Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Governor Malloy’s Budget Intentions

Governor Dannel Malloy announced in a meeting with his commissioners of state agencies that he would cut $2 billion from the projected annual costs of state services. Mr. Malloy proposes to eliminate 55% of the state’s deficit with spending cuts and 45% with tax increases.

Three points ought to be considered. First, the state debt Mr. Malloy hopes to discharge with his particular distribution of spending cuts to tax increases is a projected deficit. In the past, such projections have not been accurate. The final figures for the next few fiscal years may be higher.

Second, just as a man is no island unto himself but each is a part of the whole, so no state is an island unto itself. Mr. Malloy has said or implied repeatedly, both before and after his election, that his approach to budget matters will make Connecticut competitive with other states or, at the very least, will not tilt the economic playing field in favor of competing states, so that the flow of business, entrepreneurial and human capital -- most especially young people who have been fleeing the state for greener pastures elsewhere – might be reversed in Connecticut’s favor.

In this regard, it may be important to point out that the newly installed Democratic Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, has vowed to attack his state’s budget deficit without recourse to new taxes. The Cuomo plan involves closing a $10 billion budget gap by freezing wages and taxes, limiting spending growth to the rate of inflation and consolidating departments, while Mr. Malloy proposes to raise nearly $1.7 billion in new revenue. Mr. Cuomo has also proposed a cap on property taxes, setting up a fight to the death struggle between the governor and a tax thirsty state legislature.

Third, Mr. Malloy must get his budget project approved by a Democratic caucus that in the past has not been in favor of cuts adversely affecting unions credited with Mr. Malloy’s election as governor. Effective cuts of this kind would be permanent, reaching far into the future; they also would represent disinvestments in areas where the state’s growth in spending has in the past been resistant to reductions. An end to binding arbitration, for instance, would allow municipalities to control their own destinies. One supposes that measures of this kind – precisely because they would be effective in controlling future costs – would be vigorously resisted by Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, who in the past has shown himself to be unusually attentive to union interests.

Both co-chairwomen of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, Sen. Toni Harp and Rep. Toni Walker, cautiously greeted Mr. Malloy’s announced intentions. Ms. Walker said she looked forward “to seeing where exactly those reductions will come from. We have nothing concrete yet." It is the Democratic dominated legislature that first adjusts and then sets in concrete Mr. Malloy’s budget plan.

In the meeting with his agency heads, Mr. Malloy unfurled four principles guiding his budget decisions: He would refuse to borrow money through bonding to pay down current expenses, “absolutely fund our pension obligations next year - and all years,” not rely on early retirements to cut expenses, and force state government to live within its means by changing the state “in a profound way.”

Mr. Malloy’s intentions will become clearer after he presents his budget to the Democratic dominated General Assembly. Connecticut’s red ink arises from a disproportion between revenue and spending. Debit in Connecticut has not been caused because legislators and previous governors have been uninventive in creating “tax investments” that increase revenues. The state is up to its knees in red ink because the rate of spending has increased precipitously over the last two decades following the institution of an income tax that made it possible to boost revenues and add surpluses to the general fund. Consequently, the ravenous beast that was fed got fatter – and considerably more demanding. It is now eating up the state’s seed corn.

It took the state of Connecticut about ten years to recover jobs lost during the milder recession that followed the institution of the Lowell P. Weicker Jr. Income Tax, which turned out to be a license to spend. Any solution to the disparity between getting and spending that does not PERMANENTLY reduce spending by about 25%, while holding the line on taxes during what promises to be for Connecticut a far more protracted recession, will not succeed in properly positioning the state relative to contiguous states so that, when the recession gives way to a rising tide, Connecticut’s ship of state can speed forward on the crest of the tide, rather than being stranded on a sand bar of its own making.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Malloy, Blumenthal Rule Out Declaration Of Bankruptcy

Both Connecticut's new governor, Dannel Malloy, and its new U.S. Senator, Dick Blumenthal, have put the kabosh on the possibility of bankruptcy for the state as a means of settling its deepening debts, according to Mark Davis of News Channel 8.

Mr. Blumenthal, no longer loking for someone to sue since he moved from the attorney’s general office, said "States really need to cut spending and put their fiscal houses in order without resorting to mass insolvency.”

Governor Malloy, who previously has acknowledged that Connecticut’s per capita is worse than California’s, agreeed with Mr. Blumenthal.

"Connecticut,” the governor said, “is looking to embrace, not to escape the responsibilities of sound financial management. We will honor our obligations and do not intend to support proposals that would enable states to avail themselves of bankruptcy."

Should a state declare bankruptcy, its financial obligations fallinto the hands if judges who are able to order changes in payment schedules and union contracts. Mr. Malloy has not yet said that he would be willing or able to do the same as the state marches towards bankruptcy.

"It would sort of shift the decision making from the legislature to the judicial branch, and you'd have the judicial branch overseeing the state's budget, so it certainly is a real drastic measure," said Rep. Vince Candelora, a Republican.

Mr. Davis quoted “as one person close to the leadership” as having said “We have a whole lot of agita about this, it's a political minefield."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lieberman Leaves

Sen. Joe Lieberman’s post mortem began even before he officially announced his retirement.

Here in Connecticut, a politically battered Susan Bysiewicz rushed to announce in advance of U.S. Reps. Chris Murphy and Joe Courtney her availability for the seat hours after she had told bewildered reporters and commentators she would be spending the next few years ensconced in her new job with a prestigious law firm, drying out from a recent political dunking and acquiring active experience before the state’s bar. Mrs. Bysiewicz has been portrayed in the state’s media as an ambitious Lady Macbeth, but she probably is not much more ambitious than the usual political specimen.

Well… maybe a wee bit.

Connecticut can expect the same scramble for political crumbs that occurred when U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd announced his retirement. The frantic melee would be a little less over the edge if the state had term limits, a process that would allow a more dignified free for all. The present political rumble is for a senate position that, in the case of Mr. Dodd, is about half the reign of King George III. The senator who replaced Mr. Dodd, Dick Blumenthal, held his previous position of attorney general for 20 years. The average term in office of U.S. Senators has increased 300 percent since the first decade following the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. As of October 2008 there were four U.S. Senators -- Robert Byrd, Edward Kennedy, Daniel Inouye and Theodore Stevens – who had been in office over 40 years. The prospect of such a secure roost in office makes the rough and tumble scramble up the greasy political pole a matter of political life and death.

Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy congratulated Mr. Lieberman in a prepared statement on a “remarkable career of public service” and pointed out that the senator stuck to what he believed was right for his constituents and countrymen.” Acts of courage such as the senator’s steadfast support of “policies that have brought political freedom to Iraq and to Afghanistan when many Democrats sought to end that commitment prematurely,” Healy said, “almost cost Sen. Lieberman his political career in 2006 when radical liberals ousted him as the candidate of the Democrat Party, which once supported the foreign policies of both Republican and Democrat administrations.”

The “Nedheads,” of course, would not agree with this assessment, though many of the anti-war activists among them have been far less vocal in their opposition to the war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama’s “war of necessity,” than had been the case when Ned Lamont successfully challenged Mr. Lieberman in a primary, losing in the general election to Mr. Lieberman, who was able to draw support from Republicans and Independents.

Pretty nearly everyone seemed to agree that the prevailing circumstances that allowed Mr. Lieberman to snatch an earlier general election victory from the jaws of a primary defeat – a weak Republican candidate, a primary victor whose experience in office was shallow and a residual affection for Mr. Lieberman for having earlier defeated then Sen. Lowell Weicker, widely regarded as a Republican Party scourge -- would not be present in the general election two years after then Sen. Chris Dodd had left office.

By the time Mr. Lieberman made his announcement in Stamford at noon on Jan. 19, the news that he was retiring was old news. Nate Silver of the New York Times speculated that “The scariest possibility for Democrats would be if Ms. Rell decided to run for the seat.” Roll Call adjusted Connecticut’s race from “toss up” to “leans Democrat.” The New York Post advised that Connecticut Democrats should seek a centrist Democrat to run for Mr. Lieberman’s seat, which will be vacated in 2012. Salon noted that Mr. Lieberman was “Every Republican's favorite Democrat.” The American Prospect noted the New York Times noting that Bill Curry said of Mr. Lieberman, “It’s the first thing he’s done in 10 years to make Connecticut Democrats completely happy.” And Emily Bazelon, writing in Slate, cordially explained to readers of the on-line political magazine why she loathed Mr. Lieberman in a piece appropriately titled, “Good Riddance Joe Lieberman: Why I loathe my Connecticut senator.”

As Louis Prima sings in “Just A Gigolo” – “Life goes on without me.” Owing to a Prima release in the 1950’s, that song was inescapably linked with “I ain’t Got Nobody.”

History may show that Mr. Lieberman did have a few honorable people in his corner. Non-bilious historians may be kinder to Mr. Lieberman than the foaming at the mouth progressives who continue to loathe him, well after leading Democrats in Connecticut have agreed that civility in politics, going forward, should shape political discourse.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Governor Malloy On Connecticut’s Economic Doldrums

Gov. Dannel Malloy appeared recently at the editorial offices of the New London Day, where he unburdened himself cautiously on matters involving taxing and spending:

“’We have people who for political reasons are inserting uncertainty into the bond market, and we’re seeing the bond market reflect that,’ Malloy said. He went on to criticize some of [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie’s other recent exhortations to fellow Republicans to hang tough against established interests and to eliminate tenure for schoolteachers.

“’Hopefully I take a slightly more intellectual approach to this discussion than Governor Christie has demonstrated,’ Malloy said, adding that his counterpart ‘certainly understands the nuts and bolts portion of it.’

“’There are proven economic theories about sustaining economic growth, and we ignore those theories that have proven themselves at our own peril,’ Malloy said.

“’We’re going to see large-scale additional unemployment caused by governmental entities: local government and state government primarily, and perhaps the federal government,” he said. “Can you tell me what the impact of that is going to be on the recovery?’
One of the proven economic theories about sustaining economic growth is this: When expenditures outpace receipts and you still think you do not have to cut back spending, you are kissing the lipstick on a pig. An unsustainable national debt of $14 trillion, massive governmental regulation and excessive governmental borrowing introduce uncertainty into both bond and stock markets. The value of state bonds is secured by the economic wellbeing of the state. If California is bankrupt, its bonds will be correspondingly valueless because few would be willing to buy such bonds.

Moody lowered Connecticut’s general obligation bonds more than two years ago from stable to negative because the state used deficit bonds to resolve a budget shortfall.

“Connecticut,” Moody said in a report issued in 2009, “used one-time solutions to close slightly over half of the (biennial budget’s) shortfall … these solutions create future structural budget gaps and leave the state with significantly reduced flexibility to address additional fiscal pressures that may arise due to a delayed and/or weaker than expected recovery from the worst economic recession since the depression.”

A political writer from Rhode Island crowed after citing the report, “Break out the champagne! Another state has done worse than us in the budgeting department!

Connecticut is now running a deficit of some $3.5 billion or more for each of the next three years; the state has borrowed money to pay for budget deficits rather than capital improvements, and it has raided pension funds to pay for state debt. No “intellectual approach” – what ever that means -- will change the facts on the ground. If the state of Connecticut were to borrow less and spend less, if its pension liabilities were offset by suitable pension payments, its bond rating would be more secure.

An alternative solution, from Moody’s vantage point, is to pay debts and pension liabilities from tax increases. But recent national elections have suggested to some intellectually wide awake Democrats that this is a route leading to political unemployment, and so they have been cautious of late in proposing tax increases. It is always possible that Connecticut Democrats are more courageous than Democrats in other states. Here in the “Tax-Me State”, Democrats survived an election in which the U.S. House reverted to Republicans, many state legislatures fell to the GOP and many gubernatorial state houses also were captured by Republicans.

One would like to hear from Mr. Malloy what impact he thinks tax increases would have on Connecticut’s business environment now that Mr. Christie of New Jersey and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York have pledged not to raise taxes. Those pledges may seem to some in Connecticut a little too close for comfort. Over the long haul, the impact of spending cuts – provided they are permanent -- will be salutary. When government shrinks, personal wealth, one of the more important drivers of the economy, increases, which is good for the economy. Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, appears to share this intellectual approach with the less intellectual Mr. Christie, possibly because he does not wish New York businesses to migrate to New Jersey, a possibility that does not disturb the snoring of caucus leaders in Connecticut’s General Assembly.

Mr. Malloy, during his appearance at the Day’s editorial office, also ventured some views on history:

“The current economic plight is ‘not unlike 1935, ‘36,’ Malloy said, referring to the years when the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt had seen some success but also heard calls to roll back its most aggressive economic interventions against the Great Depression.

“’Do you pull back from a level of investment that has shown some ability to get the economy moving?’ Malloy said. ‘Do you pull back now or do you pull back over a period of time? The Republicans in Washington want to pull back now. What I would argue is you need a better thought-out withdrawal from that market, which we’re not going to get.’

“But Malloy also expressed sympathy with the intentions of politicians such as Christie, who say their goal has been to shrink the size of state government and improve its efficiency. Those same goals, which were central talking points of Malloy’s campaign, have many in Hartford anticipating a clash between Democratic leadership in the legislature and the new governor, who seems more prepared to make cuts.
“An ultimate reduction in the size of government is, ‘over the long haul ... probably a good thing,’ Malloy said, but he returned to his concern about driving unemployment. ‘Over the short run, all of that at once is a very dangerous thing.’
None of the terms used by Mr. Malloy are qualified. How much time is a “long haul”? How much time is a “short haul”? No one but local anarchists are proposing that government in the state of Connecticut should be reduced a modest 25 percent “all at once.” But Mr. Malloy should at the very least be able to tell editorial page editors what percentage of state government should be reduced to insure solvency “over the long haul” and whether the reductions will be permanent or temporary.

And at this point, only a few weeks before his budget will be written in stone and presented to a rubber stamping Democratic majority in the legislature, Mr. Malloy should be able to disclose what percentage of tax increases to reductions in spending he thinks will stabilize Connecticut’s bonds and reverse a flow of jobs from Connecticut to other states in which state debts are lower, bond rating is more secure and taxes are less punishing.

That kind of information, elicited by editorial writers and demanding reporters across the state, will greatly sooth the minds and hearts of taxpayers, those who receive government services, bond rating agencies and any stray intellectuals who have not already found employment in the Malloy administration.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Gaffey-Williams Alliance

Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie, whose nose is extremely sensitive, smells something fishy in the relationship between former eight-term state Sen. Thomas Gaffey and state Senate President Donald Williams.

After recently running for re-election to his seat and winning, Mr. Gaffey quit the senate when he was convicted of having used his own PAC funds to pay for trips that he also billed to the state over several years. It appears the double billing may have been occasioned by Mr. Gaffey’s fondness for a fetching lady.

A second girlfriend, Mr. Rennie reported, also tapped into Mr. Gaffey’s affections:

“Connecticut State University System Associate Vice Chancellor for Government Relations and Communication Jill Ferraiolo employed her charms to make Gaffey the chief and relentless advocate for a $1 billion blank check in public funds for CSU to spend on construction at its four campuses.”
Far from recoiling in horror at Mr. Gaffey’s indiscreet petty larceny, his influential friend in the legislature, Mr. Williams, “tut-tutted that the public was not interested in officials' private lives. What did enrage Williams, however, were the efforts of state Sen. Joan Hartley, D- Waterbury, to impose some sensible standards and restrictions on CSU's expensive plans.”

So formidable and trusting was the Williams-Gaffey alliance that Mr. Williams then targeted Ms. Hartley on behalf of his friend, according to Mr. Rennie:

“Williams removed Hartley as co-chairman of the Higher Education Committee while he continued to sustain the volatile, corrupt Gaffey in his close circle of influential advisers until the end came Monday.”
The Republican American located in Waterbury pointed to an evident double standard in the way the Democratic dominated legislature responded to both Mr. Gaffey and former state Senator Lou DeLuca, who had the misfortune to be a Republican when he was caught in a sting operation arranged by the Feds some years ago. In the DeLuca case, President Pro Tem of the Senate Don Williams did not fiddle while DeLuca burned:

“Compare Sen. Williams' treatment of fellow Democrat Gaffey with his handling of the scandal surrounding former Sen. Louis C. DeLuca, R-Woodbury. Mr. DeLuca did not steal money or peddle influence. Believing his granddaughter to be a victim of physical abuse by a then-boyfriend, Mr. DeLuca asked for Danbury trash hauler James Galante, later convicted on federal racketeering charges, to have someone threaten the boyfriend. No threats or assaults occurred, but Mr. DeLuca pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to commit second-degree threatening.

“The Senate decided to launch an investigation that could have led to expulsion, had Mr. DeLuca not decided to resign five months after entering his guilty plea.

“But the zeal the Senate, under Sen. Williams, showed in the DeLuca case was nowhere to be found before or after he left office. "Lawmakers displayed an almost never seen willingness to investigate a colleague after DeLuca pleaded guilty to a threatening charge in June," the Republican-American reported in November 2007. ‘Legislators have been jailed for drunk driving, arrested for barroom brawling, shoplifting and ballot fraud, convicted of bribery and child molestation, and cited for misusing campaign funds since DeLuca joined the General Assembly in 1991. None of them were investigated or punished. ... Only (DeLuca) was threatened with expulsion.’"
To be sure, ethical propriety, like love, sometimes rests in the eye of the beholder. But when so much ink has been spilled over the lack of ethics of politicians in this state, we may say that a standard of ethics has over time been clarified on a case by case basis. Applying the “good for the goose” standard to Mr. Gaffey, it ought to have been plain to ethicists in the legislature -- very early on in the Gaffey scandal – that Mr. Gaffey had exceeded the boundaries the legislature itself had established to prevent such moral mutilation as Mr. Gaffey inflicted upon himself. It is altogether proper, under these circumstances, to ask why his comrades in the senate did not reacted more aggressively to early indications that Mr. Gaffey had run off the rails. It was no act of friendship on Mr. William’s part to fail to reprove a friend when he was so obviously in danger of crossing ethical thresholds. Indeed, Mr. Williams’s good-old-boy politicking may have facilitated his friend’s downfall.

Fortunately for Gov. Dannel Malloy, Mr. Williams was not one of the legislators Mr. Malloy netted to flesh out his new administration. Mr. Williams, his rigorous application of ethical strictures somewhat compromised by his backhanded defense of his comrade in the senate, still presides as President Pro Tem of the state senate.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lieberman's Future

Four commentators – Duby McDowell of the Laurel , Rick Green of the Hartford Courant , Brian Flaherty, a former Republican state representative, and Tom Dudchik of Capitol Report -- got together several days ago at Dennis House’s house, Face the State on WFSB, to review the old year and plot Sen. Joe Lieberman’s future.

Poor Joe’s future, all agreed, was dismal.

Pretty much all House’s guests thought Mr. Lieberman MIGHT defend his seat, the senator having teased several reporters and commentators that a run was not altogether out of the question. The consensus appeared to be that Mr. Lieberman would not be nominated by his party; apparently, Rep. Chris Murphy has stolen the party’s heart, and progressive Democrats are especially hot on him, while their reaction to Mr. Lieberman has been considerably cooler.

Ever since Mr. Lieberman lost to progressive heart throb Ned Lamont in a previous Democratic Party primary, marching on to defeat the Great Progressive Hope in a general election, the left wing of the party has been in a flutter against Mr. Lieberman, its more insistent members sharpening their stakes, grinding their teeth and challenging the deathless vampire to run once again for office on THEIR ground. Go ahead – just go ahead. You’ll see.

Mr. Lieberman has been toying with them, playfully. The danger is that may hoist them in their own petard.

If the senator, pushed out of his party by Mr. Lamont in a primary and forced to run in the general election as independent, CANNOT run for the nomination in his former party – there are only two open questions: 1) Will he run? He’s such a tease; and 2) If he runs in what then likely would be a three way race involving Lieberman the independent, Murphy the beloved and a Republican nominee -- possibly Linda McMahon, who does not seems to have had her fill of politics, or Rob Simmons or some other aspiring Republican -- would Mr. Lieberman win?

The answer to this question is: Nobody knows. Events have a way of overturning the best laid plans of mice and men. But then the whole point of predicting the future is to speculate, loudly and bravely, on matters the answers to which one cannot know.

Perhaps it might be useful to back up a second and ask a somewhat different question: Would Lieberman’s chances of winning the pending general election in a three way race be better or worse if he did or did not force a primary with Murphy the beloved? This, after all, is how Mr. Lieberman won the general election race against Mr. Lamont – by smashing in a primary the lockstep hold in a general election Mr. Lamont expected to have on the party that nominated him.

Just a second, progressives will remonstrate. Mr. Lieberman the Vampire won the general election because the Republican candidate was, shall we say, inadequate, and Mr. Lieberman the Vampire had built up within the Republican Party a residual affection after he had defeated, with the party’s help, former senator and self proclaimed “turd in the Republican Party punchbowl” Lowell Weicker. These circumstances are not repeatable. In addition, Mr. Lieberman the Vampire has further alienated himself from his party by canoodling with the enemy, throwing his support behind a Republican Party presidential nominee at a time when Democratic nominee for president Barack Obama enjoyed wide national popularity. To be sure, the bloom is off the popularity rose now; former President George Bush and President Obama are running fairly close in popularity polls., But to have support McCain then! And he kissed Bush too! And he’s a vampire!

To all this one may cheerfully nod assent. Even so, in a free country in which primaries have for decades undetermined nominating conventions, anyone with a adrent will and a little spare cash can primary party nominees. Before Mr. Lamont, at the urging of progressives, leapt upon the stage to challenge Mr. Lieberman in a primary, Mr. Lieberman WAS the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate. Both former President Bill Clinton and then U.S. Sen. Dodd stumped for their party nominee on the primary campaign trail.

And so the question remains: Would Mr. Lieberman’s chance in winning a general election in a three way race, assuming he would consent to run in a three way race, be improved if he chose to primary the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for the senate, Mr. Murphy?

The answer to that question is: Maybe. No one can be certain what tomorrow may bring. It seems only yesterday that former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd was a shoe in for re-election to the senate. And then a couple of shoes fell on his head. The only way to measure Mr. Lieberman’s strength or weakness within his own party many months out from today is to test his strength in a primary. And even then, the lay of the political land having changed, the probe may be telling – or not.

Mr. Blumenthal’s Wind

Two or three days before Attorney General Richard Blumenthal resigned his post and assumed his new responsibilities as a U. S. Senator, he let fly one of his last media releases, possibly a souvenir of his 20 year tenure. Even on his way out the door, Mr. Blumenthal could not resist tilting at one more windmill.
In a media release sent to the usual suspects, the senator-elect announced plans to seek “standards” for wind farms.

Acknowledging that new “green energy projects are critical,” Mr. Blumenthal pointed out in his last communiqué with Connecticut media as attorney general that the elegant wind turbines, which have offended the aesthetic sensibilities of such pro-greenists as the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and some of the Kennedy brood who summer in Hyannisport, must be correctly sited “to avoid significant damage to the environment or quality of life in the region.”

One does not quite know what the senator-elect may have meant when he singled out “quality of life” as one of the determining factors in the siting process.

We do know that the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s quality of life was forever ruined by the possibility of a windmill popping up between himself and the horizon stretching out over Nantucket Sound as seen from his family’s six acre waterfront property on Cape Cod . The “lion of the senate” adamantly refused to allow even a sliver from a wind turbine to drop into his eye, all the while shoving regulatory logs into the eyes of greedy capitalists and modest entrepreneurs who scarred Mother Earth with their abhorrent life-destroying businesses.

It is an additional a mystery in what sense a green energy project could significantly “damage the environment.” Green technology is designed to save the environment from non-green destructive energy production. Wind farms are good; belching power plants that rely on dirty energy, however abundant, are bad. The political ethics involved here are black and white. There are no shades of grey.

In any case, as attorney general Mr. Blumenthal has operated daily in the firm and unshakable conviction that there never can be too many regulations on private businesses; though it must be said he was loathed during his two decade tenure as attorney general to impose costly and occasionally crippling “standards” on agencies he is required by statute to represent.

As attorney general, Mr. Blumenthal has proposed standards for everything from fruit loops to advertisements in publications such as the Village Voice that, in the opinion of the attorney general and his resolute army of Cotton Mathers, MIGHT lead to prostitution. Pondering a list of the companies Mr. Blumenthal sued as attorney general would cramp the brain of any non-lawyer, and it cannot be a sign of peace that Mr. Blumenthal released his poison pen letter to numerous media outlets on the subject of wind farms.

When Mr. Blumenthal a few months ago released his philippic against wood furnaces, farmers from Litchfield to New London and Fairfield to Windham began to tremble on their tractors. Many sons of the soil in Connecticut had over the years come to rely on wood furnaces to defray the cost of energy, driven up by people like Blumenthal and other greenies who wanted the state to shake off permanently its reliance on dirty energy. After Mr. Blumenthal issued his obiter dicta on wood furnaces, one could almost hear farmers in the four corners of the state sobbing: How much is THIS going to cost me?

“Green energy will undermine its purpose,” Mr. Blumenthal blustered in what many hoped might be his final spout as attorney general, “if we fail to develop sound standards to protect against damage to the environment and quality of life.

“Wind farms may have a place and purpose -- but not at the cost of destroying pristine forests. These projects must be subject to scrutiny and sound standards. Clear standards will provide certainty to businesses seeking to build wind farms in Connecticut , encouraging their development in sites that meet those standards.

“Renewable sources of energy such as wind should be encouraged, but we must be very careful as to how and where, so as to prevent any adverse health and safety impact on neighborhoods or on the environment generally.”

At least one report on wind turbines has cautioned that wind farms may not be a useful energy source in Connecticut because the state lacks sufficient wind: Former senator and governor Lowell Weicker is retired and Mr. Blumenthal has gone to Washington to blow hot and cold over a clueless congress. At least former attorney’s general powers of destruction have now been trimmed. In the beltway, he will be one more belch in Babel on the Potomac , a small regulator in a big regulation pond.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Left And Right In Connecticut

The touchstone for liberals, as everyone including liberals may be aware, is the future, largely an imaginary construct. The hope and change mantra of the Obama administration occurs in a future those living in the present are busily constructing. It’s a work in progress.

Former President Bill Clinton constructed his successful campaign on hope not only because he claimed to be from Hope, Arkansas. The theme song of Clinton’s Camelot was Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” with its refrain, “Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone” – and good riddance to it. Mr. Clinton’s boast that he was “the man from Hope,” technically true since he was born in the hospital there and lived in the town for a very short while, was later lampooned by political docudramatist Michael Moore.

Mr. Clinton’s formative years were spent in Hot Springs, a town with a far different cachet. Dee Brown, the author of “Wounded Knee,” was interviewed in Mr. Moore’s film on the possible connection between Hot Springs, well known as a stomping grounds for gamblers and mob figures, and the former president:

“Well, I think Bill does have a hard time making up his mind. And I think he picked it up growing up in Hot Springs. Hot Springs has always been an ambivalent town. Their view towards the gangster people was – Well, these are bad guys, but they’ve got a lot of money; so, just let them come.”

It’s doubtful whether any modern president would wish to construct his political campaign around the Christian pillars of faith or charity. But, if tomorrow -- which we should never stop thinking about -- should deliver to us such a president, he likely will be a Democrat, some of whom have in the past been faithful to fanciful imaginative constructs and more than charitable with other people’s money.

The touchstone for conservatives is the past, what G. K. Chesterton used to call “the democracy of the dead,” also a fertile field for roving imaginations. Conservatives consult Edmund Burke because Burke was an important small “d” dead larval republican, as were the founders of the republic some constitutionalists are trying so desperately to keep. Supreme Court justices who have escaped deconstructionist legal studies sometimes tip their hat to the founders and the constitution in their decisions.

Those on the left and those on the right have their political saints and heroes. The grand fete most Democrats in Connecticut attend together each year is called the Jefferson, Jackson, Bailey dinner for good reasons. Republicans have their own party gathering, the Prescott Bush dinner, the title of which suggests a lamentable lack of imagination. On the other hand, since Republicans do not spend much of their time constructing in their minds political utopias that are afterwards deployed as fantasy political programs, perhaps the title of the dinner may be in some sense appropriate. Prescott Bush was a nice man – quiet, inoffensive, harmless as a political theorist, the beau ideal of commentators wedded to limp-wristed moderation.

Too much should not be made of all this. Touchstones are touchstones, not anchors. One touches them and moves on. But these orientations do determine to a great extent one’s direction, and in politics direction is more than half the battle. It matters a great deal which hand, the left or the right, is resting on the tiller and, more importantly, the ideological disposition of the mind directing the hand.

In Connecticut, the sharp liberal-conservative divide elsewhere in the country has been palliated by a penchant for what some commentators have called pragmatic solutions. Of course, there are two kinds of political pragmatists: left leaning Democratic pragmatists, and right leaning Republican pragmatists. In the nutmeg state, pragmatism is little more than a mask used to disguise political orientations.

As used by many commentators, the term “pragmatic” is a synonym for “compromising political insider.” But multi-term political operatives also come in two flavors – left and right. The so called political “middle” is not a descriptive political term; it is a halfway house between two philosophies, liberalism and conservativism, a comfy spot for timorous legislators who fear decisive action.

According to the current mistaken view, pragmatism is little more than compromise. Cutting the baby in half to solve a problem of paternity would be regarded in Connecticut as a pragmatic solution. But real pragmatism is a method, usually scientific, of testing theories through their practical applications, and any genuine pragmatist would reject the Solomononic solution on the grounds that such a compromise could only end with a dead baby. In some quarters in Connecticut, the man who arrives at practical consequence through a logical thought process, would he hooted down as an ideologue. In the Biblical story, the real pragmatist is the real mother of the baby who rejects compromise because Solomon’s theoretical solution will lead ineluctably to murder.

Ambivalence is not pragmatism.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

David Walker's Surprise


David Walker, Jim Himes friend and advisor, has earned a reputation in national policy circles as the ultimate deficit hawk, and advocate of cutting Social Security benefits.

Now he has weighed in on Connecticut's budget crisis.

He makes 3 points - 2 rather to be expected from someone who claims to "represent the sensible center," and is one of three chairs of Connecticut's "No Labels" chapter, but in fact represents right wing talking points in fiscal matters. The third is quite a surprise until you realize that he lives in Bridgeport (he bought Chris Shays home, but is very unhappy about his tax bill.)

Here are his 3 points:

1. Lower taxes for the wealthy - why? "Wealthy individuals also have the option of moving out of the state."

2. Restructure the state's current pension and retiree health plans, including for existing employees. (Good luck with that one - they do have contractual rights you know - or do you?)

3. Here's the surprise: "We must also deal with the current de facto discrimination in the way that property taxes are imposed in our state. City residents pay much higher property taxes per the fair market value of their property due to the failure to provide an adequate tax equalization system in the state."

To rework an old saying - where you stand on property taxes depends on where you lie down!