Friday, April 30, 2010

Dodd Puts The Schmooze on Fat Cat Wall Street Donors

The New York Post is reporting that fat cat Wall Street donors will be opening their wallets to support the candidacy of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, now in the process of rhetorically whipping the donors on behalf of President Barack Obama and a host of Democrats who hope to run against Wall Street in the upcoming elections, will be mixing his blood with the Wall Street gangsters.

Contributors, according to the Post report, will be paying upwards of $10,000 per person to attend the event to be held at the home of investment executive Ralph Schlosstein and deep pocket donor Jane Hartley.

“The guest list,” according to the report, “includes JP Morgan honcho David Topper, Wall Street lawyer Dick Beattie, hedge-fund investor James Torrey and ex-Clinton Treasury big Roger Altman.”

"The event,” said Gillibrand spokesman Matt Canter, “is not an industry event. It is being hosted by some of the leading Democratic donors in New York City, many of whom have supported Senator Gillibrand since her first run for Congress. Senator Gillibrand's support for strong financial reform proves there is zero conflict.”

It is supposed that Dodd, who is leaving the U.S. Senate when his term expires, can have no conflict of interest either. The conflict, if any there be, rests with the contributors.

Assuming Wall Street is not either mad or seriously deluded – a doubtful assumption evidently not embraced by the apparatchiks who would very much like to clap greedy Wall Street financiers in a regulatory straight jacket – one must ask what the donations to Gillibrand will be purchasing, other than the regulatory rope Dodd and his likely successor, Connecticut's crusading Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, will use to hang the Wall Street honchos?

Dodd’s ramble with rich Wall Street donors also caught the attention of Ezra Klein of the Washington Post.

Why do Democrats court danger in this reckless manner, Klein asked?

His answer: “It's because, to use a metaphor that's in vogue right now, our system of campaign finance turns politicians into vampire squids wrapped around the wallets of the rich, relentlessly jamming their blood funnels into anything that smells like money.”

That almost certainly is not the case with Dodd, at least in this instance, because Dodd gave up on politics shortly after it had given up on him. He is preparing to retire, possibly to Ireland, an enlighten country that reduced its once onerous business taxes to 12.5 percent, 7 percent lower than that of the United States, and experienced a rapid industrial growth that made the Emerald Isle the envy of Europe.

No, Dodd’s Cromwellian reforms of the banking system are tied to a bad conscience; the soon to be ex-senator needs no money for future campaigns.

It is the response of the Wall Street millioniare to Dodd that is astonishing. Carried in the tumbrels to the guillotine, transfixed at the blade above them, they still give of themselves – and willingly too – to the executioner, who is always glad to accept the offerings of those to whom he soon intends to bit a fond farewell.

To revert to the metaphor employed by Klein, it is the squid whose motivation is opaque.

One understands the squeezing. Over a period of years, congress has erected a Byzantine superstructure of taxes and tax exemptions, which in turn has produced an army of labor and business connected lobbyists that spends millions paying agents to stroke politicians for the purpose of obtaining more exemptions and favors. Along the way, some liberal congressionally favored pets – Countrywide, Fannie and Freddie Mac among them -- become too large to fail; and even when they do fail most spectacularly, still they are hand fed tax dollars by such as Dodd and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank.

There are, indeed, many varieties of squid in the congressional sea. Liberals such as Dodd tend to regard the embrace of the labor squid as a warm and affectionate love touch. But why the Wall Street squid should be so anxious to surrender its campaign contributions to politicians that have locked it in a fatal embrace is a mystery hardly touched by Klein’s analysis.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chatigny and Blumenthal

In April 2009 Attorney General Richard Blumenthal weighed in on the Chatigny-Ross affair.

Blumenthal said at the time, “I have strong reservations about Judge Chatigny’s actions during the conference he conducted in the Michael Ross case. The Judicial Council of the Second Circuit will determine whether these actions were proper and ethical. My office has no role in that process. We have filed no formal complaint against the judge. No provision of state or federal law allows my office to recover costs from a judge found to have acted improperly or unethically.”

It was a graceful bow out on a difficult question. As a rule, Blumenthal’s strong reservations quickly evolve into either an opinion that finds its way into the media or a suit. However, on occassions, when it suits his fancy, Blumenthal can be timid -- sensitve even.

Blumenthal is now running for U.S. Senator Chris Dodd’s seat, which the senator has said he will abandon I the next election.

Chatigny’s name was put into nomination by the senator whose shoes and seat Blumenthal hopes to fill and Sen. Lieberman.

Having expressed “strong reservations” about Chatigny in 2009, Blumenthal should be asked whether he now believes that Chatigny should be appointed to a seat on the 2nd Circuit court, and he should not be permitted to bow gracefully away from the question.

Michael Ross’ Revenge

I don’t think this is a matter that’s going to lightly go away,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican. “I think it evidenced the lack of a proper understanding of your role in the matter.”

Sessions was speaking directly to Judge Robert Chatigny, President Barack Obama’s choice to fill a vacancy on the 2nd Circuit that opened when Judge Sonia Sotomayor was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Chatigny was recommended for the appointment by Connecticut’s two U.S. Senators, Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman.

The questions and remarks make by committee members were withering.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Chatigny had done “everything possible to prevent the execution. I just wonder why you think your behavior in this case — which is pretty extraordinary — why that behavior would warrant a promotion to a much more senior court.”

Chatigny is best remembered in Connecticut – but apparently not by the state’s two U.S. senators -- as the judge who delayed mass murderer Michael Ross’ execution by threatening to pull the license of his lawyer, the hapless T.R. Pauling.

Ross raped and murdered his victims, leaving their bodies strewn all over the state. He was caught by some alert detectives shortly after he had worked his way through his seventh and eighth victims, two 14 year-old girls Ross picked up on the road on Easter Sunday. He raped and strangled one of the girls while the other watched terrified in the car; then he strangled the second girl, ditching her body behind a fieldstone wall.

The case moved slowly through Connecticut’s judicial carousel– capital felony trial, conviction, penalty phase trial, conviction, endless appeals stretching over a course of a dozen years – until Ross decided to give up any future appeals and end the business. Ross said he wished to spare the families of his victims the pain associated with the frustration of justice.

Enter Judge Chatigny. On the eve of Ross’ execution, Chatigny made a teleconferencing call that included Ross’ lawyer and those associated with Ross’ defense. The judge threatened to pull the law license of Ross’ lawyer, who was under instructions from Ross not to pursue future appeals, unless he were to countermand the decision of his client and permit one more hearing.

Two days before Chatigny threw a monkey wrench into serial killer Michael Ross’ impending execution, he was asked by Assistant Attorney General Terrence O’Neill, “Does your honor hold any personally held beliefs or has your honor written in any other cases that we just haven’t been able to find yet that would cause us to question your partiality with respect to the implementation or execution of a death sentence?”

Chatigny answered, “I have no moral beliefs or other types of beliefs that would stand in the way of implementing a death penalty in the circumstances where the law called for it to be done. So, yeah; you'll not find anything that suggests anything to the contrary. I feel fortunate to be in a situation to be able to address these issues without having to deal with a client, the public, the media, a boss or anything other than my own conscience."

Apparently, the judge’s conscience had failed to remind him of his previous involvement in the Ross case.



Acting on behalf of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Chatigny had submitted in 1992 a three page application with the State Supreme Court seeking permission to file a friend of the court brief in the Ross case. Permission was granted, but no record of a brief has been found.

The association he represented, Chatigny had written in the application, "is gravely concerned about the trial court's rulings on significant evidentiary issues in this case.” In his teleconference, Chatigny clung to the same view, despite the authoritative judgments of appellate courts – including a state Supreme Court and a U.S. Supreme Court -- that Ross was competent to decide whether or not he should forgo further appeals.

Could the judge’s previous memory lapse in the Ross case have slipped his mind?

Not likely, according to House Minority Leader Robert Ward who, along with other Republicans, filed a complaint against Chatigny with the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

“I can understand a lawyer not remembering the details of a case he was involved in ten or twelve years ago, but there aren’t many Michael Ross cases. His name is on the petition to the State Supreme Court. He clearly had an agenda in this case.”

And since Chatigny previously had participated in the Ross case as a litigant – indeed, he was the sole signatory to the application seeking permission from the State Supreme Court to enter the case as a friend of the court -- Ward said it was “a clear ethical violation for a judge not to disclose his prior involvement in this case.”

Even our ubiquitous attorney general weighed in on the judge’s mishandling of the Ross case: “I have strong reservations about Judge Chatigny’s actions during the conference he conducted in the Michael Ross case. The Judicial Council of the Second Circuit will determine whether these actions were proper and ethical. My office has no role in that process. We have filed no formal complaint against the judge. No provision of state or federal law allows my office to recover costs from a judge found to have acted improperly or unethically.”

The Judicial Council swatted the judge with a butterfly wing, and now Chatigny has been exposed to the same kind of treatment he meted out to Pauling days before Ross was scheduled to be executed. Ross was sorely disappointed with the judge’s intervention at the time. Both Ross and the judge now have been given their due.

Call it – Ross’ revenge.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Correlation Of Forces In The U.S. Senate Race

Republican prospects nationally appear to be improving. Some polls indicate that Republicans will pick up 30-40 seats in the off year presidential election, which is a little odd because in off year elections convenient presidential targets are not present on the ballot. Current wisdom holds that off year elections are decided on local issues. There are convincing reasons to believe that will not be the case this time, and it is instructive to ask why.

The Republican recovery may be attributed in part to an aggressive push by the White House and unpopular leaders in the congress on behalf of some divisive – and, perhaps more to the point – expensive programs. For the moment, national Democrats appear to be oblivious of the shoals and choppy water just ahead.

Here in Connecticut, Peter Schiff, the Cassandra of the state, is warning that Gibraltar sized problems await us in the near future. The snowballing national debt, Schiff says, is unsustainable. Other Republicans point to the insolvency of programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and even Social Security.

Appearing before a Tea Party crowd in Hartford on April 15, tax day, Schiff said he would need only one term in the senate because if someone does not soon put a tether on the national debt, in six years out we cannot not recover from future massive debt followed by massive inflation.

Schiff’s usual critics are not inclined to write him off as a quack because, like Cassandra, he had predicted in stunning detail the events that have unfolded during the current meltdown. At the time, he was written off by the Brights on Wall Street as a depressing drag on the national economy. Current chatterers adroitly step over the impending financial collapse – the corpse in the room -- and remark that Schiff knows little about winning office. A tea party crowd in Hartford intuitively agreed with the thrust of Schiff’s analysis but, as may be imagined, withheld its hearty applause. Scenarios of impending doom, while stirring, are not likely to cause crowds to erupt into cheers.

Other Republicans in the senate race are Linda McMahon and Rob Simmons. The state nominating convention will choose a candidate on May 21-22 who will face off against likely Democratic candidate Richard Blumenthal, the state’s sainted attorney general. If the nominating convention selects McMahon as its candidate, Simmons may not be able to sustain a primary challenge, while the self-financing McMahon would not have a problem doing so.

Since announcing his availability for the U.S. senate seat soon to be vacated by Chris Dodd, Blumenthal has been wearing two hats. The attorney general has announced he will leave his position whether he wins or loses the senate race, but some people, even now, are questioning whether he can convincingly maintain a political distinction between the two offices for the duration of his campaign. The fear is that he might at some point in his campaign morph into Mr. Hyde when Dr. Jekyll is wanted.

Blumenthal is in the process of staking out an ideological position that would place him to the right of the leftists who seem to have taken over his party. On Afghanistan, he has chosen to throw his lot in with President Barack Obama and the much detested neo-conservatives, thus alienating those war protestors on the left with whom Obama made common cause during his campaign. But that was then, this is now. The opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq on the part of many Washington politicians hotly courting the left was not, it would now appear, a principled position against war, so much as it was a politically utilitarian position against Bush. Grown-ups expect this sort of asymmetric hypocrisy in politics, but there are some on the left, deeply principled, for whom it is still off-putting.

On the economy, while everyone this year is for jobs – even those on the left who have set up a false dichotomy between Main Street and Wall Street that seeks to use skullduggery on Wall Street as a demagogic means to acquire more centralized power in Washington DC. -- Blumenthal’s instincts, honed for twenty years in an office that has benefited from just such assaults on business enterprises in his own state, will pull him in the direction of needless over-regulation.

Blumenthal’s notion that his hyper activity as attorney general – including a recently reported backlog of an astonishing “36,495 cases pending at the end of 2008-09, a 40 percent increase over 1995-96,” as reported in the Waterbury Republican American – actually enhance business activity in Connecticut caused derisive ripples of laughter to wash up on the shores of Media Land in Connecticut and elsewhere. Although by avoiding debates Mr. Hyde has escaped the thrusts and parries of Merrick Alpert, a Democrat running against Blumenthal for Dodd’s seat, some slicing and dicing on the point awaits him after he is selected as candidate for the U.S. Senate following the Democratic state nominating conventions on May 21-22.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Marlene

There was a time – hard to remember now – when photography, music and film conspired to wash the soul in a baptism of beauty.

Lili Marleen was the most popular song during World War II, possibly the most romantic song ever because of it's backdrop. The song was sung in German, Russian, Italian and English -- a tear dropped into Hell.





Monday, April 26, 2010

DDT AND WORLD MALARIA DAY

April 25 was World Malaria Day, reminding us of that wonderful magical chemical DDT, which conquers diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, fleas, and lice, from malaria to typhus, yellow fever, dengue, sleeping sickness, plague, encephalitis, and West Nile Virus. DDT kills a child every 12 seconds and 250 million adults every year; it’s genocide, said Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine’s Art Robinson, and President Bush could reverse it.

A Wall Street Journal editorial has supported what Professor J. Gordon Edwards, specialist in DDT, professor of entomology, long suspected—the reason for environmentalists’ opposition to DDT. It decreases deaths, leading to overpopulation and therefore is bad for the environment.

In World War I, typhus killed more soldiers than bullets. It was then discovered that DDT has insecticidal properties. It rapidly curbed malaria in the U.S. and Europe. Then came a gifted writer, Rachel Carson, whose best seller, Silent Spring, taught the U.S. that DDT was a chemical, a pesticide, a killer, and would silence the birds and devastate the earth. (She died of cancer, and if she had taken DDT, she might have lived—but more of that below.)

The environmental banner opposing DDT is still being carried by an organization called Pesticide Action Network, but its influence is not what it once was. On June 30, 1972, “a date that lives in junk-science infamy” says Stephen Milloy, William Ruckelshaus, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, banned DDT. The U.S. Agency for International Development immediately spread the word throughout the world that any country that used DDT could bid good-bye to American grants. Ultimately, U.S. AID changed its position, but Pesticide Action Network has not given up.

As for Ruckelshaus, in a speech to the Audubon Society (of which he was a member) in Milwaukee in 1971, he said, “As you know, many mass uses of DDT have already been prohibited, including all uses around the home. Certainly we’ll all feel better when the persistent compounds can be phased out in favor of biological controls. But awaiting this millennium does not permit the luxury of dodging the harsh decisions of today.”

The millennium came the following year. Phase it out he did. On the appeal of the infant Environmental Defense Fund, Ruckelshaus overruled Administrative Judge Sweeney’s decision clearing DDT. Ruckelshaus banned DDT without attending a day of Sweeney’s seven-month hearing on DDT and without reading a page of the 9,300-page transcript. For he was the Administrator. He had the political power. As he wrote the American Farm Bureau Federation some months later, science can help decide these issues, but science is trumped by politics.

Another steadfast friend of Pesticide Action Network is, or was, the World Health Organization, which reversed its anti-DDT position in 2006. Still another, still a friend, is the United Nations. It briefly accepted DDT but then returned to the opposition. The Secretary General has a special envoy for malaria, but to him, it’s insecticide-treated bed nets that are the defense against malaria.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, in 1962, ten years before the ban by EPA’s Ruckelshaus, taught that chemicals, especially pesticides, and particularly DDT, cause cancer. It was disinformation, but most of the country, and indeed the world, learned it and has not forgotten it. “For the first time in the history of the world,” intoned Silent Spring, “every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception to death.” Not so. Environmentalism got its start then; EDF takes pride in its role in banning DDT. Fear or distaste or distrust of chemicals, might have gotten its start then.

Miss Carson dedicated Silent Spring to Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who said, “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.” Professor Edwards, an expert on DDT, got Schweitzer’s autobiography and on page 262 found the following: “How much labor and waste of time these wicked insects do cause, but a ray of hope, in the use of DDT, is now held out to us.” Schweitzer was worried not about DDT but about nuclear war.

There is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that Carson was wrong on cancer. The 130,000 men who sprayed DDT on the inner walls of mud and thatched huts in Africa never developed cancer, nor did the millions who lived in them. Employees of Monsanto Chemical Company who from nine to 19 years worked in unprotected clothing producing DDT, never developed cancer—not a one of them, though their bodies had from 38 to 647 parts per million of DDT. The average American ingests five or six parts ppm. DDT is so safe that canned baby food is permitted to contain five ppm.

There is more. Wayland Hayes, U.S. Public Health Service scientist, for 18 months fed volunteers three times the quantity of DDT that the average American was ingesting annually. None experienced any adverse effect, then or six to ten years later. Indeed, entomology Professor Edwards believed that DDT inhibits cancer. “DDT in the diet has repeatedly been shown to enhance the production of hepatic enzymes in mammals and birds. Those enzymes inhibit tumors and cancers in humans as well as wildlife,” Edwards explained in 1992.

Research into DDT in the war on cancer may be useful. Meanwhile, we learn that the U.S. has started spraying the walls inside huts with DDT in Zambia and Mozambique under President George W. Bush’s policy, which President Obama so far is continuing.

By Natalie Sirkin
c2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Art Of The Deal ll

On Thursday, Rep, Michael Lawlor, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, announced with some fanfare that his committee had made a deal with Gov. Jodi Rell according to which Rell would agree not to close certain court houses and other judicial facilities in an effort to stem the rising tide of red in for which the Democratic controlled legislature is largely responsible, in return for which Lawlor agreed to allow judicial appointments made by Rell to pass through his committee.

The deal arrange by Lawlor and Rell permitted three courthouses to remain open, as well as three law libraries that previously were to be closed. Rell delivered on her part of the deal; Lawlor appeared to deliver on his. The head of the judiciary committee, who had threatened to hold up judiciary committee review of Rell’s prospective appointments, began his review.

Imagine Lawlor’s surprise and consternation when he learned but a day later that Senate Pro Tem Donald Williams had effectively nixed the deal.

Williams, apparently, had been taking a vacation on the moon when news of the "deal" arranged between Lawlor and rell transpired – because he did not co-ordinate his nixing of the deal with the co-chair of the judiciary committee. Both Lawlor and McDonald are leading Democrats in the Democratic controlled legislature, and have been known on occasion to speak to each other, both in person and by phone. And the deal had been fully covered in Connecticut's media.

Williams nixed the deal because he wants to use the judicial appointments under review by Lawlor as pawns in a budget negotiating session with Rell and the Republican minority in the legislature.

The Democrats are on record as preferring tax increases to spending reductions as a means of closing an historic budget deficit that may reach as high in coming years as $8 billion.

"I want to see the entire budget for 2011 resolved,” said Williams, “not just to resolve it piecemeal as to one branch, one agency. I think it needs to be part of the entire budget package. We need to resolve it all, not just one branch at a time."

Lawlor, who was in the process of reviewing potential judicial appointments when Williams announced he intended to tie the appointments to a final budget settlement, has not yet reproved his comrade in arms for holding hostage judges some of whom, according to Lawlor, were personal friend of his.

But Lawlor registered a surprise that floated below a level of concern for the integrity of his own committee. Nor did he seem concerned that William’s surprising intervention would impact on the sanctity of his word as a legislator.

According to a report in the Hartford Courant , an astonished Lawlor said, "It came as a surprise to everybody. This appeared to be the solution to the judicial problem. It seems to me we're on lockdown until this is all resolved."

On the Republican side, Senate leader John McKinney pointed out that there was no good reason to stall the appointment of judges in order to arrive at a budget compromise.

There are, in fact, only bad reasons.

McKinney said, the Courant reported, “he hopes an arrangement can be reached in the coming days to avoid a showdown where Williams would be ‘holding those judges hostage to try to get a budget settlement, and that would be extraordinarily unfair to those nine individuals — and unprecedented.’”

Unprecedented and historic: A new page of history is written daily in Connecticut.

And Rell?

Rell is Rell: Asked if she believed the judge-nominees were being held hostage, Governor Pangloss responded, “I have heard that comment, but I will tell you, obviously, everything is working around the budget. ... We'll deal with it, and that includes judges… I'll give the benefit to the majority party that they would not play games with people's lives. I don't think anything is held up or should be held up because we don't have a budget."

In this the best of all possible worlds, legislators who break their word are the best of all possible legislators.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Art Of The Deal


Gov. Jodi Rell is being played for a sucker yet again.

Last time around, the governor refused to sign a budget that she could not in good conscience support, chiefly because the budget contained a progressive income tax feature long opposed by Republicans.

Republican leaders at the time argued that a progressive income tax was regressive on the revenue side. Working its way through a malingering recession, the state had experienced a sharp fall off in revenue because a) despite the absence of a progressive feature in the income tax, the bulk of revenue pouring into the state treasury was “contributed” by the state’s wealthier citizens, and b) revenue held by this group had been severely diminished by the recession, c) resulting in a net loss of revenue to the state.

One Democratic stalwart, nodding affirmatively to the analysis, suggested that only a broad based income tax could make the state solvent. This was George Jepsen, once Chairman of the Democratic Party, out of office at the time he uttered his blasphemy.

Jepsen was not handed his head on a plate by the usual promoters of a progressive state income tax, possibly because he was not a Republican. But he bravely spoke the truth and then disappeared into the political woodwork, reemerging during the present campaign season as a possible Democratic candidate for attorney general.

After the governor refused to sign the budget, she attempted to line item veto certain provisions of the bill, only to be told by the state’s omnipresent and omnipotent Attorney General Richard Blumenthal that she could exercise her line item veto only after having signed the budget, which she had declined to do.

Bottom line: The Democrats got their progressive income tax and a budget that did not seriously attack the deficit on the spending side.

Rell got the raspberries.

Fast forward to April, well past April Fool’s Day: Having announced she plans to leave office when her term has been completed, thus lame-ducking herself, Rell wanted to make appointments to the judicial bench, bow out gracefully and leave the Democrats facing a $6-8 billion deficit down the road apiece.

Serves them right too.

The Judiciary Committee is controlled by co-chairmen Michael Lawlor and Andrew McDonald. These two sluggers attempted about a year ago to alter radically by legislative decree the apostolic structure of the Catholic Church in Connecticut. They failed after Peter Wolfgang of the Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC), some Catholic bishops and Republican legislators on the judiciary committee who did not fancy either Lawlor or McDonald as pope put up a stiff resistance.

But the legislators have had had better luck with Rell, the gubernatorial custodian of the constitutional powers of the executive office in Connecticut. She has not defended those powers effectively or aggressively enough. The so called “deal” made between Rell and Democratic legislative leaders limits the constitutional budget cutting powers of the governor, surrendering those powers to partisan Democratic Party hacks.

Both the Republican Party and the citizens of the nutmeg state have been unfortunate in their governors. Former Gov. Lowell Weicker was an income tax loving subversive Republican; Gov. John Rowland, at the beginning of his administration a battler, soon succumbed to the lure of negotiation and accommodation; and Rell is … well, she’s Rell.

Last week, it was announced that Rell and leading Democrats – among them Lawlor, McDonald and Speaker of state House Chris Donovan, formerly a union stewart – had reached a “deal” concerning the closing of some courthouses and several judicial appointments Rell wanted to make before she retired to Brookfield, leaving the state in the hands of the political raptors with whom she was negotiating.

Hearing a deal was imminent, three fourths of state taxpayers instinctively put their hand over their wallets.

The deal was that the deal makers all got what they wanted: No court houses would be closed, and there were broad hints bruited about that Rell’s appointments might slide past the ever watchful co-chairs of the judiciary committee, faux-popes Lawlor and McDonald. Lawlor acknowledged that some of Rell's prospective appointments were close friends of his.

It took only two days for the deal to unravel.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams said he would withhold approval of the judges until the entire budget was accepted, effectively holding the appointment of the judges hostage to budget approval: “I want to see the entire budget for 2011 resolved,’ Williams said, “not just to resolve it piece meal as to one branch, one agency… I think it needs to be part of the entire budget package. We need to resolve it all, not just one branch at a time.''

Dovovan, Lawlor, McDonald and Williams discovered in the interim that they could hold Rell’s judicial appointment hostage until they get want they really want -- a budget that does not incommode state unions that support all three Democrats, a hike in the progressive income tax, and Rell’s final humiliation.

Serves her right too.

The Democrats are well on their way to achieving all three goals.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why College Baseball Is More Fun

It’s the ballet.


Businesswoman Targeted By Blumenthal To Appear On Dan Lavallo Show

CONNECTICUT COMMENTARY WAS ADVISED A FEW HOURS BEFORE BROADCAST THAT THE SHOW BELOW WOULD BE DELAYED FOR A FEW DAYS. ANOTHER ADVISORY WILL BE POSTED BEFORE THE SHOW AIRS.

Over the course of his well promoted career – twenty years as Connecticut’s attorney general, and now but a heart-throb away from occupying U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat – Richard Blumenthal has sued, in the past 8 years alone, more than a thousand companies. A PFD link to companies that have had court appearances with Blumenthal as a party to the suits can be accessed through a link on the following blog: Blumenthal’s Suits.

A recent Republican American editorial notes that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has bitten off far more than he can chew: His most recent annual report shows that “his office had 36,495 cases pending at the end of 2008-09, a 40 percent increase over 1995-96.”

Virtually none of the principals involved in Blumenthal’s Byzantine and punishing suits have made themselves available to the media, even after courts have found against the attorney general, as happened recently in a case involving a small computer company – now out of business, thanks to one of Blumenthal’s suits – formerly located in East Hartford. A reference to that case may be found here: Blumenthal Good For Business.

All this will change when one of Blumenthal's targets makes an appearance on the Dan Lovallo “Talk of Connecticut” radio show on Monday, April 26 at 5:00. The show may be heard on the following stations: WDRC1360-WMMW1470-WWRO12409-WSNG610.

The case to be discussed on Lavallo's radio program and another case, New England Pellet (NEP), have in common a few striking features:

Most egregious is the misuse of affidavits in ex parte proceedings. An ex parte proceeding is one in which only Blumenthal – and not the company he is suing – is represented at court. In both cases, Blumenthal presented to the presiding judge affidavits that were defective on the strength of which he was invested with court authorization to impound assets, effectively putting the companies out of business and making it impossible for the owners of the companies to satisfy complainants in a timely manner.

In the NEP case the affidavit – charging that the principals of NEP either had or were about to fraudulently transfer assets – was signed by an “investigator” attached to Blumenthal’s office who, later in a deposition, swore under oath that he had no reason to believe the charge made in his affidavit, also a sworn document, was true. In the case on Lavallo's program, the affiant, the person who signed the sworn document, was not someone who had direct knowledge of the events that preceded prosecution. It was – amazingly – the assistant attorney general prosecuting the case. It is difficult to over estimate the harm that could be caused when lawyers – rather than proper affiants – are permitted such extraordinary powers. The power to impound assets is the power to destroy companies, which is why courts have surrounded ex parte proceedings with statutes and court decisions that require affiants to have direct knowledge of the events to which they swear in affidavits.

The affidavit found defective by a Superior Court Judge was additionally used to impound the assets of the business owner's husband, who was not materially connected to her company. That impounding, and subsequent impermissible contact between the attorney general’s office and bank officers in Maine, effectively destroyed her husband’s business.

Most distressing is the progression of events in these two cases. Attorneys general focused on justice begin their process of recovery and mediation by an exhaustive investigation, usually followed by a negotiation process in which a reasonable and just offer is made to satisfy complainants.

Blumenthal, it would appear from even a cursory glance at these two cases, begins with defective investigations, followed by defective affidavits, followed by bullying and threats designed to intimidate his targets in such a way that they will accede to his outrageous money demands, followed by a self serving, self promoting press release that paints the companies he is negotiating with in the harshest terms, followed by – endless litigation, the purpose of which is to force his victims, in reduced economic circumstances because he has impounded their assets, into satisfying his money demands.

A lawyer was hired to defend the woman from a demand to pay Blumenthal $1,332,000 – this from a person whose business was selling herbs and tea.

The woman offered to make all her complainants whole BEFORE Blumenthal sued. The owner of NEP, who put up his house as collateral and already had paid a large portion of what savings he had to satisfy his customers, offered to make all his complainants whole BEFORE Blumenthal sued.

Of the two, the NEP case is the most shattering. Evidence in that case was presented to Blumenthal indicating that the owner of NEP was himself a victim of extortion. NEP’s supplier shorted the company of pellets the supplier was under contract to deliver, e-mails made available to Blumenthal show, because the supplier wanted to acquire valuable contracts NEP had developed in New Jersey and New York. More sinned against than sinning, the owner of NEP, watching his business and his reputation swept into a sewer by Blumenthal’s press release and the impounding of his business equipment, attempted suicide – and he very nearly succeeded.

The story will air on the Dan Lavallo show on Monday, April 26 at 5:00.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Blumenthal’s Campaign Contributions

The Linda McMahon campaign has noticed that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is accepting PAC donations for his senatorial campaign. A Federal Elections Commission disclosure report indicates that Blumenthal hauled in nearly a quarter of a million dollars in PAC contributions in the first quarter of 2010.

Blumenthal has accepted money from Democratic leadership PACs in the U.S. Senate controlled by senators Barbara Boxer, Patrick Leahy and Harry Reid, as well as corporation PACs including Aflac, Phoenix Companies Inc., and the ING American Insurance Holdings.

A report in CT News Junkie includes a clip showing Blumenthal holding forth against PAC contributions:

“I’ve never taken PAC money," Blumenthal blusters, "and I have rejected all special interest money because I have stood strong and have taken legal action against many of those special interests."



McMahon spokesman Ed Patru responded:

“Dick Blumenthal’s principled opposition to funding his campaigns with special interest cash apparently only applies when he’s a shoo-in for reelection, but now that he’s in a competitive race, he’s become just like all the rest of the politicians. Voters have the right to expect that Dick Blumenthal will keep the commitments he makes and not make promises he doesn’t intend to keep. His reversal on special interest campaign contributions is exactly the reason so many people don’t trust politicians and have become cynical about government.
Both Blumenthal and McMahon hail from Greenwich, that contented little corner of Connecticut called “The Gold Coast.”

McMahon’s millions have been well covered by the state’s media. If there is a citizen of the nutmeg state who does not know that McMahon made her millions through wrestling promotion, he has not been paying attention to television reports, news reports or the backyard gossip of his neighbors.

Wealthy politicians in Connecticut who have spent most of their lives in public service tend to have made their money in one of two ways: though inheritance or marriage. Should McMahon, a self made woman, supplant Dodd, she would be the refreshing exception.

Ex-senator and governor Lowell Weicker, also from Greenwich, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, though he more often than not managed to sound like a dock worker, an affable affectation. Neither of Connecticut’s present senators is redundantly rich. But Dodd, when he retires, will fall on soft cushions, and lobbying dollars will be temptingly offered.

The Stamford Advocate recently reported on Gold Coast political luminaries and concluded that a veil had been drawn over Blumenthal’s wealth:

“Blumenthal's wealth is partly obscured because much of it comes from his wife's family. Until he files his candidate disclosure statement for the U.S. Senate, much of his family's assets and income are shielded. Even those reports, which limit what spousal income has to be disclosed, do not provide a full picture. Disclosure report filed as state attorney general indicates a number of trusts for family members.”

The source of Blumenthal’s wealth has excited less interest than that of McMahon’s. He appears to the general public as a man entirely devoted to public service. Given a choice between glory and money, who among us would be so grasping as to choose money?

Re-elected to office in July 1996, Blumenthal awarded, without legislative approval, an unprecedented contingency fee contract for his proposed litigation against tobacco companies. The attorney general committed Connecticut to pay 25% of any award made to it through the tobacco litigation -- principally to his former law partner, David Golub and his wife, who was also a lawyer.

First calculated at $900 million, the contingency fee award owed by the state to Golub and his wife was later reduced to $65 million. The award was calculated at the market-based hourly rate as computed by a law firm partner working nonstop 40 billable hours a week for 125 years. The final distribution of public funds awarded to Blumenthal’s former law partner and his wife was settled behind closed doors, in private arbitration, without public scrutiny. The contract was not put out to bid, though there were at the time many law firms that would have been delighted to bank a cool $65 million.

As attorney general, Blumenthal’s made a unilateral decision to decline contributions from attorneys with whom he had done business. At the same time, he imposed a ban on potential contributors to Martha Dean’s 2002 campaign for attorney general. Dean discovered the prohibition two weeks before the election, and it impacted her political contributions.

In matters of campaign contributions, Blumenthal the prospective senator apparently can afford to be less circumspect than Blumenthal the attorney general. Still, it might be useful if some number cruncher could deduce from the veiled reports available how many lawyers are contributing to Blumenthal’s senatorial campaign and whether, al la Bysiewicz, the attorney general’s senatorial campaign is making use of mailing lists generated by Blumenthal’s activity as the people’s lawyer of Connecticut.

Any direct or indirect connection between the two offices would seem to be a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of Blumenthal’s previous efforts to build a Berlin Wall between himself and contributions that might compromise his putative integrity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dodd’s Legacy

We think we know what made Dodd not run, but what makes him run? Over the last few months, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd has been waving goodbye to the senate, a bittersweet farewell occasioned, some think, by plummeting polls and the perception on the part of some of his constituents that he stuck around too long, like some disintegrating, punch-drunk boxer dreaming of his glory days in the ring.

Then again, in the last few months, Dodd has been “born again” – this time as a reformer. Prior to his born-again experience, he was what Roll Call calls “the consummate insider.”

The senator after whom Dodd patterned himself, “lion of the senate” Edward Kennedy, was, to be sure, more “consummate,” beltway lingo indicating the congressional “virtue” of getting your way by playing between the keys of the political organ.

It is said by the chattering class that Dodd is “working on his legacy.” A politician’s legacy is what remains of him after he has left office, history’s verdict on his multifarious career. Someone who has served long in the senate acquires twists and turns that later, when he begins to assemble his legacy, prove useful in guiding the myth makers.

It helps a great deal if the politician is what flappers in the 30’s might call a “smooth talker.” Nixon was not a smoothie, though his career had in it more useful turns than the Mississippi.When Nixon left the presidency in disgrace, he immediately started work on his legacy. He stayed off the firing line and wrote books; soon headhunters in the media were heaping praise upon him, and he died buried under a mound of plaudits. Here and there a few commentators scattered critical remarks over the bones.

Bill Buckley once was asked what the real Nixon was like.

“Which one,” he answered. “There are about four of them.”

Dodd has had what funeral directors might call “a good run.” There were no drowned women in his life, no misplaced cigars. He had an easy time of it with Connecticut’s liberal-to-a-fault media, running afoul of the jaws that bite only when commentators feared he was romancing the right. He was divorced only once, falling far short of Lowell Weicker’s record. Even his fiercest critics would agree Dodd – not to speak of him overmuch in the past tense -- was a nice enough chap. The Ortega brothers appreciated his attentions in Nicaragua; Fidel Castro tossed no barbed words in his direction; and had Castro wannabe Hugo Chavez taken power in Venezuela when Dodd was off schmoozing with the Sandinistas, Chavez would have sniffed no odor of brimstone pouring off the sainted senator.

Dodd will be safe in the hand of his biographers. He need not fear his legacy will be less flattering than that bestowed on Weicker by his biographer in “Maverick,” once reviewed by Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell under the critical title, “Mr. Bluster Saves The World.”

If the liberal Dodd faltered when he helped to dissolve any remaining restrictions imposed by the Glass-Steagall Act on large financial firms, he recovered somewhat by aggressively supporting President Barack Obama’s Health Care initiative. If he faltered when he supported President George Bush’s war in Iraq, after first opposing intervention in the Persian Gulf, he recovered somewhat by supporting Obama’s often stated campaign promise to bring the troops home from Iraq when doing so would have doomed to failure the military effort in that country -- Bush’s military effort. In yet another political pirouette, Dodd cautiously supported Obama’s war in Afghanistan, sometimes called by disappointed world conquerors “the graveyard of empires.”

The senator's cozy connection with Countrywide was a scar on his reputation. But few seemed to realize that his invaluable assistance to Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, mortgage lenders too big to fail, may have been equally if not more problematic: One of the reasons large mortgage lenders were too big too fail was that congressional watchdogs such as Dodd and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank winked at their destructive lending practices. Indeed, Both Dodd and Frank rashly encouraged mortgage lenders to dole out tax dollars to recipients who could not afford mortgages.

We are told victory or utter collapse lie ahead of us, depending upon who is doing the telling. But history is not always a tale told by the victors. Sometimes it’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. That is more often the case when the powerful among us are permitted to shape their own legacies.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A View From Inside The Tea Party Patriot Movement

The following blog is printed with permission from Sean Murphy, a Patriot Tea Party activist, shown below confronting a politician




There is a huge divide within the Tea Party ranks. That gap is caused in part by the lack of political experience of most people in the movement. The problem is centers around the role candidates play in all this.

There are two sides to the Patriot Tea Party coin.

Heads: There are those in the movement who believe strongly that politics is about elections. What some have called the “anger” in the movement is directed at both parties. According to this view, the problem in America is rooted in politicians who control both the Republican and Democrat parties who do what is best for their careers, not what is best for the people or what supports the Constitution.

Tails: Others believe purity and principles matter more. This wing, a clear minority in CT, feels that no candidates should be endorsed or showcased at events.

The last two major political movements in the United States -- Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the Contract with America in 1994 -- both started as top down, party directed movements within the Republican Party. The Tea Party movement began outside the usual political box. Loyalty to party is not strong in the movement; this poses a major problem. Navigating the political process is a skill learned after years of playing the political game.

Common sense does not prevail in politics. Some of us have learned this the hard way. In my own case, I naively assumed that high ranking officials in the Republican Party stood for its principles, many of them articulated during the Reagan-Gingrich years. I was wrong. It turns out I had loads of company. The political class exists for a variety of reasons: The favored members of this class use their position for financial gain or to satisfy an unquenchable thirst for power and status. From the outside looking in – which is where many Tea Party Patriots stand -- both parties appear to be social clubs, closed shops dedicated to the advancements of their credentialed members.

The Tea Party activists are going to bang up against this in a way in a surprising way in coming days. In May, the GOP will have their nominating conventions. This is where local town committees send delegates, usually picked by the entrenched town committees to choose the party endorsed candidate. The winner gets 50% plus one vote of attendees, which include a number of party establishment picked super-delegates.

The convention will certainly not pick the best candidate. They will likely pick the candidate that is either the most loyal to the party or the one that everyone thinks can win. The Tea Party activists will certainly not be happy with many winners of the convention.

From there, candidates who gets 15% of the delegates automatically can primary, the party endorsed candidate getting top billing on the ballot. In the event a potential candidate gets less, he may primary, if his delegate count reaches the proper threshold. That primary is in August.

The primaries represent Ground Zero for the Tea Party Patriot movement. They do not have sufficient party influence to secure nomination for their candidates. The best they can hope for is to influence the process to achieve some or most of what they want.

There is some Third Party chatter among Tea Party Patriot members. Those who are considering this route will never get what they want. The most dramatic example of this is the 1992 presidential election: George H.W. Bush broke his "Read My Lips" no new taxes pledge; Ross Perot was a third party candidate and Bill Clinton won with 43% of the vote. Third parties rarely achieve power. But they can and do affect major parties. What needs to happen is this: Conservatives must take over the Republican Party.

Just now in the US Senate race, McMahon is the party candidate of means. Schiff clearly is the outsider candidate most Tea Party people support. The same is true in the 4th Congressional race: Dan Debicella is the party candidate; Rob Merkle is the favorite of many in the Tea Party, and so is Rick Torres. In the 2nd, Matt Daly is the party establishment candidate; Daria Novak is the grassroots candidate.

Many within the Tea Party Patriot movement proudly consider themselves above party politics. But the problem here is that independents do not assemble party tickets. Leaving the Republican Party to the inmates that run it just guarantees lots of RINO's like Chris Shays, Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons, and Jodi Rell.

The only way to get our country back is to take it back. It will require activists to get behind and help their candidates get the nominations for various seats. The idea that Tea Party Patriots should treat all candidates as if their were unburdened by political baggage is nonsense. Some candidates are clearly not acceptable to Tea Party activists. For example, Rob Simmons now recants his former support for Card Check and Cap & Trade. Larry DiNardis, candidate for governor, was Lowell Weicker's right hand in getting the income tax passed. Liberals and repeated betrayers of conservative values and the Constitution should not, in my opinion, be given the time of day.

By Sean Murphy
c2010

Lamont’s Democratic Calculus

Ned Lamont, styled an “entrepreneur from Greenwich” by one reporter, showed up at City Fare Catering on Franklin Avenue in Hartford in mid April, with a plan. (As a side note, may one mention that Republican “entrepreneurs” from Greenwich are usually called “millionaires?”) Lamont, the entrepreneur, is running for governor as a Democrat.

Lamont’s plan is to eliminate the business entity tax in Connecticut, a proposal that could well be seconded by Gov. Jodi Rell, other Republicans and some blue dog Democrats interested in getting re-elected next term. Connecticut is bleeding jobs, and businesses are looking to the legislature for a lifeline. Even a sign of a lifeline, even a symbolic life line, might do must to restore flagging spirits.

The business entity tax is a $250 annual fee paid by thousands of small companies in the state. Not unlike other Connecticut businesses, City Fare Catering has been hit by a precipitous drop in business owing to the current malingering recession.

A small business owner and entrepreneur, Lamont said that axing the tax could help small businesses revive:

“If we could give people an incentive to hire just one or two more people, we would be able to get this economy growing again. Right here at City Fare, they used to have 32 folks. Now, they're down to four. Elimination of the business entity tax is one way that we can tell people: Start growing, start hiring people. It's a nuisance tax. ... This would send a message. Let's eliminate that tax and get growing again.”
The drop in employment from 32 to 4 is a remarkable statistic. Let us assume that the employees at City Fare receive minimum wage, $8.25 per hour in Connecticut. A week’s wage for one employee at that scale would be $330.00 net; and of course the state legislature and the national legislature would take a man-size bite out of the total. The elimination of the business entities tax, rightly characterized by Lamont as a nuisance tax, would save City Fare $250 per year about $4.81 per week, which the company then could use to hire .014 of an employee – far less than Lamont’s “one or two people” and not a spurring incentive.

However, eliminating the tax just might send a message to entrepreneurial investors that Connecticut at long last is serious about adjusting its spending ways and taxing habits. Rather than cuts, the state usually proposes self lapsing credits to make itself look attractive to business lobbies, rating services and entrepreneurs like Lamont, both in and out of state,.

However again, in true Democratic fashion, Lamont proposes to replace the tax cut with yet another tax increase. In legislative lingo, this is called “paying for the cut.” In plush times, when the state treasury was bursting with surpluses, some wayward Republicans occasionally and impertinently demanded tax cuts; nearly always, such public nuisances were asked gruffly, “How do you propose to pay for the cuts?” Tax cuts, it was asserted, must be paid for by adjustments elsewhere in the revenue stream -- even when the state was awash in surpluses.

Lamont proposed to pay for his tax cut by instituting a “combined reporting tax.”

Not a good idea, retorted the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, a group sometimes on the alert for ideas and legislative measures that might injure the state’s present and future entrepreneurs.

The new tax reporting method -- which would combine a company’s operations in and out of state into a single tax report – would affect large companies headquartered in Connecticut such as Hartford-based United Technologies Corp. or Fairfield-based General Electric, inducing such companies to move their headquarters to states and localities that do not rely on a combined reporting tax to pay for spending that may become even more extravagant as the money from Lamont’s new reporting method fills Connecticut’s treasury.

The objection to Lamont’s new tax generating reporting change seems reasonable. Why would a company in Connecticut or one considering a possible move into the state’s tax briar patch not prefer a local in which companies pay the lower nuisances tax?

Lamont, perhaps still under the influence of his illustrious great uncle Corliss Lamont, characterized this objection as “a red herring.”

It only remains for Lamont’s political opponents to characterize his minimal attempt to reduce business taxes as a “Potemkin Village.”

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Blumenthal “Martha Coakley In Pants”

The New York Times, of all places, tossed a dagger in Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s direction, printing a piece by David Halbfinger that was not quite as flattering as Blumenthal’s own seemingly endless press releases.

Blumenthal’s’ “reliance on prosecutorial parlance and legal arcane,” The Times said, “has raised unflattering comparisons to another attorney general in a Senate race who seemed a sure winner only to lose in spectacular fashion. Some Democrats are calling him 'Martha Coakley in pants,' referring to the candidate who lost the Massachusetts Senate election in January.”

Referring to the “Time’s absolutely brutal profile of Blumenthal, Ben Smith of Politico remarked that the Times story was “energizing national Republicans around a race that many had written off.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

Foley, For Real

We often speak of politicians growing in office. Unfortunately, many of them grow down rather than up; the expression is not always complimentary.

Tom Foley, who has about him a sort of Gary Cooper appearance, has grown up in his campaign. Some media personalities shadowing him have neither noticed nor appreciated the growth, but seem to be interested solely in the least interesting aspect of the guy: his money.

Foley, a Republican running for governor this year, is a millionaire businessman.

Connecticut is rich in them, for the time being. Many of them are clustered in what is often called, sometimes derisively, Connecticut’s Gold Coast. Three other millionaires from Greenwich, the Hollywood of the state’s Gold Coast, are running for office this campaign season: Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat who hopes to occupy U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat; Linda McMahon, a Republican running for the same seat; and Ned Lamont, a Democrat running for governor;

The rest of the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates were born in log cabins, which is another way of saying they are not millionaires.

Briefly, there are two kinds of millionaire politicians in Connecticut, beloved and non-beloved. Lowell Weicker – also a millionaire, also from Greenwich, a longtime Republican U.S. Senator – wore his millions well, which is another way of saying that the media did not press his millions upon his brow like a crown of thorns whenever he mounted a stump to rail incessantly against the Republican Party.

FDR was a millionaire. The media of his day loved the guy. Many congresspersons in Washington, beloved and non-beloved, are not cash poor.

The kinds of millionaires who are not beloved are usually: a) unapologetic Republicans or b) Republicans born on the wrong side of the ideological tracks who make money and then run for office. Great wealth, in other words, generally is not a bar to office for: c) wealthy Democrats or d) wealthy Republicans who are of the liberal-progressive persuasion.

To put it bluntly, money is a cudgel used by liberal partisans with which to beat Republicans or Democrats who sport libertarian or conservative notions. Big yachts matter far less than big ideas.

Foley, somewhat like Weicker – though, of course, far less liberal – wears his millions well. Unlike FDR, who flouted a cigarette holder and a patrician accent, Foley doesn’t act the part of a millionaire descended from some jewel encrusted deus ex machina anxious to shower humankind with tax money lifted from other people.

He is preeminently a business man who has dedicated a large chunk of his life to public service: What you see of him and hear from him is authentic in a time and day that hungers for authenticity.

Columnist and Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell notes that Foley may be “the least forceful speaker among [Republican] candidates, but he is not the least thoughtful… He also argues that successful business people like himself may be closer to working people than career politicians. He would have state government contract out more of its services. He has a special interest in charter schools like Amistad Academy in New Haven and sees public service as a duty for those who can afford it. Nobody went to hot, dirty, and dangerous Iraq to get a sun tan, even if Ireland was a lovely reward.”

When Powell, tirelessly advocating for years for an end to binding arbitration, asked the candidate at a recent interview on Face The State whether he would favor a repeal of the process that removes from the bargaining table all democratic control over the state’s budget destiny, he was taken aback by Foley’s short and sweet, Gary Cooperish, answer: Sure he would.

The arc of Foley’s campaign is pointing in a promising direction. Recent polls show him leading his rivals by a substantial margin. And the bump in the polls cannot be attributed solely to the money Foley has spent on television ads. He has done his footwork, and the results show in his sometimes brutally frank answers to hard questions.

He lacks the polish of a politician over whom the beltway waters have passed for years, smoothing the rough edges until they have the feel of silk. He has not yet been spoiled by years perfecting his narrative on the political stump, not at all a disadvantage at a time when folk hard pressed by grasping politicians are looking for an honesty that hurts and a refreshing authenticity in their representatives.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

RACING TO THE TOP, MASSACHUSETTS AND CONNECTICUT STUMBLE

“Race to the Top,” the U.S. Department of Education’s $4.35 billion competition, is half over, and Delaware and Tennessee are #1 and #2. In all, 41 states competed and 16 were finalists. Two useful case studies are Massachusetts, a finalist, which was 13th . and Connecticut, 25th.

Connecticut education spokesman Tom Murphy offered his understanding of why Connecticut did not rank higher. He said it lacked luster in science, technology, and math. He said it does not have a computerized system for tracking and sharing student-data statewide. But why does Washington want it? He said it lacks support from teachers’ unions and local boards of education. Small districts didn’t sign on because they feared costly reforms for small benefits.

Murphy is aiming to get their support for the final round. Support means they must sign an Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU), which commits them to support whatever changes Hartford and Washington undertake.

What is evident from the five peer reviews of the Connecticut RttT application is that its plans for education reforms have not been adopted. Unlike other states, it has not passed whatever laws are needed to effectuate them.

Support for states’ plans among the local school unions and “local education agencies” (town and district boards of education) are wanted by Washington. Connecticut has the support of the two chief union heads and 122 local school unions. Of what importance are the local unions? They “could look for ways to get around” their current contracts and devise means for circumventing education decisions. Such support is useful for influence and control by Washington.

Sherman was a solid C school in 3rd to 8th grade CMT tests last spring. Mass. in 2005 and in the NAEP tests given in 2007 and 2009 was the first state ever to be #1 in NAEP’s “Nation’s Report Card” in all four fields, reading, math, science, and writing. In 8th grade science it was first internationally in the 2008 TIMSS. Between 2002 and 2009 it even moved toward closing the gap between African-Americans and Hispanics, and whites.

“If you are a disadvantaged parent with a school-age child, Massachusetts is . . . the state to move to,” advised E.D. Hirsch, Jr., in 2008—but RttT does not care about schools already at the Top. It cares about lowest-achieving schools and trying to turn them around.

Perhaps the peer reviewers realized that Massachusetts' accomplishments diminished two years ago, when Governor Duval Patrick took control from the independent State Board of Education—John Silber, Abigail Thernstom and other scholars—who care about content, according to Pioneer Institute, a Boston think-tank. No longer do Massachusetts students have to pass the state test in U.S. history in order to graduate from high school.

Despite fierce opposition by teachers’ unions, superintendents, and school boards, charter-school authorization was won in Mass. and has spawned some of the best schools in the country, says the Pioneer Institute. Washington does care about charter schools, and states have changed their laws to promote charters. Illinois lifted a cap on them. West Virginia proposed a merit-pay system which includes student-achievement in its compensation calculations. Massachusetts made it easier for students in low-performing schools to switch to charters.

The Pioneer Institute attributes Massachusetts' low RttT score to the state's refusal to accept the new national standards (still in draft), believing its own are better. Massachusetts has another deficiency. It has few local union and school board “buy-ins.”

Education Secretary Duncan tells why the winners won: “[Both Delaware and Tennessee] have statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools. They have written new laws to support their policies. . . .”

The Wall Street Journal wonders if bias played a role in selecting Delaware a winner, or is it “ just a coincidence that 10 of the 16 finalists, including politically important Ohio, have a Democratic governor? The eleventh, Washington, D.C., is also run by a Democrat.”

A peer reviewer remarks that Connecticut “has a solid plan” for improving teacher-effectiveness based on performance of students. It wants to compensate principals and teachers, especially the effective ones, but has no plan in place. It wants to get away from linking salaries to credits earned. It mentions an interest in removing ineffective teachers and principals but fails to include any performance measures. It is this inability to do anything beyond planning that cost Connecticut peer-reviewer support.

Connecticut’s lack of union support from the two largest unions in Hartford and New Haven “is troubling,” writes a peer reviewer.

Connecticut has gathered letters from 84 institutions including teachers’ unions and businesses and has “wary support from private colleges,” but “there were no letters from any of Connecticut’s tribes,” remarks a reviewer.

There are only 18 charter schools, which is only 1% of Conn.’s public schools. There are very few applicants, only seven in five years. The State is the sole authorizer. A peer reviewer thinks that a new law, if it passes, will improve the opportunity for future charters.

Would that be a good thing? Why, asks Texas Governor Perry, should one pass control to “unelected bureaucrats and special interests thousands of miles away in Washington?” Are they going to tell our kids what to read?

Connecticut is now feverishly working toward revising its application, but it should not be surprised and perhaps not disappointed if it again fails to be a winner.

By Natalie Sirkin
c2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thinking With The Right And Left Sides Of the Brain

In April – but well past April Fool’s day – state Comptroller Nancy Wyman made a serious admission to a reporter for CTMirror.

Discussing surpluses and spending caps that do not and never will cap spending, Wyman remarked:

“’The problem is that every time we have had a surplus, we have broken through the spending cap,’ said Wyman, who also proposed a requirement that at least 1 percent of any projected surpluses identified monthly by her office immediately be deposited into the budget reserve.”

That is a golden perception: Money available to the General Assembly in the form of surpluses will be spent; you can bet your bottom deficit on it. Indeed, it has been spent. A surplus, it should be remembered, is by definition an overcharge. It is the amount of taxes collected over and above budgetary requirements. Overcharges should be returned to those overcharged.

Wyman thinks such surpluses ought to be routed into a rainy day fund, where they will be saved for a rainy day. Been there, done that.

The state, in fact, had a rainy day fund – note the past tense. But that reserve fund was plundered and depleted by the Democratic controlled state legislature and Gov. Jodi Rell in an attempt to discharge a massive deficit. Connecticut is now confronting -- some would say failing to confront -- a future deficit of some $4-6 billion, depending upon whose figures one conjures with.

Wyman’s solution to the state’s quickly depleted rainy day fund is – a larger rainy day fund. The real solution to the state’s deficit lies in spending cuts that would reduce spending by about 15%.

The continuing recession, the new and expensive programs recently added by a national legislature concerned with health care and insurance regulation, the prospect of insolvency in the case of social security, Medicare and Medicaid, the continuing flight of entrepreneurs and capital out of Connecticut, the losses suffered by Wall Street firms that contributed to Connecticut’s treasury and the prospect of future state tax bites all argue against a short term recovery. It took Connecticut 10 years to recover jobs lost during the last national recession, and the economy then, goosed by targeted tax cuts, soon rebounded. Given the ideological predisposition of the White House and the political make-up of congress, tax cuts, Main Street’s stimulus, are out of the question, and debt stretches its boney hand over the future.

Putting all these ominous signs aside, why on earth should a spending cut averse legislature reduce spending when so many Democratic politicians suffering from unionophobia – an irrational fear of unions – can increase the revenue they recklessly spend by increasing rainy day funds, by borrowing against future anticipated revenue and employing other devises that spare legislators from the painful spending cuts that affect their supportive constituencies?

The answer to this question is: They don’t -- and won’t.

You can drag Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, once a union steward, to a spending cut, but you can’t make him make it.

Legislators and others who believe that Connecticut does not have a spending problem but rather a revenue problem think on the left side of their brains. Budget watchers in the state who have seen the bottom line of the state’s budget balloon threefold within the space of three governors think with the right side of their brains.

“No,” say the right thinkers to those in the legislature and elsewhere who believe with the fervency of a committed cultist that Connecticut taxpayers are under-taxed, “You are mistaken. The current size of the deficit points to a spending problem as the principal culprit responsible for the state’s impecunious debt.”

CTMirror notes that “The state currently has authority to reserve an amount equal to 10 percent of annual General Fund spending. The General Fund comprises the bulk of state government's operating expenses, roughly $17.4 billion out of this fiscal year's $18.64 billion overall budget. Wyman's proposal would boost that to 15 percent.”

But 15% of nothing is nothing. And, in any case, future surpluses are the stuff dreams are made of.

The state will be waiting a long time for those sun drenched days of yore, when the barn were full and the legislature in full throttle, spending surplus after surplus after surplus, heedless of the day, now upon us, when they would be called to account for consuming the seed grain upon which future harvests depend.

Thinking with the right side of their brains, Hartford Courant editorial writers last Sunday beseeched the state legislature not to “raid” the Citizens' Election Program fund, which had been put aside to furnish political hopefuls with untainted campaign money.

Why?

Because spending is like chocolate – instantly addictive, and far more destructive in the long run than painful but prudent cuts in spending.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Doyle’s Creative Accounting


Hartford Courant investigative reporter Jon Lender has noted that that Paul Doyle (D-Wethersfield) engaged in some “sticky” business in 2008 that has now come back to prick him:
“Here's how it all started: In late October 2008, The Courant published a relatively short story that said Doyle, a lawyer who is paid tens of thousands of dollars a year as an outside counsel to the state's trash agency, got the agency to delay paying him his full fee in 2007 so he could bypass a law designed to restrict state contractors from contributing to political campaigns.

“Doyle billed the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority for legal work in September 2007, and the agency issued him a check the following month for $4,016. But he returned the check Nov. 1 — and then, in January of 2008, the CRRA issued him a new check for the same amount.”
Doyle said he had engaged in the creative accounting because had his fees from CRRA exceeded $50,000, the law would have considered him a “state contractor,” and as such neither he nor his law partners could have made contributions to candidates they supported.

A clever legal pate can always find a route around an inconvenient and burdensome law or regulations.

Much ado was made about Doyle’s artful dodge by his Republican campaign opponent Ralph Capanera and Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy, recently styled by Doyle as his opponent’s “political assassin.”

Doyle won the election, but alas not every matter may be settled at the ballot box. Healy requested in February that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal investigate Doyle for tax evasion.

“Doyle did this,” Healy wrote to Blumenthal, “to postpone reportable income for 2007 and to avoid meeting the definition of 'state contractor' which would implicate and jeopardize his elected position as state senator." Healy regarded the acceptance by CCRC of Doyle’s creative accounting a "special treatment from a state agency" that gets fees from municipalities' tax revenues, and he reminded Blumenthal of his pledge to “vigorously pursue” tax evaders to the very gates of Hell.

A month went by and Healy received a missive from Blumenthal advising that he had passed the buck to the Department of Revenue Services "for its review and action as appropriate." The attorney general also noted that since Healy was alleging “possible criminal law violations, you should be aware that the DRS Division of Collections and Enforcement has … the power to make arrests where warranted, and to refer cases to appropriate criminal authorities for prosecution when necessary."

Piqued at Healy’s persistence, Doyle alleged political assassination; Lender admonished Doyle about “sticky” situations; and the raucous crowd that bays from the rooftops whenever a Republican wanders into “sticky” situations quickly fell into its usual stupor.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Blumenthal, Good For Business?

"To blame law enforcement for unemployment,” said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal at a forum sponsored by some of the companies and industries he has sued, “is beyond wrong, it's silly and shouldn't be given any credibility. In fact it is a disservice to public service itself and to the law-abiding, hard-working business people.”

The report from which the above quote is taken does not disclose the reaction from those in the audience to Blumenthal’s remarks, some of whom work for companies sued by Blumenthal.

At an earlier debate with Democratic opponent Merrick Alpert, Blumenthal answered a charge that his many suits have had a deleterious impact on Connecticut’s job growth by charging that, on the contrary, they enhanced business activity and actually created jobs.

This time, at a forum sponsored by some of Connecticut’s major companies, Blumenthal’s response was more polished and carefully modulated.

Almost all business, Blumenthal said, have nothing to fear from law enforcement:

"My job has been to enforce the law. What I'm hearing from this table is a philosophy of law enforcement that Bernie Madoff would love. We've just come through a period where lack of enforcement by the federal government enabled and encouraged one of the greatest economic catastrophes in our nation's history."
Not only do honest businesses follow the law, “they welcome the level playing field that strong law enforcement provides to every one of them," Blumenthal said. "They do not want to be out-competed and underbid by law breakers who save costs on the backs of our consumers or our hard-working men and women."

Actually, Blumenthal’s job is to defend state agencies in legal matters. The attorney general’s office was transformed from this rather modest purpose during the administration of then Attorney General Joe Lieberman, now a U.S. Senator, who advertised himself as the people’s lawyer. That job spec has been considerably enlarged by Blumenthal, under whose direction the hundreds of lawyers who work for him several years ago focused on a target in East Hartford, a computer business that supplied equipment for the state, quickly putting the business out of business.

During the forum, Alpert charged that Blumenthal had deliberately attempted to destroy a small business, Computer Plus Center, by means of a suit charging that the company had defrauded the state.

The owner was not Bernie Madoff, nor was the business as large as some of the corporations sued by Blumenthal whose representatives in the audience heard the attorney general say, by way of answer to a failed suit that may cost the state $18 million, “mistakes were made in that case.”

Who made the mistakes? This would have been the obvious question for anyone on the dais to put to Blumenthal.

A jury had determined that litigators working for the attorney general had improperly sued a company. Did the jury make the mistakes? Were the mistakes made by the prosecuting attorney who permitted the jury to see a discredited affidavit on the basis of which Blumenthal secured an ex parte judgment against the company that permitted him to effectively put Computer Plus Center out of business?

Blumenthal evidently did not agree that the jury finding and its multimillion dollar award provided justice in the case, thereby leveling the playing field for other litigation shy companies that might, in view of the jury’s finding, feel a trifle less cautious in moving into a state in which the attorney general has sued more than 800 companies in the last four years, many of them small Main Street rather than Wall Street businesses.

Instead, Blumenthal promised more litigation, boasted that the state had not paid out a dime and said he expected the award to be reversed on appeal, which may stretch the litigation well beyond the upcoming elections.

Blumenthal is expected to be nominated for the seat in the U.S. Senate left vacant upon U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s retirement. He has a commanding lead in the polls over his Republican challengers.

With more than a hundred lawyers at your back, though only a few of them litigate cases, company owners far less wealthy than Madoff eventually collapse under the litigation pressure and settle for deals that might have been struck before Blumenthal’s questionable legal badgering began.

Blumenthal is fond of saying that his office brings in more money to the state -- none of it audited regularly by outside inspectors -- than is spent by his office. But this rude calculus does not tally the amount of money lost to the state though attrition. The jury award to Computer Plus Center is an alarm bell ringing in the night: Given the awesome powers marshaled by the attorney general’s office, what business more comfortably situated in states with less aggressive attorneys general would want to set up shop in suit prone Connecticut?

Friday, April 09, 2010

To Flag Or Not To Flag

After complaints from Michael Lawlor, one of the co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, the decider-in-chief of the Capitol Police rescinded an earlier decision to permit the Gadsden flag to be flown over the state Capitol.

The Harford Courant reported the following day:

“… the approval was rescinded abruptly on Thursday after the Connecticut Tea Party Patriots group announced it was holding a political rally at the Capitol immediately after the flag-raising ceremony. The group had invited candidates it is supporting in the November election.

"'It went from being a flag-raising ceremony to a political event,' acting Capitol Police Chief Walter Lee said. 'They are using it as a launching pad for [candidates for] public office.'"

The paper noted that this was not the first time the hoisting of a flag above the state Capitol has occasioned controversy:

“In 1999, gay rights activists got permission to fly the rainbow flag. That decision drew criticism from socially conservative lawmakers, who demanded that the flag, a universal symbol of gay rights, be taken down. Shortly after that, officials approved a policy limiting which flags can be hoisted at the Capitol.

“Only the following flags are permitted: ‘Flags of the United States of America; a state of the U.S.A. or a political subdivision; the District of Columbia; Puerto Rico; the U.S. Virgin Islands; any territory or insular possession subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S.A.; an Indian tribe recognized by the U.S.A.; any foreign jurisdiction with which the U.S.A. maintains diplomatic relations or its political subdivisions, to include the United Nations; flags of recognized military organizations of the U.S.A., to include the VFW, American Legion, and POW/MIA flags.’”
The new rule governing flag flying at the state Capitol apparently is this: You may fly a flag from the Capitol, but you may not rally under it.

The state capitol police, Lawlor, whose objections were carried in the Courant and other papers, and other dissenting legislators – it would be nice to have their names – do not understand the purpose of a flag.

Would Lawlor, for instance, remain passive if a police authority permitted the hoisting of a gay flag but ran it down the flag pole when they discovered that gays would rally atround it? One hopes he would not.

The Capitol police should be instructed that a flag is not just a harmless symbol. It is a rallying point to call attention to the purpose of a battle, which is why many of the flags assembled in the Hall of Flags at the state Capitol are battered and torn, as was the flag raised at Iwo Jima.

Lawlor and the Capitol police should pay a visit to that section of the building. Unlike Democratic caucuses and backroom phone calls between Lawlor and the Capitol police, it is opened to the public.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Blumenthal Pressed To Join Suit

Republican Party Chairmen Chris Healy is continuing to press Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to join other attorneys general in other states in challenging the constitutionality of the recently passed health care reform legislation.

“It has taken Dick Blumenthal over two weeks to ‘consider’ whether or not he will join Attorneys General from around the country in filing suit to put an end to the government takeover of healthcare,” Healy says in a recent press release, “what is he waiting for? These are remarkable circumstances considering Blumenthal’s usual twenty-four hour turn around for legal action.

“In his twenty-one years as Attorney General, Dick Blumenthal has never waited for someone else to tell him to file a lawsuit, though I’m sure many wish he had. Why is it taking him so long to tell us whether he supports Obama-care or not?”
It is expected that the broad based health care legislation pressed by President Barack Obama and Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi will affect not only insurance companies in Connecticut, once known as the insurance capital of the world, but also their employees as well as every Connecticut resident.

And yet, Healy observes, “Dick Blumenthal remains silent. Dick Blumenthal is siding with his Democrat friends in Washington rather than the people of Connecticut. The time for action to protect the rights of all citizens is now.”

At a forum held at the Hartford Club and sponsored by the MetroHartford Alliance, which includes a group of Connecticut’s large insurance companies – including The Hartford, Aetna, The Phoenix, United Healthcare and The Travelers – Blumenthal appeared to be settling into a position of armed neutrality: “They're reasonable and responsible employers," said Blumenthal. "I would fight for them in Washington."

CTMirror noted “He offered no apology or regrets for the lawsuits he has filed against insurance companies and other businesses, saying those cases were good for consumers and leveled the playing field for other businesses.”

Of course, Blumenthal has not said whether he would fight for the insurance companies as senator should his successor, following in Blumenthal’s train, decide to sue them.

Politicians who wear two hats -- that of attorney general and that of the leading Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. Senate -- ought not to have two heads or be of two minds on matters that impinge on both functions.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Hayes' Not Guilty Plea, His Guilty Plea, And his Not Guilty Plea

Early in June, 2009, the state legislature passed a bill abolishing the death penalty that was vetoed by Governor Jodi Rell, who said she thought the present law was just in the cases in which it had been applied in Connecticut.

Although a number of convicted killers are awaiting punishment on death row -- among them Daniel Webb, sentenced to death in 1991 for having brutally raped and murdered a bank executive in a park in Hartford -- the state has executed only two people within living memory: Ross and Joseph “Mad Dog” Taborsky in 1960, who has the distinction of being the only convict in Connecticut sent to death row twice for different crimes. Webb recently beat a guard severely enough to require medical attention.

The bill abolishing the death penalty was passed after two convicted criminals released from prison, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, broke into a home in Cheshire, beat Dr. William Petit unconscious with a baseball bat, raped his wife and one of his daughters, tied their victims to a bed and incinerated the house, murdering everyone in the family but Dr. Petit, who survived the assault and has testified before the legislature that the death penalty should, in his view, be retained.

At the beginning of April, Hayes surprised everyone, including his two public defenders, when he blurted out in court that he wished to plead guilty to the charges against him. This left public defenders Patrick Culligan and Tomas Ullman, both ardently opposed to the death penalty, between a rock and a hard place. They had been prepared to defend Hayes tooth and nail, and now they were flummoxed.

The legal rule book is clear on the point that lawyers must respect decisions made by defendants who are competent or not suffering from diminished capacity. Hayes’ pleading came at an awkward time, just before it had been determined by a team of experts he was competent to stand trial. On the basis of this finding, Hayes’ attorneys had waived a competency hearing. Judged competent, Hayes then proceeded to plead guilty.

Given their adamantine opposition to the death penalty, it was supposed his lawyers might try to persuade Hayes to leverage his guilty plea in return for a plea bargain. But Hayes evidently continued in his obduracy, and his attorneys announced grandly that "We do not think that we can partake in such a stained and sordid process that greases the wheels of the machinery of death for such a diminished, tortured and suffering human being. We do not relish abandoning this client under such circumstances nor have we ever done so in our lengthy professional careers.

"However, when the dignity and respect of the proceedings are controlled by a defendant operating under such an obvious diminished mental capacity ... we fear that we may not have any other choice.”

Hayes’ attorneys requested that the court delay the proceeding for two weeks so they might gather evidence to show that while Hayes is competent to stand trial, he is never-the-less incompetent to decide to reverse his plea.

The public defenders indicated they would abandon the case if, as seemed likely, the judge decided that competency was an either-or proposition that would not allow Hayes to be judged competent to stand trial but incompetent to disappoint his lawyers.

A precedent has been established in the state for public defenders who abandon their clients after they had decided to plead guilty in capital felony cases. That is precisely what happened in the Michael Ross case. After Ross decided not to contest the judgment against him, a new lawyer was appointed in his case. On the eve of Ross’ execution, Judge Robert Chatigny, whose name was referred to President Barack Obama by U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and Chris Dodd to fill a position left vacant on the 2nd Circuit by Judge Sonia Sotomayor elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court, intervened and threatened Ross’ new lawyer with the loss of his law license if he did not persuade his client to agree to yet another hearing in a case in which Ross had long resigned himself to his punishment.

Given Ross’ determination to accept his punishment in the face of strenuous opposition from his public defenders, Chatigny’s interference turned a tragedy into an undignified judicial spectacle.

The Hayes trial seemed to be set on the same path, but at the very last moment the mercurial Hayes changed his mind a second time and told Judge Jon Blue that he was altering his guilty plea once again to not guilty.

The spectacle continues.