Thursday, March 31, 2011

U.S. Rep. John Larson and the Tea Party

Detained by two reporters before he entered a closed door session of the Democratic caucus, U.S. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. John Larson let loose a string of metaphors on the Tea Party movement.
Politico described the interview as “…an 11-minute, metaphor-laced talk.”

Mr. Larson, who runs the Democratic caucus in the House, was identified by Politico as “the top communications arm for the party in Congress.”

Some of Mr. Larson’s metaphors were meteorological:

"And this week we're told that the tea party will bring yet another cold front to Washington, D.C. And in doing so, it's our understanding that the Republican leaders are standing back and looking to see what kind of shadow is cast to see whether or not we'll have six more weeks of continuing resolution."

Republicans, the Democratic caucus leader said, haven't created "one single job." Their attitude, since recapturing the U.S. House in the last elections, owing partially to an invigorated Tea Party movement, has been one of “icy indifference.”

The Washington DC rally that inspired such poetic references from Mr. Larson is, according to Politico, “expected to draw some of the party's top conservatives” and “was organized to oppose the slew of continuing resolutions to fund the government, rather than a long-term bill.”

The continuing resolutions to fund the government were made necessary when the last veto proof Democratic Congress failed to pass a budget, thus arousing the ire of the Tea Party movement, which was partially responsible for the removal of former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the degradation of the status of Mr. Larson’s caucus in the House.

Had the national Tea Party movement been more icily indifferent to spendthrift legislators, it is very likely that both Mr. Larson and Mrs. Pelosi would not have suffered an ego-blasting diminishment in status and power.

It is not the icy indifference of the Tea Party movement, but rather its success in cleaning the House of spendthrift Democrats, that gave rise to the Chairman of the Democratic caucus’ meteorological metaphors. And when members of Connecticut’s Tea Party convene at the state capitol in Hartford on April 15 to protest the indifference of remaining Democratic House members to a $14 trillion national budget, the chances are very good that those assembled will not be icily indifferent to Mr. Larson.

Lifting The Veil

The promo for WNPR’s “Lifting The Veil” conference at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) promised:

• “A prominent political figure grills political reporters (how’s it feel now?)
• New media organizations team up on high-quality, investigative journalism
• An influential national reporter covers one of the toughest beats: The media.”

As it turned out, the prominent political figure grilling reporters was Ned Lamont, Connecticut’s inoffensive left of center heartthrob described in the promo as:

“…an upstart challenger to Senator Joe Lieberman, he rallied an online base of support that allowed him to beat Lieberman in the Democratic primary, and barely lose that seat to the Senator in November. In 2010, he ran a tight race for the Democratic nomination for governor. All along the way, he had to face tough questions from the capitol press corps, local and national talk show hosts, bloggers and thousands of others.”
The reporters Mr. Lamont turned the tables on were, for the most part, members in good standing of the state’s left of center media. Between Mr. Lamont and the sometimes adoring left of center media, not enough fissionable material was produced to brighten the butt of a lighting bug.

No one feared that Mr. Lamont would hurl a rhetorical lightning bolt in the direction of John Dankosky, the impresario of the afternoon’s fake slugfest at CCSU who had turned over his “Where We Live” microphone to Mr. Lamont expecting… what?... a tongue lashing?

Mr. Lamont had one hour to turn the tables on his left of center opponents. Nothing untoward happened.

Surrendering a microphone to, say, Linda McMahon rather than Mr. Lamont might have produced some alarming sparks of genuine controversy. Some thought Connecticut’s media focused in the U.S. Senate campaign just a tad too exuberantly on Mrs. McMahon’s association with World Wide Wrestling, rather as if any connection with wrestling would make a candidate ineligible for office. And the viral UTube videos showing wrestlers being wrestlers saved her opponent, present Senator Dick Blumenthal, from responding seriously and at length to many of the points Mrs. McMahon made on the campaign trail. Even Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, who lost the race to Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy by a whisker – only around 6,500 votes squeezed out by “Big Union” in the state’s larger cities -- might have lifted Connecticut’s left of center media veil more effectively than Mr. Lamont. Mr. Foley and Mr. Lamont are due to engage in a “mini-debate” at Yale on Monday evening, April 4, centering on the question: Is Connecticut Wisconsin?

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York lifted a veil of his own when he thought he was having a semi-private conversation with a few Democrats, little realizing that journalists were hanging on his every word.

A subscriber to V.I. Lenin’s maxim that adroitly labeling an argument saves politicians the trouble of grappling with it, Mr. Schumer offered the following advice to his listeners, Mr. Blumenthal among them:

The Democratic caucus had instructed Mr. Schumer to label as “extreme” all Republican spending cuts, and he religiously recommended the slur to his Democratic confreres in what used to be called the greatest deliberative body in the nation.

"I always use ‘extreme’”, Mr. Schumer said. "That is what the caucus instructed me to use… The main thrust is basically that we want to negotiate [on a budget the veto proof Democratic congress thought it unnecessary to pass during the last session] and we want to come up with a compromise, but the Tea Party is pulling [Republican House Speaker John] Boehner too far over to the right and so far over that there is no more fruitful negotiations. The only way we can avoid a shutdown is for Boehner to come up with a reasonable compromise and not just listen to what the Tea Party wants.”

The possible shutdown looms for two reasons: The veto proof congressional Democratic caucus, for reasons best known to Mr. Schumer, did not want to pass a budget; and, during the last election, Democrats were flushed out of the U.S. House by voting majorities that evidently listened to what the Tea Party wanted. It may be too much to expect the state’s left of center media to keep count of the number of times that Mr. Blumenthal, while genuflecting obediently to marching orders from Mr. Schumer’s caucus, will in the future use the expression “extreme” in his frequent dispatches to describe Republican resistance to a national budget that would beggar much of the nation. But perhaps someone from the Tea Party in Connecticut could be assigned to keep count of the demagoguery.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Markley, The Fly In The Ointment

Newly elected State Sen. Joe Markley has now officially become a fly in the ointment.

"For a guy who has got a $3.3 billion [deficit] in next year's [budget], $647 [million] in this year's would be a concern, I can assure you. I am well aware of it," said Governor Dannel Malloy of himself while making his rounds of towns on his listening tour.

Mr. Markley’s suit, which is centered on a tax/fee Connecticut has attached to electric bills, is holding up bonding money and, for this reason, the state has asked Connecticut’s Supreme Court to expedite its decision.

State Treasurer Denise Nappier has delayed issuing bonds to cover the deficit in the current fiscal year until the matter before the court is decided. It would be necessary to disclose pending litigation in any official statement sent to potential bond investors, and this is the sort of ash sprinkled on a dessert that would discourage bond buyers from scooping up the delicacies.

Mr. Markley’s suit is somewhat embarrassing because the charge on electric bills, a disguised tax, is somewhat embarrassing to an administration that has promised Connecticut taxpayers that budget sleight of hand would not be tolerated in an honest and transparent government.

Initially, the charge on electric bills was levied as a “fee” that would serve as surety for bonds issued to pay for the cost of energy deregulation. Deregulation has been marginally successful in reducing energy costs, but the effort to deregulate the energy market in Connecticut would pay more impressive dividends to energy users if the state were more serious in eliminating energy regulations – which is what deregulation really means. So far, the state has sought to lower energy prices on the demand side through energy conservation. The quicker and more efficient way to lower energy costs is to increase the energy supply and reduce unnecessary regulations that serve as a bar preventing energy suppliers from peddling their wares in Connecticut.

The “fee” was to elapse after the bond money had refreshed state coffers and the costs associated with deregulation had been discharged. But in the meantime the state had accumulated a massive deficit, and it was decided to extend the so called fee indefinitely. Since the now altered fee was designed expressly as a vehicle to transfer money from electric ratepayer’s pockets into the state treasury, the form of the attachment had become, in Mr. Markley’s estimation, an undisguised tax. His suit questioned the authority of the Department of Public Utility Control to collect a tax, and the same suit claimed the tax was inequitable since some rate payers, depending upon which suppliers they had chosen, never paid the fee assessment and would not be charged a tax.

The energy tax would amount to about $100 a year for the average family, but the tax would run into thousands of dollars for businesses and municipalities, which would be recovered by municipalities in the form of higher taxes and by businesses in the from of higher prices for their products and services.

Mr. Malloy has said the Markley suit, if successful, will punch a hole in this year’s $19.2 billion budget of $647 million, the amount of money the state hopes to realize through its surreptitious tax. It is also possible that the suit, provided it is not speedily settled at the Supreme Court level, will be dragged through the courts much in the way Hector was dragged by Achilles around the doomed wall of Troy, making it more difficult for State Treasurer Denise Nappier to issue bonds that will cover the current fiscal year’s deficit.

Mr. Malloy, who railed against the use of bonds to pay off budget deficits in his successful gubernatorial campaign, has said, “I think the fee was fair. I think it was misguided. It's not a public policy I would have otherwise promoted or supported. If you're asking do I believe it to be legal? The answer is yes.”

Mr. Markley – who believes an honest government should approach its debts honorably through its constitutionally authorized taxing powers – admits that his suit would not permit the state to meet its debts dishonorably through fees designed to dupe the electorate; and he acknowledges that his suit, if successful, will open a hole in the budget. Tough love is always tough.

"I feel about it,” Mr. Markley says, as “I would watching a friend, who had been drinking all evening, go back to the ATM one more time to take more money out of the bank. Yes, you might think this is a good idea right now, but when you wake up in the morning, you're going to wish you hadn't taken out any more money."

Connecticut’s highly politicized State Supreme Court, for ill or good, may decide the question of law presented by Mr. Markley’s suit. It can not, and ought not, to decide the political question embedded in it: How crooked and irresponsible do we want the taxing authority in the state of Connecticut to be? That question can be decided only by an awakened citizenry.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Job Fair Cancelled For Lack Of Jobs

In Massachusetts – formerly called Taxachussetts, although its tax structure is a little less formidable than Connecticut’s – a job fair had to be cancelled for lack of jobs, according to the Boston Globe.

The Chairman of the Taunton Employment Task Force, Richard Shafer, said 20-25 employers were necessary for the fair scheduled for April 6, five days beyond April Fool’s Day. However, only 10 tables had been reserved and of those one table was reserved by a non-profit offering human services to job seekers, and three would have been occupied by temporary employment agencies.

The cancellation of the job fair, Mr. Shafer said, was indicative of the job market in the North East. Companies are still cautious about hiring full time workers.

Here in Connecticut, the job market has remained anemic ever since Connectitax, perhaps attempting to keep up with Taxachussetts, instituted its income tax. Recently, Connectitax has made the Lowell P. Weicker Jr. income tax more progressive and blanketed the state with new taxes and higher rates.

Job seekers in the North East may have better luck seeking opportunities in the states listed below that have no income tax, where costly regulations are not quite so punishing and where the economic skies are not cloudy all day.

Alaska has no individual tax and, like New Hampshire, no state sales tax. Florida has a corporate income tax of 5% and no individual income tax. Its tax on “intangible personal property – stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. – was abolished in 2007. Nevada has neither an individual income tax nor a corporate income tax. The state hauls in most of its revenue from gaming and sales taxes. While South Dakota levies a corporate income tax on financial institutions, it has no individual income tax -- nor does Tennessee, Texas, Washington or Wyoming, which has no corporate income tax either.

Young job hunters, weary of the scant pickings in Connectitax, no doubt will be heading towards the greener employment pastures listed above after they have graduated from one of the state's increasingly expensieve institutes of higher learning. Illegal aliens whom Connectitax indends to reward with a discounted education will be traveling along with the rest to areas of the country in which job fairs are more like fairs than funerals.

The First Blumieblooper

In what may be the first blooper during what promises to be Sen. Dick Blumenthal’s long term in the U.S. Congress, the senator told ABC News: “I think that we will need to address Social Security — if the current trends continue — sometime after the next 10 years or so, but not as part of dealing with the deficit."

It is one thing to kick the social security can down the road ten years, quite another to assert that the problem with the program can be settled without increasing the deficit.

Social security, mistakenly thought by some to be a savings program in which retirees draw from a pool of money to which they have contributed during their working lives, is actually something of a Ponzi scheme in which current retirees draw money from current workers. When the withdrawals exceed current contributions, you have a serious problem, which Mr. Blumenthal proposes to address ten years down the road.

That problem cannot be addressed as other than a deficit issue. Mr. Blumenthal, suer in chief as attorney general in Connecticut, would have known this if he were a business executive used to handing budgets. Alas, he is no Linda McMahon, the Republican Mr. Blumenthal defeated on his march to immortality as Connecticut’s soon to be senior U.S. Senator, an event that will occur, one hopes, before the social security system goes belly up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Libyan War And Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional Delegation

Where were you in 1973?

The Congress of the United States in 1973 was hard at work hammering out the War Powers Resolution, a joint act permitting the president of the Unites States, Richard Nixon at the time, to send the armed forces of United States into action only after obtaining the authorization of the legislative branch of government. An exception was allowed under the resolution if the United States were to come under direct attack or a serious threat of attack.

The War Powers Resolution was an attempt by congress to snatch back from the executive department a presumed constitutional power that had eroded after World War II. During the Korean War, euphemistically called a “conflict,” and the Vietnam War, the United States had marched off to battle without obtaining from congress “a declaration of war.”

Passed by the two-thirds vote in Congress necessary to overcome Mr. Nixon’s veto, the War Powers Resolution required presidents to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action. The measure also prevented troops from remaining in service in an active military theatre for more than 60 days without an a congressional authorization of the use of military force or a formal declaration of war.

No sooner did the War Powers Resolution emerge from the congressional egg than it came under intense scrutiny by those who claimed, for a variety of reasons, that the resolution was unconstitutioal. The power to make war, some argued persuasively, was not an enumerated power, and the resolution, it was said, failed to make the proper distinction between “declaring” a war and “commencing” a war.

Since its passage in 1973, presidents have drafted reports to congress when appropriate stating that a commitment of troops to a live war theatre is “consistant with” the War Powers Act, thus satisfying the executive department position that the congressional resolution is unconstitutional. Since passage of the resolution, presidents have submitted 118 reports to congress. However constitutionally defective The War Powers Act may be, the congressional instrument has been fairly effective when invoked in requiring the president to keep congress in the loop whenever when troops are sent to various hot spots in the world to do the bidding of, say, the United Nations.

In 2007, Illinois Senator Barack Obama was interviewd by the Boston Globe and asked, “In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress?”

It would not fall within the constitutional authority of the president, Mr. Obama replied, "to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” While the president has a duty to protect and defend the United States as commander in chief, “History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”

Asked about the constitutional propriety of ordering a strike on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, a situation that involved no direct threat against the United States, Mr. Obama replied, “As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that ‘any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.’”

That was then.

Libya presents no direct threat to the United States and, unlike Iran, it voluntarily agreed to give up the possibility of producing nuclear weapons a few years ago. Mr. Obama, who asserted in a congressional resolution HE INTRODUCED four years ago that the president should obtain the authorization of congress when bombing a nation that presents no immediate threat to the United States, has ordered the bombing of Libya after consulting the United Nations rather than the U.S. Congress.

The Libyan intervention has passed muster with Connecticut’s newest senator. Dick Blumenthal, who characterized the intervention as “prudent, decisive action -- with limited scope and duration -- that we are undertaking along with our NATO allies… requested by the Arab League and supported strongly by the UN.”

Mr. Blumenthal, formerly Connecticut’s attorney general, neither mentioned the War Powers Resolution nor gave the slightest indication that it played a part in his approval of Mr. Obama’s intervention. Other members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, however, have expressed serious reservations. The “first 48 to 72 hours [of sustained bombing] don't look like a supportive role," said U.S. Rep Joe Courtney. Mr. Courtney recommended that the congress, then on a one week recess, be called back into session so that it could be given the opportunity to question top administration officials.

Rep. John Larson registered “deep concern.” The congressman was concerned with a possible ground war and even went so far as to mention the “V” word: “While the president has been very clear that this is not their intention, that wasn't the intention when we sent advisors into Vietnam either.” Having convened a conference to discuss the Libyan intervention, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, according to one report, “said there was broad consensus among House Democrats of the need for an official congressional briefing. There was ‘a great deal of skepticism about the time, the mission, the purpose,’ he said.”

The war Powers Resolution, it hardly needs to be said, does not require the president of the United States to seek the approval of the United Nations before committing U.S. troops in a hot war. Because the president committed troops without so much as a wink in the direction of congress, it is doubtful that his “prudent action” is even “consistent with” the War Powers Resolution.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The New Nullifiers

Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell has noticed that liberals in Connecticut quietly have embarked on a course of nullification. The issue of nullification arose nationally when “crazy conservatives,” Mr. Powell noted in a recent column, attempted to enact legislation “to prevent enforcement of the new federal medical insurance law, reviving state's rights in the name of ‘nullification’ of federal statutes.”

Here in Connecticut, the log of nullification begins to weigh heavily in the eyes of some over-excitable liberals who, during an attorney general’s race, accused Mrs. Martha Dean of promoting the antiquated doctrine.

Yours truly wrote about the issue when it was raised at the time:

“And when Mrs. Dean mentioned nullification in a historical context, it was roundly hinted by some commentators that nullification might lead -- gasp! -- to a new civil war. In pre-Civil War New England, the fires of nullification began to smolder over the Fugitive Slave Act. For all practical purposes, the New England states practiced nullification when southern slave owners began to appear in Boston to retrieve slaves that had escaped through the Underground Railroad. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, a federal law supported by Supreme Court decisions, required people in New England to assist in the apprehension of slaves. Henry David Thoreau said his "no" very impolitely in an impassioned piece called “Slavery in Massachusetts,” and Thoreau's version of civil disobedience is simply a polite form of personal nullification. Had Mrs. Dean asked any of her critics whether they might have resisted the Fugitive Slave Act had they been writing at the time, it is a good guess that every one of them would have placed themselves on the side of the anti-slavery angels.”
In extending to non-citizens residing illegally in the United States a state residency tuition discount though a legislative bill, Mr. Powell writes persuasively in his column, the promulgators of the legislation are practicing nullification:

“But that's exactly what liberals in Connecticut are trying to do with legislation to extend the state residency tuition discount to illegal aliens attending public colleges. That is, liberals are trying to nullify federal immigration law.

“The first step in liberal nullification has been to try to change the terms of discussion. Illegal aliens can't be called by their right name; now they're merely ‘undocumented,’ as if the dog ate their driver's license. But the illegality at issue isn't just their presence in the country. Advocates of the tuition discount legislation would have the government spend still more money giving higher education to people who [ITALICS ORIGINAL] can't even be legally employed when they get out of college. The tuition discount legislation wouldn't just bump legal residents out of higher education; it would condone an endless series of lawbreaking with employers.”
When Mrs. Dean mentioned nullification during her campaign -- chiefly in an historical context, for Mrs. Dean is a sharp student of American history – pretty much everyone in the usual liberal encampment pounced on her, some of them suggesting darkly that nullification, associated in the pre-civil war era with the slavery issue,  had been decided once and for all by a bloody Civil War. Why should we resurrect those bloody bones concerning an issue that had been decided forever at Gettysburg and Palmito Branch, considered by some to be the last battle of the Civil War? Palmito Branch, as it happens, was decided mostly by the 250 men of the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment under the command of Col. David Branson.

Those pounding Mrs. Dean simply forgot – or never knew initially – that the North, not the South, had invoked the principle of nullification in its objection to the much hated Fugitive Slave Law. Had Mrs. Dean turned on the liberals savaging her – one of them had mentioned her “cyborg blue eyes” – and asked her critics who among them, transporting themselves back in time to the pre Civil War period, would have lent their support to the slave catchers in Boston, she would have been met by universal silence.

It will be much more difficult for liberals favoring legislation that nullifies immigration law to tease from their objections an overriding principle justifying their embrace of a state law that violates the principles enshrined in immigration law. Present immigration law does not make invidious distinctions between slaves and freemen, as did the U.S. Supreme Court in the pre-Civil War period. The distinction between a lawful citizen – that is: one who is entitled to the privileges of citizenship – and a non-citizen is practical and necessary for reasons suggested by Mr. Powell. The tuition discount legislation promulgated by liberals in the General Assembly “wouldn't just bump legal residents out of higher education; it would condone an endless series of lawbreaking with employers.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Time For A Bundler's Tax? Is Clinton Bailing?

ABC News is reporting that President Barack Obama intends to raise from “bundlers” $1 billion for his presidential campaign.

As yet, no one who vigorously supports campaign finance regulation has suggested that a confiscatory progressive tax should be levied against the millionaire bundlers, proceeds from the tax to be deposited in accounts supporting public financing.

Among the eager bundlers who showed up in Washington to lend a hand to Mr. Obama was Ned Lamont, the progressive heartthrob and anti Iraq war warrior who, drawing upon his own considerable resources, successfully challenged present Sen. Joe Lieberman in a primary a few years ago. Mr. Lamont lost to Mr. Lieberman, who is retiring at the end of his term, in a rancorous general election.

Within the Democratic Party, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who styles himself as a progressive in some political ads, has rounded up a good deal of support within his party in a bid for Mr. Lieberman’s seat in the U.S. Senate.

No one yet has asked Mr. Murphy whether he thinks Mr. Obama’s means of collecting money to support his campaign is kosher among progressives who tend to regard with a baleful eye millionaire campaign contributors – many of whom, according to the ABC report, have been rewarded by Mr. Obama with ambassadorships.

Mr.Obama's bundling effort appears to be targeting former contributors to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, according to the ABC report:

“A key strategy for replacing those lost to administration posts has been the active recruitment of Democrats who backed Hillary Clinton last cycle.’ They’re going after the Clinton people,’ one veteran Obama fundraiser told ABC News. The targets are bundlers such as Florida's Ben Pollara, who says on his website he raised over $12 million for Clinton as her Florida finance director."
Other reports indicate that Mrs. Clinton is not satisfied with Mr. Obama’s insufficient response to events unfolding in Libya.

Moammar Gadhafi, the kook dictator of Libya, is now engaged in mopping up scattering opposition to his regime. Coincidentally, Mrs. Clinton has announced that she is done with Mr. Obama after 2012 – even if he wins again, according to a report from The Daily.

Mrs. Clinton’s frustration was expressed in the report by “a Clinton insider” who told The Daily, “

“Obviously, she’s not happy with dealing with a president who can’t decide if today is Tuesday or Wednesday, who can’t make his mind up. She’s exhausted, tired.” If you take a look at what’s on her plate as compared with what’s on the plates of previous Secretary of States — there’s more going on now at this particular moment, and it’s like playing sports with a bunch of amateurs. And she doesn’t have any power. She’s trying to do what she can to keep things from imploding.”
Prodded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to urge the White House to take a more aggressive course of action in Libya, Mr. Clinton responded cryptically that, “There are difficulties,” according to Foreign Policy Magazine. A frustrated diplomat quoted in the magazine said, "Frankly we are just completely puzzled. We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States.”

When asked by Wolf Blitzer in a recent interview with CNN whether she would accept a post during a potential second Obama administration, Mrs. Clinton four times responded, less cryptically, “No.”

The United Nations in the meantime has authorized a no fly zone over Libya, and France is preparing a military response. Mr. Gadhafi has declared his own no fly zone. Apparently in response to France’s resolve, Mr. Gadhafi, who earlier vowed to “fight to the last bullet,” has decided to stop bombing and strafing from, planes his largely civilian political opposition.

Apparently a successful early intervention in Libya was not as urgent a priority for the Obama administration  as a raid on Mrs. Clinton’s former campaign contributors.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tax Skullduggery

Facing a multi-billion dollar debt, former Gov. Jodi Rell and the Democratic dominated legislature decided during the last fiscal year to avoid hard choices – which would have involved raising taxes, cutting spending or doing both – and instead plundered Connecticut’s rainy day fund, postponed pension fund payment and drew money from bonding to pay down one of the largest per capita debts in the nation.

As a result of such temporary budget fixes, hard decisions on the state debt were postponed just long enough to allow manipulative legislators to be swept back into office before the next governor was elected to pick up the can kicked down the road by his predecessors.

Gov. Dannel Malloy is the first Democratic governor to be elected in Connecticut since former Gov. William O’Neill left office under thunderclouds of debt. Mr. O’Neill was followed by Gov. Lowell Weicker, the father of Connecticut’s income tax. The income tax was followed by easily anticipated uncontrolled spending, which now has been followed by tax increases of $1.5 billion, a present dismal asset to liability ratio of 44.4 percent for state pensions, and a budget deficit of $3.5 billion per annum reminiscent of Mr. O’Neill’s last days in office. At the end of June, Connecticut held $9.35 billion in assets in its pension fund against $21.1 billion in liability. The state's annual pension contribution, now $844 million, is projected to grow just beyond $1 billion next year.

One of the themes running like a reforming fire through Mr. Malloy’s frequent town meetings is: I’m here to solve problems created by others. Mr. Malloy has promised straight talk, hard decisions and transparency in government. Many a trick of the political trade committed by others prior to the Malloy administration will be brought to light by, among other things, honest budgeting. The opacity that allowed former governors and legislators to escape hard decisions will be removed by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), which will force legislators finally to confront their debts forthrightly. GAAP, when instituted as promised in the not too distant future, will eliminate the dark places in which legislators hide to engage in furtive budget skullduggery.

Like what? Well… like collecting taxes through “fee” charges placed on electric bills. Newly elected Senator Joe Markley took up cudgels against this less than transparent practice when he sued the state to prevent such charges from being furtively attached to electric bills.

The fee first appeared on electric bills as a charge levied to support bonding for energy deregulation. It was supposed to have elapsed but was revived as a new tax that went into effect Jan. 1, 2011 for Connecticut Light & Power customers. Supporters of the new tax argued that the fee was modest, averaging about $7.50 per household, but the tax has what investigative reporter Zach Janowski of the Yankee Institute calls “a much more noticeable impact on employers.”

New Britain, for instance “which estimates its town and school buildings use 25 million kilowatt hours annually, will pay more than $95,000 this year.” And of course the increased costs will be passed along to municipal taxpayers, a sleight of hand that will become apparent when tax bills come due.

Mr. Markey’s inconvenient suit is delaying the sale of about $650 million in state bonds, and for this reason a review by Connecticut’s Supreme Court has been fast-tracked. Mr. Markley’s legal argument has two legs: The tax, Mr. Markley claims, is illegal because the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) is not a tax collecting authority; and the tax itself violates the principle of equal protection because the tax charge will never apply to customers of municipal electric utilities but only to CL&P customers in 2011 and United Illuminating customers in 2013.

The motivation lying behind the tax disguised as a fee is less than transparent, Mr. Markley says:

“They didn’t want to actually have a tax increase that they admitted was a tax increase,” he explained. “So they took a charge, a legitimate charge on the electrical bills which was due to expire, and decided to just turn it into a tax hoping that nobody would notice. And that’s what made it vulnerable, because you know [when] they have a tax increase you can’t take it to court. But this is a case where they tried to do it kind of on the sly and they tripped themselves up with their own skullduggery.”

It is not at all certain that Connecticut’s high court will rule in favor of Mr. Markley and against legislative shysters. The salaries of Supreme Court justices are also drawn from monies appropriated, however unconstitutionally, from taxpayers who shell out dollars for “fees” hidden in energy bills or cost increases passed along to consumers that reflect increases in business taxes. The same Democratic legislature that approved the hidden energy tax is also considering levying an additional new tax on those energy distributors that deal in products the left of center General Assembly disapproves of: nuclear, oil and coal-fueled generation.

For taxing purposes, energy shows signs of becoming in Connecticut the new tobacco. And opacity is quickly becoming the new transparency.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The New Poor And The New Social Order

There are actually two social-political orders, conservative and liberal, one of which, depending upon one’s ideological proclivities, apparently has been constructed by the devil. Both views are rooted in sociological perceptions.

A dependable sociology will reason from facts, which are, according to Jim Manzi writing in National Affairs, both prophetic and distressing.

Surveying the last half century, Mr. Manzi can not help but notice a deplorable cultural bifurcation: “Increasingly, our country is segregated into high-income groups with a tendency to bourgeois norms, and low-income groups experiencing profound social breakdown.”

Mr. Manzi traces the collapse of bourgeois morality to a longstanding academic and avant garde assault on traditional social norms associated with the left in the 1960’s. By the 1970’s, “attitudes and behaviors began to change on a mass scale.” But every radical social action leads ineluctably to an equal and opposite reaction; and the resistance, when it arrived, was both economic and social.

Beginning with the Nixon administration and trailing into the Reagan administration, the reaction concerned itself with questions of social cohesion and stability, inextricably linked, conservatives and libertarians argued at the time, with the promotion of economic growth and vitality.

The partly successful response did not touch what Manzi calls “the other side of the coin.” The animated opposition failed to notice that economic dynamism could be “harmful to social cohesion.” Inexorably, “the cultural foundations of democratic capitalism were collapsing. Crime rates, illegitimacy, drug use, and many other measures of social dysfunction were all on the rise, seemingly without limit.”

Later in the decade and continuing through today, American society re-normalized, but the new normal is different than the old normal:

“To begin with, certain strands of the old bourgeois consensus have frayed, and others have simply disappeared, at least for some parts of the population. The wealthier and better-educated segments of our society, for example, have re-established the primacy of stable families and revived their intolerance of crime and public disorder. But they have combined this return to tradition with very non-traditional attitudes about sex, masculinity, and overt piety.”
Most importantly, the partial social restoration did not trickle down to what the well-to-do used to call, disparagingly, the lower orders. Among the wealthier and better educated segments of American society today, the primacy of stable families and a healthy intolerance of crime and public disorder has revived; not so among the poor. Consider:
 “Women without high-school diplomas are now about three times as likely to divorce within ten years of their first marriage than their college-educated counterparts… the estimated percentage of 15-year-olds living with both of their biological parents is far lower in the United States than in Western Europe.” In 1965, “almost no mothers with any level of education reported that they had never been married. While this is still true of mothers who have finished college, only 3 percent of whom were never married, the figure among mothers with no more than a high school education and incomes below $20,000 is an astounding 25 percent. About 70% of African-American children — as well as most Hispanic children — are born to unmarried mothers.”
Among the middle and upper classes, what Manzi calls “the Old Wasp Ascendency” has been reconstructed on much different platforms:

“Political correctness serves the same basic function for this cohort that ‘good manners’ did for an earlier elite; environmentalism increasingly stands in for the ethic of controlling impulses so as to live within limits; and an expensive, competitive school culture — from pre-K play groups up through graduate school — socializes the new elite for constructive competition among peers. These Americans have even re-created the old WASP aesthetic preference for the antique, authentic, and pseudo-utilitarian at the expense of vulgar displays of wealth. In many cases, they live in literally the same homes as the previous upper class.”

This social paradigm, appropriate for a vigorous capitalistic economy, serves the new elite well enough. The old WASP elite, supported by a much different moral, religious and sociological matrix, was able to pass along prosperity and well-being to those on a lower rung of the social latter. It is very much an open question whether the new order is capable of showering similar blessings upon the fatherless 70 percent of African American children who receive very different messages from their subcultures, sociological offshoots of the anarchic 1960s.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Republican Party Chairman

While Doug Hageman has not formally announced his availability as a candidate for Republican Party Chairman, a communication recently sent to local party chairs, vice chairs and fellow members serving on state central does not leave much room for doubt that a formal announcement is in the works.

Mr. Hageman has been active in the Republican Party for thirty years “in the trenches on a town committee,” as he put it, “as a candidate, a local officeholder, a campaign manager, and a member of State Central. I’ve attended every state convention since 1982, involved in campaigns from Dick Bozzuto and Angelo Fusco to Nancy Johnson, and 2010’s surprise victor, Rob “Landslide” Sampson, and both the current and earlier 1984 manifestations of Joe Markley,” Mr. Markley was recently elected to the state senate after a long hiatus, one of the few Republican running for office during the recently concluded elections who made it over the usual Republican hump.

While Republicans did well in the national elections – taking over the U.S. House of Representatives from Democrats, making important advances in the U.S. Senate and winning important gubernatorial races – their accomplishments here in Connecticut were less stellar.

The Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Linda McMahon lost her race to then Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Mrs. McMahon ran a vigorous and expensive campaign against the number one star of the Democratic Party, but she was not able to prevail. Republican candidate Tom Foley lost in a tight race to then former Mayor of Stamford Dan Malloy. Upon winning, the two Democratic office holders promptly changed their names to Sen. Dick Blumenthal and Gov. Dannel Malloy. The gubernatorial race was lost in Connecticut’s major cities; Mr. Foley carried a majority of towns.

In his pre-announcement, Mr. Hageman offers shrewd analysis of the losses.

Mr. Hagemen is disappointed with the efforts made by state central to capitalize on the national tsunami that swept so many Republicans into office.

The key to party restoration, Mr. Hagamen said, is to rebuild the political organization horizontally and vertically. The chairman himself should take to the road and solidify contacts between state and local parties, and state party members should be encouraged to work in the field with a view to expanding local party membership, a vertical integration that is indispensable to success.

At the same time, state central should not neglect the horizontal dimension. Contact between local leaders and activists can be as important as vertical integration. State Central and its members should take the initiative in reviving regional organizations on the legislative and congressional level: “Events which draw in good Republicans from a broad area present an ideal opportunity to give our next generation of candidate’s the critical exposure they need to jumpstart and establish effective and successful campaigns.” Candidate recruitment should be a top priority. No battleground should be ceded to the opposition, and it is especially important to take the fight to urban centers. Members of the tea party movement should be utilized, especially since many associated with the movement are so anxious to carry “a message of economic opportunity to those who need it most.” Money and message are crucial to success, but no less important are “leadership, vision, experience, fresh-thinking and open-heartedness. I guarantee you we will find communities in the cities hungry for our message.” Money follows success; it retreats from failure.

In touching on a code of ethics, Mr. Hageman comes very close to stepping on some sore toes. The state central committee must facilitate victories rather than determine winners and losers: “Race after race last year seemed to involve manipulation, with no result but defeat and hard feelings. The state chairman must be an honest broker, and the party apparatus held out of the fray. The chairman -- whether it’s me or another -- should subscribe to a code of ethics, which prohibits him from profiting on any campaign.”

The Romans during the period of their Republic, later overrun by the mad self deifying dictators pilloried by Suetonius in his “Lives of the Twelve Caesars,” used to have a saying: ‘Caesar’s wife must be beyond reproach.’ It helps a great deal if Caesar is beyond reproach as well. But there is a danger here. People not directly involved in the machinery of politics do tend to exaggerate the influence of party chairmen at a time when the parties themselves, battered by decades of “reform,” have very nearly emasculated party chairmen and party nominating conventions. One of the downers of the office is that you are given the opportunity to swallow an unhealthy amount of flack during your tenure, and the good you have done is, to slightly misquote the bard, “of’t buried with your bones.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Obama Looking Both Ways

It helps in politics – most especially when politics touches foreign policy – to have two faces. According to an analytical story in the New York Times, “Obama Seeks a Course of Pragmatism in the Middle East,” President Barack Obama is now sporting a pragmatic face and an idealistic face:

“In the Middle East crisis, as on other issues, there are two Barack Obamas: the transformative historical figure and the pragmatic American president.

“With the spread of antigovernment protests from North Africa to the strategic, oil-rich Persian Gulf, President Obama has adopted a policy of restraint. He has concluded that his administration must shape its response country by country, aides say, recognizing a stark reality that American national security interests weigh as heavily as idealistic impulses. That explains why Mr. Obama has dialed down the vocal support he gave demonstrators in Cairo to a more modulated call for peaceful protest and respect for universal rights elsewhere.”
Terrible are the responsibilities of empire. Mr. Obama, the Times tells us, is tiptoeing on a path between pragmatism and idealism. One does not wish to see certain “friendly” autocratic regimes in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia disappear into the dessert sands.

The strain on Mr. Obama is beginning to tell. “Mr. Obama,” according to the Times’ report, “has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, ’No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.’”

Following democratic upheavals in France at the dawning of the American Republic, another American president, John Adams, summed up the new country’s pragmatic foreign policy posture. The United States, he said, was the friend of democracy everywhere – but the custodian only of its own. Mr. Adams had but one face.

Ganim Inching Towards Bethlehem?

According to the Connecticut Post, former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, who spent some time in jail for political skullduggery, “took a major step toward an anticipated run for political office when he paid the remaining amount due on a $150,000 fine resulting from his conviction on 16 federal corruption charges.”

Now that Mr. Ganim has paid the fine, he may register to vote, a necessary requirement should Mr. Ganim choose to run for office.

Rumors concerning Mr. Ganim’s pending re-entry into politics have reached the ears of Bridgeport’s Democratic Town Committee Chairman Mario Testa.

I heard the rumors that he is running for mayor,” said Mr. Testa. ”I think he may have a steep hill to climb. The present administration is in a pretty good position. ... I believe Mayor (Bill) Finch will get the town committee nomination."

Mr. Ganim is a Democratic ex-felon. Republican ex-felon John Rowland, a former governor of the Indebtedness State and co-host of a radio talk show program, may at some point weigh in on the question: “Should ex-felons like Mr. Ganim – or himself, for that matter -- be permitted to run for public office?”

It would not be impossible for the General Assembly to crank out a law prohibiting ex-felons from running for office and attach it to the proposed bill repealing Connecticut’s popular death penalty law.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Is Malloy Serious?

Speaking before the Bridgeport Regional Business Council at a lunchtime program attended by 325 people, Governor Dannel Malloy, according to a story in the Connecticut Post, claimed “to be more fiscally conservative than the last ‘two or three governors,’ Republicans John Rowland and M. Jodi Rell, as well as Lowell P. Weicker Jr., an independent.”

It is not reported that any of the business people present guffawed.

If one judges by deeds rather than words, which is how one should measure the acts of governors, none of the governors preceding Mr. Malloy were fiscal conservatives.

The growth in state spending since Mr. Weicker – here described as an “independent,” though during his career in politics Mr. Weicker preferred the term Republican “Maverick,” the self aggrandizing, boastful title of his autobiography – suggests that the three governors preceding Mr. Malloy were liberal spenders, though some of them seemed to talk a good conservative game.

It is true that one of them, former Governor John Rowland, described himself as a “firewall” that prevented spending from increasing at a more rapid rate. The term “firewall” was a metaphor that referred back to Mr. Weicker’s quaint notion that an income tax levied during his administration would have the same effect on Connecticut’s economy as gas thrown on a fire. It did. During his first election as governor, Mr. Rowland vowed to repeal Mr. Weicker’s income tax. He didn’t.

The last Democratic budget under former Governor William O’Neill was about $7.5 billion. The present budget under Mr. Malloy is about $20 billion. In other words, within the time frame of three governors, two of whom were Republicans and one an anti-Republican Maverick, the budget nearly tripled in size. During this period of putative “fiscal conservative” governors, an income tax was levied, pension funds were raided, the income tax later was made more progressive, budget deficits were paid through bonding, and the dominant Democratic General Assembly mucked though a period of accelerating indebtedness by entertaining itself with the notion that Connecticut had a revenue rather than a spending problem. These are not the identifying marks of fiscal conservativism.

Perhaps what Mr. Malloy wanted to convey to the business men and women before him in Bridgeport and elsewhere in the state was that, unlike his predecessors, his budget message was a serious one.

Mr. Malloy’s message is that taxes will be increased by $1.8 billion and spending will be cut by $2 billion. But what is the objective measure of a serious proposal? Surely it is the conformity of words and deeds. We know a man is serious in what he says if he does what he says. It is fairly easy for a Democratic governor working cheek by jowl with a Democratic legislature to raise taxes; indeed, it has been easy for Mr. Malloy’s predecessors, none of whom were Democrats, to raise taxes with the concurrence of a dominant Democratic legislature – which is how the pre-income tax budget rose to its present unsustainable level so quickly. Those who believed that Connecticut had been suffering from a revenue rather than a spending problem were always willing – eager even – to alleviate the state’s agony through tax increases.

But spending cuts? Now, there’s a problem. Mr. Malloy’s spending cut proposal went down the throats state employee union leaders like a porcupine with its quills extended. Some union leaders, reaching for the last jar of peanut butter in an empty pantry, hope to settle the state’s budget deficit by making the state’s progressive income tax more progressive for so called “millionaires” who earn more than $200,000 per year. Most liberals would be satisfied with an arrangement in which spending cuts are short term and temporary while tax increases are permanent. The Brights who write commentary for Connecticut’s left of center media are convinced that the spending cuts proposed by Mr. Malloy cannot be wrung from state workers, Mr. Malloy insisting there is no third way: Connecticut must be both compassionate and competitive.

And so the battle for the future – never has it appeared more bleak – is now joined at a time when a 70 percent majority in Connecticut, according to the first Quinnipiac University Poll taken in the new administration, are “dissatisfied with the way things are going in the state, and no elected official in [the] survey has an approval rating above 50 percent."

The same poll shows voters supporting a wage freeze for state employees (68 percent) and layoffs (50 percent) in the absence of concessions by union leaders who, if past practice is a guide to the future, almost certainly will spurn permanent spending cuts. Of those polled, 48 percent say the Malloy plan increases taxes on the wealthy too little. But Mr. Malloy is unwilling to build tax bridges connecting Connecticut and contiguous states over which entrepreneurial capital may travel into the outstretched hands of Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Democratic Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo, as well as job poachers in states in which spending spirals will be less destructive to businesses.

The unfolding battle will be won by the party that is most resolute, and the answer to the question “Is Mr. Malloy serious?” will not be long in coming.

Schiller Dumped Twice

Former National Public Radio (NPR) executive Ron Schiller, caught in a video sting operation in which he held forth on Jewish media conspiracies and “racist” tea party members, has now been bumped from his default employment position at the Aspen Institute.

Mr. Schiller was in his last few weeks of his job with NPR when he was exposed as a (gasp) uber-liberal by a couple of amateur journalistic sleuths who, pretending affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, dangled $5 million in potential contributions in front of Mr. Schiller’s nose.

Mr. Schiller rose to the bait and swallowed it hook, line and lead sinker,
though a spokesman for NPR later claimed it had several times spurned the money offer.

Much to the dismay of his former bosses at NPR, Mr. Schiller proclaimed that NPR really no longer needed taxpayers to prop it up, a heretical admission that caused those at NPR propped up by tax payers dollars to send Mr. Schiller packing. Fortunately, Mr. Schiller, the Martin Luther of NPR, had another job lined up with the Aspen Institute. Unfortunately for Mr. Schiller, the Aspen Institute chucked the poor fellow on the ash heap of history.

All this for telling the truth.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Common Sense And Capital Punishment

Following are some points made to a legislative committee considering the abolition of the death penalty in Connecticut and its replacement by life in prison without the possibility of parole, along with some common sense comments:

Capital punishment entails a grave and present danger that the innocent will be convicted and executed. There is no evidence of this in Connecticut in the modern period. Only two people have suffered capital punishment in the last half decade: Joseph “Mad Dog” Taborsky and Michael Ross. There is no question that both were guilty; which is to say, both committed the crimes of which they were accused. Mr. Taborsky, executed in 1960 for capital felonies committed in 1950, killed six people and shot, pistol whipped or injured others in a series of particularly henious crimes that became known at the time as “The Mad Dog Killings.” Mr. Ross was executed in 2005 after having been convicted of the rapes and strangulations of several young women. Mr. Ross’ last two victims were 14 years old; he raped and strangled one of the young girls while the other, incapacitated in the back seat of his car, was forced to watch. Then he killed her as well.

Capital punishment is cruel and unusual. That is a matter of public sentiment, which changes according to circumstances. As a general rule, a majority of Connecticut citizens would not agree that the form of capital punishment employed in Connecticut, death by injection, is cruel. It may be argued that capital punishment is “unusual,” if by the term one means rarely employed, or employed only when certain circumstances are met. In the case of the two criminals executed in Connecticut, both were multiple murderers; both were vicious criminals; and both certainly did commit the crimes of which they had been accused.

Capital punishment is not a deterrent. To misquote former President Bill Clinton, it all depends on what one means by “deterrent.” That argument may proceed until doomsday without effective resolution. In crimes of passion, there is some evidence to suggest that capital punishment would not deter people from committing murder. In deliberate crimes, murders are either accidental, in the precise sense of the term, or intentional. In both cases, it may be impossible to measure scientifically the deterrent value of capital punishment, since the person deterred would be a future capital felon. How is one to gather scientific information from people who may or may not in the future commit capitol felonies? The thing is not possible. It seems reasonable to assert that punishment deters, and those who insist it does not are really arguing in favor of the abolition of all forms of punishment, including slapping the hands of children who steal from cookie jars. The most one may reasonably say is that life in prison without parole AND capital punishment both may deter future crimes committed by the person punished, one more effectively than the other, since it is possible for prisoners to commit crimes while in prison, while it is not possible for an expired person to flout the law.

Capital Punishment is a form of vengeance, rather than a form of justice. Those who make this claim ought to be asked to distinguish between acts of vengeance and acts of justice. Some people believe they receive parking tickets because police officers are vengeful; others believe judges impose sentences because judges are vengeful. Generally speaking, most of us may feel a judicial process is not a form of vengeance if it includes: a) a police investigation, b) an arraignment before a judge, c) a trial before a jury, d) the rendering of a verdict after due deliberation, e) sentencing before a judge, f) yet another trial before a jury to determine the whether the capital punishment sentence is appropriate, g) an affirmation of the sentence, occasionally by a different jury, and… appeals as numerous as stars in the celestial vault. In fact, the time distance between original conviction and final disposition in Connecticut is so lengthy that former co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee and criminal justice professor Michael Lawlor advanced the thesis, before he was tapped by Governor Dannel Malloy to serve as undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning at the Office of Policy and Management, that in the post-Ross period no one in Connecticut found guilty of capital punishment would be so punished unless they, like Mr. Ross, “want to die.” Vengeance, on the other hand, is what happens when a couple of modern day Huns descend on a family, incapacitate the father by tying him up in the basement and beating him with a baseball bat, take the mother to a bank and force her to withdraw money, rape one of the daughters of the family, rape the mother and kill all in the house but the father, who miraculously escapes, by setting fire to the victims in order to cover up the crime. Such deliberately cruel and unusual deeds smack of vengeance, whether directed at the victims or at society through the victims.

Capital punishment is prohibitively expensive. It isn’t.

The capital punishment process takes too severe an emotional toll on the family members of victims to justify its imposition. The emotional toll can be reduced by streamlining the process.

Life in prison without possibility of parole is sufficient punishment for the kinds of crime committed by Ross and the two worthies tried for the Cheshire murders. Assume a scenario more likely than the possibility that someone in Connecticut will be convicted of a capital crime he did not commit -- namely, that a person serving a life sentence without parole manages to commit another capital crime while incarcerated. Under such circumstances, would a life sentence with out parole attached to yet another life sentence without parole be a just punishment?

Capital punishment violates religious proscriptions. This, at least, is a reasonable and perhaps unanswerable argument for the abolition of the death penalty. But in Connecticut we are much in the habit of winking at religious proscriptions, while getting on as best we can with our sinful, imperfect lives.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Freedom of Information and the Public Good

Governor Dannel Malloy, hoping to save some small change, has proposed to fold the Freedom of Information Commission into a new administrative agency that would house the Freedom of Information Commission, the Office of State Ethics, the Elections Enforcement Commission, the Judicial Review Council and the State Contracting Standards Board.

This proposal has run into a buzz saw, particularly as it affects The Freedom of Information Commission.

News publications rely on an independent commission to shine a light on decisions made by various agencies that affect the welfare of the entire state. The possibility of changing decisions that restrict liberty or violate the precepts of justice depends upon a faithful distribution of facts that, in some cases, state agencies hope to thwart.

In most cases, as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan well knew, secrecy is the enemy of good government, which is why, when the state legislature passed the Freedom of Information bill in 1975, it used in describing its intent heroic language that might easily been borrowed from the founders of the country who left their imprint on both the U.S, Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

In passing the bill creating the FOI commission, Connecticut’s legislature affirmed that it was doing so because it understood:

“ … that secrecy in government is inherently inconsistent with a true democracy, that the people have a right to be fully informed of the action taken by public agencies in order that they may retain control over the instruments they have created; that the people do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them; that the people in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know and that it is the intent of the law that actions taken by public agencies be taken openly and their deliberations be conducted openly and that the record of all public agencies be open to the public except in those instances where a superior public interest requires confidentiality.”
In his book “Secrecy,” Mr. Moynihan acknowledged that there is a need, particularly in foreign affairs and war, for secrecy and deception. Wishing to strike a cautionary note, even in areas in which it is understood that secrecy is necessary, Mr. Moynihan reached back to political analyst, advisor and diplomat George Kennan, the architect of the “containment” policy the United States employed so effectively against the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

Kennan warned that those employing secrecy and methods of disinformation, even when advisable, should beware of the "the erection of false pretenses and elaborate efforts to deceive… We easily become ourselves, the sufferers from these methods of deception. For they inculcate in their authors, as well as their intended victims, unlimited cynicism, causing them to lose all realistic understanding of the inter-relationship, in what they are doing, of means and ends."

The freedom of information legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1975 makes the people of the state of Connecticut, not governors and administrations of the public’s business, the custodians of its own public records, and by doing so it sets as a watchdog over a future in which politicians are inclined to steal the liberties of the people a public alert to its responsibilities as citizens.

The end of secrecy is to clothe deeds in darkness, which may, when the liberties of the people are in danger from foreign foes, be a necessary evil. But a putatively democratic government that uses these means to clothe in darkness its own deeds, cannot do so without making an enemy of the people whose general interests it is bound to defend and maintain. And by so doing, by erecting false pretenses and elaborate deceptions, they become themselves, as Mr. Kennan and Mr. Moynihan affirmed “sufferers from their own methods of deception.”

It is one thing to fool by deceptions an enemy in war; quite another, through deception and manipulation, to make an enemy of people who in a healthy democracy one claims to represent. The first should be reluctantly tolerated, the second deplored by democrats everywhere and always. And a Freedom of Information Commission the members of which retain their freedom to embarrass governors and administrations by ripping from their false faces a veil of secrecy they employ to advance their own interests is a necessary means of advancing the cause of justice and democracy among us.

Far from eviscerating the means employed by the Freedom of Information Commission to bring to public notice the misdeeds of public figures, the sometimes feeble powers of the commission should be enhanced, according to past FOI commissioner Andy Thibault, who maintains a blog at Cool Justice Report.

In a column published in the Register Citizen, Mr. offers some modest reforms that would make the FOI Commission more effective:

  • “Increase the maximum fine for FOI violations from $1,000 to $10,000 or more.

  • “Ensure that those who violate their oaths of office by suppressing public information and are not acting under the color of law pay the fines themselves.

  • “Require municipalities and state agencies who use taxpayer money to suppress public information to disclose the legal fees they incur on a daily basis.

  • “Stop the Attorney General’s office from automatically representing state agencies that suppress public information. This could result in significant staff reductions.

  • “Conduct a comprehensive statewide audit of all the money wasted by municipalities and state agencies to suppress public information. Hint: The FOI law is a tool for this. Because the governor needs those records to do his job, it wouldn’t cost him any money.

  • “Close loopholes that allow public servants to hide documentation of legal fees they generate, e.g., municipalities or school boards using the cloak of insurance arrangements to hide a virtual welfare state for hack lawyers.

  • “Vigorously enforce subpoenas compelling public officials to appear before the FOI Commission. If necessary, hire some cops from Wisconsin to tackle them.”

For reasons that may seem obvious to anyone who has consistently read this blog, the prohibition on the attorney general’s office is much overdue.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Duke Of Flatbush

Ralph Branca’s tribute to Duke Snider – the man who forgot himself – is here printed in full. It would be a sin to edit out any part of this personal witness to a man whose eyes were always on others, rarely on himself. With the death of such men, worlds disappear. The article appeared in the New York Times

An Appraisal: Forever a Boy of Summer, in Brooklyn and Beyond

Published: March 5, 2011

I’ll never forget the winter of 1947. Because of the Dodgers’ plan to sign Jackie Robinson as the first African-American in the majors, we avoided Florida and spent training camp in Havana. This was the great postwar Brooklyn team of Pee Wee Reese, Dixie Walker, Pete Reiser and Hugh Casey. Our manager was the indomitable Leo Durocher.

Jon Soohoo/Los Angeles Dodgers, via Associated Press
Snider and the Dodgers won in 1955, and moved to Los Angeles for the 1958 season.

Gil Hodges was back from a long stint in the Marines. He was our second-string catcher. (We were a year away from recruiting Roy Campanella.) It was Gil who introduced me to a rookie from Compton, Calif.

“Ralphie,” Gil said, “meet Duke Snider.”

His handshake was firm and his eyes were clear. He had a smile and an irresistibly upbeat spirit. We were both 21 and eager to make it in the big leagues.

We began talking baseball, but, typical of Duke, he didn’t discuss himself. He wanted to tell me how, back in Los Angeles, he had seen Jackie excel at football, baseball, basketball and track. He trumpeted Jackie’s athleticism and was thrilled at the prospect of playing with him. Duke never even hinted at his own skills.

That winter, we played exhibition games in the Caribbean against the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers farm club to whom Jackie was signed. As it became clear that Branch Rickey, our general manager, was going to make Jackie a Dodger come opening day, a few veterans circulated a petition arguing that an African-American had no place on our team. Duke was outraged and perplexed.

“Are they crazy?” he said to me. “Besides being a great guy, he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to this team.”

Like most of us, Durocher supported Jackie and the petition wound up in the garbage, where it belonged.

In 1948, Duke’s sophomore year, Campy came on board with pitchers Carl Erskine and Preacher Roe. In 1949, when Don Newcombe became a Dodger, Duke came into his own. He hit .292 and had 23 home runs. He commanded center field and was crowned the Duke of Flatbush, a title he will hold forever.

Along with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, Duke formed New York’s golden center-field threesome. I’m prejudiced, but of the three, Duke was the most nimble fielder and possessed the most accurate arm.

From 1947 to 1957, the Dodgers won six pennants and one World Series, finally besting the Yankees in 1955 as Duke hit four homers and drove in seven runs. Without Duke, who holds the franchise career records of 1,271 runs batted in and 389 homers, the Brooklyn Dodgers would not be the Brooklyn Dodgers.

On a team of extraordinary individuals, Duke stood out. He had intelligence, integrity and wit. He played hard, and superbly, day in and day out. His long career is a model of athletic excellence.

In 1980 at his Hall of Fame induction, I was there with many of his teammates to cheer him on. We weren’t surprised when he talked about how great we were and failed to mention his own remarkable accomplishments.

The Brooklyn brotherhood never died. We kept up over the years. We would have dinner when, as the broadcaster for the Montreal Expos, Duke came to New York. His knowledge of the game grew over the years. I loved talking baseball with Duke. He had his opinions without being opinionated. He genuinely wanted to hear what you had to say.

In the end, when he was living in a nursing home, we continued to talk. In the last weeks, when I learned he was failing, I contacted his beloved wife, Bev, who was by his side. I wanted to tell Duke just how much I admired him. I wanted him to know what a privilege it was to call him my friend. At that point, all Bev could do was put the phone to his ear. He died last Sunday at 84.

I still see Duke as a young man. I see him out there in center field, racing past the ads for Van Heusen shirts and Gem razors, while executing a brilliant running catch. I see him at the plate, crushing Robin Roberts’s fastball and sending it soaring high over that crazy right-field wall at Ebbets Field. I see him rounding the bases. I see him smiling. I feel the joy of his sweet, happy soul.

Ralph Branca, a right-hander, pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1944 to 1953, and in 1956.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Can Susan Bysiewicz Add And Subtract?

A critical auditor’s report on the Secretary of State’s office comes at an inopportune time for former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, now running for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by current Sen. Joe Lieberman at the completion of his term.

Mrs. Bysiewicz came under intense scrutiny when she ran for attorney general following an announcement that current Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was to run for former Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat. Mrs. Bysiewicz campaign was derailed by a state Supreme Court decision that she lacked the requisite legal experience before the bar to run for the office.

The auditor’s report shows that accounting procedures in the Secretary of State’s office during her tenure led to an overstatement of customers balances of some $5.2 million out of a total of $12.5, according to a story filed by Yankee Institute investigative reporter Zach Janowski. None of the twenty accounts with the highest balances were correct, and erroneous accounts could have existed for about ten years.

Responding to the auditor’s disclosures, present Deputy Secretary of the State James Spallone said the balances, which function similar to escrow accounts for law firms and companies regularly filing with the Secretary of State’s office, “need to be accurate. As the deputy, I’m going to have to investigate this further. I run the day-to-day operations and I’ve been at it for eight weeks.”

Other problems found by the auditors included:

• Questionable sick days: Within the three year period reviewed by the auditors, 30 employees who had taken unpaid leave nevertheless earned sick days as if they had been working full time.

• Delinquent check deposits: Of 20 checks deposited on Aug. 5, 2010, 19 were deposited between one and three days late.

• Questionable settlements: The auditors reviewed 20 of the office's investigations and found charges reduced in 13 cases, the reductions ranging from 50 to 82 percent of the original amounts. In 9 of the 13 cases, no documentation was available and, according to the audit, the assistant attorney general did not sign off on any of the reductions as required.

The Secretary of State’s office responded within the audit to some of the findings. The errors in customer balances were attributed to data entry errors; check numbers instead of amounts were entered in “amount” fields for 19 of the 20 questionable accounts. Management, the office claimed in the auditor’s report, was negotiating with customers to resolve imbalances in the final account.

Some people, myself included, believe to this day that the mischievously fuzzy Supreme Court ruling that wrecked Mrs. Bysiewicz’s attorney general bid was flawed.

The statute requiring a certain number of years of “active practice” at law appears to be in conflict with a constitutional provision that sets only an age limit as a bar to the office; and in cases of conflict between a statute and the clear intent of a constitutional provision, it must be the statute and not the constitution that is unconstitutional. Further, the state Supreme Court’s ruling bars competent administrators from assuming the office and is silent on the all important question: What constitutes “active practice,” effectively putting in jeopardy the administrative judgments made by current Attorney General George Jepsen, a perfectly acceptable candidate for the office, whose practice before the bar may not meet the fuzzy strictures imposed by the court.

Mrs. Bysiewicz may be approaching the end of her nine lives. After a certain point, inattentiveness to serious problems begins to look alarmingly like incompetence. The errors found by the auditors, it will doubtless be stressed by Mrs. Bysiewicz’s Democratic and Republican competition for Mr. Lieberman’s seat in congress, were hidden in the woodwork of Mrs. Bysiewicz’s work-a-day processes for TEN YEARS before notice was taken of them following the auditor’s report, at which point the undiffused charges leapt out to further confound Mrs. Bysiewicz’s ambitions for high office.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Hush, hush

The very first item in the secret negotiations between unions and the state regarding union concessions was, according to a report filed by Christine Stuart at CTNewsJunkie , one of the few WORKING journalists in the state -- how best to keep the negotiations secret, not the happiest opening for Connecticut’s new age of governmental transparency.

Negotiating for the governor will be Deputy Budget Director Mark Ojakian; negotiating for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition will be Dan Livingston, the chief negotiator of SEBAC.

Governor Dannel Malloy is expected to enter at the end of the months long negotiations with an aspergillum and bless the end product.

Looney For Taxes

During his visit to New London, part of a multi-town tour to sell his budget to taxpayers, Governor Dannel Malloy got an earful from stressed citizens.

An engineering manager who works in Montville, John Fearns, unburdened himself on state employee pensions.

Mr. Fearns’ business had absorbed some hard knocks during the current lingering recession when “layoff and furlough days were expressed in months, not days." Riffing on the “fair share” that has become a staple of Mr. Malloy’s appearances at town meetings, Mr. Fearns, looking the governor in the eye, asked, “So I'm asking you to look me in the eye, when you ask to raise high taxes for a business model that is unsustainable, one that offers a job for life, paid pension, a Cadillac health plan for as long as you live, and I'm asking you to tell me how you can say that's fair for me.”

According to a story in the Day of New London, “Malloy fired right back: ‘The guy who entered into a 20-year deal on benefits was not me; it was the governor in 1997 (John G. Rowland). Now I've got to deal with the situation that I have.’"

Jen Ezzel of Lisbon told the governor, "Gas prices are going up, clothing prices are going up, food prices are going up. The only thing that's not going up is our disposable income. ... I understand you need to grab money everywhere, but you know what? We don't have anymore money to give you. We're done."

Fortunately, some union supporters in the crowd styling themselves “The Campaign for the Middle Class” softened the buffeting. Scott Soares, a member of AFSCME Council 4, remarked, “We think the wealthy citizens of Connecticut should pay their fair share towards the deficit and we know that union members have paid their fair share already.”

While Mr. Malloy’s tax increases have been outlined in vivid detail in his recent budget address to the legislature, which contained a place holder line of fiscal year spending cuts secured from unions of about $2 billion, the governor’s evident disagreement with Mr. Soares will play out in a series of meetings between Mr. Malloy’s negotiators and union leaders so secret that even the times and places of the meetings will not be disclosed. In the course of the meetings, it is expected that the administration will ask or implore or demand that unions pay their "fair share" in the multi-year contracts under discussion.

Over at the Capital, according to a report in CTMirror, tongues are not wagging: “Leaders of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly have been relatively quiet about the sales tax proposals, or the $1.5 billion in total new taxes Malloy has proposed to help balance the next state budget.”

A persistent reporter, however, was able to tease a response from Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, a New Haven Democrat and former co-chairman of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. Mr. Looney, generally friendly to union interests, said he believed that most lawmakers “understand unusual efforts are necessary to close a projected deficit ranging from $3.2 billion to $3.7 billion for next fiscal year."

Mr. Looney was responding to proposed tax increases that had gotten the owners of car dealerships in a huff. Mr. Malloy’s budget imposes a tax on used car sales previously exempted from the state’s increased sales tax. Since increased taxes on used cars raise prices, car dealership owners expect to lose business to other states and have cautioned that state revenue collections will suffer a loss as well.

Mr. Malloy’s budget, it must be said, is democratic in one respect: By eliminating tax exemptions and raising other taxes the tax pain is shared more or less across the board. Connecticut, a state that hopes to position itself favorably with respect to other job poaching states after the recession recedes, now taxes just about everything but sunbeams and union contracts.

Mr. Looney said of the increased tax burdens, “None of them are popular, but I think many people recognize that most of them probably are necessary,” a catchy line the loyal opposition might take note of when the Democratic dominated legislature begins to grow restive under the demands Mr. Malloy has promised to make of unions during their secret back room negotiations.

If Mr. Malloy hopes to wring $2 billion in the next two years from union chiefs in continuing "fair share" negotiations, he will need a good deal of help from Mr. Looney and other legislators friendly to unions, such as Speaker of the House Chris Donovan and President of the Senate Don Williams, neither of whom have flinched at Mr. Malloy’s tax increases.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

How to Reform Public Education

Former President Lyndon Johnson, who was also a shaker and mover in the U.S. Senate, once said of former President Gerald Ford, his colleague in the Senate, that he was so dumb “he couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Johnson acknowledged that Mr. Ford was “a nice fellow,” though he did have a bad habit of banging into things, but Mr. Ford, Mr. Johnson said, “spent too much time playing football without a helmet.” None of this political campaign roughage was intended as a compliment, but Mr. Johnson operated at a time when such personal attacks were considered de rigueur.

Mr. Johnson admired folk who could do more than one thing at a time, possibly an acknowledgement that problems faced by senators and presidents are multifaceted and must be solved in a variety of ways by bringing to bear against them a variety of means.

Consider public education. It is still possible, by a variety of means, to snatch it from the rubble.

Public education is one of those federal-state-municipal businesses that is too big to fail. It spends an inordinate amount of money, much of it on salaries and benefits, and survey after survey shows that PE Inc. does not get a great deal of bang for its buck, most especially in inner city schools. Many of its customers emerge from the education process unable to read, write and cipher, while students in other non-public schools drawing from the same sociological pools do much better.

The public education system is able to marshal battalions in state and federal legislatures whenever some infidel proposes a solution to the multifarious problems that beset it. If someone in Washington D.C. is successful in proposing the use of vouchers to create incentives in public schools by giving parents an opportunity to shop around for a more acceptable educational product for their children, the idea is quickly smothered and its proponents are demoted. If a Catholic Cardinal in New York, reacting to a charge that his schools succeed because they are able to hand pick their students, rises to the challenge by telling the Mayor of New York – “Look, you pick out your worst inner city school students and send them to me” – the challenge is scorned and unanswered.

The public education system – a close shop with a bolt on the door marked “teacher tenure” – began rotting at the head several decades ago when state boards of education began to take over PE Inc. At the same time, credentialism increased, as a result of which teacher education courses in state colleges and universities entered a golden age. Tenure and credentialism successfully kept the doors of the closed shop locked against all barbarians – say, a retired forensic accountant who wanted to teach High School math without the bother of being indoctrinated by Jesuits at Fairfield University who, in the silly 70’s, were push Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” on students wishing to be certified so that they might teach their charges how to read, write and figure.

Mr. Freire rather frowned on “teaching,” much preferring the term “facilitation,” a process of imparting thinking skill to students by immersing them in a universe of mostly Marxist content, teachers serving as chief students or “facilitators.” Colleges offering teaching courses, Big Academia, and so called “teachers” have been conspiring for decades in producing the failed educational product now before us.

Any reform in education that might reverse this slide into pedagogical anarchy would necessarily involve: 1) An end to tenure; 2) an end to certification; 3) an end to collective bargaining.

Principals should control the hiring of teachers; teachers should control the formation of curricula. And if they want to teach, let’em. Elected boards of education should control all funds dedicated to education, and if the members of the boards are dissatisfied with the educational product, the boards should be able to reduce salaries as a sanction for inefficient teaching (see 3) or fire the facilitators (see 1). In the absence of tenure, certification and collective bargaining, school system would be able to hire retired forensic accountants to teach fourth grade math, retired journalists to teach writing and bibliophiles to teach reading, all for near pennies on the dollar.

That should do it.

Some of the brightest and most effective moderate educational reforms involving school financing, better choices to attack the achievement gaps in Connecticut, strategies to increase educational accountability and the flexibility so necessary in successful teaching have been intelligently presented by ConnCan, a group devoted to educational improvement.

Serious reforms would open closed pedagogical doors to corrective innovation and at the same time demonstrate to voters electing them that the real friends of education in Connecticut’s General Assembly can chew gum and walk at the same time.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Attorney General/Union/Health Care Foundation Racket

Yankee Institutes investigative reporter Zach Janowski examined the IRS reports of The Universal Health Care Foundation for the last few years from 2004 through 2008 and discovered – big surprise! – that the foundation “gave more than $1.1 million dollars in grants to organizations affiliated with its own board members.”

The Universal Health Care Foundation, Mr. Janowski reported, “has a unique history. It was created to settle a lawsuit by Connecticut’s public employee unions, then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and then-Comptroller Nancy Wyman against Anthem when it purchased Blue Cross and Blue Shield.”

That was then.

It did not take the foundation long to butter the bread of those affiliated with the Blumenthal inspired organization.

Under the direction of Mr. Blumenthal, the mandate of the attorney general’s office often seemed to be the regulation of private businesses that had in some way or other run afoul of consumer protection regulations. In the course of his 20 year tenure as attorney general, Mr. Blumenthal either sued or threatened to sue such various businesses as cereal makers and internet ad producers. The threat of costly suits that easily could last for years often was enough to bring to their knees those accosted by the attorney general’s office, even in cases where culpability was questionable.

In 1997, Mr. Blumenthal, state Comptroller Nancy Wyman and a coalition of labor and advocacy organizations brought suit against the for-profit Anthem Insurance Company following Anthem's merger with the non-profit Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Connecticut. The purpose of the suit was to recover from the merger tax benefits and other concessions that the non-profit Blue Cross & Blue Shield had received over several decades from Connecticut. Anthem agreed to a settlement in 1999 and Mr. Blumenthal withdrew his suit.

The Universal Health Care Foundation, created to facilitate the dispersion of the resulting settlement funds, received $41 million to carry out the conditions of the settlement, described by Mr. Blumenthal at the time as “an historic victory.”

The foundation was charged with effectuating system-wide heath care reform, and the Blumenthal settlement established the foundation’s legal obligation to improve health care for those most needing it.

Juan Figueroa, chosen by the Hartford Business Journal in 2007 as "Health Care Hero," became president of the organization in January, 2003. Mr. Figueroa has worn several hats during his long and distinguished career: former community organizer, former Connecticut legislator, former assistant attorney general of Connecticut and former president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York. The foundations’ chief focus, Mr. Figueroa said in 2004, was the passage of universal health care.

According to its mission statement, the foundation’s vision embraces “a system of affordable, quality health care that is accessible to all Connecticut residents. People and communities will be healthy and live in a just society that focuses on prevention and the health of all people. The health care workforce will be ethnically and racially diverse. Its workplace will value employees and the people they serve.”

Mr. Janowski reports that the grants given byThe Universal Health Care Foundation to organizations affiliated with it’s own board members represent “13 percent of total foundation awards over the five year period… These and other activities funded by the foundation generated support for several iterations of SustiNet legislation before the General Assembly, including a current bill calling for a government-run insurance company or public option.”

And Mr. Janowski’s report does not hesitate to name names and cite figures:
“Lori Pelletier, vice-chairman of the foundation and its parent organization, the Connecticut Health Advancement and Research Trust, is the secretary-treasurer of Connecticut AFL-CIO.

“Connecticut AFL-CIO did not receive any money directly from the foundation. However, five of its member unions received money during the past five years for a total of $304,000.

“Pelletier is also a trustee of the John J. Driscoll United Labor Agency (received $147,100), an advisory board member of Grow Jobs Connecticut (received $166,300) and a board member of Citizens for Economic Opportunity (received $475,000).”
Mr. Blumenthal, elevated to the U.S. Senate from his former position as attorney general, possibly was in no condition or mood to monitor the incestuous connections between The Universal Health Care Foundation and those member unions of the AFL-CIO that received funds from Mr. Blumenthal’s settlement. To make the connections more transparent, Mr. Janowski has supplied in his report a chart that even an ex-attorney general may easily follow:

Far removed from his former responsibilities, it is not likely Mr. Blumenthal can provide a necessary corrective by, say, bringing suit to recover the funds that have enriched unions. But current Attorney General George Jepsen, the heir of Mr. Blumenthal’s legacy, may want to have a look see at Mr. Janowski’s pie chart.

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