Friday, October 30, 2009

Everything You Were Afraid To Ask About Dick Blumenthal

Blumenthal and the Media

It would be a considerable understatement to say that the relationship between Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Connecticut’s media is cordial. The great failing of the state’s media is that it seems to be unwilling -- or perhaps unable -- to mine below the surface of the attorney general’s all too frequent press releases.

In a recent focus group finding, a matter of fierce controversy between Gov. Jodi Rell and her opponents, it was determined that Blumenthal was at least as popular if not more so than Rell, whose rating after a bruising budget battle with Democrats was 59%, low for the governor. Focus group participants said of Blumenthal, according to a report in the Journal Inquirer, that he was “a strong leader they would have faith in to lead them out of the budget deficit problem… One participant thought that Blumenthal was on television and ‘out there’ as much as the governor.”

Connecticut’s media has a good deal to do with Blumenthal’s shining image on a hill. That image remains lustrous despite some heavy panting from Blumenthal's critics. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), for instance, rated Blumenthal as the worst attorney general in the United States.

George Gombossy’s report on a case involving Valerie and David Hoffman is illustrative. Gombossy, it should be noted, is no longer associated with the Hartford Courant. The bulldog consumer advocate was “let go” after he took a bite out of one of the Courant’s advertisers, so Gombossy claimed. The Courant strongly insisted at the time that Gombossy’s position was eliminated and that he was eligible but declined to apply for a replacement position at a lesser salary. Gombossy’s quarrel with his former employer is in litigation and, as is usual in such cases, parties to the suit have clammed up – to a point: Gombossy carried his jihad with his former employer to his new blog site, “Connecticut Watchdog." At the end of September, the Courant reported: “George Gombossy, The Courant's former consumer columnist, has filed a lawsuit against the newspaper, charging that his dismissal violated his right to free speech because he insisted on writing investigative columns and blogs that criticized major advertisers”

Two primary sources, Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection and Attorney General Blumenthal, were useful to Gombossy in the promotion of his Courant columns. It was a report from Blumenthal on Sleepys, a large mattress company chain and one of the Courant’s reliable advertisers, that was partly responsible for upending Gombossy’s career at the paper. Gombossy had written for the Courant for 40 years. He was for 3 years the paper’s consumer protection watchdog. Since his departure, Gombossy’s Courant archives have been blocked by the paper. But the opening few paragraphs on his report on the Hoffmans, dated Feb. 17, 2008, are, to say the least, a tease:

“Year after year, Valerie Hawk-Hoffman invited unsuspecting would-be customers to her graceful colonial home in Bethel on Saturdays for classes on the wonders of herbs and how they could help you look younger, thinner and improve your sex life.

“After the class many of them signed forms to purchase products like Cold Away, Skinny Mini, and Italian Bee, expecting to receive a sample of the product.

“But based on more than 200 written complaints to state officials, what many of those customers unwittingly signed up for were automatic shipments that could only be canceled by certified letters accepted by Hoffman a month before the next shipment. Some complained they had received multiple orders each month when they signed up for one monthly order. Others accused her of refusing to accept their certified letters…”

The attorney general’s initial press release, dated a year earlier, Feb 19, 2007 announced a joint legal action with Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) Commissioner Jerry Farrell, Jr. against “Sunrise Herbal Remedies, Inc. - also known as Sage Advice, Inc., and Herbs and Teas - and its owner Valerie Hawk-Hoffman.” The press release quoted both the attorney general and Farrell:

"Our lawsuit charges that this company repeatedly sent consumers herbs they never ordered and then tried to bully them into paying," Blumenthal said. "Instead of relieving stress and promoting harmony as its products promised, Sunrise Herbal raised anger and blood pressure by seeking to exploit consumers. Our evidence shows that they sent regular shipments when customers made one-time purchases or shipped two to three times the amount ordered. My office will fight to stop these abuses and win restitution for costumers (sic)."

"Business practices such as these cannot be tolerated," Farrell said. "What is envisioned as a one-time purchase should not become a never-ending nightmare of hassles. This wasn't just one consumer who had a problem - it was many consumers, and that goes to show that this was an intentional business practice of the company, not a mere mistake."

The lacuna between Blumenthal’ s initial press release and further hearings and judgments on the Hoffman case should have provided Gombossy with enough time to flesh out his story. As usual, Gombossy and much of Connecticut’s press rely heavily on Blumenthal’s press releases. There was little follow-up reporting on the Hoffman case as it wended its way through multiple court hearings.

Gombossy’s report is more colorful than Blumenthal’s, though the attorney general, practiced in the journalistic art from his days as an Editorial Chairman and reporter for the Harvard Crimson, likes to paints in bright strokes.

In Gombossy’s first few leading graphs, one can almost see the spider inviting the fly into her web so as to sell her herbal tea -- and then eat the victim.

Blumenthal would later sue Hoffman, as well as her husband -- who had no business connection with his wife’s company -- for $1,332,000, a mind-boggling amount levied against a business woman who sells tea and herbal products. In the largest CUPTA settlement in history, a multi-billion dollar industry, Microsoft, paid out less money in fines than Blumenthal has sought from Hoffman’s one woman operation. The amount demanded as reparations from the tea and herbal vendor and her husband, a building contractor, it may be imagined, was somewhat stressful to them.

In his Courant column -- written, according to the dates specified in the Courant archives, a year after Blumenthal’s press release announcing the Hoffman’s suit -- Gombossy claimed: “…based on more than 200 written complaints to state officials, what many of those customers unwittingly signed up for were automatic shipments that could only be canceled by certified letters accepted by Hoffman a month before the next shipment. Some complained they had received multiple orders each month when they signed up for one monthly order. Others accused her of refusing to accept their certified letters…”

Gombossy cites “more than 200 written complaints” received by Blumenthal and Farrell, and writes that “many of those customers,” though he does not indicate how many, “unwittingly” signed up for automatic shipments.

Let’s pause here and ask the kinds of questions journalists should ask upon receiving press releases from Blumenthal.

How many of the 200 complaining customers “unwittingly” signed up for their merchandise? The forms they were signing were business contracts, and it must be presumed that few of the 200 complainants were illiterate. Of the 200 complaining customers, how many were from out of state, beyond Blumenthal’s jurisdiction? Of the 200 customers cited by Blumenthal as complainants, how many did not buy products from Hoffman? The answers to many of these questions would be forthcoming in public court records that were either not examined or reported upon by Gombossy.

Did the customers signing the forms for Hoffman’s products perhaps notice the “Auto Ship” information included on the contracts to which they appended their signatures? That information specified the terms under which the pre-product could be cancelled. Auto Ship is a common devise, especially for perishable merchandise. If this language was on the signed forms– and it was – how can it be said that those who signed the orders had “unwittingly” signed up for automatic shipments?

Gombossy mentioned that the shipments “could only be canceled by certified letters accepted by Hoffman a month before the next shipment.”

Herein lies a story that might have been explored by Gombossy had he been just a wee but more energetic in questioning claims made by Blumenthal’s office.

Valerie Hoffman was summoned to a meeting at the offices of Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection, an agency that often works hand in glove with the attorney general’s office in the prosecution of consumer complaints.

Made aware of the alleged complaints against her, she gave indications she wanted to satisfy the complainants. A professional business woman, Hoffman did not want her business to be crippled by endless litigation. She thought at the time that all the reported complaints alleged against her could be settled for about $7,000. None of the complaints, she thought, were justified. Never-the-less, she expressed her willingness to satisfy those customers alleged to have complained– whether or not she thought the complainants had sufficient cause to complain.

She then asked the officials at DCP what they wanted her to do. They made only one request of her: Should consumers wish to cancel out of the auto ship contract, they must do so by certified mail, a process that consumers would later find burdensome. This unfriendly consumer policy Hoffman was required to adopt by the DCP was so onerous that some of Hoffman’s customers refused to cancel by certified mail; others cancelled late. Many of the suits were related to this discontent.

Because Hoffman was pre-ordering product, her customers were required to cancel orders some days into the prior month. A customer who sent in a registered letter at the end of May canceling an order for June, for instance, had already ordered product for June that was in the process of being shipped. Overlooking such details, Blumenthal’s office simply assumed that every complaint was legitimate, when this was not the case.

Hoffman readily complied with the request made of her by the DCP. Later on, this would prove onerous for people who wanted to cancel their orders, because it required money and time from the complainants. The requirement mentioned by Gombossy was one demanded of Hoffman by the DCP, a piece of useful information not included in Gombossy’s column written more than a year later, which leaves the reader with the impression – easily corrected by asking a few important questions – that it was Hoffman who was erecting frustrating obstacles standing in the way of customer cancellations.

In fact, Hoffman wanted to satisfy her customer’s issues quickly. But any possible attempt to satisfy their concerns was put on hold after Blumenthal’s office began the litigation against her. It would be true in a precise sense to say it was Blumenthal and the DCP, not Hoffman, whose actions prohibited Hoffman from satisfying her customer’s requests. Such inconvenient items were not mentioned in Gombossy’s report, because the report relied exclusively on the word of Blumenthal, the theatre director who was framing media reports.

If the matter had been put to a judge at this point, the judge very likely would have cautioned the complainants to read contracts before they signed them.

It would take the Hoffmans years before they were able to put their case before a judge in a hearing they had demanded as soon as the litigation had commenced. The Hoffmans were driven to trial by the outrageous demands made by the attorney general’s office. Fortunately, they were luckily enough to have engaged a good lawyer, Jim Oliver, who has guided them through treacherous litigation shoals. Along the way, a private window on the questionable methods used by that office was opened to them. That window today remains shut to reporters and commentators who are strangely incurious concerning Blumenthal’s misuse of his authority.

Blumenthal And Hoffman

Whatever case Blumenthal thought he had against Hoffman was seriously flawed from the beginning by what Hoffman in her court challenges considered to be gross prosecutorial misconduct.

Blumenthal’s modis operandi in consumer protection cases usually follows the same course. The cases that flow into his office have a few different tributaries. Some cases are picked up from news accounts; others leech into the office from the Connecticut’s Consumer Protection Department; others arise from spin-off investigations conducted by Blumenthal’s office; still others are piggy-back cases that have been probed by other attorneys general.

Again, the Hoffman case is illustrative. The case drifted on to Blumenthal’s radar from consumer complaints made to the Consumer Protection Department. Blumenthal announced his intent to sue in a press release, which was picked up by the Hartford Courant. The case lingered in his office until it garnered more press, by Gombossy among others, nearly a year later, at which point Blumenthal’s office, startled awake, began to pursue the case in earnest. When Hoffman was summoned to Blumenthal’s office, she was told that it now would cost her considerably more money to settle her case because she had “embarrassed the attorney general.”

When Blumenthal becomes earnest, he obtains ex-parte judgments from courts.

An ex-parte judgment is a delicate instrument most effectively employed in criminal cases, such as mob actions and drug cases. It permits a prosecutor to obtain from a judge an attachment of assets without the necessity or precaution of a hearing. Blumenthal’s ex-parte judgment stripped the Hoffmans of their 14th Amendment Constitutional right to be secured in their property from prosecutors who declined to allow them to answer charges they knew to be false.

A procedure of this kind is a scalpel that should be use with great caution. Blumenthal’s office wields it like a mace.

In the Hoffman case, Blumenthal used the exparte judgment to attach the assets of Valerie Hoffman’s husband, a builder in Maine. The Hoffmans declared in litigation briefs that Blumenthal or his agents had reason to believe there was no connection between Mr. Hoffman’s construction business and Mrs. Hoffman’s business. Mr. Hoffman’s business depended upon using the profits he had realized on one construction project to finance successive projects. Blumenthal’s exparte attachment of Mr. Hoffman’s assets interrupted this process and destroyed his credit.

But there is more: Especially in civil cases, it’s essential that the affidavit used to secure the ex-parte seizure of assets should be flawless -- because it is on the basis of the affidavit that judges award prosecutors extraordinary power to seize assets with a wink at 14th amendment constitutional amendment.

Section 1 of the 14th amendment, adopted after the Civil war, provides: “…No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The affidavit submitted by Blumenthal’s office, attorney Oliver contended in court, was fatally flawed. Nearly all the statements contained in the affidavit were not “facts” based on personal knowledge, as required by statute. The affidavit was replete with opinions and legal conclusions based upon a review of hearsay documents.

In his press release, the attorney general contended with much fanfare that 200 customers had issued complaints either to his office or to the Department of consumer protection. But when the time arrived for Blumenthal to put up or shut up in a judicial proceeding, his office produced one authentic witness who admitted under cross examination that she had not read the contract. The witness conceded she had been reluctant to cancel her contract because the policy imposed on Hoffman by the state’s Consumer Protection Department was too burdensome to her.

The Assistant Attorney General who had been handling the case, Matthew Fitzsimmons, called one other witness to the stand – himself. He was, the Hoffman’s contended, an inauthentic witness. In fact, he was not a witness at all, a witness being someone who has first hand knowledge of events litigated. Fitzgerald’s testimony was hearsay, a fact dutifully noted at the time by the judge, who had put to Fitzgerald the following query: Are you sure you want to do this?

Fitzsimmons was sure: He mounted the stand and was cross examined. From that time forward, the jig, as they say in the slammer, was up.

Fitzsimmons’ testimony demonstrated he had no personal knowledge of any of the consumer transactions upon which the State based its enforcement action. The sole witness’ testimony established that Fitzsimmons lacked any personal knowledge concerning how Mrs. Schreiber came to participate in the auto-ship program or whether she, in fact, even suffered a consumer injury.

Blumenthal had seized the property of a man living in Maine, a state that falls outside his jurisdiction, through the use of a defective affidavit, positive publicity from a media that asked few follow-up questions of Blumenthal and failed to survey and report on litigation that contradicted Blumenthal’s assertions in his press releases.

Chutzpa And More Chutzpa

The exparte attachment on assets that Blumenthal regularly receives from judges tilts the playing field between Blumenthal’s heavy handed prosecutors and – there is no other way to put this – the attorney general’s litigatory victims. It is a ton of bricks placed on the prosecutorial side of the judicial scales. Used by unscrupulous attorneys general, this blunt instrument renders victims quite literally defenseless, because a defendant deprived of his assets is shorn of the means of defending himself from what may be unjust prosecution. The questionable seizure of assets is in turn used by Blumenthal’s prosecutors as a hostage to persuade his victims to surrender their imprescriptable constitutional rights and to reach pressured agreement with prosecutors to settle the cases in Blumenthal’s favor.

Courts tend willingly to grant exparte seizures of assets when they are deployed to give prosecutors an edge in their dealings with unscrupulous and dangerous drug lords and mafia figures. But even in these cases, the affidavit used to secure the seizure of assets without a hearing must not be based on hearsay testimony. The affiant, the person whose testimony is represented in the affidavit, must have personal knowledge of the facts to which he has sworn in the affidavit.

This rule of court was not met in the Hoffman case. The affiant was an assistant attorney general who had no personal knowledge of the facts represented in the affidavit. The entire house of cards erected by Blumenthal against the Hoffmans was built with this joker card as its foundation stone.

To deploy such a fatally defective weapon against a vendor of tea and herbs is the equivalent of placing a grenade in playpen, hoping against hope that children will not pull the pin. And indeed, Blumenthal’s office sometimes seems to be run by grinning children for whom winning at all costs is a categorical imperative. It may well be an imperative: Blumenthal has so often boasted that his office brings in more money than it spends that one begins to wonder whether the office is driven by greed rather than justice.

In the Hoffman case, Oliver contends, Blumenthal’s prosecution was fatally flawed from the beginning. The affidavit used to secure without a hearing before judge the seizure of Hoffman’s assets and those of her husband implicitly asserted that the facts represented in the affidavit were drawn from a credible witness. This was not the case. Despite Blumenthal’s boast in his first press release that there were more than 200 clients duped by Hoffman, the sole affiant in the affidavit used to seize the Hoffman’s assets was an attorney general in Blumenthal’s office whose remarks were hearsay and who had no personal knowledge of the consumer transactions represented in his materially false affidavit.

Judges should be wary of such submittals from Blumenthal’s office: This is not the first nor -- without the scrutiny of watchful judges -- will it be the last time that attorneys in Blumenthal’s office have relied on materially false affidavits of this kind to secure the assets of their victims.

In another case now making its way through the courts, Blumenthal relied on shoddy investigation to assemble an affidavit used to procure from a judge an exparte attachment of business equipment from the owner of a pellet business, also defended by Oliver..

The owner of the pellet business was shorted by his supplier in an attempt to extort from the pellet business a number of New York customers. The owner was in the process of satisfying the complainants by procuring supplies from a different resource – at a loss to himself –when Blumenthal intervened in the case and shut down any possibility of remuneration.

Blumenthal’s investigator, who compiled the affidavit necessary to allow Blumenthal to seize without a hearing before a judge the equipment the owner needed to satisfy his customers, later admitted in discovery documents that his affidavit was defective.

Relying on one witness, investigator claimed in his affidavit securing the exparte attachment that goods were fraudulently transferred by the owner of the pellet business. In a discovery deposition, Blumenthal’s investigator asserted he had no knowledge of any goods, property or money fraudulently transferred by the pellet business owner, fatally undermining the rational used to procure the exparte attachment.

It is becoming difficult to avoid the seemingly obvious conclusion. This is a procrustean effort on the part of Blumenthal to fashion affidavits that will allow him to seize property without a hearing to support his premature press releases.

Procrustes was the amiable Greek innkeeper who professed to have a bed that would fit any shape. Those of his customers who were to tall to fit in the bed found themselves bound to it, and their limbs were shortened to accommodate the bed, while his shorter customers were stretched to fit. Facts and affidavits, the body of evidence necessary to procure from deceived judges who award Blumenthal the authority of seize assets that freeze all business activity, appear to have been adjusted to fit Blumenthal’s ingeniously conceived press releases.

Forced to the wall by such unorthodox methods, the owner of the pellet business attempted suicide. Luckily, he was unsuccessful and may someday live to see a time when Connecticut’s attorney’s general may prosecute the right offender.

Before that happens, judges will have to look more closely than Connecticut’s media at Blumenthal’s questionable methods and bullying tactics.

What Next?

Mrs. Hoffman tells me the pain is missing from this piece.

It’s taken me a long time to build up the business,” Hoffman says, “And I’ve been a responsible stakeholder. Blumenthal claims to have received 200 complaints. That’s less than 1% of my business, which means that 99% of my clients had no trouble with any of these policies. When certified letters were sent, none were refused. The two clients who claimed they were – that’s TWO clients – later acknowledged they sent the letters to the wrong address. All this was demonstrated in court, when finally I had my day in court. But Blumenthal is not interested in compliance. He’s interested in dollars.”

It’s not as if Hoffman was hiding her business policies under a bushel.

“The opposite is true,” she said. “Unlike most companies who have their policies in tiny illegible type, I splashed my policies everywhere: on the website in three places, on my brochure, on the receipts, on the invoices, on the wall of my office. I did everything but tattooed them on my forehead. When a client purchased products on the website, they could not sign off with signifying that they agree to these policies. Their signature signified agreement with the policies. Companies are required only to state their policies, and this was done. It may have been overdone.”

Hoffman – and some judges – believes that she has been far more responsible than Blumenthal.

“After three years of litigation,” she says, “Blumenthal’s office still does not know who really is due a refund or who was refunded or who was not refunded. These things should have been known before Blumenthal brought suit. He brings suits that destroy lives, and he doesn’t even know if he has a legitimate suit. But how could anyone expect that office to behave ethically or morally, when year after year they brag how much money they make for the state? Their office is in the extortion business. They throw you in a room with a huge guy who tells you that if you don’t give them money, they’ll ruin your life. That is what happens. And now, not one but three judges have called their office immoral, egregious, vexatious, corrupt and potentially criminal.”

Her struggle is not over.

“We have two suits in process and a new suit pending,” she said. “In previous litigation, Blumenthal claimed sovereign immunity. But that didn’t fly because, according to the judge, sovereign immunity – complete immunity from prosecution – does not apply when one’s actions are egregious, shocking and completely immoral, as in this case.”

In a Maine case, Judge Hornby noted: “The plaintiffs assert that Fitzsimmons swore to a false affidavit in connection with attaching Maine real estate. Such behavior by a state assistant attorney general -- if it occurred -- is deplorable, and could be subject to criminal penalties, bar discipline and other sanctions.”

Hoffman notes, “Matt Fitzsimmons, the attorney in Blumenthal’s office who prosecuted the case, now has admitted in discovery responses that he lied on his affidavits. He is now subject to the loss of his license to practice law, as well as criminal penalties. These admissions have made it possible for us to open other suits. Right now, Blumenthal’s office is facing three multi-million dollar suits filed against them for civil rights violations, abuse of process, slander of title and illegal attachment.”

Yes Virginia, There Is A God

This is the sort of “security breech” that makes journalists fall on their knees and exclaim with loud hosannas – “There is a God!”

Owing to an accidental security breech, the deliberations of the US Congressional Ethics Committee have now been flushed into the public square.

Reporters are now sifting through the detritus.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Has Socialism Become A Red Herring?

Yes, pretty much.

Socialism arrived in the West with the Christian message, packed inside an embarrassment of Beatitudes.

There are two sets of Christian Beatitudes. Mathew (5:1-12) is toothless, because none of the blessings in Mathew are accompanied by the stinging curses found in Luke.

Luke (6: 20-26) is red in tooth and claw.

“Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God… But woe to you that are rich: for ye have your consolation.” And there is this hard beatitude to swallow: “Blessed shall ye be when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you and shall reproach you and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake… Woe to you when men shall bless you; for according to these things did their fathers to the false prophets.”

That last might serve as a testament useful to column writers. You cannot go far wrong when you take up arms against the world, which belongs to Satan and for the moment, at least in Connecticut and Washington DC, to the Democratic Party.

At it most elemental, Christianity was and is an organization, the fancy word for which is “church.”

When Roger Williams, the founder of Providence, was banished to the wintry wilderness of Rhode Island by the false prophets in Massachusetts, he took up cudgels against the Cottons and Mathers of the world. His cudgel and consolation he found in the lines quoted above: “Blessed shall ye be when men shall… separate you.” Shun their blessings, Williams shouted to an unheeding Boston, “for according to these things did their fathers to the false prophets.”

Williams never let the Boston ministers, warm by their firesides, forget his first bone chilling winter in Providence. That winter wanted his life and remained in the marrow of his bones. The Indians who saved him from the howling winter would remain in his heart to the end.

Every organization is both a refuge from the world and a redoubt.

Is this socialism, this huddling together for mutual succor?

It is, pretty much. Language itself is a social product. Adam, before Eve, did not need language. Do the lonely dead need a means of communication?

Now, some social services are provided by the state. Others are provided by what is blushingly called “the free market system,” partially compromised in some cases by errant socialist tendencies. Karl Marx, for instance, would have been proud of the hospital that cares for the indigent and passes along their bills to other business patrons, for the service is here flowing from those who have the means to each according to his needs.

What this means is that we already have a system in which private enterprise, sniffing at socialism, conducts some of its business according to socialist and religious prescriptions.

However, because the state gives us – for an over inflated price – postage stamps and police officers and teachers, it is by no means appropriate that the state should give us our daily bread. It is very important not to confuse the things of man with the things of the state. The state did not invent wheat; it did not even invent the wheat thresher. And before the wheat arrives at our table as bread, it passes through the hands of many people, few of them agents of the state. It takes a village to make a loaf of bread. A handful of politicians can make the Department of Motor Vehicles. Villages are made up of mutual aide societies, such as families, the smallest and heartiest of G. K. Chesterton’s vibrant cultural platoons. It is always important to recall that you cannot have the cultural platoons that Chesterton so often delighted in if the state, like some secular Aaron’s rod, swallows up all the little platoons.

To take a word in season from Sarah Palin’s new book, that is socialism “gone rogue.”

Benito Mussolini, who got many of his best lines and not a few of his best ideas from his first mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, an ardent communist socialist turned fascist socialist, summed up fascism briefly in a few well chosen words: “Everything in the state; nothing outside the state; nothing above the state.” Mussolini was a journalist and had a way with words. When the Italians tired of him, just before he was swallowed up by a larger national socialist, Herr Hitler, Mussolini packed off his mistress, sometimes called “The Jewish Mother of Fascism,” to South America, lived for awhile in a much diminished northern Italian fascist province and finally was strung up at an Esso station by a mob of resentful, terribly ungrateful citizens.

The state -- especially in Italy, but in the United States as well -- is an unforgiving master.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Everything You Were Afraid To Ask About Comparative Health Care In The US, Canada And Europe

Thanks to Dave Price over at “The Blog Formerly Known As Dean’s World” for the following links on comparative health care. Dean, of Dean’s World, is taking a well deserved sabbatical.

Price points out:

"Advocates of socializing health care have asked: how can America’s relatively free market spend the most money on health care, yet have among the worst outcomes?

"The answer is, we don’t. The oft-cited WHO rankings don’t really measure quality of health care, preferring to judge things like 'fairness of financial contribution' and measures like life expectancy (which is more strongly correlated to lifestyle than health care) or infant mortality (other countries use different standards and so generally record more infant deaths as stillbirths than we do, perversely making their numbers better even though they sometimes let marginal infants die)."

“Death Panels in Britain,” which soon may be coming to these shores, is worth a visit; so, too with the other links:

U.S. does 2x as many transplants as OECD average

U.S. has best cancer survival rates in OECD

Death panels in Britain are putting people to death who could have recovered

Death panels: now in kids’ sizes too! Infants being left to die.

U.S. has more MRIS “it was found that Canada had 4.6 MRI scanners per million population while the U.S. had 19.5 per million”

U.S. has about twice as many MRIs as OECD average

The U.S. gets new drugs 1 year sooner “On average, the FDA approval came 1 year ahead of clearance by the European Medicines Agency (EMEA).”

“Prostate cancer mortality is 604 percent higher in the United Kingdom and 457 percent higher in Norway.”

“The top five U.S. hospitals conduct more clinical trials than all the hospitals in any other developed country”

U.S. performs more operations than any country in the world.

Lower U.S. life expectancy does not argue U.S. has worse health care due to lifestyle factors and differences in how infant mortality is reported

In the interest of spreading truth, please see fit to copy the links and pass them along.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Surfing The Slippery Slope: Moody Downgrades Connecticut’s Bonds

Moody's Investors Service has revised its outlook on the State of Connecticut's general obligation bonds from stable to negative.

Moody justified the rating change on Connecticut’s economic future for a number of reasons that should not surprise people familiar with the recent budget battle between Gov. Jodi Rell and a Democratic controlled legislature that was unwilling to made hard choices involving budget cuts and spending allocations.

“The negative outlook reflects the choices made to address the state's biennial 2010-2011 budget gaps as well as the shortfall for fiscal 2009,” Moody reported “including a majority of non-recurring solutions and deficit financing, combined with a credit profile that includes significant long-term liabilities.”

The report should be taken as gun at the temple of legislators who may still believe the state’s budget deficit can be resolved by a series of easy choices and short term fixes. You cannot bond your way out of debt, Moody warned, and when the debt collector comes knocking, he will be demanding payment in real coin, not promissory notes from a highly politicized federal government, itself deeply in debt.

“Connecticut plans to issue $947 million in deficit bonds to resolve the budget shortfall that emerged in fiscal year 2009, and the biennial budget includes $1.3 billion from a fiscal year 2011 securitization of a yet-to-be-determined revenue stream. In addition, the state has budgeted to deplete its Budget Reserve Fund (BRF) by the end of the biennium and, as in most states, to use one-time federal stimulus funds for ongoing needs.”

And, Moody’s advises, you can’t fix long term problems with temporary solutions. To be sure, part of the budget fixed part of the problem: “However, Connecticut used one-time solutions to close slightly over half of the shortfall. These solutions create future structural budget gaps and leave the state with significantly reduced flexibility to address additional fiscal pressures that may arise due to a delayed and/or weaker than expected recovery from the worst economic recession since the depression.”

No more kicking the payment due bill down the street, if you please: “In addition, the state's GAAP-basis general fund balance sheet will weaken as the BRF is depleted due to the already sizeable unreserved, undesignated fund balance that the state has carried since the early 1990s, largely reflecting an accrued liability that has never been repaid.”
And if all this were not bad enough, Connecticut’s debt ratios are “among the highest in the nation;” the state’s pension funding levels were the “lowest in the nation in 2008” before the market took a nose dive; and the state’s “post employment benefit liabilities are larger than the size of the state's annual operating budget.”

In the last fitful budget session, Democrats finally, after much palavering with the governor, were able to realize their long deferred dream of a progressive income tax that would tap into the assets of mini-millionaires, thus relieving them of the necessity of prudent spending cuts.

Moody’s reduced rating level recognizes that “as the wealthiest state in the nation, Connecticut is more dependent than most states on high income earners. Thus, continued uncertainty in the recovery of the financial markets has an exaggerated impact on the state's personal income tax receipts which account for almost half of the general fund's resources.”

The good news is that as the nation recover from its deep recession, Moody expects the state’s depleted treasury to increase. As the post recession rising tide lifts Connecticut’s yachts, Moody expects the governor and the legislature to use recovering funds “for the early retirement of the 2009 economic recovery notes (deficit bonds) and to begin rebuilding the BRF.” There is discouraging fine print even in Moody’s partially positive assessment: “However, given the magnitude of the recent one-time actions taken to balance the budget, Connecticut will likely struggle more than other states in the near term to achieve structural budget balance, especially once the federal stimulus funds are no longer available.”

Those of us who have long been crying “wolf!” when the wolf was at the door may view Moody’s candid assessment of Connecticut’s destructive legislative session as a further warning that may possibly be heeded by the ostriches in the state’s Democratic controlled legislature - most especially legislative leaders Chris Donovan and Don Williams -- who have solved none of the state’s enduring problems.

But don’t bet the farm on it.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Milton Friedman in "Free To Choose" says that 46 percent of our country (in terms of corporate enterprise) is socialist. He said it in a 10-part TV series on Public Broadcasting Service in 1980, made into a book, "Free To Choose" (1979). It defines the role that government should play in a free market.

Uncertainties and unresolved problems flood the media. Most prominent at the moment is health-care insurance, and most prominent within it is Public Option and President Obama’s oft-repeated statement that the Medicare account must be deficit-neutral. Tremendous efforts are being made to add taxes (some of which may fall upon those earning less than $250,000, breaking an Obama promise). The House Democrat bill adds a surtax of 5.29 percent on incomes above $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for married couples. . The Senate Finance bill proposes to tax at 40 percent luxurious health-care policies, if they exceed $8,000 per person and $21,000 per family.

Efforts to reduce the Medicare account have led to further decreasing the reimbursement to doctors (a recurring attempt). To keep the overall figure acceptable to the President, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed to remove a costly provision from the Senate bill and make it a separate bill by itself. That’s the provision to decrease doctors’ reimbursement by 21% for each of the next ten years. This sleight-of-hand would have concealed the non non-deficit-neutrality. It was voted down.

Existing reductions in Medicare reimbursements mean doctors and hospitals have to raise prices in the private market amounting to a 1.2 percent increase in health costs. That and the added taxes proposed in the bills will drive up costs, which is why these costs have to be passed on by private insurers to customers in the form of increases in their premiums.

For this increase, private insurers, the present target of the Obama Team, should not be blamed. Blame the law and the Congress that writes it. When Humana, Inc., sent out a notice to its Medicare Advantage customers that Medicare Advantage was at risk, information in Senator Baucus’s finance bill, Senator Baucus turned bully, falsely accusing Humana of not telling the truth.

Insurance companies are likely to be the biggest losers. Humana makes much of its profit by administering Medicare’s plans. It faces a loss of $100 billion under Senator Baucus’s bill, according to the October 19 editorial in The Wall Street Journal.

What happens if the costs of government health care get too high? They can be cut back. The sustainable growth rate (SGR) calls for decreasing reimbursement if costs get too high. But it is limited by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus to a one-year instead of a ten-year basis, which makes it look smaller.

Public Option, which seemed dead in the Senate a week ago, has taken on a new life by the weekend of Oct. 23-25. The Washington Post did a survey which found 57% favor Public Option. But the survey was a double-fault. Responses depend on how the questions are phrased, and the questions in the Post’s survey were not clearly phrased, so respondents did not know what they were voting on. In addition, only one-third of the respondents were Republicans. Conservatives tend to be against the Public Option, so the survey results were erroneously weighted in favor of Public Option.

Republicans warn that Public Option won’t lower costs and will give government too much power. Private insurers fear it will give them too many unprofitable customers. It can be written to permit states to opt out of it if they wish or to opt in. Olympia Snowe, the only Republican who has voted for any part of the Obama health-care plan—her vote therefore weights heavily—is for it. House and Senate Leaders are both interested in it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has long insisted she must have Public Option in the House bill, is comfortable with it.

Private insurers are mixed. Some are against the Baucus plan. The opposition is driven by weakened mandates for Coverage and more taxes. Lured by prospect of millions of new customers if all the uninsured were to be insured, the industry is weakened by the mandate to lessen Coverage. Not all uininsured are likely to be included. The President himself referred to only 30 million. The America’s Health Insurers Plans, AHIP, hired the auditing firm of Price-Waterhouse-Coopers which found that a $12,300 cost would rise to $25,900 in ten years on average under the Senate Finance bill. Cost up, Coverage down.

What would Milton Friedman say? Since Jan. 20, 2009, the government has taken out of the hands of corporate enterprise, partially or wholly, ownership or operation of the housing industry, the banking industry, the two biggest auto companies, the student-loan industry, and energy. Since Oct. 23 the government has taken out of the hands of private industry, the setting of the income of executives of the seven biggest financial firms which accepted (or were forced to accept) bail-out money. Since Oct. 23 the government has been moving to extend its take-over to non-financial enterprises, to consumer-finance enterprises, and soon to the health-care industry. What percentage would Milton Friedman give socialist corporate enterprise now? Would he consider that our economy has become enough like Sweden’s for us to be reclassified from capitalist to socialist?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Courant And The Rumor Mill

The Hartford Courant’s chief political writer, Christopher Keating, has swatted down some rumors circulating at the state capitol.

The first is that Gov. Jodi Rell might hang up her spurs and decline to run again.

No such luck. The governor has not yet make an announcement. Keating reported that Republican Party State Chairman Chris Healy believes “that Rell is running for re-election.”

The second rumor is that her chief aide, Lisa Moody, may be of a mind to retire.

Moody has taken some buffeting lately from Courant reporters and Democratic rumor mongers in the legislature.

Said Moody, “Not true. Nothing's wrong with me. No disability. I'm not retiring on November 1. My knees are fine. I'm fine. I'm not going anywhere, but thanks for checking.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Judge Chatigny's Selective Memory

According to news reports, U.S. senators Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman have sent to the White House a letter favoring Judge Robert Chatigny to fill a position left vacant on the 2nd Circuit by Judge Sonia Sotomayor elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Robert Chatigny will be best remembered in Connecticut as the judge who delayed mass murderer Michael Ross’ execution by threatening to pull the license of his lawyer, the hapless T.R. Pauling.

Ross raped and murdered his victims, leaving their bodies strewn all over the state. He was caught by some alert detectives shortly after he had worked his way through his seventh and eighth victims, two 14 year-old girls Ross picked up on the road on Easter Sunday. He raped and strangled one of the girls while the other watched terrified in the car; then he strangled the second girl, ditching her body behind a fieldstone wall.

The case moved slowly through Connecticut’s judicial carousel– capital felony trial, conviction, penalty phase trial, conviction, endless appeals stretching over a course of a dozen years – until Ross decided to give up any future appeals and end the business. Ross said he wished to spare the families of his victims the pain associated with the frustration of justice.

Enter Judge Chatigny. On the eve of Ross’ execution, Chatigny made a teleconferencing call that included Ross’ lawyer and those associated with Ross’ defense. The judge threatened to pull the law license of Ross’ lawyer, who was under instructions from Ross not to pursue future appeals, unless he were to countermand the decision of his client and permit one more hearing.

Two days before Chatigny threw a monkey wrench into serial killer Michael Ross’ impending execution, he was asked by Assistant Attorney General Terrence O’Neill, “Does your honor hold any personally held beliefs or has your honor written in any other cases that we just haven’t been able to find yet that would cause us to question your partiality with respect to the implementation or execution of a death sentence?”

Chatigny answered, “I have no moral beliefs or other types of beliefs that would stand in the way of implementing a death penalty in the circumstances where the law called for it to be done. So, yeah; you'll not find anything that suggests anything to the contrary. I feel fortunate to be in a situation to be able to address these issues without having to deal with a client, the public, the media, a boss or anything other than my own conscience."

Apparently, the judge’s conscience had failed to remind him of his previous involvement in the Ross case.

Acting on behalf of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Chatigny had submitted in 1992 a three page application with the State Supreme Court seeking permission to file a friend of the court brief in the Ross case. Permission was granted, but no record of a brief has been found.

The association he represented, Chatigny had written in the application, "is gravely concerned about the trial court's rulings on significant evidentiary issues in this case.” In his teleconference, Chatigny clung to the same view, despite the authoritative judgments of appellate courts – including a state Supreme Court and a U.S. Supreme Court -- that Ross was competent to decide whether or not he should forgo further appeals.

Could the judge’s previous memory lapse  in the Ross case have slipped his mind?

Not likely, according to House Minority Leader Robert Ward who, along with other Republicans, filed a complaint against Chatigny with the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

“I can understand a lawyer not remembering the details of a case he was involved in ten or twelve years ago, but there aren’t many Michael Ross cases. His name is on the petition to the State Supreme Court. He clearly had an agenda in this case.”

And since Chatigny previously had participated in the Ross case as a litigant – indeed, he was the sole signatory to the application seeking permission from the State Supreme Court to enter the case as a friend of the court -- Ward said it was “a clear ethical violation for a judge not to disclose his prior involvement in this case.”

Even our ubiquitous attorney general weighed in on the judge’s mishandling of the Ross case: ““I have strong reservations about Judge Chatigny’s actions during the conference he conducted in the Michael Ross case. The Judicial Council of the Second Circuit will determine whether these actions were proper and ethical. My office has no role in that process. We have filed no formal complaint against the judge. No provision of state or federal law allows my office to recover costs from a judge found to have acted improperly or unethically.”

The Judicial Council swatted the judge with a butterfly wing, and now Chatigny has been referred by Senators Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd as a candidate for the 2nd District Superior Court.

Despite a May Quinnipiac University Poll showing that 61 percent of those surveyed supported capital punishment and did not want it replaced with life in prison without parole for convicted murderers, the Democratic controlled legislature recently passed a bill, vetoed by Gov. Jodi Rell, that abolished capital punishment.

State Sen. Andrew McDonald, co-chairman of the state legislature's judiciary committee and a vigorous opponent of captial punishment, welcomes the opening on the court as an "opportunity that will allow the president to make an imprint on the judiciary in the 2nd Circuit and in Connecticut for decades to come. In the last generation there has never been such an opportunity for shaping the future of the judiciary in Connecticut. The good news is that there is a stellar lineup of potential candidates."

Dodd and Judge Chatigny are said to be close friends, the judge having officiated at Dodd’s second marriage to his present wife Jackie Clegg Dodd.

It’s always useful to have friends in high places.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dodd's Insurance Policy

Sen. Chris Dodd, hammered by his opponents and some in the media as having been intimate with Big Insurance from which has received in the past 20 years $2.3 million in campaign contributions, has been at some pains to show that he is not on their leash, which is why he is now peeing on their leg.

They will not mind the wetting.

Two recent commentaries on Dodd, one in the Hartford Courant and one in Slate magazine, both make use of Ralph Nader’s old chestnut that Dodd is “the senator from Aetna.”

“Among the three principals currently working to combine two Senate committee bills on health reform,” Slate notes, “the strongest advocate for creation of a ‘public option’ government insurance plan (which private insurers strongly oppose on competitive grounds) happens to represent the state of Connecticut. And the state of Connecticut happens to be home to the insurance industry generally and to health insurance giants Aetna and Cigna HealthCare in particular... Dodd must know that if he fights the good fight and loses, his reputation won't likely suffer, because the odds are against any robust public option making it into the final bill. Might this knowledge corrupt his effort?"

There are happy advantages to losing battles. A lost battle on the public option would involve manageable adverse consequences for Dodd. To those on the left who support a public option that might have unseemly consequences for insurers in his own state, Dodd could legitimately boast that he had fought the good (losing) fight. Having escaped the public option, Big Insurance will naturally be in a forgiving mood when Dodd's agents later come round to tap them for future campaign contributions.

It is well known, both among Dodd’s political opponents in Connecticut and a handful of media critics, that large companies support with campaign contributions politicians who wish to burden them with negotiable regulations and high taxes. One of Dodd’s Republican opponents vying for his seat in the senate, Linda McMahon recently has come under hatchets for offering campaign contributions to both parties, common practice among company executives who hope to purchase what has been called a chair at the political bargaining table. There is not a single politician in Connecticut’s wall-to-wall Democratic congressional delegation who has not benefited from the practice.

Smaller companies do not have the resources to purchase the very expensive ears of incumbent politicians -- which is why regulations generally benefit Big Business, which is also why Big Business is not opposed to negotiable regulations. This has always been the case in American politics. Large businesses use regulations to drive more vigorous but smaller competitors from the field. The fortunes of Rockefeller and other captains of industry were made in Washington D.C.

Dodd’s support of the public option is seen by some as a savvy political move to inoculate himself from charges that he is in the pocket of Big Insurance. Slate notes, “It could help Dodd shed the stink of Angelo Mozilo and re-establish his credentials as a consumer champion. For the moment, that's probably a stronger imperative than pleasing a bunch of insurance executives in Hartford... So maybe Dodd's the right man for the job after all.”

A perfumed pass from a congressional ethics committee -- one of which refuses even now to censure Charlie Rangel, a notorious tax cheat -- has momentarily staunched the stench flowing from Mozilo to Dodd. The same Democratic congressional worthies on ethics committees have refused to censure the House’s earmark king, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, even though he has been know to shuttle millions of tax dollars to his relatives. Murtha is the political patron of Rep. John Larson, who holds in perpetuum what may be the safest Democratic seat in Connecticut, if not the world. For reasons everyone can guess, none of the members of the state’s U.S. congressional delegation have jumped at the prospect of criticizing these two Dorian Grays of the U.S. Congress.

Connecticut’s fearless media, which gets a tingle up its leg whenever it passes on an ethically challenged Democratic Party, is busy now tossing Gov. Jodi Rell over its horns.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lamont Slaps Specter With The Bottom Of His Shoe

Ned Lamont, the Greenwich millionaire who earned the undying gratitude of netrooters by opposing present Sen. Joe Lieberman in a primary some time ago, has taken himself to Pennsylvania to lend his support to Joe Sestak, a Democrat of high principle running against incumbent Democrat (for the moment) Sen. Arlen Specter.

A registered Democrat in 1965, Specter ran for District Attorney on the Republican ticket. He handily beat incumbent Jim Crumlish, thereafter changing his registration to Republican, temporarily as it turns out. Specter the Republican revered to his old party a short while ago and became a Democrat when polls showed him loosing to Club For Growth head Pat Toomey, an upstart Republican very much like Ned Lamont. Described by the Pennsylvania Report in 2003 as one of the "vanishing breed of Republican moderates," Specter now has vanished into the maw of the Democratic Party.

If all this seems a little opportunistic, it is.

If it seems confusing, it may be because in places like Pennsylvania and Connecticut political parties have become clubs rather than political organizations. The real parties are the incumbent politicians. Lieberman and Specter are petite political parties. They have their own constituencies, their own staffs, their own money machines, and their own newspapers, sometimes called in the business “press releases.” For someone like Specter, a political party is nothing more that the flag under which he chooses to wage a political campaign.

Over at Political, Matthew Harrington points out some of the ironies as viewed from the Republican corner of the political barracks:

“Arlen Specter’s departure from the Republican party is a delicious irony. For the past two decades, conservatives in the party have been told that they need to abandon their principles in order to protect “northeast Republicans” like Arlen Specter, Lowell Weicker, Susan Collins, James Jeffords and Olympia Snow.

“In 2004, the national GOP refused to support a true conservative and instead backed Specter. President George Bush and the Republican establishment strongly supported Specter on the grounds that the Republicans could ill afford to lose the seat. They poured thousands of dollars and countless man-hours into Specter’s campaign. Five years later, Specter returns the favor by walking away only three weeks after assuring the national electorate that the loss of a single Republican seat would be a disaster for the Republic.”

Connecticut Bob expresses his distaste for oily politicians and the congressional good old boy network from the left.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Palin on Health Care

A Politico critique of Sarah Palin’s critique of the health care bill approved this week by the Senate Finance Committee is described by Politico as “wonky,” and decidedly non-vituperative, which is another way of saying that she can no longer see Russia from Alaska.

Of course, anything written or said by Palin is bound to cause apoplexy among her critics, who are legion.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Madam, Do You Favor Necrophilia?

"Throw mud and some will stick. Stick but not stain." -- Cardinal John Henry Newman.

The operative motto of all demagogic bloggers is: Why say something, when you can intimate it?

Some bloggers are now intimating that Linda McMahon, a Republican Party U.S. senatorial hopefull, approves necrophilia -- the last frontier among sexual liberationists -- simulated rape and public sex.

"As WWE chief operating officer, Linda McMahon presided over programming that showed simulated rape, public sex, and necrophilia, and now she wants to be our U.S. Senator?" asked Democratic spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan. "People across this state, not to mention the millions of women who are the victims of sexual violence every year, would be horrified and embarrassed to know that the person who seeks to represent them condones this kind of behavior. That kind of programming has no place in our society, and Linda McMahon has no place in the U.S. Senate."
The questions asked by Democratic spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan were immediately picked up by progressive bloggers of every shape and hue, as well as some reporters minding the bunkers of what remains of a responsible press.

It turns out that spokeswoman Flanagan, according to an item written by Courant reporter and blogger Christopher Keating, “is a former employee of U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, and she now spends much of her time on the Senate race for the Democratic Party.”

Dodd – who along with former Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts several years ago made a sex sandwich of a waitress at a popular eatery in Washington DC – has affected a lofty indifference to the issues raised by his former employee.

In 1985, when Sen. Dodd was prowling Washington watering holes looking for nubile victims to sexually assault, he and a tipsy Kennedy happened upon waitress Carla Gaviglio at La Brasserie. Edward “The Masher” Kennedy body pressed the waitress on a table and then threw her onto the lap of his tag team partner Chris “The Crusher” Dodd.

With no exaggeration, one might score both Dodd and the late Edward Kennedy as someone who is indifferent to the plight of “the millions of women who are the victims of sexual violence every year,” while intimating that all women who plan to vote for Dodd in the upcoming election should be “embarrassed to know that the person who seeks to represent them condones this kind of behavior.”

Indeed, not only did Dodd “condone” this errant behavior, he practiced it.

After these moves, Dodd’s reticence in participating directly in the intimation game becomes understandable.

According to Keating: “Dodd, though, largely stayed out of the controversy when asked by The Hartford Courant on Friday afternoon in Hartford.

“’I'll let the Republican opponents deal with her on that,’ Dodd said.”

Is it not an agile move of the part of Dodd to muddy a possible opponent by proxy?

Brett "The Hitman" Hart would approve.

Speaking through her spokesperson Ed Patru, McMahon attempted a defense of sorts against the imputation that she approves of necrophilia: “McMahon's spokesman, Ed Patru, said Dodd and his supporters should be more interested in improving the economy than in worrying about professional wrestling.

"Every American understands the difference between scripted television entertainment and real life betrayal of trust by Washington politicians,'' Patru said, "With 15 million Americans out of work, a jobless rate in Connecticut pushing 9 percent, people want a Senator who knows how to fix the economy and put people back to work. It's stunning that Chris Dodd's apologists are more concerned with television programming that isn't real than the Senator's record of taking every bit of special interest cash he can find, providing taxpayer-funded bonuses to executives he was supposed to regulate, and falling asleep at the switch while the entire country's banking system crashed.''

This is how it goes in the new journalism, where the line between genuine reportage and charges bordering on slander are blurred. In wrestling, the lines between reality and appearance are blurred. And there is much that the new journalism has in common with wrestling: Ditto with the new politics.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Body Slamming Corpses

Recently at a public gathering that included former President George Bush Pere, President Barack Obama The Apologist, attempting to defuse his critics, once again intimated that the mess he was frantically trying to “mop up” was caused by his predecessor, President George Bush Fils; and he invited people who were interested in making the world over into an acceptable Eden – as he most certainly is –to “grab a mop.”

It is not known whether former President George Bush Pere smiled or grimaced at the imputation that his son was responsible for messes that some think were considerably worsened by the policies of the 9 month old Obama administration. No off camera mic episode was reported.

Unemployment is lurching toward 11%. A public option for health care reform – a move, some think, to destroy the private health insurance industry, still strong here in Connecticut – is stalled in a congress dominated by Democrats. North Korea has sent several missiles into the North China Sea, a response to non-belligerent overtures made recently by the Obama administration. Iran continues to develop nuclear facilities, despite attempts made by Obama’s persuasive Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to sooth the savage beast by immersing it sweet verbiage. And Russia is Russia. And France is France.

This attempt to shift the burdens of Obama’s office on to his predecessor did not sit well with some of his critics, who are fast multiplying.

Charles Krauthammer -- whose columns, a like a good German beer, should be taken in large drafts to be appreciated – thinks the president is wandering aimlessly through the thickets of foreign and domestic policy.

Gays are upset that Obama has not yet slain the dragon of homophobia; they have grown weary waiting for the president to ditch the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy of the last century.

Obama will be stumping for a crippled Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd soon in Stamford.The fundraising dinner at the Stamford Hilton Hotel, will cost $1,000 per person. At some point the Dodd campaign will tap Greenwich, where campaign money flows like water from the spouts of millionaires and billionaires whose bonuses Obama is trying valiantly to clip.

One expects Dodd, sometime during the campaign war chest enhancement event in Stamford to lean over the president’s shoulder, mop in hand, and whisper in his ear that in Connecticut gays are free to marry; why should they not be free to serve patriotically in the military without being encumbered by a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” concocted during the administration of former president Bill Clinton who, apparently, knew little about the birds and the bees?

The French are upset because Obama has hinted in European speeches that Europe’s finest may have to shed some blood, sweat and tears in the cause of liberte, egalite and fraternite. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, married to the ravishing Carla Bruni, has bluntly thrown down the gauntlet: No more French soldiers will be sent to die in Afghanistan, Obama’s war of necessity, a disappointing setback.

The economy remains un-stimulated after Obama’s efforts at mouth to mouth resuscitation. And some Greenwich millionaires, though not Ned Lamont, are beginning to grumble. The golden goose is gagging. The dollar itself is gasping.

Moreover, Main Street, awaiting destruction from the coming era of rampant inflation, is disappointed as well. Tea parties, studiously ignored by incumbent Democrats, are springing up from sea to shining sea like poisoned mushrooms.

The Russians are upset, but they are usually full of bile anyway. The friends of freedom and democracy in the Baltic States and Poland -- whose citizens are not unfamiliar with liberte, egalite and fraternite – are beginning to wonder aloud at the savoir faire of the new president. He reset the nuclear missile defense button in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and what did he get in return from the growling bear?

Zip -- that’s what. The Russians still feel sanctions against Iran, whose fraudulent and bloody election Obama has pretended to ignore for the sake of fraternite, are ill advised. Sarkozy appears to agree with the heirs of Stalin, the creators of the Gulag and, in the 21st century now upon us, the only real politic superpower – if one is willing to forget China and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.

All this cannot be reassuring to those who wish the Obama administration God speed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Khamenei Dead In Iran?

According to two sources that do not usually peddle in rumor – the American Enterprise Institute
and Beliefnet blogger Aziz Poonawalla --the Ayatolla Khamenei of Iran may have assumed room temperature.

Here is the realtime search for Twitter in Iran.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Roping The Tea Baggers

Democrats don’t really care to associate with tea party folk, even though some of them are Democrats. Republicans would dearly like to rope the rampant stallion and bring it home to the ranch. But, from the very first, tea baggers have proudly declared their formal non-affiliation with the two major parties, and no one but polling researchers working day by night in the bowels of some major educational institutions claim to know who these folks might be. Even the ivy leaguers among pollsters will admit, when pressed, that opinion about them is unsettled. When opinion does settle, someone will write a book about the phenomenon, and all of us will know. Until then, Republicans will continue to stroke and pet the beast, while Democrats, put off by what they perceive to be the ideological orientation of the tea baggers – anti tax, pro-constitution, strongly individualistic (Galt-like, the tea baggers say) – will continue to ignore them and hope the movement dissipates by election day.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Energy Crisis Has been Delayed

Energy crisis is postponed as new gas rescues the world.”

Now, there’s a headline that should cause a stir. And it did, most especially in Russia.

But the crisis in American journalism is still with us. It took a Brit to get the story out.


“In the last 50 years, there has been practically no net warming at all—and the Northern Hemisphere has actually cooled slightly” -- Warren Brookes, New York City Tribune, Sept. 22, 1989.

“We owe it to our children and our children’s children to investigate all aspects of carbon dioxide and global change. And when we do so, we find a wealth of beneficial effects from atmospheric carbon dioxide enrichment” -- Sherwood B. Idso (père), New York Times letter, May 7, 1990

“Actually, what makes skeptics skeptical is the accumulating evidence that theories predicting catastrophe from man-made climate change are impervious to evidence…" --George Will, Oct. 1, 2009

“Climate Change Reconsidered, The Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” (NIPCC) is 856 pages. Why an 856-paged report on Climate Change when the official body, the UN’s International Panel for Climate Change, already has written one? Because the IPCC Fourth-Assessment Report is fundamentally flawed, yet is the basis for catastrophic economic and energy policies in the U.S. and around the world?

The IPCC announces that from the mid-twentieth-century, “very likely” the observed CO2-induced global warming, from greenhouse gases, is man-made. The NIPCC disagrees, announcing that man-made greenhouse gases are not playing a substantial role in warming.

The IPCC asserts that global warming will increase death, disease, and injury from heat waves, floods, storms, fires, and droughts. The NIPCC, discussing all the relevant studies, disagrees, asserting that a warmer world would be a healthier and safer world.

The IPCC Report -- charges the NIPCC -- is selective. It exaggerates and omits or ignores key studies. It is political, not scientific. The participating IPCC scientists, who were selected by their UN member governments, have as their objective to support the position of their governments or to induce them to accept the IPCC Report. Their numerous “Summary for Policy-Makers” have been gone over, word by word, and edited by their governments. That’s not the way science is done.

The IPCC Report warrants the section-by-section refutation which Climate Change Reconsidered (CCR) provides. CCR’s two lead authors are Craig Idso, of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, and S. Fred Singer, of the Science and Environmental Policy Project. The Heartland Institute published the CCR in June, 2009.

A few quotations from the CCR Report give its flavor:

“There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” That statement appears also in the anti-Global Warming Petition signed by 31,478 scientists, their names printed, state by state, on pages 739-855.

IPCC’s “State-of-the-art climate models totally neglect the biological processes we have described here. Until we fully understand the ultimate impact of the OCS [carbonyl sulfide] cycle on climate, and then incorporate them into the climate models, we cannot be certain how much of the warming experienced during the twentieth century, if any, can be attributed to anthropogenic causes.”

Authors Idso and Singer have much to say about IPCC’s treatment of clouds (pp. 16-19):

"Correctly parameterizing the influence of clouds on climate is an elusive goal that the creators of atmospheric general circulation models (GCM) have yet to achieve.”  Discussing the reasons, Idso and Singer continue, “These deficiencies are extremely important because these particular clouds exert a major cooling influence on the surface temperatures of sea below them…”

Randall et al say (2003) that “the representation of cloud processes in global atmospheric models has been recognized for decades as the source of much of the uncertainty surrounding predictions of climate variability. They report, however, that ‘despite the best efforts of [the climate modeling] community . . . the problem remains largely unsolved.’ What is more, they say, ‘at the current rate of progress, cloud parameterization deficiencies will continue to plague us for many more decades into the future.’”

The study by Zhang and twenty climate modelers reports “a four-fold difference in high clouds among the models, and that the majority of the models simulated only 30 to 40 percent of the observed middle clouds. . . . For low clouds, they report that half the models underestimated them, such that the grand mean of low clouds from all models was only 70 to 80 percent of what was observed. . . . ”

“Failure to model any one of these elements [clouds, radiation, and precipitation] would be grounds for rejecting claims that the IPCC provides the evidence needed to justify regulation of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.” (p. 25)

The authors, examining 15 studies for the effect on human longevity of the additional CO2 and warming when the planet was recovering from the Little Ice Age, conclude, “In light of these many diverse observations of both plants and animals, there is some reason to believe that the historical increase of CO2 in the air has helped lengthen human lifespans since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, and that its continued upward trend will provide more of the same benefit.” (p. 694)

CCR is a veritable Book of Knowledge for serious scholars and should be helpful to sincere policy-makers no longer dependant upon the want of candor and want of industry of the IPCC.

By Natalie Sirkin

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Investigating Rell

Some people in Connecticut, not a few of whom would be pleased to see their friends and acquaintances occupy Governor Jodi Rell's position, already have decided, perhaps prematurely, that it would be perfectly proper to haul the governor off to jail without observing the usual niceties.

“First the verdict,” says the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Wonderland, “then the trial.”

Most reasonable people would agree that the Queen of Hearts got it backwards.

Very quick out of the shoot was Kevin Rennie, a Hartford Courant columnist who first congratulated Ted Mann of the New London Day for having performed a public service “by reporting on documents related to a polling deal dressed up as public policy that smelled so bad it put Snow White in a foul mood.” Snow White is former Democratic House Speaker Jim Amman’s sobriquet for the governor. Then Rennie plunged the sword in up to the hilt: “Even John Rowland, who went to prison for corruption, did not engage in the dirty enterprise that Rell, Moody and Dautrich concocted. Rowland would get the state Republican Party, not state government, to commission Newhouse to conduct a poll at the start of a new legislative session.”

Worse than Rowland; it doesn’t get any worse than that.

Very likely, the most damning charge in the Rell indictment involves Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

It’s difficult to reconcile what is reported of him in the Dautrich memo with any legitimate study on the budget. Without re-reading the memo – I exaggerate somewhat -- Dautrich intimated that Blumenthal’s characteristics were comparable to those of St. Francis Assisi, with a little Grand Inquisitor thrown in for good measure. Blumenthal is, according to a focus group assembled by Dautrich, one of the most competent politicians in the state.

Now, it so happens that Blumenthal — highly partisan and several times considered by his party as a respectable candidate for governor – has one great failing: He cannot resist rushing in where even angels fear to tread. And here he is true to form. Blumenthal has allied himself with the state’s bipartisan auditors of public accounts; together they will determine whether Rell has misspent state tax dollars on what at first blush appears to be a campaign poll gussied up as a University of Connecticut research project.

As yet, no one has raised the question: Should Blumenthal or his office take part in the investigation?

If Blumenthal plays a major role in the investigation, may he not legitimately be accused of playing politics? That chord has already been strummed by the Rell administration.

More importantly, any penalty assigned for Rell’s infraction may fall on the objection that a material witness, Blumenthal, should not be prosecuting the case, or even investigating it. Blumenthal’s participation as both a party to the case and a prosecutor may not unusual for his office – such things happen– but that participation would lend a great deal of weight to any objections.

Others have noted from time to time a structural deficiency in the attorney general’s office. Historically, Blumenthal’s office devolved from the king’s lawyer in the colonial period. It seems reasonable to suppose that the attorney general should be hemmed in by statutory and constitutional regulations, but this appears not to be the case. Very little positive law prevents the office of attorney general from meandering over its historical banks whenever it suits Blumenthal’s political purposes. Courts may control his authority by rebuking him, but this does not happen often enough.

There are two grave dangers here: First, the powers of all state offices should be limited by statute or constitutional proscription; and secondly, Blumenthal now has put himself in the position of being a money raiser for the state, The attorney general has just contributed to state coffers $500,000 dollars “earned” by him in a suit. This is the road to Hell, paved always with good intentions. After a time, money not justice determines the track of politics. You end up trawling for suits because you are expected to bring into your office the same amount year after year. That is not good for the state or the office or Blumenthal.

Initially and historically, the attorney general’s office was intended to represent the interests of state agencies, an executive department function. On some occasions, the attorney general has overridden state agencies and taken a position that is hostile to an agency’s interest. If Blumenthal is not representing the interests of state agencies when he jumping the fence and countermanding judgments made by agency heads, how are the interests of such agencies to be represented, and by whom? What matters here is not that Blumenthal may be right or wrong in a specific case. By stepping outside the historic connection that should bind him to the executive department, Blumenthal, a freebooter, is wandering between the powers of separation lines, which is the bulwark of our always fragile democracy.

That’s never acceptable. No state office should range this widely and wildly. Most other offices in the state are narrowly defined and fall under the supervision of one of the three branches of government, which assures that a balance of power will be maintained. Blumenthal’s office occasionally leaps over these barriers with great agility. He prosecutes erring businesses on the word of whistleblowers; he advises the legislature; and his advice, practically speaking, almost has the force of law. Advice of this kind may be constitutionally sound when it is addressed to the executive department to which Blumenthal’s office should be attached. It is the role of appellate courts to direct legislatures -- after all the niceties of prosecution have been rigorously observed and the competent judicial authority has determined that a law written by the legislature needs to be adjusted.

Perhaps the attorney general’s office could use a little statutory redefinition. In any case, Blumenthal should not serve a prosecutorial or investigative function in a case in which he is a legitimate prosecutorial witness.

UPDATE  MONDAY OCT. 12, 2009 9:40

According to a report in the Journal Inquirer by Keith Phaneuf , the discussion of Blumenthal was not initiated by Dautrich. Focus group members brought up Blumenthal’s name, and Dautrish allowed the discussion to shape itself.

But while the initial questions focused on lawmakers and Rell, some participants immediately spoke up about Blumenthal, according to focus group records obtained by the Journal Inquirer.

“Participants by and large said that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is a strong leader they would have faith in to lead them out of the budget deficit problem,” the report states. “… One participant thought that Blumenthal was on television and ‘out there’ as much as the governor.”

When later asked about the principles they valued in a leader, those participants who mentioned Blumenthal were allowed to discuss which principles applied to him.

But Dautrich said the focus group process, while designed to keep people focused on established topics, doesn’t work well if participants — such as those who wanted to mention Blumenthal — are interrupted or barred from speaking about something somewhat off-topic.

“You put a bunch of people around a table and they are going to talk about what they want to talk about,” Dautrich said. “I brought the idea of leadership up and some people immediately wanted to talk about Dick Blumenthal."

The money spent on the focus group, the Inquirer reported, was about $2,000.

Initially, Dautrich had suggested a poll and sent a series of questions to gubernatorial aide Lisa Moody, but Moody rejected the notion because, according to the report, she thought a poll was “too political.”

After the two had agreed on a focus group instead, Dautrich sent Moody a list of questions that did mention Blumenthal’s name, as well as other leading politicians.

These kinds of questions, Dautrich acknowledged, according to the Inquirer’s report, “never should have been included in the package he sent Moody, adding that he hastily was assembling a sample budget poll for her review by pulling questions from several past voter surveys he had conducted.”

Said Dautrich, “I made the mistake of copying and pasting some questions from past polls without thinking carefully about how it would be interpreted. I never intended for that to be the final questionnaire, but I can see where that conclusion might be drawn. In retrospect, it was a huge mistake.”

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama’s Nobel

Even Bob Schiffer supposed that President Barack Obama was graced with the Nobel Peace prize because the Nobel committee was intent on firing yet one more round over President George Bush’s moribund  presidency.

It’s a little bit like watching one deaf man shouting in the ear horn of another deaf Man, “Bad Bush! Bad,bad Bush!”

Over at Dean’s World, a blog dedicated to sweet reason, Dave Price noted:

“They just ended a civil war and brought freedom to a horribly oppressed nation.

“You know, useful stuff that involves severe personal risk of death or injury. No one cares about that.

“The Marines were sent to tame Anbar in 2004. They were the “strongest tribe,” and along with American soldiers, sailors and airmen they were locked in grim urban fighting in cities like Ramadi and Fallujah. The toll was high: Over 30 percent of American war fatalities have been sustained in Anbar Province.

“Today, visitors to Ramadi are struck by the normalcy of the place. Markets are full, the police are on the beat, and the government center is a busy office building.

“Semper fi, boys. Norway isn’t fit to lick your boots.”
Nominations on the prize closed, it should be remembered, 10 days after Obama’s inauguration, which was just about enough time for Obama to have decided where to put the couch in the White House.

Never have so few given so little for so much.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

John Brown: The 150th Anniversary Of The Raid On Harper’s Ferry

John Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut in 1800. Brown’s grandfather, also named John Brown, was a captain in the 18th regiment of the Connecticut Colony in the Revolutionary War. His father, who lived for a time in Windsor, was deeply religious and unalterably opposed to slavery. Owen Brown claimed to have been convincingly moved by a sermon written by Jonathan Edwards -- whose more famous father, also named Jonathan, had roots in Windsor and was the foremost theologian in New England -- in which the preacher had fiercely denounced slavery.

Although Brown moved to a section of northern Ohio when he was six, his connections in the North East remained vibrant; so much so that the trusted secretary who handled his always precarious financial affairs lived in Hartford; the pikes Brown had fashioned for his attack on Harper’s Ferry were made in Collinsville by forgemaster Charles Blair of Connecticut; Brown for a time maintained a wool commission operation in Springfield, Massachusetts and he gathered money for his military operation in Kansas from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. Perhaps most importantly, Brown’s character, shaped under the guiding hand of his father, had upon it the indelible stamp of a Puritanism historically molded in the Connecticut valley.

Brown’s best biographer, David Reynolds, author of “John Brown Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights” calls Brown “the last Puritan.” The molten iron of John Calvin ran hot in Brown’s veins.

In 1859, Brown and his motley crew of guerrilla fighters – some would later call them terrorists – led a raid on Harper’s Ferry, an arms depot in Virginia. Brown’s ambition was to free the slaves, and his plan was well thought out. It had been simmering in his brain for years. Even in his day, some of his supporters unfamiliar with the details of his plans considered Brown mad; and for awhile, as he waited to be executed after a speedy trial, it was thought Brown’s best defense would be a claim of insanity.

When his second wife Mary Day, who had endured the deaths of nine of their thirteen children – Brown was the patriarch of twenty children from two wives -- was asked whether she thought it would be useful to raise a defense on an insanity claim, she replied with disarming simplicity, “That would be impossible.”

Why, she was asked.

“It’s not true.”

All his life, Brown never doubted he was on good terms with the truth that sets men free. Traveling through the Northeast raising funds to support his military assault on pro-slavery “border ruffians” in Kansas, Brown told a Massachusetts legislative committee that immigrants were needed in Kansas “who fear God too much to fear anything human,” an apt description of himself.

Henry David Thoreau, who said of Brown that he would leave a Greek accent falling the wrong way but would right a fallen man – knew Brown was not mad, as did all the notables who assembled in Massachusetts businessman George Stern’s home in Medford to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Together in the room were William Lloyd Garrison and the impetuous Wendell Phillips, both anti-slavery agitators; transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott, accompanied by his daughter Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women”; Franklin Sanborn, the Concord teacher whose students had included Emerson, Brown and Henry James Sr.; and Julia Ward Howe, the author of the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

They called their gathering “the John Brown Party.”

When Union General Robert Milroy, stationed near Harper’s Ferry, announced Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation to his troops, the men spontaneously and boisterously burst into the war song “John Brown’s Body,” with its stirring chorus that while Brown’s body “ lies moldering in the grave… his soul is marching on.” Both “John Brown’s Body” and Howe’s ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic” were adaptations of an earlier camp-meeting hymn, “Oh brothers, will you meet us on Canaan's happy shore?”

Certain that the Christian God had come to strike the chains from the feet of the slave – “As God died to make men holy, so let us die to make men free,” was Julia Ward Howe’s gloss on the scriptural command – Brown very early on, when he was but a child, formed such an intimate and loving bond with oppressed African Americans that, then and later, he shocked even fierce abolitionists with his certitude that blacks were the equals of whites. When Brown gave up his pew to a family of blacks he was spiriting off to Canada on the Underground Railroad, the solidly abolitionist members of the church in North Elba, New York, where Brown and most of the raiders on Harper’s Ferry lie moldering in the ground, gasped with astonishment.

Not only had Brown studied Napoleon’s war tactics, he also was a close student of the guerilla tactics employed by Toussaint L'ouverture in Haiti in his successful opposition to Napoleon’s occupation forces. Eventually, L’ouverture was caught and brought to Paris to live the rest of his life in chains. He is strangely resurrected in Brown’s plans for the liberation of slaves in the United States.

Brown’s idea was to accumulate a resistance through the liberation of plantation slaves, retreat to the mountains of Virginia and demoralize the slave owner by repeated raids and liberations. Eventually, Brown thought, the bees would swarm to the hive. Excessive concern for the prisoners he took at Harpers Ferry, caused him to wait too long, and he was overcome by a superior federal force led by Robert E. Lee who, on his retreat at the end of the Civil war, was to traverse the same road he took to put down the raid at Harper’s Ferry.

After Brown’s raid, the slave holding south sensed that a Rubicon had been crossed. Hundreds of editorials appeared denouncing Brown, which was to be expected. But many of the editorials sounded a new note: After Brown, the South could no longer depend upon the North’s unarmed resistance. A staunch abolitionist like William Lloyd Garrison, who favored disunion and sought to end slavery by moral injunction could be tolerated; but Brown, who raised a sword against it – never.

Wendell Philip delivered the eulogy at Brown’s funeral: “History will date Virginia Emancipation from Harper’s Ferry. True, the slave is still there. So, when the tempest uproots a pine on your hills, it looks green for months – a year or two. Still, it is timber, not a tree. John Brown has loosened the roots of the slave system. It only breaths – it does not live hereafter.”

October 14-17 is the 150th anniversary of the Raid on Harper’s Ferry.

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