Thursday, February 26, 2009

Orwellian Deficit Mitigation

The state House’s so called “deficit mitigation” bill passed unanimously but ran into a problem in the Senate, where Republicans opposed the measure on a party line vote.

The bill draws $373.3 million from President Obama's federal stimulus package and $281.7 million from the state’s "rainy day fund'' for fiscal emergencies. It incorporates $280.6 million in dubious temporary cuts and revenue increases, $50 million in contract cancellations by the governor, $49.2 million in labor savings yet to be negotiated with state-employee unions and $40 million in federal Medicaid funds.

It is important to pause here and notice that deficit mitigation relates only to the current hole in the bottom of the state’s treasury; the Damoclean sword hanging over the heads of both legislators and the governor is a hefty $8 billion projected “shortfall” in revenues.

The word “mitigation” is a euphemistic fig leaf that hopefully will not signal to taxpayers that the state has a gaping hole in its budget that can only be closed by spending cuts or tax increases. A tax “shortfall” is a cleverly rhetorical construction that induces people to believe that someone goofed in collecting taxes, and it saves the tax collector the trouble of justifying tax collections. Both words have been fetched from the dung heap of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and ought to be spurned by honest journalists addicted to calling things by their right names, the first duty of journalism.

Republicans were perhaps looking forward to this larger $8 billion deficit when leaders of the party said that the House’s deficit mitigation bill “did not go far enough.”

The mitigation bill itself is subject to future mitigation, and there are few economists and traders on Wall Street who believe the economy will mend quickly under the influence of the gargantuan $3.4 trillion spending bill passed recently by the US Democrat dominated Congress.

National Republicans wanted significant spending cuts; they got instead a spending spree and a promise by the Obama administration to shake the change from millionaire’s pockets. The new spending proposed by the Obama administration will be paid by borrowing more money from the Chinese whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently placated, dunning the millionaires and inflating the currency, which ultimately will result in a loss in the value of the dollar.

Just as Governor Jodi Rell had finished a bracing address during which she warned that reducing the deficit would be painful, Democrat leaders in the House and Senate discovered a shoebox full of money tucked into the dark recesses of Connecticut’s closet containing $220 million from various off-budget funds to balance the budget

And so now we are back to square one. The bulk of the proposed deficit mitigation is the sort of one time fix that Democrats used loudly to deplore when they were proposed by Republicans in the glory days of the Roland regime. Those one time fixes were painless and did nothing to stem the tide of spending that now threatens to wet the ankles of President Pro Tem of the Senate Don Williams and his Sancho Panza in the House, Speaker Chris Donovan.

The proposed deficit mitigation plan simply puts off to another day deficit reductions though spending cuts or tax increases. “Never put off till tomorrow, “says Mark Twain, “what you can put off till the day after tomorrow.”

Toni Boucher, a House member who a year ago moved over into the senate, said of the mitigation plan, “It doesn't make the structural changes we need to make,'' and Michael McLaughlin, a new senator from Danbury, opposed the plan because 25% of the mitigation -- the $220 million from various off-budget funds to balance the budget – is still up the sleeves of magicians Williams and Donovan. The so called “savings” in the bill, said McLaughlin, “are not real yet.”

Williams candidly admits to an imperfect solution but, borrowing a hackneyed phrase from Bill Curry, he does not want to “let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We have such a challenge and so many difficult decisions, and when we balance the budget this year ... no one will be able to say that is a perfect solution. It virtually closes the deficit in this fiscal year.''

The $8 billion Damoclean sword is still hanging from the ceiling of the state legislature. But at the moment, none but a few Republicans in the senate wish to acknowledge it. Full of a buoyant inertia, Democrats are quite convinced they will be able to muck along on their usual path, determined that practical solutions to the real deficit should be painless and soothing to their constituents, rather than perfect and effective


Imagine There Is No Courant

Let’s say you start off with a chair, then you remove the left forward leg, then you remove the seat, then you remove the backrest – do you any longer have a chair?

Some people would answer “No.”

The Hartford Courant, under the inspiration of current owner Sam Zell, a real estate poobah who has no intellectual or emotional connection to the people of Connecticut, now has dumped a major political reporter, Mark Pazniokas, the paper’s Washington Bureau chief, Jesse Hamilton, its Religion Reporter, Elizabeth Hamilton, a business reporter, Robin Stansbury, a handful of greenies -- environment reporter David Funkhouser, Steve Grant and Anna Marie Somma -- sportswriter Matt Eagan, itowns editor Loretta Waldman and itowns reporter Nancy Lastrina, two administrative assistants, a couple of feature copy editors and a library staffer and researcher.

The Courant previously has shed staff through attrition and early retirement. The latest round of bodies were shot behind the curtain, so to speak, the dispossessed receiving their pink slips by e-mail.

After all these removals, do we any longer have a Courant?

The schadenfreuders in the paper’s commentary section were steaming with barely suppressed pleasure now that the “liberal’ Courant was breathing its last breath, one commentator writing that the paper’s demise was owing to an excess of toxic liberal opinion, which is partly true.

Here, for example, is the Courant’s present take on obstructive Republicans: “Congress will be his [President Barack Obama’s] biggest problem. It is far behind the president and the people. The Republican minority relies on the tired nostrums of tax cuts and deregulation that helped dig this hole in the first place.”

Truth here is wonderfully mixed with fantasy. It is true that Congress, a viper’s pit of special interests, will present a problem for any president who wants to control costs. It is not true that Republican Party's “nostrums of tax cuts and deregulation… helped dig this hole in the first place.”

The hole, by which the paper must mean the current business collapse, was not caused by tax cuts. It was caused by the unregulated housing bubble. And it was Republicans – as the video below shows – who were demanding that Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae should be regulated.

Here are the Dems defending the non-regulation of Fannie and Freddy:

In an age in which YouTube is but a mouse click away, it becomes less and less possible to slip by the public such Democratic nostrums as those presented on the Courant’s Editorial Page. President John Kennedy, to whom President Obama has sometimes been compared, relied on the tired notion of tax cuts to “lift all the boats” on the rising tide caused by his selective tax cuts. And President Kennedy was no tired and exhausted Republican.

Part of the fun in having a liberal paper that seems to have fallen prey to nostrums far older that those of President Kennedy – FDR preceded him by nearly three decades -- is that those who think for a living may sharpen their brains upon it, the way a knife is sharpened on a whetstone.

It is true that a loss of advertising revenue has contributed to the Courant’s loss of income. As business goes, so go the papers that depend upon advertising revenue to purchase their labor. It is also true that the technological grim reaper has diminished newspaper staffs.

But none of this helps to answer the question: What will life in Connecticut be like when the much diminished Courant succumbs to its fate and, no longer a recognizable paper, becomes a useless piece of publication furniture without a back or a leg or a seat -- or worse, a glorified blog?

It will be a sadder world, somewhat like a state with but one unappeasable and unapproachable political party.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dodd’s Washington Land Records, 30 Acres and a Mule

"...the blow of a loy, have taught me that there's a great gap between a gallous story and a dirty deed."-Pegeen Mike, in The Playboy of the Western World

“What does it mean to “co-purchase” a house together with someone like Ed Downe?” a curious blogger asks on the popular web site Connecticut Local Politics.

It’s a timely question. Land records in Washington show that US Sen. Chris Dodd made three real estate purchases there.

Dodd, it would appear, is not only an accomplished congressman; he is a super real-estate maestro.

1) 508 E Street, S.E. Washington DC was co-owned by the Dodds and Sanford Bomstein and wife. Bomstein was the bagman implicated in Sen. Tom Dodd’s scandal. Chris Dodd's father was censured in 1967 by the Senate for using campaign funds for personal purposes. That property was sold to Sean Roach for $10 (that’s ten dollars, no decimal error), and the filing date was 8/20/95. You can buy a lot (no pun intended) for ten dollars in Washington. And some politicians are even cheaper.

2) Property number 2 was a condo at 2153 California Street, N.W., #602. This was the one Dodd bought in partnership with Edward R. Downe, then a director of Bear Stearns, later to be convicted of insider trading and pardoned by President Bill Clinton, the pardoner-in-chief, upon Dodd’s importunate intervention.

"Ed made a mistake a number of years ago, for which he has accepted full responsibility," wrote Dodd in defense of Downe, "He pled guilty and was sentenced to 300 hours of community service. Over the years,Ed has expressed to me, his family and friends his deep remorse for his actions."

That condo was purchased 4/29/86 for $159,800 and the filing date was 5/2/86. The Downes later sold their share of the condo to Dodd for $10.00 (that’s ten dollars). Dodd sold the condo (filing date 10/27/99) to Annie Davis -- one hopes for a profit, a rather dirty word these days in the Beltway Bubble. [This is in error. Dodd bought out Downe's share in the condo for $41,000, according to a piece in the Hartford Courant]

Downe was something of a playboy when libertinism was frowned upon mostly by wives, and his restless ways got him a divorce from his wealthy first wife, Charlotte Ford, an heiress to automaker Henry, who made money hand over fist by producing a sellable product rather than stretching out his empty palm to the likes of Dodd for a bailout – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The only reason Charlotte asked for a divorce she said, according to a newspaper report, was her husband’s philandering – “right under her nose in the Sutton Place apartment below theirs he used for his office… ‘Ed would tell Charlotte they were going out to dinner, and then wouldn't come back until 2 a.m.’ a friend of hers said.”

Dodd and Downe used to go clubbing together in the senator’s wild and wooly days, before he married his latest wife, Jackie Clegg, also wealthy, and put his playboy ways on the shelf.

3) The third property was a townhouse at #8, 7th Street, N.E. Washington DC. Dodd and his second wife purchased the property when they first married. The sellers were Dodd’s former aide, now Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and her husband Stanley Greenberg, a wealthy pollster to political stars. That deed was dated 10/15/99, and the filing date was 10/25/99. The price of that one was the usual going price for townhouses in tonier sections of Washington -- $10.00 (that’s ten dollars) – which sort of makes you wonder why those of Dodd’s constituents who lost their mortgages do not immediately take their tax credits from President Barack Obama to Washington, where they certainly could purchase several hundred townhouses and sell them at a profit to homeless congressmen.

And, of course, there is a fourth property, much in the news just now – a large spread in Ireland, the grand country that gave us J.M. Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World,” a story in which a sweet talking, golden tongued lad of the sod manages to convince a small town that he had murdered his pop by banging him on the head with a loy. He wins the heart of the beautiful Peegan Mike, but loses it when his bloody dad, in search of his wastrel son, wanders into Peegan’s pub and blows the only chance the playboy of the Western World has to wrap himself in a cozy fame and marry the fair lass of his dreams.

Such is life; reality, in the form of a bloody old dad, keeps intruding.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hillary Clinton Not Arrested

The good news is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived home from her Chinese trip without having unduly upset Chinese leaders. The Chinese overlords are, after all, the custodians of much of the debt in the United States, which has increased precipitously after the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

The bad news is no walls came tumbling down. Life in China for Christians is just as nasty, brutal and short as it was before the courageous secretary of state set foot in the country. The feeling among some Christians is that if Hillary were a delegate to Rome in the days of Nero, she would have been talking to the engaging emperor about the weather, or climate change, studiously ignoring the strange goings on in the coliseum, where Christians were being harassed by lions and bears.

While Hillary was rattling her tin cut before the Chinese overloards, President Barack Obama was promising to present to the Democrat controlled US Congress a budget that cuts in half the national debt he has just increased precipitously though his stimulus program, which should please the political children of Chairman Mao who are holding the debt and whose patience is not inexhaustible. Obama plans to cut the debt by ending the war in Iraq, which is pretty much ended anyway, and levying a tax on millionaires, a prescription to liquidating debt that should please the Chinese, Hugo Chavez, Chris Dodd and the ghosts of Marx and Lenin.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dodd Blows Up Wall Street

There are some people, not all of them bankers, who think that U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, the head of the banking committee, should be pushing an apple cart on 5th Ave. in New York in the morning and selling pencils out of a tin cup in the evening.

“Sen. Christopher J. Dodd,” read the lede on the front page Hartford Courant story , “sent the already reeling shares of major US banks to nearly two decade lows Friday after he said that short term nationalization of some large banks might become necessary to lift them out of a mire of bad loans.”

The story was accompanied by a graphic showing the result of Dodd’s loose tongue, a perfect “V” the bottom of which tickled the bottom of the stock market floor one day after Dodd told Bloomberg News, “I don't welcome that [nationalization of the banks] at all, but I could see how it's possible it may happen. I think that's unfortunate, but it may come to that.”

Bloomberg did what Bloomberg does: It posted Dodd’s “concerns” electronically which, according to the Courant story, “immediately pushed down the shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and other megabanks. Shares of Citigroup, parent of Citibank, hit a low of $1.61 within an hour of Bloomberg's report. It last closed below that level in November 1990.”

Someone at the Courant, apparently watching the nosedive, contacted the sweet tongued Dodd, who professed "surprise" that a mere word from the chairman of the U.S. banking committee could be so fatal to financial stocks. But some words that can kill do kill.

Those of us who live most of our lives in Connecticut -- rather than in the Alice in Wonderland beltway where Dodd spends most of his time, when he is not running for president -- know very well that words can kill, because we remember well when his comrade in the senate, the esteemed Harry Read, whispered that he had been in a private tete a tete with some unnamed insurance executive and heard from him that a major, major insurance company was on the ropes. This intelligence, part of the Democrat’s politics of fear, was designed to spook the Congress into backing an earlier much less expensive version of the current multi-trillion dollar rescue effort of the US economy.

Reid’s loose lips very nearly sank some Connecticut insurance companies.

Following Dodd’s killer words, the White House – under the advisement of former President Bill Clinton to talk up the economy now that the Democrats, deploying the politics of fear, got their multi-trillion rescue package passed through a politically divided and spooked congress – issued a quick statement averring that the administration remains committed to using public money to bail out but not take over banks.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs was trotted out to announce to a quickly assembled press conference, “The president believes that a privately held banking system regulated by the government is the correct way to go.”

The administration is not yet prepared, apparently, to paint the White House red.

Dodd's destructive chatter about nationalization, The American Bankers Association said following the senator's statement, was "impairing the financial sector and making the credit situation worse. Investors will remain on the sidelines if there is continued speculation that the government may step in and undercut their investment.”

The Dodd torpedo was launched only a short time after the senator attempted to declaw his critics by releasing partial information on his sweet-heart mortgage deal with the now defunct Countrywide, a lender that gave Dodd a deal he couldn’t refuse on his properties in East Haddam, CT and Washington DC.

In a follow-up news conference, Dodd noted that he had "hardly been friendly" to financial institution that had over the years contributed generously to his political campaigns. When he put the nationalization pistol to the head of Wall Street, the senator may have been over-compensating.

And Dodd has much to compensate for. The senator’s powerful banking committee created and now oversees the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a $700 billion dollar bailout of financial institutions impacted by the sub-mortgage meltdown. Dodd has said he personally turned what had been a four page draft into the 80-plus page TARP rescue plan.

According to Americans for Limited Government, the TARP plan, if fully implemented, “would cost $2.75 trillion: $1 trillion for the ‘public-private investment fund’; $1.1 trillion—$100 billion allocated and $1 trillion lent-printed from the Fed—for consumer and business lending; $600 billion for purchasing bad paper from Fannie and Freddie; and another $50 billion to give homes away to those facing foreclosure.”

A good portion of the $9 million dollars Dodd raised for his failed presidential run and successful Senate re-election campaign ($4,180,690) came from people involved in the Securities and Investment Banking ($1,278,241 ) and Real Estate and commercial banking ($900,000) sectors. From 2003 to 2008, Dodd also hauled in $316, 994 from Citigroup Inc. and $223,478 from A.I.G. He was close to the top of his class in receipts of campaign cash from commercial banks, which contributed $570,294 to his campaign.

Some may regard Dodd’s inadvisable talk about partial bank nationalization as evidence that the Dodd inspired TARP rescue plan is foundering.

Bankers certainly do.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

To the Republicans in Windsor: The Revolution Now

A sharp political analyst, Karl Marx -- who, appropriately enough, wrote for the New York Tribune -- used to talk about “the correlation of forces.” Marx was a lousy economist but a keen observer of people, countries, events and political movements.

By the correlation of forces, Marx meant all the important powers that shape politics, the plow that forms the furrow in which politics flows and determines its course.

The correlation of forces drifted to the top of my mind about two weeks ago when Gov. Jodi Rell surprised all of us by pulling a pin from her grenade and fragging the Democrat controlled legislature. The ensuing fireworks have been instructive.

All the usual suspects retreated behind all the usual barricades.

Roy Occhiogrosso, who has become the unofficial voice of the Democrat Party in the media, characterized Rell’s budget, on the Shelly Sindland show, as “a fairy tale.” Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy was sitting beside him, and for once his wits failed him. He might have said, “Gee Roy, fairy tale? You’re not being as dismissive as you might. Actually, most people like fairy tales; they are so full of hope and – especially – change. They provided the springboard upon which our new president leapt into office.”

But we are not always at the top of our game at such moments.

Michele Jacklin, the chief political columnist for the Hartford Courant before she left the paper to devote her energies towards making New Haven Mayor John DeStefano governor of Connecticut, appeared once again in the pages of her old newspaper to denounce Rell’s budget.

Like many liberals, Jacklin is of a Manichean disposition. Mani, a second century Christian heretic, tended to see the world as a stage upon which evil and goodness struggled for the souls of men. In Jacklin’s universe, all the light is on the left side, while the right is bathed in darkness, and humankind can only hope that the light will someday vanquish the darkness.

I’ll save you the trouble of reading Jacklin’s column. It said that Rell’s politics was tainted with Reaganite elements. We all know what they are: a yearning for small and manageable government, prudent spending and policies that contribute to the general wealth and health of a free marketplace not overly burdened by aggressive legislators. In Jacklin’s scheme of things, Reaganism is evil. The manna that will trickle down to us from Obama’s Washington is good. Soon, even governor Rell will be bathed in manna, and this will help discharge the state’s projected deficit, now cresting at about $10 billion. There is some dispute among the numbers crunchers concerning the size of the deficit. Rell may have undervalued the deficit by about 3 billion. The thing is growing daily, like The Blob in the horror movie of the same name.

According to a recent report, Connecticut’s portion of the manna works out to about three billion, all of it to be dumped into the general fund – in the past a black hole for so called “dedicated funds” – then to be distributed according to the dictates of the powers that be in Washington.

That should work out just great.

Connecticut’s projected deficit, at $10 billion, is now larger than the state’s last pre-income tax budget, which was about $7.5 billion -- so far have we progressed.

One of the forces that has determined our political fate these many years is the absurd notion– and here I quote Jacklin in one of her old columns – that Connecticut “does not have a spending problem; it has a revenue problem.”

By this formulation, liberal Democrats mean that there should be no limit to spending. Spending is not a problem. Getting money to pay for profligate spending could be a problem, were not Connecticut’s Gold Coast bordering New York blinging with millionaires. What the state really needs is to figure out creative ways to expropriate that money from the millionaires, deposit it in the treasury and prepare the way for the coming of manna showers – a fairy tale far more implausible than any Occhigrosso could imagine.

This has been the operative understanding of the Democrat Party in Connecticut ever since Gov. Ella Grasso, who was something of a pinchpenny, bit the dust.

And where has it gotten us? Really, where has it gotten us? Another day older and deeper in debt.

That notion needs a graveyard. Some one has to flay it, behead it, burn it at the stake and give it a Christian burial.

Don’t count upon our media to do this. If life in Connecticut were a fairy tale, we would be characterizing some media adepts as having fallen under a cruel enchantment.

So then, at the top of the correlation of forces is that wholly false hobby horse of the Democrats – the idea that you can create wealth by redistributing income and that a deficit in the private market place, which is what a recession is, can be ameliorated by creating larger national deficits through simulative spending.

The correlation of forces arrayed against what Occhiogrosso and others characterize as a “fairy tale” are formidable.

Daniel Livingston, the principal negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, has called Governor Rell’s fairy tale budget “a series of attacks on working families.” This was a response to Rell’s suggestion that the state might be able to save some money by providing early retirement to state workers through a voluntary program. Presumably, state workers will not voluntarily retire if they feel that they will thereby be putting their families in jeopardy. So then, the program cannot rationally be characterized as an attack on the families of those workers represented by Mr. Livingston.

From outside the fairy tale bubble, this looks very much like an attempt to control costs by paying people not to work; when you retire early, you receive early retirement salaries and benefits. This may or may not be a good idea, because early retirement lengthens the period of time the state pays workers for not working. But, whatever else it is, it is not an attack on the workers Mr. Livingston represents. Early retirement may reduce costs only when the salary and benefit costs of a new hire through the length of his service are less than the salary and benefit costs of the replaced retired state worker. Those costs can only be favorably adjusted by persuading Mr. Livingston to reduce his demands as a bargaining agent – and his recent statements strongly suggest he is not amenable to preventing an attack by his union on the wallets of other non-unionized “working families.”

Impinging on state problems are the proposed “solutions” to national problems. The new administration’s Treasury Secretary, tax scofflaw Timothy Geithner, has just released an outline of his new and improved TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) plan, and it’s a doozy.

There are six tiers to the plan: 1) a stress test for financial institutions receiving TARP funds; 2) a $500 billion-$1 trillion “public-private investment fund” to value so-called “troubled” assets; 3) $100 billion of Treasury funds leveraged through the Fed for up to $1 trillion in loans to consumers and businesses; 4) a requirement that firms lend money the way and to the extent regulators tell them to; 5) $600 billion to purchase GSE—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—mortgage-backed securities and debt, plus another $50 billion for foreclosure “prevention” through modifications; and finally, 6) an expansion of Small Business Administration loans.

According to Americans for Limited Government, “when fully implemented, the Geithner plan would cost $2.75 trillion – this in addition to Congress’ current $1.2 trillion debt plan” -- a veritable raid on the income of working families. The current national debt is $10.7 trillion. People who quarrel with the accounting procedures used by those who tote up the debt insist that the real national debt is closer to $45-53 trillion.

Republicans have now lost control of both houses of the US congress. Rep. Chris Shays was the last moderate Republican left standing in New England. Democrats control both houses of the Connecticut legislature with a veto proof margin. The state has lost control of its spending, which is pretty much in the hands of President Pro Tem Don Williams in the Senate and Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, formerly a union head. The Democrat controlled legislature that will refashion Governor Rell’s budget is determined to tax working families even more and to resist whatever rational cost saving measures Mr. Livingston disapproves of.

So what to do?

Never despair. You fight, you fight, and you fight. Working families are depending upon you to dispel the fairy tale that has bewitched everyone in the state.

For watchful Republicans – especially here in Connecticut – there are other correlations that must be attended to.

There are some good ideas out there for reform that should be heeded. “Reform” and “change” are not words Republicans should avoid in their future campaigns.

The Yankee Institute, one of the best conservative to libertarian think tanks in the state, has suggested that High Schools simply forgive the fourth year of High School for students who excel and pay their first year at local colleges.

Chris Powell, the Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer, thinks that binding arbitration belongs in the trash bin of history, and it is difficult to argue with him when he says that binding arbitration deprives the citizenry of the democratic means by which they might trim the burgeoning costs of education. Governor Rell took a baby step forward in addressing this problem when she suggested a freeze on binding arbitration for two years. Opposition to this idea was immediate and intense.

Mark Sanford, the Republican governor of South Carolina who begged Rep. Charlie Rangel at a hearing to please not send him bailout funds, is a convert to use taxes; his ambition is to rid South Carolina of its property tax through targeted use taxes. He wants to eliminate South Carolina’s property tax. When Sanford, who is opposed to earmarks of any kind, received unwelcome opposition from his state’s Republican legislators, he brought live pigs into the chamber as a visual check on earmarks.

Your local prophet crying in the wilderness – me – has said numerous times in blogs and political columns that what the state needs to control profligate spending is a state budget referendum, a tool put to good use by municipalities when errant mayors, many of them Democrats, offer bloated budgets containing crippling increases in taxes.

Why not institute a truth in packaging law for legislation, every bill proposed to be accompanied by the projected cost of the bill and published on the internet before votes are cast? That projection should include a termination date for temporary legislation and a cost run-out over several years for permanent measures. In our post recession recovery stage, you may have to triple or quadruple the cost run-outs. In fact, after all the rescue money in the federal pipeline is spewed out into the marketplace, inflation – the “I” word nobody seems to be mentioning – will reduce the value of the dollar further and boost the projected cost of all salvational politics. Inflation, as we all know, is a hidden tax on wages that depresses the purchasing power of employment checks.

Windsor, Bloomfield and Enfield are as good places as any in the state to begin the revolution – which should commence (looks at watch) now.

Do it for Jacklin, Livingston, Occhiogrosso, the confederacy of dunces in the legislature, an uncomprehending media, the correlation of forces and your children.

This was an address given to the Republicans in Windsor, Feb 19, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Deja Madoff All Over Again

A Bernie Madoff clone, Texas financier R. Allen Stanford, has been accused of “cheating 50,000 customers out of $8 billion dollars” according to an ABC report, “but despite raids Tuesday of his financial empire in Houston, Memphis, and Tupelo, Miss., federal authorities say they do not know the current whereabouts of the CEO.

“The Securities Exchange Commission alleges Stanford ran a fraud promising investors impossible returns, much like Bernard Madoff's $50 billion alleged Ponzi scheme.

“Stanford's business is headquartered on the Caribbean island of Antigua. In the last decade, Stanford and his companies have spent more than $7 million on lobbyists and campaign contributions in efforts to loosen regulation of offshore banks.

“Among the top recipients: Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Congressman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the members who took a trip to Antigua where he was entertained by Stanford.”

The report discloses that Nelson and McCain already have pledged to return Stanford’s contributions to charities.

Stanford himself, according to the report, “did not contribute to the McCain Presidential campaign. He gave the maximum $4,600 contribution to President Obama's campaign. Indeed, Obama returned $2,300 that was contributed over the limit to Stanford.”

A Connecticut Post report on Wednesday said Dodd plans to give Sanford's donations to charity.


ABC News has been advised by federal authorities that "the FBI and others have been investigating whether Stanford was involved in laundering drug money for Mexico's notorious Gulf Cartel.

"A video posted on the firm's web-site shows Stanford, now sought by U.S. Marshals, being hugged by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and praised by former President Bill Clinton for helping to finance a convention-related forum and party put on by the National Democratic Institute."

Another Friend of Bill bites the dust.

On Feb. 19, I'll be at Town Hall in Windsor addressing the Republicans from Windsor, Bloomfield and Enfield in a talk I've titled, with a bow to the stressful sixties, "The Revolution Now." The festivities will begin at 7:30.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nickerson, Whistleblower

Having experienced ex-governor and senator Lowell Weicker and remembering that Weicker recruited Ned Lamont, a fellow redundantly rich Greenwich millionaire, to run against Sen. Joe Lieberman, Republicans may be asking themselves “Can anything good come out of Greenwich?”

The answer is “Yes.”

William Nickerson, a former state Rep. and senator, hails from Greenwich.

The state legislature, Mr. Nickerson reminds us, is used to fiddling while Rome burns. Now out of office and therefore free to speak the truth, Mr. Nickerson has identified in a column several “myths” about his former band of brothers that ought to be exploded so that the state can achieve financial sanity.

Myth No. 3 is especially instructive: “Each year government programs are rigorously evaluated by the legislature with unworthy ones reduced or eliminated and effective ones expanded.”

Drawing from his 22 years of experience in the legislature, Mr. Nickerson concluded that instead of reviewing, paring back or reforming programs that might save the state some money, the legislature, determined not to ruffle the feathers of those who livelihood depends upon inefficient or unnecessary programs, “takes a top-down approach beginning with a projection of what it will cost to carry forward all of the government programs and services from the preceding year to the next. This is called the Current Services Budget and invariably shows significant spending increases. There then ensues a pulling and hauling among legislators largely focused on which line item has the most political support. However, there is no fundamental examination of broad-based program effectiveness. In fact, there is no institutional framework available to legislators to even undertake such an examination.”

In Myth No. 2, Mr. Nickerson notes that the state’s constitutional cap on spending is not a “mere guideline” but “a sacred covenant between the voters who approved it and the legislators who are expected to carry it out,” routinely violated by legislators and governors who often utilize “such gimmicks as off-budget appropriations and declarations of "emergencies" which were in fact nonexistent.”

Perdurable myth No. 4 holds that Connecticut’s income tax is not progressive. This flies in the face of years of restructuring and reform: “Today, the typical Connecticut home-owning household of four at the median income level of $53,000 pays little or no income tax. At the high end of the spectrum, a tiny group of only 43,000 families pays approximately one-half of the entire income tax revenue.”

Indeed that is the problem: Our tax receipts are down because the income tax is no longer broad based, and we are reaching a point in which tax consumption will far outpace tax supply. Once consumers who pay no taxes out number tax suppliers by 51%, they can write their own ticket to dissolution and destruction, and undoubtedly will.

Effective solutions to all these difficulties can only be advanced by radical reformers.

Here are five reforms:

1) Institute a flat rate negative state income tax. The negative feature will assure that those falling below an income line to be determined by the legislature will a) pay no income tax, and b) receive tax grants in lieu of welfare payments, enabling the state to eliminate relevant welfare departments. The flat rate tax also will insure that everyone in the state will be equally invested in tax and spending policy.

2) Or if a flat rate tax is not your cup of tea, eliminate the income tax by prudent long term measures and replace it with use taxes, the net taxes collected to remain the same during the transition period.

3) Institute a state budget referendum similar to municipal referendums: No state budget passes that does not garner more than 50% of a state-wide vote.

4) End binding arbitration.

5) Assure that every regulation and mandate imposed by the state on the municipalities must be paid in full through state taxes.

And, as an added cherry on the cake -- because it's the right thing to do -- put Attorney General Richard Blumenthal out to pasture.

It’s a beginning.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Joe Scarborough drops the “F" word

And goes home to a murderous wife.

Madonna holds the record though.

Dodd Finished?

In a rub-your-eyes editorial Sunday, The Hartford Courant has called upon US Sen. Chris Dodd, who has in more than 30 years in Washington “compiled a mostly lustrous record as a hardworking lawmaker,” to consider throwing in the sponge.

Low polls, the Courant writes should be sobering: “Quinnipiac’s latest polling yielded the senator's worst results ever. For the first time, more voters disapprove of Mr. Dodd's job performance than approve, and a majority say they are unlikely to support his re-election. By more than 2 to 1, respondents said they were dissatisfied with his Feb. 2 explanation of the refinancing with Countrywide. And, although 41 percent of those polled said they thought Mr. Dodd was honest and trustworthy, 42 percent said they thought he was not.”

The polls are “Bad enough to make a veteran politician think hard about whether to call it a day.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

President Icarus Declares Beltway Honeymoon Over

Through his White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who once sent a political opponent a dead fish by mail, President Barack Obama is signaling that the bipartisan honeymoon is over, according to a story in Politico.

It did not take long for Obama to figure out that bipartisanship is overrated, particularly when one is the titular head of a party that controls congress. It was the stimulus package that tipped the scales.

“Meeting with reporters Thursday night, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said that there were times during the stimulus debate when ‘I don’t think we were sharp about the benefits’ of the legislation, letting Washington process dominate the message.

“Reflecting as ‘somebody who has been in this town,’ he observed that ‘there’s an insatiable appetite for the notion of bipartisanship here and we allowed that to get ahead of ourselves.’

“But Emanuel said that they recognized they had overdone their initial outreach to Republicans and had offered ‘a sharp message for the last week.’

“For now, the hard-charging chief of staff added, ‘He has an open hand, but he has a very firm handshake.’

“Translation: Yes, the president will continue to do obligatory outreach to the GOP, but he’s not going to be burned again by an out-of-power and toothless minority for the sake of appearances."
The stiff arm to Republicans should prepare the Obama administration for upcoming struggles.

The Obama adminstration plans a review of Iraq and Afghanistan policies. Other items on its plate, Emanuel said, are financial regulation, housing, stem cell research, renewable standards on energy and year one action on health care.

Rather than diddle with Republicans and Democrats in the beltway who are apparently bogged down in the fever swamps of ideology, Obama plans to sell his programs to the country at large.

“Implicit in Obama’s lessons-learned appraisal from the stimulus battle is also a new realism about his own party. His initial decision to give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the liberal House Democratic caucus so much leeway in drafting the stimulus bill allowed Obama to be tarred with some of the most controversial items in the package. Going on the road means he is able to soar over Pelosi’s head as well as Republicans.”

One thinks of Icarus, stretching his wings. Or one thinks of Gore Vidal's description of the arrival of the Kennedy clan in Washington at the beginning of JFK's reign: "It was like watching the mob desend upon a small northern Italian town."

On Lincoln, Obama, Liberty and the Republican Party

Prior to and after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, the president had been compared to Abe Lincoln: Both were from Illinois; both had a rough start in life; the Great Emancipator – a Republican, by the way – has done his best to make possible the election to the presidency of the nation’s first African American; so Lincoln and Obama were, some in the press said, bookends of a kind, one opening the struggle against slavery and the other closing it. All this is true. And we all should be glad whenever the nation is able to shuck off the tattered remnants of a debilitating Jim-Crow politics. It has been a long time coming. Lincoln, had he been alive in our day, would have rejoiced.

At this point – so it seems to some of us – it only remains for the president now to decide whether he wishes to be Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt, with whom he’s also been compared. Some have also seen in Obama a likeness to President Jack Kennedy. I have no doubt that someone will come along in the near future, perhaps in Newsweek, to compare him with Ronald Reagan, one being the obverse of the other, Reagan opening the Reagan era and Obama closing it.

The Roosevelt administration and the New Deal have been under fresh scrutiny lately. Henry Morgenthau, Roosevelt’s treasury secretary said in 1939, “We are spending more than we have ever spent before, and it does not work.” He conceded that after two full terms in office, the administration, “never make good on its promises.” One of the cornerstones of the New Deal was the National Industrial Recovery Act, a law that cartelized industry to institute wage and price controls. The cure for the depression, Roosevelt thought, was to pay workers more, thus stimulating consumption and spurring the economy. It didn’t happen that way; real wages declined, and companies that sought to capture more of the market by reducing prices were targeted by federal officials and often run out of business. Unemployment, dropping during Roosevelt’s first term, rose again from 1936-39, and stock values took a nosedive from 37-39. It is now though that the New Deal extended the depression, and of course the endemic special-interest spending created a host of groups clamoring for special subsidies, federal doles to gain political advantage and corruption among the money lenders.

Lincoln became Lincoln, said one of his best biographers, James McPherson, at Cooper Union, New York, where he gave a speech on slavery and the Union. The speech is a masterpiece in legal and political reasoning; Lincoln, the lawyer, applying his sharp witted legal skills to an examination the founder’s views on slavery in the territories. Lincoln’s own view was: 1) the union, at all costs, must be preserved, and 2) the founders were willing to permit the federal government to prohibit or shape slavery in the territories. I invite everyone to re-visit that speech and study it closely.

Because, because, because… what the Republican Party needs, especially here in Connecticut, is a Cooper Union speech on the connection between a free economy and liberty. To get one, we should have to have a Lincoln among us, sadly in short supply. They seem to breed Lincoln’s only in Illinois, and recently only within the Democrat Party.

Progressive Connecticut is the Eden of the Obama era. Whatever Obama has or will propose in coming years, it can justly be said that Connecticut has been there, done that. Does Washington have a Democrat controlled legislature? Been there, done that. I wrote in one of my too infrequently read columns that Connecticut has been laboring under Democrat control roughly since the late Triassic period, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, a Lincolnesque exaggeration. Is the US treasury splashing around knee deep in debt? So are we. Does Washington believe that the nation does not have a spending problem; rather it has a revenue problem? That is and has been the operative position of Connecticut Democrats in the legislature and their enablers in Connecticut’s truckling media. Right on down the line, on nearly every important point in the Obama program, Connecticut has been tried in the fire. And we can report from Hell that none of the anti-Lincolnesque solutions to economic problems adopted by the little Obama homunculi that populate our state legislature will work to enhance either our liberty or our prosperity.

It would be helpful if some champion of free enterprise in the state, perhaps our governor, took up this cause. Other governors have done so. The most recent state of the state address by a real activist Republican governor, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, includes these sentiments:

“We can't go on spending more than is coming in and be competitive.

“Sustainable spending matters because unsustainable spending means more private sector activity is crowded out of the economic mix in our state.

“It matters because it sets the stage for tax increases down the line that hurt individuals and businesses in their ability to compete in the global marketplace.

“It matters because it sets in motion a cycle of peaks and valleys in government spending that hurts the neediest of the needy in our state.

“To avoid each of these things it has been our contention that government shouldn't grow faster than the rate of growth of people's wallets and pocketbooks.

Ah! But hasn’t Sanford heard that the nation is suffering from a revenue problem that can only be solved by massive infusions of fresh capital from Washington”

“This issue of whether we should spend more or less of the taxpayers' money - one that has been the source of fairly enormous disagreements between this administration and some in this chamber - is going to be underscored with what is happening to the national economy.

“This is no longer going to be a philosophical debate, as we are not going to have the luxury of millions in new money coming into Columbia - and as I believe we will likely go into a national recession based on the pinch from higher energy prices, slowing consumer spending, falling home prices and tightening credit.

We have got to get serious about spending.

Given Connecticut’s present economic plight, a deficit of $6-10 billion in a budget of $17 billion, these lines sound like a declaration of war on the present regime. And that is what Republicans should propose: a civil war, a polite war, but a war nonetheless, that will end with the overthrow of outmoded presumptions, the first of which is that Connecticut is suffering from diminished revenues. This state is suffering from an orgy of spending that began when Lowell Weicker of blessed memory, a faux Republican in my view, muscled the legislature into accepting an income tax. We have lost control of the helm itself to what some have called the permanent government. Inertia is driving our ship. We do things in a certain way because we have always done them in a certain way, and we fear breaking the mold.

This fiscal year, Sanford presented to his legislature a budget containing a proposal for an optional flat tax of 3.65 percent paid for by an increase of 30 cents per pack in the cigarette tax, the elimination of sales tax holidays and a new landfill tipping fee. His ambition is to rid the state of all taxes but consumption taxes. His proposal is aimed, in his words, at “bettering South Carolina’s competitive position when it comes to tax rates. The plan also recommends eliminating the state’s corporate income tax over a 10-year-time period, taking the rate from 5 percent to zero. The governor’s tax plan will move South Carolina’s overall business climate ranking from 25th to 6th.”

In the competition for jobs as we move inexorably into the Obama era, guess which state will be attracting more business, allowing the state to increase its revenues without imposing undo hardships on its citizens – Connecticut or South Carolina?

Sanford does not like pork, except on pigs. And he is well known in South Carolina as someone who has fought with members of his own party to resist Washington’s pork filled Trojan Horses. The day after the Republican led House in South Carolina overrode 105 of the governor’s 106 budget vetoes, he brought live pigs into the House chambers as a protest against pork projects.

Lincoln, whose imagination we should try to cultivate, would have approved. Obama would not approve, not unless he can manage to exorcise the ghost of Franklin Roosevelt that seems to have taken possession of him.

Don Pesci will be addressing the Republicans in Windsor on Feb 19 at 7:30 at the Town Hall in Windsor. The Republican Party Chairman in Windsor is David Rainey. His e-mail is:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Right Wing Terrorists

According to the Jerusalem Post:

“US officials are publicly taking a wait-and-see approach to the formation of a new Israeli government, but privately many have expressed concern that Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu might preside over a right-wing coalition.

"”There would be great unease’ at the prospect of such a government, said one Capitol Hill source.”

The unnamed source predicted “that a governing coalition of parties from the Right could embolden the left flank of the Democratic party and turn up pressure, particularly in the US Congress, to pass measures that made clear demands on Israel.”

The post story is titled, “US worried over prospect of right-wing gov't.”

More prosaically perhaps, Joe Israel is worried that the right wing government of Hamas will continue to rain missiles down on his head.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blumenthal’s Last Stand?

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced early this political season that he would not be running for governor, though he has dropped hints here and there that he might be willing to step into the shoes of either of Connecticut’s two badly wounded US senators, Chris Dodd or Joe Lieberman.

In the meantime, there are the Indians to be dealt with. “Blumenthal Renews Bid To Ban Smoking at Casinos,” the headline reads, and one detects the odor of yet another suit in the air.

Famous for filing suits, filling the pages of state newspapers with his most recent adventures, bullying private businesses into contributing their mites to the state treasury and offering bills to a complicit legislature, many wonder why Blumenthal would want to be senator, or even president, when he now deploys such awesome powers as attorney general.

“The casinos,” Blumenthal said at a recent press conference attended by some Foxwood employees, officials from the union representing them, public health advocates and of course indispensable reporters, “can't be permitted to gamble with the public health.”

The casinos are owned by Indian tribes. The tribes are for purposes of law sovereign nations, and the attorney general should be no more permitted to sue them than he would be permitted to sue, say, Brazil for allowing smoking in casinos affecting US tourists. Neither should state legislatures be permitted to pass laws affecting the polity of foreign nations. Perhaps realizing they had not many arrows in their quiver, the state legislature last year let elapse a bill written by Blumenthal’s office that regulated smoking in casinos.

But this is no great trouble for Connecticut’s version of Caligula. And so the bill is back, the reporters are back, Blumenthal’s overheated rhetoric is back, and it is doubtful whether there is in the Democrat dominated legislature or in the state’s quisling judiciary a lawmaker or a judge stout-hearted enough to tell the attorney general to stick a sock in it and refrain from spoiling a great deal.

What’s the great deal?

Connecticut has a long standing a deal – actually a treaty – with Connecticut Indians that so far has delivered to the state’s treasury much more money than Blumenthal through his suits and legislative bullying has claimed to deposit in the state’s political piggy bank.

Here’s the deal: The state treats Indians in Connecticut as a sovereign nation and the grateful Indians give the state a cut of their coin operated slot machine earnings. The treaty is rather more in the nature of a gentleman’s agreement – because it is not at all certain that the original deal made between the Indians and then Governor Lowell Weicker would pass legal scrutiny. However, as a sovereign nation, the Indians are free to make non-legally binding agreements.

Blumenthal is not a sovereign nation, though he seems to have ambitions in that direction.

Governor Rell, who opposes the legislative ban on smoking favored by Blumenthal, has acknowledged that the Indian tribes are sovereign nations. She has advised prudence in dealing with them. As a sovereign nation, the tribes are beyond the reach of state law. In fact, the governor had already concluded a nonbinding deal with one of the casinos to expand the nonsmoking areas both on the gaming floor and elsewhere in the casino before Blumenthal resumed huffing and puffing.

Sovereign nations, when pushed to the edge by belligerents, tend to push back. The Russian navy sent a rusting armada to Venezuela and Cuba this year in response to moves from the Bush administration to place missile defenses in some few former soviet block countries that wiggled free of Moscow.

In response to Blumenthal’s arrogance, might not the Indians just dissolve their gentleman’s agreement with the state and keep the lottery winnings to themselves?

Why should gentlemen be gentle to bullies?

Why should a sovereign nation bow at the boots of Blumenthal?

What is to prevent the Indians from saying to Blumenthal: no smoking, no slot machine rake-off?

When General Custer moved against the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, he was rebuffed in a rather dramatic fashion by superior force and the ingenious Crazy Horse, who proved to be a more fearsome warrior and a better general than the impetuous, forever blustering Custer.

It remains to be seen whether there is a Crazy Horse in Blumenthal’s future. Could an ensuing legal suit be Blumenthal’s last stand?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Jacklin Rises

The one question reporters and commentators seem not to want to touch – for pretty much the same reason most of us stay clear of downed power lines – is this: When the chief political writer for a prominent newspaper leaves the paper and is hired for pay by a politician either in office or running for office, is the person’s future contributions to the paper tainted in any way by small-“c” corruption? After all, the returning scrivener is in a perfect position to provide journalistic favors for favored political parties, the downed power line.

The question hangs over the head of Michele Jacklin, who has written a Democrat paint by the numbers opinion piece for the Hartford Courant, “Rell Evokes Regan, But Counting on Obamabucks.”

In a Manichean world in which the universe is divided between the forces of good and evil, there are good ideas, those proposed by President Barack Obama, and bad ideas, the operative ideas of the Reagan era: small government, manageable taxes and a vigorous private market place uncompromised by the destructive programs championed by Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep Barney Frank, which have destroyed the private market place in mortgage lending.

This is the progressive “real world” of Jacklin and others like her.

Gov. Jodi Rell’s budget, she avers, contains the stain of some Reganite ideas, uniformly bad, along with a smattering of brilliant Obama ideas: free manna from heaven and public works projects a la FDR.

We can depend on the forces of light, Democrats who control the legislature, to purify the budget and restore painful cuts and departmental concisions. Do not despair. There are angels among us.

Change and hope are on the way.

Jacklin was the chief political writer for the Hartford Courant for many years. She left the paper and was hired to work on Bridgeport Mayor John DeStefano's ill fated gubernatorial campaign. The identifier that appears below the byline of Jacklin’s commentary reads: “Michele Jacklin is a former political columnist for the Courant and now works at a local college.” The writer's connection with a prior Democrat campaign is not mentioned in the ID blurb, perhaps an oversight.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Tammany Hall Comes To Town Hall

Tell the truth but tell it slant: That was poet Emily Dickenson’s advice.

Applying the maxim to the Carlos Costa case, we get Tammany Hall epigrams from Carlos Costa’s lawyer, the forthright William Gerace:

"He did what he did," said Gerace of Costa, his client, adding that the facts of the allegations against Costa aren't in dispute. It's the interpretation that's at issue.

"Someone else will have to determine if he committed a crime or if he was trying to make a living," Gerace said, adding that what Costa did was grease "the wheels of business."

Costa is the Hartford developer, now under arrest, who sought to grease the wheels of business by performing what he thought was cost free work on Mayor Eddie Perez’s house.

The prosaic Hartford Courant put it this way:

“According to arrests warrants, Costa has told investigators that he thought the allegedly free work was "the cost of me doing business with the City." At the same time he was working on the mayor's house, Costa was working on a $5.7 million city streetscape project. As Costa struggled to meet deadlines and complete the city work, Perez intervened on his behalf and to his benefit, prosecutors allege.”

The Budget Jihad: Union Opposition

On Friday, Feb 6, hours after Governor Jodi Rell had laid out her budget proposal urbi et orbi, Daniel Livingston, an attorney for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, professed that unions were disappointed in the governor’s no tax budget.

Livingston told the Hartford Courant, “The direction she is pushing the budget (sic), we believe, is irresponsible. It’s an anti-stimulus package. It’s the traditional Republican playbook. It’s not the time for the same old, same old. It’s going to make the economy worse.”

The unions also wrote a “Dear Jodi” letter to the governor in which they said, “It is time to say openly and frankly to the people of this state that revenue enhancements [union verbiage for tax increases] should be raised in order to close the budget gap and preserve public services.”

No one who has been watching the news should be surprised at these entrenchments. Unions have issued previous communications of the same sort, one of them just before Rell’s address in which they threw down their gauntlet. In that communiqué, it was made very plain that any co-operation on the part of the unions would be keyed into a non-negotiable demand that Rell should do not harm to state services.

This back and forth would strike many people as the thousandth act in a play called “The Same Old, Same Old.” This is the way the play has opened and closed for decades: Union negotiations have driven up wages and benefits, which present no problem so long as prosperity reigns from sea to shining sea; then something happens that eats away at the wages and security of non-union workers, prompting the government to ask for sacrifices; the unions issue communiqués saying that one of their demands is that the government should make no demands.

We are all used to these rhetorical fisticuffs.

It’s pretty clear that the unions want the bitterest of sacrifices to come mostly from millionaires in Connecticut. One reporter, reading the union letter, wrote in his story, “Without using the phrase ‘millionaire’s tax,’ the unions endorsed the concept that the state’s richest residents need to pay more into state coffers.”

Big surprise there!

This is more of the same old, same old. “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me,” Russell Long used to say, “tax the fellow behind the tree.”

This time, Rell bit back in a major way. On the public television show “On the Record,” Rell said, “If unions are saying we are not going to talk unless you raise taxes, let me state unequivocally, and I mean this: I do not negotiate tax policy for the state of Connecticut with labor unions. That is not their role to tell us how many taxes to raise, what kind of taxes to raise and how much money to raise.” The governor wants concessions amounting to about $295 million over the next two years, a piddling amount considering the size of the deficit, now cresting at about $8 billion, according to Democrats.

The struggle, however, will be carried forward by union proxies, congressmen in the legislature whose responsibility it is to say yes or no to measures in the governor’s budget.

So the struggle in coming months will be between the governor, allied with a weak and sometimes disorganized Republican Party, and unions allied with legislators who for years, even in times of plenty, have been calling for a steeply progressive tax on millionaires. The unions, not without reason, believe their hour has come. Republicans – and more importantly, the Republican message – has been repudiated in the recently concluded national elections. President Obama has called for a massive spending program to lift the nation out of what he supposes will be a depression rivaling the Great Depression unless his FDR-like program is not immediately passed. The Big Mo appears to be on the side of precisely those people who want to extract more money from millionaires to support life styles – consistently rising wages and benefits – that other people might consider extravagant in the present circumstances.

From remarks made by Don Williams, President Pro-Tem of the Senate, and Chris Donovan, once a union chief and now Speaker of the state House of Representatives, it does not seem likely that Democrats in the legislature, elected in part through the tireless efforts of unions, would be likely to support the governor in her struggle to discharge the deficit without issuing massive public work’s programs and plundering the millionaires.

The leadership of the Democrat Party having been captured by unions, there is only one course open to Rell -- fight. She must get out of the gubernatorial bubble and make a public fight for her proposals. If they manage to keep her behind closed doors, they win.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Thanks George, Yours, Obama

This from the Washington Post, not a bastion of neo-conservativism:

Last weekend’s vote, which occurred during one of the calmest periods Iraq has experienced since the U.S. invasion, was a political triumph. Though results are still preliminary, they show that voters strongly rewarded Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his forceful action against extremist militias and his secular nationalist agenda — and punished religious parties perceived as too sectarian or too close to Iran. The nonsectarian alliance of former prime minister Ayad Allawi also appears to have done well, and nationalist Sunnis gained influence in areas where they had lacked it because of previous election boycotts. In short, Iraq appears to have taken a step toward becoming the moderate Arab democracy that the Bush administration long hoped for.

Mr. Maliki’s State of Law ticket appears to have finished first in Baghdad, in the southern port of Basra and in every southern province but one.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Reaction to Rell’s Budget Address

The day after Governor Jodi Rell delivered her budget address to the legislature and the state, the reviews began drifting in.

Quasi-socialist mayor of New Haven John DeStefano thought, "It was very powerful. It touched a lot of the right bases."

Other Democrats said the plan was under funded by some $3 billion. Majority Leader Martin Looney of New Haven said, "It's another partial deficit-mitigation plan, rather than a comprehensive budget, and John Geragosian of New Britain said, “It punts to the legislature the politically hard work. It is a partial effort, but it is not a serious effort."

Don Williams, President Pro Tem of the senate, sniffed at the plan and cautioned that it may not meet the fairness test. "As we go forward in the coming days and hours and hold the budget up to the light, it's got to pass the fairness test”said Williams, a canned response. Among Democrats, “fairness” is unrelated to equity; it is simply a command barked at the dogs to bite the leg of a millionaire.

Republicans were in an ebullient mood. Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy gushed, “"I'm thrilled with this, to be honest. I can sell this. I can defend this any day. And there is no tax increase across the board, which is also a home run."

Even fiscally conservative Republicans who previously had locked horns with Rell on matters of principle and strategy dusted off their compliments. House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero of Norwalk said, "She is a regular, down-to-earth person. That's always been her strength." And Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield managed to squeeze in a reference to President Barack Obama, now playing FDR in the Washington beltway.

Not an ideologue, Rell’s aversion to tax increases, McKinney said was based on economics -- not politics: "I don't think that is a Republican idea any longer. President Obama stands before the nation and says, 'We should not be raising taxes at this time.' So it doesn't make sense that it's good for President Obama and not good for Gov. Rell."

There were some rumblings on the conservative-libertarian Right as well. Lew Andrews, the Executive Director of the Yankee Institute, thought Rell had missed a golden opportunity to readjust the political playing field and make significant reforms adopted in other states that “could produce dramatic savings -- paying high school students to graduate early, identifying waste in Medicaid, using work-release programs to produce prison reform -- which she completely neglects. Instead, she [intends] to spend millions on a Connecticut version of Roosevelt's discredited WPA make-work program. This is a plan that puts already comfortable public employees ahead of distressed taxpayers.”

Recognizing rightly that every state mandate is a tax on municipalities, municipal officers were pleased that Rell’s plan eliminated some costly mandates, a quick and sure way to provide relief to over stressed town governments.

Cost saving measures within the executive department outlined in the governor’s plan include a more than cosmetic remake of departments.

All in all, not bad for a governor who does not have hanging about her the ivy that caresses the walls of Yale or Harvard. It will take the Brights some time to put the plan under a microscope and explode it.

And there is an unanswered question: In the past, under the direction of the governor’s chief aide Lisa Moody, Rell has been content to use her proposals as bargaining chips in huddles behind closed doors with Democrat leaders, and she had emerged from these claustrophobic mini-conferences with the gold fillings missing from her teeth.

It is not enough to propose measures; the governor must be willing to publicly campaign for her program. Abigail Adams, who once called Thomas Jefferson on the carpet for allowing others to defame her husband, would understand. The way ahead is full of battles, and there are some who believe Rell hasn’t the stomach to press her budget on the legislature by using her bully pulpit to rally support for her ideas.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Governor Rell’s Knife

Governor Jodi Rell warned in a short public address that her budget would be like no other, and this was easily dismissed by her usual opponents.

Now that she has put some flesh on the bare bones of her earlier statement, the same folk have gone apoplectic.

Rell’s remarks certainly are a flag around which Republicans may rally.

Below is an edited portion of the meatier part of her budget address:

Well, to the soothsayers and naysayers I say: Step aside. We need leaders. Help me as I lead Connecticut to a smaller, more affordable, more responsive government.

It starts with fewer state agencies. My budget eliminates 10 of them. All serve worthy purposes on paper, but all have functions largely duplicated by regular state agencies.

In times of plenty they are helpful. In times such as these they are unaffordable. Families are making do with less – so can we.

My budget also eliminates 10 other agencies through logical consolidations. Stand-alone entities are simply not needed. Families are making due with less – so can we.

More than 300 boards and commissions have been established by executive order or legislative or judicial fiat. Three hundred shadow government agencies, with associated staffing, mileage reimbursement and other expenses.

My budget eliminates 70 of these and merges others. We’re reducing the bloat of bureaucracy and making do with less.

My budget cuts our fleet of state cars by 20 percent. State cars are not an entitlement. If an employee doesn’t really need one, he or she won’t have one. Families are making do with less – so can we.

And we can do with fewer laws on the books. We not only need a leaner government but a less intrusive one as well. We have 14,000 pages of state laws in existence. Surely we can do with fewer. I am proposing that we take 130 unnecessary laws off the books. We should take others off as well. We can certainly make do with less.

I am also proposing that we cancel state bond authorizations of hundreds of projects, mostly earmark projects, totaling almost $400 million. Long-term debt will crush our children. Earmarking is out of control and it’s bankrupting us. We can’t afford not to make do with less.

And for one year we are putting a hold on construction at UConn and our state colleges and universities to save debt costs. Over the last decade we have transformed the physical face of higher education in Connecticut – and we will continue to do so.

I am proposing that we repeal or modify a host of state and municipal mandates. Comprehensive mandate relief is long overdue and will have a lasting impact in reshaping and reducing the cost of government.

First, no costly new mandate should be allowed without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Second, we should suspend for two years the so-called "raise-the-age" law and the new in-school suspension law.

Now is not the time to impose new burdens on cities and towns that are also struggling to balance budgets.

And perhaps most significantly, at least in the short-term, I am calling for the suspension of binding arbitration requirements for two years while we confront our economic troubles.

At the end of the two-year suspension, I propose that we limit mandatory subjects of binding arbitration to salaries and benefits only – not scheduling, the size of parking spaces, picnics and parties on state time and the dozens of other subjects currently included.

Tough decisions. Right decisions.

Mandate reform will offer much-needed help to our cities and towns. And I am pleased to announce that so will my budget, in that it flat funds – yes, flat funds – state aid to municipalities for the next 2 years.

No cuts to education aid. No cuts to any state grant program. None.

I had to cut even deeper in our state budget to accomplish this, but cut I did. Because we cannot, in good conscience, balance the state budget on the backs of property taxpayers. They cannot afford higher local taxes any more than they can afford higher state taxes.

And we want to help cities and towns through regionalism, a much discussed concept that must finally be put into action.

Municipalities can and should cut costs by sharing – sharing equipment, facilities, schools, personnel and more.

My budget provides $40 million in new grants for infrastructure and equipment for municipalities that want to join together to provide services like recycling, tax collection and payroll.

And a new $10 million grant will be available to purchase shared equipment – snow plows, dump trucks, garbage trucks.

And two programs – LOCIP and TAR – will be adjusted, at current funding levels, to provide 10 percent bonuses to those towns which join together on regionally beneficial programs.

It’s time regionalism was more than just something we talk about – it’s time for it to be a reality.

It’s also time for reform of our probate court system. Our system is antiquated and broken. I am proposing an overhaul that will reduce the number of courts, improve services and increase the hours of operation. It will also save money.

It’s long since time that bereaved families not add to their anguish by fighting an outdated and sometimes irresponsible probate system.

It’s also time that we made state government more accountable. I know the public is frustrated when they see waste and abuse in government and I don’t blame them.

They’re tired with our reacting to problems after they arise. Why, they ask, can’t we stop reacting and start doing it right in the first place? They’re right to ask, and while mistakes will always happen, we need to do better – far better.

That’s why I am creating an Office of Accountability and asking each state agency to appoint an Accountability Officer.

These accountability officials will be responsible for detecting – up front – fraud and waste by personnel and in the use of state property. They will ensure that resources, including cars, phones and computers, are used for legitimate purposes.

We cannot afford to lose one dollar to waste, inefficiency or abuse, particularly at a time when tax dollars are shrinking and painful cuts are being made.

So many families are struggling right now – and many more are likely to – given the almost daily announcement of more layoffs.

With each job loss the question of "what if" becomes "what now?"

What do we do now to keep the roof over our heads and food on the table?

The heart of what we do, not just as a government, but as friends and neighbors, is the basic part and the best part of our humanity.

That’s why my budget will include an additional $1.7 million in new monies to expand elderly nutrition programs, including home delivery and congregate meals, as well as for stocking food pantries and shelters around the state.

I am also expanding eligibility for federal food assistance so as to help an additional 19,000 people.

We can help people put food on the table but we also need to help get them back to work – temporarily and permanently.

For the short term, I am setting aside $7.5 million in the budget to bring back an old idea – one that dates back to the Depression, one in which my own father participated: the CCC, or Civilian Conservation Corps.

In our case it would be the Connecticut Conservation Corps and we would hire people in need of work, particularly those with dependents, and pay them a decent wage to help with projects such as cleaning beaches and clearing trails at state parks.

Good and honest work on projects we need undertaken in exchange for good and honest wages that some need to support their families.

The program has not yet been finalized but money has been set aside in the budget. I ask your help, as the Legislature, to craft a formal and final plan with me so that we can put it into place by July 1.

I also ask your help in another area. As I have said repeatedly, we need to position Connecticut to soar when our economy recovers. That means making Connecticut the best place to do business and making sure we have the nation’s most well-trained work force.

In short, I want Connecticut at a competitive advantage over all other states, particularly neighboring states.

I believe that we cannot raise taxes on employers at this time. They are struggling, just like our families. Higher taxes could likely be the last financial straw that causes companies to close and employees to lose jobs. If we hold firm and neighboring states raise business taxes, as they are talking about doing, then we will be at a competitive advantage very quickly.

And the advantage will be all ours if we recognize the incredible engines of economic growth that are "green collar jobs." Engineers, plumbers, chemists, scientists, HVAC technicians and builders all will benefit in a clean and green future.

I want to introduce green principles into education, manufacturing, engineering and other aspects of business and industry. I want to focus on specialized green job training.

And there is another way in which we can "green up" our state and that is by expanding our bottle bill law to include non-carbonated beverages like water. My budget provides for it.

Green is great, but we need to do more. I am proposing a sweeping overhaul of the state’s business agencies – bringing all of our efforts, from start-up financing to business recruitment, the arts, tourism and film programs, under unified leadership at DECD – the Department of Economic and Community Development.

DECD would also take over responsibility for two key state efforts – the Small Business Innovation Research program and the variety of state programs intended to encourage the development and clean-up of brownfields.

I am also proposing we combine our two financing agencies – the Connecticut Development Authority and Connecticut Innovations – into the new Connecticut Economic Innovations Authority.

These consolidations will eliminate duplication of services, ease confusion among business leaders about where to go to for help and untangle the variety of agencies, acronyms and applications that slow the process of job creation.

And I have another new initiative about which I am truly excited.

I am proposing to merge the vo-tech high school and community college systems, together with the state’s Office of Workforce Competitiveness, to create the Middle College System – a system of coordinated academic programs that bridge the gap between high school and higher education, allowing students to earn 60 college credits within five years of starting high school.

Middle College students would have access to state-of-the-art facilities and gain college-level experience tuition free.

My proposal lights a clear path to success for more than 10,000 students now in Connecticut’s vo-tech high school system and will sharply improve the graduation rates and career prospects for our community college students – all while ensuring that a skilled work force will be in place to help us achieve economic success.

We already have a skilled work force in our state employees. To them I say thank you – thank you for your service and for what you have already done to help us in these challenging times.

And thank you to those who have come to the table so that we may discuss, with comity, how we may reduce costs further.

Let me also state unequivocally to all our state employees: You are not the reason, not the cause, of our economic troubles. But you must be a part of the solution – and sooner rather than later.

Solutions. Doing more with less. Making government more affordable. No tax increases. No cuts to state aid. Mandate reform. Probate reform. Green collar jobs. Regionalization. Food and job assistance. A new Middle College system.

Good news at a time when we all need some good news.

Good news tempered by the pain and sacrifice of necessary spending cuts and deferred programs and projects.

This is a time of challenge like no other in our memories. It is a time for us to come together, not rend apart.

To those who would disparage or dismiss the cuts or reforms my budget contains: You have that right. But you also have the obligation to put your specific alternatives on the public table – and to do so soon.

We need to act swiftly in these turbulent times, for the families of Connecticut need our help, need our leadership.

I commend to you the words of Abigail Adams in a letter written to her son 230 years ago – words as relevant today as they were when she put pen to paper:

"It is not in the still calm of life … that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised … then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman."

Help me contend with difficulties. Be virtuous. Raise your minds.

Our journey begins today but it will not end until the darkest of ocean clouds dissipate and the brightest of blue skies open to a future of endless possibilities for our citizens.

Thank you and God bless the great State of Connecticut.

Cooper Recants, Sort Of

That didn’t take long.

According to a recent back up story in Politico, prominent Blue Dog Democratic congressman Jim Cooper has “moved quickly Wednesday morning to clarify eyebrow-raising comments made Tuesday in which he said White House officials encouraged him to speak out against the House stimulus bill.”

Cooper, from Tennessee, previously had been a thorn in the side of the Clinton regime. The transition of his enmity to Speaker of the US House Nancy Pelosi has been effortless.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Out Of the Mouths Of…

Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee stuck his foot in his mouth; then he stuck his other foot in his mouth; then he swallowed one of his eyeballs; then...

Politico via Liberadio! has the story:

"’Well, I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I actually got some quiet encouragement from the Obama folks for what I’m doing,’ said Cooper, one of about 55 House Democrats to sign a letter criticizing Speaker Nancy Pelosi for suspending normal debate and committee rules on the $819 billion package.

“He went on -- and on:

"’They know it’s a messy bill and they wanted a clean bill. Now, I got in terrible trouble with our leadership because they don’t care what’s in the bill, they just want it pass and they want it to be unanimous. They don’t mind the partisan fighting cause that’s what they are used to. In fact, they’re really good at it. And they’re a little bit worried about what a post-partisan future might look like. If members actually had to read the bills and figure out whether they are any good or not. We’re just told how to vote. We’re treated like mushrooms most of the time.’"

After Pelosi sinks her teeth in him, he’s gonna feel like a masticated mushroom.

Sen. Blumenthal?

Anton Chekov, the great Russian playwright, use to say that if you introduce a gun in the first act, it had better go off by the final act. Dick Blumenthal, in Connecticut politics, is the gun that won’t go off.

Blumenthal has his name in the media every other day, sometimes multiple times. All that juice, reporters figure, ought to be put to some useful purpose, and Blumenthal has numerous times expressed his interest in occupying some post other than being attorney general.

It has been widely reported in various media outlets that both US Connecticut senators have slipped on blood. Lieberman is in the progressive dog house largely because of his position on the war in Iraq. Dodd lately has run into trouble over a sweetheart deal he had made with Countrywide a defunct mortgage lender, an industry Dodd regulates as chairman of the banking committee.

All this is a recipe for imaginative speculation.

The Hill, a beltway publication, has cited anonymous “multiple Connecticut Democrats” to the effect that Blumenthal “has begun informing influential members of the state's political class that he will prepare for a run against Lieberman.”

There are multiple Connecticut Democrats who will not be satisfied until Lieberman is hanging from the yard arm of the Democratic ship they’ve pirated, and to the anti-Lieberman mob any noose will do; why not Blumenthal?

Blumenthal, as usual, has been as brash as Caligula about the whole business. “My only focus and my sole interest right now is on the race in 2010 and seeking reelection as attorney general,” he told the Hill. Even so, Blumenthal said, it “would be an honor, and it's always been a career goal. I've said that I look forward to continuing opportunities for public service in the future.”

There’s the hat tree, and anyone is free to hang their hat on it.

The journalistic pump here in Connecticut is used to being primed with such tantalizing hints and feints from Blumenthal.

This one will be worth a few column inches in the morning press and on anti-Lieberman blog sites.

There will be a picture.

Sanford among the Lilliputians

The next shot heard round the world may be a simple “No.”

Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, here appears before the US Congress to give testimony on the federal bailout and utters the forbidden word, causing faces to collapse, hearts to break and Charlie Rangel to reach for the smelling salts.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Typhoid Cibes Surfaces

“There is no panacea to solve our current problems,” writes Bill Cibes who, along with Lowell Weicker, the father of Connecticut’s income tax, ushered in the father of all panaceas.

“Hard decisions must be made that employ every available option to balance the state budget while doing no harm to the most vulnerable among us and preserving the foundations of future prosperity,” Cibes wrote in a Courant column, “How To Solve Deficit, Restore Sound Footing,” in tandem with Ned Lamont, the come-from-nowhere Greenwich wunderkind who won a primary against current Senator Joe Lieberman several years back.

Cibes is not new to Connecticut politics. He ran for governor on an income tax platform several years ago and was soundly defeated. Refusing to take “No” for an answer, Cibes consented to become then Governor Lowell Weicker’s Office of Budget and Management chief. And – surprise! – a few weeks into his term, Weicker graced the state with its current non-performing income tax.

The tax was sold to the state as a measure that would provide Connecticut with a more reliable stream of revenue than its pre-income tax workhorse revenue producer, the sales tax, which bobbed up and down like a cork on the tide of the state’s prosperity.

Connecticut’s current projected deficit of $6 billion in the next two year fiscal term is unimpeachable proof that the income tax, heavily reliant on Gold Coast financiers, is no more stable than the sales tax.

The income tax was sold to us by Cibes and Weicker on false premises. If the Cibes Weicker duo were interested in stabilization, the income tax, more secure in their view, would have replaced the state's less stable sales tax. But Weicker and Cibes were interested solely in providing a new stream of revenue to grateful legislators who then proceeded to double and triple the bottom line of the last pre-income tax budget. The income tax has been a boon to irresponsible legislators – not to the state.

Readers of the most recent Cibes-Lamont sunburst in the Courant will find none of these perceptions in their column. Indeed,Cibes and Lamont have simply dusted off perceptions retailed by Cibes and Weicker when the income tax was but a glint in their eyes.

The state is in debt – again.

Some combination of taxes and spending cuts must be put together by the Brights who have given us over the past decade and more swollen budgets and red ink – again.

The Brights will save us – again.

And they're not kidding.

Weicker refused to run for a second term as governor because he knew voters would have paddled his arse out of the state. He moved to Virginia and showed up again like a bad penny when Lamont -- like Weicker at the beginning of his career, a rich dilettante from Greenwich -- decided at Weicker’s urging to challenge then Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman in a primary. Lamont won the primary, largely owing to Lieberman’s support for George Bush’s bungling but ultimately successful attempt to bring the fruits of democracy toIraq, but lost the general election. Lamont has been on ice ever since, waiting for his moment in the sun.

Weicker, before leaving the state, provided a featherbed for Cibes, who became the first chancellor of the state’s four colleges.

The central premise of the Cibes-Lamont column is that the state has yet another revenue problem, a premise trotted out by Weicker and Cibes as a sales gimmic when both were hot on an income tax. But the state of Connecticut does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. And that problem cannot not be settled by prescriptions offered by Cibes or anyone connected with him.

The state should be certified insane if it thinks it necessary to consult Typhoid Mary on the proper means of ridding the state of typhoid.

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