Monday, November 30, 2009

Axe The Tax Cut


Feeling the pinch, leading Democrats in the state legislature quickly settled on a means of bringing somewhat into balance a recently passed spending plan that Democratic State Comptroller Nancy Wyman asserted was about half a million short early in November, a few weeks after the legislature had passed the budget.

The ladies and gentlemen in the legislature cut tax relief out of the spending lard.

Wyman, of course, was too polite in her assessment of the budget, little more than a legislative Ponzi scheme designed to convince voters that the legislature, in tandem with the governor, had settled an annoying deficit. The budget itself -- a meandering $37.6 billion that disperses $18.64 billion this fiscal year and $18.93 billion in 2010-11 – was a chewing gum and string concoction that relied on one time revenue sources and disappearing savings.

Moody’s Investor Service took one look at the budget, shrieked at the choices made by the legislature to address budget gaps and an anticipated fiscal 2009 shortfall, and lowered Connecticut’s bond rating from stable to negative.

The Democratic dominated legislature’s sales tax cut has now been given a decent burial. From the very beginning, the tax cut – about half a percentage point – was tied to a predictable dip in state revenues. If revenue collections were to fall below a certain level, the cut was to be abandoned. Revenues fell. The tax relief was abandoned.

The sales tax, as we were told endlessly during Lowell Weicker’s successful effort to enact an income tax, is the most regressive of taxes; that is to say, it is a punitive tax hardest for the poorest in Connecticut to bear.

A sales tax cut, therefore, should be regarded a stimulus package for the little guy who is not too big to fail. Entrenched power brokers too big to fail can easily fend for themselves – usually by bribing a legislator with campaign contributions or by successfully seeking from their political patrons special exemptions not available to the little guy who will uncomplainingly pay sales taxes. Once again, the Democratic controlled legislature has repudiated those they traditionally claim to represent, demonstrating at the same time their loathing for stimulus packages that contain no earmarks.

The same legislature that attached a progressive feature to the income tax now has decided to ditch the estate tax cut. Who says you can’t get blood from corpses? Florida, which has neither a state income tax nor an estate tax, is likely to benefit most from the measure. From 2002 to 2006, 27,773 households moved from Connecticut to Florida.

Since the onset of the current recession, Connecticut has lost 85,400 jobs, a figure expected to rise to more than 100,000. Businesses are either fleeing the state or waiting for an opportunity to make a prosperous exit. State revenues are down because in Connecticut, and in much of the nation as well, state coffers are filled by precisely those tax “investors” that have seen their taxable income diminish in the current recession. This means that the addition of a progressive feature to Connecticut’s income tax will make this revenue source more not less volatile.

The day after Thanksgiving, the Hartford Business Journal reported that Connecticut’s unemployment insurance fund has become insolvent. But not to worry, the state will borrow nearly $1 billion from the federal government over the next two years so jobless residents can continue to collect unemployment checks. The federal government, in its turn, will squeeze its major creditors – China, for instance – for the necessary funds.

To summarize briefly: The pools of tax income in the state have so diminished that Connecticut is forced to borrow money from a federal government that continues to drive up spending while itself borrowing money from increasingly nervous and by no means amicable foreign lenders who have “invested” in a dollar the value of which continues to plummet.

None of Connecticut’s legislative ostriches, their heads comfortably buried in the sand, are eager to bite the bullet and cut spending. Perhaps the next governor will be able to summon enough courage to tell it like it is. But don’t bet the farm on it – or the diminishing dollar which, measured against the euro, has lost about half its value over the last ten years alone.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Some Chinks in Dodd’s Armor



A distinction may be made between the popularity of persons (non-transferable) and the popularity of positions and programs (transferable, sometimes).

President Barack Obama personality continues to resonate with many people, though there has been some slippage lately. His programs, largely radical, are iffier. Obama’s luster is not likely to rub off on Dodd; the disparities are too great. But there is no question Dodd has attached his fate to that of the Obama agenda: a highly regulated economy and the nationalization of heath care, to mention but two points.

Dodd’s fate is also connected to what might be called the wellness of his state; and, here again, the economic programs to which he has attached his political kite are doubtable, if not doubtful. Dodd has also shifted to the center in foreign policy, which is very odd in his case.

Dodd is not made of pro-war stuff – never has been. In economic policy, he has been in the past somewhat moderate. In the last few months, we have seen a paradigm shift in both these areas. Obama is now pursuing a Bush policy in Afghanistan, a part of the world that very well could be a quagmire for American troops. All these things are arguable since the fate of Afghanistan will depend upon facts on the ground that have yet to emerge.

What is not arguable is the paradigm shift on Dodd’s part: He has moved far to the left on domestic policy and to the center on current foreign policy.

Voters generally react negatively to sharp shifts and late conversions in politicians who have been in office a long time. In a politician of long standing, shifts of this kind are looked upon by the general public with a baleful eye and leave politicians open to damaging criticism from political opponents. These paradigm shifts place Dodd in a precarious position. He would be in even more trouble if Republicans could criticize him for his implicit support of the president’s “war of necessity” in Afghanistan.

Dodd was outspoken on the first Persian Gulf War, which he thought would be a quagmire resembling Vietnam. He was wrong. His anti-war posture was muted during Bush’s war in Iraq, until the president stumbled badly, at which point he and the loyal Democratic opposition in congress found their tongues.

In a statement in December 2007, Dodd pronounced the war in Iraq “a failure” and said clear bold action was necessary to end a war that had “made us less secure, more vulnerable and more isolated.” Dodd called for a “deadline to end the war tied to funding.” The time for giving Bush blank checks was over, Dodd said. He was strongly opposed to the Bush-Cheney troop surge. He advocated a surge in diplomacy, not troops, and agitated for a re-deployment to be completed within one year, by December 2008.

Obama won election on his promise to bring the troops out of Iraq shortly after he had become president. After much bumbling, Bush found his General Grant in General David Petraeus, and the general’s strategy has made the current troop withdrawals possible. The earlier withdrawals Dodd hankered after would have doomed the war effort in Iraq.

In the meanwhile, the eight-year Afghanistan war continues, and every argument used by progressives in their opposition to the war in Iraq applies as well to Afghanistan. Now that Obama is president, the anti-war opposition is in retreat among those members of congress who were only to happy to oppose Bush’s “war of choice.” It has been preserved, like a dried flower pressed in a bible, by Cindy Sheehan and a few other anti-war stalwarts.

The terrorist trials in New York are upcoming. Some commentators are suggesting that because the terrorists may not be able to find an unpolluted jury in New York, where the destruction of the Twin Towers are yet a vivid and painful memory, the trial should be moved to Connecticut. The terrorist trial featuring Kahlid Sheik Mohammed, the chief facilitator of 9/11 and the self confessed executioner of Daniel Pearl, may be viewed as a practical implementation of Dodd’s previous positions on how terrorists should be treated.

Dodd has long pressed for a Nuremberg stage upon which terrorists may be tried. The trials in New York even now are shaping up as classic show trials. Such was Nuremburg – with this difference: The German army had been defeated before the military tribunal commenced. Extremely mobile terrorists are still active, and a trial in a non-military court, in the course of which a terrorist who arranged the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York is to be invested with all the rights of a citizen of the United States, will be an invaluable recruiting tool for al-Qaeda. If the death penalty is imposed on Kahlid Sheik Mohammed during a non-military trial, it is likely that European countries that do not have the death penalty will not be willing to transfer for trial to the United States any terrorist taken in battle who may be executed for his “crimes.”

The final act of 9/11, which some consider certain to be a farce, still lies behind a drawn curtain. But few doubt that when it is brought on stage, it will affect the futures of politicians such as Dodd and others who have argued for the value of show trials in non-military courts for those whom previous presidents from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln would have considered unlawful combatants falling outside the conventions of war. The British did not hesitate to execute without trial Connecticut’s hero Nathan Hale, and Washington four years later did the same to Major Andre, according him a military trial and hanging him because, as the military board said, he had been found guilty of being behind American lines "under a feigned name and in a disguised habit." The conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination were tried by the military and executed after Grant had accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sales Tax Cut Nixed, Another Neck Chop For The Little Guy Who Is Not Too Big To Fail


The Democratic dominated legislature’s sales tax cut has now been given a decent burial. From the very beginning, the tax cut – about half  a percentage point – was tied to a predictable dip in state revenues: If revenue collections were to fall below a certain level, the cut was to be abandoned.

The sales tax, as we were told endlessly during Lowell Weicker’s successful effort to enact in income tax, is the most regressive of taxes; that is to say, it is a punitive tax hardest for the poorest in Connecticut to bear.

A sales tax cut, therefore, should be regarded a stimulus package for the little guy who is not too big to fail. Entrenched power brokers who are too big to fail can easily fend for themselves – usually by bribing a legislator with campaign contributions or by successfully seeking from their political patrons special exemptions not available to the little guy who will uncomplainingly pay sales taxes.

Once again, the Democratic controlled legislature wags its middle finger at those they traditionally claim to represent, demonstrating at the same time their loathing for stimulus packages that contain no earmarks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Dodd Will Not Resign, And Why Blumenthal Will Not Run Against Him

There has been some jockeying among Republicans in the U.S. Senate race. Sam Caliguiri has shifted his campaign from U.S. Senator to U.S. Rep, which leaves U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd to the tender mercies of the three remaining Republicans in the race: former CEO of World Wide Wrestling Linda McMahon, former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and Peter Schiff, a libertarian economist. Former ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley is deciding whether he would rather be governor than senator.

On the left side of the Democratic barracks, some progressives are dissatisfied with Dodd, though the senator has move very far to the left to placate them. Dodd’s “good,” however, is not good enough to satisfy unappeasable progressives. There is a palpable anguish in the progressive camp, much of it turning upon the dread suspicion that Dodd, should he remain in the race, will lose his seat to a Republican. The senator’s polling negatives are dangerously low. Therefore, it is being urged by some progressives that Dodd should quit the race, leaving the senatorial position opened for the perennial favorite of the Democratic left, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

There is an assumption involved here that has not been closely examined: first, that Dodd, however precarious his polling negatives a year before the election, will quit the race; second, that Blumenthal will accept a draft from his party.

It’s doubtful Dodd will quit the race. Faced with the charge he is in the pay of wealthy campaign contributors, Dodd has sought to defang his opposition by capturing them and pressing them to his bosom in what yet may turn out to be a fatal embrace. By his enthusiastic support of President Barack Obama’s plan to over-regulate pretty much everything in the Unites States, not excepting the air we breathe, Dodd has pretty much hoisted his middle finger to the much despised captains of industry in the country.

Dodd’s father was forced out of office on charges that he turned$116,000 in campaign contributions to his own use. But that is only the surface of the story. The son is no chip off his father’s much more conservative block. Dodd senior was a rigorous anti-communist at a time when softies in the mainstream media – does anyone remember the mainstream media? – were collectivity doubting that Alger Hiss was a commie and a spy. Tom Dodd's enemies on the left were happy to see him caught in the brambles, and Jack Anderson did not mourn his passing. The chief lesson his son learned from all this was to so conduct his public life that the same fate would never befall him.

At the time of the dedication of the Thomas Dodd Center during the Bill Clinton administration, a reporter for the New York Times noted some piquant asymmetries:

“With the help of Mr. Dodd's sons, Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the current general chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Thomas J. Dodd Jr., the United States Ambassador to Uruguay, Mr. Clinton dedicated the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, a new library at the University of Connecticut here…

"The festivities were a gentle coda to the tempestuous life of the elder Dodd, an old-fashioned Irish politician who mixed passionate anti-Communism with fervent early support for liberal domestic causes like civil rights and gun control, but whose career petered out in disgrace and defeat after his censure in 1967 for diverting about $116,000 in campaign funds to his personal use.

“By Mr. Clinton's own college days in the 1960's, Mr. Dodd stood as a symbol of hawkish stolidity on the Vietnam War, immortalized in Phil Ochs's protest anthem, ‘The Draft Dodger Rag,’ whose ironic verse begins: ‘I'm just a typical American boy from a typical American town/I believe in God and Senator Dodd and keepin' old Castro down…’

“In fact, as a Yale Law School student in 1970, Mr. Clinton was a campaign worker for the insurgent candidate, Joseph D. Duffey, who had wrested the Democratic nomination from Mr. Dodd, who then ran as an independent, splitting the vote and opening the way for the election of the Republican, Lowell P. Weicker Jr. Mr. Duffey now works for Mr. Clinton as director of the United States Information Agency.”
For the younger Dodd during his career, strident anti-communism was out, and fraternizing with the enemy was in: Dodd and Weicker, also a strident pro Vietnam War anti-communist at the beginning of his political career, were close friends.

The arc of the younger Dodd’s political life, in many ways, bends in a direction opposite to that of his father, rather as if Dodd the younger were determined that what had happed to Dad would never happen to him.

And now – under an indictment from the left, not the right, that the younger Dodd has been corrupted by campaign contributions – Chris Dodd is expected to go, as his father had done, quiet into that good night.

This will not happen.

And Blumenthal will not likely wage a battle against Dodd.

That battle would be too precarious for the glass-jawed Blumenthal. And the attorney general is not yet willing to leave the skeletons in his office behind him to pursue other public opportunities – unless he could designate his successor.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Doing Good: Judge Norko And The Hartford Community Court



Anyone who has ever gotten himself in trouble -- many of us from the age of 12 to 20, though perhaps not in trouble criminally -- knows that there comes a point in a richly deserved punishment when the agony, despair, and humiliation trails off into a healing repentance. Many of the great novelists -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky in “Crime and Punishment,” Dickens in “Great Expectations,” Victor Hugo in “Les Miserable” -- have written persuasively about that spiritual pivot point.

Much more than most of us, Hartford Community Court Judge Raymond Norko has seen men swing, as from a hangman’s noose, between punishment and rehabilitation. The lower depths pass before him daily. That parade is a dispiriting experience, particularly when the level of criminal activity is such as to allow a restorative punishment that may -- just may -- set the foot of a potential hardened criminal on the road to a life in which crime plays no part. One of the great failings of jurisprudence in our time is that the options in the retributive toolbox of judges do not, in many cases, permit judges to be prudent in assigning punishment, and jurisprudence always should involve prudent punishment.

Judge Norko thinks the opportunity for rehabilitation ought to occur somewhere in the punishment process, the sooner the better. And he is determined to place in the toolbox of judges and law enforcement officials appropriate alternative punishments that have been shown to aid in the process.

The Hartford Community Court is Judge Norko’s brainchild. In theory, the community court springs from Rudy Giuliani’s golden perception that if communities did not tolerate minor crimes, they later would not be prey to a plague of big-time lawbreakers: If you permit a broken window to stand in a community, you are simply inviting crime. The perception is a frank avowal that major crimes such as murder, rape, assault, etc., are related to unattended offenses such as breach of peace, larceny, first-time marijuana charges, disorderly conduct, threatening, criminal trespass, and solicitation of prostitutes, as well municipal ordinance violations such as loitering, public nuisance, drinking, and excessive noise.

An ounce of prevention of criminal activity will always be worth more a pound of cure. There are more strings to Judge Norko’s instrument than is the case with other judges. The Hartford Community Court works hand in glove with police, bail commissioners, prosecutors, public defenders, social services, and court-supervised community service organizations. Community service is an important attribute of the court because it places the offender in his own community to work out his punishment. There is nothing like service in your own community to knock off the rough edges of an attitude. Community service also signals to the community itself that the court is serious in providing sanctions for quality-of-life crimes responsible for neighborhood deterioration.

In the summer of 2009 the Hartford Community Court handled a record caseload of 9,743. In the first half of the same year, Hartford police reported that Part 1 crimes (murder, rape, assault, etc) decreased 8.9% -- hard statistical evidence, Judge Norko says, “that if you go after low-level crimes it eliminates the permissive attitude of 'anything goes’ and makes it much less likely that violent and bigger crimes will occur. It’s the ‘broken windows’ theory brought to life.”

The statistics provided by the community court illustrate its connections with other agencies: In September the court recorded 1,275 arraignments. In the same time the court dispensed 2,562 hours of community service and made 278 social service referrals and 76 referrals to mediation. The suburban caseload was 11 percent and the appearance rate was an astonishing 89 percent.

Important though the figures may be for funding purposes, statistics are the poorest measure of what happens in this court. It is a transformative pivot that may turn, in the few cases I was privileged to witness, despair into the first flarings of hope.

A young man with dreadlocks, an erect bearing, and a frozen face stands before the judge, who has seen him before, the young man's mother to his left and his father, tall and slender as a reed, to his right. The young man has already completed his punishment and is now awaiting the final disposition of his case before Norko, who, as everyone in the court is aware, is no pushover. This judge is con-proof. The young man and the judge have finished their business together. The father’s head is still down, his hands clasped tightly together in front of him. Judge Norko calls the young man by his first name and he looks up.

“You love your father and mother?”

The young man smiles broadly, “Yes sir, I sure do.”

“That’s good, because they love you.”

The father, astonished, raises his head. Through a flickering smile he whispers a hasty “Thank you, judge” before all three leave the court.

The community court draws recourses from state agencies, the Social Service Department and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and private non-profit agencies. Community Partners in Action provides the community-service programs. Mediation services are provided by the Hartford Area Mediation Program (HAMP) under a contract authorized by statute. Adjudication staff positions include Judge Norko, the state’s attorney, the public defender, assistants, and others.

Hartford’s Community Health Services African Men In Recovery Program (AMIR) is an important agency involved with the community court. AMIR, under the direction of the indispensable George Dillon, helps African-American and Hispanic males afflicted with substance abuse problems and/or mental health issues.

Judge Norko describes Dillon, who works with the community court each Wednesday accepting referrals and reporting to the court on their progress, as a “miracle worker” who “takes men in almost desperate situations and conditions and helps them achieve substantial progress toward their recovery.”

Last March the U.S. Department of Justice selected Hartford’s community court as one of three nationwide sites forming a Community Court Mentor Site Network. The court now serves as a model “to other jurisdictions seeking effective ways to combat such crimes as prostitution, public drinking and drug use, vandalism, and other low-level crimes that affect the quality of life in city neighborhoods.”

The community court is trying, as Norko puts it, “to put a foot in the revolving door by addressing the underlying issues that are often the root of a person’s involvement in the criminal-justice system. Accountability through community service and a helping hand through social services is the most productive manner I know of to deal with these low-level crimes.”

Owing to Judge Norko’s organizational and administrative skills, the Hartford Community Court, which also serves surrounding municipalities, runs in its daily activities like the proverbial well-oiled machine. The efficiency of the court is also due to the zealous involvement of Public Defender Liz Ahern, Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Dwyer, the unfailingly cordial court interpreter, Jacqueline Torres, and Judge Norko’s indispensable administrator, Chris Pleasanton. The question hanging over the whole enterprise is: What will happen when Judge Norko retires in three years?

In this court in particular, justice and remediation depend on a comprehensive understanding of how the court deals with its indispensable secondary actors. The primary beneficiaries of the court are the lawbreakers the arc of whose life course will not be bent in a beneficial direction in the absence of this institution. But it is not often sufficiently appreciated that the communities in Harford and those huddled around it benefit greatly from the court’s daily activity.

The British author G. K. Chesterton wrote of the London district that then was ridden with seemingly intractable problems:

“Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing -- say, Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico, we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne of the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico; in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico; for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful.

“The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. ...

“A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence.”

There are some in Hartford who love the city with a seemingly irrational love, as women love their children -- because it is theirs. Among these are Judge Norko and those who work with him in the improbable task of making Hartford as fair as Florence.

MYTHS FOR FUN AND PROFIT

1. 640,329 jobs “saved/created” in Connecticut’s 45th Congressional district.
2. U.S. has high Infant Mortality.
3. 45,000 died because they didn’t have health insurance.
4. U.S. is unhealthy, only 37th healthiest in the world.
5. Social Security Trust Fund, Medicare trust fund.
6. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi despises private insurers driven by profit.
7. Passive smoke, a killer but where are the bodies?
8. DDT, miracle that saves lives from malaria, banned.

1. 640,329 jobs created and saved? Bogus. House oversight subcommittee says $136 billion has been paid out from the $787-billion stimulus package, for jobs counted, double-counted, in nonexistent Congressional districts, including the 45th in Connecticut (we have five), 26th in Louisiana, 12th in Virginia and other imaginary places. An $890 shoe order, rated nine new jobs. An Alabama housing authority on a $540,071 project, rated 7,280 jobs but the Birmingham News only found 14. Where are the grants going? “Who knows, man, who really knows,” answers the Communications Director in charge for the Administration’s “recovery.gov” (WallStreetJournal 11-19, A20).

2. Infant-Mortality Rate
Definition: Number of infants per 1,000 live births, who die within one year. (The U.S. has a lot of premature births.) The U.S. counts births that are not counted in other countries. If, like those other countries, we didn’t count them, our rate would be higher than it is.

The U.S., Sweden, and Germany count every infant showing any sign of life: if its heart beats, if its muscles move, if it is breathing. Other countries don’t count them. Japan and certain European countries count infants only if they breathe.

Many countries don’t count underweight babies: France, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Netherlands, and Poland don’t count infants weighing under 500 grams, or premature infants of fewer than 22 weeks gestation.

Russia till the 1990s didn’t count babies weighing under 1,000 grams, or if fewer than 28 weeks gestation, or shorter than 35 cm. in length.

If the U.S. excluded infants not counted in other countries, its IMR would be 22% to 25% lower than it is, around #22 or #23 for Canada and the UK, and its IMR would be around 4.8 instead of 6.3. Data (it’s the U.N.’s) exist for 195 countries. Here are many countries with the lowest IMRs:

.
Rank IMR
1 Iceland 2.9
2 Singapore 3.0
3 Japan 3.2
4 Sweden 3.2
5 Norway 3.3
6 HongKong 3.7
7 Finland 3.7
8 Czech Republic 3.8
9 Switzerland 4.1
10 South Korea 4.1
11 Belgium 4.2
12 France 4.2
14 Germany 4.4
19 Netherlands 4.7
24 Ireland 4.9
33 U.S. 6.3
37 Poland 6.7


3. 44,000 deaths because decedents were uninsured.
A study “found that every year in America, lack of health coverage leads to 45,000 deaths,” Senator Max Baucus told his Senate Finance Committee. “No one should die because they cannot afford health care.”

Oft-repeated 44,000 is based on a sample of 9,000 collected from a survey between 1988 and 1992. Respondents were asked if they had health insurance. Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Woolhandler and Dr. Himmelstein, the study’s authors, assumed that any health calamity was attributable to lack of insurance. Dr. H also co-founded Physicians for a National Health Program, which boasts it’s the only physician organization dedicated to single-payer national health insurance.


4. U.S. only the 37th healthiest country in the world? This is a faulty study by the World Health Organization. Based on data of a decade ago, it judged health-care systems by factors sometimes irrelevant: “responsiveness” (speed, choice, quality of amenities); health-level, inequality in health-care outcomes, individual spending. Where data for some countries did not exist, WHO used surrogates, literacy and income-per-capita (for what?). WHO adjusted for national health expenditures-per-capita, which it adjudged a bad thing: “Because the U.S. ranked first in spending, that adjustment pushed its ranking down to 37th behind Dominica, Costa Rica, and Morocco, which had ranked 42d, 45th, and 94th but after the adjustment ranked above the U.S. (WallStreetJournal Oct. 21 A19).


5. Social Security Trust Fund? Even a Medicare Trust Fund? There are no such things. There may be I.O.U.s and/or bookkeeping entries.


6. Insurance companies’ profits.
Profits of health-care insurance companies are relatively low compared with profits of other types of insurance. Most recent annual profits barely exceeded 2% of revenue. (They’ve been re-rated “negative” from “stable,” faced with a shrinking market for private insurance.) The list of industries which follows starts with the least profitable. All industries related to insurance are included in this list. The others, we have selected randomly from a long list.

Profit Industry Rank

3.3% Health care plans 86th
3.6% Hospitals 77th
3.6% Insurance brokers 75th
6.6% Drugs, generic 45th
8.4% Home health care 30th
13.5% Drug delivery 14th
16.5% Drug manufacturers 7th
25.9% Beverages—Brewers 1st


7. The Environmental Protection Agency, after numerous gross statistical errors, could only boost the very low ranking of environmental tobacco smoke (passive smoke) to a miserably low significant figure, way below getting lung cancer from drinking one glass of whole milk daily for 70 years. Perhaps for public consumption, EPA settled on the figure of 3,000 deaths a year. One official in a private letter to his friend, which we have in our file, wrote that zero deaths would be equally valid.)


8....DDT, the most wonderful chemical ever. “It is estimated that in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable,” concluded the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, the year before EPA head William Ruckelshaus banned it. Thanks to Ruckelshaus, Rachel Carson, environmentalist extremists, and the WHO, millions of Africans including children are dying or disabled today.

Why, these irrational policy errors?

By Natalie Sirkin
c2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Williams, More Jobs Please


President Pro Tem of Connecticut’s senate Don Williams was invited by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut to give a talk, presumably on the state’s faltering economy, a delicious irony, rather as if the moneyed classes of pre-revolutionary France were to invite Jean-Paul Marat to a salon to give a chat on the future of the monarchy.

Williams who, along with his comrade in arms in the House, Speaker Chris Donovan, is principally responsible for having produced a budget now nearly half a million in arrears, told the group that the state has to “ratchet it up,” shove a little more money in the direction of education and improve Connecticut’s rail lines. Improved schooling, Williams said according to an account in the Norwich Bulletin, “wouldn’t require much extra spending and could be accomplished chiefly through policy changes. Connecting Hartford, New London, and Springfield, Mass., through rail would better move people and goods around.”

The completion of that line will better enable unemployed people to move from Hartford to Springfield. It has no other use. And just now, according to a story in the Hartford Courant, students are hunkering down in 4-year and 2-year community colleges until the epoch of unemployment passes by. Our leaders, strangely indifferent to plight of the people they rule and ruin, cannot read the papers – and they most certainly cannot read the times.

The question the Democratic dominated legislature should be considering is this: What will it take, short of a revolution, to persuade these so called leaders to become serious about cutting spending?

Friday, November 20, 2009

And God Said, “Let There Be Universal Health Care.”


On the question of a public option in the health care debate, liberal Democrats are now playing the God card, and it would appear that every liberal’s favorite whipping boy, Sen. Joe Lieberman, is in their view a moral apostate.

Lieberman, already in Dutch with the far left of his party for having fraternized with the enemy, has vigorously opposed the “public option” – a euphemism for nationalized insurance – for non-theological reasons having to do with dollars and cents.

But no sooner did Lieberman say he felt it was a “moral obligation” to oppose a ruinously expensive nationalized health insurance plan than there appeared out of the blue a union inspired “vigil” of rabbis and imams and priests and Unitarian ministers all inveighing against Lieberman as a religious reprobate.

It certainly is odd how the seemingly inflexible doctrine of the separation of church and state — vigorously applied to crèches during the Christian season of joy – just comes and goes.

Most news accounts of the vigil did not touch on its auspices. The vigil, which occurred before Lieberman’s house in Stamford, was assisted by CSEA/SEIU Local 2001, a state union.

The purpose of the vigil, the union group announced on its site, was “To demonstrate to Joe Lieberman that we need health care reform and we do not want him joining any filibuster of health care legislation. The Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care, a faith-based organization that includes religious leaders from all major faiths, is organizing this event.”

The union group urged its members “to participate and demonstrate our opposition to Sen. Lieberman's obstruction of efforts to pass meaningful reform. The event will be solemn and highly dignified, and attendees will be asked to dress appropriately and NOT to bring protest signs.”

Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) issued a clarion call: “Please join people from across Connecticut – representing all walks of life and all faith traditions. Remind Senator Lieberman that we are united in our call for quality, affordable health care we can count on!”

CCAG’s director is Tom Swan, the campaign manager of Ned Lamont’s failed senatorial run against Lieberman. A little more than a year ago, Lamont appeared in a video clip hawking a Million Doors for Peace effort endorsed by CCAG:



In the video, Lamont anguishes over ex-President George Bush’s successful war in Iraq and advises recruits to “knock on doors. Remind them why we’re not going to let this happen again.” Lamont is referring to Bush’s “war of choice.”

Alas, it happened again when President Barrack Obama introduced more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, the current president’s “war of necessity.” President Obama has been anguishing for a month over how many troops to send to Afghanistan, sometimes called the graveyard of empires. If Lamont now seems unconcerned with knocking on doors for peace, it is because he is considering a run for governor on the Democratic ticket and currently is engaged in a head to toe reinvention process. Gone is the anti-war Lamont progressives came to love and honor during his successful primary challenge to Lieberman, who went on to win the general election. Governors in charge of their state’s national guards generally cannot be found knocking on doors for peace. This would be doubly unlikely for Lamont, who will be expected as governor of Connecticut to support the war mongering efforts of a Democratic president.

In their vigil, the clergy seemed at some pains to make the point that opposition to the specific health care plan containing a public option was immoral. One rabbi warned Lieberman sternly “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbors. It is with a heavy heart that I proclaim to you Senator Lieberman that that is exactly what you seem to be doing at this time.” Another dithered over whether he thought it prudent to throw his theology into the political ring but finally succumbed, possibly at the urging of CCAG and unions thumping for nationalized health care.

“The moral imperative for our time is clear,” he said. “Anyone whose guide in public policy is conscience, anyone who argues that faith and religious traditions should direct our actions, such a person must stand for universal health care in America. It happens we are all also citizens of Connecticut. That fact leads us to ask you Senator Lieberman, what is it that you stand for?”

Such political specificity must always be theologically suspect. Jews apparently are not moral Jews when they vote against national insurance programs and, according to Jesse Jackson, neither are blacks black.

But God works in mysterious ways and does not always take the route suggested by Democratic politicians. To put it in other terms: God’s way is not always and unvaryingly Dodd’s way. U. S. Sen. Chris Dodd favors a national health insurance plan; Lieberman does not, which is not to say that Lieberman favors sacrificing the children of union leaders to Moloch.

Other plans beside those offered by progressives may provide health care to those presently who have no health insurance. And it seems to be Lieberman’s fugitive hope that the thing may be done without bankrupting the nation or Connecticut, which use to be known as the insurance capital of the world and still employs quite a few people in the business.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Income Tax Proponent Hale, Tax Scofflaw


John Lender of the Hartford Courant notes: “If former Democratic state Sen. Gary A. Hale hadn't voted the way he did 18 years ago, he might not owe the state $77,951 in back taxes today.”

Hale, a state senator in 1991 when the income tax was rammed through the legislature by then Gov. Lowell Weicker and his minions, switched his vote from ney to yea and so secured passage of the tax.

The state Department of Revenue Services now is hounding Hale for non-payment of income taxes. The 50th of the state’s top 100 tax scofflaws, Hale owes Connecticut $77,951 in non-paid income taxes, thus joining a roster of distinguished Democratic tax delinquents, including Tom Daschle and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Leading the roster is Rep. Charlie Rangel, spotted on this blog several months ago as a snoozing tax cheat.

Rangle will be investigated by the same bunch of friendly legislators who, a few months ago, found Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd culpable – but not too culpable – of ethical violations.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In Defense Of Lisa Moody


The question at bat is: Was Lisa Moody, Governor Jodi Rell’s chief aide, the governor’s Svengalli?

Svelgalli was a fictional character, an evil hypnotist in George du Maurier’s novel “Trilby.” Not even Moody’s most severe critics would assert that she manipulated the governor by hypnotizing her or casting spells over her.

But did she influence the governor?

It would be odd if she did not. One always hopes that chief aides are more influential than, say, the editorial board of the Hartford Courant.

There is a temptation on the part of press people to over inflate the influence played by aides, perhaps because they are reluctant in their criticisms to mortally injure the king. During ex-president George Bush’s administration, Vice President Dick Cheney was portrayed pretty much as Bush’s brain. The president was thought to be a major duffer. Since Svengalli was a fictional character, it may be more helpful to inquire whether Moody was Rell’s Cheney.

Was she?

Yes and no. Cheney’s influence over Bush has been greatly exaggerated. Moody and Rell were a pair; they played well together. And when things went wrong, Moody took the bullet for her chief. She kept the jackals at bay and performed the more disreputable chores of politics with a certain aplomb. Moody would be the first to admit that she made mistakes. In fact, she has admitted to mistakes. But she was no Svengalli. Rell ran the executive department, and Moody aided her.

There is always a danger in the misattribution of power and responsibility. Sometimes the king deserves a thwacking, but this becomes less likely the more the king is thought to be under the influence of a shadowy aide. If Cheney really was Bush’s brain, we can hardly blame the brainless executive for whatever mistake he may have made in office, many of which had been attributed to Cheney.

Moody was a Democrat whom Republicans in Vernon coxed to their side because she was useful to them. It is proper to characterize her as a person “of no certain address,” someone for whom party affections and ideas mean very little. Now, that is a note of character that most certainly is important. But you will not find it stressed in any account of the cross influence between Rell and Moody – because part affiliation is unimportant to many commentators writing on politics in Connecticut.

It is very interesting to see who, among her past political acquaintances in Vernon, came readily to her defense after it had been suggested in several commentaries that her service to Rell was, on the whole, not beneficial.

Former Mayor of Vernon and partisan Democrat Marie Herbst said, “She's very, very, very compassionate.” And former Vernon Mayor Ellen Marmer defended Moody against a charge of nastiness: “Lisa is powerful, opinionated and bright. She's in a position of power. All of those things put together in the political arena don’t make you popular most of the time. What I can say of Lisa very easily is maybe some of her actions are self-serving, but most of her actions are for the state (or), in our case, the local climate. Her ways may be problematic for some people, but she's not doing anything to be nasty.”

Accusations of nastiness have been raised in a Greenwich Time story by “anonymous state workers,” precisely the people one might expect to be at loggerheads with the governor and her aide, both of whom in economic hard times are duty bound to say “no” to the sometimes unreasonable demands of anonymous union connected state workers.

Kevin Rennie, a Courant columnist, reasonably points out that “Rell sleepwalked through the year's critical budget debate… When a wreck of a budget reached her desk at the end of the summer, she took a powder. Rell would neither sign nor veto the $38 billion behemoth; she would watch it pass into law. To distract attention from her abdication, Rell tried to veto a few million dollars in expenditures, though she'd been told she'd given up that authority when she didn't sign the budget. From her address in Never Never Land, she persisted in the silly ruse.”

All true, sadly. Rell talked the talk, but she declined to walk the walk. And she got hornswoggled.

Rennie also suspects that both Rell and Moody will attempt to sabotage the campaign for governor of Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele:

“Rell got the open race for the Republican nomination for governor off to a bad start when she stuck the knife into loyal Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele. He had quickly signaled he would be a candidate for governor and said he had Rell's support.

“Rell declined to confirm that she supports Fedele and declared there are several competent candidates. Fedele says Rell promised to support him; Rell says she did not. One of them is not telling the truth. In the credibility stakes, Rell runs far behind Fedele.

“Fedele holds a special place on Moody's long list of enemies. Had Rell sought another term, Fedele could not be sure he'd have been her running mate.”

As Attorney General Richard Blumenthal – the Democratic Party’s Great White Hope for either governor or U.S. senator – might say, “Stay tuned.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Blumenthal, Or The Ambiguities



According to a story in the New Haven Register, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal put a stop to the chatter that he might run for governor “at a gathering of students, senior citizens and local dignitaries… arranged by The Women’s Center at Gateway Community College.”

“Is this the time Blumenthal will take all that political capital and run for governor,” Topics Editor Mary O’Leary wrote, “now that Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced she will not seek re-election, giving Democrats their first good shot at the top job in 18 years?

This interrogatory was followed by the now traditional let-down: “Blumenthal said no, he’s running for attorney general ‘because it is a job I love, because it enables me to fight for people and make a difference. I have no plan to run for governor.’

“On the other hand, asked if he would run in 2012 for U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman’s seat, Blumenthal said: ‘It would be a challenge that I would welcome, if it were the right time to do it, and I thought I could make a difference. Stay tuned.’”

If only there were a Democratic Party Central that could by a mere glance of disapproval whisk the attorney general from the office that has entrapped him and plop him into a political spot of its own choosing. Democratic king makers are interested in Blumenthal because his popularity rating is stratospheric.

Gov. Jodi Rell’s popularity rating also was sky high during part of her gubernatorial term. But, compared to Snow White, Blumenthal is a shining God, the equivalent in our politics of Phoebus Apollo.

Every time Blumenthal has been nudged towards higher office, he has refused, leaving the door teasingly ajar. And every time he has refused, his “bow out” has been more closely examined than the portentous oracles at Delphi, whose pronouncements, publicized by the priestess who was Apollo’s interpreter were, to say the least, ambiguous. Ambiguity needs a professional priesthood to interpret it.

Blumenthal said no to a gubernatorial run. That’s plain enough; “no” is no. And he has given his reason: He loves his job. Who would not love a job that permits him to spank the fannies of gluttonous businessmen in public? Who would not love a job in which he could dump into the public treasury a portion of the ill gotten gains of Fruit Loop producers?

In a subsequent interview with the Day, Blumenthal beat a hasty retreat from his “no” after having received a flood of phone calls begging him to run for governor

Now comes the ambiguity: Blumenthal would leave the job he loves on what conditions?

The job of U.S. senator would be “a job I would welcome.” But even here plain-speak is attended by the furries of ambiguity…”if it were the right time to do it” and if “I thought I could make a difference.” This diffidence is quickly followed by a sunburst of hope: “Stay tuned.”

It only remains to put these effusions into hexameter verse to have an oracle worthy of Delphi. Right now, as these words are being printed, the modern Pythia – the female priestess who in pagan Greece served as a vehicle for the word of Apollo at Delphi; for a gratuity, of course – is examining Blumie’s oracular emissions. In the modern period, there are many Pythias: lobbyists trained and paid to interpret oracular statements, editorial boards, reporters, members of the New Democratic Apollonarian Party, bloggers committed to the destruction of Joe Lieberman, Blumiepuffers in the press and elsewhere… and on and on.

Some of Blumenthal's admirers, men and women of a practical bent, are now scrutinizing these statements in hope that a correct interpretation would find Blumenthal, their Achilles, leaving his comfortable tent to turn the battle in their favor.

“Please, please, let it be so,” they pray at the alter of their god, quite willing to throw an live lamb on the offering brazier, if only Blumenthal will come to his senses, leave the job he loves, join them in their effort to make the world over.

A little common sense may be in order here.

Men are moved mostly by fear and love. Among the little discussed reasons Blumenthal may not wish to leave his job is this: He may not be able to leave it without exposing his entire record in office to his successor, and to the public. All those e-mails left behind, and some of the grosser errors he has made in his prosecutions, may testify against him if he should run for higher office.

The job he so loves may be his ball and chain, and fear more than love may explain his extraordinary reluctance to come to the aid of his party by running either for governor or senator. If that is the case, Democrats have in the past and will in the future be wooing Blumenthal in vain. Too many skeletons in the closet may be keeping Blumenthal at home in command of the closet.

Dodd, Dancing with “Scheme Liability” Lawyers



In Stoneridge v. Scientific-Atlanta, the Supreme Court Ruled in 2008 that companies cannot be sued just for doing business with another firm that had committed fraud. In tandem with another precedent in Central Bank of Denver v. First Interstate Bank of Denver, the ruling put a check on what the Wall Street Journal has termed “’scheme liability’, in which trial lawyers seek to rope in parties acting legally for having done business with parties that don't.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, accused by some of his opponents of playing patty cake with corporate campaign contributors, is on an anti-business head trip just now. In the dust and dirt of battle, it has been forgotten that Dodd, at one point in his sterling career, set his face against lawyers who unjustifiably drove up the cost of doing business through excessive litigation.

One of the reasons doctors send their patients to so many specialists, driving up insurance coverage and medical costs, is because by so doing they are buying protection from suit happy law firms. Whispering in the whirlwind, some Republicans have demanded tort reform, so that doctors once again can practice medicine without padding themselves up in protective gear to avoid the kinds of lawyers who make their living by chasing ambulances.

The Consumer Protection Department should have forced Angelo Mozillo, the CEO of Countrywide, now bankrupt, to have tattooed on his puffed up chest “Made in the US Congress.” Countrywide, as well as Fannie and Freddie Mac, were government created monopolies.

Before congress offered special perks to monopolies that came crashing down upon his head, Dodd was a leading champion of tort reform. The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 was, according to the WSJ, “Senator Chris Dodd's finest hour. Joining with House Republican Chris Cox, Mr. Dodd led an override of a Bill Clinton veto to end the scourge of 'strike suits.' Prior to the law, trial lawyers would wage legal blitzkrieg against companies guilty only of a falling stock price. Since its enactment, lawyers have had to present some evidence of actual fraud before launching fishing expeditions under the civil discovery process.”

The falling of the house of Countrywide upon Dodd’s head has had the predictable effect of scrambling his brains.

By passing Section 984 of the Draft Dodd bill, which in effect overturns the Supreme Court decision in Stoneridge v. Scientific-Atlanta, the legal blitzkrieg against companies that do business with fraudulent companies – such as, for example, accounting firms -- will commence anew. And the author of the new legislation is…. Envelope please... Chris Dodd, the former scourge of lean and hungry scheme liability lawyers. The Security and Exchange Commission, it should be noted, already has the authority to bring cases against those who aide and abet fraud.

The anti-business provision in Dodd’s bill will, according to the WSJ, “allow private cause of actions and extend liability to accounting firms, lawyers, suppliers and anyone else that has a commercial relationship with a company that commits a securities fraud,” paving the way for unscrupulous law firms to sue innocent plaintiffs to force settlements and enrich law firms that certainly will want to express their gratitude to Dodd in the form of campaign contributions.

The Banking Committee over which Dodd presides as chairman probably will take up his bill by Thanksgiving, after which Dodd’s campaign coffers will undou btedly be filled by grateful lawyers.

Dodd’s political problems have been sufficiently ventilated in Connecticut’s media. In order to escape these toils and trials, the senator has permitted himself a quick makeover, little realizing that the political graveyard is littered with the bodies of incumbent politicians who have failed to read correctly the signs of the times. Businesses are suffering both from an ebbing recession and a future inflationary period that will reduce the capital necessary for business expansion and jobs. This may not be the time to turn over the remains of dying businesses to scheme liability lawyers.

It would seem, from efforts of this kind to placate fervent anti-business proponents on the left, Dodd has moved quickly without any visable discomfortfrom the scalding pot to the red hot frying pan .

Friday, November 13, 2009

This Could Be The Start Of Something Big: Liberal Bloggers Apologize To Bush

“If you have been reading us for any length of time [ “us” is the liberal blog HillBuzz ] you know that we used to make fun of “Dubya” nearly every day…parroting the same comedic bits we heard in our Democrat circles, where Bush is still, to this day, lampooned as a chimp, a bumbling idiot, and a poor, clumsy public speaker.

“Oh, how we RAILED against Bush in 2000…and how we RAILED against the surge in support Bush received post-9/11 when he went to Ground Zero and stood there with his bullhorn in the ruins on that hideous day…

“As we will always be grateful for what George and Laura Bush did this week, with no media attention, when they very quietly went to Ft. Hood and met personally with the families of the victims of this terrorist attack.

“FOR HOURS.

“The Bushes went and met privately with these families for HOURS, hugging them, holding them, comforting them.

“If there are any of you out there with any connection at all to the Bushes, we implore you to give them our thanks…you tell them that a bunch of gay Hillary guys in Boystown, Chicago were wrong about the Bushes…and are deeply, deeply sorry for any jokes we told about them in the past, any bad thoughts we had about these good, good people.”

And, just to show they are serious, the bloggers offers a kick in the pants to:

“…the current president, Dr. Utopia, made us realize just how wrong we were about Bush. We shudder to think what Dr. Utopia would have done post-9/11. He would have not gone there with a bullhorn and struck that right tone. More likely than not, he would have been his usual fey, apologetic self and waxed professorially about how evil America is and how justified Muslims are for attacking us, with a sidebar on how good the attacks were because they would humble us.”
All in all, a generous about-face.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

First Person Singular: An Interview With Chris Powell On Connecticut's Senatorial Race



Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, is a knowledgeable observer of Connecticut politics whose column appears in that paper and a dozen others in Connecticut and the Providence Journal in Rhode Island. When Powell became managing editor of the JI in 1974, he was the youngest editor of any daily in the state. I must here acknowledge that I wrote a regular column for the JI for about 15 years when Powell was also editorial page editor, drawing from time to time on his unfailing political memory. Powell, who off-line is screamingly amusing, agreed to submit to an interview broadly focused on the U.S. Senate race featuring the Democratic incumbent, Chris Dodd, and a crew of ebullient Republicans.


It is difficult to place Powell on the political spectrum except to say that he loves a good story and has a gift for poetic concision: "The General Assembly is little more than a nest of locusts. ..."


I recall once describing Powell as a "radical (small 'd') democrat," a title he did not resist. He is inclined to throw the truth around in his columns as if it were a bomb -- which it often is -- at which point many politicians, screwing wax into their ears, occasionally walk off in a huff.

* * *

DP: The senatorial horserace involving Chris Dodd won't be up for a year, but speculators are taking bets. There are five Republicans in the race: Rob Simmons, Linda McMahon, Sam Caliguiri, Tom Foley, and Peter Schiff. Dodd appears to have recovered somewhat from an earlier bashing by embracing more fervently those on the left in his party. The P.T. Barnum among Republicans, McMahon, has lots of money, and money certainly does not hurt. The bloom on President Barack Obama's rose appears to be fading. Dodd has tied his prospects to Obama's plans for medical insurance, an industry still strong in Connecticut. And the role Dodd played as Senate Banking Committee chairman during the collapse of the housing market is sure to come up in the campaign. What are the Republican prospects for an upset in November? I realize that any predictions are subject to change. But can you give us a snapshot of the terrain so far?

CP: I suspect that Connecticut's Senate election will be determined more by doubts about Dodd's personal integrity than by doubts about his record, particularly his long subservience to Wall Street. That will be too bad, since, in providing what turned out to be the crucial support for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and thereby letting commercial banks and investment houses merge, Dodd bears as much responsibility as anyone for the collapse of the world financial system. His Irish "cottage" and the terms of his mortgages are trivial by comparison, not that those things don't imply his having lost touch with Connecticut, a sense of entitlement as part of the ruling class. The polls say Rob Simmons is the strongest Republican challenger, and certainly he is the most credible, given his long record in public life. The other Republicans have a lot of heavy baggage: Linda McMahon's clownish business background and her unfamiliarity with issues; Peter Schiff's anarchistic ideology, his tax-resister father in prison, and his never having voted before; Tom Foley's only qualification being his fund raising for a former president loathed in the state; and Sam Caligiuri's inability to raise much money. It's Simmons' race to lose.

DP: Some people may be unfamiliar with the Glass-Steagall Act. It dates from the Roosevelt administration, I think, and suffered the death of a thousand cuts over the last half century. Who is responsible for its demise, and doesn't the destruction of commercial banks in the recession/depression give us reason to hope that it might be restored? The recession certainly cleared some dead brush away.

CP: The Glass-Steagall Act -- the one enacted in 1933 -- separated commercial and investment banking. The reasons for and against its repeal in 1999 are cited in the link above.

Basically, the repeal let the New York financial houses get as big as they wanted and do whatever they wanted, including putting at greater risk bank deposits insured by the federal government. The act's repeal was achieved largely as a matter of the political influence gained by the financial houses in both parties, but Dodd's support of repeal was deemed crucial in achieving a majority. I don't think that the New York investment houses have been destroyed. To the contrary, now they have taken over the government entirely. It's the government that has been destroyed.

DP: The state Republican Party has not had conscientious stewards. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., who served the state for many years as senator, was indifferent if not hostile to it. Former Gov. John G. Rowland was much in the habit of making compromises with the Democratic opposition in the General Assembly, though he did spend a little less than the Democrats wanted. Gov. Jodi Rell recently seemed to be talking the talk on spending reductions before she succumbed, for whatever reason, to the Democrats in the legislature. Connecticut's Republican Party has not been able to distinguish itself sharply enough from the Democratic Party to persuade voters to replace Democrats with Republicans in the legislature. There are no longer any Republicans, moderate or otherwise, in Connecticut's congressional delegation. The last two moderate Republican U.S. representatives, Chris Shays and Rob Simmons, were defeated in 2008 and 2006, respectively. Is party differentiation important or not? And if it is important, what should the Republican Party be doing, within the state and nationally, to make itself more enticing to the public?

CP: Yes, party identification is important because political competition is important. How could the Republican Party differentiate itself from the Democratic Party in a good way -- that is, of course, in a way I like? Maybe first Republicans should see how parasitic the financial system has become, thanks to lack of government regulation. There IS something worse than socialism, or at least as bad -- corporatism. The financial houses have bought the Democratic Party, so why should the Republican Party stay bought? There is an old tradition of prairie Republican populism to be restored. Chesterton's peasant proprietorship, with nearly everybody owning some property and thus having a capitalist stake in society, ought to be the objective, not coddling big money. After many years as a Democrat, I became a Republican in 1991 because it was, in Connecticut, the party that was not quite controlled by the public employee unions, and because Connecticut Republicans seemed to have less stultifying dogma than the Democrats did. In Connecticut's Republican Party one can express an unorthodox thought and the worst that will happen is that you'll be considered eccentric. Try it in Connecticut's Democratic Party and you'll be burned as a heretic.

Which is not to say that Connecticut's Republican Party still isn't too terrified of the public employee unions to try to restore public sovereignty over them. But at least there is always a chance that a Republican primary will nominate a candidate who is not exactly proud of being a stooge and a tool. Connecticut Republicans should stress that differentiation, since many people are coming to see that the biggest problems on the state and local level are the cost and inertia of the government class. Fiscal conservativism, restraint on government, and libertarian mores might have a chance as an opposition party platform in Connecticut, if not nationally.

DP: We both admire Chesterton who, along with his friend Hilaire Belloc, was an apostle of what he called "distributism." You've described it very well. I recall quoting Belloc's advice to the rich in a piece I did in the Journal Inquirer: "Get to know something about the internal combustion engine; and remember, soon you will die." It's doubtful either of the two would be permitted to write for most modern newspapers. In the Chestertonian scheme, everyone is invested in the social order. Here in Connecticut, the working poor, whose virtues Chesterton never tired of celebrating in hundreds of pieces he wrote for various publications, are "invested" only on the receiving end. The tax structure is such that people who we might consider upper middle class to rich finance the spending end. One of the reasons the stewards of public employee unions, mostly liberal Democrats, do not fear spending excesses is that their constituency is not heavily invested on the tax side. To put it bluntly: Spending continues to rise because the bulk of tax consumers do not suffer the pain of paying for improvident spending. How can this defect be ameliorated under the present political circumstances?

CP: Yes, taxes are as necessary to having a stake in society as property ownership is, and a tax system that exempts all but the very rich from bearing any of the burden of government is too progressive and fosters irresponsibility and selfishness over citizenship. I'm not sure what to do about this in the short term, other than to resist demagogic appeals for taxes on the rich that are meant only to get the hands of the government class on more money, not to increase fairness. In the long term, government could just stop impoverishing society in dozens of ways -- from the dumbing down of schools to the waging of stupid imperial wars to the subsidizing of childbearing outside marriage. But any decent society has to do something on its own to preserve a little virtue, to have some expectation of achieving prosperity through its own work rather than through parasitism. It would be good to teach self-reliance, but then you have to have an economy where people can succeed by relying on themselves, an economy full of opportunity, an economy where failure is not rewarded by the government. That's not Bailout Nation.

DP: We both know that moderates do have an advantage over philosophically committed candidates. Untied to political philosophies of any kind, they may more easily maneuver between the left and right poles. Of course there are disadvantages, particularly in a selection system that relies on primaries rather than party nominating conventions. Nominating conventions have tended to drive candidates to the political center, because the decision makers in nominating conventions are primarily interested in winning general elections and assembling winning tickets. The determining factors in selecting candidates in a primary -- or, in the present case on the Republican side, where there are multiple candidates vying against each other -- are different than would be the case in general elections. Would you agree that, among the Republicans vying for Dodd's seat, someone like Sam Caliguiri is more conservative than, say, Rob Simmons who, now playing to a conservative base for a Republican primary, has moved right of center on some issues? Dodd clearly has moved left of center, perhaps hoping to avoid charges launched from the left that he is in the pocket of moneyed interests. Ralph Nader's old chestnut that Dodd is "the senator from Aetna" has been tossed around among leftist bloggers with knives in their brains. Do you think that in placating the far left, Dodd will leave himself vulnerable to charges that he has abandoned the center?

CP: Simmons has a long record and will have to be careful with any new conservative posturing lest people be reminded of how that posturing conflicts with his record. I don't know that Caligiuri has a long enough record to be stereotyped as a reflexive conservative. He has voted alone against the pervasive budget nonsense in Hartford, but that could mean only that he's sane, not particularly conservative. Everybody who has voted against that nonsense has been proven right. Yes, Dodd is trying to secure his left after decades of being less the senator from Aetna than the senator from Wall Street. He'll probably be beaten only if his Republican challenger attacks him from the left AND the right, just as Joe Lieberman defeated Lowell Weicker for the Senate in 1988 by enveloping him, exploiting both liberal and conservative grievances against Weicker. (Who can forget BuckPAC?) Six years earlier Toby Moffett ran against Weicker only from the left and lost, if narrowly. Liberals might be tempted to vote against Dodd and for a moderate Republican who stressed Dodd's long subservience to the plutocracy. And true conservatives might not mind that at all, having no more sympathy than liberals for the bailout of Dodd's friends on Wall Street.

DP: That seems to be a useful strategy for Republicans. When Bill Buckley, whom you mentioned, was asked in Danbury what Richard Nixon was really like -- the president had just then returned from China, where he had clinked glasses with Chairman Mao, earning Buckley's enmity -- Bill asked his questioner, "Which Nixon? There are four of them." There are, we have agreed, at least two Dodds. There are five Republicans running against him. Let's explore the Peter Schiff salient. I have reviewed some clips of his appearance on Dennis House's program on WFSB-TV3, "Face the State." Schiff was being interviewed by House and two liberal reporters. You called Schiff an anarchist. Having viewed these clips, I'm not sure that he wouldn't take your observation as a high compliment. The reporters wanted quickly to decapitate him but they were having a hard time of it. The point of their questions, as I understood them, was something on this order: Schiff was going to Washington to be a U.S. senator, and Congress is a school for compromisers engaged in expanding the public good. Schiff was rigid in his views, a sort of anti-Ralph Nader. Apart from watching the heads of market regulators falling into the baskets underneath the guillotine, what on earth did he plan to DO when he got to Washington? Schiff said, in so many words, that he would busy himself disassembling the regulatory apparatus that had put a ball and chain on the nation's economy. What will Dodd -- the Ralph Nader Dodd -- do with this guy in a debate?

CP: I'd disassemble the nanny state as much as Schiff likely would, but I would also argue that it is the government's failure to regulate the big banks and investment houses, the government's having been taken over by big-money interests, that has plundered and laid low the country. I'm afraid that Schiff would hobble the government while leaving big money alone to keep running things. Yes, government is too big, but its job should be to see that nothing gets bigger than the government, the representative of the sovereign people. In any case, even if Schiff is right on certain things -- and I think he is -- I don't think he can be politically successful in Connecticut . What is likely to be his agenda is too extreme. Maybe just as important, I don't think Schiff is cut out for politics in the good sense. He acknowledges never having voted before, which does not indicate the love of country he says motivates him now. He co-authored with his father a book advocating refusal to pay federal income taxes. They are principled people, to be sure -- and Schiff's dad is in federal prison for his principles. But wouldn't Dodd LOVE a campaign where the Republican nominee had to explain THAT over and over! I've attended many financial conferences where Schiff has spoken and I don't think he's capable of listening to anyone but himself. I don't think he has the slightest political sense or talent. But we'll see soon enough.

DP: I’ve seen Sam Caliguiri perform in person only twice. Both times he was speaking to the choir, groups of Republicans in Coventry and Bloomfield. He will have a money problem, of course; Simmons less so because of his national contacts and his standing so far as the leader in the Republican race. McMahon and Foley will self-finance their campaigns. Caligiuri's narrative is fetching: The son of an Italian immigrant who made good, in part because of sacrifices endured by his parents, he learned the importance of honor and straight dealing at his father's knees. When Waterbury was sinking in a swamp of corruption, Caligiuri was then going under anesthesia for an operation and awoke to find himself the serendipitous acting mayor of Waterbury. He let it be known early in his administration that he would not seek a term of his own, a move that defanged his opposition. He initiated important reforms in his hometown and would pursue the same path in Washington as Dodd's replacement. Caligiuri presents himself as what one might call a pragmatic conservative, someone able to cut through the Berlin Wall of egotism and partisanship in Washington to achieve goals that would advance the common good. Dodd, he says, has been corrupted by Beltway politics, an eventuality he hopes to avoid through a self-imposed term limit that will allow him to focus on needed reforms. Not an unappealing narrative. There is an unspoken, honorable tradition among political commentators in Connecticut, who view themselves as no respecters of money in politics, to make an honest effort to level the playing field by giving quality coverage to neglected opponents. In Caligiuri's case, since most media commentators are liberals, this would require them to lay aside their political preferences and embrace what they may take to be a conservative scarred with leprous sores. Are they up to it? Or is Caligiuri in the wrong race? In that column in which you described the General Assembly as a "nest of locusts" -- wish I had said that -- you suggested that Caligiuri should run for governor instead.

CP: As a political and ideological matter, I can't see why any Republican would deny Simmons the Senate nomination. He has vast experience, a record of much political success in competitive districts, good ability to raise money, and in the polls does the best by far of the Republican Senate candidates. Caligiuri is already crowded out of the Senate race behind Simmons and the three self-funding multimillionaires. But as a candidate for governor Caligiuri likely would stand out as the only candidate saying something, the most specific on fiscal policy matters. He has voted against consensus budgets because he knew what they were going to lead to -- the disaster Connecticut is in now. He's smart, decent, attractive, and has relevant experience in government that goes beyond his brief time in the legislature. None of the likely Republican candidates for governor is well known or rich enough to finance his own campaign, and Connecticut remains a Democratic state. So the only way the Republican nominee for governor will have any chance will be if his message is pointed and fearfully relevant. If people are still angry next year, such a candidate might be heard, and the right message might be worth more than money.

DP: Barack Obama, a persuasive rhetorician and devoted man of the left, was a year ago swept into office on what some regard as rather amorphous promises of hope and change. Democrats in Connecticut may be surprised to learn that Republican conservatives were very much put off by ex-President George Bush's irresponsible spending. And some conservatives were deeply divided on the utility of the war in Iraq. Buckley, for instance, citing John Adams, thought it was imprudent to fight a war in Iraq in a vain attempt to shower the country with the blessings of democracy. Some things have changed nationally. President Obama, making a distinction between a war of necessity (Afghanistan) and a war of choice (Iraq), is expected to commit more troops to Afghanistan. Dodd's positions with respect to recent wars have "evolved." He was opposed to the first Persian Gulf War, fearing that it might become a Vietnam-like quagmire. Dodd supported Bush's war of choice in Iraq at first and later opposed it, along with other leading Democrats, when Bush's prosecution of the war seemed to be failing. Republican neocons now appear willing to support Obama's prosecution of the war in Afghanistan, though they suspect that he will try to win that war on the cheap, refusing to commit enough troops. As far as I know, none of the Republicans in the Senate race, apart from Schiff, will be willing to exploit Dodd's vacillations on recent wars -- because, unlike George Will, they believe that the war in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, is winnable. Are they missing an opportunity?

CP: I sure think so. The public opposes both wars now because it perceives them as not WORTH winning. The country is not and never will be prepared to commit the resources necessary to win these wars, if winning can even be defined. The United States was not attacked from Iraq or Afghanistan in any sense that the resources of those countries were used to attack us. We were attacked because of our own failures of airport security, immigration enforcement, and border control -- failures that, remarkably, continue. To send soldiers to risk their lives when their country is not prepared to commit every resource to their success is a criminal betrayal, treason. But somehow this proposition can't be expressed by anyone running for office, even as most people probably would agree with it.

DP: You have been involved in the news business most of your life. Traditionally, the news media has played an important role in candidate selection, sometimes through endorsements, explicit and implicit, always through its role as a trusted information provider. With the rise of Internet blogs and other unfiltered, raw information streams, including talk radio and extra-party advertising, the role and direction of the mainstream media have shifted: Reporters have blogs, and news reports now draw on unedited raw information in an attempt to outpace instant news providers. Some dare call it gossip. One is reminded of Soren Kierkegaard's sassy observation that once the modern world perfects the means of communication, it will find that it has nothing worthwhile to say. Like the whisper in the whirlwind, Kierkegaard thought that in the future the truth would be hidden in a welter of babbling. Are the news media progressing or regressing? Are they capable of advancing the public virtues you and I find so necessary in our modern atomistic epoch? And what effect will these changes in the means of communication have on our politics -- for good or ill?

CP: On the whole, I'd say the news media are regressing, even as I'm glad of the democratizing influence of the Internet. But of course Internet sources are often unreliable, superficial, unaccountable, and even ill-intentioned. I'll kick the mainstream news media as much as anyone else but I don't think the good journalism that has blossomed on the Internet has yet compensated for the good journalism that has been lost in the decline of printed and commercial TV and radio news. But we may be looking in the wrong place for the source of the problem. Where the people maintain their civic virtue and patriotism, they will find a way to get reliable information. Maybe the best measure of civic virtue is voter participation, and it has been steadily declining for decades. My newspaper is largely a local newspaper and puts the better part of its resources into reporting about municipal government. On municipal government's biggest day in Connecticut, the biennial municipal election, in a typical town maybe 40 percent of the voters vote. And those who are registered to vote are perhaps only 80 percent of those who are eligible to register. Do the math -- 40 percent of 80 percent -- and it seems that on municipal government's biggest day in Connecticut only about a third of the adult population is even remotely interested. On a typical day my newspaper devotes 10 pages to things more or less related to public policy and one page to celebrity gossip and fruitcake stuff. The election participation figures suggest that, as a business proposition, we may have this exactly backwards. If you want a better public life, get a better public.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gov. Lamont’s Free Advice vs Mom's Free Advice


Your mom, in a moment of brute honesty, may have told you that money can’t buy everything. But this was because she was not Ned Lamont or Michael Bloomberg.

Lamont is the millionaire from Greenwich who wants to be governor of Connecticut, and Bloomberg is the present redundantly rich mayor of New York. During the recently concluded New York mayoralty race, Bloomberg almost didn’t buy the election. It was a close shave but, in the end, money spoke loudly.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post now tells us that “Prominent Democratic operative Howard Wolfson is advising Ned Lamont's candidacy for governor of Connecticut, adding a high-profile element to what is rapidly shaping up to be one of the most interesting Democratic primaries in the country in 2010.”

“Wolfson comes to Lamont directly from his role as the senior strategist of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's bid for a third term, a race that the media tycoon spent more than $100 million on to win by five points.”

In an e-mail exchange with Cillizza, Lamont remarked, “Howard is a friend and I have many friends giving me plenty of free advice,” a friendship no doubt formed on the battlefield of Lamont’s primary challenge against present Connecticut U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.

One hopes that in that contest Wolfson, a member of Hillary Clinton's inner circle during her 2008 presidential bid, was paid for his efforts.

Your brutally honest Mom may have told you that nothing is free. But she wasn’t a multi-millionaire.

The bright side of the Lamont gubernatorial bid might be that, with Wolfson’s invaluable though free advice, Governor Lamont may yet be able to figure out a way to persuade the state’s progressive Democratic leaders in the legislature that the millionaires in Greenwich are necessary to the prosperity of the state.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

God Bless The US Marines On This Their 234th Birthday

SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH CARE, A VIEW INTO OUR FUTURE

Karyn Frist, an American, had just given birth at Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton, England. She and her husband, William H. Frist, MD, were in England, he on a seven-month assignment from Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Frist, for his chief residency in cardiothoracic surgery, would be exposed to non-heart aspects of chest surgery. He would encounter a variety of heart and lung pathologies doctors rarely see in the United States. Dr. Frist would be the senior registrar, “who assumed major responsibility and performed all of the surgical cases; he or she ran the surgical clinics, [and] made all major clinical decisions.”

After that, he would be specializing in heart transplantation at Stanford University Medical Center at Palo Alto. After that, he would be the Majority Leader of the United States Senate.

The British nationalized health care in 1948. In Southampton, Dr. Frist, assigned to the Western Thoracic Hospital, notes some striking impressions in his new (and seventh) book, A Heart to Serve, The Passion to Bring Health, Hope, and Healing (New York, Center Street, Hachette Book Group, 2009).

Dr. Frist has much to praise. “At the time of delivery, we just had to show up at the hospital. Paperwork seemed nonexistent; I don’t even recall having to sign any paperwork as we were admitted.” The care given Mrs. Frist in her pregnancy was “superb.” The general practitioner visited her at her home and they had tea.

Then the problems started. In hospital, following birth by Caesarian Section, Mrs. Frist had each day for a week to walk the corridors looking for sheets for her bed and her new-born infant’s bed. There was no one to help.

Then the problems started for Dr. Frist. “After 4:00 p.m., we were not allowed to do any more cases; the operating rooms closed, and the surgical staff went home. We started afresh on the [waiting] list the next day.” Quitting [at tea-time] is single-payer Britain’s way of rationing health care when the patients’ needs outrun the country’s supply.

Some striking similarities take me back to my own experience in a London hospital around the same time (for me, 1968). Following my operation, not one human being came into my room. It could have been because of a shortage of nurses; it could have been because I was a private patient, not being included in National Health Service. My surgeon, Mr. Wolf, appeared the following day or two days later. I asked him for a glass of water for my terrible headache, which he brushed aside. He said it was “character building” to have a headache and do without a glass of water. I asked him for the results of the surgery. He said he had not had time to consult the pathologist. (I learned later that he had not cut out anything. What had he done?) The bill, which was higher than I had been led to expect, arrived at our sublet Hyde Park flat before I got home from the hospital.

The rationing in single-payer Britain can be fatal to health. Dr. Frist as senior registrar had a list of names of over a hundred patients waiting for heart surgery during that month. Surgeons did two surgeries a day, on the patients who were highest on the list, unless there was a “clear-cut emergency.”

By the time he got down to patient number seventy or so, he noticed that some of the patients had died waiting. (No clear-cut emergency there? No way of knowing as they had not reached the top of the list.) In the United States, that procedure would never have been tolerated. “If we had one hundred patients who needed open heart surgery, we’d work around the clock and get them all done within a week.” For elective surgery, patients might have to wait a couple of weeks, “but it wasn’t because a government bureaucrat was rationing their care based on money available or some politician’s decision to cut off the money spigot.”

Rationing to kill. If during the operation, Dr. Frist noticed some minimal spread of the tumor, “that would be the end of surgery. I would tell the patient and their family that surgery was all that we had to offer and share with them the statistics showing that the patient would unfortunately not live beyond a few years because of the spread of the cancer. They accepted this. They didn’t ask what more could be done.” They didn’t ask for a second opinion. In the United States, if it looks as if the cancer is spreading, the surgeon recommends radiation and perhaps chemotherapy.

So much for single payer. On to public option. The progressive left regards public option as a down-payment on single-payer, according to an Oct. 22 Wall Street Journal editorial, which asserts that public option “will quickly blow up the private insurance market.”

Senate Leader Harry Reid is putting public option-with- an-opt-out provision into the Senate health-care bill. If so, as a “matter of conscience,” Senator Lieberman told Fox News on Sunday, “I will not allow the bill to come to a final vote.”

Is Great Britain the future for us under Speaker Pelosi’s bill passed Saturday night? Readers who support public option need to read pages 96-103 of Dr. Frist’s book to appreciate what will become of our system, the finest health-care system in the world.

By Natalie Sirkin
c2009

Lauds At Rell Leave-Taking

One way to gain friends and influence people in the opposing camp, if you are a governor, is to leave office. This will please the opposition, particularly if you happen to be popular. As governor, Jodi Rell was more popular with Connecticut voters than any of the Democrats presently in the gubernatorial field.

It is therefore not surprising that when Rell decided not to pursue another run as governor, reporters beating the bushes to find someone in the Democratic camp who might be willing to say something pleasant about the departing governor were amply rewarded.

According to one report, Rell was a “fair-minded leader driven not by ideology but rather by old-fashioned common sense.” She was a “moderate,” which is far better than being a “conservative,” though lately the word “conservative” has been drained of much of its venom, particularly when it is forced to march hand in hand with the word “fiscal,” as in “fiscal conservative.”

Former Speaker of the House Jim Amann, now running for governor, used to style himself a “fiscal conservative,” without any apparent damage to his reputation.

Bill Curry, a Democrat who ran for governor more than once and lost, was trotted out to effuse, and he did not disappoint.

Curry lauded Rell as exuding “a certain decency, and that was her political calling card and strongest attribute. Democrats often deride her for being merely 'nice,' but in this world, 'nice' gets you a lot and not just in politics."

Rell’s “temperate” political philosophy endeared her to Curry: "She may have won the prize for least ideological Republican of her generation, and that went over big in Connecticut.”

Curry himself is, of course, non-non-ideological although, despite frequent dips into ideology, he remains decent and nice.

So the point would not be lost in his encomium, Curry added that Rell did not relish “deep debates on the arcana of public policy,” as one reporter put it. Curry cited Rell’s “failure to achieve property tax relief and health care reform as two of the biggest disappointments of her tenure.”

So gracious was Curry that he even aspersed Rell’s departing chief of staff, Lisa Moody, with cautionary praise:” She had a superb political operative in Lisa Moody, but what Jodi didn't have was a superb policy person, and one of the things that went wrong for her is that Moody was left wearing both hats when she was really only good at one.”

If only Rell had thought to take on board as a chief of staff an ideologue like Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, a Democrat who, during the last budget tousle with Rell, managed to get by the governor a progressive income tax, and who, unsurprisingly, thought Rell was “at her best when she put aside partisan politics and did not give in to extremist trends nationally in the Republican Party.”

Republicans would be hard pressed to recall a single day in the last few months when Williams, quick to praise a virtue he does not practice, put aside his ideology to give Connecticut a budget that would not bankrupt the state. And yet Williams is widely regarded as a “moderate” because, as one reporter put it, he and Rell alike “backed civil unions for same-sex couples, embraced stem cell research and signed a sweeping public campaign finance law,” all measures indicating a “moderate” political philosophy.

How different it was just two days before Rell shocked the state with her surprise announcement, when the chase after Rell was on in earnest.

The state’s highly partisan, ideologically driven Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, everyone will recall, had just joined the hunt.

Telling a reporter “We do have a game plan,” the attorney general had just sent out “a demand letter,” demanding that Rell cough up “scores of documents in an investigation of whether a University of Connecticut professor's $223,000, taxpayer-funded study on government efficiency was misused to provide political advice to Gov. M. Jodi Rell.”

Blumenthal’s method in such a business is not unlike that of other attorneys general. You gather together a huge cache of information – some of it pertinent to the investigation you have undertaken, some of it not -- plop the load on a conference table, and have your associates comb through the mountain of raw data looking for any piece of political dirt that may be cherished and saved up for future political combats.

Rell was asked whether the attorney general, mentioned numerous times in press accounts as a luminous candidate for governor, played any roll in her decision to forgo the defense of her seat as governor.

It did not, Rell said, an appropriate answer for someone who is a decent non-ideologue lamb led to the slaughter.