Saturday, August 31, 2013

Blumenthal And Murphy Contemplate War: What Would Clausewitz Do?

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy has not said whether or not he thinks it was wise diplomacy when President Barack Obama drew his red line in the sand on the question of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian strongman Bashir al Assad against his opponents. But the answer to the question can be deduced from Mr. Murphy’s position on a promised U.S. military intervention. Mr. Assad having stepped across Mr. Obama’s red line, Mr. Obama seems poised to respond militarily in some thus far mysterious fashion.

Mr. Murphy, the junior U.S. Senator from Connecticut, has been tagged by his state’s media  as “one of the most vocal opponents of a proposed air strike.” His Democratic comrade in the Senate, Richard Blumenthal, is less pacific. Mr. Blumenthal is urging prompt military action in Syria “to send a message to Assad.”

That message, one may be sure, will not be received warmly by either Mr. Assad or President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Russia has supported both Bashir al Assad and his murderous father Hafez al-Assad who, thirty years ago last month, launched one of the bloodiest chapters of modern Arab history: the Hama Massacre. Syria has been an Assad family operation since Hafez al-Assad was elected president 1971.

Mr. Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has not been unmoved by the chemical attack on civilians: “I saw the pictures of the little kids killed by chemical weapons, and I understand why people want action.” he said. However, he pointed out, the United States has not enjoyed much diplomatic success in the Middle East: “But after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s clear the U.S. isn’t very good at pulling strings in Middle East conflicts.” An air strike will not dislodge Bashir al Assad, Mr. Murphy has said, and the United States can rid the country of chemical weapons only if it sends in ground troops, not a likely eventuality. The commitment of ground troops would only stiffen military resistance and further damage the status of the United States among the Syrian people. And then too, Mr. Murphy said, there is the danger of the “quagmire,” as in “the Vietnam quagmire.”

If Mr. Murphy had the ear of Mr. Obama a year ago, he might have advised the president against drawing “red lines.”

John Dickerson of Slate, not a conservative publication, noted that although Mr. Obama was “supposed to be the wise and careful communicator,” he had “done nothing but corner himself… there's no doubt that Obama's rhetoric has increased the penalty for inaction. It's one thing to fall short of the standard for the U.S. role in the world, as some commentators define it. It's a bigger failing to fall short of your own assertions.”

Mr. Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is more sanguine.

The United States, he said on a CNN broadcast, should launch an air strike “targeted to high-value military assets and limited in its duration and scope.”

There may be unanticipated repercussions to such a strike – Mr. Putin, Edward Snowden’s kindly host, is making bellicose noises – but, Mr. Blumenthal said, he is “more concerned about repercussions for failing to respond to this violation of morality and international law.”

There is something deadly unserious in Mr. Obama’s proposed military response. The purpose of diplomacy is to change minds. The purpose of military measures is to change conditions, which is why Carl von Clausewitz said that war “is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.” War, therefore, is a continuation of diplomacy by other means or, as Clausewitz said, “the continuation of policy by other means.” But the strength of policy depends upon a purity and clarity of intentions. No clear policy can be deduced from Mr. Obama’s proposed response. The “red line” he has proposed demarcates no rational foreign policy. This is a president who seems incapable of distinguishing clearly between friends and enemies, a distinction that lies at the center of any coherent foreign policy.

Both Connecticut’s U.S. Senators should insist that any military actions taken by Mr. Obama should advance the national interests of the United States. Americans are weary, and more than weary, with presidents who have rented out the American military to international interests that do not always conform to national interests. The American people did not elect Mr. Obama to enforce international law as perceived by the United Nations, an international play pen of states many of which are hostile to the United States.

There are reasons for going to war, and those presidents who engage in war should make their intentions plain to the American people before they embark on a venture in which kindheartedness should, according to the clearheaded Clausewitz, play no prominent role:

Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat the enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: War is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst.”

Friday, August 30, 2013

Supreme Court Cleans Up Blumenthal’s Augean Stables

Last week, Connecticut’s Supreme Court overturned on process grounds a jury's decision that the state of Connecticut should pay $18.3 million to Computers Plus, a company that once operated out of East Hartford.

The jury found that the state – specifically, then quick-to-sue Attorney General Richard Blumenthal -- had defamed the owner of the company and violated her due-process rights. The jury’s multi-million dollar award should be taken as an indication of the depth of the state’s perfidy in driving Computer Plus out of business on a fraudulent claim of wrongdoing.

The jury award was later whittled down by another judge who, punitively in the interests of justice, moved the decimal point an integer to the left and reduced the jury’s award to $1.83 million.

Judges in Connecticut are loathed to incur the wrath of politicians, and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had for 20 years been a very resourceful politician. Before Mr. Blumenthal killed Computer Plus, it ought to be noted, the company was a very successful woman owned small business.

Mr. Blumenthal is now a U.S. Senator in Connecticut’s all Democratic U.S. Congressional delegation. During his progress up the greasy pole, Mr. Blumenthal had crawled over heaps of bodies in order to arrive at his exalted position, one of them being the owner of Computer Plus, who did not take kindly to being defamed by Mr. Blumenthal and so sued him. The case was strong enough to have persuaded a jury of Mr. Blumenthal’s peers that he had wronged the lady, and the jury award was an attempt by ordinary citizens to make her whole, $18.3 being the value of the business destroyed by Mr. Blumenthal.

“The Connecticut Supreme Court Monday [8/26/13] dismissed a small company's $18.3 million defamation claim against the state that became an issue in the U.S Senate campaign of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in 2010.”

Connecticut’s Supreme Court, we are told, “offered no opinion on the substance of the claims and counter-claims” decided by the jury. The high court instead “focused on the narrow question of whether the state, by suing the company for civil damages, had waived the immunity against civil lawsuits generally enjoyed by public officials and state agencies… In a unanimous opinion by Justice Flemming L. Norcott Jr., the state's highest court concluded that sovereign immunity protected the state in the case. It set aside the reduced $1.83 million damage award, and dismissed all claims by Computers Plus.”

In its decision, the high court ruled that a private person unjustly deprived of property by the state must, before filing a suit, obtain from the state’s Office of the Claims Commissioner an approval to sue; the decision of the claims commissioner may then be appealed to the General Assembly. This process, which places decisions properly made by the judicial department directly in the hands of the legislature, is itself constitutionally questionable.  One purpose of the litigatory merry go round is to frustrate aggrieved citizens from seeking redress directly from the judicial department. The high court ruling permitted the justices to over-leap the findings issued by the lower courts.  

Case closed, next…

For some who have paid attention to high court decisions in which the political status of prominent politicians lies in the justice pans, the decision of the court in this instance is not surprising. But what are the real world consequences that follow upon the servility of courts to the political establishment? The commissioner of the Office of the Claims Commissioner, an executive agency, is J. Paul Vance, son of Department Spokesman/Media Relations Commander at Connecticut’s State Police. Mr. Vance reports to Governor Dannel Malloy, the state’s chief executive.

At a minimum, the highly politicized decision, masquerading as a finding that turns on a process point, is a firm indication to citizens of Connecticut  who may in the future be harmed by high-handed suit-prone attorneys general that they cannot receive simple justice from the courts, because “the state” is encircled by a near absolute sovereign immunity so impenetrable to common sense and simple justice that it may only rarely be breeched -- not even by an aggrieved woman initially sued by the state upon whom once attorney general  and now U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal had waged, according to a jury verdict, an unjust war in the course of which her company had been litigated out of existence by Mr. Blumenthal.

Really, one wants to respond with pikestaffs and pitchforks to the high court’s decision. The owner of Computer Plus – as well as the owners of all small businesses in Connecticut – has been told by the Supreme Court that she has no direct recourse to the courts after the state first initiated a suit against her.

No, instead of applying to the courts for succor in response to a state initiated suit since determined by a jury to be ill advised, the aggrieved and damaged owner of Computer Plus must first apply to politicians, the initial cause of the misery and near poverty brought upon her by ambitious, publicity hungry politicians on the make.  

When apprised by an English court that the law supposed Mr. Bumble’s wife “operated under his direction,” Mr. Bumble, a character in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, erupted, “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass — a idiot.”

Under the new regimen imposed by the court, the state may invidiously sue a business; the owner of the business then must apply for judgment to an executive administrator who answers to the governor; should the owner wish to contest the judgment, he must apply to the General Assembly; and should the case proceed to trial, the state attorney general – the very agency that initiated the fraudulent suit – will prosecute the case in court.

The question before the general public is: How would the public know if its state were an idiot?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Gun Crime, Still Not Fixed

Will the gun restriction bill passed by the legislature have an appreciable impact on gun crime in Connecticut? The future will provide an answer to that question, but it does not seem likely.

The gun restriction bill is targeted at gun owners that even Michael Lawlor, Governor Dannel Malloy’s choice to reform penology in the state, would be forced to admit do not generally show up in crime statistics. How many NRA members are currently doing time in Connecticut prisons because they used their guns to hold up EZMarts – like Frankie Resto?

Released early from prison under the auspices of Mr. Lawlor’s Risk Reduction Earned Credits program, Frankie Resto, a little more than a year ago, easily acquired a gun and fatally shot a store owner in Meriden.

Unless you can separate Frankie “The Razor” Resto and guns you will not make a dent in in the use of weapons by criminals; incidentally, they’re called “criminals” because they commit crimes.

The distinction between law abiding gun owners and violent criminals seems to be lost on the Malloy administration, Mr. Lawlor and the Democratic dominated General Assembly. Mr. Resto was a gangbanger who never -- under any circumstances -- should have been let out early from prison. In fact, after he had engaged in drug activity and burned his mattress while in prison, additional years should have been ADDED to his sentence.

Recently, three young men shot and killed a jogger, Chris Lane, a promising athlete from Australia , because, the shooters said, they were bored and decided to kill someone.  But the person whose phone call to the police was instrumental in their arrest, James Johnson, insists that the crime was a gang initiation killing. In criminal infested urban ghettos, where fathers are as rare as jobs, random or gang related killings are not at all surprising.

Mr. Johnson told an Australian paper, the Sydney Morning Herald, that the shooters “don't have proper fathers in their lives. You can't be a friend to your son; you got to be the father… I feel very sorry for them, they have ruined their whole lives, but they did the crime, they have to do the time. Perhaps they can make a life inside, get God in their lives.”

In many urban environments, random killings by gang members are part of the day’s routine. One may confidently hazard a guess that none of the young men accused of shooting Mr. Lane were members of the NRA. Every prison administrator and guard who had come into contact with Mr. Resto knew he was a gang member with a violent record.

When Mr. Malloy, Mr. Lawlor and the General Assembly have finished passing bills restricting the use of guns by non-violent gun owners and facilitating the early release of violent convicted criminals, they might want to do something about urban gangs.  In large cities in Connecticut, guns don’t kill people – gangs do.  The gun restriction bill passed in Connecticut may or may not be useful, but the long arm of that bill will not inconvenience the criminal element in cities.

What could be done to accomplish this end? All the effective solutions are politically risky. It would help a great deal if politicians were interested in restoring the torn social fabric in urban areas.

We should not wait for universal agreement among sociologists before we accept as reasonable Mr. Johnson’s proposition that young boys go wrong when they are not guided by a father’s firm hand.  In fact, there are many sociological studies that point to a connection between fatherless families and urban crime; other studies demonstrate a positive connection between the presence of a father in an urban family and intelligence in male children.

Fatherless children in urban areas drift off into gangs, often a paternalistic substitute, commit crimes, go to prison, get out, commit more crimes, father a fatherless child, go back to prison – and the unbroken cycle repeats itself endlessly.  We have to wake up to this reality.  How many more young boys in cities have to be sacrificed to the urban Moloch before we take very hard, politically risky steps to ameliorate the problem?

Moloch was the pagan idol to which children were sacrificed by a passage through fire. We have to restore – especially in urban environments, where children are made to pass through the fire daily – the real presence of fathers in families. And moral suasion is not enough.  It is not enough for a paternalistic state to tell an absent father who effectively has been replaced by the solicitous state, that he must – really, he must! – accept the responsibilities of fatherhood, even from his jail cell.

Either we take the hard way or we accept Moloch’s terms:  A child, abandoned by its father, is born out of wedlock; the state agrees to finance the status quo; the child joins a gang, passes through the fire, commits a crime, goes to prison, is let out early because he has taken courses provided by Mr. Lawlor’s new program, fathers yet another out of wedlock child, commits another crime, is remanded to prison. And the prisoner’s children are remanded to Moloch.

Under these circumstances, every refusal of a choice is a choice.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Politics In The Ruins

When 10-term Mayor of New Haven John DeStefano announced he was calling it quits, a queue of Democrats quickly formed, each aspirant anxious to step into Mr. DeStefano’s outsized shoes.  Among Democrats hoping to succeed DeStefano are Toni Harp, a state senator for the past 20 years, Yale Law School graduate Henry Fernandez, Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina and Alderman Justin Elicker.

As is the case with other large cities in Connecticut, New Haven is a one party town. This means that no Republican need apply for mayor. The urban redoubts of decaying political party machines are still important to Democrats who run for state-wide offices. Votes in Bridgeport and New Haven were largely responsible for Governor Dannel Malloy’s successful run for governor, and it will not do to ignore those who butter your political bread. A perception of this kind may have drawn Mr. Malloy to New Haven to endorse Mrs. Harp.

At least one of Mrs. Harp’s Democratic opponents, Mr. Fernandez, was unimpressed by the endorsement, “a rare endorsement” from Mr. Malloy, according to one reporter. Mr. Malloy’s political endorsements are not nearly as rare as those of his predecessor, former Governor Jodi Rell, who steadfastly refused to play politics while in office. Mr. Malloy is free of that political impediment. It is true, however, that Mr. Malloy has not been in the habit of praising politicians who are not Mr. Malloy, and his endorsement in New Haven is likely to help him much more than Mrs. Harp.

Prior to Mr. Malloy’s endorsement of Mrs. Harp, Mr. Fernandez released a statement:

“If Governor Malloy was really concerned about what is best for New Haven, he’d be coming here today to ask Senator Harp to pay the million dollars her family owes in delinquent state sales tax.  Instead, he is here to endorse a candidate who lives tax free in a mansion and has a history of failing to pay her own taxes, all while working in Hartford to write state budgets that raise taxes on New Haven families. Clearly, the governor is more concerned about re-election and keeping special interests happy than supporting a candidate who will fight for New Haven families and taxpayers.”

In introducing Mr. Malloy, Mrs. Harp mentioned that the governor had in his budgets implemented substantial savings without harming either students or the poor, and she promised to do the same if elected mayor. The author of the largest tax increase in Connecticut history was equally complimentary to Mrs. Harp

Following his endorsement of Mrs. Harp at Nica’s Gourmet Market and Deli, Mr. Malloy was unsuccessful in his repeated attempts to brush by Wendy Hamilton, possibly an aggrieved taxpayer, who was determined to give the governor a piece of her mind on the subject of tax scofflaws.  Mrs. Harp’s late husband owes the state over $1 million in unpaid taxes.

In defense of her failure over the years to prod her husband to pay his taxes, Mrs. Harp claimed ignorance, rarely an unassailable position for a politician who has spent 20 years in Connecticut’s General Assembly, a dozen of them on the budget writing Appropriations Committee. Mrs. Harp protested that she and her late husband had been living different lives together.

Mr. Elicker said Mr. Malloy’s endorsement of Mrs. Harp was at the behest of Yale’s unions, UNITE HERE Local 34 and Local 35:

“Malloy is in a tough spot. He depended on UNITE HERE to get him elected in 2010. He’s going to need them in 2014. So I can understand the position he’s in.”

Watching from afar is the self-sidelined DeStefano.  The soon to be former mayor and Mr. Malloy are old political antagonists. In 2006, Mr. DeStefano defeated then Mayor of Stamford Malloy in a hotly contested primary for Governor, losing in the general election to popular Republican Governor Jodi Rell.

Thus far, Mr. DeStefano, every bit as progressive as Mr. Malloy, has made no endorsement in the New Haven mayoralty race. But it is not possible to quell altogether the chattering and wondering among those in the city who have for more than 20 years benefited from the DeStefano regime. Will the former mayor pull a Rell and decline to endorse; more importantly, what are his plans for the future? Is it too soon to begin speculation concerning a re-run of the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary?  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blumenthal Crosses The Progressive Bar

Paul Choiniere, the editorial page editor of The Day in New London, seemed mildly disappointed by the news that U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal had crossed the Rubicon and become an aggressive progressive. The increasing willingness of some progressives to challenge presidential leadership, Mr. Choiniere believes, will make the prospect of compromise in the congress yet more remote.

Could it be true?

Mr. Blumenthal had just met with the editorial board of the paper. Given the substance of the interview, Mr. Choiniere noted in a recent editorial, the readers of The Day could reasonably “count Sen. Richard Blumenthal among a growing number of liberal lawmakers who believe that the old Bill Clinton formula, which called upon Democrats to move toward the center on economic and fiscal policy, no longer applies. Income disparities have become so great, the plight of many low-income and young people so severe, it is time to ‘get back to a good, progressive, populist message,’ Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa told the New York Times.

“Blumenthal appears to agree.”

Mr. Blumenthal’s progressive horns appeared as the conversation at The Day turned to student loans. Students are finding it difficult to pay off their loans; the loans are high, it should be noted, because the cost of a university education has increased precipitously since Mr. Blumenthal graduated from Harvard.

The U.S. House and Senate had agreed on a measure that would temporarily tamp down “interest rates on the loans for the next couple of years, but could allow them to rise dramatically in future years.”

At long last, Democrats and Republicans in the Congress had compromised on an issue, a cause for celebration among moderates who have been arguing for years that politics in the United Sates has become unnecessarily polarized owing to the absence in the Congress of moderate politicians. In New England, moderate Democrats are as rare as Dodo Birds, and moderate Republicans in Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional delegation have been extinct for years.

In Mr. Blumenthal’s view, the White House – insufficiently progressive -- “had caved.”

Said Mr. Blumenthal, “I really thought that we should stand and fight this thing because there is a premise at the heart of this bill that is so wrong, which is that we should make a profit off the backs of students - $51 billion this year … the federal government will profit from students. So when they talk about the revenue neutrality of this bill, it just means … the federal government makes 700 million more dollars at the expense of students."

We should be investing in students, Mr. Blumenthal argued, “we shouldn't be profiting off them.”

It took but a few moments for Mr. Blumenthal to unfurl the made-in-Washington all-purpose Democratic progressive campaign script:

“From the standpoint of economic growth and job creation, this group is going to be the economic drivers. They are the ones who have to buy homes, start businesses, build families. If they come of out of school deeply in debt … how can they do any of that?"

When Mr. Blumenthal proposed debt forgiveness as a solution to burdensome loan pay-offs – “He is also pushing for a massive student loan forgiveness program, including community service provisions in return for debt relief” – cooler heads at The Day pointed out that “Debt forgiveness would stand no chance of winning approval in the Republican House.”

“Blumenthal said he doesn't care,” Mr. Choiniere tells us. Instead, Mr. Blumenthal unfurled his campaign flag:

"The great challenge of these next two years will be to make the American people understand what that extreme right Tea Party view of the world means to them in their lives. In the House they are on a kamikaze mission against government, they want government to fail, they want it to be reduced small enough to - how do they say it? - to be drowned in a bath tub."

In the real world outside the Washington beltway there is no such thing as the forgiveness of a student loan – if by “forgiveness” one means that banks will simply absorb the loss. The banks will pass losses on to other people who will absorb the costs that students were contractually obligated to pay, pretty much in the way companies pass on to purchasers of goods and services taxes that are imposed by economic morons who think bank loans can be forgiven without predictable repercussions.

What Mr. Blumenthal’s progressive flag really signifies is that Connecticut now has in the US Senate two progressive senators, both of whom could profit greatly from a course in basic economics. By pinning on themselves the “progressive” red badge of courage, both Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Murphy are now, by definition, far left senators and very much out of the political mainstream in Connecticut, something editorial writers should take note of when both later attempt to moderate their courses in time for their reelections.

Mr. Blumenthal’s effort also is ethically maladroit. It is simply wrong for students to dodge the payment of their debts. Colleges should not be platforms from which students side-step their moral obligations. Then too, there’s always this: If Murphy and Blumenthal are successful in forcing banks to forgive student loans, how many banks do they suppose will in the future issue loans for which they will receive no payments?

That is a serious question, and it is one than any serious reporter in the state should put to both senators.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Is Anyone Home?

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), it must be admitted, knows a thing or two about Connecticut’s businesses and industries – perhaps even more than members of the state’s General Assembly, a majority of whom regularly pass bills and restrictions on companies in Connecticut, sometimes heedless of the real-world unintended consequences of such legislation.

CBIA, one of the largest statewide business organizations in the country, boasts 10,000 member companies. In business for more than 175 years, CBIA represents the collective voice of Connecticut’s industries crying in a parched wilderness.

A few weeks ago, John Rathgeber, CBIA’s CEO, was invited by The Connecticut Policy Institute to speak to a group at the United Health Care headquarters in Trumbull about the state of the state – not good – and suggested course corrections. Mr. Rathgeber is unfailingly polite, soft spoken and a superb business analyst. Asked whether he is making any headway against Connecticut’s hostile business climate, he smiles wanly and hints some progress is being made: “It is still not too late for Connecticut to change directions.”

Hope springs eternal, even from the ashes, but a general survey of the state of the state of Connecticut by Forbes magazine that pulled together in one spot most of the depressing data boiling for  two decades on the state’s back burners -- “How Did Rich Connecticut Morph Into OneOf America's Worst Performing Economies?” -- presented a uniformly dreary picture of Connecticut’s trajectory from its post income tax period forward towards a doubtful future.

Among other blots on Connecticut’s future, Forbes noted that:

“Connecticut has run up the fourth largest pile of debts per capita — $27,540. This includes unfunded liabilities for government employee pension funds.  The total is almost double the per capita debts of financially-strapped California.  Higher debts imply higher taxes in the future…

“Barron’s considered Connecticut to be in the worst financial shape – with debt and pension liabilities a higher percentage of GDP (17.1) than any other state…
“Connecticut has one of the worst business climates in the country.  Factors affecting a state’s business climate include the individual income tax, corporate income tax, sales tax, property tax, unemployment insurance tax and security of private property.  For example, as the Tax Foundation reported, “Connecticut imposed a temporary 20 percent surtax on top of its flat 7.5 percent corporate income tax, in effect raising its rate to 9 percent. This 20 percent surcharge is an increase on a supposedly temporary 10 percent surcharge that has been in place since 2009.
“The American Legislative Council, in its annual Rich States, Poor States study, ranks states two ways – economic performance and economic outlook.  The economic performance ranking is based on a state’s GDP trend, migration trend (in or out) and non-farm payroll enrollment trend.   The economic outlook ranking is based on 15 factors, including the top marginal personal income tax rate, the top marginal corporate income tax rate, property tax burden, estate tax burden, public employees per 100,000 population, state liability system survey and whether a state has a right-to-work law.  Connecticut is ranked #46 for economic performance and #43 for economic outlook.”

Space permits only a partial listing of the state’s deficiencies mentioned in the Forbes report.

Mr. Rathgeber also touched some of the same sore points in his remarks; indeed, much of the statistical data reported by Forbes appeared in one form or another in earlier reports issued by CBIA and other commentators.

Following the Forbes report, editorial optimists at a Hartford paper noted that while the data presented a uniformly bleak picture, there were some bright splotches of sunlight piercing the darkness: 

“There's more to any state's economy than its business climate. In June, the Social Science Research Council ranked Connecticut best in the nation in terms of overall well-being, including income, health and education. The Economist magazine's Human Development Index ranks Connecticut the best of all states. The NBC subsidiary iVillage year ranked our state the top for women.”

Asked what it would take to convince progressive Democrats in the General Assembly and Connecticut’s left of center media that a major course correction is necessary to pull the state from its death spiral, Mr. Rathgeber’s answer was so soft and gentle that it may do no more than tickle the ears of legislators who long have been committed to the proposition that repeated increases in revenue – rather than significant cuts in spending – is the all-purpose solution to Connecticut’s downward plunge.

“It may take a burning bridge.”

Maybe, just maybe, the airplane has to crash into the mountain – Detroit-like – before other sleepy commuters shake off their lethargy, read correctly the signs of the times, and plot a future course-correction that squarely addresses real ameliorative action leading to lower spending, an end to crony-phony capitalism, lower cost and higher quality elementary school education – to avoid remedial reading and math classes in college – general reductions in state mandates and regulations that compel businesses to jack up prices that make Connecticut entrepreneurs uncompetitive in a global marketplace and – the kicker -- the privatization of appropriate state functions to lower fixed costs paid through ever increasing taxes that de-simulate Connecticut’s once thriving economy.

Jobs and Connecticut’s recovery will not come from a reinvention of Connecticut’s economic wheel, a fantasy of ambitious self-promoting politicians. It is far easier to produce jobs from the state’s present businesses, Mr. Rathgeber said. And this can be done through permanent tax reductions and a steady, determined deregulatory process that will snap the chords with which Connecticut has bound its business Gulliver for the past three decades.   

Who within the General Assembly will burn the bridge and commit Connecticut to a more prosperous – albeit, a less political advantageous -- course of action?

It would take only a few men and women of courage to restore the state’s past and reset the state’s future.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Congress To Public, Let’em Eat ObamaCare

One of the founders of the American Republic, James Madison, wrote in Federalist No. 57 that the U.S. Congress would not likely frame laws that would be injurious to the general public because the members of Congress also would be affected by the same laws. The Congress, he wrote, “can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society.”

But the U.S. Congress, the Marie Antoinette of legislatures, has long since learned how to escape laws that members of Congress inflict upon others.

Marie Antoinette, not a Queen beloved by her subjects, was saddled with the quote “Let’em eat cake” by anti-monarchical revolutionists. She was supposed to have uttered this phrase after she had been told the French people were starving; in fact the phrase was launched into the hotbed of revolutionary France by Jean Jacques Rousseau in his autobiography published in 1782 but written in 1765 when the future Queen of France was nine years old. The phase was applied posthumously to the Queen, who actually was very charitable to the poor during her short reign.

No matter. The phrase today indicates the lofty unconcern of rulers with their subjects’ abject government induced conditions.

More than two years ago, commentator Stephen Carter, a Yale professor and author of several books, noted with a shrug of disapproval that Congress had just exempted its members from a pending law that applied to everyone else: “The recent publicity surrounding the very old news that members of Congress aren’t prohibited from trading stock using nonpublic information has the House and Senate running for cover. Hastily drafted bills are picking up co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle.

“Yet it is something of a wonder that there is so much public excitement at the discovery that regulations that apply to lots of other people turn out to be largely irrelevant to those who serve in Congress. This isn’t an exception to congressional practice. It is, far too often, business as usual.”

Mr. Carter provided some examples. Many businessmen, he noted, regard the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as “the bane of their existence” because OSHA sometimes promulgates regulations that are just dumb. “Sometimes the rules are important. Sometimes they are silly. Either way, it’s no concern of our national legislature, which, in its wisdom, has exempted itself” from OSHA regulations.

Although the entire federal government is exempt from OSHA regulations, Congress, perhaps anticipating an adverse response from the toiling masses, the equivalent of Marie Antoinette’s starving masses, never-the-less required federal agencies to promulgate operational rules consistent with OSHA standards. These minimal requirements, however, do not apply to Congress – “which turns out not to be an agency.”

A sigh bursting from him, Mr. Carter notes: “Then there is financial regulation. Critics have lamented that no equivalent of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act applies to Congress. The chief executives of public companies must certify their accounts, and face fines of up to $5 million and as many as 20 years in prison if they do so falsely. Members of Congress (like all federal officials) can make up numbers out of whole cloth without any sanction at all. Incorrect corporate numbers can mislead markets. Incorrect federal budget numbers can mislead the nation. (Perhaps the federal budget, like corporate balance sheets, should be vetted by independent third-party auditors.)”

While federal minimum wage laws apply to private employers and federal agencies, Congress is exempt from the laws because it is not an agency. For the same reason, Congress is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. The National Labor Relations Act exempts the federal government generally, but special rules concerning collective bargaining and unfair labor practices apply to federal employees – but not to Congress.

No one should be surprised that the Congress is at it again, this time in connection with ObamaCare. Members of Congress and their staffs are required to participate in The Affordable Care Act (ACA). The requirement was supposed to acquaint congressmen with the rigors of ObamaCare they had imposed on the rest of the country. But some congressmen have slipped the noose.

Here in Connecticut, according to published reports, two members of Connecticut’s all Democratic Congressional delegation, U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty and U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, have decided not to follow in the footsteps of President Harry Truman, who enrolled as the first Medicare beneficiary in 1965 when the program came on line.

"I support the act,” Mr. Blumenthal said, “and believe that federal employees and members of Congress should have access to the new options for health insurance provided by the ACA, including what is available on their local exchanges," Blumenthal said in a statement to a newspaper.

Since Mr. Blumenthal supports ObamaCare, he also supports its mandatory requirements. Under the old dispensation, before ObamaCare arrived on the scene to the blare of heavenly trumpets, Mr. Blumenthal’s younger constituents were not forced under penalty of fines to purchase medical insurance. Mr. Blumenthal, who may freely choose whether he does or does not wish to enlist in ObamaCare, will be spared the fines that hang like a Damoclean sword over the heads of  younger people who are not congressmen and do not have the luxury of writing laws that do not operate on them.

One wonders how James Madison, quoted above, would have voted on the exemptions enjoyed by congressmen who in effect have said to their constituents “Let’em eat cake.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Political Prospects in 2014

Skirmishing for the 2014 elections has already begun. Two Republican candidates have already given firm indications that they plan to run against the Democratic nominee for governor, most likely present Governor Dannel Malloy, although Mr. Malloy has not yet made a formal announcement. Victory in an election depends in large part on the prevailing circumstances of the moment, and we simply do not know what the prevailing circumstances will be in 2014.

But some things will have changed. President Barack Obama, very much underestimated by Republican prognosticators before the 2012 elections, will not be on the mid-term election ticket. Republicans may recall the now amusing predictions of Karl Rove and others just before the votes were tallied. Former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney was supposed to have edged out the sitting president, according to the calculations of Republican number crunches such as Dick Morris. 

Obama’s absence may be a plus or minus for Democrats whose seats are vulnerable depending – we’ve heard this before – on the state of the economy. Some economists say the economy is resurging; others think improving economic conditions are a false spring. The testimony of competing economists may remind the general public of the testimony of, say, state and defense psychologists at criminal trials. The defense and the prosecution both have their own psychologists and what is said by one putative expert is unsaid by the other.

The baleful effects of Obamacare have not yet kicked in, and the president has gone to some pains to see to it that the downside of Obamacare will not be apparent until after the election. The president’s “lead from behind” foreign policy has left the United States behind in the estimation some of its European friends. The economic downturn in Europe means, if it means anything at all, that Maggie Thatcher was right about socialism when she said, “The problem with socialism is that, sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money.” Europe is running out of options and, here in the United States, the Democrats’ social prescriptions are beginning to lose some zest. The Republican “war on women” was a useful campaign slogan back in 2012, but slogans are by nature political fads, and nothing in politics is more certain than the rapid passing of a fad.

All this is national, but it impinges somewhat on northeast state races because state Democrats have committed themselves to the operative script written by Obama’s Chicago playwrights in Washington DC. Some U.S. Senators and House members may have over committed themselves. At some point, as they are walking the plank and see below them the sharks circling in the waters, they may as easily un-commit themselves.

To a large extent, however, state politics is a local operation. Even so, one finds striking strategic and policy similarities between Connecticut’s progressive Democrats and national Democrats. The bite that modern progressivism has taken out of the Democratic Party hide, especially here in Connecticut, is significant.

At its core, progressivism is a statist doctrine. The blue-blooded progressive believes both the economy and society should be directed by governors and presidents. To the committed progressive, the doctrine of subsidiary – the notion that political solutions should issue from the smallest political unit affected by policy – is bosh. One detects a progressive imperative at work in Governor Dannel Malloy’s eagerness to interfere in every political transaction. This is a governor constitutionally incapable of minding his own business. And, of course, progressivism is irresistible catnip to Democratic politicians operating in a single party state such as Connecticut.

The progressive doctrine is an attractive one both for office holders and those involved in the media. Asked the question “What do you plan to DO once you are elected to office?” the progressive will answer without hesitation, “Anything and everything.”

He or she will wipe every tear, answer every sigh, and be prodigal with extravagant promises. To the same question, the conservative will answer, “As much as good sense will allow, and nothing that will disturb effective solutions that come from the people themselves.” This is not a satisfying answer for those who have been led to believe that politicians should help those who CAN help themselves without political angels hovering about them whispering heavenly commands in their ears.

The conservative answer leaves people, as much as possible, with their liberties and virtues intact. The trouble with moderns who expect to be coddled in the lap of the nanny state is that they are bored by virtue – as understood by the founders, a principle of action that leads to self-sufficiency -- and willing to surrender their liberty at the drop of a political promise. The conservative message is not one that sells well in the heat of a political campaign.

If one adds to all this the considerable advantages of incumbency and a media that appears to be rooting from the stands in favor of the Democratic one party state, Connecticut Republicans will in 2014 find they have a very rough row to hoe.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Clinton And The Weiner Roast

Hillary Clinton, her ambitious eye on the presidential prize in 2016, is said to be livid – LIVID – at comparisons drawn between Huma Abedin, one of Mrs. Clinton’s chief aides before she retired as Secretary of State, and First Lady Clinton during her husband’s groping and pawing years as president.

About 15 years ago, First Lady Hillary stood in defense of her beleaguered husband – despite her claims that she was no “stand by your man,” Tammy Wynette marriage rug – when jackals in the media were lobbing moral stink bombs at the inoffensive Bill. Abedin has appeared at her husband’s campaign rallies standing by her man, arms rigidly at her side, unsmiling.

To be sure, there are important differences between Huma’s and Hillary’s public humiliations.

Anthony Weiner is running for mayor of New York, while Bill, during the Monica Lewinsky years, was a sitting president. Mr. Weiner has given no indication of presidential ambitions, and there are some commentators who believe, quite apart from his moral imperfections, that Mr. Weiner had not yet acquired the right presidential stuff.

So then, right off the bat, the status and stature differences are significant. The First Lady slot is a position more exalted than that of the wife of a prospective mayor. In keeping with Bill’s superior status while in office, his satyriasis was more riotous, and his disposition to tell stretches while under oath was exceedingly refined; so much so that, two months after the Senate failed to convict him, he was held in civil contempt of court by Judge Susan Webber Wright. The president’s license to practice law was suspended in Arkansas for five years, a judgment upheld by the United States Supreme Court, and he was fined $90,000 for giving false testimony.

There are, as well, unfortunate similarities between the wives of the two stricken politicians. Both had hitched their wagons to unruly political steeds. The ruling political presumption concerning ambitious married politicians who stray, transcending the social mores that tie lesser mortals to their solemn vows, is that both sexual and political energy spring from the same source, a substantially impacted ego.

The force that through the green fuse drives the political flower and the irresistible devilish nudges that caused Bill Clinton to grope women – unsuccessfully attempting, at least on one occasion according to a molested victim, the rape of a grieving widow in the White House kitchen -- are one and the same. In the Freudian view, most cigars are subtle sublimations; moral and immoral energy have the same parentage.

This view is little more than a plea before the throne of a pre-Christian Pan in defense of sexual libertinism. It expunges “sin” through a murderous assault on the will of men and women. If we are all helplessly in thrall to erotic urges, there can be no commanding instructions from the moral sense to the will. If we are, as some moral philosophers now insist, little more than fleshy robots, our “choices” are hard-wired into us, and we are no more responsible for them than for the color of our eyes or the curl in our hair. Without free will, freedom as well as “sin” is a philosophical categorical error. And so we tiptoe toward Christian forbearance in the shoes of a Freudian determinism every bit as commanding and controlling as Calvinistic predestination.

Concerning Weiner, there are two questions before the house: 1) Should his faithlessness be forgiven by voters; and 2) should he be running for mayor of New York? The answer to both questions will depend on whether voters think they are fleshy robots moved about in the world by little understood psychic forces. Ultimately, New Yorkers will decide what kind of a mayor and world they want. We are inclined to condemn the sin and forgive the sinner, but forgiveness does not inescapably entail the casting of votes for sinners.

Both Hillary and Abedin have problem husbands. In Hillary’s case, not all the ghost of infidelities past have been safely interred. Like deathless vampires, they rise from their midnight coffins. Most recently, a 26 year-old tape thought to be safely lost was recovered for posterity. The lead in a story that appeared in Britain’s “Mail on Line” reads: “'I could take all my clothes off': Never-before-heard tape released of ‘Monica Lewinsky pleading with Bill Clinton to meet her.’”

The tape is a record of the cooings of Lewinsky to then President Bill. It is, of course, embarrassing; but then shameless politicians quickly recover from these moments, sometimes far in advance of the people they urge to vote for them.