Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The D-J Letters, May-June 2015


To Dust Thou Shalt Return

It was a stroke of luck, or the hand of Providence, that forced you to move from Connecticut to South Carolina. For more than twenty years, you have been out of the way of Connecticut’s inexorable getting-and-spending steam roller.

Distance may not make the heart grow fonder, but it does prevent the spirit from being mauled by current events.

Here in your former home state, where you reared your family, we are all pretty much clawed by an administrative machine that is at once both solicitous and rapacious.

Here is my report as May gives way to June:   

Governor Dannel Malloy and progressive Democrats in the General Assembly have for some time been playing the familiar good cop, bad cop game. However both cops are pursuing the same ends: higher taxes, more burdensome regulation and more spending.

Just now, Malloy is claiming that the budget deal hammered out between himself and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly – President Pro Tem in the Senate Martin Looney and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey – is “better” than the budget extruded by the progressive in both chambers. He means to say that the “compromise” budget is less damaging to businesses in the state and the working middle class.

This is what Malloy said:

“I think when the dust settles and people look at this [the budget to which Malloy will happy to append his signature] against their previously stated goals, this budget and spending package will stand up better than it’s getting credit for right now.”

Allow me to parse that graph.

“When the dust settles…”

Moving money from people’s pockets to Connecticut’s General Fund, in large part a slush fund used by a progressive governor and General Assembly to reward friends and punish enemies, is a very ancient practice. Every dollar moved from the people to the administrative state is a dollar lost by an increasingly weakened private economy to the solicitous administrative state. This is what Malloy calls raising dust, which inevitable settles.

Former Governor Lowell Weicker raised a cloud of dust in 1991 when he changed the nature of state government by forcing an income tax through a dubious General Assembly. Republicans, then as usual in the minority, opposed the income tax on principle. The last time one of the two houses of the General Assembly was controlled by Republicans was during the 1975-76 session.  The income tax was a boon to the governing class because it opened the door to incremental spending increases and provided surpluses governors could use to dispense the usual bread and circuses to the general public. In the bleachers, Connecticut’s media applauded decorously, and within the space of three governors, two Republicans and a Maverick, Connecticut’s budget had tripled; the last pre-income tax, William O’Neill budget was $7.5 billion. The present biennial two year budget is about $40 billion; bonding has increased commensurately. The days of budget surpluses have long since passed, and repetitive deficits, according to Malloy’s budget  guru Ben Barnes, will become an expected occurrence. Why? Because the state’s revenue streams, once swollen with tax dollars, have diminished considerably. Why? Because the more a state spends, the more eager are tax suppliers to escape the throttling.

In any case, the dust raised by the Weicker income tax “settled.” During his first term in office, Malloy followed in the footsteps of the father of Connecticut’s income tax. Under the slogan “Equal Sacrifice,” Malloy imposed on Connecticut the largest tax increase in state history, $2.5 billion, following this increase four years later with the second largest tax increase in state history, $1.5 billion. Tax “investors” were plundered; tax consumers were rewarded. And so here we are – staring down the twin barrels of yet another tax gobbling deficit. Malloy has now passed the second stage of the “shame on me” apothegm. But that dust too will settle. One grows used to the rack, stretching out on it after many years have passed like a crucified lover reaching out to the executioner. Truly, we are living in a Yogi Berra “Deja vu all over again” universe: Deficits are followed by tax increases, which are followed by borrowing, budget legerdemain, more deficits, more borrowing and tax increases, and on and on into tomorrow’s brave new world of repeated taxes, regulation and chest thumping political saviors, at the end of which the whole rotten edifice will come tumbling down in a heap of curses and ashes

You must be glad to have escaped all the silly nonsense and posturing.

Millie the Cynic

It’s true as you say, “Tragedy seen from so far a distance becomes comic.” The alchemy of distance turns tears into laughter. Comedy is the tragedy that happens to the unlovely “other.” All true.

You ask whether Republicans in the state can turn the tide, possibly by ordering it to obey autocratic whims, like King Canute.

You must know they have been trying to do that, fitfully to be sure, for the last three or four decades. The results so far have been disappointing – comic, in fact.

Weicker was followed by John Rowland, who had promised during his campaign to axe the income tax. When it comes to getting and spending, the promises of politicians ought to be taken, as our old friend Mark Twain used to say, “with a ton of salt.” Once the dust had settled, only a short time after he had been installed as governor, Rowland, who fancied himself a “firewall” standing between a plucked populous and revenue-devouring Democrats in the General Assembly, soon got used to the income tax. His campaign pledge to abolish the tax upon election to office was soon shelved, much to the relief of editorial boards at the New York Times and the Hartford Courant. Rowland soon hit his stride and became a pragmatist.

Whenever I hear the word “pragmatist” these days, I reach for my “Man For All Seasons,” the Robert Bolt play

Thomas More on Cromwell: “What, Cromwell? Pooh, he's a pragmatist-and that's the only resemblance he has to the Devil, son Roper; a pragmatist, the merest plumber.”

Romans writers say that Caligula was tolerable as a pre-tyrannical, prepubescent lad. The  name Caligula, “little boot,” was given to him by Roman soldiers who loved the militarized tyke, especially when he dressed up as a soldier properly shod in little boots. In office, Caligula went off the rails. Albert Camus thought the death of Caligula’s sister, possibly his lover, plunged the emperor into a madness in which he became an extreme rationalist incapable of making prudent exceptions to his remorseless logic. If others had invested Caligula with the powers of God, well then, he would play the God. Connecticut is full of politicians who would be God, heterodox Catholics holier than the Pope, and journalists who would do well to take to heart Alexander Pope's brag:

“Yes, I am proud; I must be proud to see
Men not afraid of God afraid of me.”

If Republican Governor Jodi Rell, a creature of the state legislature, considered herself a firewall, Weicker, and later the Democratic controlled General Assembly, was the fire. Both Rowland and Rell were semi-permeable firewalls. Connecticut’s lashed taxpayers will recall Weicker’s apparent no-income-tax pledge during his campaign for governor;  raising taxes during a recession, he said, would be tantamount to “pouring gas on a fire.” So then, Weicker and later Malloy have shown themselves to be gaseous arsonists. Pledges not to raise taxes are followed by massive tax increases.  Rowland and Rell were moderate Republican politicians; that is to say, they were Republican pragmatists, unattached to firm guiding principles, prepared to rule under a Democrat regime, comfortable among progressive Democrats with, as I’ve said many times in many columns, knives in their brains.

This brief review of things-past-but-never-over brings us to the present.

I have just enough money to visit one of two diners one day a week. Millie, yet too young to retire and move to Florida, works in one of them as a waitress – or should we be calling her a wait-staffer?  Diners always are busy, the staff running around at breakneck speed. I bring a newspaper and a small note pad with me. One day, I saw Millie fixing me with a baleful eye that seemed to be asking: What is he doing destroying that newspaper by writing on it?

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Taking notes. I write columns for newspapers.”

Usually, this is a conversation stopper. Waitresses, who expect tips for cordial service, tend to avoid talk about politics or religion. They have been told countless times not to talk about politics or religion at table, a proscription, as you know, rarely observed in our father’s house.

But curiosity got the better of Millie on this occasion; and now that she’s used to it, she vents freely, perhaps in the hope that some poor ink stained wretch might be able to do something to turn this sorry state in the direction of prosperity. Things are not the way they were when Millie began at the diner a dozen years ago.

“They’ve gotten worse,” she whispers, fearful that her political opinions will reach other customers who, resenting them, might stint on their tips.

I commiserate, “Very bad.”

“You know, my father was an Irish cynic -- worst kind.” No one, Millie explained, is so cynical, and at the same time buoyed up with a fugitive hope, as an Irish cynic. Your average cynic thinks the world is going to Hell in a handbasket. Your Irish cynic can tell you to the hour and day of the trip, how long the world has lain in flames and who has leapt into them.

“I think your father had a point.”

And with that Millie goes off, certain of a handsome tip.

Why Abandon Political Success?

You mentioned in your last letter the Christian command to “forgive wrongs seventy times seven.” Well, of course. But one must not forgive in advance of crimes and indignities. The indignity and the measure of forgiveness should be roughly proportional. Only in this way one may forgive up to seventy times seven.  Jesus was speaking, I like to think, instructively. What does it mean in scripture to forgive? Surely we are to return love for hate and in this way redeem corrosive evil. But I must tell you that when I fall into the hands of the tempter, the tester and prosecutor of men, my heart is more attuned to Old Testament prescriptions. In any case, we must not allow stupidity in matters of politics. Christians are called upon to be Christian, not credulous. It would be a severe form of lèse–majesté should we forgive the sins inflicted on “the least of these” by the rulers of the earth. God will forgive as He will.   

Connecticut now has become a one-party state. The Governor’s office, both houses of the General Assembly, the state’s U.S. Congressional Delegation and all its Constitutional officers are dominated by the Democrat Party. The turn-over of state government from Republicans to Democrats has been a non-violent putsch.

Malloy’s ambition is to destroy the Republican Party through a process of atrophication. Limbs not used lose their force, and the same is true of political parties. This is one of the reasons why Malloy did not involve Republicans in fashioning any of his major budgets. In the one party state, magnanimity is unnecessary and power sharing is both counterproductive and inefficient. However, there is a dark side to undemocratic rule: The tyrant in whom all power has been invested does not have the luxury of blaming consequent problems on his neutered opponents. If Connecticut’s triumvirate -- the governor and the two principle shakers and movers in the General Assembly, Sharkey and Looney --  have fashioned a budget that bears no Republican fingerprints, they then own all the consequences flowing from their budget. Just as ideas have consequences, so do budgets.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that the Malloy-Sharkey-Looney budget has spooked Connecticut businesses. Now, it is perfectly true that businesses will when possible seek to take advantage of politicians; and the converse also is true. Through his crony capitalism measures, Malloy has invited certain large companies to take advantage of him. In a competitive marketplace, any advantage that gives you a leg up on your competition is good for your business and, derivatively, for your employees. Not only do businesses make products, they make wealth and work, the marks of a healthy and prosperous state. There are only two possibilities: The state works or the state doesn’t work. Connecticut has not been making work for a long time. When we say Connecticut is still in recession, a business slowdown caused in large part by the mortgage crisis several years ago, we mean the state has not yet recovered the jobs it lost during the crisis. Why has the recovery in Connecticut been so anemic?

Far from answering the question, the Democrat Party in Connecticut has not – in its policies –acknowledged a connection between high taxes, exorbitant spending and crippling regulations on the one hand and the state’s painfully slow recovery from the recession on the other hand. Why not?

Because acknowledging the obvious connection would blunt the thrust of the Democrat’s so far successful progressive advance; in the political sphere, if you are not advancing, you are retreating. We know that progressivism is good for progressive politicians. Making war on Wall Street will get you elected to office, and election to office prevents political atrophication. Why should Democrats in Connecticut surrender policies hurtful to the general public when they themselves have not been wounded by the policies they advocate? Is this protective buffer that stands between those who make laws and those who suffer them good for the advancement of representative government? The founders thought legislators would be unwilling to pass measures injurious to the general public because they themselves would, along with everyone else, suffer the consequences of ruinous legislation. Generally that is true, or ought to be true. But is it any longer the case? Suppose a legislator or governor sympathetically attuned to the interests of unions in Connecticut, as are Malloy and the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly. Such people are dangers to the general public, because the interests of unions and those of the general public are not in many respects congruent. So, to the extent that a governor and legislature represents the narrow interests of unions, government cannot represent the general interests of the state. State employee pensions are a case in point.

Pension payments in Connecticut are arrears by some $44 billion; that, by the way, may be a low figure.  Because of the indisposition of governors and legislators in Connecticut to honestly pay for the rising costs of state government, past governors and legislators have raided so called “dedicated” funds to cover mounting deficits. This is a political attempt to settle a cluster of problems, all of which must be addressed if Connecticut is once again to become a healthy and prosperous state.


Charlie is the progressive’s everyman.  He ferries people from Honda in Manchester to work or home and picks them up again after their cars have been serviced. I was forced to use the service because I was due to appear on a radio program and was not certain my cell phone, an old rarely used flip-top contraption, would be able to transmit messages properly. I told Charlie I wrote for newspapers and was to be interviewed later by Jim Vicevich. His eyes popped; it was the first time I had witnessed eye-popping at close range, though one sometimes reads about such things in mystery murders.

“As Mrs. Murphy hung pendulously over the dead body, her eyes popped and a scream clawed at her throat.”

Charlie is a bulky man, very chatty. He spent some time in the military. More than a year ago, his son-in-law “did something stupid” and lost his job. “And so, he and my daughter are living with me and my wife. She has a job also.”

“Your wife?”

“That’s right. So the burden is on us, has been for a while. We  have no savings, none. That’s all gone, was gone long ago. We live from day to day, struggling to pay the bills. And, you know, my feeling is that nothing will get better. Nothing I do matters any more. That’s new. I was able to fix things before, not now.

“You’re not alone.”

“I’m happy I met you. I have so many things to say. It helps to get it out.”

Cars, said an old friend of mine, a Korean city planner, are confessionals. The drive from Manchester to Vernon is not much more than ten minutes, all of it crammed with woe.

“Maybe you can do something. It’s so frustrating. You shout, but there’s no one on the hearing end of the shout.”

Spirited conversations are windy and winding “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

In the space of two trips, we touched on crime, on the rise again nationally after a hiatus -- the stone-headed stupidity of politicians, “Who do they think they’re representing? Not me.” -- Connecticut’s flagging economy, “The jobs are not there.” – lawyers, “Will there ever be a shortage of lawyers?” – micro-aggressions on the sanctum sanctorum, “These people used to be afraid of to come in to a man’s house, his castle, and rearrange the pictures on his wall. Not now. They are fearless.” – welfare, “a gilded prison, a comfortable deathbed.” – the one party state, “It can’t be good. How can that be good?” – the dwindling middle class, “Well, there’s the problem. It’s shrinking.” --and sundry other subjects.

“Would you mind traveling with me to Hartford before I drop you off at Honda? The city is expecting huge crowds of people today, and I’d like to try and avoid the traffic snarls.”

He wasn’t finished with me yet. And then, just before we pick up two additional customers, a final confession: Charlie was suffering a political identity crisis.

“You know, I’ve been a Democrat all my life. I no longer know who I am. Who do you think I am?”

Deus, Pater misericordiárum,
qui per mortem et resurrectiónem Filii sui
mundum sibi reconciliávit
et Spiritum Sanctum effúdit in remissiónem peccatórum
per ministérium Ecclésiæ
indulgéntiam tibi tribuat et pacem.
Et ego te absólvo a peccátis tuis
in nómine Patris, et Filii, 
et Spíritus Sancti.

Go, and sin no more.

Probing the Bottom

You no longer receive the Hartford Courant – for you, a happy occurrence. Had you remained in Connecticut, the Tuesday, June 16, paper would have confirmed your darkest assessment of the condition of the state; though it is unlikely the editorial board of the paper will pay much mind to the foreboding headlines in the paper for which they write.

Front Page story headline: “Cigna Stock Jumps: Anthem Reportedly Offers To Buy Bloomfield Insurer.” The story notes “Anthem is headquartered in Indianapolis and has a Connecticut base subsidiary in Wallingford [Connecticut]. Cigna is headquartered in Bloomfield and employs about 4,200 people in Connecticut.”

To the left of this ominous news is another Front page, top of the fold headline: “UTC Ready To Sell Sikorski: Study Confirms Plan to Divest Copter Division.”  Chief Executive Officer of United Technologies Gregory Hayes “told analysts at the Paris Air Show “The decision was made simply because we think it is the best thing to do for Sikorsky and its customers and its employees to make Sikorski a separate company.” UTC will decide in July whether to spin off Sikorsky or to sell it outright to Boeing or Textron, the maker of Bell Helicopters. Sikorsky is headquartered in Stratford, Connecticut; Boeing is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, and Textron is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island.

Governor Dannel Malloy attended the Paris Air Show. There is no indication that he and UTC’s Hayes sat down together in Paris, the city of lights, and had what is called among politicians “a frank and honest discussion.”  Nor is there any indication that Mr. Malloy, an aggressive crony capitalist interventionist, has made Mr. Hayes an offer he cannot refuse. Offers of this kind have been rendered more difficult by progressives in the state’s Democrat dominated General Assembly, which recently repurposed Mr. Malloy’s  budget by making it far less business friendly, a revision that did not go unnoticed by three other large businesses in Connecticut, Aetna, Travelers and General Electric.

At some point in a state’s decline, the feet of politicians touch bottom, at which point they may or may not push upward towards the sun and air. “Up” is not down; “down” is not up. Direction in politics is not simply part of the political game; it is the whole of the political game. In a war, as in politics, if you are not winning, you are losing. If you are losing, you cannot recover losses on the ground through magical diplomatic incantations. Like God, reality does not play dice with the universe. If you are a politician and you airily wave away reality, it will in time grab you by the throat and throttle you. Connecticut is led by a whole Congress of progressive Panglosses; whipped by reality, they still insist that theirs is the best of all possible worlds. But the surrounding world has registered a different – unheeded -- opinion.  So many Panglosses, so few Voltaires: It’s a problem.

Poorer but wiser,

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