Saturday, March 08, 2014

What For, Foley?

Most people in Connecticut who still get their news from newspapers, an ever diminishing number, have never attended a press conference.

Sometimes an unexpected rumpus enlivens the event. At a conference launching a study released by the Connecticut Policy Institute (CPI), one reporter, having been upstaged by a questioner, reminded all present, around thirty curious onlookers, that HE was a member of the press and thereafter left the room huffily, his neck stretched out like a cobra’s.

“Who was that? “asked several people who had not had the pleasure of making his acquaintance.  “I hope he’s alright?”

Tom Foley, a Republican running for governor, was at the event lending unction to the presentation. In brief stories filed the same day, it was noted by virtually every reporter that CPI had been financed by Mr. Foley. This was not news to anyone in the room, including the cobra who departed in a vaporous cloud of righteous indignation, although it may surprise some to learn that apart from providing seed money to CPI in 2011, Mr. Foley has made no further contributions to the organization -- which is financially independent of him.

No matter, the old news dominated most stories. The substance of the presentation was touched upon only fleetingly – which was a pity because the report was carefully researched and contained data that signaled a new turn for some Republican gubernatorial hopefuls.

Most post-event questions centered upon the gubernatorial horse race and possible campaign finance indiscretions. Since Mr. Foley had fathered CPI, had he perhaps crossed some line of demarcation relating to campaign finance laws?

In every news report – Connecticut Commentary examined five -- a new “W” was added to the usual five reportorial “W’s” --   Who, What, Where, When, and Why. The sixth “W” was “What for?”

Many reporters thought they knew what the presentation was for: It was to promote Mr. Foley’s gubernatorial campaign and, in their dispatches, some aggrieved left of center reporters proceeded to give Mr. Foley “What For.”

The comprehensive eighty three page report covered four areas:  Jobs, Crime, Housing and Education.

Under the heading “Urban Jobs Policy,” the report, which was developed over a period of six months and relied heavily on data gathered from Connecticut businesses, teachers, relevant experts in various fields, law enforcement officials and others, made six proposals: 1) Urban tax breaks awarded proportionally to the number of jobs created should be made available to more employers; 2) specific urban areas should be exempted from municipal regulations, which in turn should be replaced with a model municipal code enforced by the state; 3) customized workforce training programs should be made available to any employers willing to locate in a Connecticut city; 4) Tweed or Sikorsky airport should be expanded to provide more convenient access to the New Haven/Bridgeport area; 5) urban areas should be made more livable and enticing through the improvement of parks, waterfronts and other public spaces; and 6) regional small business incubators should be created for every major urban area in Connecticut.

The most intriguing policy prescription for reducing urban crime involved the adoption of a recidivism reduction program that relies on “Swift, Certain, and Short” punishment meted out to probation or parole violators. The program, hugely successful in reducing recidivism in Hawaii by 55 percent, immediately re-incarcerates for no longer than four days all probation and parole violators.

The section of the CPI report dealing with proposals to close Connecticut’s achievement gap through public school choice alone runs to twenty pages

Unfortunately, the substance of the report took up only a few sentences in hybrid stories that focused on the political ramifications of CPI’s “Urban Policy Project.” The truncated “Who, What, When, Where and Why” were entirely subordinated to the expansive “What For.”

It was V. I. Lenin, a superb journalist and pamphleteer, who said that if you label a program or person effectively, you don’t have to argue with it or him. In filing their stories, most left of center reporters in the state relied on the assumption that if they could tie the CPI report to Tom Foley, they needn’t disclose or discuss its substance.

Questioned by reporters, James Hallinan, a Democratic Party spokesman who had attended the presentation, said that, although he hadn’t had time to read the report, he was certain it was a political gimmick.

“This is purely political,” said the Malloy flack, “and I think he made that clear.”  It was not exactly clear who had made it clear that the report was purely a political document.

“Come now,” one reporter replied, “You were in the room, you heard the presentation. There are some pretty good ideas in there. You must have some response to it.”

 “No,” said the laconic Mr. Hallinan, “Not yet.”

Asked about the political ramifications of the report he had presented, Ben Zimmer remarked, “In Connecticut and across the country, too often when we’re thinking about policy, it becomes submerged into the lens of politics.”

In some other room in the Legislative Office Building, a labeler was busily preparing labels -- and press releases.

The report, which contains usable ideas that very well might appear in Republican campaigns, is available at the CPI site.

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