Monday, September 30, 2013

Connecticut, The One Party State Of Secrecy And The Cloud Of Unknowing

Danbury State Attorney Stephen Sedensky, the keeper of the Sandy Hook secrets, has so far had a fairly easy time of it, but disquieting murmurs rend the air.

The Associated Press (AP) last July petitioned Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) to order the release of 911 tapes made during the mass shooting of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The commission found – surprise! – that such information could not be withheld from the public merely because Mr. Sedensky asserted a criminal investigation was ongoing.

Not good enough, said the commission. Statutes do allow prosecutors to withhold 911 tapes, as well as other evidence, if charges are pending and a trial may be in the offing. Obviously, the premature release of information may adversely impact a prosecution and trial. The commission noted, however, that such was not the case in the Sandy Hook massacre. Much to the dismay of multiple parties whose political interests might be advanced by the withholding of all formally certified information relating to Sandy Hook, the FOI commission ordered the release of the 911 tapes because -- no trial was pending, virtually all of the direct witnesses to the crime were slain in the slaughter, and the release of such hard verifiable information was both routine in such cases and necessary for the advancement of the public good.

"In essence,” the FOIC noted in its decision, “the respondents' position is that the … records, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation where it is not yet known if a prosecution will ensue, are not required to be disclosed. However, the Appellate Court explicitly rejected this very argument."

Mr. Sedensky is appealing the FOIC decision. While it is true that Mr. Sedensky is running afoul of the governing statute in refusing to disclose the 911 calls, it is also true that the calls, and perhaps other releasable information, may be kept in the freezer until Mr. Sedensky exhausts his appeals. No one knows for certain what is driving the secrecy.

In a less than stinging rebuke, a Hartford paper urged the release of the tapes and noted, ominously, that “Connecticut’s FOI Act is being chipped away by the governor and the General Assembly.”

Indeed, Mr. Sedensky’s effort to draw a veil of secrecy around routinely released information is simply one among many efforts during the reign of Governor Dannel Malloy, once a prosecutor himself, to smother inconvenient data under a blanket of secrecy. The temptation to secrecy becomes more and more irresistible as Connecticut drifts further and further in the direction of a one party state.

The gun bill passed by the Connecticut Democratic dominated General Assembly should have relied on the unimpeachable evidence flowing from the release of the state’s twice delayed criminal report. It should be noted here that Republican leaders eagerly embraced the gun legislation produced by a General Assembly perfectly willing to develop legislation grounded in best guesses and surmises. The final gun bill was not presented at public hearing, during the course of which experts on guns, crime and punishment might have shaped the legislation. 

Mr. Malloy, the first Democratic governor in more than two decades, wrote his first budget without any input from the opposition Republican Party. Republicans were simply shooed away from the budget negotiating table, while Mr. Malloy, who had been invested with near plenipotentiary powers by the Democratic dominated General Assembly, negotiated back room deals with union leaders, who had become in effect Connecticut’s fourth branch of government. The reporter-proof, secretive back room negotiating sessions permitted Malloyalists to present the state with a fait accompli budget that included – no surprise here – the largest tax increase in state history, a spending and revenue plan that in effect made Mr. Malloy the state’s chief crony capitalist, and questionable “savings” that were more than offset by multiple year increases in union benefits and salaries.

A penological program developed by Mike Lawlor that rewards with early release credits prisoners who behave well while in prison was smuggled past critical legislators in an omnibus implementer bill. The benefits of the program were applied retrospectively to prisoners who were not subject to the supposed rehabilitative aspects of the program, and early release credits were given to violent criminals, one of whom, Frankie “The Razor” Resto, managed to acquire an illegal firearm he used to murder a storekeeper in Meriden, Connecticut. Michelle Cruz, then Connecticut’s Victims Advocate, spoke out publically against Mr. Lawlor’s poorly drafted, poorly executed program. Ms. Cruz’s job was then put on the auction block. Mr. Lawlor’s program still allows violent criminals such as rapists to avail themselves of early release credits.

Without strenuous objections from the new, more malleable Victims Advocate, (name, link), the Malloy administration arranged a plea deal with “The Razor” -- so called because as a gang-banger he used to shake down drug dealers with a razor – without allowing the family members of his victim to testify on the Lawlor-Malloy-Resto deal. The deal makers certainly were audacious: Statutes give the victims of violent criminals the right to testify in such cases.

These are the actions of politicians who are certain no one is looking over their shoulder. And why should they worry? The media, after all, cannot crash the political back rooms in which policy is made secretly with little public input. And in the one party state, all opposition from the party out of power may be safely disregarded. The reigning assumption among the power brokers is that people will not notice the bitter fruits of the one party state until the whole state of Connecticut comes to resemble Bridgeport or New Haven or Hartford, at which point all forward progress will be irreversible.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Foley Charges Partly Vindicated By Critic

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea -- T.S. Elliot

Kevin Rennie, a Harford Courant columnist, is regarded by some in politics as the Torquemada of Connecticut commentators – especially in matters of what one might call political ethics. Many politicians have felt his bite and winced.

After an appearance on WFSB’s “Face the State” with Dennis House, Tom Foley, who is expected in the near future to announce his bid for governor on the Republican Party ticket, had much to wince at.

In the most recent Rennie column, Mr. Foley was still mercilessly flailed – “Foley served a dog's breakfast to viewers in his return as a candidate for governor. Foley was a flailing amateur. He's been unable to provide proof for some of his allegations, despite claiming they met some journalistic standard that lives a solitary life in Foley's head” – but into this whipping crept a softer tone.

One of Mr. Foley’s supposed boneheaded allegations was that the relationship between Governor Dannel Malloy’s former media liaison and flack catcher, Roy Occhiogrosso, and Connecticut crony capitalist head of state was unseemly, profitable to them both and unethical under the standard of ethics embraced by Jesus Christ -- even though the bi-profitable relationship was perfectly legal. A transcription of Mr. Foley’s remarks may be found here at “Connecticut Commentary: Red Notes From A Blue State.”

In the course of his “Face the State” interview, Mr. Foley noted that he was relying on multiple reliable sources who wished to remain anonymous, after which he spoke the fatal words: “But these are all things that have been told to me by more than one reliable source, and so it meets a journalistic standard.”

The intake of breath among Connecticut scriveners was audible from New London to Hartford. One could smell brimstone in the air: Who does he think he is, Woodward or Bernstein? These were the two renowned reporters who, relying at the beginning of their investigation chiefly on a single reliable source, “Deep Throat,” finally shoved Tricky Dick Nixon off the political stage? “Deep Throat” remained anonymous for decades after the Nixon putsch, finally outing himself just before he kicked the bucket.

The gauntlet thrown down to Connecticut’s media by Mr. Foley – just investigate this stuff – has now been taken up in part by Mr. Rennie.

“This is state government, so there's always money to be found for friends, no matter what the condition of the economy. I overstated the case last week when I wrote that the contract to Global Strategies had been awarded by competitive bid (emphasis mine).

“Three insiders at Access Health CT invited three public relations companies to submit proposals for the lucrative contract. They did not open the process to the many firms that could meet the basic requirements of a public relations contract whether with innovative or stale ideas. The insiders included former Enfield Democratic state Rep. Kathleen Tallarita, Access Health CT's head of government relations and communications. In 2012, Tallarita became the rare suburban legislator to lose her seat in a party primary.”

This sort of thing happens frequently in Connecticut politics: Backs are scratched; friends are rewarded, enemies punished. Good investigative reporters occasionally uncover dubious, possibly unethical practices when a gored enemy plops a story on their desks. These sources are generally given protective anonymity as the reporter turns over a few rocks and examines the hitherto undisclosed swarm of ethical muck beneath them.

In a one party state, the possibility of such disclosures is markedly reduced. And there is no reporter in the state who does not now know that Connecticut has crossed the bar: The state’s entire U.S. Congressional Delegation is solidly Democratic; the Democratic Party boasts in Mr. Malloy its first Democratic governor in more than two decades; the state’s General Assembly is solidly Democratic. We know from the history we do not wish to repeat that the one party state is more successfully corrupt than the state that has an active two party system in which political power is evenly and justly shared. It’s what you think you know for certain and don’t that kills you. In a one party state the rocks are larger and more immovable.

Moving the rock that seals the tomb requires a media that is unflinchingly non-partisan, alert, energetic and courageous.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blumenthal’s Snippit

U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal’s awkward false claim, made or intimated several times, that he had served as a marine in Vietnam rose out of the newspaper morgues recently after former New York Times political writer Ray Hernandez joined a Washington D.C. PR firm.

The story in the Hartford Courant, “NY Times Reporter Who Was Fed Blumenthal Vietnam Scoop Will Join DC Firm Led By One Time McMahon Adviser”, actually is a story about a story, a story twice removed.

The story concerning a move by former New York Times reporter Ray Hernandez to the Washington PR firm DCI Group was first mentioned by Politico reporter Dylan Byers in a brief story, “NYT's Ray Hernandez to DCI Group”.

The Courant story is brief enough to be included here in full:

Dylan Byers of Politico reported that former New York Times political writer Ray Hernandez is joining a Washington PR firm.

Normally the comings and goings of journalists aren’t that interesting but in this case, as Byers noted, Hernandez’ move merits a mention. Back in 2010, Hernandez broke the story that now Sen. Richard Blumenthal falsely claimed he served in Vietnam.

The story was built upon a snippet of video from an obscure event in Norwalk several years earlier. Almost immediately, people began to speculate that video was unearthed by the crack opposition research team of Blumethal’s (sic) multimillionaire Republican opponent, Linda McMahon.

Columnist Kevin Rennie wrote the following on his blog right after the Times story broke: “The Blumenthal Bombshell comes at the end of more than 2 months of deep, persistent research by Republican Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign,” Rennie wrote. “It gave the explosive Norwalk video recording to The Times.”

Ed Patru, McMahon’s 2010 media strategist, fessed up to the Connecticut Mirror. ”We got our hands on it,” Patru told @CTMirrorPaz shortly after the story broke.

Flash forward more than three years later: Hernandez is leaving the Times to work at DCI Group, a public relations firm where Patru is vice president. Coincidence?

That last word – Coincidence? – hangs in the Courant story like a hangman’s noose. Of course it’s not a coincidence, you ninny. The McMahon campaign slips to a New York Times reporter “a snippit of video” showing Mr. Blumenthal lying about his service in Vietnam; the reporter constructs a story around “the snippit of video”; the story causes Mr. Blumenthal, then running for the U.S. Senate from his perch as Connecticut’s Attorney General, a bit of embarrassment, but he barricades himself from probing reporters, asserts he several times misspoke, and  survives “the snippet of video”; later the reporter, Mr. Hernandez,  is hired by a firm whose Vice President, Mr. Patru, was a campaign advisor to Linda McMahon, the millionaire. Coincidence? The imputation is that the hiring of Mr. Hernandez by Mr. Patru is a payback of some kind. In politics, as savvy reporters well know, there are no coincidences – unless the tangle of connections involves one of “our bums,” in which case we write a story that makes reference to a “snippit of video,” while failing to mention other snippits of video and news reports that show Mr. Blumenthal either saying or brashly intimating that he served as a marine in Vietnam.

Here is the “snippit of video” cited in the Courant story:


The story follows on the heels of multiple reports of a claim made by Tom Foley, a Republican Party gubernatorial wannabe, that Roy Occhigrosso, gyrating between his employment at Global Strategy and communications chief for Governor Dannel Malloy, may have crossed an ethical bar when the PR firm was awarded a Malloy connected contract. Mr. Foley had invited Connecticut’s media to look into a relationship he regarded as unsavory, if legal.

The Malloy-Global Strategy connection, it would appear from multiple editorials and commentary pieces in Connecticut, none of them favorable to Mr. Foley, may have been “a coincidence.” After all, political operatives constantly shuttle between newspapers, political organizations, educational institutions and high paying PR firms always happy to have in their employ politically connected fallen stars.

Such things happen all the time. Charlie Morse, the Courant’s chief political writer, left the paper, where he had for several years written glowing accounts of the sayings and doings of then Senator Lowell Weicker, to work on the Weicker campaign for governor; Michele Jacklin, who as chief political commentator at the Courant stepped into Mr. Morse’s empty shoes, left the paper to work on New Haven Mayor John DeStefano’s campaign.

Mr. Occhiogrosso floated from Global Strategy into the Malloy administration, then retreated to Global Strategy after two years of honorable service as the governor’s flack catcher. His company rewarded Mr. Occhiogrosso with a Vice Presidency, and even today, from his perch at Global Strategy, news reporters at the Courant continue to treat Mr. Occhiogrosso as if he were a paid communications director for the embattled governor. Shortly after Mr. Occhigrosso returned to Global Strategy, his company received a lucrative contract from the Malloy administration. Nothing to see here, please move on.

Happens all the time. Nothing to see here. Please move on.

Perhaps the best report on Mr. Blumenthal’s serial misstatements concerning his service in Vietnam came from Australia. The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) featured Mr. Blumenthal as one of a few notable imposters in a documentary on stolen valor called “Heroes, Frauds and Imposters” (hit “play video” on the link provided here: ),” a documentary that puts Mr. Blumenthal’s misrepresentations in a proper context. That documentary, no snippit, will not be shown, it is safe to predict, anywhere in the state when the pretend Vietnam marine – like Mrs. McMahon, a Greenwich millionaire -- once again runs for office. 

The snippit averse Connecticut Commentary reported on Blumenthal’s manifest lies here.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Roll Your Own Taxpayer

The Chris Donovan, “Roll Your Own” scandal is being judicially tucked to bed now that some principals in the scandal have been sentenced.  Most recently, Joshua Nassi, former state House Speaker Chris Donovan’s campaign manager, was sentenced to 28 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton.

Mr. Donovan was running for the U.S. House in Connecticut’s 5th District when his campaign was rudely interrupted by FBI wired singing canaries, prominent among them former corrections union official Ray Soucy, a character who might have done well for himself during the good old days of Tammany Hall and George Washington Plunkitt, the Tammany Hall boss who always was careful to make a sharp distinction between honest and dishonest graft.

Connecticut’s Roll Your Own tobacco shops seriously undermined the state’s effort to reduce smoking by making tobacco prohibitively expensive through punitive taxation. The Roll Your Own product could not have been punitively taxed unless the General Assembly designated such shops as “tobacco manufacturers.” Slapping that designation upon an operation in which cigarette purchasers used a machine to roll their own cigarettes was, as Mark Twain might have said, a bit of a stretcher.

Right from the start, however, the political stars were aligned against the Roll Your Own Tobacco shops, which were springing up like poisoned mushrooms all over the state. And, unforgivably, these mushrooms were not subject to the same exorbitant tax levied on Big Tobacco.

While the tobacco tax is the state’s most egregious example of punitive taxation, Connecticut’s tax on gasoline – the environmentally bad stuff people put in their cars so they might get to work and pay more taxes – is the highest in the nation. The gas tax is actually two taxes: a tax paid at the pump and a gross receipts tax, hidden from purchasers, levied when the product arrives in port, both of which were supposed to be sequestered in a special fund for road maintenance. The so called road maintenance tax has long since been dumped into the state’s General Fund. Some voices in the state’s Democratic dominated General Assembly lately have been raised to resurrect tolls to pay for much needed road and bridge maintenance.

Always starving for tax receipts to pay for a budget that has increased threefold since former Governor Lowell Weicker and Democrats in the General Assembly imposed an income tax on the state, a bill was put forward in the General Assembly to designate Roll Your Own tobacco shops as “tobacco manufacturers.” So designated, the Roll Your Own shops would be subject to the same exorbitant and punitive taxes levied on Big Tobacco. This is the bill that became the snare that caught Mr. Nassi and others in its iron and unforgiving jaws.

Punitive taxes are always imposed under a flag of concern and compassion. Smoking is bad for your health, and it increases the cost of health care. Why should people who are not addicted to smoking pay higher insurance premiums because smokers choose to pollute their lungs? Who would mind paying exorbitant taxes on gasoline, if they could be certain the taxes would be dedicated to road and bridge repairs? Cars that do not depend on gasoline are more environmentally friendly, and high gasoline taxes are a way of driving up the cost of gas guzzling cars so that future purchasers would be more inclined to “invest in” more environmentally friendly modes of transportation. Better still, these tax dollars can be used to make necessary “investments” in public transportation such as the New Britain to Hartford fast-track bus line.

Such is the irresistible zeitgeist in Connecticut: What fool could possibly object to high taxes if it can be shown that the taxes are used for benevolent purposes by a prudent and compassionate state? Taxpayers in Connecticut should know their public officials will use such punishing taxes wisely. The benefits of high taxes far outweigh the disadvantages of high taxes. Any idiot can see that. And any idiot can see that low tax Roll Your Own smoke shops kicked against the pricks

What? A low tax tobacco product in Connecticut?  You gotta be kidding me. Why, everyone knows that low tax products drive from the market high tax products. And they rob tax resources from a benevolent Peter who is robbing taxpayers to pay Paul. Why, dear me, think of the collapse of benevolence that would occur if state government were deprived of tax resources.  Just to begin with, Governor Dannel Malloy would not be able to supply dwindling tax resources to multimillion dollar Connecticut based companies in order to bribe the companies to remain in Connecticut and refrain from moving operations to low tax, low regulatory states. In a low tax, low regulatory environment, tax consumers would have to do more with less. Where would we be then?

Low tax Roll Your Own smoke shops fell to this remorseless logic. They were doomed from the beginning. It only took a slight nudge and a little canary-wiring from the FBI to topple them over the edge.   

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

McKinney’s Finest Hour

Finest hours in the lives of politicians are so rare that they ought to be celebrated as often as possible,  pretty much in the way John Adams said the country should celebrate its founding:

"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.’’

More often than not, the scribes sleep and snooze through legislative hearings on technically complex issues.

As reported by Shakespeare in Henry V, the kings speech to his troops before the battle of Agincourt is enlivening, to say the least, but one must wonder what would have been left of it had the speech been forced into the procrustean bed of a news report. Indeed, many news reports are little more than retellings of events supplied in a press release by the communication director for Senator Billingsgate. More often than not, the eloquence that arises from a legislator’s informed reaction to a piece of destructive nonsense, smothered as usual with honeyed idiocy, ends up in some morgue where pretty speeches have gone to die.

Not this time.

A little background first: State Senator John McKinney had listened patiently to proponents of a bill that established an early release program for Connecticut prisoners, Mike Lawlor’s “Risk Reduction Credit” program passed by the legislature 2011. Mr. Lawlor, once a co-chairman of the Judiciary committee, had been plucked from legislative obscurity by Governor Dannel Malloy and put in charge of Connecticut’s prisons. Mr. Lawlor took care to tuck his bill into implementer omnibus bill, no doubt hoping it would escape the notice of keen eyed legislators. He was correct. But the bill was seriously defective, Republicans later said, and the hearing that set Mr. McKinney aflame was convened to correct the defects in the bill – or, at the very least, to permit concerned legislators top point to the defects and propose patches. There were four serious defects in the bill: 1) the early release credits were assigned retrospectively to all prisoners subject to parole hearings, which meant that a great number of prisoners were assigned early release credits even though they had not been beneficiaries of the remedial programs; 2) under Mr. Lawor’s unamended program, credits were awarded to violent criminals; 3) the program was administered by a single person who reported to the governor rather than a committee of penological experts; 4) the program, because it included violent felons, would distort sentences handed down by judges whose sentencing discretion already had been seriously compromised by minimum-mandatory legislative requirements.

Mr. McKinney’s commentary on the Lawlor program followed brief comments by then Senator Edith Prague, who praised the bill.

Madam President, I -- I sat here somewhat frustrated and almost agitated at some of the characteristics about the amendment and the bill before us. My good friend, Senator Prague -- and -- and I would love for her to sit in the Circle and listen -- said that this involved nonviolent offenders. Let me read for you, Senator, the offenses and the criminals who are given early release, even under this amendment.

Manslaughter in the first degree causes death with intent to cause physical injury or with intent to cause death of another person. Someone who commits manslaughter in the first degree is entitled to early release.

Let me read you another one: Assault of a pregnant woman, resulting in termination of her pregnancy. Someone who does that is entitled to early release.   This is not Republican spin. This is a fact, Senator.

Let me read you another one: Sexual assault in the first degree compels another to have sex by use of force; that's rape. A rapist is entitled to early release. That's what this amendment does. That's what the underlying bill does. The language cited by Senator Looney does not change that fact. Rape has a two-year mandatory minimum. If you are a rapist sentenced to jail for ten years, you are entitled to early release. The only thing Senator Looney cited to you is that you're not entitled to get below two years. But a rapist is entitled to early release under this bill; that's a fact. That is not a nonviolent crime.

So, you know, let's be honest about why this amendment is on the floor. This bill came to us from the House of Representatives, and members of the House asked the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who I like and whom I respect, Can a murderer get early release? And he said no. But the language of the bill before us says yes. Can someone who's committed a capital felony get early release? He said no. But the language of the underlying bill says yes.

The good Representative has acknowledged that it was mistaken. So we have an amendment here to correct that. So here are the crimes which are being exempted from early release: Murder, capital felony, felony murder, arson murder, aggravated sexual assault in the first degree -- that's rape with a weapon -- and home invasion. That's it; one, two, three, four, five, six. Those six crimes are exempted from early release. Every other crime on the books, Senator, every other crime is subject to early release.

The comments that were made by other Senators in this Circle to lead you to believe that violent felons could not get subject to early release are wrong and misleading.

Let me also posit another example, which I think even undermines the very argument that you can't go below a mandatory minimum, because the issue on that is with respect to the risk-reduction credits. There's also another piece that the Governor has given us in Section 20 that allows for probation officers to evaluate someone who is sentenced to two years or less. And what we've said is someone who is sentenced to two years or less, the probation officer can make recommendations that they serve only ninety days. There’s no exception in this language for a probation officer for a mandatory minimum of two years; so, yes, under Section 20, if you have a crime with a mandatory minimum of two years, say rape, you can get out if your probation makes the recommendation and someone agrees, after ninety days.

That is exactly what this language says. And guess who gets to make all of these decisions? Not us. We're allowing it to happen.

In 2010, a 40-year-old man was sentenced to two years for sexually molesting a young girl over a five-year period, from age 6 to age 11. That gentleman is subject to get out after ninety days if this bill passes.

You want to know why we're upset? Because I don't care if every other state in the country does it; I don't give a darn whether New England does it. We should not allow violent criminals to get out of jail early, period.

The policy before us says, Oh, we want prisoners to be good. And Senator Looney said this doesn't just require them to be good, it requires them to be good and enter into programs. Really? We have to provide an incentive for someone who has committed rape to be good?

Here's what we should do. Right now, they're only required to serve 85 percent of their sentence. We should say. If you're not good, you're going to serve a hundred percent, not let them out early.

Of course they should be good. That's like my kids coming up to me and saying, Hey, Dad, we did what we're supposed to do, now do we get something special? No. You're supposed to do that. Well, if you're in prison, you're supposed to be good and follow the guidelines and do what you're supposed to do; you're in prison. And you're in prison for committing a violent crime against a person, a family, and society.

I represent a town that has a prison in it. There are violent people there. The people in Newtown don't rest as easy as other townspeople, with that prison there. I can tell you, they're going to a lot less easy knowing that these people are going to get out early. Senator, do not listen to some of the things that have been said about this bill; they are not true.

We provide programs to criminals because we know they are going to get out of jail. And when they get out of jail, we want them to be productive members of society. We collectively, regardless of what you think the right penalty should be, all, I think, believe that everyone except for the most heinous, the murders, et cetera, deserve a second chance. And when they get out of jail, we want that second chance to happen. And, God forbid; we don't want them to commit another crime.

So we as a society have made a decision to use taxpayer dollars to provide programs. We have to provide an incentive for a prisoner to avail themselves of these programs, when all the programs are going to do is help them? We have to say, Oh, Dear Mr. Rapist, please, we're going to let you out early if you just take these programs? They should take the darn programs, and if they don't, shame on them. And if they commit another crime, go back to jail again. That's what our policy should be.

We're coddling prisoners, violent criminals and saying, Oh, please be good in prison. Oh, please take these programs, and we'll let you out early. No; that's terrible policy. It is a terrible policy, and I don't care if we're the only state in New England to do what we do, but we should keep doing it.

They let hundreds and hundreds of prisoners out in California because of an overcrowding situation, and crime went up. Duh; of course.

Assault in the first degree is a violent crime. Someone who commits assault in the first decree is entitled to early release. Fact.

Assaults of an elderly, blind, disabled, pregnant or mentally retarded person in the second degree, Section 53a-60b, is entitled to early release.

Strangulation in the second degree; 53a-64bb, is entitled to early release.

Threatening in the first degree; 53a-61aa, is entitled to early release.

Promoting prostitution. We've had people in this Circle who worked very hard to prevent human trafficking. But guess what, Senator? The people who engage in human trafficking, who are in our jails, get early release. Yes, they do.

Kidnapping in the first degree, you're eligible for early release.

Arson, you're eligible for early release.

Have I mentioned a nonviolent crime yet? Should I read all of the rest of the violent, terrible crimes that we are saying people who are only required to serve 85 percent of their sentence can now get early release off that 85 percent?

And here's the kicker. Guess what, Mr. Rapist, we're going to give you time back, retroactively to April 1, 2006. What a nice state we are. We're going to give a rapist Good Time, retroactive to 2006.

Now, you know what? I know you're mad at me for saying that. I know you're saying, Why is he doing that? Why is he shoving it in our face? Because it's true. Somebody in this Circle get up and tell me that a rapist is not entitled to early release, and I will sit down and be quiet, because it's in the bill.

So I'm going to say it now. I'm going to say it tomorrow. I'm going to say it every day I'm lucky enough to be a State Senator, this State Senator does not believe that someone who commits the crime of rape should ever, ever, period, exclamation point, be entitled to early release. No Good Time. Quite frankly, the fact that they're going to get out of prison one day, I'm a little nervous about.

What is the public policy? Please, somebody, when I'm done, get up and explain to me the public policy, the public safety policy behind letting these violent criminals, people who've committed manslaughter, kidnapping, rape, arson, what is the policy behind letting them out early for being good boys and girls in prison?

We're trying to save a buck? That is a terrible policy, and I'm fired up because I've heard representations about what this bill does, that aren't true. If you agree with the policy -- I think Senator Meyer agrees with the policy -- good; stand up and say why. I have no objection with that. I have no objection with that. I disagree with it, but that's what this great Senate is about, that we get to debate these differences.

But to suggest, to suggest that in Section 22, Subsection D, lines 37 to 39, that you can't have your mandatory minimum go below that somehow means that people who commit crimes that have mandatory minimums aren't subject to early time is false. This language means that under no circumstances can your sentence be less than what the mandatory minimum is. It does not mean you are not eligible for early release.

So I'll go back to my example. Rape is a two-year, mandatory minimum; there are higher mandatory minimums if the person is under 16 and under 13. It's a two-year mandatory minimum. If you're sentenced to six years in jail, you as a rapist can get early release time and get out early; you just can't get out before two years. That's all this section does.

Now, I say that with an asterisk, because we have Section 20, which allows for a probation officer to make a recommendation that anyone's been sentenced for two years or less, to get out after ninety days. And I can, Senator, give you a list, because it's a long one, of all of the crimes we found that have been committed in the State of Connecticut and people have been convicted for two years or less.

A 60-year-old, Manchester man repeatedly raped two young girls, one of whom he raped from the time she was 4 until she was 13. The prosecutor said it was the worse sexual assault case he had handled in his fifteen-year career. He plead guilty to two counts of first-degree sexual assault and was sentenced to seventeen years in jail. Under this bill, he gets out almost three years earlier.

Why? Why, for what? Why do we want to get this gentleman out of jail three years earlier? He's lucky he only got seventeen. Think about it. My God; I have a 10-year-old daughter, and if he ever did that to -- him -- one of my daughters, I would kill him, if you didn't get to him first, Senator.

A 40-year-old, Norwalk man, in 2010, was convicted of sexually assaulting a minor repeatedly, when she was between the ages of 6 and 12.

And you know what? I said it before; I'll say it again. I know I'm making you feel uncomfortable, but I don't feel sorry about it. I hope you do. I pray you do.

This is the policy that the Governor has given us and the House has passed. Do I think he wants to be nice to these people? No. Do I think the effects of the policy is that he is? Yes; it is undeniable.

A 40-year-old, Norwalk man convicted of sexually assaulting a minor repeatedly, when she was between the ages of 6 and 12, was sentenced to two years for risk of injury to a minor.

Now, my first reaction to that is who is the judge only giving this guy two years? But the -- but the -- the likelihood is, without having talked to the prosecutor, is that a decision was made that the trauma of putting this young girl through a trial was such that getting a plea deal and putting this man behind bars for some time outweighed the damage that would be done to that young girl of going through a trial. That's probably what happened or maybe there was some evidentiary issues.

But a 40-year-old man repeatedly sexually assaulting a young girl between the ages of 6 and 12, he got two years, Senator. And under Section 20, a probation officer could say after ninety days, I make a recommendation that he be released.

I have no problem voting against this bill. My conscience is as clean as it possibly could be. I've never stood in this Circle and said, You're soft on crime; we're tough on crime, like a debate that's been posited around our country so long. But I will stand in this Circle and state the facts before us and my opinion on what is the right policy. And the facts before us are undeniable that individuals who commit heinous, violent crimes will be entitled to early release.

Good credit, risk-reduction credits, you can call them anything you want; it means they get to get out earlier, five days for every thirty. And the kicker, the insult to those families and those victims is that the person who has been in jail since 2006 gets almost three hundred days off their sentence, retroactively.

I love this debate because this is -- this is what we're elected to do. Do -- do we have -- do we have more important responsibilities than the protection of the people of our state, through public safety? We do a lot of extraordinarily important things here, but are there any that more important than public safety? I don't think so.

The bill before us, the amendment before us, the direction we're given makes our state less safe. It makes our streets in our neighborhoods more dangerous. It just does. I don't think anybody can get up and say it doesn't.

Steven Hayes was released from prison, I think five times. Mistakes are going to be made. Bad, really bad people are going to be let out of jail early. And nobody wants it but we know that one of those really bad people is going to do something really bad again. And that's going to be, that really is going to be on our conscience. It really is going to be on our conscience if somebody gets out because their probation officer thinks they should get out after ninety days.

And, again, I would -- I would urge -- I don't think, Madam President, I don't think there's a point to engage in a colloquy with Senator Coleman about the intent here but -- because I think -- I think the intent is pretty clear by the -- by the breadth of the language in this amendment and in the underlying bill. But there are -- there are two very distinct policies we're talking about here, and I think it's important to mention them. One is the risk-reduction credits. Those are the credits for early release for people who have committed felonies, very violent and nonviolent, where they can get five days per month off of their sentence, and it's retroactive to 2006.

There is a second policy here. And that policy deals with anyone who has been sentenced to less than two years, two years or less. For those people -- and they are not nonviolent offenses; they include violent offenses like sexual assault, rape in the first degree -- for those people sentenced to two years or less, they are eligible -- not that they're going to get it all the time -- but they are eligible for release upon the recommendation of the probation officer after ninety days. Those are two separate sections of the statute.

And as I read the section with respect to two years and ninety days, if you've been sentenced to eight years, suspended after two, you're eligible. So you can be convicted of sexual assault in the first degree, rape, which has a two-year, mandatory minimum. You can be given a sentence of, say, six years, suspended after two, and the probation officer can be snowed by you and make a recommendation that you be released after ninety days. If you think that's the right public policy for the State of Connecticut, vote yes. My vote will be red.

Madam President, I understand we're on the amendment. I understand that this amendment was an attempt to fix some really egregious errors that came from either the Governor's Office or downstairs -- I don't know who.

I also want to thank Senator Prague, because we had a discussion last night about the section regarding release of people who have been convicted for drunk driving. Senator Prague has long been -- before I entered the Senate -- a leading advocate against drunk driving. And as I talked to her last night, she acknowledged and agreed that that section was embarrassingly weak, embarrassingly weak.

The underlying bill, given to us from the Governor's Office and passed by the House, said that if you've been convicted of drunk driving, you can just get out of jail and go home; no monitoring; no requirement for an ignition interlock system; none of that. It was all stuff that could happen but things that I think Senator Prague and I and many others agree should happen.

And so with respect to the interlocking ignition, now that is now mandatory, and I want to thank her for getting it in the bill. But, however, you're still confined to your home without any monitoring, whatsoever, under this bill. And there's still a lot of areas that need improvement with respect to that DUI section. This is better but it still doesn't go far enough.

So we're going to debate this amendment, and then I think on our side we will offer amendments to find out more about what types of criminals should be awarded good credit, risk-reduction credits or early release. I don't really care what you want to define it as; it’s called getting out of jail earlier than you're supposed to.

But, remember, this amendment you're voting for and the underlying bill will allow someone who has committed manslaughter, which is causing the death of another, to get early release. It will allow someone who has committed assault in the first degree, which is causing serious physical injury to another with the intent to cause serious physical injury, to get out on early release. This will cause someone who commits an assault on an elderly, blind, disabled, pregnant or mentally retarded person, to get early release. Such an inhumane and disgusting act by somebody to assault someone with mental disabilities or a pregnant woman, but they're going to get early release.

Threatening, assault, strangulation, arson -- and I know I've said it a lot today, but you're going to hear me say it a lot more -- sexual assault in the first degree, kidnapping. Sexual assault in the first degree, compelling another to have sex by force; having sex with someone under the age of 13; it's rape, and under this amendment and under the underlying bill, you allow that rapist to get early release.

That is an abominable policy. That's as bad a policy as I've ever seen in the State of Connecticut, and I cannot and will not ever support that. And I will talk about this today and tomorrow and every day I'm around here, because this stuff has got to stop, and it's got to change.

I would dare say that maybe if some of us had been invited into the room when these bills were being drafted, we might not have had the policy written the way it is, but that's water under the bridge.

I would -- I would urge my colleagues, we don't have to do everything the Administration wants. We don't; we actually are an equal branch of government.

And if you don't like this policy, why don't we PT the bill, sit down over the weekend.

I'm not saying every single one of these crimes has to come off the list, but the most violent ones should. And why don't we work on that as Democrats and Republicans? I know -- I know there's a bipartisan group here that disagrees with this policy. I just can't figure out why we won't change it.

Thank you.

Such eruptions of common sense should be savored – they are so infrequent – and shown to posterity as evidence that truth is occasionally represented in the deliberations of the General Assembly, even when it is loftily disregarded by majority Democrats, as was the case here.

Soon after McKinney’s remarks were made to the Democratic majority in the General Assembly, Frankie Resto was let loose early on Meriden, Connecticut. A full report on Mr. Resto’s mayhem may be found here in Connecticut Commentary.   

Monday, September 16, 2013

Foley’s Charges

Here is an accurate transcript of a conversation between Dennis House of Face the State and former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley. Mr. Foley hopes to secure the Republican Party’s nomination for governor. Neither Mr. Foley nor Governor Dannel Malloy has as yet formally announced their respective bids for the governor’s office.

A great deal of commentary – most of it critical of Mr. Foley’s comments -- already has preceded the posting of a transcript. But it’s always a good idea to put first things first: First the transcript, then the commentary:

DH: You also said something rather provocative on Tuesday. You suggested that the governor may be trading favors and when a reporter asked you for specifics, you did not. Can you do that today?

TF: Yeah, absolutely. You know last spring I was working with Senator Markley to introduce a bill to raise the ethical standards at the Capitol. And I've just been really disappointed by what goes on at the capitol and what I've learned about the relationships up there, the conflicts of interest. I’m concerned and in some ways disgusted, and I think the governor in some ways contributed this. I think he had an opportunity when he was elected to talk about transparency and to set a standard, and he hasn't. In fact, he may have taken it to a new level, so…

DH: What kind of examples can you offer us today?

TF: Well, first of all, I’ll give you some examples, but first let me preface it by saying I’m not a news organization. I don’t have a staff to look into these things and investigate them. But these are all things that have been told to me by more than one reliable source, and so it meets a journalistic standard. And they’re things that are believed, so they’re a problem whether they’re true or not. It seems that there are (sic) some substance to them, but I can’t confirm that they’re true. So, let me give you some examples.  Umm, Dan Esty. Dan Esty is the head of a consulting firm…

DH: The Commissioner of DEEP…

TF: Yeah, he is now. But this is going back before the election. And it’s believed, or I've heard, a lot of people believe, that at his consulting firm, Esty…. Umm, Environmental Partners, I believe it’s called, or some entity that he controls, was compensating Dan Malloy…

DH: As a candidate?

TF: Well, not as a candidate, but either with consulting fees or compensation or something of value. And in fact it was not a (unintelligible), so that’s a problem in itself. So, this might have been prior to his declaring himself a candidate or during the time he was a candidate. (Unintelligible) I hope not, I don’t know. So, as soon as Governor Malloy is elected, he’s made a commissioner of DEEP. So, to me, that’s improper. It’s a conflict of interest; it’s a favor for something that was done. And in that instance, if that was the case, that potentially is an illegal contribution. When I ran against Governor Malloy, he was fully engaged in the race. So there was no way he was performing any work for Mr. Esty, if he was being paid anything. So it was… should have been a contribution if it was during the campaign. So anyhow, this is something I've heard and that people believe. I welcome the governor coming out and explaining, saying either that it’s not true, or explaining that it’s different from what I am describing.  So let me give you another one. Roy Occhiogrosso. You know Roy huh?

DH: Oh yeah.

TF: He was the governor’s campaign manager and, I think, ran communications and was a spokesman in the administration. Earlier this year, Roy Occhiogrosso left the administration and went back to his political consulting firm, the Global Strategies group. And very recently, they’re awarded a very significant contract to handle, I believe, communications and PR for the Health Exchange for the state, which is a quasi-government entity, but their website is “,” so clearly a government entity. Totally improper, if this is the case of what happened, to me, that somebody leaves the administration and turns around and within a very short period of time a company that he’s a partner in receives a very lucrative government contract. Umm, Andrew McDonald, a very close buddy of the governor, now on our Supreme Court, was a partner in a law firm called Sullivan and… excuse me, (Pullman and Comley), and they do a lot of legal work for the municipalities that issue bonds. It is commonly believed among first selectmen that I know that if you don’t use Pullman and Comley for your bond issue, it's much less likely that the governor is going to approve it, and he has sole authority to approve all bond issues. And so they tend to use that firm to make sure that their bond offering goes through. Whether that’s true or not, the mere perception that that’s the case is creating a distortion in moving business to a firm improperly. Finally, I got one more. Do you want to know…

DH: No, go ahead…

TF: It’s been publicly reported that there’s been issues with the governor’s travels. He took two trips to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland -- It’s quite an expensive trip -- and another trip to China. And it’s publicly reported, and I think the governor’s office has publicly admitted that some of the expenses of this trip was (sic) paid by the UConn Foundation. The UConn foundation is primarily a private funded organization. People who make those kinds of contributions assume that they are providing money for UConn, for the education of the students at UConn and making the program as good as it can be. It’s an improper use of the funds. And I also understand that at least one board member was called by a very senior member of the administration. A lot of pressure was put on them, and they were (sic) reluctantly agreed to provide these funds. So these are examples of things that I consider improper. If I were governor, no one would even think these things were possible, because would set a standard that was so high that even the perception of a conflict, or a friend, or someone in your family getting business as a result of your holding office wouldn't be believed.

DH: We obviously don‘t have the staff here at Face the State to confirm these allegations in the course of this program. I’ll obviously have to look into them. Are there any names of first selectmen and selectwomen you can offer who have made these allegations to you?

TF: Not that I want to share. Obviously, I wouldn't want to share. But there’s more than one; let me just say that. And let me also say that I call on the governor to address these issues, because if they… I hope they’re actually not true, because it would be good for the citizens of Connecticut if they were not true. But these are things that are commonly accepted at the Capitol as being true. And people are: Oh, that’s just the way things are around here, or that’s the way the governor does business.  I think the governor should come out and explain to us whether or not these things that people believe are true. And if they are, and if here’s an explanation for them that would make sense to reasonable people, explain that too. And if he doesn't, I hope the media will go and look into these things. The media has the resources; that’s one of their roles. And let’s get to the bottom of this.

DH: [Well, certainly after this] we’ll look into the allegations. And I know that other reporters certainly will who are watching this program. If these turn out to be false, these allegations, do you think it damages your credibility as a candidate?

TF: No, because I think that the perception that this administration does not have high ethical standards, that favors are being done for friends and family, is there. And the mere fact that it’s there is a problem, whether these things are happening or not, and a good leader doesn't allow that perception to exist. They set a standard, and their own behavior makes people understand that these things couldn't be true. So, if I were governor, no one would be believing these things about my administration.

DH: Do you believe Dannel Malloy to be an unethical governor?

TF: Well, if these things are true, he certainly has a very low ethical standard. Some of these things may or may not be illegal, but they certainly, to me, get nowhere near the threshold of solid leadership and ethical standards that should be present in Connecticut’s government.

The commentary so far is pretty much what might be expected from a media that is left of center and overly protective of Governor Dannel Malloy. The chief concern of a media that lists to the left lies in shoring up the left.

Some commentators may take Mr. Foley’s remark that his representations during the face the State interview met a “journalistic standard” as very far from the mark. But it is clear from his remarks that Mr. Foley was addressing the standard of a “plausible charge.” He said he had more than one unidentified “reliable source,” and the charges, as he outlined them, were far from amorphous. Indeed, they were specific enough to arouse the wrath of Malloyalists both inside and outside Democratic Party precincts.

The preface to Mr. Foley’s charges is not unimportant: “Well, first of all, I’ll give you some examples, but first let me preface it by saying I’m not a news organization. I don’t have a staff to look into these things and investigate them. But these are all things that have been told to me by more than one reliable source, and so it meets a journalistic standard. And they’re things that are believed, so they’re a problem whether they’re true or not. It seems that there are (sic) some substance to them, but I can’t confirm that they’re true.”

Mr. Foley here is not playing the part of a lawyer prosecuting a case. He is issuing an invitation to the media to take up and investigate assumed improprieties.

Now, a charge of impropriety must begin somewhere. Charges at the beginning of an investigation must meet a standard of plausibility; certitude concerning the charge follows an exhaustive ongoing investigation.

Here’s an example: Before anyone in Connecticut was certain that former Governor John Rowland had committed improprieties, there were rumors of improprieties circulating throughout the General Assembly.  Some plausible charges were tossed on the desktop of a number of investigative reporters, reporters pursued leads and an official investigation was opened at the conclusion of which Mr. Rowland pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to steal honest services. No reporter in the state refused to investigate the presumed improprieties swirling about Mr. Rowland because they were mere unproven allegations.

Here are the first two paragraphs in a story covering Mr. Foley’s face the State appearance:

“Escalating his attack in a campaign that technically hasn't begun, Republican Tom Foley blasted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Sunday as a chronically unethical leader.

“Foley, who says he has not yet decided whether he is running for governor, offered a blistering, unsubstantiated, indictment of Malloy as running an administration of back-slapping insiders ‘getting special deals.’ Appearing on WFSB's ‘Face the State’ Sunday morning, Foley declined to offer on-the-record evidence to back up his charges, saying that his allegations meet ‘journalistic standards.’"

Well now, a charge made by one politician of another is very far removed from an “indictment,” a legal term that presupposes a definitive investigation. Legal indictments generally are presented by legally convened and sworn grand juries that have considered and passed on evidence preceding a trial. All pre-investigatory charges are by definition “unsubstantiated.”

At this point, Mr. Foley has merely challenged Mr. Malloy to answer his charges: “And let me also say that I call on the governor to address these issues.”  He acknowledges he has not the resources of a newspaper at his command: “Well, first of all, I’ll give you some examples, but first let me preface it by saying I’m not a news organization. I don’t have a staff to look into these things and investigate them.” He hopes the rumors and innuendos are not true: “I hope they’re actually not true, because it would be good for the citizens of Connecticut if they were not true.” But he cannot deny that the charges, if true, are consequential.  At the very least, the charges made by Mr. Foley rise to a level above that of water cooler gossip, but his repeated pleadings that the media should investigate what one reporter dismissively termed “back-slapping insiders ‘getting special deals’” is infused with the desperation of a man who senses that Connecticut’s investigatory apparatus will not oblige him.       

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Syria And The Collapse Of US Foreign Policy

A couple of months ago, President Barack Obama drew a red line in Syria. He said if Syrian strongman Bashar al Assad, the Middle East’s answer to North Korea’s runt dictator, were to use chemical weapons against his political opponents, this would catch Mr. Obama’s interest and trigger a military response.

At least, that’s what everyone thought he said.

A little over a year ago, at one of Mr. Obama’s infrequent news conferences, the president said:

“I have at this point not ordered military engagement in the situation, but the point that you [a reporter] made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That’s an issue that doesn’t concern just Syria. It concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel; it concerns us [the US]. We cannot leave a situation in which chemical and biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.  We have been VERY clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the grounds, that a red line for us is if we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons start moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus; that would change my equation. [Here a reporter begins to ask a question: “Somehow under… And Mr. Obama continues] In a situation this volatile, I wouldn't say that I am absolutely confident. What I’m saying is that we’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans. We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us, and there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front—or the use of chemical weapons. That would… that would change my calculations significantly.”

Mr. Assad, a host of American mouthpieces assured us, promptly crossed Mr. Obama’s red line and slew with chemical weapons some 1,429 people. Both the figure and the culprit are in dispute.

Following the mass poisoning, former Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who replaced Hillary Clinton as Mr. Obama’s Secretary of State, was dispatched to huff and puff like Mars, the Greek God of war. Here is Mr. Kerry in August pinning the tail on the donkey:

"What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable. And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable."

A military response was imminent. When Mr. Obama said -- “We have been VERY clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the grounds, that a red line for us is if we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons start moving around or being utilized” -- he wasn’t just whistling Dixie. The response, however, would be un-Bushian. It would entail no American boots on the ground.  It would not lead to a Vietnam War boondoggle. Mr. Kerry, who both fought in Vietnam and later protested the war in the company of “The Winter Soldiers,” surely was trustworthy on this point.

Not to worry, the assault targeting Mr. Assad’s war material would be limited in time and scope, “an unbelievably small effort,” Mr. Kerry later explained.

Some people were worried, among them Russian President Vladimir Putin. Assad threatened reprisals as American war ships were dispatched to the area. Mr. Putin also threatened reprisals. Israel stoutly prepared to defend itself from anticipated attacks. Great Britain’s Parliament, for the first time since 1782, voted down a war resolution introduced by its Prime Minister. France flourished a war flag then ran it down the flagpole. After pressure on all sides had been brought to bear against him, Mr. Obama agreed to send the proposal for a limited engagement to Congress. Democratic senators bailed on Mr. Obama; Republican war hawks supported him. In Connecticut, U.S. Representative Chris Murphy said niet; Senator Dick Blumenthal promised to mull the matter over before casting a vote. The world, as sometimes happens when Mars begins bawling from the rooftop, turned upside-down.

In a “Yes, the earth is flat” moment, Mr. Obama denied that HE had laid down a red line:

"First of all, I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are [inaudible] and passed a treaty forbidding their use, even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty. Congress set a red line when it indicated that in a piece of legislation entitled the Syria Accountability Act that some of the horrendous things happening on the ground there need to be answered for. So, when I said in a press conference that my calculus about what's happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons, which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn't something I just kind of made up. I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There's a reason for it."

And then, quick as the flick of a serpent’s tail, a miraculous thing happened: Eirene, the Greek Goddess of peace, Pax among the Romans, gave Ares, Mars among the Romans, a boot in the arse.

War hawk, peace hawk, war hawk Kerry, during a press availability in London, answered a question – Under what circumstances might this march towards war be averted? – by making what a press spokeswoman later would term a throw-away, purely rhetorical  remark. “Sure, he [Bashar al-Assad] could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week - turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting, but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done.”

Mr. Putin intervened with Mr. Assad and then proceeded to exploit an entente. Syria and Iran, both enemies of the United States, are client states of Russia. The proposal casually tossed of by Mr. Kerry suddenly became a reality. Mr. Assad acceded to the Putin-Kerry proposal to turn over his chemical weapons to a United Nations agency, aborting a vote in Congress authorizing Mr. Obama’s belligerency.

The Congress, called upon by Mr. Obama to lay its fingerprints on a resolution giving the president authority to bomb Syria, let out its held breath, blowing off the roof of the Capitol building and flattening the Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington monuments.

The White House later announced that the same proposal had been spurned by Mr. Putin a year earlier. Now amenable to the proposal – given certain revisions -- Mr. Putin made arrangements with both Syria and Iran to supply both counties with new arms. Very likely, the turnover of chemical weapons from Syria to the United Nations, traditionally a playpen of autocratic regimes unfriendly to the United States, will not be able to be verified while Mr. Assad is at war with his opposition. As a condition of the entente, Mr. Putin has stressed the importance of U.S. disengagement. Translation: The U.S. must not ship arms to the enemies of Mr. Assad, while no such prohibition would encumber Mr. Putin. Such would appear to be the conditions of a Putin brokered entente between the United States and Syria. It was an offer Mr. Assad could not and did not refuse.

Among the winners in the serendipitous deal brokered by Mr. Putin, other than Mr. Putin himself, are Syria and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, who narrowly missed a bullet. In the absence of the Putin-Kerry-Obama-Assad entente, the Congress was poised to vote on U.S. intervention in Syria. Anti-war Democrats, weary of  the repeated engagements of U.S. troops in such corners of the world as cosmopolitan Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, some Democrats were in the process of jumping Mr. Obama’s war ship and did not relish an up or down vote on Mr. Obama’s and Mr. Kerry’s “unbelievably small effort.” That vote almost certainly would have affected upcoming Congressional elections.

Having from time to time rented the American military out to international interests as an enforcer of what Mr. Obama has called “international norms,” the American people have become suspicious of lofty supra-national presidential claims.  In fact, there is no such thing as an international foreign policy – never had been, never will be. A nation’s foreign policy, throughout history rooted in sound distinctions between friendly and unfriendly states, becomes incomprehensible as soon as it is detached from national interests. For this reason, a president who fancies himself a world historical individual cannot be the architect of a rational national foreign policy. Unfortunately for the United States, Mr. Obama’s international ambitions are, to put it colloquially, too big for his nation’s britches. One does not expect clarity in foreign policy from a U.S. president who seems incapable of making proper distinctions between the friends and enemies of the United States.

The intentions of Mr. Putin, who rarely strays from what he thinks may be the national interests of Russia, are far more lucid. The United States having rented its military might to international interests, has now permitted its foreign policy to be kneaded and shaped by Mr. Putin. Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry are mere onlookers leading, as always, from behind.