Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mr. Livingston Presumes

One of the chief negotiators for SEBAC, the state union coalition negotiating with the administration of Governor Dannel Malloy on union contracts, Daniel Livingston, has written a letter to Attorney General George Jepsen – at one point, early in his career, a lawyer who represented unions – demanding that the attorney general “…investigate and take all appropriate actions authorized by state law” against Yankee Institute investigative reporter Zach Janowski.

Mr. Janowski, Mr. Livingston wrote in his letter, “purports to be an ‘investigative reporter’ and… also publishes a blog under the name of ‘Raising Hale.’”

Mr. Jepsen, however, is not asked in Mr. Livingston’s letter to investigate Mr. Janowski credentials as an “investigative reporter.” This snarky little tidbit is thrown in perhaps to degrade Mr. Janowski who, Mr. Livingston insists in his letter to Mr., Jepsen, has “degraded state workers.” Mr. Jepsen is not asked in Mr. Livingston’s fanciful and intemperate letter to investigate whether Mr. Janowski is an investigative reporter. The blot is there for decorative purposes.

Mr. Jepsen is not asked in Mr. Livingston’s letter to investigate whether Mr. Janowski “degrades” state workers simply because he is a reporter who works for an institution that feels it may be appropriate to outsource state jobs to private institutions as a cost saving measure.

“As part of its political agenda,” Mr. Livingston wrote to Mr. Jepsen, “the Yankee Institute has sought, and continues to seek to attack and degrade public employees, advocate moving their work to private employers, and to delegitimize and destabilize state government.”

The notion that privatizing some aspects of state service for the purpose of saving tax dollars must “deligitimize and destabilize state government” simply hangs in Mr. Livingston’s letter to Mr. Jepsen like a shiny ball on a Christmas tree. The chief purpose of the absurd assertion is to glitter and shine. But Mr. Livingston has not asked Mr. Jepsen to investigate whether, in fact, the privatization of some areas of state service, a practice not uncommon in other states, does in fact “destabilize state government.” Nor has Mr. Livingston asked Mr. Jepsen to investigate whether such measures would of necessity “deligitimize state government.” Determining such matter is perhaps beyond the purview of Mr. Jepsen and the more than 200 lawyers who work for him.

Mr. Livingston asserts in his letter to Mr. Jepsen that, far from being an investigative reporter, Mr. Janowski “is actually employed to write and disseminate propaganda on behalf of the political goals of the Yankee Institute.” In passing, it may be noted that the same might be said of any reporter or political commentator, whatever his political persuation. However, Mr. Livingston does not demand that Mr. Jepsen investigate Mr. Janowski’s many columns with a view to determining whether the several hundred statements made in them are in fact “propaganda.” Mr. Livingston’s derogation in this case was perhaps intended for the many editors of newspapers in Connecticut to whom that letter was dispatched. It cannot be the business of the attorney general’s office to prosecute propaganda or even to determine what portion of stories filed by reporters or which parts of editorials written by political commentators are propaganda. Here, as elsewhere in his letter to Mr. Jepsen, Mr. Livingston’s affirmations likely are intended for other eyes.

“On information and belief,” Mr. Livingston writes to Mr. Jepsen, “the Yankee Institute has determined that its political interests are best served by the defeat of the ratification vote pending for ‘SEBAC 2011,’ a tentative agreement reached on May 27 between the Malloy administration and SEBAC.”

Finally, after all Mr. Livingston’s rhetorical skirmishing, he here presents an assertion Mr. Jepsen might be able as attorney general to sink his teeth into. The problem is that Mr. Livingston’s information and believe is clearly wrong. The Yankee Institute, according to its executive director, Fergus Cullen, has through its sister organization, Yankee Action, taken out “paid advertisements supporting the concessions deal.”

The paid add supporting Mr. Livingston’s view on the negotiations, in part, reads:

“Contact Governor Malloy’s office by dialing 1-800-406-1527 and call your local legislators (search by street address to find your representatives at the Connecticut General Assembly) to tell them: “We need to restore the balance between the public and private sector. I support Gov. Malloy as he seeks concessions from the state employees unions.”
Of course, it is always possible that Mr. Livingston regards such paid advertisements as “propaganda” that “deligitimizes state government.” If so, the promulgation of Mr. Livingston’s views, in his view, can only lead to ruin and the ultimate destruction of the state.

It may seem to impartial observers, if there be such in Connecticut’s media, that Mr. Livingston’s ambition – to persuade the attorney general to intervene on his behalf for the purpose of frustrating the First Amendment and silencing a critic – begins a sharp decline at this point. If it has been established that the Yankee Institute has in fact encouraged the members of Mr. Livingston’s unions to support an agreement that he himself supports – AND IT HAS – Mr. Livingston’s objection to anything written by propagandists for the Yankee Institute frustrates his own designs and contributes to the deligitimization of state government.

After the center joist of Mr. Livingston’s argument has collapsed, we are left with – spite -- and, despite Mr. Livingston's claim to the contrary, a clumbsy atempt to put a gag in the mouth of those who, exercising their First Amendment rights, legitimately disagree with the ambitions of the ambitious Mr. Livingston and other state union leaders. It is not part of the office of attorney general to assist Mr. Livingston in realizing his ambitions.
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