Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Quantifying Media Bias

It is often said, mostly by conservatives, that the main stream media is biased in a liberal direction. Over the years, some studies confirming bias have drifted in: Slate magazine, for instance, polled its writers and discovered – big surprise! – that about 90  percent of the lads and ladies identified themselves as liberal. A similar poll among the writers at, say, National Review likely would show a like degree of bias in a conservative direction. But these are not hard news sites.

Some time ago, a more “scientific” study was done in connection with major news outlets, and again – big surprise! – the pollsters discovered that a preponderance of mainstream news writers were liberal. The authors of that study may or may not have been surprised to discover the Wall Street Journal’s news pages -- not its commentary pages, which are widely recognized as conservative – rate, according to a study done by Tim Groseclose, as the most liberal in the nation.

Until Mr. Groseclose, then a professor of political science and economics at UCLA and Jeffrey Milyo, then a public policy professor at the University of Chicago and now holder of an endowed chair in social sciences at the University of Missouri, first published in 2005 a scientific study of media bias in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, a Harvard University publication widely regarded in academia as one of the four top scholarly economic journals on in the country, there was no reliable scientific methodology to quantify bias in news outlets.

Having first produced a method that allowed a rigorous quantitative analysis, the two discovered that most major American news outlets, which included newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, newsweeklies such as Time and Newsweek, newsweekly television shows such as CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, and Internet sites such as – big surprise! -- the Drudge Report contained a sharp liberal bias.

After assigning an ADA-based number to the members of the House and Senate, Groseclose and Milyo then examined the frequency with which individual members of Congress, in bolstering their floor and committee arguments, cited the research of various think tanks and advocacy groups around Washington and elsewhere—organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution. By combining the frequency numbers with the PQs of the members of Congress, Groseclose and Milyo were able to assign PQs to the top 50 cited think tanks themselves—a far more objective way, in their thinking, to assign an ideological perspective to a think tank than simply to assume, for example, that the Heritage Foundation is conservative and the Sierra Club is liberal.

In a third step, Groseclose and Milyo quantified the frequency with which stories by reporters for various news outlets cited research and quoted spokesmen from those same think tanks as they fleshed out the facts that they reported. That enabled the two to calculate the outlets’ slant quotient, or SQ. As Groseclose and Milyo pointed out (and as Groseclose reiterates in Left Turn), the news stories themselves were seldom false or inaccurate. There was almost never anything intentionally dishonest about the reporting. It was just that the reporters presented their stories in a way that reflected, probably unconsciously, the reporters’ liberal ideological leanings. They used material from liberal think tanks and advocacy groups far more frequently than material from the tanks’ conservative opposite numbers. They highlighted or omitted facts as their personal political predilections dictated, even though their stories, in an effort to maintain journalistic impartiality, might contain a quotation or two from spokesmen for the conservative side.

In a review of Mr. Groseclose’s new book, “Left Turn,” Charlot Adams reports in the Weekly Standard:

“The range of SQs that Groseclose and Milyo calculated was shocking. The most liberally biased news outlet proved to be the Wall Street Journal (its news pages, that is, not its conservative editorial and opinion pages). The WSJ turned out to have the slant quotient of the average Democrat, about 85, only a few points below the 89.2 PQ of the late Ted Kennedy. Of the rest of the mainstream media, only Fox News (with an SQ of about 42) and the Washington Times (with an SQ of about 40) registered below the midpoint—and both outlets are way more liberal in their reporting than the average Republican, whose PQ is less than 20. The Drudge Report, although regarded as troglodytic by progressives, has an SQ of around 50—that is, its reporting is about as centrist as the average American voter these days.”

Matt Drudge, centrist – who woulda thunk it?

The No Way Busway

Governor Dannel Malloy’s notoriously expensive busway proposition – on completion, the rapid transit project from New Britain to Hartford spanning 9.4 miles will cost more than $573 million, about $952 per inch – has engaged the interest of a few penny pinching legislators, among them state Senator Joe Markley and Rep. Whit Bette, both of whom have co-signed a letter written to House Speaker John Boehner urging Mr. Boehner to reject $460 million in federal funding for Malloy’s folly.

The busway is a prime example of politicians leveraging federal dollars: The federal government announces the availability of funds for a state project, say $460 million to build a ziggurat in New Britain. The governor is asked to pony up a modest $113 million, at a time when the state has accumulated crippling deficits and is bleeding jobs. Turning the proposition over in his mind, the governor, always alert to charges that he has fiddled while his state burns, decides to swallow the proposition, as they say, hook, line and sinker.

A good deal, right? We get $460 million from the feds on an expenditure of $113 million.  Who could be so impertinent to object? So what, really, if the busway is a waste of money. It is a waste of other people’s money -- federal money. What has that got to do with us? If the Feds want to throw money out their windows in the direction of Connecticut, should we not grab it?

Now, along come critics of the deal. And in this case, the critics are not merely members of the chattering class whose business it is to blow hot and cold in columns that may concern the state. They are two state legislators. How to handle this delicate situation?

Best to ignore them until the embers burst into flame.

The Hartford New Britain busway is a political streetcar named desire. It is visible proof of an arcane proposition that in times of recession and national humiliation salvation must trickle down from beneficent congressmen in Washington, to be gratefully received by local politicians who in the past have not escaped the notice of influential writers:

Will Rogers:  "This country has come to feel the same when congress is in session as when a baby gets hold of a hammer…It is awful hard to get people interested in corruption unless they can get some of it."

H. L. Mencken:  "If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner."

Mark Twain: "There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress… We have the best congress money can buy."

William F. Buckley, Jr.: "No one since the Garden of Eden -- which the serpent forsook in order to run for higher office -- has imputed to politicians great purity of motive." 

Thomas Sowell: "Congressman Frank and Senator Dodd wanted the government to push financial institutions to lend to people they would not lend to otherwise, because of the risk of default. ... The idea that politicians can assess risks better than people who have spent their whole careers assessing risks should have been so obviously absurd that no one would take it seriously."

G. K. Chesterton: "It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged."

Judge Gideon J. Tucker, 1866: "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the Legislature is in session."

Joe Markley: ““I am not concerned about leaving federal funds on the table. Federal or state, it’s all our money, and we shouldn’t waste it. Projects like this shouldn’t even be entertained until we get our fiscal house in order. I find it ironic that we are in the midst of a $6.2 billion deficit and the Governor is asking the legislature to spend more money we don’t have.”

All of the writers cited above were or are Americans, with the exception of Mr. Chesterton, here quoted simply because the sentiment he expresses, humorously but forcefully, is as American as apple pie. The point in choosing the remarks cited above, almost at random, is to show that that caustic commentary on the foibles of politicians is itself as American as apple pie.

So then, why have we seen so little rip roaring commentary in connection with Mr. Malloy’s redundant busway, an outrageously expensive people carrier that would be prohibitively expensive had we not swallowed the tempting fable that the cost of the project will be assumed by altruistic strangers?

Mr. Betts noted in the letter he signed jointly with Mr. Markley, “This is a boondoggle and a waste of taxpayer dollars. In the end the annual cost to the state is expected to be $11 million, ticket sales estimates are $4 million leaving a $7 million hole. I am against spending state money for a transportation project that is expected to incur losses. ”

And Mr. Betts is not here tickling a funny bone. One wonders how many legislators in the Democratic dominated General Assembly are more than willing to finance a project “that is expected to incur losses?”

The answer is: Nearly all of them. That answer would not surprise any of the political commentators cited above. On September 12, Mr. Markley will be the guest speaker addressing attendees at a Talk of Connecticut Dinner With Dan (Lovallo) at the Stonewell Restaurant in Farmington. The subject of Mr. Markley’s remarks will be the busway to and from nowhere, and Mr. Markley is known to have a charming sense of humor. The cost of the dinner, at $25, will be considerably less than the cost of the busway boondoggle.

Those who wish to attend the event may do so by calling for reservations at (860) 677-8855

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Privatization The Malloy Way

First, the good news, according to a story in CTMirror:
“As part of a larger shift toward privatizing services, the state Department of Developmental Services (DDS) is phasing out a state-run early intervention program for infants and toddlers over objections by public-employee unions.”

As a general rule, when a state service is privatized, workers are let go, and the private firm replacing the workers performs the service at a lesser cost because – both state payroll and incidental costs, such as pensions and health care, are also reduced. That is why some cost conscious states resort to privatization – TO SAVE MONEY, everywhere in short supply.

And now the bad news. Union objections to the announced privatization of the state run early intervention program for infants and toddlers was, as might be expected, fierce – because unions do not wish to see their dues paying union ranks diminished.

Union friendly Connecticut is sensitive to union concerns. And so:

Joan Barnish, a spokeswoman for DDS, explained the rational for privatization: “… There are 43 other programs run by private providers that can serve the infants and toddlers who need early intervention services.”
That’s the good news.

And now for the bad news: The staff of the state-run program, Early Connections, will be redeployed elsewhere in the state. Ms. Barnish, soothing ruffled feathers, assured union objectors, “No one's going to be without services, and no one's going to lose their job.”

So then, the state will not save costs in reduced salaries or pensions. In fact, it will be expending more money than previously by paying the additional costs necessary to farm out work to private concerns, while at the same time redeploying state workers elsewhere, thus increasing net costs.

As an added amusement, the same union bright bulbs who at first rejected Governor Dannel Malloy’s Plan A – the poor things had to be bludgeoned into compliance; some people just don’t know how to accept the near surrender of the administration to union demands as an answer – have announced they plan to fight the faux privatization effort.  

Connecticut Commentary wishes to open the matter to a general discussion: Breathes there anywhere in fair Connecticut a legislator who genuinely believes that this brand of "privatization" is to any degree at all rational? We are taking names.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The UConn Health Center Tar Patch

The University of Connecticut Health Center (UCHC) has for many years been Connecticut’s problem prodigal child.

The Democratic dominated General Assembly approved Governor Dannel Malloy’s then unbalanced budget the first week of May. And although it took two and a half months to finalize a budget that some still consider out of balance, the Malloy administration was never-the-less able to find nearly $1 billion to invest in a UCHC building program, not the first time the state has thrown money into the black hole in Farmington.

This year’s tax and spending budget allowed the administration to reap an artificial surplus of about $1 billion. Call it a make work for unions slush fund or a political hedge fund, the extra billion may be used much in the way that Tammany Hall of blessed memory used “walking around money” to purchase affection and votes.

Agents of the Malloy administration dickered for months with SEBAC, a coalition of unions authorized to negotiate contracts with the state, in an attempt to realize temporary savings. A goodly portion of the savings will be temporary, because the two year wage freeze imposed on unions will give rise at its terminus to wage increases of three percent for the next three years, after which the governor will find himself in much the same union contract negotiation tar patch from which he has just now extricated himself, particularly if he feels the need to cut spending further as the state and country lopes in the direction of a double dip recession.

Mr. Malloy’s final budget plan let out the back door a series of pestilential problems that soon will be begging admittance at the front door.

All the indicators suggest that Connecticut’s debt will grow. The nation may be in even worse shape. The national government is spending nearly twice as much in excess of its revenue: Projected expenditure in 2011 is 3.77 trillion, while revenue is 2.15 trillion. The interest paid on national debt to creditors, mostly China, is enough to fund that nation’s entire military budget.

Here in Connecticut, debt cannot be diminished through tax increases paid out in expenditures and not applied to liquidating the state’s permanent debt. The nearly $1 billion artificial surplus built into the budget has given the Malloy administration the opportunity to engage in a much heralded jobs program. Much of the tax overcharge – that is what a surplus is – will be used to justify boondoggles like the UConn Health Center and the costly and destructive $573 million, $952 per inch busway make-work project from New Britain to Hartford.

The state also is laying itself open to bribery by Big Business. The money supplied by the Malloy administration to UBS and other Connecticut industries too large to be permitted to migrate to other states represents dollars taken from Main Street to support Wall Street. We may wait in vain for Republicans to characterize these giveaways as welfare for Big Business and Wall Street. One might ordinarily expect progressive Democrats to raise a howl about all this, but Governor Jodi Rell has left the building, and Mr. Malloy is considerably more progressive than “Snow White,” a name applied derisively to the governor’s presumed ineffective predecessor.    

The UCHC has been given money to burn: $338 million in previously authorized bonds, $254 million in new bonding and $69 million from the health center. And even now, the bonfire crackles. Several months ago, the center was awarded what should have been a contract worth almost $1 billion. On a memorandum of understanding, rather than a solid contract, the center was selected to perform health services for the state’s prison system. Had the job been put out to bid, the medical work might have been done at a lesser cost. But the Malloy administration, as well as union facilitators in the General Assembly, is averse to privatization.

The latest scandal involves a union featherbedding arrangement facilitated by Karen Duffy Wallace, director of labor relations at the UConn Health Center, who sent to personnel at York an e-mail specifying that more cost effective per-diem nurses "should not exceed 2 shift[s] per week averaged over a 3 month period. This is so they do not replace a permanent bargaining unit employee and is something the Union traditionally wants. We get questioned periodically by 1199 when we are using per diems too much as it takes away from permanent bargaining unit members." Ms. Wallace’s salary, according to the Transparency.CT.Gov web site, was listed at $149,044 for the 2009-10 fiscal year, perhaps too much for someone who so readily falls into lockstep with union officials.

Republican leaders in the General Assembly – and, astoundingly, state Senator Edith Prague, considered friendly to union interests – have called for a congressional investigation.

The state Senate, with Mr. Malloy’s declared approval, earlier had passed a bill that would have cut costs considerably by excluding acquired overtime in pension calculations. Alas, “labor's trusted friend and lackey, Speaker Chris Donovan, refused to take up the bill in the House,” accordingto a Hartford Courant editorial, after which Mr. Malloy’s support of the bill collapsed. The new administration-labor agreement, Mr. Malloy now says, has supplanted the proposed legislative fix  because pensions under the new agreement  will be based on the last five years of earnings rather than, as before, on the top three years. That leaves, the paper noted, “45,000 employees whose pensions are calculated under the old system.”

Shays, Simmons And Debt

Roll Call is reporting that former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, who will be filing papers soon to enter the race for the U.S. Senate, is planning “to petition the Federal Election Commission to allow him to raise money to pay off half of the remaining debt, then move the balance to creditors for Sohn to pay off.”

Mr. Sohn, Mr. Shays’ former campaign manager, “embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the former Congressman during his previous race.” Mr. Shays’ current $280,000 debt from his loss to present U.S. Rep. Jim Himes results in part from legal expenses related to the embezzlement.

Mr. Shays, according to Roll Call, “plans to separately fundraise for his Senate race and his House campaign debt.”

Former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, whose recent U.S. Senatorial campaign came to grief when Linda McMahon entered the race, will be supporting Mr. Shays in the coming struggle for U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat. Mr. Lieberman will be resigning from the Senate at the conclusion of his term. The claims of friendship are paramount with Mr. Simmons, who phoned Mrs. McMahon and told her he would be supporting Mr. Shays.

Both former congressmen are considered Republican moderates.

Among Democrats running for the seat are Rep. Christopher Murphy, former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and state Rep. William Tong.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Malloy To Wall Street: Take This

Governor Dannel Malloy has rented a trading floor for five years at $20 million, according to a brief piece in the Wall Street Journal:
“In his latest attempt to save jobs and keep businesses in Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy on Tuesday announced $20 million of incentives to keep UBS AG's flagship trading floor and other operations in this city.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shays To Enter Race For U.S. Senate

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays is poised to announce on October 3 his bid for the U.S. Senate, and Connecticut’s commentariate is already burbling. A Hartford Courant columnist has weighed in (pun intended) on a possible Linda McMahon-Chris Shays primary bout for the U.S. Senate:

“Will Linda McMahon's money and muscle pummel Shays, a conscientious objector during Vietnam who discovered his inner-hawk when during the second Iraq War? Shays will need a strategically brilliant campaign to undermine McMahon, who hasn't given up campaigning since her 2010 race crashed and burned.

“Will the well-connected Shays be able to tap into the kind of money to make a race against McMahon, who dumped $50 million into a losing race against Dick Blumenthal? McMahon, who promises to spend her own and supporters' money this time around, has already begun interviewing and hiring top staff.

“Can Shays revive the comatose moderate wing of his party and slay the far-right dragons guarding the doors to the GOP palace? How will he demonstrate he's not just this year's Rob Simmons for Linda to eat for lunch?”

Shays’ conscientious objection to the Vietnam War very likely will not loom large in the race because those in the Democratic Party who ordinarily would be likely to press the issue might have, in the words of Ricky Ricardo, “some s’planing to do.”

Connecticut has just finished electing to office U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, accurately portrayed in an Australian Broadcasting Company documentary on stolen valor as a false claimant to service in Vietnam. This charge, raised by Linda McMahon in the McMahon-Blumenthal U.S. Senate race, was not potent enough to cost Mr. Blumenthal much loss of sleep. Having prevailed over Mrs. McMahon, he now sits, apparently with an untroubled conscience, on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Most of the outliers who serve Democratic Party interests in political races are themselves conscious objectors at heart, and for this reason their assaults on Mr. Shays’ dark Vietnam past is not likely to have long campaign legs. And then too – why wake the dead? The present senior senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, just barely arrived home from Vietnam when he began to accuse his comrades of behaving like Genghis Khan, rhetoric that elevated him into a senate seat. Why rehash all this, especially in Connecticut, where any stone thrown at Mr. Shays is bound to graze Mr. Blumenthal’s untroubled brow?

Not that wealth matters in Democratic Party politics, but Mr. Blumenthal is the eighth richest U.S. Senator in congress, beating out Rosa DeLauro, the fiftieth richest, by some $47 million per year. Mr. Kerry is the third richest congressman. Having married well, he commands $193 million per year. When Mr. Blumenthal replaced former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd in congress, a potential millionaire – Mr. Dodd is now a Hollywood mogul who earns about $2 million a year selling Tinsletown to, among others, his former congressional compatriots – was replaced by a millionaire of long standing. If personal wealth were an impediment to service in Washington D.C., the halls of both the House of Representatives and the Senate would be considerably thinned out, and as many Democrats as Republicans would be sent home.

Mrs. McMahon has to be able to turn out the women’s vote to win office, and Mr. Shays’ albatross will be his moderate voting record when he was a U.S. Rep. The Republican Party, Mr. Shays will have noticed, is a little impatient these days with RINOs or Republicans in name only. And the Democratic Party sis a trifle impatient with DINOs or Democrats in name only. In a political arena in which political parties have sharply defined themselves, walking primary tightropes can be perilous to one’s future in politics.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Malloy Says Police Union Rejection Of Contract Offer Subjects Officers To Layoffs

Here is Governor Dannel Malloy’s press release following the rejection of Mr. Malloy’s most recent contract offer by Connecticut’s state police union:




(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Dannel P. Malloy released the following statement regarding the Connecticut State Police Union.

“Despite the unprecedented fiscal challenges facing the State of Connecticut, I refuse to compromise public safety. To be clear, I deeply appreciate the troopers’ service, as I do the service of all state employees. The troopers put their lives on the line every day, and we are a safer state thanks to their service. Also to be clear: I’m sensitive to the troopers’ concerns. But I have to manage the entire workforce, and given the massive budget problems I inherited, I believe asking all state employees to take a two-year wage freeze – in return for job security – is fair. By rejecting that two-year wage freeze the state police have rejected the job security; therefore, they’re subject to layoffs. I have total confidence in the leadership demonstrated by Commissioner Bradford and Col. Stebbins, and I’m completely confident they will manage the State Police with the resources they have without jeopardizing public safety. As for whether or not the State Police Union should remain a member of SEBAC, I view that as an internal conversation between the State Police and other members of the coalition.”

Gadhafi -- Game Over

As Libyan rebels first captured an important military base just outside the city and then streamed towards Tripoli, it was doubtful they would be able to retain the ground they would soon occupy. On other occasions, rebels had captured urban areas only to be pushed back by forces loyal to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

No doubt that was the scenario anticipated by Mr. Gadhafi and his spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, hours before Tripoli fell to the rebels.

A newscaster at the state run media appeared hopeful.

The government, Mr. Ibrahim crowed, demands “an immediate halt of NATO's aggression against our nation and for all parties to sit down and begin a peaceful way out of this crisis. We believe unless the international community heeds this appeal, many people will be killed and terrible crimes will be committed."

Threats of blood and mayhem have never lagged far behind calls made by Mr. Gadhafi’s government for talks and reconciliation. And so, the newscaster, brandishing a pistol as he spoke, vowed to kill the rebels.

Mr. Gadhafi taunted the insurgents as rats, offered a cease fire and warned that atrocities would ensue if the rebel offensive continued.

Late Sunday night, Mr. Ibrahim described the rebels as “vengeful, hateful" tribes and prophesied that “"NATO will be held responsible morally and legally for the deaths" that might occur that night.

The night passed, the day dawned, three of Mr. Gadhafi’s sons were captured by the rebels, and the search for Dad was on.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Review: Taking Back The Courts What We Can Do To Reclaim Our Sovereignty

Taking Back The Courts What We Can Do To Reclaim Our Sovereignty

By Norm Pattis

Publisher: Sutton Hart Press

Price: $22.95

Attorney Norm Pattis, the author of “Taking Back the Courts: What We Can Do to Reclaim Our Sovereignty,” is viewed by other lawyers as a cross examination impresario. If this particular talent is a gift, it is one that in Mr. Pattis’s case has been honed throughout his years practicing law as a criminal defense attorney in Connecticut. Mr. Pattis is used to thinking outside the box – very quickly. He is disputatious, capable of mastering a complex briar patch of facts and legal precedents in quick time and effortlessly applying the relevant points in his summations.

And he has a pony tail.

Pony tails, however, may be deceptive. They evoke the silly sixties, free love, pot and the slow evisceration of the antique morality of benighted backward looking parents of the Woodstock generation. But as Mr. Pattis’ ponytail swishes through the chapters of his book, it moves disturbingly right and left.

Consider chapter 14, “Too Many Lawyers: Time to Revisit the American Rule.” The premise of this chapter – a surfeit of lawyers desperate for work increases costly suits – will not likely be embraced warmly by lawyers desperate for work and hungry for big verdicts:

“What most lawyers will acknowledge, privately, when only other fellow lawyers are around, is that there are too many of us. The result is that many lawyers are desperate for work.

“And what do desperate lawyer do? They sue people. Why not? Access to the courts is inexpensive, and here is no downside. You might always hit a big verdict. And even if they lose, the so-called American Rule has transformed the American civil justice system into the equivalent of a roulette wheel. Why not spin the wheel when the costs of doing so are low?”
The obvious solution to this problem, and the one recommended by Mr. Pattis, is to attach sanctions to losing. In most human endeavors those who lose pay and those who win carry home the trophy: “I see no justice or fairness in requiring defendants, whether they be corporations or individuals, to pay unwarranted legal fees. Why shouldn’t a loser be required to cover the winner’s costs?”

Mr. Pattis proposes to require all plaintiffs to post bonds “to cover the eventual winner’s reasonable legal fees for all the cases they bring,” a common sense reform that would protect the rights of all Americans to obtain justice from the courts, while at the same time affording defendants the opportunity of “recouping their fees when the roulette wheel comes up a loser for the plaintiff.” Flexibility would be introduced into the Pattis rule by making the bond a rebuttable presumption in all civil cases, allowing judges to relax the bond for good cause.

There are 21 chapters in the book, all crafted in layman’s verbiage, some of which have been lifted from Mr. Pattis’ columns in The Connecticut Law Tribune. The last two chapters are devoted to Mr. Pattis’ ardent opposition to the death penalty, and here he is less convincing than Albert Camus, the author of “Reflections on the Guillotine,” a passionate assault on the death penalty in France.

As a defense lawyer, Mr. Pattis is concerned chiefly with the part that has been played in a particularly gruesome Connecticut case by a husband who was the lone survivor of a murderous assault on his family, Dr. William Petit. Following the murders of his wife and two daughters, Mr. Petit has not gone quietly into the good night that shrouds the victims of heinous crimes, and Mr. Pattis fears that remarks made by Mr. Petit to the media might prejudice a jury now considering the case.

On the question of the marginalization of juries, a theme that runs throughout many of the chapters, Mr. Pattis, who provides a much needed in-house view of court proceedings, is informative and convincing. In the real world of courts, judges, juries and trials, justice is sometimes a victim of process, tedious and endless, or experts who lack expertise or judges who lack judgment or infantilized juries.

Among the questions asked and answered in “taking Back The Courts” are these: What would happen if a jury were to be made aware of the prospective sentence that could be imposed on a defendant before its members rendered a verdict? If the ignorance of a jury in such matters is bliss, can we rely on blissful ignorance to achieve justice? Evidence supplied by so called “forensic scientists” can be arrived at scientifically or not, but is the evidence supplied “scientific” simply because it is furnished by a forensic scientist? What is added to the word “science” when it is combined with the word “forensic” – other than a kind of magical incantation that bewitches juries and judges? Is expert testimony true simply because the person testifying is festooned in credentials? If the expert is paid for his service in rendering testimony, does the testimony become suspect? Suppose a juror were to raise his hand during a trial and ask the judge what sentence would reasonably be attached to a finding of guilty in a specific case? What would happen? Why are juries rather than judges permitted to determine sentences in capital felony cases alone but not in other cases? Is plea bargain justice just?

In Chapter 13, “Experts for sale,” a title one likes to think may have been drawn from Lucian’s savage second century satire “Philosophers For Sale,” Mr. Pattis has some fun with expert testimony, which is often based, he says, on very questionable science.

Mr. Pattis points to a National Academy of Science (NAS) report on the forensic use of science that splashes cold water in the faces of prosecutors who use junk science to obtain convictions. The report recommends that forensic labs and investigations should be independent of “law enforcement efforts either to prosecute criminal suspects or even to determine whether a criminal act has indeed been committed… With the exception of nuclear DNA analysis … no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source,” heady and cautionary stuff.

Mr. Pattis has more than once heard prosecutors at trial urge judges to admit contested evidence: “’The state cannot prove its case without the evidence, your honor,’ the argument goes. To which I typically respond: ‘So what?’ The rules of evidence require reliable evidence. The trial deck is not supposed to be stacked in favor of conviction. But the deck is so stacked. And few judges seem prepared to do much about it.”

Impatient with conventional nonsense and cant, Mr. Pattis, pony tail swinging like a baseball bat, here offers some necessary correctives.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Too Big To Fail Banks Are Bigger

The 2,319 page Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly called the Dodd-Frank bill -- named after its architects, former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, now a Hollywood millionaire mogul, and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank – was supposed to insure that big banks could fail, obviating the need for expensive taxpayer bailouts.

A ban on bailouts is written into the legislation. Among the tools in the bill’s toolbox is a provision that provides for an orderly winding down of bankrupt firms. The bill includes a proposal that the Federal Reserve (the "Fed") receive authorization from the Treasury for extensions of credit in "unusual or exigent circumstances";

The ban on bailouts, which removes the principal protection that spurred those inept business practices that gave rise to the effective bankruptcy of major banks in the United States considered “too big to fail,” has not persuaded rating agencies to downgrade the banks.

Why not?

If the federal umbrella has been removed that in the past prevented “too big to fail” banks such as such as Bank of America, Citigroup or JP Morgan from getting wet in the same rainstorms that affect non-protected industries, why hasn’t Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Big Banks?

S&P has “pointedly disputed the often-stated claim on Capitol Hill that the legislation had put an end to ‘too big to fail’ and the era of federal bailouts,” according to an analytical piece in The Washington Times:

“S&P thinks ‘the government in a handful of situations may be forced to provide some sort of support to an institution,’ especially if the failure of the bank threatens the economy and well-being of ordinary Americans, as occurred in the fall of 2008, said S&P managing director Rodrigo Quantanilla. S&P cited the long history of bank bailouts in times of economic stress as well as what it sees as ambiguities in the Wall Street reform law.”
The big banks have become bigger and more powerful. The county’s six largest banks -- JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – controlled assets equal to 17 percent of the U.S. Economy in 2008, the year of the financial crisis. Their combined assets today equals 64 percent of economic output, and they control nearly half of all bank deposits in the U.S, according Joshua Rosner, managing director of Graham Fisher & Co. and author of a book on the financial debacle.

"In fact, the Dodd-Frank law reinforces the market perception that a small and elite group of large firms are different from the rest," Mr. Rosner said, “by designating those banks as ‘systemically important.’”
Breaking up banks that are “too big to fail” is the most certain way to assure that taxpayers will not be on the hook in a future bailout, but congress last year repeatedly rejected such measures. An alternative, Mr. Rosner suggest, might be to require the top executives of such banks to pay dearly when their banks fail.

Though Mr. Dodd has moved from the U.S. Senate to Hollywood -- a step up in salary and, according to the latest public opinion polls, prestige -- the real consequences of Dodd-Frank bill will weigh heavily on a U.S. economy wracked by legislative and presidential nincompoopery.

Dodd-Frank, thought by its architects to provide a check on capitalist greed, will instead promote crony-capitalism, increase the pressure of the already deadening hand of the federal government on businesses, undermine what is left of the free market in the United States, limit true competition and favor capitalists of choice over capitalism.

Dodd-Frank will kick in as a second deeper and perhaps more intractable recession looms on the horizon, spurred on by European financial incompetence and an equally incompetent U.S. government government that has shown it cannot repair its debt or curb its looming entitlement costs. This brew of breathtaking stupidity very well may provide the spark that will set off a double dip recession both in Europe and the United States

A Million Laughs: The Emergent Emergency

After the deal goes down, the chattering class gets an opportunity to weigh in.

Following passage of Plan A2, the Hartford Courant observed (“State Workers Play It Smart By Approving Deal -- Concessions: One of the best deals for government workers in America this year”) that there was something sweet in that pot for everyone, even taxpayers, who are out $1.6 billion:

“The agreement with labor eliminates the needless expense of longevity payments for new employees, increases the retirement age, requires a 3 percent contribution for 10 years to the retirement health care trust fund and other such provisions that will make pensions smaller and retirement health care less costly to taxpayers over time.

“Mr. Malloy estimates that the structural changes in the agreement will mean $21.5 billion in savings over 20 years — or $6,100 for each person in Connecticut. We applaud these projected long-term savings — but also see them as just a start.”
These savings, however, will be considerably diminished by increasing costs. The plan guarantees no layoffs and salary increases of 3 percent a year for three years. The most effective measures a chief executive may take to reduce costs are layoffs, staff reductions through attrition, reductions in contractual obligations and work outsourcing. Nothing in Plan A2 should give Connecticut taxpayers, whose own resources have been diminished by a sizable tax increase, reason to believe that Governor Malloy will resort to any of these measures in an attempt to control costs.

Indeed, the editorial asserts the opposite:

“But compared with public-sector employees elsewhere in the country — who have been forced to accept draconian concessions and had their collective bargaining rights severely curtailed — Connecticut's 45,000 unionized state employees have been treated with kid gloves.”
And here comes the first of a million laughs:

“They can't be laid off or asked to take unpaid furlough days for four years. (That raises the question of whether government's hands might be tied during an economic emergency.)”

Both the nation – but especially Connecticut – is teetering on the cusp of bankruptcy right now.


A second deeper and perhaps more intractable recession looms because the federal government has shown it cannot repair its debt or curb its looming entitlement costs, and the brewing European financial crisis may very well be the fuse that sets off a double dip recession here in the United States.

Stop spending money, cut regulations and throw the bums out.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Malloy’s Carrot And Cattle Prod

Politically, Governor Dannel Malloy could not afford yet another union “No” vote on his revised budget plan and, accordingly, the leaders of state unions have been more or less laying down the law to rank and file union members.

Some pro-union Democrats, Jonathan Pelto among them thought the governor had been wielding his big stick a bit too exuberantly. Mr. Malloy’s Plan A, rejected by the union rank and file, was generally regarded as being soft on sacrifice, a point emphasized by union leaders in a memo to rank and file workers sent out prior to the vote affirming Plan A2.

Mr. Malloy’s “clarified” plan following the disappointing union vote is, according to the memo, an agreement that guarantees union members security:

“We would receive four years of job security, an extension of our health care and pension plans to 2022, an irrevocable trust fund to insure there will always be retiree health care, three years of wage increases, a reaffirmation of the independence of the state employee health plan, and contract protection lasting through 2016. Additionally, all of the layoffs, anti-union legislation, and faculty/office closures would be reversed.”

Not a bad deal there, considering the sacrifices unions in other states have been forced to make in the interests of balanced budgets. Additionally, the union memo warned rank and file members, “there is legislation pending on the House calendar that would limit collective bargaining, with the goal ultimately of taking away our ability to bargain over health care and pensions.”

If Mr. Malloy’s initial plan had been long on carrot, the propaganda effort launched by union leaders in concert with Mr. Malloy to persuade their rank and file members to accept a slightly revised Plan A was, many political commentators might agree, equally long on stick. Even dyed in the wool union collaborators in the General Assembly considered Plan A beneficial to union interests, as witness Senator Edith Prague’s astonished gasp upon its rejection. Mrs. Prague -- and other ardent union defenders in the General Assembly, among them Speaker of the House Chris Donovan and President of the Senate Don Williams -- is to union interests what General George Patton was to the Third Army during the Second World War.

Union leaders, working hand in glove with Mr. Malloy, were determined to steer Plan A2 past rank and file union naysayers, and for this reason both union leaders and Mr. Malloy belabored labor with a big stick. Union by-laws were changed to accommodate a “Yes” vote. And though “the world has changed since even a few weeks ago,” as the union memo proclaimed, the leaders of some union units had decided they would not allow rank and file members who previously voted Yes on Plan A to change their votes. The Malloy administration, using the union communications pipeline, announced prior to the vote that negligent union members who vote No on Plan A2 would be subject to sanctions: their jobs will not be secure. Job security could only be achieved by voting “Yes” on the revised plan.

Legislative leaders had also pulled mightily on the oars. Over the muted protestations of reliable union supporters in the General Assembly such as House Speaker Chris Donovan, Mr. Malloy had asked the General Assembly for extraordinary rescission authority that would give him the power to lay off workers to meet his budget goals. That rescission authority could be applied to balance the books – even after Mr. Malloy’s Plan A2 had sailed past whipped union rank and file members.

The possibility alarmed pro union legislators such as Senator Toni Harp, for five terms a leader of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, who had suddenly discovered the doctrine of the separation of powers months after the Democratic dominated General Assembly had approve a budget that was, prior to the union vote, billions of dollars out of balance.

Although Mr. Malloy’s slightly revised Plan A was this time overwhelmingly affirmed by rank and file state union members by a vote of 25,713 to 9,291 – Given the electric cattle prods used by Mr. Malloy as inducements to change votes, how could the plan fail to pass? – there are some loose ends to be tidied up. A claim before the State Labor Department filed by Lisa Herskowitz, a senior assistant state's attorney in Manchester, that the SEBAC state labor union leadership had no legal authority to negotiate wage concessions for the 15 state labor unions and no authority to change the bylaws when the deal was rejected may prove to be a thorny problem.

Should Ms. Herskowitz’s suit reach the courts, pity the judge who must decide it. Mr. Malloy’s cattle prod is fully charged and he is on speaking terms with newly reappointed Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Actuarial Doubts

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” – Benjamin Disraeli

Actuarial figures supporting claimed budget savings in Plan A2 -- son of Plan A, a slightly revised budget that Governor Dannel Malloy months ago submitted to the General Assembly for approval -- have been called into doubt for some time.

The Malloy budget approved by the Democratic controlled General Assembly early in May, for instance, contained a savings line that could not be actuarially verified. The Malloy budget simply assumes a savings of $270 million arising from a commitment from state workers to devise ways of saving money.

When Republican leaders -- who have been successfully cut out of the budget negotiation process by Mr. Malloy and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly – questioned the assumptions that underpinned the projected savings, Malloy communications director Colleen Flanagan intemperately responded that the figures had been verified by their actuaries and they were accurate – “period!”

But there are few periods in politics, and one budget exile, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, has now bravely questioned what Mr. Disraeli most certainly would call a damned lie.

Period? Seems more like a question mark, Mr. Cafero mused after a letter written by Malloy budget chief Ben Barnes began to circulate through the political grapevine.

Mr. Cafero noted  that “Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Secretary Ben Barnes contradicted claims that savings included in the $1.6 billion state employee union concessions package had all been verified by actuaries” in a letter Mr. Barns sent to State Senator Andrew Roraback.”

In his letter to Mr. Roraback, Mr. Barnes sought to “correct what must be a misunderstanding about Ms. Flanagan's statement.”

The review conducted by Mr. Malloy’s actuaries, Mr. Barnes wrote, centered upon “the health benefit plan design changes, and the changes to plan design and eligibility for the State Employee Retirement System (SERS)… Other savings in the agreement reflect commitments between SEBAC and the State to identify operational, contractual, and efficiency‐related savings in the areas of technology, healthcare contracting (under the terms of the existing plan of benefits), and other operational savings. These particular commitments to achieve savings were not actuarially determined, because they are not savings of an actuarial nature [Italics mine]. Nevertheless, they reflect a commitment between the State and our employees, and more importantly between the Governor and the people of Connecticut, to reduce the cost of government this year and into the future.”

Noting that Mr. Barnes “rather clearly states only two areas of the plan were verified" by Malloy hired actuaries, Mr. Cafero offers a “period” of his own: “This means two things, and they are both important: First, the governor's office has been less than factual in their wholesale assurances of actuarial reviews. Second, the question still persists - how will we achieve these projected savings, and what will we do if they can't be realized?”

The Democratic controlled General Assembly last May approved over the protestations of Republicans a budget that was dependent upon an affirmation from SEBAC, the union coalition authorized to negotiate contracts with the Malloy administration, that never materialized. State union worker rejected Plan A. Leaders of SEBAC, yielding to strong suggestions made by the Malloy administration, then unilaterally changed union by-laws to insure that a future vote would not incommode Mr. Malloy, his administration or supportive Democratic leaders in the General Assembly – principally Senate President Don Williams and Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, who recently announced he is running for the U.S. House in the 5th District.

And now, on the eve of what some consider a fixed vote, rank and file union members are poised to affirm a budget that relies on savings that cannot be verified by the General Assembly’s own Office of Fiscal Analysis.

Responding to Mr. Cafero’s concerns, Malloy senior advisor Roy Occhiogrosso was every bit as terse as Ms. Flanagan. None of Mr. Malloy’s agents can rightly be accused script deficiencies; they are always on the same page.

“Let's be honest,” Mr. Occhiogrosso retorted, “What's bothering Rep. Cafero and his Republican colleagues is that if all this comes to pass it'll be a Democratic Governor who achieves this historic restructuring of the relationship between the state and its workforce, not a Republican. It's sour grapes on their part - nothing more, nothing less.”


Friday, August 12, 2011

Malloy’s Way

Democratic governors, Jim O'Sullivan of National Journal writes, “argue that their approach is easier for their constituents, as both taxpayers and consumers of government services, to stomach,” largely because they are simpatico with unions. “In most cases, with cozier relationships with unions, they’ve approached the labor contract legislation as a collective-bargaining exercise, bringing union leaders into the process.”

Governor Malloy figures prominently in the National Journal story. Mr. Malloy, “repulsed” by budget cutting tactics in Wisconsin and New Jersey, has charged other governors with “scorched-earth, unilateral governing,” according to the National Journal. The news story does not mention Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo as one of the scorchers, and one assumes Mr. Malloy has not identified him as such, although the New York governor managed to put his budget to bed without raising taxes, for reasons of Democratic comity.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Scully, Pelto And JFK

In the course of reproving Jonathan Pelto, Patrick Scully – political analyst, author of The Hanging Shad political blog and a former communications director for the state Senate Democrats – first complimented his victim, always a good idea.

Mr. Pelto, Mr. Scully wrote, “is a thoughtful and accomplished media relations professional who is deserving of being heard on the issues facing the state.”

But – here come the slings and arrows – “He and other critics, however, are also hopelessly disconnected from the average Connecticut citizen and continue to wallow in the failed, far-left, now-fringe policies of 1970s.

“George McGovern is no longer relevant, nor are his policies. Today's Democrats (myself included) are in the camp of John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and, yes, Dan Malloy.”

Here is Mr. Scully’s Kennedy on the importance of tax cuts:

Mr. Scully should feel free to pass along the clip to Mr. Malloy, who just imposed on his state the largest tax increase in its history.

If a rising tide lifts all the boats, what does a receeding tide do?

Friday, August 05, 2011

Bridgeport... Again.

When a friend discovered some politician knee deep in a ripe scandal, he used to call him up and ask, “Does your mommy know you’re doing this?” His ratio of calls made to calls returned was abysmally low.

Apparently, Mrs. Gloria Beccaro, the 85 year-old retired nurse and mother of William Beccaro, a lawyer for the Connecticut State Senate, didn’t know what her son was doing, according to a columnist for the Connecticut Post.

"They (People for Excellence in Government) list me as chairman?" Beccaro asks. "Why am I chairman? I don't know anything about this."

“Alright then, what does she do for the PAC?

"’They reimburse you most every month for your cell phone service,’ I point out. ‘What exactly do you do for the PAC?’

“Beccaro: ‘Cell phone? I don't know. I don't even have a cell phone. What would they be doing reimbursing me?’"
Pouring over the financial report of the People for Excellence in Government (PEG), Connecticut Post Columnist MariAn Gail Brown discovered, “…reimbursements to the Finches for items purchased at T.J. Maxx, the discount clothing store. But no explanation as to how that directly benefits a political action committee. There's a $25 donation to a charity reimbursed to Sonya Finch. If the charity was worthwhile, couldn't she have sprung for it out of her own wallet. About the only positive thing to be gleaned from People for Excellence in Government's financial reports is that Finch and Wood patronized lots of Bridgeport restaurants.”

The above mentioned Finch is the mayor of Bridgeport. Mr. Finch, according to the report, plowed his sizable campaign surplus of $46,056 into the Campaign For Excellence and, upon taking office, hired Mrs. Baccaro’s son, a longtime friend of the mayor, as a campaign consultant to Bridgeport’s legal department. From 2008 to date, People for Excellence in Government, has reimbursed “Finch, his wife, one of his top aides, Adam Wood, and Wood's wife thousands of dollars for hotel stays, travel and meals… Last year,” Ms. Brown writes. “William Beccaro earned $91,000 as an independent contractor to the city of Bridgeport. This arrangement certainly has the look, the feel and the aroma of you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.”

No one involved in this latest Bridgeport stinky-poo, other than Mr. Baccaro’s mother, is answering even soft bat’em out of the park” questions. And those brave souls who do are armed to the teeth with oleaginous evasions.

The aptly named Derek Slap, for many years a reporter for NBC and now the communications director for Democratic Senate President Donald Williams and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, handling the barbed query of another Post reporter – "What do Mr. Williams and Mr. Looney think about all this?" -- evaded the question: “The complaint was raised in the context of the Bridgeport mayoral primary. We have confidence the State Elections Enforcement Commission will take a thorough look at the facts, as they always do.”

Right. So, Mr. Williams and Mr. Looney, both of whom as legislators leapt on the ethics in government bandwagon that gave rise to the State Elections Enforcement Committee -- soon to be subsumed into a catch all agency that will include, among other watchdog groups, the Freedom of Information Commission and six other entities under an administrator to be appointed by Governor Dannel Malloy – are what... too tired, too far removed from possible Democratic corruption in Bridgeport, too slippery … to answer the least offensive of questions from a reporter?

Mr. Slap’s response, delivered on behalf of Mr. Williams and Mr. Looney, is a perfectly appropriate evasion coming from autocrats operating out of a one party legislature, in a one party state, concerning a one party town. But really – this is Connecticut!

The public who votes for Mr. McDonald and Mr. Looney might want to ask them, preferably when they are on the stump running for reelection, why such golden tongued Ciceros should need a Charlie McCarthy to answer simple media questions.

Mr. Finch’s operatives are not without resources. A pro-Finch PAC, a Connecticut political action committee called A Better Connecticut, has produced a video that puts Mr. Finch's opponent, Mary Jane Foster, in her place within the Bridgeport scheme of things. The treasurer of the PAC, Philip Benoit of Rocky Hill, unsurprisingly had contributed $750 to the Fiche campaign, a sum that should be added to a prior contribution of $250:

Lennie Grimaldi, who is to Bridgeport what Honore Balzac was to France, notes:

"Finch campaign handlers wouldn’t kick out this spot unless they felt Foster inching too close for comfort, especially in light of the latest news revelations over Finch’s relationship with a PAC. Finch says he’s done nothing wrong. Don’t be shocked if Finch handlers deny association with this attack video that was teed up and ready to go before the latest PAC revelations against the mayor played out in the news."

Wait for it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sinatra Liberates A Prison

The Surplus State

Zach Janowski, the Yankee Institute investigative reporter singled out by incompetent SEBAC leaders in their baseless complaint to the attorney general’s office as a “so called” investigative reporter, has disclosed in his latest report that Connecticut has collected “$1.1 billion more taxes than expected last fiscal year, the same day that Gov. Dannel Malloy’s $900 million retroactive income tax increase went into effect.”

Although the Malloy administration failed to reach by some $400 million the $2 billion in cost savings measures it initially had demanded from SEBAC, the coalition of state unions authorized to negotiate contracts with the administration, the tax increases the administration imposed upon nearly everyone in the state as a part of its “shared sacrifice” effort has, perhaps unsurprisingly, yielded an “unexpected” surplus.

The Malloy surplus, made possible in part by an ex post facto income tax charge, should not astonish those commentators in the state who have previously reported on state budgets. Surpluses were common in the budget years following the imposition of the Lowell P. Weicker Jr. income tax.

The predictable announcements of surpluses during these years of plenty followed an almost religiously observed rite, beginning with an declaration of a possible deficit, followed by an agonizing appraisal of the likely damage done to Connecticut’s fragile social services net should the legislature be so unwise as to insure savings necessary to balance their budget through prudent cuts, followed by a last minute announcement that an unanticipated surplus had magically materialized, obviating the need for cuts and permitting legislators to return to their districts and there proceed to hand out state distributed goodies before their next election.

This budget year, the usual dance varied, but not much, from the usual formula.

Mr. Malloy, the first Democratic governor in more than 20 years, had been wafted into office on a promise that as governor he would not resort to the same discreditable budget persiflage as his predecessors – two Republican governors and another, Mr. Weicker, of indeterminate party status -- all of whom had produces surpluses to avoid raising taxes or cutting costs.

GAAP would be instituted, Mr. Malloy vowed during his campaign, to prevent wily politicians from drawing revenue from future budgets and dragging them into the current year, while at the same time pushing costs into succeeding budgets. The state’s current Comptroller, Kevin Lembo, recently advised that the state’s antique computer system is not prepared to handle such accounting changes; which is all very well and good -- because Mr. Malloy had postponed implementation of the new accounting procedures for a couple of years. And there is no need to fudge figures in any case, because wily Democratic legislators – Big surprise here! – had embedded into the Malloy budget an artificial surplus that would relieve the pressure put upon them to cut costs.

All this spelled frustration for Republicans and others who were trying unsuccessfully to force Democrats who control the legislature to cut costs by denying them revenues. The presence of red ink in a budget usually is a persuasive spending disincentive for rational legislators. But time-serving progressive ideologues committed to wealth transfers from productive workers in the private marketplace to unionized state workers are addicted to reflexive spending. So long as the General Assembly’s table sags with surpluses, crapulous senators and house members will continue to feast on fare taken from the more modest tables of productive workers. Surpluses, which are tax overcharges, are anti-stimulants for anyone who is not a tax consumer. While prudent tax cuts – a prospect far beyond the intention of the average spendthrift politician – stimulate the economy, wealth transfers stimulate the ungovernable appetite of spendthrift politicians who, unlike the fascists of a bygone day, lack in a functioning democracy the means of making the trains run on time.

A handful of legislators in the General Assembly, Sen. Joe Markley of Southington among them, get all this.

“The enormous tax hike,” said Sen. Joe Markley of Mr. Malloy’s tax boost, “was the sad result of our addiction to spending, which we still haven’t kicked. The bigger the tax increase, the more dire its affect will be on our state economy. I’d love to see Malloy call us back and undo some of the new taxes in light of this surplus, but I don’t expect it – big-government types generally celebrate such surpluses, rather than feel ashamed of them.”

A few more Markleys in the General Assembly may save Connecticut the embarrassment of a rapid decline, followed by default.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Moving Middle, Or Why Republicans Should Not Listen To Weicker

Some years ago Bill Buckley, the founder of National Review, was traveling in Ireland and found himself in a pub talking to a few convivial Irishmen – Is there any other kind? – about religion. Mr. Buckley later noted that many of his conversations while in Ireland, no matter on what topic they started, sooner or later ascended to religion. Ireland was, after all, the nursery bed of Christianity following the collapse of the ancient pagan regime.

In the course of the conversation, someone mentioned a prominent Irish atheist, astonishing Mr. Buckley, who asked, “Do you mean to tell me there are atheists in Ireland?”

“There are, indeed,” he was informed. “But you must understand that in Ireland there are two kinds of atheists – Protestant and Catholic.”

Mr. Buckley is rightly credited with having launched and shaped the modern American conservative movement. Within the conservative movement, there are now many mansions: traditional conservatives, neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives, fiscal conservatives, religious conservatives, bio-conservatives, social conservatives, libertarian conservatives, and more.

Over the course of the last half century, conservativism has transformed the Republican Party, and that transformation has changed the meaning of some political terms. We think of the terms left, right and center as ideological constants. But these terms also evolve. Unfortunately for some, memory does not evolve.

Just as the modern Republican Party is not your daddy’s Republican Party, so the center of Republicanism is not what it was in your daddy’s day. Within the modern Republican Party today – even here in a reliably left of center state – there are different kinds of moderates, but nearly all the moderates are conservative moderates.

The same general evolution has occurred within the Democratic Party. The steady drift of the party towards progressivism has moved the traditional center of the party to the left. When Senator Joe Lieberman's term expires, Connecticut will have bid goodbye to its last moderate or centrist congressional Democrat. Within Democratic Party precincts, the center has moved to the left. Within the Democratic Party in Connecticut, nearly all moderates are progressive moderates.

The distance between the party ships passing in the night is greater than it was in your daddy’s day. When a modern progressive Democrat thinks of a moderate, Mr. Lieberman, a Scoop Jackson Democrat, does not come to mind. When a modern conservative Republican thinks of a moderate, former Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker, a self described “Jacob Javitts Republican,” does not come to mind.

Commentators within Connecticut’s left of center media, bowing and scraping before the idol of centrism, the holy and imperishable “vital center,” sometimes forget to tell their ideological parishioners that even centers move.

That is why Republicans in Connecticut should take Mr. Weicker’s advice with a ton of salt – and not just because Mr. Weicker during his day was a left of center Republican who shamelessly used his party as a political foil to curry favor with the more numerous Democrats in his state.

During a recent gathering of independent centrists in Hartford, Mr. Weicker cautioned Republicans that they must move to the center if they hoped to win elections. Connecticut, Mr. Weicker said, is a blue state. He might have said, more clearly, that the Connecticut Republican Party must become more like the Democratic Party to win elections; that strategy was, after all, the secret of Mr. Weicker’s own success in politics, until both Democratic and Republican centrists tired of Weicker and voted for his Democratic Party opponent, Mr. Lieberman, who fancied himself, like Mr. Weicker, a centrist.

It should surprise no one when members of the ancient regime are smitten with nostalgia for the familiar ancient order of things. But the order of things has changed. Mr. Weicker’s cast off party little resembles Connecticut’s new Republican Party – because the center of things has changed. Had the center not changed to allow for changed circumstances, it could not hold.

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