Thursday, February 06, 2014

Mark Twain On Connecticut’s Short Session

“No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session”― Mark Twain

And the legislative session is now opened for business.

An item in a state-wide newspaper notes on its front page the “Key Issues” the Democratic controlled legislature in Connecticut will be addressing in its short session. The short session -- less wearing on life, property and liberty than the General Assembly’s long session – mercifully will end in 4 months, at which point the ghost of Mr. Twain may remain untroubled until the long session begins.

Key Issues during the short session will include, according to the paper: “Minimum Wage: proposed increase to $10.10 – Assisted Suicide: Whether doctors may prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill patients – Puppy Mills: Proposal to require new pet shops to sell only rescue and shelter animals.”

Curbs on spending are not among the items listed that the General Assembly will be addressing in its short session.


Connecticut Commentary has already pointed out the pitfalls of the proposed minimum wage legislation, among which are: The legislatively mandated labor cost increase will seriously distort wage scales, increase unemployment and fall like a ton of bricks on the shoulders of the poor.

The proposed Puppy Mill legislation appears, on the face of it, to be a humane measure. However, a bill that taxes puppy mills much in the way Connecticut taxes tobacco products and at the same time frees from any taxation all business or organizations that rehabilitate and sell to the public mistreated animals would address animal welfare far more effectively. The reason such bills are rarely proposed is because they require politicians to sacrifice tax receipts.  

It remains doubtful whether a legislature may constitutionally require a business to sell a specific product. Vested with such an authority, there is not a business in Connecticut that would not be marching on the State Capitol to press legislators for equal treatment.

To take but one example in thousands:  One might expect the largest maker of tires in the country to flood Connecticut’s General Assembly with lobbyists, there to press relevant Democratic committee members to favor them with a bill preventing all tire distributors in the state from selling any product but their own; it goes without saying, of course, that these petitioners would be very generous to obliging legislators come campaign season. Short sessions are much too short to entertain such a massive increase in legislative business. And then too, the Supreme Court has been less than clear on the issue of the forced selling and purchasing of products by crony capitalists who in consequence specialize in purchasing legislators.

One can only imagine what lightning bolts  Mr. Twain might have hurled at the General Assembly of his day had legislators seriously entertained the passage of a bill that would have required cigar makers to sell Mr. Twain only one brand of cigar. At the mere intimation of such an immoral restriction, Mr. Twain’s pen, dipped in the fires of Hell, would have scorched the impudent backsides of those intent on depriving him of his property and liberty.

 Mr. Twain’s taste in cigars required a varied choice of products:

“At last it occurred to me that something was lacking in the Havana cigar. It did not quite fulfill my youthful anticipations. I experimented. I bought what was called a seed-leaf cigar with a Connecticut wrapper. After a while I became satiated of these, and I searched for something else. The Pittsburgh stogy was recommended to me. It certainly had the merit of cheapness, if that be a merit in tobacco, and I experimented with the stogy. Then, once more, I changed off, so that I might acquire the subtler flavor of the Wheeling toby. Now that palled, and I looked around New York in the hope of finding cigars which would seem to most people vile, but which, I am sure, would be ambrosial to me. I couldn't find any.”

Connecticut continues to produce high quality wrappers, but it also has produced Dick Blumenthal, whose suit while Attorney General against Big Tobacco had helped to make Connecticut’s Tobacco Valley into a much reduced backyard patch of ground. As soon as Mr. Blumenthal figures out how he might tax into oblivion the harmless vapors expelled by those of his constituents who choose to “smoke” electronic “cigarettes”, this promising industry – which, by supplanting cancer causing, real tobacco products, very likely may reduce tobacco tax dollars flowing into Connecticut’s bursting revenue streams – will vanish like a puff of smoke, done to death by solicitous, tax hungry politicians.

Mr. Twain, who valued the right word as against a word that was almost right – “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter: It's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning” – certainly would have quarreled energetically with the expression “assisted suicide.”

In a suicide, the corpse and the corpse maker are one and the same person. The word is derived from the Latin suicidium: sui “of oneself” + cidium “a killing.” In Anglo-Latin, the term for “one who commits suicide” was felo-de-se, literally “one guilty concerning himself.” Just as soon as a second person is involved in the killing, a bar is passed from suicide to either manslaughter or murder. Both the man upon whom “suicide” had been committed and his “assistant” participate in guilt.


Such truthful plain-speech, careful never to violate the language, does create difficulties for obscurantist, oleaginous politicians whom Twain – How he is missed! – would have poked mercilessly with his pen fired up in Hell or, better still, with a shattering lightning bolt, about which Mr. Twain in an essay “on The Weather” once wrote, “The lightning there (Hartford?) is peculiar; it is so convincing, that when it strikes a thing it doesn't leave enough of that thing behind for you to tell whether -- Well, you'd think it was something valuable, and a Congressman had been there.”
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