Tuesday, January 29, 2013

DeStefano Florida Bound?

It’s important when you are the Democratic mayor of a large city in Connecticut to have an immovable rug under your feet so that political opponents may not pull it out from under you, sending you sprawling into anonymity. The tradition power structures in cities ain’t what they used to be.

In New Haven, while Mayor John DeStefano was tending to more important things – inviting school unions to partner with him in forming educational policy for the city, rolling out the red carpet for illegal aliens or, if one prefers, undocumented workers, community policing – a slate backed by Yale’s unions seized control of the party last year.

Connecticut is poised on the edge of a fiscal cliff that, scuttlebutt has it, will result in fewer transfer payments from the state to municipalities, mostly because state government for years has been unable to control its spending proclivities.

An announcement that he will decline to run for mayor is expected from Mr. DeStefano sometime today.

It’s a good time to go and, considering Connecticut’s economic downslide, a better time to pull up stakes and go.

Within the past few years, Mr. DeStefano has “sold an investment property in town and bought a second home in Florida,” according to the New Haven Independent, which has aroused suspicion that the Mayor of New haven may be Florida bound.

Here is a farewell interview with Paul Bass:

And Mr. DeStefano’s coy announcement is here:

“Please join me and me and my family for an early ‘State of the City’ briefing and reception tomorrow at 5 PM, January 29th at The Russian Lady, 144 Temple Street (formerly The Playwright).

“Our college graduation rates are up 10% in the last year. Promise scholarship students are sticking in college at encouraging rates. Community policing is driving crime down and there is more to come.

“Me (sic), Kathy and our boys look forward to seeing you tomorrow for this very important event.

“Very truly yours,


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Where Is The Technological Solution To Unauthorized Gun Use?

One of the reasons Americans are by nature optimistic is that they seem to believe that there is no problem on earth to which there is not at least one technological solution.

State politicians are now actively engaged in addressing the mass murder in Sandy Hook where, more than a month ago, a gunman fired upon school children, killing 20 children and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and some critics have attacked a few of the legislative solutions so far offered because they regard them as non-solutions.

Two state legislators, Representative Bob Godfrey and Senator Beth Bye, have written a bill that imposes a 50 percent tax on the total sale of ammunition, a non-solution that struck a chord in the heart of Democratic Majority Leader Martin Looney, who observed, A gun without ammunition is only a club. We really need to restrict access to ammunition.” But of course; and a car without gas is a stationary art piece. Wishing that every rifle in Connecticut were a club is a form of magic thinking that will do little to reduce gun crimes in the real world.

Mr. Looney, who has been leading gun control efforts in the Democratic dominated State Senate, recently has announced that a bill addressing the slaughter in Sandy Hook will bypass the usual public hearing process and be sent to the governor for his signature though an emergency certification process, a strategy that will obviate legislative oversight and leave no unsightly fingerprints on a final bill produced in General Assembly backrooms by legislative leaders. Too many fingerprints on legislation might imperil re-election efforts by removing vague assertions of approval. The Looney gambit can only succeed by enlisting the support of a governor armed with veto power.

It is one thing to know or think you know, and it is quite a different thing to know that you know. We should be modest about what we know concerning the events at Sandy Hook. So far, criminal investigators have released no definitive findings on the mass murder. After all the data has been presented, certified and sifted, all of us can begin seriously to ponder the problem and offer effective solutions. Until that time arrives, we are building our Looney castles on sand.

In proposing solutions that would in the view of Governor Dannel Malloy and others prevent future Sandy Hooks, we should first agree that the chief problem is the unauthorized use of guns; or, to put it in police terms, guns falling into the hands of criminals.

Pending a final report on Sandy Hook, there is some reason to believe that the shooter illicitly acquired the weapons he used at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If Adam Lanza’s mother had permitted her son’s use of her weapons to slaughter children at an elementary school, Mr. Lanza need not have murdered her.

We think we know that Mr. Lanza had at his disposal, two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun, which he may have left in the car he took from his mother, and a Bushmaster long gun, a semi-automatic capable of firing 30 rounds from a dischargeable magazine. According to one news report not yet verified by crime investigators, Mr. Lanza changed his magazines after firing 15 rounds.

Could there be a technological solution to gun crime? Is it possible to engineer solution to the unauthorized possession of weapons?

If the weapons Mr. Lanza acquired, presumably without the approval of his mother, had been inoperable, children’s lives might have been saved. To put it in terms used by Mr. Looney: If the disarmed weapons used by Mr. Lanza were clubs, the slaughter might have been averted.

Present law requires weapons to be securely locked up and unavailable to unauthorized users. Suppose – just to suppose – that the gun safeties on most weapons were to be replaced by a lock operated by a fingerprint or a swipe card, the weapon rendered inoperable after purchase until activated by its owner each time it is used. That kind of technological solution to the problem of the unauthorized use of stolen weapons or illicitly acquired weapons– or some more practical method that would prevent any but an authorized user from discharging the weapon -- would be far more helpful in averting Sandy Hook mass murders than a tax on bullets, supposed by some to be a craven attempt to raise needed revenue that would not affect the illicit purchase of weapons or bullets.

Creating such a technological solution – not necessarily those suggested above-- that would render a firearm inoperable to anyone but an authorized purchaser ought to be a snap for a country that can put a rover on Mars. Where there is a will, there is a way; and where there is a demonstrable need, there is money to be made by some energetic and creative weapons manufacturer.

We already know that not every sociological or economic problem here in the land of Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Samuel Morse, Orville and Wilber Wright and Samuel Colt yields to legislation.

Sometimes it takes an engineer to carve a path out of the wilderness to a safe and secure future.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Harvesting millionaires, French Expats, Malloy Snoozing

The best laid plan of Socialist French President (name) Francois Hollande (pronounced O-Lend) to tap millionaires with a 75 percent tax appears to be falling asunder.

Popular French actor GĂ©rard Depardieu recently moved to Belgium, nearly within spitting distance of France, to escape France’s new 75 per cent top marginal income tax rate imposed on millionaires, as noted here in Connecticut Commentary.

M. Depardieu took the additional precaution of acquiring Russian citizenship, but this was intended, some suppose, to spite the lesser socialistic pretentions of M. Hollande.

Now, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy appears to be following in M. Depardieu’s footsteps. According to a piece in the UK’s Daily Mail on Line, M. Sarkozy is hightailing it to London along with his lovely wife Carla Bruni.

M. Sarkozy, said to be looking for a posh place in the city where he can strut his status, will not be the lone French expat-millionaire in England; Bernard Arnault, the luxury goods magnate and France’s richest man, also owns property in London.

While in London, M Sarkozy plans to set up a billion pounds plus investment fund.

It occurs to Connecticut Commentary that Governor Dannel Malloy has at long last – after expending much energy transferring tax dollars from middle class workers to giant multi-billion dollars companies in an attempt to bride them not to move out of Connecticut --has fallen asleep at the wheel, perhaps a good thing.

M. Malloy should get himself to France tout suite, with a view to coaxing future expat-millionaires to move to Greenwich or other safe zones in Connecticut’s Gold Coast.

Just think of the taxes the state could reap from M. Depardieu and M. Sarkosy, not to mention M. Arnault. And remember, that old millionaire trap, M. Christie, is over in New Jersey breathing heavily and, like M. Malloy, looking for every available means of discharging a deficit without further burdening the proletariat with onerous taxes for fear they might move to Texas.

No need any longer to worry about proletarian outmigration to Connecticut.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Spending Sink Hole and the Fat Lady’s Song

Governor Dannel Malloy’s budget staff and the General Assembly’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis are now on the same budget gap page. All the green eyeshade folk have agreed in a consensus report that Connecticut has entered the sinkhole.

Only a few weeks ago during a special session of the General Assembly, Mr. Malloy and Republican legislative leaders came together – in the spirit of Sandy Hook, as one of them put it – to wrestle to the ground a budget deficit of nearly a half billion dollars.

This bi-partisan cooperation was unusual for Mr. Malloy and Democratic operatives in the state’s legislature. Shortly after being elected the first Democratic governor in more than 20 years, Mr. Malloy shooed Republicans out of the room and in cooperation with a General Assembly dominated by Democrats hammered out a budget suitable to the state’s unions. Republicans were understandably miffed at the cold shouldering, but not so put off as to refuse this year to co-operate with Mr. Malloy in a special session to liquidate – by means of an across the board spending cut – what Mr. Malloy was pleased to call a “budget shortfall,”pointedly NOT a budget deficit.

The gap between spending and revenue collection in Connecticut has hovered around 6 percent for some time. And so, to no one’s surprise, the billion dollar budget deficit is back and showing its fangs to a governor and the General Assembly that authored Mr. Malloy’s first budget, which included the largest tax increase in state history.

In a statement following the consensus report, Mr. Malloy’s budget guru, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, wrote:

"The decline in revenue projections is not surprising. The economy and state government finances are extremely difficult to project in these unusual times, particularly given the significant shifts in income tax revenue that occur surrounding the dates of major tax changes. We will continue to closely monitor state revenues in order to maintain balance in the state budget this year and through the coming biennium."

That statement is, for the most part, green eye shade Gobbledygook. A continuing six percent gap between spending and revenue receipts, along with a plunging economy, makes budget projections effortless for anyone but eternally optimistic legislators who believe that there is no connection between increases in spending, necessitating commensurate increases in taxes, and stagnant economies.

After more than two decades of massive tax increases, beginning with former governor Lowell Weicker’s income tax and cresting with Mr. Malloy’s massive tax increase, the Democratic dominated General Assembly has at last hit a tax wall it can no longer ignore, though, Heaven knows, it has tried. The cow’s utters are empty; taxpayers have flat-lined; the cupboard is bare; ain’t nothing in there but a peanut butter stain and a cobweb.

Ordinarily, given such dire circumstances, politicians would begin to slash spending, and it is instructive to ask: Why are members of Connecticut’s General Assembly and the governor of the state of Connecticut so dense and deaf that they cannot hear the fat lady singing her dirge?

This is what the fat lady is singing: You cannot hope to stimulate the economy by removing from it in the form of higher taxes the entrepreneurial capital necessary for growth and dumping the capital you have acquired into special trickle down projects you approve of, such as busways and UConn Health Centers and grants for prosperous multi-billion dollar companies, ad infinitum. Bribing large companies through tax credits to remain in a high-tax, over-regulated state is particularly offensive to whatever members of Occupy Wall Street remain in Connecticut, because the monies lavished upon tax absorbent companies are taken from struggling 99 percenters who are trying desperately to balance their own shrinking budgets.

The governmental stimulus fraud is beginning to wear thin. If a political Elmer Gantry were to tell us that he has raised the net level of water in our pools by taking a bucket of water from the deep end and dumping it into the shallow end, we should immediately detect the fraud. But here comes Governor or President Elmer Gantry and the gang; and they want you to know that by taking a dollar from the private marketplace and dumping it into the public marketplace, they have increased the wealth of the state or nation, when in fact, clever sleight of hand artists, they only have moved the pea from one walnut to another.

Bottom line, sings the fat lady: Get out of the tax bribery-corporate welfare business, lower business taxes, lower energy costs by increasing the energy product, pare back ruinous regulations, shake yourself free of the preposterous notion that you can allocate scarce dollar resources better than Adam Smith’s invisible hand, and cut spending.

Do it now. We are fast approaching the "too late" mark.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Conspiracy Theorists And Connecticut Lawmakers

The absence of authoritative reports and data is the breeding ground of conspiracy theorists. No conspiracy theorists so far – though it may be best to keep quiet about this; you never know – has alleged that those who believe the earth is round are engaged in a vast conspiracy to subtly undermine the truth, which is that the earth is flat, as everyone can well see. For the professional conspiracy theorist, there is no point in doubting received truths of long standing.
Everything else is fair game.

Some early reports on the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary school were, at best, dubious. Multiple reports – particularly stories indicating the police had handcuffed a mysterious man in the woods surrounding the school – gave rise to suspicions that a second shooter was involved in the mayhem. There was no second shooter… we think.

We non-conspiracy theorists don’t know there was no second shooter because everyone in Connecticut who is not Governor Dannel Malloy or quick on the trigger legislators in Connecticut’s General Assembly is awaiting a final, definitive report on the slaughter from relevant authorities before he is is able, in a non-conspiratorial theorist manner, to draw hard and fast conclusion concerning what did and did not happen on the day Adam Lanza killed his mother, accessed her weaponry and shot to death 20 children and 6 adults at the school.

A long rifle was left in the car Mr. Lanza had stolen from his mother. What was the weapon? Very early reports suggested it might have been a Bushmaster rifle; later reports indicated it was a shotgun owned by Mrs. Lanza. Still later reports suggested that Mr. Lanza shot his way into the school with the Bushmaster, carrying with him two revolvers, one of which he used to commit suicide. So said media reports, but it is important to remember that investigators on the scene have not issued any official report. Police spokesman Lieutenant Paul Vance has, it is true, given numerous media opportunities in the course of which he has released minimal information that would not compromise what he has called “an ongoing criminal investigation.”

That expression is used most often in prosecutable cases; no one wants to weaken the prosecution of alleged criminals. In the Sandy Hook case, Mr. Lanza cannot be prosecuted, because he is dead, having committed suicide after his appalling slaughter of school children and their wards.

The weapon left in the car, unidentified in early reports, gave rise to the supposition that Mr. Lanza had left the Bushmaster rifle in his mother’s stolen car. Unsupported factoids such as these are meat and potatoes to conspiracy theorists. But it is important to understand that such data is unsupported because relevant authorities – for whatever reason, good or bad –have chosen neither to affirm nor deny in a timely fashion the facts of the case in their possession.

The governor, as well as other politicians, has said many times that he and the General Assembly must produce legislation that would prevent future crimes of the sort committed by Mr. Lanza in Sandy Hook. In a media release given out two days after President Barrack Obama had addressed the nation on his proposals to mitigate gun violence, Mr. Malloy said,“In the hours after the worst of our fears were confirmed, in the midst of the grief and sorrow over the loss of 20 innocent children and six dedicated educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there was one question on the minds of people across Connecticut and around the nation: How do we make sure this never happens again?”

Surely, one way to make sure Sandy Hook-like assaults on school children here and across the nation “never happen again” is to await definitive reports, eschew hazy suppositions of a kind made by conspiracy theorists on both sides of the National Rifle Association (NRA) barricades, and produce effective legislation that will answer the principal question on the minds of people across Connecticut and around the nation: How do we make sure this never happens again?

Unfortunately --fortunately for conspiracy theorists -- even the final report is not likely to be definitive. Mr. Malloy has spurned any further updates from the Connecticut State Police, but Lieutenant Paul Vance traveled to Newtown in the last few days to update the parents of those slain by Mr. Lanza, some of whom wanted information concerning Mr. Lanza’s medical records.

Mr. Vance told the parents that he was prevented by law from releasing information concerning Mr. Lanza’s mental state: “A medical history doesn't die with an individual. It's our responsibility to abide by state law even when conducting an investigation."

To quote Mr. Mr. Bumble in Dickenson’s Oliver Twist, “If the law supposes that, the law is a (sic) ass — a idiot. If that's the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience -- by experience.”

Mr. Obama, Mr. Malloy and his friends in Connecticut’s Democratic dominated General Assembly, the architects and guardians of state law, may be of some help here: Change the law -- right now.

All medical information that is part of a formal police investigation should be released in final reports – especially in this case in which a mental disorder may be a cause of the crime and legislation affecting mental health bills are awaiting a final report. It is not clear at this point whether leading legislators realize that a law they've written makes it unlikely that they will receive timely information that should shape current legislation.

If legislators in writing their laws have blinded themselves to the truth, we can only wish upon them a few million conspiracy theorists to spur them in the right direction.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sharkey in the Water

In closing a $2 billion hole in Connecticut’s next budget, Governor Dannel Malloy does not have many cards left in his hand. In his first budget, Mr. Malloy was careful to steer a path around state cuts to municipalities. He chose instead to execute a broad based tax increase, the largest in state history. That hefty tax increase permitted the governor to “hold the towns blameless,” in the words of recently installed Speaker of the State House Brendan Sharkey.

That was then. And now?

Said Mr. Sharkey after his installation, “It’s inevitable that there are going to be some cuts. I hate to say that. I’ve been a longtime advocate for protecting cities and towns and boards of education from cuts in funding from the state. I don’t think it’s news to any cities and towns and boards of education out there. They are very appreciative of the fact that we’ve done as much as we have to hold them blameless for the last two years.”

It may be important to notice that the cuts in state aid to towns will not of itself reduce state spending. Cuts in state aid to towns will spur either municipal spending cuts, property tax increases or both. A cut in state aid necessarily would result in a loss of revenue, leaving municipalities with a political Hobson ’s choice.

Tax increases are anathema to both town and state officials– because those who pay town and state bills, municipal and state taxpayers, are having a great deal of trouble making ends meet. Taxpayers in the state are maxed out on taxes, thanks in large part to improvident state legislators who have consistently raised taxes and as consistently increased spending.

Legislators tend to operate under the illusion that federal, state and municipal tax payers are discrete categories, conveniently forgetting that the federal tax payer is the state taxpayer is the municipal property tax payer. Connecticut residents Mr. and Mrs. Smith, if they earn more than $250,000, will get socked with very hefty federal tax increases as the Obama administration unfurls. Those tax increases, in the absence of cuts to entitlement programs, will leave state taxpayers with less money in their budgets to absorb future state and municipal tax increases. When Mr. Malloy imposed upon Connecticut citizens the largest tax increase in state history, he made it less possible for municipalities to increase property taxes. Federal, state and municipal taxes are all drawn from the same pockets.

Tax increases are particularly onerous right now for a host of reasons, not the least of which is this: As the poor and lower middle class are more often sheltered from paying taxes, the tax load designed by progressives is shifted increasingly to a smaller number of people, so that the incentive to spend increases in proportion to a decrease in the number of people who finance the spending. To put it plainly, tax consumers are increasing and tax payers are decreasing. And of course Mr. and Mrs. Smith pay federal, state and municipal taxes, so that an increase any one of the categories affects their ability to pay in the remaining two categories.

A measure of relief will come to Mr. and Mrs. Smith only if the town or the state or the federal government cuts spending, at which point Mr. and Mrs. Smith will be able to afford a higher payment to the remaining two taxing authorities. None of this is rocket science. Just as you cannot squeeze water from a stone, so you cannot squeeze tax receipts from people or businesses in a declining economy. The money just isn’t there.

And the enticing notion that “millionaires,” defined by tax gobbling politicians as households earning more than $250,000 a year, will be able to pick up the tab left by the rest of us is little more than a campaign slogan successfully used by Democrats this election season to retain the White House and the U.S. Senate. But reality, like God, does not play dice with the universe. If you are spending more than you are taking in to pay expenses, reality, sooner or later, will have a word with you.

Municipalities face the same problem as the state, which is why mayors and town administrators should insist that every dollar reduced by the state to towns and cities should be off-set by reductions in costly regulations and state mandates, a chorus of common sense Republicans should be happy to join.

Connecticut, one hopes, is fast approaching a “bolt out of the blue’ realization that the tax cupboard is bare, at which point, one hopes, Mr. Sharkey and other free spenders within Democratic Party ranks will realize– it’s time to cut spending, reduce business taxes to re-ignite Connecticut’s flagging economy and pare back job slaying regulations.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Real State of the State

Govern Dannel Malloy’s State of the State message gave little indication of his plans for the future. From a budgetary or strategic planning point of view, there wasn’t much “there” there, but the speech evidentially was framed for a national audience.

Everyone who has made a speech on any topic will tell you that the substance of a speech is determined in large part by the nature of your audience. One report indicated that the address was, compared with other state of the state addresses, a bit out of the box; other governors have used the occasion to map out a plan of governance for the new legislative session, and Mr. Malloy didn’t. On the other hand, he felt compelled to say something about Sandy Hook, a national and even international story. On Sandy Hook, he should be telling the legislature not to be precipitous; wait for the investigation to be completed. He may be doing that, but one never knows what goes on behind closed doors.

Does any of this indicate that Mr. Malloy is making himself available for a spot in Washington?

No one knows. My own crystal ball is in the shop for repairs, but there has been some speculation about Mr. Malloy’s political strategy during the current legislative session, which began on January 9.

During his first term, Mr. Malloy raised taxes massively. The progressive wing of his party, those in Connecticut who have a stake in ever increasing spending, cheered him on from the sidelines. When deficits repeatedly appeared, Mr. Malloy quite publically took the pledge: No new taxes. He said several times on the post-election stump he would not raise taxes to liquidate a deficit of about half a billion dollars. He didn’t.

During a special session called to address the deficit, renamed by Mr. Malloy “a shortfall, the governor reached out to Republican leaders he had earlier spurned when crafting his first budget. Together, along with majority Democrats in the General Assembly, across the board cuts were applied, but a much larger $2 billion deficit must be addressed this fiscal year. Additional cuts likely would not be possible without Republican support in the General Assembly. Some Republican leaders, following the special session cuts, appear to be quite willing to let bygones be bygones. Having been frozen out of the smoke filled back room during Mr. Malloy’s first term, Republican leaders in the general Assembly were exceedingly grateful the governor included them in the special session -- the chop, chop session. Democrats, most of whom would like to hold the line on spending cuts, appeared to be suffering from a pronounced case of agita. Did Mr. Malloy intend to stiff them in the new session, they may have wondered.

The Democrats whose nerves are frayed belong to the progressive wing of their party and are easily stampeded. We sometimes forget that the Democratic Party here in Connecticut does have a middle; it’s easy to forget --especially during the Malloy administration when, for the first time in more than 20 years, both houses of the General Assembly and the governor’s office have been claimed by Democrats. Contrary to media opinion, the Republican Party in the state is all middle. Here and there, a conservative or two – there cannot be more than a fist full in the General Assembly – opposes a post-Keynesian piece of foolishness and immediately the entire party is denounced by the state’s left of center media as dangerously ideological.

The reality is nearly the opposite. The capture by Democrats of the two houses of Connecticut tripartite government has given us the most progressive administration Connecticut has seen since former governor Wilber Cross hung up his spurs. It should be noted that the third branch of Connecticut’s government, the courts, always sensitive to political power, is also up for grabs. Only in comparison with the Malloy administration, acting in concert with dominant Democrats in the General Assembly, do middle of the road Republicans appear to be arch conservatives.

Since the modern conservative movement sprang pretty much fully grown from the brow of Bill Buckley, Connecticut has never elected to office a conservative governor or a conservative legislature. Indeed, the number of conservatives in the General Assembly can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

There is no question that Mr. Malloy is pro-union; also no question that unions, especially the powerful teachers’ unions, are left of center political goads that push individual Democrats far to the left. Yet, Mr. Malloy, courageously in the view of some, proposed a few education reforms that left an ashen taste in their mouths. To be sure, his most important education efforts went down to dusty death: Mr. Malloy’s apparently outsized ambition was to link the salary and status of teachers with measurable performance. In private business, that linkage is universal; in state and federal government, it is little more than a consummation devoutly to be wished. But it does say something about Mr. Malloy that he entered the fray at all. The left wing of the Democratic Party may have some reason – not much -- to be edgy. Of course, progressives, ever on the hut for new means of establishing their utopias, are by nature “on the edge.”

On the other hand… Mr. Malloy has positioned himself in such a way that Republicans may easily be faulted for any cuts in the upcoming budget which, strategically, would be to Mr. Malloy’s benefit.

Some people may have noticed that what is beneficial to status quo politicians does not always contribute to the greater good. Progressive influence peddlers interested in moving politics in Connecticut ever further to the left do not always have the greater good in mind; they have their own parochial interests in mind. The opposite of an ideological government is not, some may be surprised to learn, a non-ideological government. There is no such animal. The opposite of an ideological government is an anarchy of special interests, and no special interest spends more than a minute a month contemplating the greater good. When we see a politician buck powerful interest groups that surround him, there is some reason to rejoice. This happens usually because the politician feels in his soul the pull of an idea. In the absence of ideas, politics is a madhouse of interests.

Now, what is the controlling interest of a free floating politician? Maintaining his status. Under the skin, all incumbent politicians are conservatives; everyone wants to continue being what he has been. To accomplish this aim, the run of the mill politician will pay court to whatever special interests help him maintain what Aristotle called his “quiddity,” his “whatness,”his own essence, as he perceives it. There is some indication – slight, but some – that Mr. Malloy may have an idea or two sloshing around in his head, which means that he may not be wholly the plaything of special interests –reason enough for us to rejoice, moderately. Just as dying men sometime slip in and out of consciousness, so politicians, especially the pragmatic variety, slip in and out of ideas as advantageous circumstances dictate.

Could Mr. Malloy benefit politically by inviting Republicans to take part in upcoming budget negotiations?

Republican leaders seem very eager to “have a place at the table,” as politicians sometimes say. There are two questions: Why involve Republicans in budget negotiations this time around? And why do Republicans want to be involved in budget negotiations? The non-cynical answer to the second question is pretty straightforward. Republicans want to be involved for the same reason they wanted to be involved in previous budget negotiations; they want to leave their mark on the budget. Previously, they were locked out; a tax and spending spree followed. A budget – the national government hasn’t had one for four years – is a destiny-plan that marks the boundaries of the future. It also marks the limits of political power. What politician elected to represent his constituents would not want to be involved in mapping their future? Mr. Malloy froze out Republicans when producing his first budget because he needed a sizable, broad based tax increase, and Republicans wanted spending cuts. Without Republicans in the room, it was an easy matter for Mr. Malloy in negotiations with unions to strike a deal that then Senator Edith Prague characterized as so favorable to unions they would be insane to reject it. To this day, Malloyalists insist that Malloy’s spending cuts were sufficient. In his state of the state address Mr. Malloy said, “We came together and passed a balanced budget. We cut more than we added in new revenue.”

Three misrepresentations in a 17 word self-congratulatory pat on the back may be a record in political dissimulation. How Republicans in the audience, shown the door when he budget was being assembled by Mr. Malloy in concert with union representatives,must have winced at that “we.” The governor’s first budget very likely has never been in balance, and the notion that the Malloy administration cut more than it added in revenue doesn’t pass the “Do you think I was born yesterday?” test.

“It’s not true – nor did they reduce salaries” of state employees, said Sen. Rob Kane, the ranking Senate Republican member of the budget-writing appropriations committee.

Some editorial boards appear to be catching on. Here is a whiff of grapeshot from the Day of New London:

“Yet the governor now finds himself boxed in by some of the deals he struck to address the $3.5 billion deficit projection he inherited when elected in November 2010. The Democratic governor did win concessions from state labor unions, but they came at a hefty price. Workers in place when the concession deal was signed have been assured they will not be laid off. After a two-year pay freeze, the deal also provides state workers substantial pay raises in each of the next three fiscal years.”

Mr. Kane and other Republicans should be viewed as Mr. Malloy’s spending speed bumps – the spending “firewall,” preceding Republican governors, has entirely disappeared -- which is why Mr. Malloy did not involve Republican leaders in the General Assembly in constructing his first perpetually imbalanced budget. Mr. Malloy wanted to raise taxes and did; Republicans wanted effective and proportionate cuts in spending. Someone had to leave the room.

Will things be different in the New Year?

We have Mr. Malloy’s repeated avowals that he has no intention of raising taxes further. He will need Republican support to realize savings in his next budget. At some point, Mr. Malloy either will or will not cross the Rubicon and march on Rome. There are some indications that Mr. Malloy will not spare Municipalities this time around. When the head of the governor’s Office of Policy Management, Ben Barns, said offhandedly that cuts to municipalities would not be taken off the table in upcoming budget plans, members of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), a body that represents the state’s municipal officials, began rending their garments and pouring ashes on their heads. That hint suggests the governor, this time around, might be serious about spending cuts. As they say in the news business– We’ll see.

And the real state of the state is?

Bordering on beggary. On the opening day of the legislative session, the Yankee Institute, a glowing candle in Connecticut’s dark night, took out full page advertisements in four major Connecticut newspapers. “We aren’t just doing worse than average, Executive Director of the Institute Fergus Cullen said, “We are doing theworst." Here is the Institute’s list of lasts.

Connecticut’s List of lasts

"On the first day of the Legislative Session,” said Mr. Cullen, “we are calling on the General Assembly to address the state's financial challenges by reducing spending and adopting pro-growth tax policies to move Connecticut from last to first."
It really is becoming difficult to keep the bad news under your hat.

Monday, January 7, 2013

How to Write a Dumb Law

The easiest way to write a dumb law is to pass a bill uninformed by certifiable data.

Following the massacre of school students at Sandy Hook Elementary school, U .S. Senator Chris Murphy, newly sworn into the Congress, issued his first media release of the New Year in the course of which he vowed to fight “to strengthen Connecticut’s economy” and “grow jobs in science, technology, manufacturing, and defense.”

And with a nod in the direction of bloodstained Newtown, the junior U.S. Senator from Connecticut pledged “to be a leading voice in the national conversation to end the kind of gun violence that shattered precious young lives and devastated a community in Newtown, Connecticut just three weeks ago.”

On the same day young children who survived the massacre in Sandy Hook attended their first day of school in Monroe, a Hartford paper disclosed that an authoritative report on the mass shooting in Sandy Hook will not be forthcoming anytime soon.

That report – to be issued under the combined aegis of Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, Newtown police, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Connecticut State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – would contain the authoritative data on the basis of which legislators might be able to write laws that could, in Mr. Murphy’s words, “end the kind of gun violence that shattered precious young lives and devastated a community in Newtown, Connecticut just three weeks ago.”

The number of investigatory fingerprints on the upcoming report necessarily will slow the issuance of definitive data. The horror of Sandy Hook is in danger of turning into a sort of Rorschach blot in which every interpretation offers a benefit to the political interpreter. Both Mr. Sedensky and State police authorities have refused to set a date for the finalization of the multi-agency report. Connecticut’s General Assembly has about six months to write preventative legislation. There are some legislators in the General Assembly who think, reasonably enough, that effective legislations should await a final report.

“First the verdict,”says the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” --“then the trial.” The General Assembly ought not to be an Alice in Wonderland topsy-turvy world in which the foundational data upon which rational legislation must rest follows legislation produced by lawmakers with one foot firmly planted in the clouds.

We should try to retain a sense of modesty and be willing to entertain the thought that no rational or even effective piece of legislation can be extruded from such a senseless multiple murder.

Two Democratic state legislators, Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford and Rep. Bob Godfrey of Danbury, have a bill in the hopper that would place a tax on bullets. No doubt such a tax would generate yet more revenue in a state hooked on spending that seems incapable of producing a balanced budget, but the tax is impractical and possibly unconstitutional. The additional tax money might or might not be used to pay off state debt, but why should anyone suppose that taxing the lawful purchase of bullets in Connecticut would assist in preventing future mass murders in a state in which enlightened legislators, arguing that capital punishment had little deterrent value, recently abolished a death penalty following a horrific mass murder in Cheshire?

A newspaper in NewYork, driven by the slaughter in Sandy Hook, rushed to publish the names and addresses of legal firearm owners, rather as if they had been child molesters, and the newspaper also published a map showing areas in which gun ownership is heavy or light – a boon, one might reasonably think, to criminals in New York contemplating house robberies. The destruction of privately held firearms in both England and Australia has led to alarming increases in home robberies and assaults, especially among older folk deprived of an effective deterrent.

Before legislators pass any pointless and silly bills seeking to prevent the unpreventable, they should, at the very least, await the multi-agency report on the Sandy Hook Crime and a further study promised by Governor Dannel Malloy.

Any comprehensive report should carefully investigate a possible connection between lawfully prescribed behavior modification medicine and such crimes as occurred in Sandy Hook. There is solid research showing a causal connection between psychiatric medications and mass murders. At least one story about Adam Lanza indicated that he was on medication.

The great German critic Karl Kraus use to say that psychiatry “was the disease it purported to cure,” an exaggeration one may permit to social critics. But the connection between psychotropic drugs and crime detailed by David Kupeliann in a convincing piece in World Net Daily is more than coincidental.

At the very least, the General Assembly should wait upon certifiable facts captured, one hopes, in the promised studies, before it leaps into the void in an effort to show various constituencies that legislatively “something must be done.” Connecticut’s General Assembly not only should think before it leaps; as befits the state’s version of the U.S. Congress, which some have called the greatest deliberative body on earth, it should deliberate openly on matters of pressing importance before it passes pointless legislation.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Fiscal Cliff Aversion Bill

The Washington Post – generally not considered to be either conservative or tea party friendly – puts the hard truth bluntly in the lede to a front page story in a Hartford paper:

“Economists generally offer three theories for what’s hampering the still-sluggish U.S. economy: the Keynesian theory, which would like to see lower taxes or more government spending; the spending/debt theory, which would like to see both of those reined in; and the uncertainty theory. Under none of them can the White House-Congress deal to avert the ‘fiscal cliff’ be considered an economic success.”

And then, of course, there is your mother’s theory: “Don’t spend more than you take in, and try to tuck away a little savings for the inevitable rainy day.”

By every reasonable measure, the Obama-Congress “deal” to avert the fiscal cliff is simply an admission of failure to avert an alarmingly more dangerous real cliff waiting patiently for all of us around the next bend.

The real cliff – the yawning unfunded liabilities abyss the last few presidents and congresses have been energetically deepening over the years – is a measure of the difference between revenues and expenditures according to your Mom’s more reliable arithmetic.

Much of Europe already has taken the plunge. For the past few years, we’ve seen one after another European country drop into the deepening ditch it’s dug over a period of decades, and we’ve been flattering ourselves all the while that we are not Europe. The only European country that has not presently been hit by a double-dip recession is Germany: Greece, now in the hands of unforgiving Euro-technocrats, has toppled; Ireland has already received bailouts; Italy, Portugal and Spainare teetering on the brink; French courts have just rejected a measure by Socialist President Francois Hollande to confiscate the wealth of whatever millionaires have not yet fled the country; sovereign credit ratings throughout Europe have been slashed; and the whole of Europe – the cradle, as we used to say, of Western civilization – is quickly sinking into a mire of debt, fueled mostly by unsustainable unfunded liabilities. Here in the United States, the nation’s unfunded liabilities -- Medicare, Social Security and other outsized and menacing obligations -- do not even appear on the federal balance sheet.

The spook on a stick utilized by Mr. Obama and his fellow progressives in the U.S. Congress to stampede congressmen into voting in favor of the so-called fiscal cliff bill is a rising national debt of $15.96 trillion, more than 100% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the value of everything produced in the United States during a corresponding fiscal year. These numbers, large and imposing, are but the tip of a debt iceberg. The real liabilities of the federal government, the real fiscal cliff -- including Social Security, Medicare, and federal employees' future retirement benefits—already exceed $86.8 trillion, or 550% of GDP.

And the small bore “deal” struck between Congress and the president is but the tip of the iceberg bearing down upon us. To reduce such figures, as Mom strongly would advise, federal income must exceed federal expenditures for a long, long space of time.

When Social Security was first launched, the number of people paying into the program exceeded by a ratio of about 160 to 1 the number of people making withdrawals from the so called “trust fund,” which has entirely disappeared. In 1940, the ratio of covered workers to beneficiaries was 35,390 to 222 or 159.4; the ratio of covered workers to beneficiaries by 2010 was 156,725 to 53,398 or 2.9. Medicaid and Medicare are in much worse shape. In the long run – unless these programs are reformed -- none of them will be sustainable.

The United States finances its debt through borrowing. Since 1960, a rough consensus among both the Republican and Democratic Parties has led to a de facto fiscal policy according to which current unsustainable consumption is financed by continuous government borrowing. Profligate spending and borrowing to pay debt has hollowed out our economy. The so called fiscal cliff bill increases taxes $44 for every dollar saved in spending cuts and deepens the trench of a fiscal abyss far more precipitous and dangerous to the economy than the puny cliff surmounted by current legislation.

This is not a rational way, Mom would say, for the country to make its way back to sane solvency. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, former President Bill Clinton, if caught in a non-campaign mode and – this will surprise some -- John Maynard Keynes very likely would agree with Mom, who is not running for presidential office or the U .S. Congress any time soon.