Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Banality Of Kermit Gosnell

“He just calmly watched and occasionally took notes with a vague hint of a smile on his face from time to time.” Thus did a reporter describe Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s demeanor in court at his trial. The imperturbable Mr. Gosnell was referred to trial by a grand jury after law enforcement officers had raided his office on a complaint that the doctor had engaged in drug dealing, and what the officers found on arrival shocked them. More than forty fetal bodies were stuffed in “bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons, and even cat food containers.” Some were found frozen in an office refrigerator, and Mr. Gosnell maintained “rows of jars” containing several baby feet.

The Grand Jury found that Mr. Gosnell was possessed of a macabre sense of humor, joking that one of the corpses found at his abortion clinic– Baby A, weighing 6 pounds – was so large that he could “walk me to the bus stop.” After Mr. Gosnell had snipped the baby’s spine with a scissors, the method preferred by Mr. Gosnell to dispatch babies born alive after botched abortions – baby A’s remains were stuffed into a shoebox, its arms and legs trailing out. Another child, Baby C, was deposited on a countertop while Mr. Gosnell attended to the child’s mother. It lay for 20 minutes calmly breathing and waving its arms before an assistant snipped its neck.

The Grand Jury found that Mr. Gosnell had during his long career snipped the necks of hundreds of babies. The fates of Babies A and C “were not even the worst cases.” Many late term abortions were performed by Mr. Gosnell and his wife on Sundays, when no staff was on the premises to bear witness. These case files Mr. Gosnell prudently destroyed at his home. “We may never know,” the Grand Jury concluded, “the details of these cases.”

The expression “the banality of evil” was first coined by Hannah Arendt in a 1962 work entitled “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.” Her working thesis was that the great evils of history as a general rule were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths but rather by ordinary people who, for whatever reason, accept as normal the operative conditions of their state and time.

How else to account for Mr. Gosnell’s “crimes,” as viewed by the Grand Jury?

Mr. Gosnell’s almost weary smile says it all: Why am I here when you who now sit in judgment upon me have made everything I have done permissible and even necessary? To be sure, my office was a bit untidy. But I am performing a legal and necessary social service, a service very much in demand. So then, apart from the shoe boxes, what exactly is the problem?

In the minds of men who lack moral imagination, great evil is necessarily reduced to banality – a question of law rather than a question of ethics; and this is especially true in times and places in which it is assumed that ethics is a product of the law, for in that case, everything that is legally permissible must also be morally right. Such moral dissonance is essential in the understanding of both Eichmann and Gosnell.


When some of Mr. Gosnell’s adult victims went to Planned Parenthood to complain of Mr. Gosnell’s house of horrors, they were told by staff to write a letter if they had not enjoyed Mr. Gosnell’s unsanitary – not to mention murderous – abortion factory.

Coincident with the prosecution of Mr. Gosnell, President Barack Obama, never one to retreat an inch in a battle in which he is leading from the front, bestowed at a conference in Washington some kind words upon Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States. Mr. Obama’s views on abortion while a U.S. Senator and president are consistent enough to have earned him a 100% approval vote from NARAL: He voted against a ban on partial birth abortion  in 2007, proposed a born-alive treatment law in 2008 and blocked a Born-Alive Infant Protection Act.

Continuing a theme stressed during his last presidential election, Mr. Obama told the group that the Republican “war on women” is still in full flower. "The fact is, after decades of progress, there's (sic) still those who want to turn back the clock to policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century. And they've been involved in an orchestrated and historic effort to roll back basic rights when it comes to women's health."

Mr. Gosnell’s post-third trimester abortion factory had not had a public inspection for 17 years before the grand jury returned indictments against him, one of the reasons his war on born infants continued so long without interruption. A 281 page report on Mr. Gosnell’s house of horrors concluded, “We have no idea how many facilities like Gosnell's have remained out of sight, out of mind of DOH for decades," because “ "officials [from the Philadelphia Department of Health had “concluded that inspections would be 'putting a barrier up to women' seeking abortions."

One may wonder whether Mr. Obama, at the rick of receiving a less than 100% rating from NARAL, would consider frequent inspections of abortion facilities as part of an unfortunate return to the 1950s, a time when the birth of the future president and staunch advocate of Planned parenthood was ten years short of a glint in his daddy’s eye.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Democrats’ 10 Percent Solution With Malloy as Firewall

The split between Connecticut’s two major parties is most dramatic on the question of spending.

Governor Dannel Malloy took a pledge early in his administration, after he had imposed upon the state the largest tax increase in its history, reminiscent of a pledge made by former President H.W. Bush: No new tax increases. Internal pressures were such during the Bush administration that the president reneged on his pledge.

The pressures are always there, especially in tax prone Connecticut. It was the fashion during the administration of Republican Maverick turned Independent Lowell Weicker to regard deficits as revenue rather than spending problems; and, of course, the solution to a revenue problem is to boost revenue.

This misperception – always encouraged by politicians uncomfortable with spending cuts – had tripled the bottom line of Connecticut’s budgets within the space of three governors. Focused on revenue boosts, Mr. Weicker and succeeding Republican Governors John Rowland and Jodi Rell rarely were put in the uncomfortable position of having to disappoint powerful union interests. Spending inched inexorably up.

When Mr. Malloy was installed as governor, it was generally supposed that the spending tap would be turned wide open. The so called“firewalls,” Republican governors who had offered a mild resistance to spending increases, were gone: Laissez les bons temps rouler, as they say during Marti Gras in New Orleans that precedes an abstemious Lent .

Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, impatient with the snail’s pace progress of a self-proclaimed progressive governor, have now proposed changes in the Malloy budget that increase spending by 10 percent. There is every reason to believe that Democrats stuck on stupid are still in a “let the good times roll” frame of mind.

And why not? Moderate Republican office holders in Connecticut have been washed away by the onrushing progressive high tide. Consider the number of Republican moderates who have fallen in recent years under the boots of the progressive hordes in Connecticut. Within Connecticut’s all Democratic U.S. Congressional delegation alone, three moderate Republicans– Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons and Chris Shays, the last moderate Republican in New England before he surrendered his seat to current Democratic U.S. Representative Jim Himes -- had been replaced by ambitious progressives. Mr. Malloy and his Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman proudly march cheek by jowl with striking union workers, and no one winces. The largest tax increase in Connecticut history was accompanied with a union deal that assured salary and benefit increases to state workers of 3 percent nine years out, an arrangement at first rejected by union representatives, which rejection was characterized by Edith Prague, a longtime supporter of Connecticut unions, as a form of unthinking madness.

Despite a stalled economy, the progressive parade in Connecticut marches merrily and heedlessly on. Occasional disputes with leaders in the opposition party are imperiously brushed aside by Democrats who outnumber Republicans in the state by a commanding two to one majority. The difference in sheer numbers relieves Democrats of the necessity of quibbling over crucial economic points imperfectly grasped by an easily distractible media in the grip of an economic vise that has considerably reduced its own numbers.

What all this really means is that Mr. Malloy has now become Connecticut’s spending “firewall.”And the governor is surrounded by progressive Democrats quite certain that more spending will hasten the arrival of better times, a philosophy of governance to which Mr. Malloy also subscribes. On matters upon which there are some discernible differences between Mr. Malloy and the Democrat dominated General Assembly –say, education reform – Mr. Malloy’s programs have been refined by progressive leaders in the legislature. Both President Pro Tem of the Senate Don Williams and Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey have had a good deal of practice in curbing the modest ambitions of past Republican governors, and there is no reason to suppose they will not employ their talents to frustrate a governor who proves to be insufficiently progressive on matters they consider ideologically important – like, to fetch for one example, ramping up the progressive income tax on Connecticut Gold Coast millionaires.

While Mr. Malloy has said he is averse to tax increases, he has moved steadily in the direction of increasing state revenue through a series of measures – borrowing money to pay off budget expenses, reneging on a gentleman’s agreement with “bad” energy producers to liquidate a “temporary” tax on the production of electricity, boosting the notorious gross receipt tax on gasoline, and short-sheeting hospitals, to cite but four examples – that most charitably may be described as revenue enhancers.

All eyes in the General Assembly are fastened on the governor. Given an inch, progressive legislators have now demanded a yard – a ten percent increase in spending. It is precisely incremental increasing in spending of this kind that has tripled the bottom line of Connecticut budgets since the imposition of the state income tax in 1991, a short two decades ago. Progressives in the General Assembly are betting that while the governor’s no tax increase spirit is willing, his progressive Democratic flesh is weak. Because taxing and spending are inextricably connected, the easiest way to drive up taxes by 10 percent is to increase spending by 10 percent. And the red ink, in progressive strategy, is little more than an inducement to impose a steeper progressive tax on greedy hedge fund managers living the life in Fairfield County.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Shameless Dick Blumenthal

U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, for 20 years Attorney General in Connecticut, has approved many a press release in his day. Indeed, he may have underwritten most among the flood of media releases issued in his name before leaving his cushy spot as Attorney General and becoming a member of the U.S. Senate club. While in college at Harvard, he was the editor of the Harvard Crimson and reported on several key stories of the day, among them a trial in New Haven of Black Panther terrorists.

Over a long period in the public eye, Mr. Blumenthal has acquired certain journalistic talents, which have aided him in cranking out emotionally appealing lede paragraphs.

Here are the first three graphs of a column written by Mr. Blumenthal and printed in a Hartford paperfollowing the defeat in the U.S. Senate of a very mild, almost inoffensive, bill that would have required background checks for gun purchases:

“On Wednesday, the Senate said no to America. But the American people will not take no for an answer.

“The first words I heard when Vice President Joe Biden banged the gavel to end the vote Wednesday on the gun purchasing background check bill were, ‘Shame on you.’ They were from a rightfully angry mother of a Virginia Tech student who, six years ago this week, was shot twice in the head. This heartbroken mother had the courage to say what all of us fighting for background checks and other common-sense gun laws were feeling.

“It was a shameful day for our nation.”

One may assume as a matter of course that anyone who opposes Mr. Blumenthal is shameful, but the man who shamelessly lied about his non-service in Vietnam was not alone in his aspersions. In the course of a few hours, everyone was sounding the same toscin, including the visibly angry president and vice president. But it was not a shameful day for Mr. Blumenthal, who placed himself on the shameless side of the bill. Along with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, Mr. Blumenthal took the lead in the Senate agitating for passage of the doomed bill. In his home state, Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Murphy lent their prestige as U.S. Senators to a successful effort in passing a gun restriction bill that has been described approvingly by its proponents as the toughest gun restriction bill in the nation, outpacing even Chicago, murder capital of the United States.

To his credit, Mr. Blumenthal knocked, if only by implication, his Democratic confreres in the Senate. The Senate needed four more Democratic votes to pass a much watered down version of Connecticut’s strongest in the nation gun restriction bill; and, as it happened, four Democrats in the Democratic controlled chamber voted against the measure. If shame could have been apportioned in the Senate, the four deserters should have received the largest portion of it. Lacking the four necessary votes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – who also voted against the measure – pulled the bill. Mr. Reid said he hadn’t voted for the measure on the floor so that he might vote against it later. The other three Democratic Senators who voted against the measure, Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Murphy would have us believe, did so because they were palsied with fear owing to almost certain campaign opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Blumenthal have characterized as a toothless and very much overrated paper tiger.

In comparison with the gun restriction bill passed in Connecticut, the bill withdrawn by Mr. Reid may accurately be compared to a paper tiger; which is another way of saying that the bill, had it passed through Congress as written, would not have addressed the root causes of the mass shootings that occurred both in Sandy Hook and on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, 15 years ago, when a senior at the school, Seung-Hui Cho, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks about two hours apart before committing suicide, still the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.

Following an exhaustive investigation, it was determined that Virginia Tech, owing to federal privacy laws, was unaware that Mr. Cho had received special education support while in high school, that he had been accused of stalking two female students, that he had suffered from an anxiety disorder and that a Virginia special justice had declared Mr. Cho mentally ill, ordering him to attend treatment, an order disregarded by his mother. The bill supported by Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Murphy that went down to dusty defeat in the U.S. Senate did not strum any mental illness chords; it did not substantially alter previous legislation that prevented Virginia Tech from acquiring access to medical information available to high school administrators; it was simply a bill intended to close a gap in background checks.

The rejected bill provided little more than an addendum to a largely unenforced bill already on the books, H.R.2640, the provisions of which have been studiously ignored even in Connecticut, which may now boast that it has the toughest gun regulations, rarely to be enforced, in the nation. The bill defeated in Washington was little more than a Potemkin Village front that may in the future serve as political luster to politicians seeking office. Mr. Blumenthal should have been ashamed to prop up the farce.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Malloy, No Jack Kennedy

Twice in the last 18 months, Governor Dannel Malloy has visited the Litchfield Area Business Association with a soothing message.

Mentioning two devastating storms and the Sandy Hook Elementary school slaughter, Mr. Malloy told the group that Connecticut had endured “very difficult circumstances,” and yet the resilient people of Connecticut “continue to demonstrate their great charity, their great willingness to work together and pull in the same direction. And I’m very thankful for all of that.”

Mr. Malloy then turned to the business at hand – the state of business in the state over which he presides as governor. Small businesses in Connecticut drive job growth, Mr. Malloy said. “Now, the area that we’re investing most of our time, at least, is small business. The bottom line is: I don’t want to be a governor who presides over years of job loss. I want to be a governor who presides over years of job gain.”

While 23 million jobs have been created nationally in 48 states, Mr. Malloy pointed out, Connecticut and Michigan stand out as glaring exceptions.

Job figures in Connecticut are indeed dispiriting. Employment in Connecticut peaked in March 2008 at 1,713,000. Since then, according to a May 2010 Current EmploymentStatistic (CES) and Current Population Survey (CPS), “72,600 jobs have been lost in Connecticut according to the employer survey. From a trough of 1,591,800 in February 2010, Connecticut has gained 48,600 jobs according to CES employment figures. CPS employment in Connecticut reached a maximum of 1,771,718 in March 2008. 63,272 jobs have been lost in Connecticut since then according to the household survey.”

In Michigan, the auto industry had collapsed, but Connecticut, Mr. Malloy said in his usual eupeptic manner, had no excuse. The state had failed, Mr. Malloy said, to make “investments in change” so as to make it attractive to businesses outside the state while growing businesses in state at the same time.

“Those days are over. We’re going to move forward,” said Mr. Malloy, who financed his“investments in change” by imposing upon taxpayers and entrepreneurs in Connecticut the largest tax increase in state history accompanied by dubious“savings.”

The expression “move forward,” it should be noted was one fashioned in the smithy of President John Kennedy’s Camelot. Even then, it was an empty vessel: Whenever in history has time carried us back to the future? Nations have no choice but to “move forward”into a doubtful future that has either been made more or less prosperous by its governors.

Mr. Malloy’s plan, going forward, is to “invest” in education – a job producer, according to the governor – and to continue to distribute tax monies to those industries he favors.

Mr. Malloy is especially enthusiastic, to judge from his tax distributions, over the UConn HealthCenter, the home of John Dempsey Hospital, very nearly the worst teaching hospital in the nation, soon to be the home of the state financed Jackson Laboratories. In the course of his first term, Mr. Malloy has given preferments -- usually in the form of grants, low interest loans and tax write-offs – to the more than five businesses that formed the core of his“First Five” program. A separate program cares for the needs of smaller industries made needier by Mr. Malloy’s taxing and spending proclivities.

Raising taxes and engaging in robust crony capitalism was not President John Kennedy’s way. Mr. Kennedy mapped out his program for rejuvenating a sluggish economy in an address he gave to the Economic Club of New York in 1962. A video of the speech may be found here.

“The final and best means of strengthening demands among consumers and business is to reduce the burden on private income and the deterrents to private initiative which are imposed by our present tax system – and this administration pledged itself last summer to an across-the-board, top-to-bottom cut in personal and corporate income taxes to be enacted and become effective in 1963.”

Mr. Kennedy was as good as his word. His program spurred the economy and led to predicted surpluses that were deployed after his assassination by President London Johnson as a down payment on his “Great Society” programs.

Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen tauntingly said of Republican Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle during a debate in 1988, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.”

Neither is Mr. Malloy Jack Kennedy. Does anyone doubt that Mr. Malloy seems to be aping Lyndon Johnson in his spending splurge? Mr. Malloy appears to be prematurely ushering in Connecticut’s new “Great Society” without benefit of the surpluses generated by Mr. Kennedy, whose program for restoring a sluggish post World War II era of high taxes and low growth might easily have been taken from the pages of Fredrick Hayek’s seminal work, “The Constitution of Liberty.”

Chapter 17 of Mr. Hayek’s book begins with a quote taken from Louis Brandeis, as fresh today as it was when first written:
“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty evil minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lay in insidious encroachments by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

Friday, April 12, 2013

Blumenthal: Hey Bud, Can You Spare A Dime?

The New Haven Register did NOT say in its editorial that U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal ought not to be raising campaign funds from atop the bodies of 20 slain school children; this would have been irregular and, perhaps worst, impolite.

The editorial said that U.S. Representative Chris Murphy and Governor Dannel Malloy were “helping give voice to the victims’ families” in Washington D.C. preceding a vote on a gun regulation bill, necessary efforts on an important issue.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Interview With Don Pesci: Sandy Hook And The Data Trap

Q: I’ve now read everything you’ve written about the Sandy Hook mass murders, quite a lot. I’ve noticed two things: You have not weighed in on what some people might consider the central legislative issues, the “should”questions – should certain weapons be banned, that sort of thing; and throughout your commentary, you manage to sound like a Jeremiah on what some grey heads in the journalism business use to call “freedom of information.” Is that a right reading of the main thrust of your commentary on Sandy Hook?

A: It’s a fair reading, yes.

Q: Why the emphases on the free flow of information?

A: Because what one does will always depend upon what one knows. It would be more accurate to say “the full and accurate flow of information.” Can I pick a bone with you on Jeremiah?

Q: Sure.

A: Jeremiah was repetitive because he had a positive genius for getting quickly to the decisive point and, of course, repeating it, much to the distress of the hypocritical whitened sepulchers in his audience. Someone –I think it might have been me – once said that journalism was 20 percent thought and 80 percent repetition. That is the nature of journalistic reporting and commentary. Some themes are dearer to you, because they are more important to you, than others, and so you inflict upon your readers the burden of repetition. I’d like to try out on you an answer to the second part of your question.

Q: Okay.

A: Legislators in the General Assembly are pretty much finished with their bills. [This interview occurred on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law on Thursday, April 4, 2013 a bill containing, according to a New York Times report,“… sweeping new restrictions on weapons and ammunition magazines similar to the ones used by the man who fatally shot 20 children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.”] Remarking on the missing data that should have driven their efforts, I said in one of the columns, all of which may be found on a site called “Connecticut Commentary: Red Notes From A Blue State,” [Here sorted by date] that the bills were premature because the criminal investigation report was not due to be completed until June. The General Assembly produced its bill – a bipartisan measure, we are reminded often enough by its architects – in the first week of April, about a month before the criminal investigation report was due to be completed. I think I quoted the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carol’s “Through the Looking Glass” in the course of that blog and column: “First the verdict,” said the imperious Queen, “then the trial.”

Q: Well yes, but people were impatient to get something done.

A: And their impatience had been stoked by politicians and others interested mostly in bum-rushing legislation before the data upon which that legislation should have rested was available. Why is that?

Q: You had the families of the 26 victims in Sandy Hook waiting patiently for legislation that would…

A: … insure that the slaughter at Sandy Hook would not be repeated. There are so many assurances on this point from state and national politicians, Democrats mostly, that it would be unnecessarily tedious to repeat them here. The two U.S. Senators in Connecticut most voluble on this point are Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

Q: Okay.

A: And how can you write such bills if you do not know what happened at Sandy Hook? To be sure, there were reports in the media, many of which relied upon heavily edited information from sources that may or may not have been accurate. Some of the information in the polluted media stream was partial or inaccurate enough to give credence to absurd conspiracy theories. Very little of the information could be described as authoritative -- because much of the information was in the custody of criminal investigators who were determined to draw about the data an impenetrable iron curtain. Every time you approached a data master with a question, you were told, “Sorry Bud, that information is not available because of an ongoing criminal investigation.” To some commentators, myself among them, the criminal investigation seemed overblown, since the two people who might have been charged criminally, Adam Lanza and the mother he murdered, were both dead, as were most of the witnesses to the mass murder. Finally, as the General Assembly was on the point of emitting bills, the carefully guarded bucket sprung a leak. A New York Daily News reporter loosed upon the public some quarantined details that came to him from a source who had attended a police convention in New Orleans, after which it was decided to release police arrest warrants – be it noted, a full month or more before the final criminal report was due.

Q: Which means what?

A: It means that the data in the arrest warrant could have been release long before to legislators charged with shaping bills. Now, I may say – without, I hope, drifting into the bog of conspiracy theory – that, as a general rule, a political sequence occurs because politicians want things to happen in a certain sequence. Even the data included in the arrest warrant was by no means complete and definitive. Arrest warrants reveal only what police are looking for and what they have found at the beginning of an investigation. The General Assembly should have insisted, right from the get go, that all information in the custody of investigators pertinent to the bill or bills the legislators were constructing be made available to the relevant heads of legislative committees – in camera, if necessary. That did not happen. Connecticut’s very robust Freedom of Information [FOI] law means, if it means anything at all, that the only thing the general public need fear about the release of information is that information necessary to a well ordered Republic will NOT be released. But what happened in this instance goes far beyond FOI laws.

Q: You are not saying that people intentionally edited the data you think necessary so that bills could be constructed as they wished, are you?

A: Well, I do think there is a well-documented tendency among politicians to use available laws and processes to advance a preferred end. That’s politics. If the end they have in view is defective, or if the process leads ineluctably to an end the consequences of which are destructive, you must adjust the laws and processes. Politics, at its best, is the legislative art that conveys us to an end result that increases liberty and justice for all.

Q: But how much of what happened was purposeful?

A: All of it -- I hope. To suppose otherwise would be to suppose that our legislators are either stupid or mad. You would have to go to a different planet to find a convocation of reporters and commentators who did NOT think that Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans wanted gun restrictions, whatever the data suggested. The data trap in Connecticut eased their way. But bad data – or, worse, sequestered data – makes for bad laws. If Republicans in Connecticut were not a bunch of spineless go-alongs hanging by their torn fingernails to increasingly disappearing legislative seats, they would insist on bills that break down Berlin Walls intended to prevent the liberating and free flow of data. But look what is happening: As a result of Sandy Hook, we now have before the General Assembly a bill that would restrict information on death certificates. Why? Because we wish to spare the stricken parents of young children murdered in Sandy Hook the resulting publicity that might occur should FOI laws be rigorously enforced. Really? Death certificates, available for centuries to the public, contain only general information. The certificate requires a review of the cause of death by a medical examiner to determine the presence or absence of foul play indicating that a murder may have been committed. How can the general public know that authorities responsible for apprehending and convicting murderers are doing a proper job if information of this kind is not made available to them? Who are the political beneficiaries of such a bill? Why, dear me, can’t we say it plainly? The bill would largely benefit propagandist politicians whose efforts would be furthered any restriction that data-traps inconvenient truths and prevents the free flow of information. You control the messenger – there are still in Connecticut some alert reporters, a few brave Jonahs who have managed to escape the maw of Leviathan – by controlling data. In history, the upward progress of politicians has always been paved by the careful editing of information. In constitutional republics, some subtlety that veils naked political purposes may be necessary to sell such anti-democratic measures to an increasingly apathetic public. Do we wish to further wound stricken victims? How could we be so heartless? This is how the liberties of free men disappear, not through honest battles waged on an open field but with a flick of the serpent’s tongue.

Q: Are you satisfied with the final bill [recently signed into law by Mr. Malloy]?

A: No. the legislative product was shamelessly oversold by demagogues. The passage of the bill here in Connecticut marked the boundary of overheated rhetoric. Before passage, Connecticut politicians, mostly Democrats driven by a script that bore the watermark of Washington D.C., were telling us that the measures they preferred would make school children across the state safe from the Adam Lanzas of the world. Suffering parents in Sandy Hook, perhaps traumatized by the slaughter of their children, were used to prop up an improbable theory: namely, that restrictions imposed on certain weapons –indeed, the most popular and bestselling long rifle in the United States, the AR15 – would render schoolchildren safe from attack. Even town administrators in Newtown dramatically spurned that theory when the town fathers voted to appropriate money to place armed guards in all their schools, including the three private schools in town [Sandy Hook is a section of Newtown]. They knew from direct experience that unarmed interveners, however brave, could not stop a determined shooter. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School stopped when armed first responders appeared in the school. After the bill in Connecticut had passed, U.S. Senators Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Governor Dannel Malloy took their show to Washington D.C., where a national gun bill, much more pallid that the Connecticut version, was up for consideration. Here at home, legislators who had championed “the toughest gun laws in the nation,”perhaps with a cautious eye focused on reality, began a tactical retreat from their overblown rhetoric: True, the bill wasn’t perfect, but we should never allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Vice President Joe Biden said at one point that if national gun legislation saved but one life, it would be worth it, which is simply another way of saying that Mr. Biden regards human life as precious. Well, of course he does. All the old canards were trotted out and dangled before an aroused but doubtful public. A rhetorical mountain had been made of a mole hill, and now politicians were concerned with reducing their overinflated mountain of promises so that, when lives once again were lost in what should properly be regarded for purposes of punishment as a terrorist act, politicians who had overpromised in their legislation would not be held to account. Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Murphy both come from a state that had recently abolished a death penalty following a horrific multiple murder in Cheshire committed by two newly released prisoners on parole. Their crime was spectacularly heinous. They broke into a house, beat the male householder with a bat, tied him up in the basement, assaulted three women in the house upstairs, forced a mother to go to a bank and withdraw money, raped two daughters and set fire to the house, killing all the women. That incident sparked massive purchases of guns in Connecticut, especially in rural areas, where the response time from police is necessarily longer. Now, if Adam Lanza had survived his attack on Sandy Hook Elementary school, he could not have been executed in Connecticut for having murdered his mother, 20 children and 6 brave faculty members of the school because – largely owing to politicians like Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Murphy – the state, for humane reasons, had deprived itself of a punishment tool. Had Mr. Lanza survived, the political play we are now witnessing would not be the same. We have to begin to focus on the criminal misuse of weapons. In the week prior to passage of the gun restriction law in Connecticut, Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell noted in one of his columns, there were three handgun murders in Hartford alone. “Some of the shots fired there,” Mr. Powell wrote, “may have been audible from the Capitol grounds, at least with those with ears to hear. No one in authority seems to know what to do about such murders, and over the course of a year, such murders in Connecticut’s disintegrating cities will be far more numerous than the murders in Newtown, but nobody has to know or even pretendto know because that part of Connecticut – the part where mayhem is ordinary and daily, not a freak event such as Newtown – can be written off politically. Murder victims in the cities long ago ceased being cute.” Unfortunately, not as many people are like to have read Mr. Powell’s column as those who read Mr. Murphy’s maiden speech in the U.S. Senate on gun violence in the course of which Mr. Murphy pointed out, quite correctly, that guns in the hands of criminals are more lethal than knives. He might have done a valuable service for his constituents had he read Mr. Powell’s column into the legislative record.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sandy Hook Adieu

You know it’s over when all the notable politicians have taken their bows, this time draped in the winding cloth of Sandy Hook’s victims. On Sunday, a week after Christians, some of them, went to their churches to memorialize the resurrection of the Christ, and 15 weeks after Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School armed to the teeth with weapons owned by his mother, whom he murdered with a still legal 22 caliber rifle, there slaughtering six heroic staff members of the school and twenty innocent children, the Hartford Courant ran on its Opinion page a series of columns surmounted by the eye catching headline, “Will This Stop More Newtowns?”

By “this” the Courant intended to indicate the anti-gun legislation newly passed by Connecticut’s General Assembly.

The mercifully short but emotionally inconvenient answer to the question is – “No.”

Possibly the most thoughtful column among the three featured on the paper’s Opinion front page was written by Colin McEnroe, who struggled manfully with the usual heart-mind dichotomy.

“He could not afford, also,” Mr. McEnroe wrote of emotionally overcome Republican leader John McKinney, “to lose the Battle of Who Cares More.”

Mr. McEnroe has been around the legislative block a few times in the course of his writing career and knows, as most of us do, that the chief battle – sometimes the onlybattle – that will secure a legislative victory is won by those who are most able to appeal to raw emotion -- and Sandy Hook has rubbed every emotion raw.

“The problem with most people,” said a philosopher full of years and wisdom (my mother, in fact) is that they think with their hearts and feel with their heads.”

I once brought her C.S. Lewis’ essay “Men Without Chests” to read. The point of the essay was that a heart properly belongs in the chest and not on the sleeve, where it might readily be shown by social deciders to those unpersuadable few as an incontrovertible ipsi dixit.

If only humankind, Mr. Lewis sighed, could manage to negotiate the perilous abyss between the heart and mind that is sometimes opened by the jagged and sharp events of life. Mr. Lewis thought, some think credulously, that Christianity might provide a bridge. So did Saint Augustine, the bishop of Hippo in Africa who argued against pagan Rome but wept when Rome fell. The human heart, Augustine knew, was rootless, in perpetual motion, and could find rest only through a sometimes treacherous return home: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."

It is doubtful that the 20 year-old Mr. Lanza read much of Augustine or Lewis. His spiritual template was drawn from the murderous acts of Anders Breivik, who slaughtered more than 77 people in Norway. Did Mr. Breivik also wear his heart, such as it was, on his sleeve? Is there a pill one might take to move the heart and head where they belong?

There is something nearly pagan, certainly pre-Christian that hovers like a black halo around mass murder crimes and their consequences.

In the Golden Bough, Sir James Frazier recounts an Athenian sacrifice known as “the murder of the ox” or bouphonia. An ox is slaughtered with a knife to propitiate the gods of the harvest. The slaughtering instruments, axes and knives, are first washed in pure water by maidens, then sharpened on whetstones by men, after which they are given to the butchers who slaughter the ox. Following the ceremony, a trial is held by the king-judge to affix blame on behalf of the murdered ox. Ritualistically, all are accused: The water carriers shift blame to those who have sharpened the weapon; these point to the butchers as the guilty parties. And finally, the butchers lay blame upon the axes and the knives – which“accordingly are found guilty, condemned and cast into the sea.”

The pagan ritual – every bit detailed and precise as the seemingly endless political folderol following the murders in Sandy Hook – provide an example of homeopathic magic, during which human guilt is ascribed to inanimate objects such as, in the deliberations of our post-pagan General Assembly, a blameless rifle, found guilty and metaphorically cast into the sea.

Albert Jay Nock, one of the early influences on Bill Buckley, wondered in “Memoirs of a Superfluous Man” how a modern living in the 20th century would know if the world were descending into a new Dark Age.

The mercifully brief answer to that question is – by the signs of the times.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lawlor’s Stow-Away Bill

If Frankie “the Razor” Resto were an AR15 semi-automatic rifle and present laws banning him had been in effect on June 27, he would not have been permitted within spitting distance of Meridan when, newly released from prison, he entered an EZMart store and fatally shot its co-owner, Ibraham Ghazal, according to arrest records. But Mr. Resto was at that point only an ex-con who had been given get-out-of-jail-early credits under a problem plagued program that was the brainchild of Governor Dannel Malloy’s prison commisar, Mike Lawlor.

Mr. Resto's criminal resume was such that he should never have been given early release credits under any circumstances; he should never have been paroled, and he should have served his entire sentence behind bars. Following his release, Mr. Resto should have been monitored carefully by Mr. Lawlor’s somnolent watchdogs and rearrested if he so much as jaywalked.

But Mr. Resto never served his full sentence – because Mr. Lawlor is a penological utopianist whose views on prison reform bear the same relation to reality as does a fish to a bicycle. So far, Mr. Lawlor has been able to honey-tongue his way past two murders and more than 700 rearrests of prisoners given early release credits under his program.

But then, who’s counting? The answer to that question is: no one.

Michelle Cruz, Connecticut’s Victims Advocate, started to tote up the numbers, but her agitations on behalf of Mr. Ghazal’s still living family members so disturbed Mr. Lawlor and Mr. Malloy, who brooks no criticism that cannot be answered in one line quips on “Morning Joe,” that Ms. Cruz’s license to defend victims preyed upon by such as Mr. Resto was revoked. Her job was put on the block and, before you could say Cook County, Illinois is the most politically corrupt acreage in the nation, Ms. Cruz was replaced by a Chicago political operative who is certain to get along famously with Mr. Lawlor, Mr. Malloy and their prison reform measures.

Mr. Lawlor specializes in smuggling his problematic bills past the noses of his comrades on the judicial committee and foxing the foxes. He would make a super incorrigible prisoner, but perhaps not as accomplished as Mr. Resto, who managed while in prison to shake down inmates over drugs, to roughhouse with guards, to burn his mattress, perhaps in protest at having unjustly received 199 days off his sentence courtesy of Mr. Lawlor’s program, and to compile a disciplinary record that should be the envy of any member of the Latin King gang. Some prisoners do have a refined sense of justice, however incorrigible they may be. Incarceration, like the possibility of execution in the morning, clears the mind wonderfully – not that Mr. Resto needs to worry he will be executed for having murdered Mr. Ghazal. Following fierce urging from Mr. Lawlor when he was co-chair of the judiciary committee, the Democratic dominated General Assembly at long last abolished capital punishment in progressive Connecticut shortly after two paroled prisoners invaded a home in Cheshire and murdered three women, first having raped a mother and daughter, by setting their house on fire.

Mr. Lawlor, in a transparent attempt to smuggle his program past the noses of his more vigilant comrades in the legislature, initially packed his Risk Reduction Earned Creditsbill in an implementer suitcase; the implementer bill is last minute measure usually designed to implement budget provisions, and it has always been easy to hide a rat in such omnibus bills.

This time around, Mr. Lawlor has attached his so called“reform” legislation putatively correcting problems in his program to a larger bill banning so called “assault” weapons; this after ranking member of the judiciary committee Senator John Kissel, during a special hearing on the defects of Mr. Lawlor’s problem infested program, put Mr. Lawlor on notice that members of the committee wanted to address the defects of his program in a stand-alone bill so that legislators might cast an honest up or down vote on his readjusted bill.

Mr. Lawlor’s proposed “reform” considerably worsens his present blood stained program because it codifies its most glaring defect and invites the imprimatur of a distracted General Assembly . The problem with Lawlor’s law is that it bestows upon violent criminals the same get-out-of-jail-early credits properly given to inmates who have not been convicted and sentenced for such crimes as rape, kidnapping, arson, first-degree manslaughter, assault of a pregnant woman, first degree assault, second degree strangulation, first degree threatening, having sex with someone under the age of 13, assault of a blind or disabled person and animal cruelty.

The preponderance of testifiers at the hearing -- including Democratic state senator Danté Bartolomeo, who replaced perhaps the most ardent opponent of Mr. Lawlor’s program, Len Suzio, and who now represents stricken Meriden in the General Assembly – spoke in favor of a re-draft that would separate the categories of violent prisoners mentioned above from Mr. Lawlor’s early release credit program.

Mr. Suzio recently characterized Mr. Lawlor’s measure, stowed in the gun control bill affirmed by the Senate on April 4 and codifying the present arrangement suitable to Mr. Lawlor, as a “dangerous joke” and fraud upon the public. It is also a fraud upon Mr. Lawlor’s former colleagues who serve on the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. It’s only a matter of time before yet another early-released criminal, his pockets bulging with good-time credits given to him by Mr. Lawlor, is prematurely set free to murder or rape some other Connecticut citizen who quite possibly had voted for Mr. Lawlor prior to his political assent as Mr. Malloy’s commissar of prisons.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Gun Bill, A Flawed Design

Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, the Chanticleer of gun regulation in Connecticut, was in a crowing mood when he announced publically a set of gun regulations the General Assembly was expected pass in response to the mass slaughter of students and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

"There were some,” Mr. Williams said, “who said the 'Connecticut effect' would wear off —that it would wear off in Connecticut and it would wear off across the country. What they didn't know was that Democrats and Republicans would come together and work to put together the strongest and most comprehensive bill in theUnited States to fight gun violence, to strengthen the security at our schools, and to provide the mental health services that are necessary.”

Republican state House Minority Leader Larry Cafero concurred. “Knowing that that tragedy happened in Connecticut, it was up to Connecticut to show the way. And I'm very proud to say today the package that we are introducing ... has accomplished that goal."

Connecticut, head ofthe pack in regrettable firsts – first in the nation in high taxes, first in high debt obligations, first in poor credit rating, first in the worst Achievement Gap -- now, according to Mr. Williams, is first in the nation in gun regulation, presumably outpacing even Illinois. Cook County in Illinois includes Chicago, murder capital of the United States and, prior to the Connecticut bill expected to be reported out of committees and quickly passed into law, a city with the most stringent gun regulations in the United States.

Most gun regulations, however comprehensive, do not affect the misuse of weapons by criminals who, generally, are no respecters of laws or persons; which is why, come to think of it, many people choose to arm themselves with weapons sufficient to repel home invasions of the kind that occurred in Cheshire some months before the General Assembly repealed capital punishment laws in Connecticut. The Cheshire home invasion in which three women were murdered by two paroled prisoners induced a massive spike in gun sales in the state. The prospect of the passage of the current bill further restricting the lawful use of guns by non-criminals produced the same effect: People in the state, especially those who lived in rural areas distant from first responders were stocking up on guns and ammunition before the Connecticut legislature could restrict the supply.

The provisions of the bill expected to be written into law by a bipartisan majority in the General Assembly will not likely affect the criminal misuse of firearms: The provision requiring a criminal background check of sales, while useful, will move underground the illegal sale of weapons used in crimes; so also with provisions restricting the sale of magazines to ten rounds and a provision requiring the safe storage of weapons.

Major studies on the criminal use of weapons conclude that instant background check systems on all sales of weapons, which force criminals to use straw purchasers, as well as liberal open carry laws minimally deter the criminal use of weapons. A study that correlated the FBI’s gun crime rankings for homicides, robberies and assaults with both Brady Campaign rankings measuring the strength of state gun laws and Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ rankings showed no correlation between crime rates on the one hand and the strength of such laws and disclosure requirements on the other.

The impetus for the Connecticut legislation that adds 100 new guns to an already long list of proscribed weapons was, as Connecticut politicians never tired of reminding us, the mass slaughter of school children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was always a chancy proposition to extrude an effective bill from that slaughter house, chiefly because investigators have kept close to their chests much of the necessary data that could inform such a bill. A final criminal report is not due until late June, months after the bill has been passed.

Under that section of the current bill describing measures to increase school safety, the impetus for the entire legislative effort, one finds a provision creating a “School Safety Infrastructure Council” tasked with developing standards for upgrading the physical infrastructure of school buildings, but no provisions requiring or financingthe placement of Security Resource Officers (SROs) in schools.

The people of Newtown, doubtless more interested in securing the safety of their children than most concerned politicians, leapt far ahead of Connecticut’s General Assembly and the national legislature when the town’s Board of Finance appropriated early in March $420,000 to pay for armed security guards in all of its public schools, also setting aside $180,000 in its Board of Selectmen’s budget to pay for armed guards in its private schools.

Sandy Hook has taught the people of Newtown – and most recently Enfield, which has also financed armed personnel in schools -- that bullets cannot be stopped by teachers, however brave, or oleaginous politicians, however genuine their concern may at first sight appear.