Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dear Lord, Please Make It Stop

The bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Bridgeport traveled to Darien on Sunday to commiserate with the people in the pews.

Bishop Lori wanted to be with them during this difficult time, he said. “It is precisely in these moments of tension, disappointment, anger and sadness that the quality and capacity of our love is tested.”

What made the people in the pews tense and disappointed and angry and sad, according to an item in the Crime & Punishment section of The Hartford Advocate, was a report from a detective hired to investigate the strange goings-on between the Reverend Michael Jude Fay and an unnamed man in the rectory house. Suspicions having been aroused, someone at the church hired Stamford detective Vito Collucci to investigate.

The Advocate reported that the detective “said he documented at least $200,000 in church money used to pay for Fay’s lifestyle with another man. Colucci said money was spent on limousine rides, dinners at fancy restaurants and cruises. The priest is also reported to have bought a condominium in Florida and to have appeared at society events in Pennsylvania with the other man. Did we mention that the Rev. Fay was a member of the diocese’s sexual misconduct review board, formed to look into allegations of clergy sexual misconduct?”

The good news is that sometimes the hens turn on the fox in charge of guarding the hen house. At least in this case, Fay – quickly discharged by the bishop – was not a pedophiliac. According to the clinical definition, the victims of pedophiliacs are 13 years old or less, and Fay’s housemate was a grown-up male.

Now for the bad news.

According to a story in The Hartford Courant, the detective was hired by The Rev. Michael Madden, who resigned Tuesday as acting administrator at St. John Roman Catholic Church, just a week after he was appointed to replace Fay.

"Madden defended his hiring of the investigator at a Mass on Tuesday morning," the Courant reported, "saying he was "sorry and angry that the diocese failed to come to my rescue when there were red flags waving everywhere."

Bishop Lori told the people in the pews at Darien, who defended the beseiged Madden, that he was "deeply saddened" by the turn of events. "They have cast a shadow on all the hard work the diocese has done to be open and honest with the parish family of St. John's about this extremely difficult situation."

Bishop Lori advised the flock that Fr. Madden, who likely resigned at the suggestion of the bishop, would remain in their church as a as a parochial vicar and refused to comment further during the investigation.

Why can't the Catholic Church get it right -- just this once? Fay is the wolf and Fr. Madden is the Good Shepard protecting his flock. Any investigation that does not reach this conclusion will further stain the already soiled escutcheon of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church operates within the framework of a larger society parts of which are hostile to it. It was not for nothing that Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once said that anti-Catholicism was the oldest and most persistent prejudice in the United States. But even among its friends and well wishers, many of whom are quite willing to allow bishops to clean their own house, there are murmurs of discontent.

In my own town of Vernon, the editorial page editor of The Journal Inquirer, himself a loyal and good Catholic, writes that the feeble reaction of the church to sinful priests has deprived the Catholic Church itself of its moral authority on every ethical issue. He is wrong, but faithful Catholics now expect their church to drive such priests out of its temples of worship, with whips and scorns if necessary, and they are looking for evidence of impatience – and even righteous anger – from bishops.

In Darien, the murmurs of discontent have been transformed into cries of disbelief that cannot be quelled by assurances from well meaning bishops. It is understandable that Bishop Lori should refuse further comment until his investigation has been concluded. That is the usual practice in all investigations: One does not want comments by officiating investigators to prejudice the investigation.

But what of the red flags? Given the scandalous, immoral and inexcusable behavior of priests and bishops in Boston and other places during the last few decades, shouldn’t a bishop’s reaction to a red flag raised by an honorable priest be more like that of a bull than a sheep?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

On License, Liberty and the Pursuit of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

For those who do not understand the difference between license and liberty, license involves annoying and sometimes unnecessary restrictions; liberty, in the immortal words of Huck Finn, is doing or saying what you think is right.

License hems in by countless fine print, all written by Yale or Harvard lawyers. Liberty is a Charles Ives symphony, two bands playing martial music passing each other in the night like boisterous ships in opposite directions. Liberty is as free and open as an American garden; license is an English garden – orderly, precise, jackbooted. Liberty feels and sounds like a family discussion around an American supper table on some festive occasion, noisy and borderless. Like the American garden, such conversations are free ranging and diverse, to make use of a much abused word: Here a wildflower is sunk in a field of unkempt grass, nestled by a rushing brook that waters the roots of a hundred year old oak casting its shade over the sun speckled landscape. The American garden incorporates unruly natural elements; the English garden, like the English club, depends upon exclusion.

Our U.S. Constitution, it is often said – mostly by the inspired geniuses who wrote it and others who are determined that the rights cited in it should not be constricted by clever Harvard lawyers – is a constitution of liberty. The authors of the constitution did not say everything in it, but they said the one needful thing: that the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of liberty, and in matters of speech, assembly and worship, the wide door of liberty should as a rule remain open to all.

Liberty without license is anarchy. You cannot have a garden and permit nature to run wild. The Rule of Law requires a careful balancing of the two.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal may have a somewhat different opinion about all this, and his opinions ordinarily would rate as one among many diverse views in this the land of liberty – were it not for his position in government.

Blumenthal’s opinions have the force of law behind them; they say, in so many words, “This issue now has been concluded, and there is no need for further discussion.” The attorney general has been content to play the unbending, perfectly proper aunt at the supper table. “There will be no talk about politics or religion here,” says the aunt, and all tongues fall silent. The Charles Ives’ music disappears and is replaced by a harmless, but well ordered, primrose garden. At the aunt’s word, everything and everybody falls into line.

It is a perfection of irony that Blumenthal, so like a carefully tended English garden himself, now has put his foot down on a license plate that has offended some dusty aunts so severely that they have issued a complaint through their state representative to the Department of Motor Vehicles. According to the complaint, the plate (shown above) -- which sports two smiling cartoon faces of children beneath which is scrawled the message “choose life” in a child’s hand -- carries an insidious message. Are not the words “choose life” the slogan of the anti-abortion crowd?

Maybe so, maybe not -- but should we not be erring on the side of the First Amendment?

The pro-abortion community and the adoption community certainly do have interests that clash. By definition, abortion is the termination of an unwanted birth, resulting of course in the termination of an unwanted child. Abortion therefore limits adoption, because adoption involves the care of an unwanted child. If all unwanted children are aborted, there will be no adoptees for couples who may choose to care for them. All vanity plates are advertisements, and in this one the antagonists have touched gloves, as the fighters say.

A complaint made by Mr. Jim Young of Cornwall Bridge to state Rep. Roberta Willis alleged that the offending plate promoted “a specific religious belief.” That unsupported fear was a little far fetched for DMV officials. But the DMV added in an e-mail to Willis “the allegation by Mr. Young that the sponsoring organization does not currently have a base of operation in Connecticut does raise a legitimate concern in DMV's opinion.”

Enter Blumenthal, who lately has done a great deal of yeomanry work for the anti-anti-abortion lobby. Although Blumenthal claims to be indifferent to the message that so upset Mr. Young, he let it be known in a press interview that "Not every organization has a right to specialized license plates. They can be issued only to members of a qualified organization. And it demeans and degrades the value and legitimacy of such license plates if they are issued to groups that fail to qualify."

The offending organization quickly produced a previous letter of commendation from Blumenthal that read in part, “Please extend my deepest appreciation and admiration to your members for the outstanding work that they do in advocating that every abandoned child should have a home with adoptive parents who love that child unconditionally.” Blumenthal now has launched an inquiry expected to last several weeks -- by which time the organization praised by Blumenthal as advocate of abandoned children will have run out of money.

And what of the presumption in favor of the First Amendment? Successive orders imposed by ambitious attorney generals and the courts have made an English garden of the First Amendment.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Whither Jacklin?

The item – longtime Hartford Courant columnist to leave DeStefano campaign – was noted in a brief Courant AP story of a little over 100 words.

Whither Michele Jacklin?

Guess the gals and guys at the Courant don’t consider this a story, otherwise one of her confederates at the Courant easily could have called Jacklin and asked whether there was any truth the rumor that she planned to join the Ned Lamont campaign as an aide to Tom D’Amore, presently an aide to Ned Lamont, who is currently hankering after Senator Joe Lieberman's seat in Congress. D’Amore was formerly chief cook and bottle washer for former senator and governor Lowell Weicker, the snoring bear who was defeated by Lieberman. D’Amore, Weicker and the gals and guys at the Courant were all once very simpatico. The close ties between political writers and politicians in Connecticut borders on the incestuous.

In any case, there are three possibilities: 1) Jacklin retires from politics and rides off into the sunset, not likely; 2) she joins another campaign as a campaign advisor, maybe. Jacklin joined the DeStefano campaign as an idea producer; 3) she returns to the Courant through its revolving door, possible.

Courant columnist Laurence Cohen, briefly flirted with the Rowland administration before returning to Mama Courant as a columnist. A public policy consultant associated with the libertarian Yankee Institute, Cohen does not appear to be on the staff of the paper. At some point in his checkered past – possibly before he began to fly the libertarian flag -- Cohen was employed by the Courant. Libertarians are second cousins to conservatives, a species not generally found at Connecticut’s only state-wide paper.

Possibilities 1 and 3 would not generate enough juice to light a firefly’s tail. The Courant is used to accepting back prodigal sons that wander off and become embroiled in political campaigns. Charlie Morse, before Jacklin the papers principal political columnist without principles, left the paper to join the Weicker campaign; but everyone knew that Morse was a Weicker step-and-fetch-it, even when he was writing for the Courant.

Only possibility 2 would generate interest, and here the horizon beckons. Everyone in politics on the Democrat side is a liberal like Jacklin – even Lieberman, though his opponent wishes to paint him as a Bush man, and the sky always has been, quite literally, the limit for liberal ex-journalists with political ambitions.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Bravest Woman in the Western World

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s flight from Somalia to the Netherlands, tortuous and full of dangerous twists and turns, was an intellectual pilgrim’s progress from the 10th to the 18th century.

Her family, devout Muslims all, sought political asylum in Kenya after her father, who had studied in Italy and the United States, had openly opposed Siyad Barre, the president of Somalia. Hirsi Ali’s father also opposed the Somalian practice of female circumcision, but her grandmother had the girl circumcised at five years old when her father was abroad. Promised in marriage by her father to a distant Canadian cousin, Hirsi Ali, while traveling from Kenya to visit family in Düsseldorf and Berlin, Germany, fled to the Netherlands instead of Canada.

Filing under a false name, Hirsi Ali (nee Hirsi Magan) was given political asylum and received a resident permit. Owing to a civil war and a serious famine in Somalia at the time, refugees were routinely granted asylum on humanitarian grounds and, on the advise of her aunt, Hirsi Ali told the authorities that she had come directly from Somalia, though she had been a resident of Kenya for eleven years at the time she applied for asylum in the Netherlands.

Once her feet had touched free land, Hirsi Ali took root and began to put forth flowers. She was offered a position in parliament by the conservative VVD party and qualified for a seat in January, 2003. On November 2, 2004, film maker Theo Van Gogh, a relative of the artist Vincent Van Gogh, was found shot to death on a street not far from his office. Dutch Moroccan terrorist Mohammed Bouyeri had murdered Van Gogh and thrust a knife through his chest. Pinned to Van Gogh’s chest by the knife was a rambling, six page religious manifesto.

VanGogh was murdered because he had committed the unpardonable sin of assuming he was a free man in a free country, shaped by the same Enlightenment period that here in the United States had produced a Tom Paine and a Thomas Jefferson. VanGogh had made a film, Submission, that dramatized the plight of women in Islamic culture. The knife in the chest and the rambling manifesto, addressed to Hersi Ali, were radical Islam’s answer to the perceived insult. Following the murder of VanGogh, the notorious Hofstad Network vowed that Hersi Ali, Submision’s author, would meet the same fate.

One day Hersi Ali was eating at a restaurant, surrounded by body guards, when she was approached by young student, a recent convert, who tapped her on the shoulder.

''I turned around,'' she recalled in a New York Times magazine story, ''and saw this sweet, young Dutch guy, about 24 years old. With freckles! And he was like, 'Madam, I hope the mujahedeen get you and kill you.' ''

Hersi Ali handed him her butter knife and said, “Why don’t you do it yourself.”

Naturally, all this attention from murderous thugs had her neighbors understandably nervous, and now the Dutch government gamely has decided that since Hersi Ali entered the country on false premises, her status as a Dutch national is questionable.

It must have come as a relief to her adopted land when Hirsi Ali announced on May 16, that she would leave parliament, move to the United States and accept a position with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in this the land of the free and the home of the brave.

So, with any luck – Ayann means good luck -- we may be receiving yet another stormed tossed wretch at our golden door sometime in September.

But why haven’t US liberals – women’s liberationists, morally charged atheists, Democrats who regularly sup at Jackson Jefferson dinners, editorial writers sucking at the teats of the Enlightenment – raised their boisterous voices in her defense? Why is her name not on every liberal lip in the land of the First Amendment?

The unnatural reserve of liberals towards Hirsi Ali may have something to do with the following lines from her recent book The Caged Virgin, which unashamedly celebrates the liberators of caged virgins everywhere, George Bush and Tony Blair: “The adherents to the gospel of multiculturalism refuse to criticize people whom they see as victims. Some Western critics disapprove of United States policies and attitudes but do not criticize the Islamic world, just as, in the first part of the twentieth century, Western socialist apologists did not dare criticize the Soviet labor camps.”

Sunday, May 21, 2006

To The Republicans in Windsor

From an address to Windsor Republicans at their annual Republican of the year awards dinner.The award this year was given to Steve Ellingwood.

Reading his own obituary in a local paper, Mark Twain once said that the news of his demise had been “greatly exaggerated.”

There has been much written lately concerning the death of political parties. But the reputed demise is, I think, premature – which may prove, as it did in Twain’s day, that newspaper writers, columnists and other professional worry-warts have, once again, gotten it wrong. The presence in this room of so many hard working, energetic and committed Republicans certainly gives the lie to that notion.

The news that journalism is dead has also been tossed about lately. An exhaustive survey released by the much respected Project for Excellence in Journalism indicates that national newspaper chains may be on their deathbeds. According to the report, the public “increasingly sees the press as slanted… Nearly three quarters of Americans, 72% in the summer of 2005, saw the press as favoring one side, up from 66% two years earlier.”

I’ll share a secret with you: I live in the hope that these figures someday will be replicated by political parties. While it may surprise some people, most grown-ups expect parties to be partisan.

The exhaustive survey shows that most readers trust local newspapers -- but not the big guys. The national chains have responded to these death-knell tidings by re-inventing themselves: more color, more graphics, shorter stories geared to readers even younger than sixth grade. Reinvention worked wonders for Bill Clinton.

So, things have changed. Most of us here I think would agree that the environment in which political parties operate has been severely constricted.

My own political baptism began one July day in the mid 1950’s when my father, an ardent Republican, persuaded me to get my friends together so that we could plaster Windsor Locks and its environs with “I Like Ike” posters. I was about 10 years old at the time. Since Windsor Locks was then and remains today a Democrat town, his invitation was subversive enough to interest both me and my friends.

A few political campaigns later, after I had graduated from college, I returned home to find that Dad had transformed my bedroom into his music room. It was his way of saying, “You’ve crossed the Rubicon – now get out!”

‘I think you’ll like it,” he said.

He swung open the music room door, and there on the wall, once graced by a picture of the Holy Family, I saw a framed picture of Barry Goldwater. It was a reproduction of the Norman Rockwell portrait, showing a chipmunked cheek Goldwater smiling brightly but enigmatically, as if to say: “I know something you guys don’t know.”

And Goldwater did: He knew if he waged an honest campaign – one in which voters would be able to choose clearly between opposing political programs – some Republican, not necessarily Goldwater, would eventually win the presidency. Goldwater was Ronald Reagan’s precursor, his John the Baptist.

Now, if someone had asked me at the time, “What makes people Republicans?” I would have answered – Frank Pesci. But my father cut through the political brush and made a road that led through the wilderness to the Republican oasis all by himself. And all of us must go that way: Party affiliation is not a birthright.

So, here we all are, circa 2006, and the first shots of the campaign already have been fired. What has changed since my father plastered Goldwater’s picture on the wall in his music room?

Lot’s. I’ll mention just two points.

First, political parties, considerably reduced by years of reform – some of it constructive, much of it destructive – have lost what we might call their centrifugal force, that mysterious something that binds together disparate interests into a fighting machine that can win elections. I have a feeling that this something involves a willingness to sublimate personal interests for the sake of corporate or party interests. Parties that are not altruistic are not long for this world. Parties not oriented to political programs and ideas – to the supporting joists that hold together the political house -- tend to become personality cults. Does anyone remember the name Lowell Weicker?

Second, Political parties perform necessary functions: They used to be, and to a certain extent still are, money gatherers and distributors; though, as a result campaign finance reforms, these functions have been parceled out to extra-party actors who are rarely altruistic. Ned Lamont’s campaign against Joe Lieberman has been paid for in large part by two blog site, DailyKos and Moveon.com, which have been financed by billionaire George Soros. It occurs to me -- we should make an exception to the general rule for Democrat congressional leaders Jim Ammon and Don Williams, both of whom appear to be fond of slush funds.

The people in this room are a select group – a vanguard of the future. You are the custodians of the Republican Party -- not governors and senators, not the media – you. If the party has a message and a meaning, it will be advanced by Steve Ellingwood and other like him. Will Rogers was joking when he identified himself as a member of a disorganized political party. The Democrats are organized. And you must be organized – because there are competing groups that do not speak to your interests, also organized, that will determine the shape of your future should you shrink from the task at hand.

At the head of your ticket this year is Governor Jodi Rell, certainly a plus. The line in Rell’s nomination acceptance speech that got the biggest Bronx cheer last night was this one: “To those on the other side who seek to tear down our state in order to build themselves up, I say this: Open your eyes and close your mouths.” Her energetic response to political corruption has done much to close the gaping wound opened by former Governor John Rowland. Does anyone here doubt that prominent Democrats intended all along – and still do -- to use the issue of corruption as a bludgeon to beat down Republicans? To judge from Rell’s continued stratospheric popularity, that ploy has not worked.

Why not?

Well, Rell moved very quickly to staunch the wound. Her reforms, more than cosmetic, were resisted by Democrat leaders who appeared to prefer solutions that would preserve Democrat hegemony; as you know, Democrats control almost all important state offices, save the governorship. Of course, the attorney general’s office hovers above the partisan political universe like some gigantic ethical blimp, but Dick Blumenthal knows how to walk and talk like a Democratic duck. Blumenthal’s ratings in the media – where he makes hourly appearances – may be a match for Rell’s ratings among the people, but Bob Farr is likely to give him a good run for his money this year.

Republicans are entering the election with a strong governor in the lead, worthy candidates and – one hopes -- a clear and clean Republican message that reaches beyond issues of corruption.

Much of the Democrat campaign plan already has been unveiled in the press. Their plan, which includes “property tax relief,” has been in circulation long enough for Republican’s to have had the opportunity to debunk it. The promised “relief” is an elaborate shell game in which state taxpayers assume more of the tax payments made by municipal taxpayers. Since current property tax relief plans have no component addressing inordinate spending, they cannot not relieve taxpayers -- only politicians practiced in pea and shell games. Municipal governments, through referendums, have managed to scale back the grandiose budget plans favored by people who never saw a tax increase they didn’t like. Current property tax reform schemes will remove budgets, state and local, from the disciplinary effects of municipal referendums that do provide checks on spending. And if Democrats are ever successful in instituting their reforms, one can only hope Republicans will insist that state referendums be a part of any property tax reform proposal.

Here are some possible to-do’s that may be worthy of consideration.

Pin the donkey’s ears back on spending. The words “spending”, “excessive” cannot be used often enough on the political stump. You cannot convincingly assert this position by co-operating with the present regime. The Republican Party desperately needs a voice crying in the wilderness – a Barry Goldwater like figure. And it is clear, for reasons of strategy, real politic and personality, that this voice cannot be the governor’s. Weicker, a Republican who drifted over the course of his career into the bog of independence, co-operated and was co-opted; Rowland co-operated and was co-opted. That is why state spending has more than doubled within the space of two governors. Rell must not co-operate – or she will be co-opted.

Assemble a program that connects with voters. Parties are organized around either ideas or persons. Lincoln is regarded as the father of the modern Republican Party. His genius lay in definition. He summoned up from the depths specters haunting the political landscape of his day, put bones into them and clothed them in flesh; then he made then dance across the political stage. At first, Lincoln appeared to compromise: Slavery where it exists, but no slavery in the new territories. But later he trotted out the ideals, ever-present in his thinking, emancipated the slaves and preserved the union. Put out more flags! Unfurl the ideals; stick to them; defend them the way you would defend your hearth and home from assault.

Connect all the dots. There is a direct connection between spending and the flight of jobs from Connecticut. You must make that connection plain and vivid. There is a connection between corruption and stagnant, co-opted governments. No one wants to stand idly by while this government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is kidnapped by narrow sectarian political interest groups. Certainly we do not want to deliver it, bound and gagged, to such as George Soros.

If Republicans can focus with laser like precision on these or some other few points that arouse interest, they may revitalize a party that too often has given up before the struggle has begun. You can do this – you watchmen in the towers, you custodians of the ideals. It will not be enough to plaster your walls with pictures of Jodi Rell. Something else will be required of you -- something more risky and strenuous. If you persevere energetically, the thing can be done. I should like to offer one last suggestion in closing: Involve your children in your politics. Windsor, Windsor Locks -- and the state too -- remain partly conquered but not unconquerable territory.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The DaVinci Code Flop

The best that can be said of Ron Howard’s film adaptation of Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code” is that the film maker has taken a theologically deficient, profane, anti-Christian fictional page turner and made of it a theologically deficient, profane, anti-Christian soporific film.

A movie that four decades ago might have been banned in Boston now has been panned in Cannes.

Hollywood Reporter Kirk Honeycut wrote, “For those who hate Dan Brown's best-selling symbology thriller 'The Da Vinci Code,' the eagerly awaited and much-hyped movie version beautifully exposes all its flaws and nightmares of logic.”

BBC News entertainment reporter Caroline Briggs wrote, “Scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman has produced a script that is clunky in parts and downright cringeworthy in others."

"Nothing works really,” wrote Stephen Schaefer of the The Boston Herald. “It's not suspenseful, it's not romantic, it's certainly not fun. It seems like you're in there forever and you are just conscious of how hard everybody is working to try to make sense of something that's perhaps unfilmable.”

The Canes critics do not think that the DaVinci Code – which, treading in the footsteps of 2nd century Gnostics, denies the divinity of Jesus – is blasphemous, not to say heretical; for it is only a fictional work, and neither St. Justin Martyr or Tertullian, both fathers of the early Christian Church who contended against the more preposterous of the gnostic heretics, were writing the reviews.

The critics merely thought the film was “plodding.”

If the critics had confronted the theological problems associated with Brown’s book, they would find themselves plodding through the writings of dozens of early church fathers, most of whose treatises are not filmable.

The fact that The DaVinci Code is fiction provides the increasingly reclusive Brown, who has managed to create a best seller from 2nd century gnostic after dinner party jokes, with a certain amount of critical cover. Every criticism of the book and film that touches on its blaring blasphemy invites the dismissive response: It’s only fiction. When critics of the book and film point out that a popular fictional work that denies the divinity of Jesus legitimately raises a red flag among faithful believers, they are told the book is “only fiction.” When Christian critics reply that “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” also is fiction, they are met with silence.

A telling silence.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

We Are All Curryites Now

Bill Curry – who is to Connecticut Democrat politics what Adali Stevenson was to national politics; a highly literate also-ran – is back. And I, for one, am glad.

Let these few succulent lines roll around in your mouth: The roiling anger Bush has inspired in the breasts of Democrat true believers is “good for congressional challengers but bad for anyone trying to strike up a conversation about Rell's governance skills. It didn't help that Democrats wasted so much time painting Rell as Carmella to Rowland's Tony Soprano. People didn't buy it and even if they had, elections are about the future, not the past.”

That is a Curry paragraph. Very few people in state politics can juggle metaphors this way. And of course Curry’s notion that “elections are about the future, not the past” is a shattering insight, borrowed perhaps from former President Bill Clinton’s signature song: “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…”

Here’s Curry, an incorrigible policy wonk, on Rell: “Two years in, Rell has done many things right but hasn't shown a strong feel for policy or administration. To call her out on it, Malloy or DeStefano must put a blueprint on the table showing how he'd solve the problems she hasn't. This is what Americans now ask of Democrats - a concrete, credible plan. The mystery is their inability to provide one. Whether Democrats are consulting their consciences or just consulting their consultants, they've been at it a long time.”

Since Mayor Dan Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign is top-heavy with folk who fell out of Curry’s political pockets, one supposes that Malloy, at least, will be able to put on the table a “governing blueprint” acceptable to Curry. No slouch in these matters, gubernatorial hopeful Mayor John DeStefano was chairman of the 2003 Blue Ribbon Commission on Property Tax Burdens and Smart Growth Incentives. Would anyone like to bet a Brooklyn Bridge that the Democrat blueprint will not contain a subsection on property tax reform?

The property tax reform babe in the woods has grown up considerably since it first bawled in the Curry/Rowland race. Curry lost to Rowland, but he did manage to stay out of jail, no small accomplishment as we enter another litigious year in Corrupticut.

Property tax reform promises “tax relief” to towns – which is not the same thing as promising tax relief to people who live in towns. The idea behind property tax reform is to shift tax payments from towns, said to be overburdened, to the state; when the state increases its percentage of payments to towns, mostly for education, municipalities will experience relief.

What about taxpayers? Every indication in all the proposed plans suggests that they will be relieved also – of more of their money. Here’s why: At the municipal level, proposed spending is often reduced through referendums. Within the past few years, my own town, Vernon, has seen numerous referendums that have reduced proposed spending from 14% to 4%. The property tax reform Democrats have in mind would relieve municipalities so that such decreases in proposed spending would be unnecessary. Without such spending restraints, net spending would rise, both at the municipal and the state level.

And net spending at both levels will rise because there is no provision for a state referendum. So, the spending reduction tools available in municipalities are absent in state budgets. As the state provides municipalities with a larger proportion of funds, and as municipalities reduce their spending obligations proportionally – if they do so – spending that once was subject to the discipline of referendums is moved out of harm’s way. No doubt, the removal of the threat of referendums will relieve town governments. But none of the plans so far offered suggest that taxpayers, municipal or state, will find relief in lesser tax payments.

Such assurances easily could be built into plans for tax relief. For instance, when the tax relief plan relieves Vernon by supplying it with a dollar provided by state tax payers, the plan could make the receipt of the dollar contingent upon Vernon’s willingness to reduce tax collections by a dollar. The state also could provide a referendum on state budgets. In this way, state taxpayers could provide the same spending restraint that Vernon provides when its governing officials offer spending plans that cannot be met by municipal tax payers.

Without such provisions, so called property tax relief plans are likely to provide real relief only to politicians practiced in pea and shell games.

The Republican Party could use an Adeli Stevenson of its own who might easily reduce all these fine points to a Curry-like metaphor that would fit on a bumper sticker -- something like “No referendums, no reform.”

The Kids Take A Recess

The Committee To Tar And Feather Lisa Moody, Tie Her Up With Duct Tape, Throw Her Out The Window And Embarrass Her Boss began its investigative meeting Wednesday, the New Haven Independent reported, “into an Election Enforcement Commission decision on a fundraising mistake made by Gov. M. Jodi Rell's chief of staff and subsequent settlement negotiated by her campaign manager.”

No sooner had the committee convened, the Hartford Courant reported than the kids had to take a recess: “A rank-and-file Democrat asked for a recess. Lawmakers said they tried to remind Caruso and Meyer (both Democrat top-guns) behind closed doors that they should be respectful of the Republicans' complaints.

"The whole tenor of the room seemed to be too tension filled," said Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford, admitting he's worried the bad feelings will only fester. "The thought was, the recess would be one way to clear the air."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Who's Sleeping with Whom?

File this one under “Politics makes strange bedfellows” – or, as the case may be, strange bedpersons.

NewsMax reports that Senator Hillary Clinton, widely reported to be a liberal, is doing it with Rupert Murdock, the closest thing the 21st century has to newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. Mr. Murdock buys ink by the shipload and is widely perceived to be a conservative.

“Rupert Murdoch, head of the News Corp. empire that includes conservative favorites like the Fox News Channel and the New York Post, will be hosting a New York senatorial fund-raiser for Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.”

The same paper reports that Sen. John McCain may be uninvited to give a commencement speech at the New School in New York. Students repulsed by the senator’s craven attempts to curry favor with conservatives have collected 1,000 signatures and presented them to New School President former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb, who favors the appearance. Kerry is widely regarded as a liberal and obviously does not agree with the unvarnished sentiments of literature professor Ann SNITow.

"Civility,” said the aptly named Ms. SNITow, “is not in order at a time like this. The moral position is outrage, protest and revolt against the right-wing oligarchy that is currently running this country. Ms. SNITow believes the maverick senator’s opposition to abortion rights “is tantamount to support for female sexual slavery.”

Columbia University also would like the give the heave-ho to Sen. McCain. The lone dissenter at the New School appears to be self-described libertarian Morgan Huntley.

"What about freedom of ideas?" Mr Huntley asked. "The New School only has one side of the coin. If you explore the other side, you're nuts."

Explore ideas? In the New School? BaaaHaaaa! Shut up Huntley!

As if all this were not confusing enough, the same annoying newspaper reports that Sen. Clinton has been caught throwing roses at the feet of the infidel Bush.

"He is someone who has a lot of charm and charisma, and I think in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I was very grateful to him for his support for New York," Clinton said Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., during a talk at the National Archives about her life in politics.

Just wait till the stone throwers at DailyKos hear about this.

DailyKos is the liberal blog site that has been stoning Connecticut’s beloved Sen. Joe Lieberman. The kiss Bush planted on Lieberman some months ago, has launched a thousand blog entries. Here in Connecticut, a half dozen fleures de mal bloomed overnight, making instant celebrities of formerly obscure political thinkers such as CtKeith, BranfordBoy and the anonymous proprietors of myleftnutmeg.com.

Political blogs are the Wild West of journalism, and anonymity certainly has stiffened spines. The writers on many anti-Lieberman blog sites are opaque rather than transparent, while their targets are always transparent. It would be impossible for Lieberman to disguise himself as Mr. Myleftnutmeg. The same state legislature that regards bloggers as journalists now has passed a law elevating journalists to the status of priests who need not disclose the substance of confessions made to them – certainly not if the confessor is Deep Throat, handing over to fathers Woodward and Bernstein valuable information concerning a break in at the Watergate hotel; but not even if the confessor has in his possession information necessary for the prosecution of, say, John Rowland but refuses to unburden himself of it under cover of the new law, which prevents courts from wheedling source information from reporters.

My guess is that the new opacity and the pampered attentions afforded reporters and media adepts will add to the general mistrust of honest journalism. People trusted Thoreau because, after he refused to pay his taxes, he went to jail; he did not petition the legislature for special protections unavailable to other citizens of Concord, Massachussetts.

Already, the general public trusts Big Media less than the average congressman. How low can you go? Anonymity makes writers mean rather than honest -- and sloppy in their work. Ms. Snitow probably got it right. Moral outrage, the spit and spittal of the new Torquemata, is very nearly the opposite of civility. But once you have done away with civility, how will have a civilization?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Daddy Amman and Papa Williams Give the Kid some “Walk Around” Cash

At the very last moment, campaign finance reform made it through the legislative sausage grinder at the state capitol, sending Andy Sauer, executive director of Connecticut Common Cause, dancing up and down the aisles shocked with surprise and joy. The two parties once again had compromised.

That word, “compromise,” very well may be the most misused word in political discourse. In any case, Democrats and Republicans had – what’s the word? – conspired to satisfy Andy Sauer and other pro-campaign finance reform enthusiasts. The power often wielded by the malefactors of great wealth to corrupt innocent incumbent politicians by stuffing their campaigns with cash had suffered a serious blow.

But just as the sun of campaign finance reform was pushing aside the night of corrupting political influence, dark clouds were gathering on the horizon.

A report on slush funds by Keith Phaneuf tells us in embarrassing detail how legislative leaders and governors sock away what used to be called in the bad old days of Tammany Hall “walk around money” used primarily to help party incumbents improve their political relations in their home districts.

“The $16.07 billion budget adopted Monday,” the JI discloses, “includes $6.6 million in undefined discretionary spending - called ‘slush funds’ by critics - to be controlled by Democratic legislative leaders, an arrangement state auditors called inequitable in a 2002 report.”

Ever polite, Democrats also “built a $2.3 million discretionary fund into the budget for Gov. M. Jodi Rell. But the Republican governor's budget director said Monday the administration would not spend the dollars, but would save and ultimately deposit them into government's Rainy Day Fund.”

The Washington beltway has its “earmarks” – funds set aside in budgets to grease the campaign skids for faithful partisans – and Connecticut has its slush funds. But the political art involved is the same: “The basic premise behind the funds,” Phaneuf explains, “is that a pool of money is carved out in the budget bill, but, unlike other sections of the budget, no specific projects or other use for the money is mentioned.

“In actuality, legislative leaders already have pledged to use some of these dollars to support projects in their districts and in the districts of their political allies. Others projects might be targeted for funding after the fiscal year begins.

“These funds provide a bargaining chip for legislative leaders looking to shore up support among their own caucus, or to build up favors and garner votes on key issues.”

Naturally, Republicans think slush funds are a bad idea, but Democrats are down with it.

Campaign finance reform has removed from political parties the authority to parcel out campaign funds, investing that function in party leaders. But the campaign bankers – James Amann and Donald Williams – may run into a slight problem this time. While the legislature is constitutionally charged with dispensing tax dollars, only the executive department can sign off on the rather expensive bargaining chips. So far, Rell seems to be offering a stiff resistance.

Truly, there is no end to reform – because there is no end to the ingenuity of politicians; there is no mousetrap a clever mouse cannot escape.

When the news was brought to Amman that state auditors had declared the distribution of tax money in slush funds to be inequitable, the Speaker seemed flustered, and one could almost see the lines taking shape in his mind. If only he were free to say the truth: Do you think leaders in the legislature can command loyalty, indispensable to the art of government, by snapping their fingers, you dope? Loyalty must be bought -- through the application of rewards and punishments. And if I can’t buy loyalty by dispensing campaign funds given to me by PACs and unions, then here is a way.

And if God is a Democrat, there will always be a way.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Whistleblower's Tale

It’s going to be difficult for the usual chatterers to make merry with Christine Ragaglia’s difficulties. True, she’s a Republican, and its always open season on Republicans in Connecticut. But she is also a woman who helped prosecutors put a nail in the devil’s tail. The Rowland prosecution likely would not have been possible without her grand jury testimony.

That testimony, put under seal by prosecutors, has now, thanks to some anonymous leaker, become public property. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, according to an Associated Press report, is promising to “recover millions lost to Rowland-era corruption.”

Connecticut’s attorney general, who relies on co-operative witnesses and whistleblowers to secure his convictions, has vowed to “seek relief tailored to the individuals like Ragaglia and others who have betrayed the public trust.” The associated press reporter who was given access both to the sealed -- now, obviously unsealed -- grand jury testimony, as well as Ragaglia’s much sought after diary, wryly remarks in the AP report, “Because of grand jury secrecy, however, Ragaglia's 2004 testimony hasn't been filed in the state case.”

Perhaps Blumenthal can get the information he needs to prosecute Ragaglia, a federal informant, from the AP reporter who filed the story – and never mind that the publication of sealed grand jury information may make co-operating witnesses less likely to divulge information to prosecutors in future cases involving political corruption in Connecticut.

It is not yet known whether Blumenthal is seeking to recover funds from Regaglia’s former boss, Larry Alibozak, the sleezball whose grand jury testimony helped to drive a stake through former Governor John Rowland’s heart.

It’s difficult to predict at this remove what bit part some future Pulitzer Prize winning reporter – There are probably dozens of them banging away at computer terminals as I write -- will assign to Ragaglia. From the little that is know so far, she appears to be a woman more sinned against than sinning. Apparently, she suffered from an alcoholic problem, doubtless brought on by Alibozak’s attentions. And, of course, Rowland’s chief aide Peter Ellef and William Tommasso, both recently sentenced for peculation and incurable stupidity, would drive a saint to drink.

Like Mark Twain, Ragaglia told the truth mainly, when put upon her oath. She kicked both Rowland and Alibozak in the groin and shed her alcoholic problem along the way. According to reports I’ve heard from accomplished state fraud investigators, Ragaglia acquitted herself well as Connecticut’s chief fraud investigator and actually managed to facilitate the creation of programs that will save the state some money. Please note: Agency heads that are workaholics and save the state pennies almost always are forced to walk the plank by career leeches hungry for larger budgets. It’s just the way the state generally does business: What you don’t spend in 2006, you will not receive in 2007, and blessed are they who get and spend. Penny pinchers routinely are tossed overboard.

Of course, it is always possible that media folk on the prowl for past Rowland associates to put in their journalistic tumbrels may discover that some of Rowland’s associates were victims rather than perpetrators of a political corruption that appears to have been limited only to Republicans and Ernie Newton. Democrats never steer building projects to their friends and political associates; they never get tipsy; they do not keep diaries; they never go on junkets; they are masterful at warding off the baneful influences of political contributors; they have nothing to fear from federal prosecutors – and certainly they have nothing to fear from fellow Democrat Dick Blumenthal.

So, now the guillotine requires another warm body – this time Regaglia. If you crane your neck over the Democratic crowd of joyous onlookers, you will see her approaching the contraption in the tumbrel, hands tied behind her back, suitably disgraced, soon to get what is due her. It will all be over in a moment. It is no matter to justice that she has co-operated with her judges. Her foot will touch the stair. The blade will be drawn up; an anticipatory silence will follow – and then the crowd will emit a squeal of delight.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Who, Whom, Part Two

Genghis Conn said...

Effective for herself, I would say. She's doing what Bill Clinton did (and did very well)--taking the ideas and issues of the party opposite and somehow making them her own. It's going to get her re-elected.

So then, a political strategy in which Rell distances herself from a coherent Republican Party message and adopts the protective coloring of Democrat Party initiatives helps Rell – and only Rell – to be re-elected. I’m beginning to sound a bit like ctkeith without the fangs. Only in politics – and indeed, only in modern politics – can a politician prosper as an island unto himself.

So, let us assume that Gengis Conn is right. A Republican strategy of adopting and promoting Democrat programs will get you elected in this the bluest of blue states. No big secret here. Gengis Conn points to Clinton as an example of a politician who prospered by exploiting his moderation, but a more apt parallel would be between Rell and former Governor Lowell Weicker, a master in the art of giving Democrats what they want. I dare say Weicker was a popular among Democrats as Lieberman is among Republicans. And, believe it or not, there were during the Weicker hegemony Republican prophets unloved in their own country roving around hurling imprecations at Lowell; I was one of them.

From a considerable remove, I now ask myself: Who did Weicker’s strategy help, other than Weicker?– and I answer, “No one.”

Where’s your proof, Pesci?

In the pudding, my dear, in the pudding.

Weicker was followed by John Rowland. As a student of Connecticut politics, Gengis Conn can attest that it didn’t take the kid long to get with the program. He came in as a rip-snorting conservative, an ax-the-tax kind of guy. Guided by his campaign literature, any reasonable voter might have supposed that Rowland, once in office, would ditch the tax – very unpopular with Republicans, Gov. William O’Neill type moderate Democrats, and that conservative banshee Tom Scott. But Rowland quickly learned to live with a tax that, in the space of two governors, would more than double the budget, and the O’Neill types were crushed under the wheels of the liberal juggernaught.

Who did Rowland’s strategy, very much like Rell’s, help – other than Rowland?

Put it another way: How long were his coattails?

Not very long. Legislative Republicans are eminently ignorable, as Gengis Conn says, because their numbers have diminished; the Connecticut Democrat Party has been taken over by liberal charioteers who seem determined to drive it into the sun; taxes are up, spending is up; and businesses are fleeing the state. It's all very curious. I wonder why? And just now Rell and the Democrats have turned in a budget that helps no one but themselves. And all this has happened under a nominally moderate regime of non-dischargeable incumbents.

Who rules, for whom?

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