Monday, December 31, 2012

Lieberman Leaves The Building

Most seemingly endless U.S. Senate careers end with a whimper rather than a bang.

When Dennis House, the moderator of “Face the State” on WFSB Channel 3, asked Senator Joe Lieberman how he would like to be remembered by history upon his retirement, Mr. Lieberman said the question put him in mind of Winston Churchill who, when asked a similar question, said he thought he would be well remembered because he himself intended to write the history of his time and place. Immediately, Mr. Lieberman, perhaps familiar with Mr. Churchill’s voluminous writings, said he didn’t know about writing history himself, but…

Mr. Lieberman, the author of seven books -- The Power Broker (1966), a biography of the late Democratic Party chairman, John Bailey; The Scorpion and the Tarantula (1970), a study of early efforts to control nuclear proliferation; The Legacy (1981), a history of Connecticut politics from 1930 to 1980; Child Support in America(1986), a guidebook on methods to increase the collection of child support from delinquent fathers; In Praise of Public Life (2000); An Amazing Adventure (2003), reflections on his 2000 vice presidential run; and The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath (2011) -- can turn a phrase, and he is a close student of history. In that sense, while by no means as prolific as Mr. Churchill, Mr. Lieberman could be, out of office and free to roam the historical range, a man as dangerous as he is thoughtful.

So given to cogitation is the senator, that someone here in Connecticut once flung at him the sobriquet “The Hamlet of the Senate,” which stuck.

Some of Mr. Lieberman’s more recent hobby horses are term limits -- he likes them --the extreme partisanship that has made co-operation in the U.S. Senate less possible -- he hates it -- and the Electoral College --he’d prefer the president be elected by popular vote. In the course of his 23 years in the Senate, Mr. Lieberman has changed his mind or emphasis on all three issues; but, as the transcendentalists tell us, to become perfect is to have changed often. Extreme partisanship destroys collegiality, in Mr. Lieberman’s view, and the Electoral College distorts the sovereignty of voters. Out of office, Mr. Lieberman’s preferences are not likely to carry much weight. Term limits are a positive good because they prevent congressional sclerosis; of course, you must have some people in the Senate who know what they’re doing, Mr. Lieberman hastened to add.

One senses the senator has not thought deeply on the question of partisanship. Suppose – just to suppose – that one of the two major parties dedicated itself to a daily revision of the U.S. Constitution, so that the Constitution could once and forever be rescued from autodidacts who insist that the document strengthens the liberty of the people by imposing restraints on fashionable ambitions. Given such a circumstance, would not Mr. Lieberman yearn for a principled partisan opposition?

During his retirement, removed from the congressional theatre of action and inaction, Mr. Lieberman may in time produce something worthwhile on such enduring subjects. Distance clears the mind wonderfully, and a thing seen from the outside often wears a different appearance than the same thing seen from the inside, as Churchill well knew. Partisanship is related to political parties. A certain measure of partisanship must be allowed if one is to have parties at all. The abolition of political parties, some argue, would usher in political anarchy rather than the utopia envisioned by radical thinkers in the United States who continue to believe, apparently sincerely, that parties are a bar to right reason and efficient government.

Political parties are, in fact, a bar to tyranny as understood by the vanishing breed of Republicans in the age of the Caesars, many of whom longed for a restoration of the old Roman Republic. While the most representative form of government, democracy is also the weakest, subject always to popular demagogues and populists soon lifted aloft to tend the Republic and make the trains run on time. Like constitutions, vibrant political parties are a bar to overweening ambition. For those who do not believe in a politics of limits, the weakening of political parties opens the door to what one might call magical political thinking, rooted in the immodest notion that for congresspersons and presidents, as for God, all things are possible.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sandy Hook Should Teach Us How To Think

Following the horrific mass murder in Sandy Hook, Connecticut – 27 people slain, 20 of them innocent children – it took but a moment for some politicians to mount their various hobby horses and, in an effort not to let this bloody crisis go to waste, call loudly for “immediate action”on gun control measures. Here is the Hartford Courant lashing the political draft horses: “Stay angry. Remember how you felt this weekend. Don't let the faces of those children go until meaningful, actual steps are taken to make this a safer and less violent country.”

Any call for immediate action while the heart is bludgeoned by emotion should be politely resisted, because right action – the only kind that actually solves problems – generally follows in the train of right thought. Emotional responses, however appropriate given the circumstances, often lead to ineffective dead end streets and solutions that only solve the problems of those proposing solutions.

After barrels of ink have been spilled over the mass murder in Sandy Hook, this is what we know – or think we know – about the slaughter of the innocents:

The mass murder was committed by Adam Lanza, a young man of 20 years who was living in Sandy Hook with his divorced mother, 52-year-old Nancy Lanza, his first of 26 victims. Mr. Lanza shot his mother in the face four times while she was sleeping in the morning, acquired from the house possibly as many as four weapons owned by his mother, traveled in her car to Sandy Hook Elementary school, forced his way into a secure building, murdered the principal of the school, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, who heroically lunged at him in an attempt to prevent the ensuing mayhem, entered two classrooms and murdered 20 students and 6 faculty members.

Mr. Lanza committed suicide shortly before or after first responders entered the building. This is an important datum because it establishes a connection between the time of response and the number of victims. It is reasonably supposed that Mr. Lanza would have murdered many more children if the preventative response from police had been longer. Had Mr. Lanza survived and been arrested, he could not have been executed in Connecticut, because the state’s General Assembly a year ago abolished capital punishment, except for those awaiting punishment on death row when the bill had been passed. The abolition bill followed closely upon the heels of another much publicized mass murder in Cheshire.

Early reports strongly suggested that Mr. Lanza was affected by the divorce of his parents. Assuming a causal connection between the divorce and the crime, no one has yet suggested that national legislation abolishing or severely controlling divorce would in the future prevent such horrendous crimes. And in any case, such a bill would never be offered. The divorce lobby in the United States would simply overcome any and all efforts of the president and Congress, many members of which are divorced, to impose restrictions on an accepted institution approved by a large part of the population.

Some attempts have been made by commentators and reporters to shift the primary responsibility of the crime from Mr. Lanza to his mother. According to this view, Mr. Lanza was a troubled child, suffering from a form of Asperger’s disorder, a condition characterized by a lack of social skills. The term itself has been dropped from a revised diagnostic manual used by the American Psychiatric Association. In the new manual, “Asperger’s disorder,” characterized by poor socialization, is subsumed under the category ‘‘autism spectrum disorder.’’ The terminological changes are important because insurance companies use the manual to decide which psychological conditions to cover. Mr. Lanza’s psychological disorder --if any -- has not been determined. According to one report, his mother was on the point of committing Mr. Lanza to a mental facility when she was murdered. It has been speculated that Mr. Lanza’s discovery that his mother had intended to commit him involuntarily was the “tipping point” in his mass murder crime spree. That report has been denied by a friend of the mother. Others speculate that Mr. Lanza spent an inordinate amount of time playing violent video games in his “windowless cellar,” and this may have corrupted his moral sense. All these speculations ought to be taken with more than a grain of salt. How does one go about proving a necessary connection between violent video games and, in this particular case, a massive and murderous assault on young children and their wards? That connection, if any, remains obscure because the uncommunicative Mr. Lanza took the precaution of destroying the hard drive of his computer before setting out on his murder spree.

Within the political arena, a rush is on to write legislation imposing tighter controls on guns while the events at Sandy Hook yet boil in the public mind, and some of the politics surrounding the massacre in Sandy Hook are positively ghoulish. David Axelrod -- one of the campaign advisors for lame duck President Barrack Obama whose associate, Rahm Emanuel, is best known for his sagacious apothegm “never let a crisis go to waste” – has sent out an e-mail urging supporters of the president to watch the president’s moving address to the community of mourners in Newtown; two links in the e-mail open upon a video of the president’s remarks, and two superfluous donate buttons ask for $15-$1,000 for his campaign. The donate buttons are more than awkward and gruesomely classless. They are unnecessary: The president is term-limited, and so are any future campaigns of his. But why let a crisis go to waste when one might use it to scoop up blood money? Do the mourners in Sandy Hook know what you’re up to Axelrod? Probably not – because the quisling media in Connecticut is emotionally and ideologically attached to solutions that advance the cause of the Chicago political mob and progressive Democratic politicians in Connecticut.

When is a solution to a problem not a solution to a problem? Answer: When it is proposed by former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, now, after the retirement of US. Senator Joe Lieberman, Connecticut’s senior US Senator. Democratic State Senator Brendan Sharkey, due to take over the Speaker’s position in the State House when scandal stained state Senator ChrisDonovan leaves the chamber, did not feel he was stretching the truth when he compared the “madness” of the murderous attack in Sandy Hook to the "lack of compromise and common sense" that often keeps politicians from coming to a consensus in the legislature.

The General Assembly and Governor Dannel Malloy are about to apply their common sense to the events in Sandy Hook. “One thing you can count on,” wrote askeptical commentator in the New Haven Register, “is that the Connecticut legislature will react to the Newtown shootings in a way that is stupid, ineffective and outrageously expensive. As long as the Democrats get a warm, fuzzy feeling that they've done something, all is well. I'm guessing you'll see a bunch of unfunded mandates about school security, none of which will do the slightest to address the real causes of this tragedy.”

Mr. Lanza is dead and cannot be questioned; his mother is dead and cannot be questioned. Important information on Mr. Lanza’s computer that might have exposed Mr. Lanza’s motivation has been destroyed. Newspaper accounts are larded with second hand information, some of which is not reliable. A formal report on the crime has yet to be released. Connecticut’s gun regulations are highly restrictive. Safety precautions at Sandy Hook Elementary school were in force when a determined Mr. Lanza shot his way in and murdered 26 people. It is highly unlikely that new gun legislation will prevent similar occurrences – which is NOT to say that reasonable regulations should be removed from consideration. Norway, the site of the worst mass murder in modern times – 77 people dead – has the most restrictive gun laws in Europe, as well as the most liberal policy on capital punishment.

As might be expected, Norway has a massive population of hunters. Guns in civilian homes in Norway include semi-automatic and bolt action rifles as well as shotguns. There is a total ban in Norway on automatic weapons for civilians, and any modification of semi-automatic guns to fully automatic without police consent is a felony crime. There are caliber restrictions on handguns; the Smith & Wesson model 500, for instance, is too high powered to be legal; less powerful guns used in sport shooting are legal.

Norway restricts the purchase of ammunition, which is only sold to those who have a valid weapon license. In the absence of a special permit, only 10,000 rounds of ammunition can be stored by a single person,15,000 rounds if 5,000 of them are 22LR or smaller caliber. Two kg of black powder may be stored in a separate building if the person has a license for a black powder firearm.

Despite these restrictions, Anders Behring Breivik, armed with illegal weaponry AND HAND GRENADES, bombed major buildings in Oslo in July of 2011 and invaded a camp of the Workers' Youth League (AUF) of the Labour Party on the island of Utøya, where he killed 69 people, mostly teenagers.The 33 year-old Mr. Breivik was unanimously convicted of premeditated murder by a five judge panel and sentenced to imprisonment for 10 to 21 years, the maximum allowed under Norwegian law. Mr. Brevick said his attacks were intended to inspire a militant uprising throughout Europe that would restore its nationalist purity and rebuff Islamic migration.

Mr. Brevick’s sentencing judge said of him: “He has killed 77 people, most of them youth, who were shot without mercy, face to face. The cruelty is unparalleled in Norwegian history. This means that the defendant even after serving 21 years in prison would be a very dangerous man."

Indeed, no place is safe from dangerous men who regard the kinds of bills that will be hammered out in Washington and, redundantly, in Connecticut in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre as momentary impediments to be overcome. The United States is not Norway. And if it were Norway, heaped round with the same restrictive gun regulations, it would not be safe from Mr. Brevick. Magic thinking – which supposes that if there were no guns, there would be no Brevicks or Lanzas –encourages dangerous illusions of safety that are certain to be pierced by a deadly reality.

This does not mean that reasonable gun regulations are pointless.

We know that in Sandy Hook a quick response on the part of first responders was instrumental in saving lives. The principal of the school and first grade teacher Victoria Soto, both of whom bravely stepped into a line of fire to save children, are genuine heroes. If there were in schools throughout the state alarm systems connected directly to police departments, much as fire alarms are connected to fire houses, that system very well might prevent a massive loss of life in similar situations. Locating police substations in some schools might mitigate such horrific activity; in an age of instant communication, why must police stations be centralized? The single most important impediment to a much more massive loss of life in Sandy Hook was the arrival of the armed resistance. When Mr. Lanza became aware of the arrival of the cavalry, he stopped shooting. Some sort of an armed resistance in the schools, whether a police or enhanced security presence, might help.

Everyone in Connecticut whose hearts have been bruised by the loss of life in Sandy Hook -- that is, everyone in Connecticut – is praying for solutions that solve the problems of people who have been bludgeoned by reality. A political milking of the crisis helps only the milkers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Vive Depardieu

Gérard Depardieu, the French actor who moved to Belgium recently to escape the confiscatory 75 per cent top marginal income tax rate imposed on millionaires by newly elected French President  François Hollande, is at least as “French” as the Eiffel Tower. And his background suggests a proletarian upbringing.

When another of France’s sons – in fact, the richest man in the country, Bernard Arnault, the CEO and chief shareholder of the luxury behemoth LVMH – kicked the socialist dust of France from his A. Testoni Moro monk-strap shoes and moved to Belgium to escape the depredations visited upon him by M. Hollande, the first socialist President of France since François Mitterrand left office, the left wing Libération expressed its contempt for the rich in a headline on its front page: “Get lost, you rich b------.”

The san culottes socialists in France squealed their approval and secretly dreamed of guillotines.

Upon Depardieu’s leave-taking, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, similarly dumped on M. Depardieu, calling him a “a pathetic loser.”

The “pathetic loser” responded last Sunday with an open letter. “I was born in 1948,” M. Depardieu wrote, “I started working aged 14, as a printer, as a warehouseman, then as an actor, and I’ve always paid my taxes.” Depardieu noted that he had paid 145 million euros in tax, and to this day employs 80 people. Last year the French actor paid taxes amounting to 85 per cent of his income. “I am neither worthy of pity nor admirable, but I shall not be called 'pathetic’,” he concluded. And, now an émigré, M. Depardieu returned his French passport.

The government had been expecting the French people, traditionally distrustful of riches and on comfortable terms with discredited Marxist ideas, to heap shame upon M. Depardieu. They had seriously misjudged the temper of the people. According to a poll taken by the popular Le Parisian, nearly 70 per cent of the French populous supported M. Depardieu’s boisterous political incorrectness.

M. Depardieu has always been pleasingly irascible. Refused permission to use the loo on an Air France plane, he urinated in a plastic bottle; he’s punched a number of annoying paparazzi in various countries; and his chat about some contemporary actors has been abrasive: “She has nothing,” M. Depardieu said of Juliette Binoche. “I can’t even comprehend how she made 50 movies.”

The French admire excess: Hence the opulence of Versailles and the French Revolution, itself excessive, inspired in part as a reaction to the excesses on the monarchy.

Excess, thy name is Depardieu.  But the man, large in body and heart, unlike some politicians, is not in the least hypocritical. His drunken brawls have not led to stints in tony rehabilitation centers; he is not contrite by nature, and he would not be seen within miles of a health food store, which is to French cuisine what rat poison is to rats.

As an actor, his personality is porous. M. Depardieu has had no formal acting training, and yet he has an uncanny ability to breathe life into such disparate characters as Christopher Columbus or Reynaldo in Keith Branagh’s Hamlet, Cyrano de Bergerac on stage and screen, Rasputin and Jean Valjean. He has worked under the direction of such masterful directors as Bertolucci, Ang Lee, Godard, Resnais, Handke,Truffaut, Wajda and Weir.

When the great Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda left his county in 1982 for France, there to direct “Danton,” he chose M. Depardieu to play the part of Danton, a revolutionist and friend of Robespierre who truly was a man of the people, much beloved by them. During the Reign of Terror, which Danton vigorously opposed by means of a newspaper he wrote, Robespierre made arrangement for Danton’s execution. The apostle of Terror, could not permit Danton to live, for he was continually calling upon the people of France to demand their rights, given to them by the revolution itself. Wajda remained in France for six years, and when communism finally collapsed under the weight of its own internal contradictions, he returned in 1989 to a free Poland from which all the Robespierre worshipers of state power and terror had fled.

In his confrontation with the ideologically committed socialists of France, it is M. Depardieu who is playing the part of Danton; M. Hollande is his Robespierre.

 “I am leaving,” M. Depardieu wrote to his own Robespierres, Messieurs Hollande and Ayrault, “because you consider that success, creation, talent, anything different, must be punished.” His new house -- not inappropriately a remodeled customs house -- is in a small Belgian village within sight distance of France.

In time, the French will tire of their ideological frauds and give them the bum’s rush; perhaps then M. Depardieu may return home to his beloved France.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hook

Adam Lanza – and Adam Lanza ALONE – is responsible for the Sandy Hook massacre, which is to say:

1) Adam Lanza’s mother is not responsible for the crime, nor is his father or brother. The Lanza’s were divorced. In a report from the Daily Mail of Britain, a former classmate of Adam Lanza is reported as having said, “He was a loner at school and hyper intelligent. But in recent years he disappeared off the radar. The word is that he was badly affected when his parents split and that might be what pushed him over the edge.” But divorces do not lead ineluctably to carnage of this kind. There is no necessary connection between solitude and murder.

2) The guns used by Adam Lanza are not responsible for the crime. It is a form of magic thinking to suppose that a law passed by the U.S. Congress abolishing the Second Amendment and punishing those who own weapons would at the same time abolish crimes such as this.

3) The upbringing of Adam Lanza is not responsible for the crime. Apparently, at some point, Adam Lanza was home schooled. Home schooling is not responsible for the crime.

4) Adam Lanza’s Christian religion – a religion of peace that regards such crimes as mortal sins – is not responsible for the crime.

5) The town of Sandy Hook is not responsible for the crime. I lived in Sandy Hook one summer –in a barn, as it happened, abutting a house owned by film maker Elia Kazan –and can testify that there are in Sandy Hook no mysterious emanations issuing from the area that cause people to commit mass murder.

Adam Lanza – and Adam Lanza ALONE – is responsible for the Sandy Hook massacre.

Blaise Pascal said, “In the end, they throw a little dirt on you, and everyone walks away. But there is ONE who will not walk away. At some point, the peace of God will descend on Sandy Hook.

When all the cameras have left Sandy Hook, when the politicians have gone back to their daily grind, when the next news we hear will be about some matter that does not sell quite so many newspapers, when everyone, moving quickly to their own business, have all walked away, there will be ONE who will not walk away.

Suppose – just to suppose – no one walks away. What then?
Sandy Hook has taught us, at a minimum, two things: First, that the human heart is a raging torrent wondrously mixed with good and evil; and second, that words alone cannot quell that mighty river. We are not and never have been a nation of preachers. America is a nation that believes in the sanctification of the deed. When Lincoln at Gettysburg said that nothing SAID at Gettysburg could“hallow’ the blood-soaked ground, but the DEEDs of those who struggled there “have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract,” he was pointing to the beating heart of America.

So then, let the sorrow in our hearts speak deeds. Reports have it that Sandy Hook elementary school has perhaps closed permanently. That is as it should be; you cannot erect the joy of children on polluted ground. The school should be torn down, and the ground should be purified by the Rabbis and priests and ministers and Imams of Connecticut; then it should be rededicated as a place where children can come and play, because that is what children are meant to do. The very air we breathe is purified by the laughter of children. Whatever is built here, let it be dedicated to all those who stood in the line of fire to protect children, and especially the principal of the school and others, these “honored dead” who gave for the slain children of Sandy Hook their “last full measure of devotion.”

Let the school be rebuilt at some suitable place – in Sandy Hook.

And where are we to find the brawn and the finances to meet the deed?

In Connecticut, named after a mighty river. Here the heart is full to bursting. Let it burst. Let the waters of goodness rush over Sandy Hook like a raging river. Let foundation makers and carpenters and electricians put their shoulders to this deed, so that we may show, in the words of King Lear, that the heavens are JUST.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Interesting Times of Dannel Malloy

Connecticut no longer can produce sufficient revenues necessary to pay for its improvident spending. Its revenue engines, after years of uncontrolled acceleration, are sputtering and wheezing, businesses are looking for the exit, and the ONLY remaining option – assuming the state is not interested in declaring bankruptcy as its itch to spend dooms all prospects of recovery – is real spending reform.

Real reform would involve identifying spending drivers and offering solutions that cut spending permanently. Temporary and half solutions will not do. And spending reform, always painful, cannot be accomplished in the absence of a reform vanguard made up of courageous politicians and tribunes of the people who are willing to press needed spending reforms in the face of a strenuous opposition from entrenched interests.

One of the courageous politicians very well could be Governor Dannel Malloy. When Alexander Hamilton was pressing in the Federalist Papers for “energy in the executive,” he might well have been thinking of someone like Mr. Malloy.

Mr. Hamilton, arguing for a unitary executive and against an executive department in which the chief executive should render decisions in concert with a council, put it this way:“Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks: It is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws, to the protection of property against those irregular and high handed combinations, which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice, to the security of liberty.”

By “high handed combinations,” Mr. Hamilton was pointing to the special interests of his day, those suckers on the Republic who know well how to turn representative assemblies to their own purposes. The expression might well refer in our day to business cartels or union interests that easily could, by cuddling with powerful politicians, interrupt “the ordinary course of justice” and pervert “the security of liberty.” Pointedly, the purpose of“energy in the executive” is, in Hamilton’s view, to secure the inborn liberty of the individual “against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction and of anarchy.” And no one reading Mr. Hamilton can fail to notice that the“high handed combinations” that deprive citizens of their liberty do so by a steady assault on laws protecting PROPERTY.

Mr. Malloy, everyone will agree, certainly is an energetic executive. Whether he has been captured by special interests – either the progressive gravitational pull of his party or powerful union interests or political campaign contributors or large corporations he has favored with tax money – is a matter that may be clarified after Mr. Malloy’s second budget is put to bed.

But first, Mr. Malloy’s first budget is in need of repair. Time and circumstances have continually blown large deficit holes in Mr. Malloy’s Plan B budget. The latest hole in the budget bucket amounts to $415 million, according to estimates provided by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo.

The correlation of forces in the General Assembly is such that Democrats – used to operating on the premise that every deficit presents an opportunity to jack up taxes -- will not be receptive to spending cuts; and Democrats, by their sheer numbers, control the business of the General Assembly. Indeed, the Democratic dominated General Assembly invested Mr. Malloy with extraordinary powers when his first budget, Plan A, ran aground on the Gibraltar of union opposition: Legislative Democrats, abandoning their constitutional responsibility to affirm final budgets, approved Mr. Malloy’s larval Plan A budget, rejected by the unions in budget negotiations, and pre-approved without legislative review the governor’s post union-negotiated Plan B budget.

Mr. Malloy’s first budget included the largest tax increase in state history, phantom savings, and a signed on the bottom line contract with unions that assured to the Democrats’ most pampered special interest three percent raises and increased benefits nine years into the future, a savings“hand cuff” that will hobble the governor’s negotiations with unions during his upcoming budget negotiations.

Hanging over the special session called to resolve the $415 deficit is Mr. Malloy’s vigorous, often repeated pledge that he will not resort to tax increases in backfilling Plan B’s deficit.

Given the General Assembly’s temperamental and ideological indisposition towards spending cuts, Mr. Malloy will need Republican support in the Assembly to secure even minimal savings to rebalance, for the umpteenth time, his first defective Plan B budget.

Republican leaders in the Assembly – effectively shut out of budget negotiations in 2011 – appear to be game, and there is no indication thus far that Mr. Malloy, having secured Republican support without which he will be unable to make cuts necessary to balance his first budget, will NOT once again stiff Republicans and shoo them out of the room when the time rolls around to present to the Democratic General Assembly a second budget that may, like Mr. Malloy’s first budget, rely heavily on tax increases for a deceptive“balance.”

Republicans, Democrats and tax payers in Connecticut live, as the Chinese philosopher says, not without a shutter, “in interesting times.”

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cooking The Books The Malloy Way

Charming how Connecticut, whenever the state dips its toes into a budget crisis, tends to cook the books.

During his first gubernatorial campaign in 2010, Governor Dannel Malloy campaigned on a platform to adopt real world accounting measures so that the accounting sins of preceding governors – two of them Republicans and the third a “Maverick”Republican – would not be visited on Mr. Malloy or succeeding governors, yea, even to the third generation.

That was what Generally Accepted Accounting Procedures (GAAP) was all about. Connecticut’s modified cash basis system, an accounting method full of blue smoke and mirrors, had played havoc with state budgets, the governor and his Malloyalists said. Adopting GAAP would end what one reporter at the time called “an array of accounting gimmicks that have pushed current expenses into future years.” No more budgetary sleight of hand, the governor strongly implied in his public statements.

When Mr. Malloy first presented his plan to transition to GAAP at a Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants gathering at the Aqua Turf in Southington in May, 2011, “Three hundred Certified Public Accountants applauded when Malloy described his first executive order which requires the state to transition to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or GAAP,” according to one account.

At the point when GAAP was ready for launching, it was discovered that Connecticut would need about $75 million to fuel the rocket. The state, then suffering a budget deficit of about $285 million, did not command sufficient surplus funds to get GAAP off the launching pad, and the project was put on the back burner for five months. The differential between GAAP and Connecticut’s modified cash basis system at the time was about $1.7 billion – not pocket change – and the state needed the $75 million to cover inflation and retain the deficit at $1.7 billion. The first budget bill signed by Mr. Malloy allowed for a 15-year plan to pay off the GAAP differential, starting in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Connecticut could not afford the down payment on GAAP, the first payment tied to the GAAP conversion having been sacrificed to pay for a then current budget deficit and, for all practical purposes, the GAAP conversion was indefinitely postponed last May.

As the French say, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: the more things change, the more they remain the same.

A few weeks after recent elections had been concluded in Connecticut, some gremlin deep within the Malloy administration discovered that the state budget was out of balance by about a half billion dollars; this after Mr. Malloy had reached deeply into the pockets of Connecticut’s citizens -- who regularly vote Democratic in the state by a margin of two to one -- and pulled out about one and a half billion dollars in new taxes to defray his first deficit in his first unbalanced budget.

Not to worry: Democratic President Barack Obama was in charge, and it was felt that under his hand the national economy would once again bloom, following the Bush blight. Similarly, Connecticut’s economy would flower under the hand of Mr. Malloy, who pledged to re-invent the way state government does business.

Didn’t happen. A government that spends beyond its means is sooner or later slated for the poor house.

According to a recent report, “cascading financial problems,” a poetic analogue indicating the newly discovered $415 million state deficit and other distressing economic shortfalls,“became even more complicated when Republican members of the Assembly found that an additional $260 million borrowed for long-term capital projects had been moved to the monthly cash pool to pay for operating expenses.

“The $260 million was transferred by Treasurer Denise Nappier on Monday, the same day she announced that as of the end of November, $366 million in bonding funds had been transferred to the cash pool because of low balances driven mostly by the growing shortfall in the budget. That gap ranges from $365 million to $417 million.”

Not quite as eupeptic as some other Malloyalists, Ms. Nappier has also taken other necessary precautions: “Nappier also announced that because of a ‘significant decline’ in the cash pool, she was establishing lines of credit with banks totaling about $550 million -- in case more money was needed to float monthly expenses.”

Ms. Nappier evidently is not a student of Mr. Malloy’s early campaign speeches.

The lede in the report covering the smoke and mirrors pretty much says it all: “The state turned to some creative accounting Wednesday to help pay the bills, raising concerns among minority Republicans in the General Assembly.”

Ah yes, creative accounting is back.

Ms. Nappier’s announcement that she has transferred $366 million in bonding funds to an exhausted cash pool designed as a hedge to keep the state’s head above its red ink, a deficit of $415 million announced during the post-election period by Comptroller Kevin Lembo, has bestirred Republicans.

For seven months in the last year, Ms. Nappier has used capital accounts to pay monthly bills totaling $1.6 billion.

"We're going month-to-month, borrowing money out of bond proceeds, and it's just getting progressively worse," said Republican leader in the House Larry Cafero. "I don't understand how the governor can say it's not a big deal."

It’s a big deal.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Democratic Demagoguery in Connecticut

The first shots of the 2014 gubernatorial campaign were fired by Malloyalist pit bull Roy Occhiogrosso and state Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo shortly after former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley announced at the end of November his availability for the Republican nomination for governor.

Asked by a reporter to comment on Mr. Foley’s early entrance into the gubernatorial arena, Mr. Occhiogrosso sniffed, “We don’t comment on Tom Foley’s political ambitions. He lost one race. He’s more than welcome to lose another.”

Ms. DiNardo, coloring within the lines of Mr. Occhiogrosso’s curt dismissal, said in a media release, “Tom Foley just doesn’t get it. Like Mitt Romney, he doesn’t understand the challenges that average hardworking people face. He is just another out-of-touch vulture capitalist who sees the average resident as something less. It’s a toxic world view that the voters of this country rejected just a few weeks ago. And if ambassador Foley runs again, he’ll find out exactly what the voters of Connecticut think of his economic philosophy.”

Mr. Foley lost the governor’s race to Mr. Malloy in 2010, owing to the additional votes Mr. Malloy was able to garner while appearing on the “Working Families Party” line. In a recent suit decided by Connecticut’s Supreme Court, the court awarded the Republican Party the top line on the ballot in the recently concluded elections because Mr. Foley had received more votes on the Republican Party line than did Mr. Malloy on the Democratic Party line. The race was exceedingly close. Charges during the race that Mr. Foley was a “vulture capitalist,” as Mrs. DiNardo toxically puts it, did not appear to do much damage to Mr. Foley’s prospects, who lost to Mr. Malloy by a slender 6,400 vote margin. Democrats in Connecticut outnumber Republicans roughly by a ratio of two to one.

Other Republicans who have shown interest in running against Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy are perhaps, to Mrs. DiNardo’s way of thinking, less “out of touch’ in the toxic world of Connecticut politicking.

Both the Republican House and Senate leaders in the General Assembly, Senator John McKinney and House leader Larry Cafero, as well as Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, have signaled their interests in running for governor, and all have considerably more direct experience in issues affecting the state than Ms. DiNardo and Mr. Occhiogrosso might wish.

The knock on Linda McMahon, when she ran twice for the U.S. Senate, was that she had little direct experience in politics, was redundantly wealthy, and made her millions in a way that caused some in the media to wrinkle their noses with displeasure. True, soon to be Senior Senator from Connecticut Dick Blumenthal and U.S. House fixture Rosa DeLauro are also millionaires, Mr. Blumenthal having been fortunate enough to marry a woman whose father owns the Empire State Building in New York and some few other valuable properties, and Mrs. DeLauro having had the luck to marry pollster to the Democratic stars Stan Greenberg.

Of the six richest U.S. Senators, only one is a Republican. John Kerry of Massachusetts, reported to be under consideration for departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s position, is number one, weighing in with a net worth of $238,812,296; Mr. Blumenthal is number six, with assets amounting to $94,870,116.

Great wealth is not necessarily a bar to politicians who, ideally, serve all the people all the time. Franklin Roosevelt, after all, did not sell apples for pennies on a street corner, and George Washington, father of the early Republic, a capitalist enterprise, is still the richest man to have held presidential office. But even Mrs. DiNardo, if one could catch her in an honest non-political mood, might be forced to admit that the life styles of both Mr. McKinney and Mr. Cafero are more representative of the middle class than that of Mr. Blumenthal, who lives in a million dollar estate in toney Greenwich, as does Mrs. McMahon.

We see the future through a glass darkly, but none of it looks promising. Like California, Connecticut is broke and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Both Mr. Malloy and Mr. Obama continue in their crony capitalist ways – transferring huge gobs of tax money not to the poor but to bribable large corporations – and demagoguery will only get you so far.

Mr. Foley is supposed to be out of touch with the usual Democratic constituency because he used the expression “little people” to condemn the seeming indifference of the party of the little people to the common man.

In an attempt to balance a chronically unbalanced budget,Mr. Foley told a TV news reporter, the governor was pulling the plug on needed services: “Now they're hurting the little people in the state: Alzheimer’s funding, the children's fund, the disabled, vets. They're stepping on the brake and hitting the accelerator at the same time.”

Here is an Obama voter, a 57-year-old African-American salesman in Calera, Ala., formerly a Republican, accounting for his switch: “Democrats stand for little people, regular people, common people like myself. My daddy was a Republican because Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, but the Republican Party changed and started being for people who had money.” And here is Democratic Party hero Andrew Cuomo, mayor of the Big Apple, hoisting his flag for the little people: "We're going to do all the hard things. We're going to bite the bullet. And we're going to do the courageous thing without punishing little people or exploiting the rich people."

Even within Democratic Party ranks, the expression “little people” is a synonym for “common people.” In rhetorical demonology, the expression’s antonym is – guess what? – “the rich.” One would think the head of the Democratic Party in Connecticut and Mr. Malloy’s chief flack catcher and demonologist-in chief would know all this; but then purposeful ignorance in pursuit of election victories is no vice for such as Ms. DiNardo and Mr. Occhiogrosso . 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why Taxes Will Be Raised

A business reporter for a Hartford newspaper writes in an above the fold, front page story,“In An Era of Fiscal Crisis, Malloy Has Few Places To Run,” that “Malloy's budget chief issued a firm statement in writing: ‘The Governor will NOT propose tax increases as a solution to these challenges.’"

The “challenges” are a budget deficit in Governor Dannel Malloy’s first budget of $362 million, a figure that will escalate in coming weeks, and a future projected deficit of $960 million per year in each of the next three years. Connecticut’s total state debt – including pension fund debt of $60 billion and $20 billion in bonded debt –is the third highest debt per capita in the United States and represents about 40 percent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The business reporter – and, indeed, most reporters in the state – was much impressed that Mr. Malloy’s budget hawk, Office of Policy Management chief Ben Barnes, had put the governor’s pledge in writing. And of course that imposing“NOT” in such visible caps strongly suggests Mr. Malloy’s strenuous aversion to tax increases. And yet, though reporters in the state now have in hand a WRITTEN pledge that the governor will NOT propose tax increases, many political watchers are riven with doubts.

If taxes are not increased, they reason, how will Mr. Malloy discharge such a large and imposing deficit?

None of the conditions to which Mr. Malloy has attributed the state’s metastasizing deficit – larger Medicaid payments, the continuing evisceration of the nation’s economy, the near certainty that all of Europe, with the possible exception of Germany, has entered a double dip recession – will change substantially within the next fiscal year. It took Connecticut a full ten years to recover the jobs lost in the preceding soft recession beginning in the early 1990’s; and the current recession – marked by increased government spending, higher taxes levied on entrepreneurial investment and the Dodd-Frank regulatory Octopussy – is certain to last longer.

In addition, Mr. Malloy seriously hobbled himself when he made in his first budget an offer to state union workers they could not refuse. In return for dubious saving, Mr. Malloy offered SEBAC, a union coalition authorized to negotiate contracts with the governor, salary raises of three percent each year nine years out, a dealcharacterized by retiring State Senator Edith Prague as one that unions would be nuts to reject. When the unions accepted the deal, they removed an important tool from the governor’s tool box. At this point, Mr. Malloy can only realize significant cost savings from state workers by abrogating contracts – not likely.

Such a move would require co-operation from a General Assembly dominated by progressive Democrats.

Indeed, discharging the bulk of the state’s continuing budget deficits, not to mention Connecticut’s alarming pension liability deficit, requires an internal assent from majority Democrats -- ideological prisoners of a progressive ideology that has failed most conspicuously in Europe --that likely will remain stillborn.

Would the “firm statement” issued by Mr. Barnes on Mr. Malloy’s behalf have presented a less firm commitment to spending reductions had Mr. Barnes chosen to emphasize a different word in Mr. Malloy’s categorical imperative: “The Governor will not PROPOSE tax increases as a solution to these challenges."

This rendering leaves open the possibility that progressive Democrats in the General Assembly, having rejected Mr. Malloy’s no-tax-increase intention for the upcoming special session called to liquidate the last fiscal year’s budget deficit, will then PROPOSE at some point tax increases designed to discharge an accumulative deficit of some $3 billion, give or take a few hundred millions, in the new fiscal year.

It has been said that Mr. Malloy will need Republican cooperation in the special session to enact savings that accomplish his intention –to discharge last fiscal year’s deficit without raising taxes. The governor’s intention with respect to the new fiscal year’s budget, which carries a much larger deficit, is usefully ambiguous.

Republicans in the General Assembly no doubt will recall they were unceremoniously stiffed in the earlier session that now has given birth to a $362 million deficit. Mr. Malloy did not need Republican good will to arrange his deficit producing first budget, which included the largest tax increase in Connecticut history, and Democrats were on the whole delighted to see Republicans playing the fool. Nor will the governor need Republican support in the creation of his second fiscal year budget, which may entail similar Potemkin Village savings and yet another massive tax increase. Republican leaders in the General Assembly should prepare now for the possible stiffing – before they negotiate with the governor to liquidate in special session the Democrat’s first imbalanced deficit ridden budget.

To do otherwise would be to play the fool most progressives in the dominant Democratic Party believe Republicans to be: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. There are some happy signs that voters, already stung by massive tax increases, will not during the next elections be inclined to suffer fools gladly.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Connecticut, the Canary in the National Mineshaft

Such are the parallels between the Malloy and Obama administrationsthat it might almost be said President Barack Obama is now replicating on a national scale The Malloy Way, with one important exception.

When Governor Dannel Malloy first came into office, Connecticut was facing a daunting deficit of about $3 billion in a biennial budget of about $20 billion. Hoisting the flag of “shared sacrifice,” Mr. Malloy raised taxes, imposing on Connecticut the largest tax increase in state history. Mr. Obama’s most recent gambit is to raise taxes immediately on the country’s malefactors of great wealth in a special session of the congress, saving until tomorrow – “which creeps in this petty pace to the last annals of recorded time” -- any strategy to reduce spending.

A newly elected Governor Malloy departed sharply from ardent progressives in his party who insisted that the bulk of the tax increases should come mostly from the state’s millionaires; instead of acceding to what budget watchers in Connecticut might call the Donovan plan, Malloy increased tax revenue from enterprises that previously has escaped the tax man. The Malloy tax was broad based, not narrowly contrived.

Mr. Donovan, the Speaker of the House, later ran for the U.S. House of Representatives and was chosen by the Democratic Party as its nominee for the 5th District. Mr. Donovan’s campaign was driven into the ground by an FBI investigation in the course of which his campaign finance manager and others were arrested. Had Mr. Donovan prevailed in a general election against Republican nominee Andrew Roraback, the Speaker would have entered the U.S. Congress just in time to vote affirmatively for national tax increases on millionaires. He missed the joyous moment by a hair.

We see here a notable difference between Mr. Obama, a perpetual campaigner, and Malloy, a perpetual campaigner. Obama’s tax on millionaires – actually, quarter-millionaires – is little more than a campaign device; the millionaire tax, which will become operative if previous across-the-board Bush tax cuts are adjusted to eliminate tax cuts on quarter-millionaires, will not generate enough revenue to pay for Obama’s new programs, unless it is broadened over time to include a revocation of middle class tax cuts.

But in other respects, Mr. Obama and Mr. Malloy have adopted similar political strategies in addressing deficits.

Mr. Malloy is now facing yet another deficit following his gargantuan tax increase, and the choices available to him to discharge the “shortfall” of his first budget and the coming deficit of his second budget – about $2 billion– are limited, because salary and benefit increases for unionized state workers in future years had been written into previous binding contracts he negotiated with state unions. Mr. Malloy then cannot expect savings from that quarter.

In addition, Mr. Malloy has vowed not to raise taxes to fill what he calls a “shortfall” of about $395 million in his last budget. And as soon as he turns the corner, following an upcoming special session on the“shortfall” in his current budget, Mr. Malloy will find himself face to face with a far larger deficit in the new budget season.

These deficits, the governor and other leading Democrats insist, have been caused by the national recession, the growth of Medicaid spending, the European double-dip recession – all of which, it should be noted, are beyond the reach of solutions that might be adopted by state government, which is a rather complex way of rhetorically disowning responsibility for the deficit. Mr. Obama is masterfully adept at escaping the predictable consequences of his policy victories.

There is no George Bush in Connecticut to serve as an convenient scapegoat but, in the absence of a Republican who may usefully be vilified, a host of sub-demons -- the national recession, the international double-dip recession, which has hit France in the breadbasket, and other convenient agents of Connecticut’s destruction -- will do just as well.

It falls to men and women of good intent to point out that because deficits are caused primarily by exuberant spending, the only curative solution to repetitive deficits is spending reform -- not just temporary cuts in spending, but rather a vigorous effort to identify and remove what one might justly call the many drivers of spending escalation in Connecticut.

Here we tread dangerously on the electrically infused third rail of Connecticut politics. A real constitutional cap on spending tied to increases in the state domestic product or an end to binding arbitration just might reduce the rate of spending increase in annual budgets, about 7 percent per year since the Weicker income tax was levied in 1991. Putting in mothballs chronically failing public schools and replacing entire administrations and teachers with more competent and energized staffs, would reduce labor expenses and provide an incalculable educational benefit. A recent 2011 proficiency study shows that magnet schools in Hartford vastly outperform Hartford public schools: “The gap in 2011 between magnet school performance and neighborhood school performance stands at 26.2 points at Proficient, having widened by just over 7 points in the past four years.”

Solutions that will reposition Connecticut as an economic and educational powerhouse relative to other states – including business tax reductions and regulatory reform – are at hand. It is the courage of useful convictions that is wanting.