago would have been set up in some public square, and all of us could have enjoyed the beheadings of the CEOs of all the GSEs (Government Supported Entities).

AIG is the company that injected all the poisonous “derivatives” into the bloodstream of the nation’s marketplace. But it would be an insult to Charles Ponzi to describe this poisoning of the system as a Ponzi scheme. Students of history will remember that Charles Ponzi was a protégé of Luigi Zarossi, a Canadian who started a bank in Montreal for Italian immigrants. The back got into trouble because of bad mortgage loans – does this sound familiar? – and Zarossi hit on a scheme involving fraudulent stocks later perfected by Ponzi to salvage the bad loans.

When Zarossi’s fraud was discovered, he fled to Mexico with enough cash to allow him to enjoy the good life as a retired banker. Ponzi was not so lucky.

The story at AIG is eerily similar. It has been pointed out, both here in this blog and in columns made available to scores of papers in Connecticut, that the mortgage crisis in the United States was the finger that pushed all the other dominoes now crashing down upon us. None of the lions in the senate were paying the least bit of attention.

Why? Because they were intent on salvaging their own Ponzi scheme. Barney Frank and Chris Dodd are still trying to reinvent the economic wheel to make it possible for people to own houses who cannot afford reasonable mortgage payments, and they are largely responsible for the crash of the mortgage market. It also has been said, both in this blog and in columns, that if the problem is that companies like AIG are too big to fail , the problem is THEY ARE TOO BIG. The US government, far from propping up monopolies, should dismantle them. Companies to big to fail should be broken up by bankruptcy judges – who operate outside the confines of the legislative sausage machine that now has ground up Dodd. May it also grind up Barney Frank.

If Wolf Blitzer wants to dilate on all this, he certainly has a forum in which to do it.

But he won’t – because he’s a jerk.

Over at the sausage machine, it was Dodd who was playing the part of the grown-up. Revoking AIG bonuses, which are a part of past contracts, is almost certainly unconstitutional. Retroactive legislation is inherently unconstitutional The grown-up lawyer in Dodd probably recognized this. So, he was being pulled in two different directions, first by his heart – not to mention a yearning for demagoguery his comrades on the left relish – and then by his head, a recipe for tearing yourself asunder.

And Dodd, appearing weak and old in photographs, now has been torn asunder – not because he is a bad man, for Dodd is not a bad man, but because his heart has put him in the scent of jackals.

Wolf Blitzer cannot begin to comprehend why.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rob Simmons’ Chances

Connecticut seems incapable of producing Republican politicians who are not moderate. The media in the state is liberal and tends to strangle in their cribs any politician who exhibits dangerous conservative tendencies.

For this reason, when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) issued a press release that sought to tie Simmons to former President Bush’s soiled coattails, most commentators in his home state shrugged off the spitball as politics as usual.

"Rob Simmons is no moderate -- he was a staunch supporter of George Bush's failed economic policies and this race will be an opportunity to hold him accountable for that record," said DSCC communications director Eric Schultz. The DSCC also noted that Simmons had once described himself as a “big fan" of Bush.

Big yawn.

The Washington Post, not in the Bush camp, has noted that on a scale of 1 to100, Simmons’ voting record was 53 percent, which means that Simmons voted more liberally than 53 percent of his Republican colleagues, a figure that could not have pleased the president, who in any case has now left the building.

A week ago, some pushers and shovers in the Obama White House, finding that in the absence of Bush they needed a new albatross to hang around the necks of Republican challengers, tried to recruit radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh for this purpose. But those best laid plans somehow were torn asunder.

Some Connecticut commentators noted that the late war in Iraq did not help Simmons in his contest with Joe Courtney. True enough; but the war in Iraq has for all practical has been won, according to an ABC-BBC news poll. Neither ABC nor the BBC may justly be accused of having been tied inextricably to the former president’s war policies.

With an Iraq victory in his pocket, courtesy of the departing president, President Barack Obama already has moved on, at least rhetorically, to Afghanistan, the Democrat’s equivalent of the Republican’s Iraq war.

Afghanistan is a considerably tougher nut to crack than Iraq, even if the president were to apply to Afghanistan the belated but successful strategies that turned the war in Iraq in favor of the good guys. And yet President Barack Obama appears to be anxious to prosecute an Afghan war that, to be won, must involve a military incursion into Pakistan. One wonders whether the United Nations will oblige the persuasive Obama and authorize the invasion of a sovereign nation sometimes friendly to the West. It is Pakistan’s week in the knees government that makes winning a war in Afghanistan an iffy proposition. Obama is on record as saying that he would be willing to carry the war into Pakistan to rout al-Quada and pursue bin-Laden, assuming he is alive, to the gates of Hell. If one discounts CIA opinion on the matter and accepts the judicious opinion of other agencies, a tolerable option, there is a very good chance that bin-Laden expired three or four years ago.

What we have here is the extension of Bush policies by other means. Will Obama’s good war ruffle the feathers of anti-war activists who, along with the president, wanted to withdraw American troops from Iraq last April, not a winning strategy as it turned out? What positions will Connecticut’s Sen. Chris Dodd take on the matter? Dodd was resolutely against the first Persian war, which he thought might be a quagmire. He was for the war in Iraq before he was against it.

Obama’s Afgan war is a new war, which will allow for new perceptions. We don’t know what the Middle East – not to mention the USA – will look like in two years.

Much can happen in two years. Wars thought lost can be won; wars we think we may win can be lost.

And there are practical questions to consider. If non-combatants -- or whatever terms the Obama administration prefers to signify the terrorists in the soon to be dismantled prison in Cuba – are captured during Obama’s Afghan adventure, where do we put them? Can their habeas corpus rights be denied them at this point? What would Chris Dodd say if the prisoners were not upon capture immediately apprised of their Miranda rights?

The problems that bedeviled the Bush administration aren’t going to go away. The pressures brought to bear against a weakened president by the legislature during the Bush administration, as well as successful legislative and Supreme Court challenges to the war making powers of the president, will not help Obama to efficiently prosecute his good war. And it is not at all certain that Obama’s economic prescriptions will settle problems in the economy either.

But in two years or less, we’ll know the answers to some of these questions. So will Dodd and his Republican challengers.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Simmons Is In

The Associated Press is reporting that Simmons is in:

Former Republican Rep. Rob Simmons said Sunday that he plans to run against Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd.

Simmons said he made the decision to join the race after talking with relatives.

"The family had a long meeting today and was unanimous that I run," he said in an e-mail message to The Associated Press. "So I am running."

Perhaps the relatives had shared with Simmons a recent Quinnipiac poll.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Evolution of a Budget Debate, Magic Money, Unanswered Questions

Before Governor Jodi Rell presented her budget address to the assembled legislature, she had issued warnings that serious cuts would be necessary to balance a budget that, looking down the road, was around $8 billion in the red, a figure certain to increase.

But the most immediate problem facing the legislature was a short term current budget deficit of about $1.35 billion, a more manageable figure.

Connecticut had not faced these kind of deficits since its last pre-income tax budget. The state chose to settle the last pre-income tax budget deficit by instituting an income tax proposed in the early 90’s by then Gov. Lowell Weicker. The $8 billion deficit the state of Connecticut now is facing is larger than the last Gov. William O’Neill pre-income tax budget of about $7.5 billion, and naturally all legislators and the governor wish to be regarded as serious in discharging their fiduciary responsibilities.

Unlike the federal government – which borrows money from foreign entities and may print money to cover its debts, thereby increasing inflation – state governments, including Connecticut, must pay their debts as they go, with real money. There are two and only two ways to do this: The state may “earn” money to pay its debts by raising taxes on its citizens, or it may cut its expenses.

The leadership of the state legislature, controlled by Democrats, and the governor both have chosen to settle the state’s short term debt and put off to a later day proposed solutions to the larger pink elephant in the room, Connecticut’s growing $8 billion deficit.

Debt is debt, and there are only two ways to discharge deficits, through tax increase and spending cuts.

But look here: Just as push was coming to shove, at which point the legislature might have been forced to settle on one of these two means to liquidate the state’s short term debt -- the puny and manageable $1.35 billion deficit, not the long term, planet swallowing, looming $8 billion defict – Democrats looked around and found a most amazing and magical shoe box in the state’s closet that no one, apparently, knew was there. There were “hidden savings” in the state's off-budget accounts amounting to about $220 million, a figure disputed by the governor's office.

"The governor was unaware of these hidden accounts from the start," said Speaker of the House Chris Donovan. "We did the hard work to find these savings, and the status of many of them is still being concealed by the administration. The officials assigned by the governor to 'help' the appropriations committee review the off-budget accounts have not worked with the appropriations committee chairs. Instead, they have come to their own conclusions about these funds. We are pleased to see that they have found tens of millions of dollars in savings, and we are confident we will be able to find significantly more."

Democrat leaders quickly scooped up these “hidden savings” and propose to apply them to the state’s short term deficit, sparing their constituents the necessity of an immediate tax increase but, more importantly, sparing Democrat lawmakers the necessity of asking state unions to make strenuous economies – for now.

Got a few questions here: The “savings” Democrats have “found” in “hidden” accounts should be regarded as the last of Connecticut’s surpluses. All the state’s previous surpluses, billions of dollars, were dumped into the general fund and spent, jacking up the bottom line of future budgets. And the same is true of these savings realized from off-budget accounts. If the money in these accounts is hidden surplus money -- that is, funds neither appropriated in on-line budgets and apparently unnecessary to the functioning of state government -- why are the funds there?

Why are the hidden accounts themselves there? If they are “hidden,” from whom are the accounts being hidden?

How long have the hidden accounts been in existence? What happened to the surplus money in the accounts that were not discovered earlier by watchful Democrats? Who spent it? On what did they spend it? Will Democrats propose to pull the hidden accounts into the general budget, where they can be more easily monitored?

Do Democrats leaders in the state legislature, President Pro Tem Don Williams in the Senate and Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, propose to cut future taxes by eliminating unnessesary surplus off-budget funds in accounts that “save” them, thus reducing spending for those off-budget accounts? Permanent long term cuts to the “hidden” surplus savings from these accounts in the future would be a real “savings” and a real “cut.”

And one more question: Why aren’t reporters asking the Democrat leadership in the House and Senate these questions?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Auto de Fe Friday: Words We Hope Not To See In The Media Today

Words banned on auto de fe´ Friday, mostly owing to obscene overuse, are:

“Exactly” – usually said to indicate your assent either to an opinion offered by a male pal or a very pretty girl you hope to date.

“Not really” – A supine, cowardly way of saying “f**k off!!!”

“Richard Blumenthal” – Attorney General of Connecticut, voted the worst in his class by the American Competitive Institute, one of the few business groups that Blumie, as he is affectionately known in Connecticut, has not sued. The guy is seriously over exposed.

“Obama” – Enough!

“Can I help you?” – No, you cannot.

“Investment” -- when used as a synonym for taxes. Hey, if I choose not to invest in your failing public school system, your in the tank post office, your latest and greatest program to alleviate suffering, your stop the global warming frenzy, and your Byzantine plot to make the world safe for mortgage defaulters, you’ll cart me off to jail for failing to make "investments" in your madcap social programs, Mr. Government Guy.

This is not investment; it’s a shake-down.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Surprise, You No Longer Have A Church

Sen. Andrew McDonald, the co-chair along with Rep. Michael Lawlor of the state judiciary committee, has issued an apology of sorts.

In an e-mail, Mr. McDonald writes: "It was never my intent to offend anyone of faith, nor to cast negative attention on the many trustworthy and responsible parish corporations. My only goal was to try my best to represent the concerns of my constituents, some of whom were the victims of fraud. I regret that in my pursuit of their interests, I failed to appreciate and invite into the discussion early on the views of other, equally concerned Catholics."

Let’s go through the apology step by step.

Mr. McDonald says that he received from parishioners at St. John’s church in Darien a proposal that later morphed, pretty much all by itself, into Raised Bill No. 1098.

“In reality,” McDonald wrote in an earlier statement published in the Journal Inquirer, “this bill was proposed and written by a group of faithful Catholic parishioners from Fairfield County who asked the Judiciary Committee to consider giving the subject a public hearing.”

The precise language of the proposal is at this point unclear, because Mr. McDonald has not released for public viewing the version of the bill proposed and written by his constituents. Both Mr. McDonald’s earlier statement and his most recent apology certainly leave the impression on the minds of those who have read both that the role played by Mr. McDonald in drafting the published bill was minimal.

The Bill that McDonald now has withdrawn but not killed, Raised Bill No. 1098, strips the bishops and archbishops in all Catholic Churches in Connecticut of their authority to direct the funds of their parishes, and the bill changes the financing structure of the Catholic Church from an apostolic to a corporate structure now found in some Protestant churches. The bill’s operative assumption, as stated in the bill itself, is that there is no essential connection between financing and operations. Or, to put it in quasi religious terms, McDonald, who even now insists that his role in authoring the bill was minimal, is asserting that there is no connection in the Catholic Church between the way the church finances its mission and its theology.

The stated purpose of the bill is “To revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church and provide for the investigation of the misappropriation of funds by religious corporations” and the bill asserts “Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit, restrict or derogate from any power, right, authority, duty or responsibility of the bishop or pastor in matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and practices.”

Since its promulgation, the bishops of the Catholic Church, constitutional scholars and that portion of the Catholic faithful that showed up in the rain to protest the bill, 4,000 strong, have hotly disputed these claims.

Raised Bill No. 1098 has left in its wake lots of surprised people.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the state finance committee over which Mr. McDonald presides as a co-chair have said they were surprised at the bill’s packaging. The members of the committee in a brief 17 minute meeting had by voice vote authorized Mr. McDonald and Mr. Lawlor to draft Raised Bill No. 1098. The bill was included under a group of 78 generic legal umbrella concepts and entitled “modifying corporate forms.” This manner of authorizing bills is not unusual, but had the bill been titled “modifying the apostolic structure of the Catholic Church,” the title might have awakened more interest among members of the judiciary committee.

Ranking Republican on the committee Sen. John Kissel later said the section title was deceiving because it made no mention of religion or church finances.

One paper reported on Kissel’s astonishment:

“He assumed the ‘corporate’ proposals being contemplated by Lawlor and McDonald were ‘something very dry, boring and innocuous’ instead of what amounted to ‘a huge lightning rod issue.’

"I'm not going to impute motives on anyone at this time,” Kissel said. "But I've been on this committee a long time. Give us a heads up.”

Mr. Kissel is too kind.

One of the St. John’s parishioners on whose behalf Mr. McDonald wrote the bill, Tom Gallagher of Greenwich -- though Mr. McDonald still does not accept ownership of his bill in his carefully worded apology, preferring instead to leave the impression that he was a simple custodian of the bill who provided a “forum” in which his constituent’s “concerns” might be aired -- was also surprised, as well he should be. It was Mr. Gallagher’s complaint to Mr. McDonald that resulted in the proposed reformation of the apostolic character of Mr. Gallagher’s church. The fraudulent gay priest in Darien who had committed the larceny that spurred Mr. McDonald to defend Mr. Gallagher interests had long been arrested, defrocked and jailed; bishops in Connecticut had introduced a new financial reporting system that has made Catholic Churches in the state as transparent as many national and international companies; and Mr. Galagher, according to a news report “said he was surprised as anyone when McDonald contacted him last week to say the bill was being drafted.”

There is enough surprise in the events surrounding the bill for which Mr. McDonald now has “apologized” to choke several popes, a roomful of canon lawyers, all the Catholics in the state who were unnerved by Mr. McDonald’s attempt to put one past his colleagues in the legislature, not to mention his botched attempt to reform the apostolic character of the Catholic Church, and me.

If McDonald were as repentant as his faux apology seems to suggest, he would have killed the bill. Republicans and the Catholic clergy worry that the tabled bill may be ressurected and attached to some other innocuous bill under a similarly misleading title. Numerous legislators at the hastily called Republican informal hearing vowed to remain awake in the event the bill is resubmitted under similar false pretenses.

McDonald didn't kill Raised Bill No. 1098. Belonging to the Rham Emmanuel school of politics, legislators hostile to the Catholic Church are waiting patiently for the next crisis, which they will not waste.

And that’s the truth.

CHARITIES HIT BY CHANGE

Of the many groups and individuals who find themselves damaged by the tax hikes changes announced by President Obama, charitable organizations are among the foremost losers. Nevertheless, the activists’ objective is to get the foundations to ignore the intent of their founders and do “social justice.”

Blows are being leveled at the charities. To begin with, tax deductions for contributions are being limited. Formerly (and still, for the moment) contributors to charities could deduct $396 from their income tax for each $1000 contribution. Under Obama’s redistribution plan, contributors will be able to deduct only $280. This limitation will discourage some contributions (one estimate is by 40%) in normal times; and at a time of severely falling stock prices, the impact is likely to make a significant difference to charities’ survival. The restriction on contributions applies to recipients of income of $250,000 (gross?) a year. Small contributors, the “non wealthy,” earning less, are also affected. What are the non-wealthy charitable organizations to do? They have important, useful, and needy causes.

It gets worse. The social justice activists believe that organizations’ boards of directors should be widened to include members of “the community.” They believe that the grants should take explicit account of the needs of the community.

Take away much of the charities’ income, take away their right to decide how to distribute their grants, take away their freedom of choice of directors, and what are they left with? A question: a question of whether they should stay in business, wither away, or disband outright. These are non-wealthy individuals chafing to continue operating their charities under President Obama’s announced tax increases. (The change would not take place till 2011.)

And what about the intention of the founders of the foundations? Are they to be ignored? Is their property to simply be stolen and redistributed?

These are extraordinary changes in the recent history of American philanthropy. The National Council of Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), after studying 800 of the largest foundations, concluded they are “eschewing the needs of the most vulnerable in our society.” Accordingly, their report states that foundations must “provide at least 50 percent of grant dollars to benefit lower income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups, broadly defined.” The NCRP report also urges that 25 percent of the grants of each foundation should be for “advocacy, organizing and civic engagement to promote equity, opportunity and justice in our society.” Every foundation is to become a change agent to promote redistribution.

After all that, it is no surprise to learn that the Council on Foundations, Philanthropy Roundtable and other philanthropy watch-dogs are critical of the NCRP report. Nor is it any surprise to learn that the NCRP, on its website homepage, says “Happy Birthday Saul Alinsky,” radical community organizer and teacher of community organizers in Chicago.

The NCRP guidelines are not original with NCRP. A California organization named Greenlining urged state legislation that requires foundations to report the percentage of their grants given to minority groups. They stopped their lobbying when some foundations promised to donate to Greenlining’s preferred groups but are working their way in several other states.

Meanwhile, some foundations are voluntarily falling in line with NCRP. Thus, the W.K.Kellogg Foundation announced it will strive to be “an anti racist institution.” The Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation boasts that a majority of its board is women and 41 percent is minorities. Another foundation announced with pride that it was giving grants for Gay and Lesbian issues.

A few decades ago, philanthropic watchdog organizations saw their role quite differently. One of the much discussed issues of the time was whether foundations should continue in existence for only a certain specific period before giving away all their assets. At the time, Congress adopted the requirement that five percent of their endowment be annually given in grants. The problem was that foundations have tended to move far from the intent of their founders, then an undesirable, improper situation (today the NCRP goal). Within memory, a descendant of the Ford family resigned his position as a director of the Ford Foundation when he could no longer tolerate the direction in which the Ford Foundation was going with its grants.

Back in those times, no one was telling foundations that they should take away the founders’ property by forcing the foundations they set up to redistribute their wealth.

Who is it who urges this control of redistribution of wealth? The National Council of Responsive Philanthropies (NCRP). The changes are embodied in its report issued March 3 (though 15 pages of it had been circulated) entitled “Criteria in Philanthropy at Its Best, Measurable Bench-marks to Assess Foundation Performance.”

That is not what it is, asserts critic Heather Higgins, Co Chairman of Philanthropy Roundtable. It is to “criticize those who do not measure up.” The NCRP report calls itself “a guidelines that will help foundations and other institutional grantmakers operate efficiently and maximize the impact of their decisions.” Mrs. Higgins notes that Acorn is a member of the NCRP.

NCRP’s proposed changes have not (yet) been implemented. Congress has not—not yet—adopted them. It may never, if there are enough charitable organizations tele-phoning their representatives asking, “Why are they doing this to us?”

As Heather Higgins writes: "The diversity of interests and freedom of action of our private, voluntary philanthropic charitable sectors is one of the most unique and powerful features of American society; particularly at a time like this, upending its efficacy for political ends is advocacy at its most irresponsible."

By Natalie Sirkin
c2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Report on Religious Liberty From the Belly of the Whale


I attended the Republican inspired informal hearing on Raised Bill 1098 on Thursday, called hastily after McDonald and Lawlor killed the hearing on THEIR bill.

Only a three days notice was allowed before the MacDonald/Lawlor hearing, and the bill was verbally disguised. Only later did legislators discover what was in the bill. By that time roof tiles were raining down on the heads of the judiciary committee members. It’s pretty clear they had hoped to reduce controversy at their hearing. The bill itself, invidiously targeted at Catholics, assumes there is no connection between finances and the mandate of the Catholic Church. Everyone agrees that the bill is unconstitutional.

In follow-up reports, Lawlor and McDonald imputed the content of the bill to some parishioners at St. John’s in Darien. That lie was barely out of their mouths when it began to fall apart. The news reports in the Journal Inquirer showing some parishioners repudiating the bill were splendid.

Who knows what the Courant was doing. But their commentators have been carrying water for McDonald and Lawlor all along anyway.

Having miserably failed to humiliate and weaken the Catholic Church, Lawlor and McDonald now are proposing, in concert with Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, to revisit older laws that enhance the liberties of all the churches in Connecticut.

Someone should throw an Aristotelian brick at these two. The essence of justice lies in treating equally things that are equal and in treating in an unequal manner things that are unequal. The body of laws in Connecticut enabling religious liberty should remain untouched. The laws Blumenthal wishes to review for their constitutionality are of this nature; they were passed by legislators who embraced religious liberty and wished to see it prosper. That is why some of the laws are different than others – because the churches to which they pertain are different. Those laws enhance religious liberty and they are just. The proposals of Lawlor and McDonald are inherently unjust – because they reduce the liberty of Catholics and are unconstitutional in their design.

Any law that enhances First Amendment religious rights -- the laws presently on the books -- cannot by definition be unconstitutional. The exemption in taxes is a case in point. That law must apply to all religious institutions or it cannot be constitutional. But religions are inherently different, and so laws that affect religious practices to be constitutional must be carefully crafted so that such laws do not impair the practice, which must in any case be legal. A law respecting the right of conscientious objection for Quakers for instance would be constitutional because it enhances an article of faith central to that faith. This is what Aristotle meant when he said that the essence of justice is to treat different things differently. There is nothing unconstitutional with the body of law in Connecticut that protects religious liberty. The thing is not broke – because those laws are an organic response by past legislators who wanted churches to be free and carefully designed the laws with it in mind to enhance the liberty afforded by the First Amendment to different churches in Connecticut.

There was a Boston professor there who spoke very eloquently to this point -- and it is one that Edmund Burke, among others, would have been anxious to defend.

I don’t want the attorney general to re-invent this wheel. It will be just another way to make my church less free.

The test in all these cases is the same: If the law enhances the liberty of the church, it is constitutional, because the First Amendment itself is designed with this end in view. The apostolic structure of the Catholic Church, central to its mission, is different than the corporatist structure of many protestant churches. The law that treats these differences in a similar manner is an ass.

Nothing is over. Even the offensive bill for which McDonald has offered an ingenious apology has not been killed. It may be resurrected by McDonals, Lawlor or someone else as an amendment slipped through a sleeping legislature.

Some at the informa hearing thought Lawlor and McDonald should be impeached. If it were possible, one commentator suggested, their licenses to practice law should be yanked. This is unlikely because the two are legislators and as such enjoy immunity against such punishments.

However, if they were impeached first, they then could be brought upo on a complaint before the Connecticut bar.

Popes Lawlor and McDonald Kill Bill, Archbishop Blumenthal Assists

The co-chairs of the state's judiciary committee, Andrew McDonald and Michael Lawlor, have killed the hearing during which Raised Bill No. 1098 was to be discussed, leaving behind in their wake a series of questions not yet answered.

There are jarring conflicting reports concerning the writing of Raised Bill No. 1098, which strips bishops and archbishops of their rights under canon law to direct the financial affairs of their parishes.

The Journal Inquirer quoted from a statement written by Lawlor, co-chair of the judiciary committee:

“’In reality, this bill was proposed and written by a group of faithful Catholic parishioners from Fairfield County who asked the Judiciary Committee to consider giving the subject a public hearing,’ the statement continued. ‘Especially considering the fact that one of the large-scale embezzlements which gave rise to this proposal originated from a parish corporation in Darien, a town that Senator McDonald represents, we decided to give these parishioners a chance to present to the Judiciary Committee a case for their proposed revisions to existing corporate law.’”

The statement gives the impression that the published bill was in fact written by members of the Darien church?

Bills are usually mocked up by staffers and approved by committee chairs.

It would not have been unlikely for the co-chairs to pass the written bill under the nose of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

The chairs have in the past solicited opinions on proposed legislation from Blumenthal, who was involved in the passage of previous legislation supported by the co-chairs that gave gays in Connecticut the right to form quasi-marriage partnerships. The bishops of the Catholic Church at the time opposed such measures on religious grounds.

The co-chairs also were involved in earlier efforts, ultimately successful, to force Catholic hospitals to provide Plan B pills to patients, a measure also opposed by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which then regarded the Plan B pills as abortifacients in some instances. Plan B proponents insisted that Plan B was a simple contraceptive.

It is this earlier tousle between Catholic clergy and the co-chairs of the judiciary committee, both of whom are gay, that was, in the opinion of Bishop Lori, the animating factor that induced the two co-chairs to promulgate a bill that strips bishops and arch bishops of their authority to regulate the funds of their church in a manner that allows the church to fulfill its mandate.

In a separate story, the Journal Inquirer reported: “Thomas Gallagher, a parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church in Greenwich, and Paul Lakeland, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, both confirmed they had asked the committee leaders late Monday to postpone Wednesday’s public hearing on the bill.

“’My little idea was to simply add a few more lay trustees’ to parish finance boards by amending the state’s Religious Corporation Act, Gallagher said.

“The measure prepared by committee leaders expanded lay representation on such boards but also excluded pastors, bishops, and other clergy from being voting members of such boards.

“’It goes too far and has never been a part of my vision of possible changes,’ Gallagher added. ‘We lay Catholics want a closer, co-fiduciary relationship with our pastors and bishops with respect to the temporal affairs of our parishes.’”

It might be nice if some enterprising reporter got a straight answer to the following questions:

Who is responsible for the form and substance of the published Bill?

Did McDonald or Lawlor or any staff member associated with the Judiciary Committee or any intermediary discuss this bill with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal or any member of his staff or an intermediary before the bill was published or during the bill’s publication or after the controversy that induced the co-chairs of the judiciary committee to kill the hearing on the bill?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The New Know-Nothings: Lawlor, McDonald, Blumenthal


The reaction to Raised Bill No. 1098 has been intense in some quarters, though many commentators in the state, ordinarily quickened by blatant attacks on First Amendment rights, appear to have fallen asleep at their keyboards.

Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization based in New Haven, compares the proponents of Raised Bill No. 1098, a piece of legislation that radically undermines the way the Catholic Church is financed, to the No-Nothings of Abraham Lincoln’s day.

The Know-Nothings and Nativists of the time were fiercely anti-Catholic and anti-Negro. The favored means of attacking the Catholic Church in the days of the No-Nothings and Nativists was through “trusteeships,” a plan very much like that now being shepherded through the state’s judiciary committee by co-chairs Andrew McDonald and Michael Lawlor. Not for nothing does historian Arthur Schlesinger remind us that anti-Catholic prejudice is one of the most virulent forms of bigotry.

Mr. Anderson’s response to Raised Bill No. 1098, published in the Stamford Advocate, recall to some minds a painful past when Catholic Churches were burned and African Americans were left hanging like human fruit in trees.

“There has never been any doubt that government-mandated trusteeism,” Mr Anderson writes, “was simply a tool to impose severe, unconstitutional limits on the Catholic Church.”

The authors of the bill – presumably MacDonald and Lawlor, possibly with an assist from Blumenthal --lazily stretch themselves out on the comfortable notion that there is no connection between the way finances are controlled in a Catholic apostolic structure and the mandate of the Catholic Church, and there on that slender proposition they snooze and sleep the sleep of the just.

Mr. Anderson quotes Bishop Hughes of New York on trusteeism in 1842: "Every religious denomination in this country has a right to regulate, according to its own rules, the questions of ecclesiastical discipline appertaining to its Government. Deny this right, and you destroy religious liberty."

Raised Bill No. 1098 deprives Catholic bishops and archbishops of any control over church finances, which under the bill are to be regulated by a board of trustees, and yet the bill -- the stated purpose of which is “To revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church and provide for the investigation of the misappropriation of funds by religious corporations” --airily asserts, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit, restrict or derogate from any power, right, authority, duty or responsibility of the bishop or pastor in matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and practices.

Bridgeport Diocese Bishop William Lori, who would seem to know more than the bill’s facilitators concerning the connection between financing and the apostolic character of the Catholic Church, politely disagrees.

"I can tell you this legislation would reorganize us in ways contrary to the teachings and the law of the church," Lori told the Stanford Advocate. "It really is an excuse to get into the church and silence the church."

Lori went on to speculate, according to the Advocate, that Bill No. 1098 “might be related to the animosity from McDonald and Lawlor about the fight over same-sex marriage laws. McDonald and Lawlor are gay.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, cited by the American Competitive Institute as the worst attorney general in the United States, is named in the bill as decider-in-chief with respect any dispute regarding financial irregularities in the Catholic Church.

Only one instance has been cited by McDonald as necessitating the bill, and that issue was properly handled by Bishop Lori.

To be sure, the three days that the co-chairs of the judiciary committee allowed for public pre-hearing discussion did not allow Blumenthal to do his usual primp walk before television cameras, but a statement he gave to the Advocate suggests he is not really disposed to shred the religious protections afforded by the US Constitution, even to the Catholic Church. The First Amendment generously permits religious institution to pursue their way in the world unhampered by possibly vindictive legislators and hungry lawyers who would love to dive head first into Catholic treasuries, a prospect this bill makes easier.

Said Blumenthal, hours before the hearing, "I think what this amendment has revealed is a much broader and bigger issue relating to the existing statutory framework, which clearly is fraught with grave constitutional issues. There's a very strong argument that this entire section relating to governance and structure of religious institutions violates the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

Blumenthal’s appearance at the hearing should have been compelled, under subpoena if necessary, so that he might be asked under oath how far in advance of the hearing he knew that Lawlor and McDonald had recruited him to play Pope in their scheme to reform the Catholic Church and deprive it of its constitutional rights.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Impeach Pope Blumenthal, Archbishop Lawlor and Bishop McDonald

Serious questions have been raised concerning the language of Raised Bill 1098. This is a bill that essentially compels a re-formation of Catholic Church authority, which now resides in its bishops, archbishops and the pope, considered to be the head of the Catholic Church.

The bill establishes a church board that would direct the finances of the church and at the same time makes bishops and arch bishops powerless witnesses to the actions of the board.

According to the bill, “The corporation, shall have a board of directors consisting of not less than seven nor more than thirteen lay members. The archbishop or bishop of the diocese or his designee shall serve as an ex-officio member of the board of directors without the right to vote.”

The stated purpose of the bill is “To revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church and provide for the investigation of the misappropriation of funds by religious corporations.”

The powers of the board, enumerated in the bill, include establishing and approving budgets; managing the financial affairs of the corporation; providing for the auditing of the financial records of the corporation; developing and implementing strategic plans and capital projects and developing outreach programs and other services to be provided to the community.

Having deprived the bishops and archbishops of the Catholic Church of the power, right and authority to direct its finances, the bill amusingly notes in closing that “nothing in this section shall be construed to limit, restrict or derogate from any power, right, authority, duty or responsibility of the bishop or pastor in matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and practices.”

The bill providentially orders the board it has invented from whole cloth to report financial irregularities to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a busy nuisance who apparently has enough time on his hands to stand in for prelates of the Catholic Church, yet another power added to the attorney general’s borderless reservoir of powers, few of which are enumerated in his job description.

Worst of all, the bill is church specific. The title of the bill is “An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Corporations,” and the opening line of the bill reads, “A corporation may be organized in connection with any Roman Catholic Church or congregation in this state…”

The first rule of law, more ancient than constitutions, is that laws should be general rather than specific, since specific bills tend to be regarded as punitive, affecting, in this case, one church in Connecticut rather than all religious institutions in the state.

As law makers, both Blumental and the co-chairs of the state judiciary committee, Michael Lawlor and Andrew McDonald both know, or should know, that “The movement of progressive societies,” in the words of Sir Henry Maine (Ancient Law, London 1861) “has hitherto been a movement from status to contract.” And they must know that the “true contrast to a reign of status,” in the words of Fredrich Hayak (The Constitution of Liberty) “is the reign of general and equal laws, of the rules which are the same for all, or, as we might say, of the rule of leges, in the original meaning of the Latin word for laws – leges, that is, as opposed to priv-leges.”

We are still, the people of Connecticut may have some reason to hope, a nation of laws rather than a nation of men of privilege, and we expect our law to have general rather than specific application.

The present bill brazenly targets a specific religious sub group (Catholics) rather than the proper general category (religious organizations of all kinds). There are two reasons for writing specific laws: the first is to grant a privilege to a favored group. And the second is to punish the specific group for which the law was written. That is likely in this case. The law removes from Catholic bishops and archbishops a right of the church that the law does not remove from, say, Episcopalians, Jews etc, other members of the sub group to which the specific law does not apply.

We do not know on whose behalf this disgraceful bill was promulgated, but they should be asked a few questions: If this law is a solution to a problem, what is the problem to which this law is the solution? Why is the bill necessary for the Catholic Church and not for all other religious affiliations? Who suggested and/or wrote the legislation? Do not Blumenthal, Lawlor, McDonald et al regard invidious specific rather than general laws as a profound violation of the rule of law, which holds that laws to be just must be general in nature?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Dr. Petit, the Ishmael of Connecticut

“And I alone am left to tell the tale” – Ishmael in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

According to a news report, the judiciary committee, presided over by chairmen Michael Lawlor in the House and Andrew McDonald in the senate, both lawyers, had been tossing around the question whether the legislature should abolish Connecticut’s death penalty for about eight hours when the proverbial skunk showed up at the garden party.

Connecticut’s chief public defender, Susan Storey, testified that the death penalty was a drain on state resources and did not deter crime. Other speakers came forward and said that capital punishment was immoral.

Co-chairman of the committee Michael Lawlor said earlier in a press interview before the hearing, "No one's going to be executed in Connecticut unless they want to be executed. This is really a fraud of a public policy."

Mr. Lawlor was referring indirectly to the execution of serial killer Michael Ross, whose trial and execution took an inordinately long time to play out because, among other reasons, a judge unconnected with the case, Robert Chatigny, intervened moments before the execution and, by threatening Ross’ lawyer with the loss of his license, managed to bully the lawyer into allowing yet another hearing on the case. The judge was never properly punished for the role he played in the Ross case.

Ross wanted to be executed in deference to his victims' families, who had suffered greatly during his protracted ordeal. He was not permitted his wish.

When Dr. William Petit approached the microphone, the usual chatty tongues fell silent and the committee gave the doctor a respectful hearing.

Dr. Petit is the Ishmael of Connecticut. His Pequot, his home, went up in flames a few years ago, set afire by the alleged murderers of his wife and his two daughters. The alleged murderers, two petty thieves with long rap sheets to their credit, invaded Dr. Petit’s home, banged him over the head with a baseball bat, secluded him in the cellar, forced his wife to drive to her bank to make a withdrawal, raped his wife, raped one of his daughters, tied both daughters to a bed, set the house on fire and beat a hasty retreat, falling into the hands of police who, in response to a tip from the bank, had converged on the house.

At the hearing called to consider the abolition of the death penalty, Dr. Petit said “"Because men murdered Hayley, she cannot experience her college years at Dartmouth, row on the Connecticut River, or sit and chat with me. Because men murdered Jennifer, she can no longer comfort a student at Cheshire Academy, talk with her parents and sister or sit with me on our porch… My family got the death penalty, and you want to give murderers life. Any penalty less than death for murder is unjust and trivializes the victim and the victim's family. It is immoral and unjust to all of us in our society."

Dr. Petit knows he will have to wait for justice in his case. He is sensible of the obstacles that must be overcome in a state that has executed only two murderers in the last fifty years. Ross, who asked to be executed, was given the benefit of a trial, an automatic penalty hearing before a second jury that determined he was to be executed, numerous appellate challenges and finally, through the unorthodox intervention of a judge who was improperly punished for the role he played in delaying the execution, a final hearing.

"It's delay, delay, delay for no apparent reason…I'm human. I've bounced back and forth on occasion."

Indeed, Connecticut treats victims like Dr. Petit as if they were shuttle cocks. The place Dr. Petit used to call home is now a patch of green grass, and the doctor, having lost everything, has nothing left to lose. When you take from a man everything he has loved, you free him.

The ideologues in the legislature -- those who would argue that the death penalty ought to be abolished even in the face of such horrific capital crimes as were committed by Ross and the two alleged murderers of Dr. Petit's family – are not used to dealing with free men who have been bounced around on occasion.