Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Catholic Church Under Siege

Here’s a question no one seems willing to discuss: How often do legislative committees – the Ethics Committee, no less – start “investigations” on groups that are exercising their constitutional rights on the Capitol lawn?

Once, that I can think of -- here:

The state’s Ethics Committee is now “investigating” the Catholic Church with a view to determining whether the Diocese of Bridgeport, which paid for some buses to transport people to a rally on the Capitol lawn, is in violation of lobbying ordinances. The Catholic Church is suing the state to secure its constitutional rights.

There is some danger here that watchful citizens may lose sight of the trees because they are too close to the forest.

The Catholic Church has been under successful attack for some time by its natural enemies in the legislature, but one recent sally by the church’s opponents in the legislature has been beaten back by the church. Some people are keeping score, obviously.

The Judiciary Committee, headed by co-chairs Rep. Michael Lawyor and Sen. Andrew McDonald have been successful in forcing the church affiliated hospitals, which are opposed both to contraception and abortion, to provide their patients with a birth control pill the church regarded as an abortifacient. Under considerable pressure from the legislature and the media, the church has relented and agreed to provide the contraceptive devise, Plan B, to patients seeking care that have been raped. The Catholic Church unavailingly also opposed gay marriage, now permitted by law in Connecticut .

When the two chairs of the Judiciary Committee several weeks ago proposed a bill that would have abolished the apostolic structure of the Catholic Church by preventing bishops and other clerics from controlling the way funds are distributed in their parishes, there was, as might be expected, some push-back from Catholics. A massive rally and protest at the Capitol succeeded in killing a pestiferous and recklessly destructive bill, Raised Bill No. 1098, which, had it passed, would have resulted in the emasculation of the church. The bill, some Catholics hope, was defeated not so much because of the protest and rally, but because a sufficient number of legislators on both side of the aisle regarded it as a ruinous, constitutionally flawed bill.

After this struggle had been waged, some Catholics began to wonder whether it might not be more efficient for its opponents in the legislature to simply abolish the Catholic Church in Connecticut , Is it not better to be executed at once than to be stomped to death by furious geese?

The Ethics Committee now has stepped into this rat’s nest. And, assuming Connecticut citizens are still attentive to constitutional irregularities, the Catholic Church ought to be able similarly to beat back the Ethics Committee’s unconstitutional objections to its rally and protest.

The first right of Americans is the right to be free of pestiferous governmental institutions that would strip them of their imprescriptible, God given constitutional rights; among these rights are the rights to challenge the government through the exercise of free speech and to peacefully assemble for the purpose of petitioning their government for a redress of grievances. That is what happened at the rally.

The rally was a protest against an insufferable attack on constitutional religious rights. It was a political protest hastily organized by a church that is under unremitting attack for having defended its religious interests, and one cannot help but wonder where exactly in this most recent tiff between Connecticut’s government and the church such paragons of constitutional probity like Attorney General Blumenthal will come down in the struggle for basic constitutional rights. The protest, incidentally, was hastily organized because the Judiciary Committee, overseen by Lawlor and McDonald, had attempted to slide their bill past watchful eyes.

It should be very interesting to see where in this struggle the usual custodians of the First Amendment – which provides for freedom of speech and, in the very same sentence, assures the liberty of churches freely to exercise their religion – park their tents.

Blumenthal, whose relationship with constitutional rights is warm and cuddly, is by law required to defend those who are now assaulting both the Catholic Church and the Catholics and non-Catholics who turned out at the rally and protest; it’s his job to do so. But in the past, Blumenthal also has “advised” state agencies – and, depending on his humors, pretty much everyone else -- to drop oppressive measures that are constitutionally questionable. One wonders: Has Governor Jodi Rell asked Blumenthal to advise her whether the Ethics Commission should shelve its constitutionally objectionable “investigation?”

That would be just peachy.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Democrats Say “Yes, No” to Standing Legislative Ethics Committee

State senators Thomas Gaffey of Meriden and Joseph Crisco of Woodbridge were not present in the chamber when Republican Sen. John McKinney offered a bill, voted down by dominant Democrats, to establish a standing legislative ethics committee.

There is some humorous speculation that Sen. Crisco, recently found to have forged documents for which he was fined $4,000 by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, had secluded himself behind the statue representing “The Genius of Connecticut” in the North lobby of the Capitol, while Sen. Gaffey, fined $6,000 by the same committee for having fraudulently charged both the state and his political action committee for the same campaign travel expenses, was canoodling with a lobbyist for Connecticut’s four state colleges in the cramped elevator that connects the building’s first and second floors.

The issue of a standing ethics committee was first raised after Republican Sen. Lou DeLuca had failed to resist the blandishments of an FBI plant pretending to be an associate of a reputed mob connected trash hauler. The agent told the senator he would be privileged to “pay a visit” to a future son-in-law who, the senator thought, had assaulted his daughter, a charge hotly disputed by the accused ruffian who later married DeLuca’s daughter – all in all, a messy family affair.

At the time, both Republican and Democrat senators had conspired to give DuLuca the boot. The senator pleaded guilty to a single count that could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired on the charge, and the vast inducement machine that had been assembled to force DeLuca from the legislature – a persistent negative press, threats of prosecution, threats of impeachment – ground to a halt before the measure establishing a standing legislative ethics committee could be adopted by a preening legislature.

Before and after he left the chamber, DeLuca accused some in the legislature of gross hypocrisy, the compliment, some say, that vice pays to virtue.

DeLuca’s charges, then thought by Derrick Slap, communications chief for President Pro Tem of the senate Don William, to be an exercise in overheated rhetoric, have now borne bitter fruit.

One of DeLuca’s barbs was aimed at Gaffey.

In the course of dilating upon Gaffey’s “amorata,” Kevin Rennie’s term for Associate Vice Chancellor Jill Ferraiolo, a state worker and a lobbyist for Connecticut’s four state colleges, the Courant columnist noted in December 2007 that under persistent questioning “Gaffey's recollection was getting sharper. He recalled, in response to written questions, two previously undisclosed luncheons with Ferraiolo and others that he paid for with money from his Government Action Fund Political Action Committee. Those are political contributions that Gaffey has used for years to finance travel, dinners and trips.”

Flash forward to the present crisis: Gaffey, whose expense accounts were usually in a shambles, now has been fined $6,000 by the state Elections Enforcement Commission for double billing the state and his political action committee, GAFPAC, for the same travel expenses.

President Pro Tem of the senate Don Williams’ reaction, both then and now, to Gaffey’s artfully sloppy accounting – not to mention Gaffey’s cozy association with a lobbyist whose client, the Connecticut State University System, was awarded more than a billion in tax appropriations – remains unvaried.

“State Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams,” Rennie wrote in December, “displaying his taste for censorship, mustered a studied disdain for the idea that Gaffey ought to have disclosed his affair while shaping and promoting the CSUS legislation. Pay no attention to Gaffey's gambit last spring, as a member of the legislature's Finance Committee, to replace a carefully controlled plan for CSUS with one that spent a lot more and included less oversight…”

Even in the face of an unambiguous finding that Gaffey had charged both the state and GAFPAC for the same expenses, Williams remains studiously disdainful towards the notion of a standing legislative ethics committee that might monitor, more closely and more disinterestedly than he, the fraudulent activities of Gaffey or the illegal activities of Sen. Joe Crisco, the forger.

When Dereck Slap was asked why Democrats, once in favor of a permanent legislative ethics committee, had now reversed themselves, Williams’ communications director responded that while Democrats were serious in first broaching the idea, recently they had “"just looked at it extensively" and decided that it was not “something that made the most sense.”

Such in-your-face distain towards effective oversight measures, given the present circumstances, may only lead Williams to a fatal failure and more distain.

Our Bums

Ken Dixon, a reporter and blogger with the Connecticut Post, realized after he had assembled a transcript of a media opportunity with President Pro Tem of the state Senate Don Williams that he had a mini- Marx Brothers movie in hand.

Reporters were asking Williams about what Dixon called “the bicameral ethics of the state senate,” controlled these many years by fastidious Democrats.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission had just penalized Sen. Joe Crisco, D-Woodbridge, $4,000 for having signed the names of his campaign officials on documents he had used to apply for up to $85,000 in taxpayer funded campaign cash, often called forgery. And the reporters in the room were just curious: Could Williams please put the DeLuca case in context with the Crisco case?

Lou DeLuca, at the time a leading Republican with a sterling record, was drummed out of the senate after an FBI agent got him to agree in a conversation that he would be willing to accept the services of the agent, then pretending to be an associate of a reputed mob influenced trash hauler. The agent said he would be delighted to take care of the senator’s son-in-law, whom the senator believed had roughed up his granddaughter.

When DeLuca, once the highest ranking member of the Republican caucus, mentioned a previous ordeal of Sen. Tom Gaffey, the second Democrat recently fined for ethics violations, Williams, in high dungeon, responded, “For Lou DeLuca to have brought this up is an outrage. For somebody who was investigated by the FBI, the chief state's attorney's office, and but for the fact that law enforcement was able to break up the hit that he ordered on a relative, he would be in jail. For him to start talking about Tom Gaffey, who broke no law … we're talking about two different universes."

Derek Slap, Williams’ spokesperson, commented "It is sad, considering the difficult times facing Connecticut and its families, that the leader of the Republican Party [Party Chairman Chris Healy] and a disgraced former senator would waste everybody's time slinging mud. We're focused on working with Governor Rell to solve the budget crisis."

At the recent news availability, according to the transcript made by Dixon, a reporter asked Williams, “What is going to happen in the Joe Crisco case?

“Williams: I don’t foresee other action being taken over and above the very thorough and lengthy investigation that was conducted by Elections Enforcement.

“Reporter B: They said he signed falsely several times for other people on sworn documents and stood there while they were notarized. And they didn’t use the word forgery. That’s the word (State GOP Chairman) Chris Healy used. But how is that not forgery in your mind?

“Williams: You know, from my understanding, from what I’ve been told, they did not find… they didn’t have a finding against Sen. Crisco in terms of unlawful behavior…

“Reporter B: That’s not true.

“Williams: Is that not true?

“Reporter B: They said he violated the campaign laws.

“Reporter C: Numerous state laws.

“Reporter B: Numerous times, yeah.”

Sen. Crisco, who had committed forgery on notarized documents, was fined $4,000 and forced to forfeit $85,000 in public funds spent on a campaign he won. Sen. Gaffey was fined $6,000 for double billing the state and his political action committee for the same travel expenses.

Williams should revisit the DeLuca controversy and begin to treat his bums the way he was disposed to treat his political opposition’s bums.

Gaffey already has had at least two bites of the apple, and Crisco should be prosecuted for forgery.

One major newspaper has called for the prosecution of Crisco by Connecticut's chief state's attorney. Williams should be in the vanguard of those demanding that Crisco be relieved of his usufructs and his office. Connecticut’s media should boisterously insist upon it. And if Williams fails to clean his own Augean stables, he also should be given the heave-ho.

There should be no room in Connecticut politics for legislative leaders who conspire in ethical violations by protecting their own bums from a fate they so richly deserve.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor, The View from the Left

Sonia Sotomayor has flunked the First Amendment sniff test with Andy Thibault, the proprietor of The Cool Justice Report. Sotomayor is President Barack Obama’s choice to fill a vacancy on the U.S Supreme Court left by the impending retirement of Justice David Souter.

With permission, Tibault’s take on Sotomayor is printed here:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Sotomayor, Enemy Of Free Speech, Pushed For Supremes

My Take
On This Fundamentally Flawed Selection …

Sotomayor was clubbed on the head with a crystal-clear free speech violation and she said, in effect, 'That's nice, I'll sign off on it.'

When a citizen seeks a redress of a grievance and is punished for lobbying the community, that's OK with Sotomayor. Nevermind the fabrication of disruption or potential disruption long after the fact by the douche bag school bosses: Sotomayor flunks due diligence, a reading of her own Second Circuit on the standard of offensiveness and most importantly, her duty to uphold the Bill of Rights. Any punishment by a government official in response to protected speech is a violation of the First Amendment.

What kind of third-rate vetters is the Obama Administration using?

Obama talks a good game about openness and civil rights. His kowtowing to the military industrial complex and spymasters on torture photos and this lame choice for the high court demonstrate the contrast between his words and deeds.

-- Andy Thibault, 5-26-09

Stop Enemies Of Free Speech From Being Elevated To Higher Courts
In Doninger v. Niehoff, the Second Circuit upheld the right of school officials to punish students for out-of–school speech in a major blow to both the first amendment and student rights ... [that ruling is still in play at the Second Circuit ... ]
Turley On Sotomayor's Troubling Decisions, Lack Of Depth• Why One Strike Against the First Amendment Should Rule Sotomayor Out of the Supreme Court

Paul Levinson is not pleased either.

My own take on the Avery Doninger case may be found here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Obama Test

Some time also, prescient Vice President Joe Biden predicted that the Obama administration would be “tested,” presumably by someone other than Rush Limbaugh and former Vice President Dick Cheney, within his first few months of office.

A few days ago, North Korea’s wacky president and film buff Kim Jong-il, who reportedly is ill, set off an underground nuclear explosion that is said to have rivaled the A-Bomb explosion at Hiroshima. The president, so full of apologies, has yet to bend the knee to the Japanese on that one.

The analysts, according to a report in the British Guardian have it all figured out: “Analysts believe the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, hopes to use the test to shore up support from the military amid mounting speculation that he is about to name one of his three sons as his successor.

“Kim, 67, appears to be re-establishing his grip on power since reportedly suffering a stroke last August. Today's test is a direct challenge to attempts by Obama to engage the North and stem the spread of nuclear weapons.”

President Barack Obama and his erstwhile Vice President were rather hoping that a little diplomacy would persuade Kim to give up his testosterone filled hopes of a nuclear tipped North Korea. But no such such luck, says Kim Myong-chol, a fellow who is said to be “close to Kim” and the executive director of the Centre for Korean-American Peace in Tokyo: “North Korea doesn't need any talks with America. America is tricky and undesirable. It does not implement its own agreements.

"We are not going to worry about sanctions. If they sanction us, we will become more powerful. Sanctions never help America; they are counter-productive … We don't care about America and what they say.”

Kim is not the sort of dictator who is brought low by a silver tongue.

And neither is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s Pot Pol.

Der Spiegel OnLine, a news organization that is miles ahead of any US publication has just reported on a breakthrough on the UN’s Tribunal investigation of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, murdered by, so it was thought at the time, of the wily coyote of Syria, President Bashar Assad.

Citing sources close to the investigation, Spiegel points out that Iran, not Syria, is the international culprit in Lebanon’s Shakespearian drama:
“SPIEGEL has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn. Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah ("Party of God") that planned and executed the diabolical attack. Tribunal chief prosecutor Bellemare and his judges apparently want to hold back this information, of which they been aware for about a month…

“This leaves the question of motive unanswered. Many had an interest in Hariri's death. Why should Hezbollah -- or its backers in Iran -- be responsible?

“Hariri's growing popularity could have been a thorn in the side of Lebanese Shiite leader Nasrallah. In 2005, the billionaire began to outstrip the revolutionary leader in terms of popularity. Besides, he stood for everything the fanatical and spartan Hezbollah leader hated: close ties to the West and a prominent position among moderate Arab heads of state, an opulent lifestyle, and membership in the competing Sunni faith. Hariri was, in a sense, the alternative to Nasrallah.”

Two of the legs of George Bush’s “evil empire” have now proclaimed them selves resistant to diplomacy, Amadinijad, the international co-conspirator in assassination who recently challenged Obama to a “debate” at the UN, recently having declared that its nuclear program will not be a part of any negotiation with the United States.

Increasingly, it is becoming apparent that the Obama administration is living off the fumes of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

As the future stretches out before us, the fumes of success in Iraq will dissipate.

And the test predicted by Biden will not be long in coming.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hollywood Follies

According to the authoritative New York Post’s “Page Six,” Jon Peter’s auto-biography “Studio Head” was a case of premature ejaculation.

Leaks from the book proposal reached all the usual sounding boards before Peters withdrew “Studio Head.”

"Somehow this proposal has become a kind of Holy Grail of gossip,” Peter is reported saying in the Post, “and I have become Hollywood's 'Man Who Knows Too Much.' I have been besieged by potential lawsuits and threatened litigation by some of the most important figures in the world of show business. What's worse . . . is the fact that I consider all these people my friends . . . I want my book to be a celebration of, never an attack upon, the remarkable people I have known and worked with . . .”

Vanity Fair, printed some choice excerpts from Peter’s celebration of his friends.

“In the late 60s,” according to Vanity Fair, “ Peters caught his second wife, actress Lesley Ann Warren, in bed with Warren Beatty and chased the actor around the block, ‘instilling more fear in the serial Lothario than the rednecks who would kill his character in the upcoming Bonnie and Clyde.’

“When I ran this by Beatty,” Vanity Fair reporter Frank DiGiacomo wrote, “he laughed and told me that these assertions were ‘amusing but totally untrue.’ Lesley Ann Warren concurs: ‘It’s funny and colorful, but there’s not an iota of truth in that.’”

Barbara Walter invited Peters to her New York apartment prior to hosting a news special featuring Peters and Barbara Streisand.

“Keeping things very chummy,” Vanity Fair summarizes the book proposal, “ with no pretense of journalistic objectivity, she plied Jon with champagne and caviar, then changed into ‘something comfortable,’ leaving her bedroom door strategically ajar as she stripped down to her bra and panties, giving Jon a 20-20 view, as it were, of the Barbara W in all her glory. Whether Barbara was setting a trap to get the scoop of a lifetime, or whether she was making a sincere pass, Jon didn’t snap at the bait. One Barbra was enough, and he had a blockbuster to promote.”

Responding through a spokeswoman for Walters, the magazine reported that Walters issued a statement: “This is the most absurd, ridiculous thing I have ever heard. My only contact with Jon Peters was when I interviewed him and Barbra Streisand, surrounded by television cameras in 1976 for an ABC News special.”

Nothing spoils a good Hollywood potboiler quite as much as Hollywood lawyers. There will be no mini-series until Peters has redrafted his bio so as to make his friends in Sodom and Hollywood purr like Cheshire cats.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Common Sense, Capital Punishment and Deterrence

Opponents of Capital Punishment in Connecticut say it ought to be abolished because, among other reasons, it does not deter.

They are either right or wrong, though it seems counter-intuitive to say the punishment does not deter. When your Mom slapped you on the wrist for stealing cookies from the cookie jar, she did so on the assumption that her condign punishment would deter your future thefts.

When people say that capital punishment does not deter, we should ask them whether they believe any punishment deters. Assuming those who make this assertion should be taken seriously, we must asked them how they know capital punish does not deter. How may one test the assumption?

Paul commits a murder for which he is executed, and Peter is either deterred or not. In both crime and life, one takes ones chances. Peter may not be deterred because he knows of a certainty that while he is a genius – prisons are full of them – the cops are dunces. And even if he is caught and prosecuted in Connecticut, he has the word of the Speaker of the state House of Representatives, the President Pro-Tem of the Senate, as well as both committee chairs of the Judiciary Committee, that no one in Connecticut will be executed unless “they want to be executed.” Michel Ross, the second person to be executed in Connecticut in the last half century fairly begged to be executed because he wished to relieve the family members of his several victims the agony of further prolonged hearings and trials.

In Connecticut, the possibility is very good that if Peter, say, engages in a home invasion, rapes a mother and daughter and then murders, but for the father who luckily escapes, a whole family by setting their house on fire, he will not be executed. So Peter computes the possibilities and is not deterred. Can we say in that case that capital punishment has not deterred Peter. Would it not be closer to the truth to say that the empty threat of capital punishment does not deter? Punishment delayed under these circumstance is punishment denied. Is it not truer to say, under the prevailing circumstance, that non-punishment does not deter; that assumption would at least ratify our intuition?

To show Capital punishment does not deter, we would have to demonstrate that Peter would have committed a capital crime but was deterred from doing so because Paul was executed for having done the same, and Peter as a result consciously decided not to commit a murder. To ask a pedestrian question, how would I find Peter, and others like him who made a similar decision, so that I might include all of them in a statistical analysis? How do such non-crimes figure in polls and statistical analyses? They don’t and can’t. Deterrence is a likely hypothesis, nothing more. There is no irrefutable proof that punishment deters, shall we say, bank robberies. But we do not argue that because the deterrence value of punishment in the case of bank robberies is questionable, we should for that reason repeal future punishments.

If capital punishment has no deterrent value, is it unjust?

No. A punishment need not deter to be just. Justice, in punishments, is related to proportionality and a dispassionate process that results in the assignment of punishment. That is why lady justice is pictured as a woman blindfolded with a scale of justice in her hands. She is blindfolded because justice must be disinterested. And she presents a scale because justice involves a weighing of truths presented at trial and a just verdict, followed by a condign punishment. The punishment is just if the process leading to the punishment is dispassionate, fair and proportional to the crime for which the criminal has been convicted.

These -- and not the deterrent value of punishment – are the marks of justice. And in the light of these values, capital punishment in Connecticut is both just and necessary in the cases in which it has been applied.

There are people who argue that capital punishment is vengeance, murder by the state, but these people cannot make common distinctions between the capital crimes of a criminal, which sometimes are vengeful, and the judgments of a jury, which are dispassionate and, in the case of Ross, who raped and murdered several young women, eminently just.

Others argue there are strong religious reasons that support the abolition of capital punishment.

That is true. But those who argue in this fashion, if they are Catholics, give the lie to their profession of faith if they do not oppose abortion, which their church regards as the taking of an innocent human life. Those who support capital punishment for certain crimes – say, multiple murder, especially heinous murders, or the murder of a prison guard or prisoner while serving a sentence for murder – need not pay attention to protests coming from this quarter. Atheists, what Jacques Maritain called “practical atheists” and agnostics cannot avail themselves of this argument. It has been pretty much a given in Connecticut legislation, especially on the state’s judiciary committee, that laws ought not to be written merely for the purpose of satisfying religious objections.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Soak the Disappearing Rich – No, We Can’t

It looks like the golden goose has already fled the Northeast, according to a study done by the Manhatten Institute.

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Finally, there is the issue of whether high-income people move away from states that have high income-tax rates. Examining IRS tax return data by state, E.J. McMahon, a fiscal expert at the Manhattan Institute, measured the impact of large income-tax rate increases on the rich ($200,000 income or more) in Connecticut, which raised its tax rate in 2003 to 5% from 4.5%; in New Jersey, which raised its rate in 2004 to 8.97% from 6.35%; and in New York, which raised its tax rate in 2003 to 7.7% from 6.85%. Over the period 2002-2005, in each of these states the "soak the rich" tax hike was followed by a significant reduction in the number of rich people paying taxes in these states relative to the national average. Amazingly, these three states ranked 46th, 49th and 50th among all states in the percentage increase in wealthy tax filers in the years after they tried to soak the rich.”

After the New Jersey tax hike, the report notes, “there were 4,000 missing half-millionaires in New Jersey,” which now has one of the largest budget deficits in the US.

Some of the plucked rich moved out of state; those that remained reported less taxable income on their returns; and people who might have moved into high tax states had second thoughts. Many of the newly impoverished states have had a rough time holding their graduates because they moved in search of jobs that were disappearing in the high tax states.

The study also disputes the notion that low tax states cannot offer necessary amenities, such as good schools.

Wrong, say the authors of the report: “… and New Hampshire is our favorite illustration. The Live Free or Die State has no income or sales tax, yet it has high-quality schools and excellent public services. Students in New Hampshire public schools achieve the fourth-highest test scores in the nation -- even though the state spends about $1,000 a year less per resident on state and local government than the average state and, incredibly, $5,000 less per person than New York. And on the other side of the ledger, California in 2007 had the highest-paid classroom teachers in the nation, and yet the Golden State had the second-lowest test scores.”

Pro-growth states fare better in a global economy: “Texas created more new jobs in 2008 than all other 49 states combined. And Texas is the only state other than Georgia and North Dakota that is cutting taxes this year.”

States that do not learn from this history eventually will be faced with two unappetizing choices: Cut costs or impose taxes on the remaining tax payers left when the rich have fled to more prosperous, less tax punishing environments.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Connecticut's Assistant Attorneys General Sued In Maine Court

Connecticut's assistant attorneys general and other officials connected with the prosecution of David Hoffman are being sued in a Maine Court.

This suit," accoring to papers filed with the court, "arises out of an ex parte attachment secured by Defendants in a Maine court against a Maine resident with the support of a false affidavit drafted by one of the individual Defendants, followed by the filing of a lis pendens in a Maine Registry of Deeds regarding the Property, which is located in Maine.

"Plaintiffs have alleged that all the Defendants acted together in creating the false affidavit, pursuing the Maine Action and filing the lis pendens with full knowledge that there was no legal or factual basis to do so and for the improper purpose of pressuring Mrs. Hoffman into accepting an unfair and unreasonable resolution to the Connecticut Action concurrently being pursued by Defendants against Mrs. Hoffman and certain of her businesses, but not against Plaintiffs.”

The attorney general's office has claimed sovereign immunity and qualified immunity from prosecution in the matter, and the most recent filing answers this claim.

“In the present case, Defendants, individuals and entities charged with upholding the consumer protection laws of Connecticut, abused their positions, fabricating evidence that Plaintiffs were involved in a fraudulent transfer. They then used that evidence to initiate a proceeding against Plaintiffs for an attachment in the amount of $1,517,600 when they knew that they had no legal or factual support for an attachment in an amount greater than $80,000, which amount itself Plaintiffs intend to prove is grossly inflated. As a result of these malicious actions on the part of Defendants, and the subsequent lien and lis pendens filed on the Property, Plaintiffs suffered enormously detrimental economic consequences.

"In fact, causing such unjustified consequences to Plaintiffs was Defendants’ intention as they sought to leverage the ongoing crippling effect of their lis pendens in order to improperly pressure Mrs. Hoffman to agree to an unreasonable and otherwise unobtainable settlement of their UTPA action.

“Further, it is Plaintiffs’ belief that the specific incident underlying this lawsuit is not an isolated one, but rather part of a pattern of behavior by Defendants, and that it is Defendants’ policy to routinely pursue claims for highly inflated amounts and with little to no factual or legal support against individuals and companies. Such a pattern of behavior provides further support for the conscience shocking nature of Defendants’ actions.

“As described above, two constitutional rights that Plaintiffs allege were violated by Defendants are their right to the use of the Property without unreasonable interference and Mr. Hoffman’s right to pursue his chosen livelihood. Both of these rights are well established. On a broader level, it certainly could not have come as a surprise to a reasonable government official that engaging in a conspiracy to put a false affidavit before a court, knowing that doing so would impair an owner’s right to use and sell his property and deprive an individual of the opportunity to engage in his chosen profession, would violate constitutional rights.

“This is not a case where government officials have pursued their roles in good faith, but nevertheless ventured into questionable territory. That is the kind of defendant that qualified immunity is designed to protect. Rather, this case involves actions by Defendants that any reasonable official would know were wrong, pursued for a wrongful purpose, with dramatic negative effects on the parties those actions were targeted against. Further, these actions were not spur of the moment mistakes. Rather, Defendants’ actions were part of a pattern of abuses. As a result, the Court must reject Defendants’ plea for qualified immunity.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dodd and the Terrorists

In November, 2006, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd introduced into Congress a measure he called the Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act.

Dodd introduced himself, according to a posting on his web site as “an outspoken opponent of the Military Commission Act of 2006.”

The current law, which Dodd’s bill sought to reform, Dodd predicted, “will be the subject of endless legal challenges.” In order to avoid such legal challenges, his bill, he said, “would amend existing law in order to have an effective process for bringing terrorists to justice."

Equally importantly, the bill Dodd introduced would, the senator said, “also seek to ensure that U.S. servicemen and women are afforded the maximum protection of a strong international legal framework guaranteed by respect for such provisions as the Geneva Conventions and other international standards, and to restore America’s moral authority as the leader in the world in advancing the rule of law.

“I take a backseat to no one when it comes to protecting this country from terrorists,” Sen. Dodd said. “But there is a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this. It’s clear the people who perpetrated these horrendous crimes against our country and our people have no moral compass and deserve to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But in taking away their legal rights, the rights first codified in our country’s Constitution, we’re taking away our own moral compass, as well.”

The meaning of that last sentence, if sentences have any meaning at all, indicates that Dodd favors investing all suspected foreign terrorists in U.S. custody with the whole panoply of rights enjoyed by U.S. citizens.

On his site, Dodd listed the reforms his legislation would insure. The Effective Terrorist Prosecution Act:

“Restores Habeas Corpus protections to detainees

“Narrows the definition of unlawful enemy combatant to individuals who directly participate in hostilities against the United States who are not lawful combatants

“Bars information gained through coercion from being introduced as evidence in trials

“Empowers military judges to exclude hearsay evidence they deem to be unreliable

“Authorizes the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to review decisions by the Military commissions

“Limits the authority of the President to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions and makes that authority subject to congressional and judicial oversight

“Provides for expedited judicial review of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to determine the constitutionally of its provisions.”
In November of 2006, Dodd and other anti-war Democrats were in their oppositional mode.

Since that time, Barack Obama has become president; former President George Bush’s strategy in Iraq has been successful enough to permit the new commander-in-chief to begin moving troops out of Iraq and employ them in a new military salient in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the military prison in Cuba that had engaged Dodd and other Democrats in a rhetorically effective assault on Bush and other Republicans is, so we've been told, on the point of being closed, though the president has not sought to move unreleased hard core terrorists imprisoned to the mainland where, Dodd hopes, they may be able to take advantage of the provisions in his Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act; and now President Obama, according to recent news reports, has “outraged” human rights groups by reviving “the Bush-era military commission system for prosecuting terrorism suspects … reversing a campaign pledge to rely instead on federal courts and the traditional military justice system.”

Echoing Dodd, when the senator publicly opposed the military commissions, Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch Tom Malinowski said, “I am afraid the stench of Guantanamo will remain. Anything that goes by the name 'military commissions' will unfortunately be seen around the world as a continuation of the old system. It is the worst of possible worlds."

In the Los Angeles Times report picked up by the main stream media, it has been reported that “Three retired senior officers who served in key positions in the military justice system wrote to Obama on Thursday in an attempt to derail a revival of the commissions. They warned against an ‘erosion of international confidence’ in U.S. justice.

"Our federal criminal justice system has capably handled hundreds of complex terrorism cases,” the signatories to a letter written to Obama said, “ . . . rendering decisions that are widely respected as legitimate.”

These are precisely the points that induced Dodd to flame-out against such injustices and offenses against international justice in his Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act.

So it seems legitimate to ask whether Dodd will continue to press his signature issue now that the commander-in-chief – his commander-in-chief – has, since assuming the burdens of office, reverted from his previous position on such issues when he was campaigning.

During his campaign in February 2008, Obama described the Guantanamo trials as "a flawed military commission system that has failed to convict anyone of a terrorist act since the 9/11 attacks and that has been embroiled in legal challenges."

Why was Dodd’s opinion on his president’s transmutation into former president Bush not solicited in the stories printed in the main stream media? Surely there is one unintimidated national reporter in Connecticut who has not been sliced and diced from newpapers in the state now fallen into the clutches of owners more concerned with the bottom line than responsible reporting.

And where is the son of the Nuremgerg prosecutor? What flower pot is Dodd hiding behind -- now that President Obama has “grown” sufficiently in office to realize that problems don’t disappear when political opponents are vanquished?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Weicker, Lear Before the Fall

Former Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker appeared on Face the State over the weekened to defend his friend Sen. Chris Dodd. Weicker’s defense of Dodd consists of a recitation of Dodd’s sterling record in congress and a suggestion that his recent difficulties, when thrown into the scales, are raised up by the weight of the good he has done as a senator.

Other senators, among them Weicker’s good friend Edward Kennedy of Massachussets, have overcome difficulties in their careers by applying themselves to the good they do in congress. Shakespeare put all this best when he said that the good men do “is of’t interred with their bones,” while the evil they do lives on after them.

In his interview with Dennis House, Weicker offered an apology to the ghost that has haunted both him and Chris Dodd. During his race against Tom Dodd, Weicker recounted that he had said some unfortunate things about him, which he now regretted.

In his race against Tom Dodd’s, the current senator’s father, Weicker not only “said some unfortunate things” about Dodd; he said some "unfortunate" things about the only ardent anti-Vietnam war candidate in the race, Joe Duffey. “A nice warm jail cell,” said Weicker at the time, awaits the war protestors.

Time -- and experience in Washington -- changed Weicker, not always for the better. His support of Ned Lamont was rooted in two things: Lamont’s forthright opposition to George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, now won by a general, David Petraeus, who was defamed by anti-war proponents as “General Betray-us”; and Weicker’s smoldering hatred of Joe Lieberman, Connecticut’s senator who lost a primary against Lamont but defeated him in the general election.

Now, it is very awkward for Weicker to lend his support to Chris Dodd at a difficult moment in the senator’s political life without “tidying up the past” -- hence the apology.

However, people should know that Weicker’s support of Chris Dodd is not new. When Roger Eddy ran against Dodd, he took the precaution of traveling to Washington to secure Weicker’s support. Weicker received him warmly and made an extravagant promise: “I want you to know, I’m going to back you 100 percent.” A week before the election, Weicker appeared in news and radio spots supporting Dodd with the same effusion he had previously extended to Eddy.

Not for nothing did Weicker describe himself as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl.”

Weicker’s chief aide during his senatorial career and much briefer gubernatorial career, Tom D’Amore, played a direct role in the Lamont-Lieberman primary and general election. Weicker appeared a few times on Colin McEnroe’s radio show to lend support to Lamont’s efforts.

Weicker has much to apologize for, and it was something of a miracle that his host in the clip shown here, Dennis House, was able to tease from the maverick a mini-apology relating to Dodd’s father.

It’s a beginning.

Weicker has compared himself in the past to St. Thomas More, the hero of Robert Bolt’s magnificent play, “A man for All Seasons.” But a truer comparison might be between Weicker and King Lear, before the king’s fall into grace and madness. Shakespeare, a recusant Catholic in the time of the Catholic persecutions during the Elizabethan and Jacobean era, wrote King Lear toward the end of his life.

Weicker, who seems to venerate Thomas More for the wrong reasons, might be interested to know that there is a More-Shakespeare connection through the persons of St. Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell, a literary co-conspirator with Shakespeare and his recusant Catholic family. Shakespeare’s father suffered deprivations as a result of his recusancy, as did his daughter Susanna. But the sufferings of Shakespeare’s father paled in comparison to those endured by Campion. The author of “Campion’s Brag” was the Thomas More of the Elizabethan Age, a man who brashly opposed Elizabeth for the same reasons More, sixty years earlier, opposed Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, who gave up More to the executioner.

Campion was given up to the torturer, as were other Catholic resistors during bloody Elizabeth’s reign, but not Shakespeare, whose more subtle resistance to religious persecution can be seen in the best of his plays, King Lear.

In the days of Elizabeth, torture was a bit more extreme than, say, water-boarding.

Southwell was repeatedly tortured in the home of Elizabeth’s chief torturer, Richard Topcliff, in the hope he could be made to betray other Catholic priests. One of his sworn enemies, Robert Cecil, having witnessed Southwell’s torture, confessed to a friend, “They boast about the heroes of antiquity... but we have a new torture which it is not possible for a man to bear. And yet I have seen Robert Southwell hanging by it, still as a tree truck, and no one being able to drag a word out of his mouth.”

Before Campion was slaughtered, his sentence was read out to him. He was hung until nearly dead, taken down from the noose, disemboweled, his intestines burned in front of him, drawn, quartered and beheaded, his head impaled on a pike on London Bridge.

Campion,Southwell and More were the Catholic heroes and saints of the Elizabethan and Jacobean age.

Shakespeare’s Lear, when he is stripped of all his worldly glory, is in solidarity with them, his unfeigned “madness” truest sense.

Relieved of the baggage of secular Machiavellian political dissimulation, Lear recovers his heart, held in trust for him by his faithful daughter Cordelia (couer de Lear), and facing death he says to her:

"Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds I’ th’cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a walled prison, pacts and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by the moon.”

“God’s spies” is a direct reference to the Catholic resistance. Nor had Shakespeare forgotten or abandoned More, Campion or Southwell, wearing out in walled prisons “pacts and sects of great ones.” When Lear is told, immediately after these lines, that he is off to prison, he shouts for joy, “Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia/ The gods themselves throw incense.”

The message of Lear is that real politic, Machiavellianism, is a devilish pursuit that leaves God out of account; the play is a cri de cour against profound secularism on behalf of the then persecuted faith of Shakespeare’s father.

This stripping away of shallow pretensions, Weicker has yet to overcome. He is Lear before his downfall – or should one say Lear before his upfall?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mayor DeStefano and Performance Art in Hew Haven

The New Haven Independent titled its piece, “Showdown in New Haven,” with a tip of the hat to the Showdown at the OK Corall.

The White Hats, Attorney General Dick Blumenthal and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, were looking for a press opportunity outside the offices of United Illuminated in New Haven, when all of a sudden the bad guys showed up.

This kind of street theatre happens in Venezuela on a daily basis, sometimes on hourly basis, though it must be said that DeStefano still falls short of the anti-capitalist tirades the oil companies in that beleaguered nation, suffering under the administration of socialist Castro wannabe Hugo Chavez, are used to.

Lending moral support to DeStefano, according to the paper, were “Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, New Haven State Sen. Martin Looney, Branford State Rep. Lonnie Reed, Fairfield County’s state Sen. Anthony Musto and members of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Fight the Hike. They called the move ‘dumb growth.’”

Keep up the street theatre in New Haven and somewhere down the line the city, and the state as well, will be experiencing “no growth,” dumb or smart.

The expression on Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz’s face just before DeStefano's rant began is priceless: all smiles when the unintended bit players showed up but quickly degenerating into something approaching alarm as DeStefano unfurled his demagoguery.

Blumenthal always wears the same expression on these occasions -- grinning concern.

At the end of the morality play, a lowly worker at the company complains that parking in New Haven cost workers – presumably, not as morally corrupt as corporation managers -- about $190.00 a month.

DeSefano says, “Ah, so it’s all about parking, and the woman replies, “Parking is very expensive for us in New Haven."

In a letter to The Department of Utility Control, UI asked the department to “review the company’s distribution authorized return on equity.” UI suggested the Department could increase the return so that it could use the increased capital to improve its business. “Among other things,” the company wrote in its letter, “the Department could consider whether it would be appropriate, for example, to increase UI’s authorized return on equity and then, on a going forward basis, index its authorized return on equity to the cost of a ten year corporate debt of comparable credit quality (increasing or decreasing the authorized return as the cost of corporate debt increases or decreases.”

UI also suggested that the “Department could incorporate mechanisms such as, for example, return on equity floors and ceilings, or earnings shared mechanism modifications as part of a return on equity adjustment.” These provisions and standards, all very reasonable, would make it less possible for DeStefano and Blumenthal to demagogue the issue.

The company, a fixture in New Haven for more than a century, is considering a move to Orange. Any move by any tax plucked goose away from the wrath of DeStefano causes the mayor to wax eloquent.

Actually, it’s all about Destefano and his acting troupe.

Message to DeStefano/Blumenthal: The whole (business) world is watching.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stimulate This!

In a typical beltway operation, the Associated Press is reporting that stimulus money is going to less needy states: “Although the intent of the money is to put people back to work, AP's review of more than 5,500 planned transportation projects nationwide reveals that states are planning to spend the stimulus in communities where jobless rates are already lower.

“One result among many: Elk County, Pa., isn't receiving any road money despite its 13.8 percent unemployment rate. Yet the military and college community of Riley County, Kan., with its 3.4 percent unemployment, will benefit from about $56 million to build a highway, improve an intersection and restore a historic farmhouse.

“Altogether, the government is set to spend 50 percent more per person in areas with the lowest unemployment than it will in communities with the highest.”

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The California in Our Future

In a recent column, George Will calls Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger “the best governor the states contiguous to California have ever had.”

The flight of workers and entrepreneurial capital from California to other less tax punishing states has been in process for many years. More people have moved out rather than into California for the last four years. Connecticut also has been losing population to the South for as many years, though no one yet has bestowed upon Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell the same unflattering remark, possibly because her opponents in the Democrat dominated state legislature have been complicit in the out migration. Connecticut's total out migration from July 1990 to July 1997 was approximately 186,000. Connecticut and Rhode Island were the
Nation’s only States to have a smaller population in 1994 than in 1993.

There are other points of similarity between Connecticut and California. According to Will, “If, since 1990, state spending increases had been held to the inflation rate plus population growth, the state would have a $15 billion surplus instead of a $42 billion budget deficit, which is larger than the budgets of all but 10 states.”

The bottom line of Connecticut’s budget has tripled since former Governor Lowell Weicker graced the state with an income tax in 1991, much above the rate of inflation plus population growth. The recession that followed the imposition of the income tax cost the state 162,000 jobs, and by the second quarter of 1995 the state had replaced only 14 per cent of its recession-based job losses.

In California, according to Will, “Liberal orthodoxy has made the state dependent on a volatile source of revenues — high income tax rates on the wealthy.”

Connecticut’s state Democrats have just proposed a 30 percent increase in the corporate tax on industries that have not yet fled the state to… well… not California.

Liberal orthodoxy reigns supreme in Connecticut; its high priests are union friendly leading Democrats who control the state legislature and blinkered commentators in the state’s media who believe Connecticut will continue to prosper as more and more money is moved from taxpayers to state government.

Of course in their saner moments, these same liberals know very well that punishing taxes reduce demand and productivity, which is why many of them favor high gasoline taxes and confiscatory taxes on tobacco. High taxes on gasoline -- very bad for those who depend on their internal combustion engines to get them to and from work -- are very good for fanciful folk who imagine a world full of fuel cell powered cars. And highly regressive confiscatory taxes on tobacco likewise are good for those who want to drink Black Bowmore Scotch in smoke free bars.

The reduction of the inflow of taxes to state coffers in Connecticut is an indication, among other things, that the state is overly dependent on volatile taxes the bulk of which are paid by those earning over $250,000. These taxes certainly will increase in a national administration that does not want those earning less than $250,000 per year to carry their fair share of the nation’s “investment’ in higher taxes.

The most recent report from Comptroller Nancy Wyman indicates that the “payroll withholding portion of the income tax also dropped by about 14% for the month, driven by job losses that total nearly 60,000 since March 2008. Overall, the income tax is down by about 23% for the fiscal year that ends June 30.”

Other Connecticut tax receipts also have suffered diminishment as a result of the collapse of the financial sector: Taxes levied on oil companies are down down 64% and the real estate conveyance tax is down 52%.

Will traces California’s ailments to “centrist evasions. The state's crisis has been caused by ‘moderation,’ understood as splitting the difference between extreme liberalism and hyperliberalism, a ‘reasonableness’ that merely moderates the speed at which the ever-expanding public sector suffocates the private sector.”

Here in Connecticut, the compromise state, we are all too familiar with centrist evasions. As a result of such evasions on the part of its Republican governors and Democrat legislature, the state has tripled its spending. Now faced with crippling deficits, Democrat legislative leaders have tickled the fancy of its unionized phalanx with a 30 percent tax on corporations, while the Republican governor has proposed a quick fix solution that the governing class can live with.

Verily, the road to economic perdition in Connecticut has been paved with moderation, when what we need is – a revolution.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Dodd and Swan Appalled

Those who are used to seeing Tom Swan – current director of Connecticut’s Citizen Action Group and past director of Ned Lamont’s failed senatorial campaign against current U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman – in his appalled mode will not be surprised to learn that he was “appalled” at the suggestion, according to a piece in the New Haven Independent, “that he and other progressives present were being used to rescue a senator [U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd] who got too cozy with financial barons and predators.”

Dodd has been traveling about the state visiting liberal watering holes, with an obliging train of progressives in tow, in an attempt some would consider desperate to shore up his tattered reputation.

Lately, Dodd has suggested that those in the Bush administration who had facilitated the water boarding of Kalid Sheik Mohammed should be tried in court, as were Nazi war criminals prosecuted in Nuremburg by his father.

A short video clip shown on MyLeftNutmeg, a left wing blog, shows Dodd holding forth on what has become his favorite topic: Let’s Nuremburgize "the war on terror," an expression that has been rejected by the Obama administration in favor of the less descriptive "overseas contingency operation."

The war on terror is over; the “overseas contingency operation,” a more Orwellian and less descriptive phrase, has begun.

Kalid Sheik Mohammed was the master-mind of the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center Towers in New York. He also has boasted that he had personally hacked off the head of Daniel Pearl, a New York Times reporter who, unfortunately, was not given the amenities that Dodd feels should be showered upon the sheik in an attempt to demonstrate to that portion of the world where overseas contingency operations may be necessary that we are a nation of laws, not men.

Most experts on torture, not excepting Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, would agree that the sheik is a torturer. Pelosi has had a devil of a time convincing non-credulous reporters that she was not briefed on water boarding.

But it is safe to speculate that people like Swan, whose sensibilities are easily rubbed raw, would consider the sheik’s beheading of Pearl and his facilitation of the deaths of upwards of a thousand Americans in the World Trade Center bombing -- actually there were two bombings, the first occurring during President Bill Clinton’s enlightened administration -- appalling.

There are some on the right side of the constitution who quibble over the question whether water boarding is torture; the sheik was dunked, so to speak, numerous times before he coughed up information that some in the Bush administration considered “actionable,” with consequences to his health less serious than those endured by Pearl, among others. Actionable information is data extracted by intelligence gatherers (torturers?) that may be used to avert future unpleasant episodes like the World Trade Center bombing, the attack on the Pentagon and the foiled attack on the U.S. Congress, where Sen. Dodd and other future prosecutors of Bush administrative officials ply their trade.

My own rule in these cases is to conform my judgment whenever possible, except in matters of faith and doctrine, to the atheist writer Christopher Hitchens, who had himself water boarded and pronounced that the practice was torture.

The immediate problem the Obama administration and Sen. Dodd face is what to do with the prisoners at the soon to be closed Gitmo facility in Cuba? Apparently, no one yet has suggested they be moved to one or another of the unoccupied properties the Dodds own in Washington D.C., Hamden Connecticut and Connemara, in County Galway, Ireland. What to do with future prisoners taken in the Democrat’s new war in Afghanistan also may prove troubling; former President Clinton liked to rendition his overseas “contingency people” in places like Egypt, where the contingents were, shall we say, “interrogated.”

Putting all these quibbles aside, it may be important to point out that the U.S. Congress and the White House are now owned by Democrats. Presumably, they will do with both, as well as the country and the wider world, whatever they like.

One can only hope that Swan, the proprietor on MyLeftNutmeg and other delicate liberals like Dodd will not be appalled at the consequences.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Anti War movement in the Age Of Obama

An anti-war group operating out of– where else? -- Wesleyan University in Connecticut hopes to organize students against wars in Iraq, which is pretty much over, Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan.

The most significant problem for anti- war protestors in the age of President Barack Obama is President Barrack Obama, energetically received by Wesleyan students during a presidential primary stop in Connecticut.

He’s just a very nice commander-in-chief and, unlike Lyndon Baines Johnson -- "Hey,hey LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?" -- and the dark-jowled Richard Nixon who, we sometimes forget, was instrumental in ending the Vietnam war, Obama appears to have been dipped in the river Styx.

He is pretty much anti-war-protest-proof.

No dark jowels, articulate, determined to pursue the war effort in the Middle East, and stubborn as a jack-ass, Obama is not supine prey for anti-war protestors, who will have to get much more testy with the commander-in-chief than they appeared to be at Wesleyan if they hope to accomplish their aims.

And then too, Obama is the better organizer; and he’s married to Michelle, lives in a big white house, has two cute kids and a dog and lots of friends in the media who are kindly disposed towards him – a hard row for the Anti’s to plow.

Clegg-Dodd Makes Big Bucks (Yawn)

Apparently, making money in the age of President Barack Obama, big or small, will be the eighth deadly sin.

The latest “sinner” to be hauled before the mob is the wife of embattled Sen. Chris Dodd, Jackie Clegg-Dodd.

Clegg-Dodd, the Hartford Courant reports in an above the fold front page non-story, is hauling in the loot as a member of five major corporate boards: Blockbuster Inc., Javelin Pharmaceuticals Inc., CME Group Inc., Brookdale Senioir Living Inc. and Cardiome Pharma Corp.

From the Big Five, Clegg-Dodd has received, according to the latest reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, $252,225 in Director’s Fees and $390,951 in stock options, chump change when one compares it to the likely take from the Obama family after they retire from the White House but, never-the-less, a significant bulge in the senator’s yearly income when he was commonly referred to as one of the poorer drudges in the US legislature.

All this naturally offends liberal sensibilities; liberals believe that public officials, men and women, ought to be kept barefoot and naked in the political kitchen.

So long as there is not in the Clegg-Dodd corporate connection an obvious link to Chris Dodd’s professional responsibilities – and the story alleges no such connection – the rest of us should be yawning.

Who cares that Dodd’s wife sits on corporate boards? Who cares that the senator was not born in a log cabin?

What’s important is how much public tax dollars the senator is willing to spend to support federal programs that make things worse, an amount of money sure to be larger than his wife’s haul from corporate boards.

Who cares that Michelle Obama used her new found wealth – and there’s gonna be lots more where that came from – to buy herself a pair of $300 kicks?

It is far more important that her husband has during his first 100 days in office tripled the national debt, because that money will come directly out of the pockets of future taxpayers of limited means who will not be able to use the money appropriated by reckless spenders in the Democrat dominated congress and White House to buy $300 kicks.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Blumenthal vs. the Hoffmans

I Cried For A Year

In March, 2009, Mathew Fitzsimmons, an assistant attorney general in Attorney General Dick Blumenthal’s office, found himself peppered by a battery of uncomfortable questions in Judge James Bentivegna’s Superior Court in a case involving Valerie and David Hoffman.

Before Dick Blumenthal’s office fell on her like a ton of bricks, Valerie Hoffman, a small business woman, owned an herbal internet company, and her husband David was a house builder. A small independent contractor, David would buy land, put a house on it, sell the house and use the proceeds to repeat the process. Any monetary interruption in the business chain, he knew, would prove fatal to his livelihood.

Valerie had been cited by the state’s Consumer Protection department on a few complaints, information that made its way to George Gombossy, recently installed at the Hartford Courant as the paper’s consumer protection bulldog. Because of the connections between the Courant and Dick Blumenthal, whose beaming visage often appears in its pages, the attorney general’s office got involved in the complaint.

Valerie was contacted by an official in the Consumer Protection Department. She agreed with a demand from the department to put in her contract an unorthodox specification that anyone seeking a cancellation should have to make their request by certified mail, which later would prove an impediment for complainants.

In a conversation with Consumer Protection, Valerie asserted that she was scrupulously following commonly accepted business policies. However, because she could not afford legal bills, she made a generous offer to refund those she thought were not entitled to refunds. The state had included in their lists customers who had already been provided with refunds. Additionally, the state solicited candidates for refunds from customer lists provided during discovery proceedings, a process for which Blumenthal’s office was rebuked during a legal proceeding in Maine. Through such solicitations and repeat refunds, Blumenthal’s office managed to increase to $45,000 a payment that should have been in the vicinity of $7,000.

Never-the-less, Valerie agreed to pay the sum, a small fortune for her, at which point she was told by Phil Rosario in the attorney general's office that the arrangement could not be consummated because the issue had “become political.” Blumenthal’s office had raised the stakes; he now wanted $600,000, an arrangement Rosario told her was generous -- because she had embarrassed the attorney general.

“I said what?! Aren’t you supposed to be getting consumers refunded and not wasting tax dollars here? Is this possible? Are you really saying what really matters is Blumenthal looking bad in the paper?”

Valerie was about to learn there was a price she would have to pay for ruffling the feathers of the politically ambitious Blumenthal. Presently, the attorney general, a partisan Democrat, is being recruited by prominent members of his party to challenge two wounded Democrat senators, Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman, who have incurred the wrath of easily provoked progressives.

Thus began for the Hoffman’s the complex litigation process in which the attorney general’s office so excels – an expensive, soul draining, bank account depleting ordeal its victims may reasonably suppose will have on them the same effect as medieval racks and thumbscrews.

Representations, many of which were highly misleading, having been made to a court in an affidavit prepared by Assistant Attorney General Fitzsimmons, Blumenthal’s office was granted, by means of an Ex-Parte Application for Attachment, liens on David Hoffman’s business, as a result of which David’s business activities were fatally frozen. The Hoffmans lost $600,000 on a house in Bethel through an attachment imposed by Blumenthal

“I cried for about a year,” Valerie said.

Distortion, outright fabrication and intimidation are useful techniques for extracting information – and, preferably, a compelled guilty plea – from gang bangers, drug lords and Al Capone types. But these methods usually stop at the courtroom door. Blumenthal’s office employed them expertly on the Hoffmans, and then submitted to a court an affidavit in which Fitzsimmons was the sole affiant. The judge in the case felt compelled to point out to Fitzsimmons that by so doing he would be breaking the rules of professional conduct.

Judges who had a keen appreciation for the niceties of the law and standard litigation processes were not amused by these prosecutorial high jinks.

Blumenthal Stacks the Deck

In a series of court actions that effectively removed Blumenthal’s hobnailed boots from the Hoffman’s throats, courts agreed with the defense that Bumenthal’s office had misrepresented in a sworn affidavit the number of clients harmed by Valerie’s business practices. In his affidavit, Fitzsimmons swore the number was in excess of 240. However many on the list he supplied to the court were not clients; others had already been refunded. Some of the names taken from client lists were out of state; never-the-less they were included in the affidavit, although the attorney general’s legal authority ends at the borders of Connecticut. The attorney general’s star witness crumbled on the stand, acknowledging under examination that she misrepresented when she said she had not signed up for Auto Ship.

The witness also confessed she did not follow the burdensome Consumer Protection certified letter cancellation policy that amended Auto Ship because she just didn’t like it. She could not have been alone; this burdensome requirement, which obliged clients to notify Valerie by certified letter when they wished to opt out of the Auto Ship program, made processing more complex and burdensome to the customer. It also created an unnecessary hostility that Blumenthal later would take advantage of when his office went trolling for disgruntled customers disposed to complain about their treatment.

Most damaging to Blumenthal’s salient against the Hoffmans, Judge Bentivegna, later denigrated by the attorney general’s office as “a rogue backward judge,” ruled that the Hoffman’s assets had been seized with a defective affidavit.

The state was permitted to seize the Hoffman’s assets in an Ex-Parte Application for Attachment. In such cases, the integrity of the affidavit is essential, because the procedure permits the prosecutorial authority to seize assets without a hearing before a judge. The absence of a hearing granted on the strength of a defective affidavit seriously impairs due process rights and violates Constitutional protections.

Blumenthal’s office, the Hoffmans would later argue before Judge Bentivegna, “had two years to secure affidavits from consumers to be used in conjunction with its Ex-Parte Application for Attachment. The State simply chose not to comply with the statutory scheme for attachments requiring that an application be accompanied with an affidavit from a ‘competent’ affiant.”

A competent affiant would be one who had personal knowledge of the improprieties alleged in the affidavit, people who could give personal witness to the improprieties.

“Rather, the State used as an affiant a junior Assistant Attorney General who had only been assigned to work on this matter one month prior to his signing his affidavit.

“On cross examination on March 3, 2009, it was established that Fitzsimmons, in fact, did not participate in any of the underlying consumer transactions upon which that State’s enforcement action is based. More importantly, he did not even speak to all of the consumers who purportedly suffered a consumer loss. In sum, Fitzsimmons lacked personal knowledge of the most basic facts to which he sought to testify as an affiant and simply was never “competent” to serve as either an affiant or as a witness.”

The court agreed with this damaging assessment. And the fact that Blumenthal’s office permitted such obvious irregularities suggests that Connecticut’s Attorney General is not as careful as he should be in observing both standard practice and the constitutional rights of those against whom he is litigating. At a very basic level, Valerie had a right to confront her accusers – whose representations were not presented rightly in an affidavit used by the courts to deprive her of her property.
In a court document, Valerie asks why was Fitzsimmons the affiant? “Why was his obviously defective affidavit used by the State?”

That is a question to which no convincing answer yet has been given.

The Unanswered Questions

“Although the State has left this riddle unanswered,” Valerie declared in a court document, “what is known is that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was interviewed by an investigative reporter weeks before the lawsuit, and he was forced to admit that his office had taken no action on the Sunrise Herbal Remedy file for two years. (See Hartford Courant New Article Dated March 9, 2007). Although this article was printed after the commencement of the first lawsuit, State of Connecticut v. Sun Rise Herbal Remedy, Docket No. CV-07-4028460-S was filed, a simple review of the article establishes that the interview of Blumenthal took place before the litigation was commenced.

“It is likely that the interview took place shortly before more personnel were assigned to the file, such as junior Assistant Attorney General Fitzsimmons. It is only after the phone call from the Hartford Courant that the State suddenly sprung into action with such vigor and vehemence against the Hoffmans.

“The State then took every consumer compliant on file with the State of Connecticut going back to 2001 (260 complaints) and filed the Fitzsimmons affidavit and sought the maximum penalty ($5,000.00) for exactly 260 allegedly ‘willful’ violations. In so doing the State: (i) included names of people on this list who were already refunded; (2) included those who were out-of-state consumers; and (iii) included those who had never ordered product!

“The ex-parte attachment was based, once again, solely on an affidavit from Fitzsimmons and, once again, claimed a fraudulent transfer of property. The Superior Court of Maine, after oral argument, found there to be no probable cause for fraudulent transfer and ordered the attachment vacated.

“Why? Does the State have any concern about the due process rights of the Hoffmans?

“Apparently not. The State delayed the post-attachment hearing from December 2008 to March 2009 because it sought, with no legal basis or justification, to prevent the defendants from questioning Fitzsimmons at the post-attachment hearing. In short, the State sought nothing less than to prevent the defendants from conducting a meaningful hearing and confronting its only affiant.

“The consequences of the State’s actions in Connecticut and Maine have been financially devastating to David and Valerie Hoffman. The initial attachment and lis pendens in Maine caused a local bank to cancel a credit line needed to complete construction on (a) home needed for mortgage payments on the home in Bethel Connecticut. The lis pendens in Maine continues to encumber a property that is probably worth over Two Million Dollars. Dave Hoffman is presently prevented from gaining access to the equity in (a) property in order to finish construction, to pay daily living costs for his family or his legal bills.

“The ex-parte attachment ... caused the Hoffman’s to default on three separate mortgages on the Bethel property. The Bethel property went into foreclosure. Prior to the commencement of the foreclosures on the Bethel property, Dave Hoffman obtained a buyer who was willing to buy the Bethel property for 1.3 Million dollars. This offer was conveyed to the State with the request that the property be sold and the money left after paying off the mortgages be placed in escrow. The State responded by saying that it would have its “front office” (Attorney General Blumenthal) consider this request. The “front office” did not respond to this request for weeks. In the mean time, the buyer walked away from his offer. Eventually, the State wrote a letter stating that Dave Hoffman could use the statutory process to ask the Court for an approved sale but it still did not indicate if it would object to any such motion. The failure of the “front office” (Attorney General Blumenthal) to respond in a timely manner caused the loss of approximately $600,000.00 dollars in equity in the Bethel home. Eventually, the Bethel property sold after a foreclosure judgment at the distressed price of $885,000.00 dollars. Attorney General Blumenthal and his subordinates knew that not responding timely to the request for a private sale would injury the defendants. Yet, they did not respond on a timely basis.


Blumenthal Abrogates Contract, Superior Court Declines to Notice

Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, cited by the American Enterprise Institute as the worst attorney general in the United States, has more sleeves on his tentacles and cards up them than Harry Houdini.

In his attempt to impoverish the Hoffmans, Blumenthal may have violated a contract his office signed with his victims and a company that is holding their money in escrow.

Contracts can no more restrain Connecticut’s attorney general than chains could restrain Houdini, and both are artists in the craft of misdirection.

Here is the operative paragraph in the contract signed by Blumenthal’s office:
"The Escrow amount shall be released by escrow agent only after a receipt of an order by a judge of a Superior Court of the State of Connecticut directing: 1) to whom payment is to be made from the escrow account; and (ii) the amount of each payment. In the event that one of the parties shall appeal the order of the Superior Court of the state of Connecticut pursuant to Conn. General. Stat. Section 52-2781 (a)-(c), and said party post a bond sufficient to indemnify the adverse party and the Superior Court issues a stay order pending appeal then the escrow amount shall continue to be held by said Escrow Agent until an entry of a final non-appealable order nor the stay is lifted. In the event no bond is posted or no stay is issued by the superior court then the Escrow Agent shall release the escrowed amount in accordance with the order of the Superior Court.”

Now, it so happens that Blumenthal is faced with a set of facts and contractual obligations that he finds unpalatable: The trial court judge dismissed the attachment and refused to grant a stay of his decision pending appeal; and the state has failed to post a bond.

This money should be released from escrow.

Why wasn't the money released?

Because Blumenthal no longer likes the terms of the contract he has entered into and has decided not to honor them.

Let's be very clear about what happened: Blumethal's office used a defective affidavit to improperly seize the Hoffman's assets; the trial court dissovled the attachments due to this defect, and now Blumenthal is desperately trying to hold on to the money without posting bond by ignoring the plain language of the escrow contract to which his office is a party.

The contract above specifies that if Blumenthal appeals Judge Bentivegna’s decision – which he recently has done – his office is to post bond so that the Hoffmans might draw from the bond to pay their legal expenses money that a previous judge has determined was improperly seized through a deceptive affidavit, the Hoffman's expenses having been incurred through Blumenthal’s faulty prosecution.

Blumenthal has not posted the bond, and he has lost his right to maintain his attachment. He is now seeking to use the appellate process to continue to deprive the Hoffmans of their property. It is plain to see that his strategy is to retain improperly seized assets through fruitless appeals in hopes that the Hoffmans will simply give up and go away. Blumenthal well knows that a lengthy appeal will continue to impair the Hoffmans financially.

Most of us would not wish to live in a system of justice in which attorneys general may seize property with defective affidavits and then run out the court clock until their tortured victims collapse under the weight of such disgusting violations of justice as are evident in Blumenthal’s vengeful prosecution of the Hoffmans.

As concerns injustices committed by his office but no others, Blumenthal has liberal tolerance levels.

One wants to shake the attorney general and ask: Dick, does your mommy know you’re doing this?

Does George Gombossy, consumer watchdog at the Hartford Courant know you're stretching a butterfly on the wheel?

The System Is Broke, Fix it

A few days after Valerie’s tormentors were beaten back in Judge Bentivegna’s court, an attorney trying the case suffered a massive coronary, an indication perhaps of the stressful environment in Blumenthal’s office.

Valerie, far more courageous than her persecutors and their enablers in the media, now has legal actions pending against the state of Connecticut in Maine for $6 million, a suit made possible because of prior rulings damaging to Blumenthal. The state has exposed itself to a suit in Connecticut for another $3 million. The Hoffmans are considering an ACLU investigation of Blumenthal and have submitted a grievance against Fitzsimmons that may put his law license in jeopardy.

All this grief and expense – owing to the unnecessarily protracted litigation, those seeking refunds from Valerie still have not received their due -- could have been prevented very early on for about $7,000. But Blumenthal must have his million, an outrageous figure. In the largest CUPTA settlement in history, a multi-billion dollar industry, Microsoft, paid out less money in fines than Blumenthal is seeking from Valerie’s one woman operation herbal business – still in operation and satisfying customers.

If there is a dram of justice left in the courts, the Hoffmans will prevail. Perhaps they may hope that Gombossy will celebrate their vindication in one of his columns. Blumenthal’s wicked prosecution of this case conceivably could result in a torrent of suits brought by other companies similarly abused. The Hoffman’s suit, if successful, will change the way Blumenthal’s office conducts its business.

Here we see Blumenthal at the top of his game.

If Blumenthal can use judicial instruments such as an Ex-Parte Application for Attachment to avoid a judicial hearing and, with a defective affidavit, persuade a judge to allow him to seize the personal assets of a business owner, he will be able to deploy such measures to deprive anyone of their property, while riding roughshod over their imprescriptable constitutional rights. Faced with the despoliation of their property by an overweening prosecutor, the first right of the citizen is to be able in court, before a judge, to defend himself from an unlawful taking.

Small businesses, which do not generally have the resources of too-large-to-fail businesses, should join in this case.

It is only a matter of time before other attorneys general, a tight knit group of lawyers who generally act in concert to extort funds from businesses without the trouble of passing their sometime questionable tactics before the noses of judges, begin to appropriate Blumenthal’s questionable and in some cases illegal techniques to fatten state budgets while subverting the constitutional rights of their victims.

The Hoffman’s at least are fighting the injustices that have been visited upon them by an attorney general who is popular in his state largely because a sleepy media has not bothered to raise the curtain on Blumenthal’s questionable prosecutions.

The deck is stacked against them. Watching the process from afar leaves the impression of a flea swatting away a herd of elephants. Justice and right may be on the side of the flea, but power wielded in so artful a manner by an office crowded with lawyers who have at their disposal the unlimited financial resources of a state that has not shown itself to be friendly to business is irresistible when good judges and slumbering members of the media take no notice.

If the Hoffmans do not prevail, they never-the-less will have their honor intact -- bright and undiminished -- to refresh their flagging spirits.

The same cannot be said of Blumenthal and his prosecutors.

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