Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Who Killed Cock Robin? Connecticut’s Disappearing Surplus

This campaign year Governor Dannel Malloy had hoped to present voters with a tax rebate drawn from a budget surplus. The rebate, a slender $55 per person, disappeared because the budget surplus disappeared. On Tuesday, the bad news filtered down from the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis; state income tax receipts for the current budget ending June 30 will fall $357 million short of what had been budgeted. The crystal ball gazers in the Malloy administration affected surprise; the governor was disappointed. He wanted everyone to know, however, that in the event Connecticut produces a future surplus, some of the over-taxation would be remitted to taxpayers by Mr. Malloy, assuming the governor is returned to office in the next election cycle.

A number of economists, the usual culprits, were trotted out to explain who killed Cock Robin.

The explanations were lucid and nuanced. One economist connected with UConn explained why “less than three months after the administration touted a $213 million surge in income tax receipts, on Wednesday, it likely will report a revenue loss close to twice that size,” according to a story in CTMirror.

“We are in a very, very different kind of world,” said Professor Fred V. Carstensen, who heads the University of Connecticut’s economic think-tank. Yes indeed, “Graduate assistants at The University of Connecticut, “according to the piece in CTMirror, “have voted to unionize -- making them the school's largest union, with 2,135 members.”

The brave new world has arrived, even at Connecticut’s most pampered university. Mr. Malloy has consistently thrown tax dollars in UConn’s direction. The governor could well afford to be generous after having imposed on struggling workers in the state the largest tax increase in Connecticut’s history. Alas, it was not enough and, shortly after arriving at UConn, the university’s new president, Susan Herbst, raised tuition. UConn has become the prodigal son of Connecticut’s progressive governor. The disappearing state surplus, Mr. Carstensen was careful not to mention in his remarks to CTMirror, was to be carved out of that massive tax increase. But somewhere on the road to prosperity, the tax increase was offset by a decline in business activity.

From Economics 101, possibly still taught at UConn, we know this: Raising taxes during the state’s longest and most crippling recession is not likely to increase business activity. That was the message delivered by then President John Kennedy in 1962 to the New York Economic Club. And it is growth in business that floods national and state treasuries with surplus wealth.

In his eye-popping speech, Mr. Kennedy reasoned: 1) increasing taxes to finance future federal programs was no longer possible because there are rational limits to all good things, and successive tax increases had outstripped the tolerance levels of taxpayers, a situation remarkably similar to present conditions in Connecticut following two massive tax increases; 2) therefore, it would be prudent to increase future revenues by decreasing marginal tax rates, which in turn would increase business activity, thereby flooding federal and state treasuries with a net increase in taxes that later might be used to finance Great Society programs. Mr. Kennedy was right on all counts.

According to Don Klepper-Smith, once chief economic adviser to former Gov. M. Jodi Rell and presently an analyst with DataCore Partners in New Haven who is often cited in Connecticut news accounts, Connecticut is facing a “non-traditional business cycle,” and traditional tools previously used “for fixing the state budget in the two decades before the Great Recession” -- most notably a boost in the income tax – are no longer effective. In times past, Connecticut’s “heavy reliance on Wall Street and investment-related income taxes” brought the state budget from red to black.

Not anymore.

Following the CTMirror report, the Hartford Courant noted that all of Connecticut’s revenue streams were down. Projected Revenue was down $461.5 million since January. The state income tax, Connecticut’s largest revenue generator was down from $9.021 billion in January to $8.632 billion. The income, sales, corporate profits, inheritance and estate, and cigarettes taxes were all down.

The way to recovery for Connecticut – a long and painful road – was sketched out by Mr. Kennedy way back in 1962: Reduce taxes and excessive regulation; cut spending every year until Connecticut’s economy shows positive signs of recovery; extend the retirement period for state workers; de-unionize government operations wherever possible; end practices such as binding arbitration that drive up municipal costs; reduce municipal mandates and vote out anyone who has sacrificed the long term health of the state for temporary political advantages.

That would be a start along a path to recovery.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blumenthal And Lerner

U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal is not just your run of the mill senator. Mr. Blumenthal entered the U.S. Senate a little over three years ago after having spent twenty one years as Connecticut’s Attorney General.

The new Senator has had some difficulty shedding his attorney general’s skin.  Some critics in Connecticut – there are not many – occasionally refer to him teasingly as the nation’s first consumer protection congressman.

As Attorney General of Connecticut, Mr. Blumenthal often seemed to be a consumer protection firebrand armed with subpoena power. The statutory obligations of the Attorney General’s Office have little to do with suits brought on behalf of consumers such as Big Tobacco. The Connecticut Attorney General is charged principally with representing Connecticut in legal matters involving state agencies, duties and responsibilities of the office that are detailed in the Connecticut General Statutes, Section 3-125 as follows:

“The Attorney General shall have general supervision over all legal matters in which the state is an interested party, except those legal matters over which prosecuting officers have direction. He shall appear for the state, the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary, the Treasurer and the Comptroller, and for all heads of departments and state boards, commissioners, agents, inspectors, committees, auditors, chemists, directors, harbor masters, and institutions and for the State Librarian in all suits and other civil proceedings, except upon criminal recognizances and bail bonds, in which the state is a party or is interested, or in which the official acts and doings of said officers are called in question, and for all members of the state House of Representatives and the state Senate in all suits and other civil proceedings brought against them involving their official acts and doings in the discharge of their duties.”

The transformation of the Attorney General’s office, engineered by Senators Lieberman and Blumenthal, from a sleepy constitutional operation representing state agencies in legal matters into a big-bite consumer protection watchdog, cast considerable glitter on both politicians. The lionization of the attorney general as the “people’s lawyer,” which began with Mr. Lieberman, became embarrassingly cloying during Mr. Blumenthal’s long and much publicized reign; so much so that it was often said of the ambitious Blumenthal that the most dangerous spot in Connecticut was between the attorney general and a television camera. Both former Attorneys General successfully launched their senate careers from their publicity rich springboard.
When Mr. Blumenthal joined the U.S. Congress as Connecticut’s “senior senator,” the tug of his former shtick proved irresistible. Most recently, Mr. Blumenthal has turned his efforts toward the regulation of electronic cigarettes. E-Cigs, as they are sometimes called, are non-carcinogenic, nicotine injection systems. Unlike real cigarettes, they are neither heavily taxed nor heavily regulated, and the electronic variant has moved many cigarette smokers away from a medically costly, often demonized product. To the extent that E-Cigs have weaned cigarette smokers off the weed, the unregulated product also has reduced federal and state revenue. Mr. Blumenthal’s intervention will for this reason be welcomed by tax gobbling legislators. Revenues lost from a product widely denounced as cancer causing must be replaced somehow: Why not tax E-Cigs as if they were coffin nails – even if they are not?

Ideally, one wants an official moving from the Attorney General’s office into the U.S. Senate to carry with him into his new position all his previous virtues, while leaving behind his grosser vices.

As a U.S. Senator with more than twenty years investigatory and prosecutorial experience, Mr. Blumenthal certainly is better able than other senators to defend the honor of the Congress when persons summoned by the U.S. House to offer testimony either mislead or deny to investigation committees the data congressmen need to discharge their responsibilities.

Which brings us to Lois Lerner, the head honcho of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at a time when the IRS was effectively preventing conservative groups from exercising their constitutional rights to assemble for the purpose of engaging in political activity by subjecting such groups to extraordinary scrutiny.

Called upon by a congressional committee to give needed testimony, Ms. Lerner pronounced herself innocent of any wrongdoing and then, on the advice of counsel, proceeded to take the 5th, thus denying Congress the data it needed to accomplish the committee’s purposes and violating both the spirit and the letter of the 5th amendment, which does not allow testifiers to both proclaim their innocence and refuse to disgorge testimony on the grounds that doing so would tend to incriminate them.

After the IRS Inspector General reported that the once impartial Internal Revenue Service had targeted 248 conservative Tea Party organizations for extra scrutiny, Mr. Blumenthal issued a ritualistic denunciation of the agency, but he has been mum ever since, an unusual posture for the media-seeking Blumenthal. One can only imagine the rhetoric that would have flowed from Attorney General Blumenthal had any witness he summoned for interrogation publically announced their innocence of wrongdoing and then retreated behind the 5th amendment.

When Mr. Blumenthal was given an opportunity to vote in favor of an amendment that would have declared it “unlawful for any officer of the Internal Revenue Service to, regardless of whether the officer or employee is acting under the color of law, willfully act with the intent to injure, oppress, threaten, intimidate or single out and subject to undue scrutiny for purposes of harassment any person or organization of any state – (1) based solely or primarily on the political, economic or social positions held or expressed by the person or organization; or 2) because the person or organization has expressed a particular political, economic, or social position using any words of writing allowed by law” the senator’s starched scruples gave way, and he voted, along with eight other Democratic Senators, none of whom were up for election in 2014, to kill the amendment.

In any contest between scruples and party loyalty, the usual congressman would not hesitate to bury his scruples. Mr. Blumenthal, it was sometimes thought, was above party flackdom.

Not anymore.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Pelto Introduces A Wrinkle

Were it not for Working Families Party votes in the 2010 gubernatorial election, Tom Foley might be governor today. This would have been a calamity, according to Malloyalists. “If you think our education policy is tough, just imagine what it would be like under Governor Foley,” writes Lennie Grimaldi on his widely read blog “Only In Bridgeport,” citing Malloy supporters.

 “Tom Foley,” Mr. Grimaldi reminds us, “received more votes for governor on the Republican line than Dan Malloy received on the Democratic line. The 20,000-vote difference was the Connecticut Working Families Party line where Malloy’s name also appeared for an extra 26,308 votes.”

The Working Families Party is the political arm of Connecticut’s powerful state employee unions, most especially teachers’ unions, and they deliver votes, campaign contributions and boots on the ground to Connecticut’s progressives. Progressive candidates such as Governor Dannel Malloy, once in office, are expected to show their appreciation by endorsing policies that benefit union workers.

So far, Mr. Malloy’ policies – particularly his budgets – have favored union workers and earned the plaudits of Connecticut’s Working Families Party. But the reformist instinct runs like a volcanic stream of lava in the veins of most progressives; and so, early into his first term, Mr. Malloy got it into his head that educational reforms were necessary. In Connecticut’s urban-scape, public schools had been faltering for decades. The governor’s contemplated reforms involved dispensing rewards for good teachers, a form of merit pay, and dismissing teachers who just weren’t cutting it.

Mr. Malloy immediately was forced to confront a series of practical difficulties. Given Connecticut’s elaborate union-made dismissal system, how do you construct a side-by-side process that would pass legal challenges? Answer: You have to show that the dismissed teacher is incompetent to teach. And how do you do that?  Answer: You tie teacher performance to student performance as measured by state-wide standardized tests. Without an objective means of measuring teacher performance, dismissals easily might be challenged as subjective. In a system in which both administrators and workers are unionized, the hiring and firing is done by unions through administrators, straw men immobilized by legislators and governors, like Mr. Malloy, whose futures are bound up with union interests.

Mr. Pelto is the voice of union interests in the battle against Common Core, an imperfect attempt to objectify student and teacher performance. He is nothing if not persistent.

The pitched battle against Common Core has brought together strange political bedfellows.  Common Core is opposed on the right by conservatives and libertarians who subscribe to the principle of subsidiary, which holds that important educational decisions should be made by the smallest unit affected by the decision. Education is a local affair; therefore, hiring and firing decisions should be made by school administrators, principals and superintendents of schools, a once simple process made needlessly complex by legislators who truckle to union leaders -- such as Mr. Malloy, who may be found marching on picket lines with striking union workers.

In pursuit of their ideal social arrangement, the Conservative/Libertarians sometimes blow the dust off President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 letter to Luther C. Stewart, then President of the National Federation of Federal Employees, and shout from the rooftops Mr. Roosevelt’s sentiments on the proper relationship between unions and government:
“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.
 “Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that ‘under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.’"
It is needless to point out here that a progressive Roosevelt holding such views would be exceedingly reluctant to appear on picket lines; still less would he uphold the putative “right” of unionized workers to “prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied.”

But these hobgobblins do not haunt Mr. Pelto, whose immediate concern is to hasten a return to the mutually beneficial and unreformed status quo ante that prevailed between Connecticut’s progressive Democrats and teacher unions before Mr. Malloy was afflicted by the notion that he could not in good conscience allow the continuing deterioration of urban school systems.

To advance this end, progressive Democrats in the General Assembly, in concert with teachers’ unions, have proposed to “diminish the weight of the state's standardized test scores as a component of the new teacher evaluation system,” according to a story in the Hartford Courant. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test is a replacement for Connecticut’s Mastery Test now being applied in 90 percent of Connecticut’s districts. Faced by increasing criticism from the left – i.e. Mr. Pelto and the Working Families Party -- Mr. Malloy has applied for a waiver to exclude the Smarter Balance test scores for a year, and Mr. Pelto has given indications that he might challenge Mr. Malloy in the upcoming gubernatorial race.

Mr. Malloy’s left flank is pushing him ever further to the left, and the right has lent a shoulder to the effort. Rather than confront his importunate and increasingly well-organized opponents on his left, Mr. Malloy has chosen to raise aloft his spook stick: “If you think our education policy is tough, just imagine what it would be like under Governor Foley.”

At some point – hopefully for Mr. Malloy on the other side of the upcoming election – reality will overcome the imaginings: Urban education is a wreck, no one is fixing it, and Mr. Malloy’s noble reform venture will be written off as necessary campaign collateral damage. Republicans, as usual, will survey the urban mess and pronounce it unfixable.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lawlor’s Violent Felonious Graduates

The piling-on began following admissions made by Lisa Wilson Foley that a contract between herself and John Rowland, a radio talk show host following his stint in prison, was fraudulent, and recently Mr. Rowland, a burr in the side of Governor Dannel Malloy, announced he had recorded his last show. On the political stump – the governor, like his beau ideal President Barrack Obama, is rarely off the political stump – Mr. Malloy, along with the usual media attack pack, had called upon WTIC to sever its relations with Mr. Rowland.

Even Mr. Malloy’s Undersecretary of Criminal Justice Michael Lawlor contributed his mite, according to a story in a New Haven paper. One of Mr. Rowland’s programs, Mr. Lawlor pointed out, “included talk about guns, and as a convicted felon, Rowland is ineligible to legally own one.”

Sure, sure. But the law – even the new gun law promulgated and supported by his eminence the Undersecretary of Criminal Justice Lawlor – is a mere inconvenience to felons bent on mayhem such as, to cite only one of 21,929 ex-felons, all graduates of Mr. Lawlor’s get-out-of-jail-early Risk Reduction Earned Credit (RREC) program, Frankie “The Razor” Resto.

Following his release from prison, Mr. Resto, one of the loads of felons given early release credits by Mr. Lawlor, procured a gun – illegally – and traveled to an EZMart in Meriden, where he murdered Ibrahim Ghazal, one of the store’s co-owners. Mr. Resto used hollow nosed bullets to assure fatality and shot Mr. Ghazal in the chest after Mr. Ghazal had obliged him by surrendering the cash in his register.


Mr. Resto, it turns out, was not the only felon awarded get-out-of-jail-early credits from Mr. Lawlor’s Risk Reduction Earned Credits Program, an Orwellian title designed to fool some of the people all of the time. Mr. Lawlor’s program, smuggled past the legislature in an omnibus implementer bill by the former co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, increases rather than reduces risks to the general public.

Although RREC was designed to tailor release credits to remediation programs involving individual prisoners, Mr. Lawlor approved the retroactively distribution of credits to inmates who had not satisfied program requirements. The bulk of credits were disbursed to felons who could not have benefited from Mr. Lawlor’s program. Republicans have urged many times that violent criminals convicted and sentenced for such crimes as rape, assault and arson (see below) should not be able to participate in Mr. Lawlor’s blood soaked program.

Apparently, Mr. Lawlor and his padrone, Mr. Malloy, are willing to write off as collateral damage the murders committed by Mr. Resto, awarded 199 RREC days credits, and Keslyn Mendez, (AKA) Willie Batts, who murdered a store clerk in Manchester after having been awarded 30 days RREC get-out-of-jail-early credits by Mr. Lawlor.

Until recently, the imperious Mr. Lawlor had been deaf to the pleas of his once fellow legislators. Owing to a stiff resolve on his part, nearly all the data surrounding the misnamed Risk Reaction Earned Credits Program was hidden in the weeds. Some of that information has now surfaced. As a result of the efforts of State Senator Joe Markley and former State Senator Len Suzio, Mr. Lawlor, under the pressure of an FOI complaint, has been forced to disgorge some telling data. Both Mr. Suzio and Mr. Markley have demanded that Mr. Lawlor release all the data relevant to his program -- especially information that touches upon recidivism rates. So far, Mr. Lawlor and Mr. Malloy have been able to shape the public discussion concerning the flawed RREC program which, despite its Orwellian title, will increase risks to public safety.

According to an information sheet released by Mr. Suzio, the data thus far released by Mr. Lawlor under pressure of an FOI request indicates:

·         From 9/1/2011 through 3/4/2014, 3,821.6 years of Early Release Credits were handed out to discharged prisoners.
·         More than 50% of the identified offenses are classified as either violent or serious.

A breakdown of crimes and number of offenses by crime category follows:

Arson: 41
Assault: 1,795
Burglary, Larceny, Robbery: 3,846
Child Pornography or Risk of Injury: 414
Drug related: 3,514
Illegal gun activity: 623
Kidnapping: 21
Murder, Homicide, Manslaughter: 129
Sexual Assault: 385
Violation of Protective or Restraining Order: 723
Prostitution: 98

Violation of parole: 4,730 (any prisoner on parole obviously had been convicted of a more serious crime earlier; the file, however, had only the latest offense for which the prisoner was imprisoned, i.e., violation of parole 53a‐32. Therefore the severity of the prisoner's offenses is not apparent in these records).

Other: 4,795 (260 had no "offense" codes, remainder were not assigned crime category)
Several prisoners received more than 6 years Early Release credits.

The newly acquired data, according to Mr. Suzio, applies only to “discharged” prisoners, not “released” prisoner: “The released group represents another 20,836 prisoners for the same time period. Furthermore, the file did not contain data on convicts remaining in prison, about 16,800 as of February 28, 2014. Thus the number of prisoners participating in the Early Release Program has been approximately 58,000 in the first 2.5 years.”

Connecticut Commentary previously has called upon Mr. Malloy to fire Mr. Lawlor.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Taking the 5th

The FBI was a major player in the drama. And everything that has happened on the public stage should convince Connecticut’s General Assembly that the state needs an Inspector General to uproot corruption before the FBI enters the theater.  When federal prosecutors turn up on the scene, Grand Guigno unfolds.

John McKinney, a Republican running for governor this year who has not yet been drawn by federal prosecutors into the mire, has proposed just that. His proposal has been received in silence by Democratic leaders in the General Assembly who control political business in the chamber.

The FBI intervention began when the struggle for the 5th District U.S. Congressional seat left vacant after Chris Murphy’s elevation to the U.S. Senate seemed to be a contest between then Speaker of the State House Chris Donovan and an assortment of Republican hopefuls that included longtime State Senate leader Andrew Roraback, a late entry into the Republican primary, and three Republicans who had not held office before: Justin Bernier, Lisa-Wilson Foley and Mark Greenberg. The Republican nominating convention settled upon Mr. Roraback, a senator for more than a dozen years in the redistricted Torrington, Litchfield County area, and for several years Deputy Minority Leader Pro Tempore and Minority Caucus Chairman of the State Senate. On the Democratic side, Mr. Donovan, an early favorite, ran into an FBI sting operation in the course of which he was forced to withdraw from the race after federal prosecutors had indicted several of his campaign staff.

The FBI stinger in the poorly concealed operation was former Corrections Department union steward Ray Soucy – quite a character. In the Tammany Hall of the early 1900’s, Mr. Soucy would have made a superb ward heeler. FBI agents recruited Mr. Soucy to help them infiltrate and incriminate those running the Donovan campaign operation. He was their wired canary. The apple in the Democratic Party Garden of Eden was the promise of bundled campaign contributions given mostly to Democrats and some Republicans on the understanding that they would do all in their power to snuff a bill that would have put out of business roll-your-own cigarette operations. Several of Mr. Donovan’s campaign operatives fell for Mr. Soucy’s pitch and eagerly grasped the tainted FBI supplied campaign contributions.

Caught with their hands in the cookie jar, some staff members working on Mr. Donovan’s U.S. House campaign rolled over and gave additional testimony to prosecutors inclined to reduce their charges in return for their co-operation.

At one point, Mr. Soucy stuffed an envelope full of cash into a refrigerator used by Republican House leader Larry Cafero. Mr. Cafaro rejected the cash, and his aide gave instruction to Mr. Soucy how he might legally contribute to Republican campaign coffers. Mr. Cafero was told by the FBI he was not a target of their sting operation. The big fish, Mr. Donovan, was not legally compromised. Perhaps the stench of political pollution had reached his nostrils, or perhaps he had been tipped off on the FBI sting before he could be legally implicated; in any case, his campaign had been doomed. Democrats then turned to Elizabeth Esty, who defeated the Republican Party nominee, Mr. Roraback, in the general election.

So then, let’s tote up the winners and losers.

Ms. Esty won the seat, clearly a win on the Democratic side. Mr. Roraback, a liberal on social issues and a fiscal conservative, lost the race. Oddly, his candidacy was not endorsed by the Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s only state-wide newspaper. Since former Governor Lowell Weicker had left Connecticut’s political stage, the Courant had been searching for just such a golden Republican candidate as Mr. Roraback to endorse. Mr. Roraback, helpful to Democrats in the General Assembly as a passionate opponent of the state’s death penalty, later was appointed a Justice to the State Superior Court by Governor Dannel Malloy, a win for Democrats. Mr. Donovan was not prosecuted, a win for him and Democrats.  And then there is the continuing collateral damage arising from the Donovan sting – all of it harmful to Republicans and beneficial to Democrats.

The collateral damage involves Former Republican Governor John Rowland and Lisa Wilson Foley, one of the Republican contenders for the 5th District seat.

If we brush away most of the political froth, it is not at all certain that Mr. Rowland will be packed off to prison a second time. Grand juries produce tons of damning press, because they are, essentially, prosecutorial star chambers. What we have heard so far in the media is the voice of the prosecution. The charges against Mr. Rowland, some lawyers believe, are weak – if he did not falsify his tax records. The public case against Mr. Rowland – what for lack of a better word we should call the ethical case -- is damning, but judges, unlike political commentators, are not much interested in romping through the souls of politicians. Mr. Rowland, not an active politician, allegedly made a pitch to Ms. Foley to help her in her campaign on the sly; he entered into agreement with a second Republican contender for the 5th District seat to do the same. That second agreement never bore fruit, because the second politician, Mr. Greenberg, presently an announced Republican candidate for the 5th District, was more ethically fine-tuned than either Faust or Satan. As a grown-up, Ms. Foley was perfectly capable of resisting the tempter, as Mr. Greenberg had done.  The case against Mr. Rowland is far from a slam dunk. It is a difficult case to prosecute, and its outcome is by no means certain.

A “but" follows.

It’s difficult for Democrats to exploit this one politically. The two principal actors involved are a candidate for office who has never held a political position and a political commentator. The very possibility of political corruption among Republicans is slight because they are not in a power broker’s position. The political heights are commanded by Democrats. They own the political trading floor – all of it: the governor’s office, all the constitutional offices and both houses of the General Assembly. If Republicans wanted to trade political favors for money or power, it’s difficult to see how the matter could be arranged. It is possible that the FBI has not yet given serious attention to the real distribution of political power in Connecticut. The political game, all of it, has been moved into the Democrat’s court. You cannot rob a bank in which there is no money. Republicans in Connecticut are power-broke, and it is only a matter of time before federal prosecutors and political commentators in Connecticut embrace the shattering revelation – at which point all the big guns may pivot towards Democrats, proprietors of Connecticut’s one party state.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Malloy On The Stump, An Orwellian Perspective

A few weeks after announcing he would not officially begin his campaign until the General Assembly had shut down its short three month session in May, Governor Dannel Malloy officially opened his gubernatorial campaign in Stamford, his old political stomping grounds. Mr. Malloy had been mayor of Stamford for four four-year terms before becoming governor.

In Stamford, Mr. Malloy explained his “early” announcement to reporters who long ago had exploded the absurdity that he was not running for governor. He had in fact been campaigning behind the veil for some time; like his counterpart in the beltway, President Barack Obama, Mr. Malloy is a perpetual campaigner. And like most politicians, he is given to telling what Mark Twain used to call “stretchers.”

The Stamford Advocate reported on the switcheroo:

“Malloy said that, in part, his rationale for waiting to make his re-election effort official was to avoid distractions during his recent successful effort to get the General Assembly to enact legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

"’I didn't want to politicize that issue unduly,’ Malloy said. ‘I talked to Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman several times about when is the right time to start the campaign, and this seemed like the right time.’"

The General Assembly, some reporters know, is Mr. Malloy’s Pomeranian, the Connecticut legislature having been dominated by Democrats ages ago, long before some of the state’s younger reporters were wetting their diapers. Perhaps one of them is keeping a record of Mr. Malloy’s politically opportune fantasies. If so, he or she will understand the full import of George Orwell’s remark that “To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.”

In an essay that ought to be required reading in all journalism schools titled “Under Your Nose,” Mr. Orwell wrote:

“The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: The only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

Mr. Malloy’s official Stamford announcement gave Mr. Malloy the opportunity to stop road testing his campaign and launch his vehicle.

Mr. Malloy’s 2014 campaign appears to be a replication of President Barack Obama 2012 presidential campaign. Connecticut has been battered by a rough economic climate, Mr. Malloy told the Democratic in Stamford. He was careful not to draw the connection between Connecticut’s sluggish economy and Obamanomics. Hey, sluggish economies happen. The national recession ended in 2009. However, about three in five jobs added since the recession’s end pay less than $13.83 per hour. Lower-wage occupations were 21 percent of recession losses and 58 percent of recovery growth, while mid-wage occupations were 60 percent of recession losses and only 22 percent of recovery growth. Connecticut still lags behind the nation in job growth. As of August 2013, the New England Economic Partnership (NEEP) reported, “Connecticut had regained 62,200 jobs, or 51.3% of those lost. By comparison, the U.S. economy had recovered 78.2% of the 8.6 million recession jobs that it lost.”

During his first term as president, Mr. Obama commanded the heights: The presidency and both houses of Congress had fallen to Democrats. Instead of focusing the energies of his office on repairing the collapsed housing market – which would have been a painful ordeal for the progressive president – Mr. Obama reached for the stars and pulled Obamacare out of his hat. He also engaged in corporate cronyism on a massive scale and managed to pull off a win against moderate Republican Mitt Romney by capturing the “social issues” battleground from which Republicans had retreated with their tails between their legs.

Mr. Malloy’s campaign strategy may be deduced from the remarks he made in Stamford. The Malloy program no doubt has been laboratory tested by one of the many strategy groups in the business of winning campaigns. Global Strategy, whose Vice President Roy Occhiogrosso continued to speak in news reports in favor of Mr. Malloy long after he had disassociated himself from the Malloy administration, likely will play some behind the curtain role in Mr. Malloy’s re-election effort. But as governor of a northeast progressive state, Mr. Malloy will be able to draw upon a vast reservoir of political magicians, some tied by progressive political umbilical cords to the Obama administration, many of which are not formally associated with political parties.

In Stamford, Mr. Malloy said that Connecticut’s economy was on the mend, largely owing to his programs. Connecticut’s pre-Malloy “$3.6 billion deficit, the greatest deficit in the nation on a per-capita basis," has been liquidated. In fact, the deficit has been resilient to Mr. Malloy’s ministrations.

Connecticut’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) and the Governor's budget office, the Office of Policy and Management (OPM), have both projected a deficit of about $1 billion in the next 2016 biennial budget

Mr. Malloy reduced a major portion of his “inherited deficit” through the imposition of the largest tax increase in state history, a $1.5 billion tax on entrepreneurs and business people who might have used the dollars appropriated by a Democratic Governor and a Democratic dominated General Assembly to invigorate Connecticut’s painfully slow, nearly jobless recovery.

Mr. Malloy’s tax increase was not mentioned during his re-election stump speech in Stamford, which is on a par with offering a history of the Elizabethan period in Britain that does not mention Queen Elizabeth. Neither did Mr. Malloy mention that Republican Governors Jodi Rell and John Rowland did not have at their command a Republican dominated General Assembly. Although it is the legislature that shapes and affirms budgets presented to it by the executive office, Mr. Malloy was content in his Stamford re-election announcement to lay at Mrs. Rell’s feet the debt he inherited. Mrs. Rell is likely to play in Mr. Malloy’s coming campaign the same opĂ©ra bouff role played by outgoing President George Bush in Mr. Obama’s first – and second – presidential campaigns.

Mr. Orwell noted in his “Under Your Nose” essay that political fantasies eventually bump into reality, at which point, usually too late, those who have been lulled to sleep awaken with truth-blistered eyes:

“In private life most people are fairly realistic. When one is making out one's weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean world where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence the contradictions and absurdities I have chronicled above, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one's political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality.”

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Permanent Opposition

On April 5th, a year after Connecticut’s predominantly Democratic General Assembly had passed into law the most restrictive gun legislation in the nation, opponents of the legislation rallied on the North side of the Capitol in Hartford.

The event was well attended: Capitol police estimated the crowd at 3,000; those hosting the event, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL), placed the figure at 5,000. None of those present at the rally had been called upon by the General Assembly to offer testimony on the final bill, which itself was billed as an adequate and necessary response to a mass slaying at the Newtown Sandy Hook Elementary School. The final bill was passed without a public hearing by a legislature operating in the absence of information contained in a much too delayed criminal investigation.

Governor Dannel Malloy – once a prosecutor who, Mr. Malloy has often said, had tried criminal cases – declared at the time that the data contained in the criminal report was quite unnecessary; Mr. Malloy and the legislature knew enough about the events surrounding the massacre at Sandy Hook to write legislation that would in the future serve to prevent such occurrences everywhere in the state. The gun regulation bill would advance the public safety, the public was assured, public safety being the primary responsibility of both national and state governments.

That was not all the governor said. Early on, Mr. Malloy, the complete politician from head to toe, seemed to understand, almost intuitively, that gun regulation might be a useful prop in the coming political campaign. Indeed, Mr. Malloy’s campaign howitzer was pointed directly at the National Rifle Association (NRA), what he regards as unreasonable defenders of the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, Tea Party zanies and -- a bit surprising for the head of a state that has produced few jobs since 1991 -- gun manufacturers in what had been called since the American Revolution “the provision state.” Not only gun manufacturers but large corporations such as Pratt&Whitney still provide the U.S. government with war material. Even now, Connecticut is, to turn a phrase coined by Mr. Malloy, “still revolutionary.”

And yet here was the governor of a still revolutionary state telling gun manufacturers that they cared only for profits. “What this is about,” Mr. Malloy said on one of his frequent national television appearances, “is the ability of the gun industry to sell as many guns to as many people as possible -- even if they are deranged, even if they are mentally ill, even if they have a criminal background. They don’t care. They want to sell guns” -- meaning the flinty hearts of gun manufacturers did not bleed for the innocent victims of a mass murder in Sandy Hook. These sub-humans were interested only in filthy lucre.

Compassion for the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre, the people of Connecticut were to understand, was a rare and tender emotion cherished only by politicians such as Mr. Malloy and U.S. Senators Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, all of whom were determined to blunt the outsized influence of the NRA. To date, more than a year after the slayings, Connecticut Senators Blumenthal and Murphy have not been successful in persuading U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring a gun restriction bill before the Democratic controlled Senate. We are given to understand that Mr. Reid is not uncompassionate; he simply lacks votes in the Democratic controlled chamber to pass a measure mirroring Connecticut’s highly restrictive gun law.

It is the insulting obduracy of Mr. Malloy and Mr. Murphy in particular  – Mr. Blumenthal has been slightly more cautious in his language – that has created what is now a permanent political opposition Connecticut. The trick in politics always is to slide your proposals, particularly pointless ones, past the noses of those deleteriously affected by them, not to bash them with inept demagoguery. Mr. Murphy and Mr. Malloy have made it impossible for their most virulent opponents to shrug off their persistent attacks as political posturing, the principal aim of which is to attract votes.

The CCDL rally in Harford, four months in the making, was by any measure a success. The large crowd -- rallying around the U.S. and State Constitutions, the flag and what they consider misguided legislation -- were animated and goal directed: Their goal, of course, was to flush anti-constitutional demons from the building they faced and to prevent further legislative encroachments on liberties hard won by the architects of the American Republic. The statues of the founders of Connecticut looked down upon them from the heights of the building. Quotes from Jefferson and Madison adorned their signs. There were scores of women and children in the crowd -- and out of state participants from New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Mississippi, West Virginia, about a dozen states in total, according to CCDL organizers. Most of the speakers mentioned, in one way or another, the bountiful fruits of a politics of limits: Governments were not created to put men in chains, but rather to permit men and women to guard with their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor the God given fruits of liberty heralded in the founding documents.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Corruption in Corrupticut

Not all corruption is equal.

In a recent column, “A Kennedy Stirs Connecticut's Politics,” Kevin Rennie sideswiped departing Republican leader Larry Cafero, who is to the Republican Party what Rocky Marciano was to boxing, a hard slugger:

“Cafero got snagged in a 2012 federal investigation into campaign contributions and legislation. He was caught on video as an informant deposited $5,000 in cash into a refrigerator in Cafero's office. The money was converted into campaign contributions from straw donors, and the scheme was revealed last year during the criminal trial of a campaign aide to former Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan.
“What a mess Cafero leaves in his wake. His gelatinous, silent deputies, Reps. Themis Klarides and Vincent Candelora, have disgraced themselves beyond repair for failing to take a stand for honor during this long fiasco. They will wear Cafero's deep stains for however long they remain in public life.”

And the sins of the political father shall be visited upon the heads of his political children – yea, even to the tenth generation: “… gelatinous, silent deputies… have disgraced themselves beyond repair… They will wear Cafero’s deep stains for however long they remain in public life.”

And the stain that has dishonored Cafero and his gelatinous deputies is … what exactly?

An “informant,” Ray Soucy, tapped by the FBI as a singing canary, deposited an envelope containing $5,000 in cash “into a refrigerator in Cafero’s office.” Apparently – though we may never know for certain – Mr. Soucy was given the cash by the FBI and told – though we may never know for certain – to make use of it to incriminate Mr. Cafero. Mr. Soucy had earlier used money provided to him to incriminate several associates of then Speaker of the House Chris Donovan. The net cast over the troubled waters by the FBI snagged a few Donovan operatives, but the big fish, Mr. Donovan, got away. Mr. Donovan’s campaign for the 5th District seat in the U.S. House collapsed in ruins under the hammer blows of the FBI investigation.

The attempt to ensnare Mr. Cafero failed when the Republican leader in the General Assembly noticed Mr. Soucy stuffing the cash in the refrigerator and rejected the FBI bagman’s fraudulent cash donation.

Speculation may and usually does run wild at this point. Did Mr. Cafero know when the cash was being stuffed in the fridge that Mr. Soucy was an FBI plant? Probably not, because following Refrigeratorgate, Mr. Cafero did accept from Mr. Soucy tainted donations in the form of checks that he apparently did not know were tainted. The FBI later would advise Mr. Cafero he was not a target of their investigation. Mr. Soucy, the FBI plant, was successful in delivering tainted campaign funds to several of Mr. Donovan’s associates, some of whom were convicted and sentenced to prison. But Mr. Donovan, his campaign for the U.S. House in tatters, escaped the prison noose. The play of events suggests – though, of course, we may never know for certain – that the sting operation, at some point, may have been compromised. In any case, the Big Fishes wriggled free, and the FBI was satisfied with smaller fry. None of Mr. Cafero’s gelatinous associates were arrested, very possibly because neither Reps. Themis Klarides nor Vincent Candelora had accepted tainted campaign donations.

Never-the-less, the two targets of Mr. Rennie’s outrage, Ms. Klarides and Mr. Candelora, are not merely gelatinous; they “have disgraced themselves beyond repair; they are dishonorable; they will “wear Cafero's deep stains for however long they remain in public life.”

So says Connecticut’s equivalent of Nathanial Hawthorne’s the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne’s godly pastor in the Scarlet Letter. The Reverend Dimmesdale was a secret sinner always in good odor with his flock:

'People say,' said another, 'that, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to his heart that such a scandal has come upon his congregation."

In any partisan commentary that has pretentions to non-partisanship, fairness equates to equal flailing. If you whip a Republican who richly deserves the whipping – say, a felonious governor – you must find a Democrat to whip, so that the pans of your justice scale will be evenly balanced. If you whip a Democratic Speaker of the House, you must find on the Republican side someone equally odious you must flail. And the weight of the accusation must appear to be equivalent – even when the justice pans bear different weights.

There is no indication – NONE – that Ms. Klarides deserves the letter “A” Mr. Rennie has pinned upon her. Mr. Cafero’s honor was not damaged by an FBI canary whose cash campaign contribution he rejected, as politely as possible. The sting operation is as old as Adam and Eve: The serpent in the garden is God’s advocate sent upon the earth, like the FBI, to seek the ruin of men’s souls. Sometimes the satanic advocate, the tester of men, succeeds, sometimes not.

Both Mr. Donovan and Mr. Cafero rejected the overtures of the FBI’s satanic advocate, Mr. Soucy, once a union leader in Connecticut’s prison system. Because Mr. Soucy  had co-operated with the FBI, he avoided jail time. Donovangate should put Mr.  Rennie in mind of a remark made by Bill Buckley following a failed 1957 coup plot against Indonesian strongman Sukarno: "The attempted assassination of Sukarno last week,” Mr. Buckley wrote in National Review, “had all the earmarks of a CIA operation. Everyone in the room was killed except Sukarno."

Measured by the number of top dogs upon whom the shadow of the prison fell, the Donovan sting operation was far from successful. Perhaps Mr. Rennie will devote one of his columns to explaining why and then demand that the General Assembly create an Inspector General Office to examine and prosecute future cases of corruption in Connecticut, the state that regulates everything but itself.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rowland The Tar Baby

Henry David Thoreau used to say that most ways of making money lead downward. The way downward will be swift for John Rowland, former governor of Connecticut and, very likely, former radio talk show host.

Lisa Wilson Foley and her husband Brian Foley pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to having paid Mr. Rowland for “secret political assistance” by means of a sham contract, a violation of campaign finance law.

Brian Foley fessed up after federal authorities threatened to prosecute his wife. The Foleys admitted culpability in court. Lisa Wilson-Foley said, "I did not report money that my husband paid to John Rowland while he was working on my campaign," and her husband said, “I knowingly and intentionally conspired with co-conspirator one, who was John Rowland." Prosecutors negotiated with the Foleys a plea agreement under the terms of which the Foleys pled guilty to misdemeanor charges that carry a maximum penalty of a year in prison.

Having secured the co-operation of the Foleys, prosecutors will now turn their attention towards Mr. Rowland, who really ought to have read The Prince of Providence, a book that details the life and times of former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, who was, like Mr. Rowland,  also a radio talk show host following his release from prison on corruption charges. Mr. Cianci, who carried with him into his radio talk show most of his vices and few of his virtues, was twice jailed, twice won the mayoralty of Providence, and twice sought refuge in radio talk show land.

It was Mr. Rowland, Connecticut’s political tar baby, who first approached the Foleys with a proposition. He would help Lisa Wilson Foley win her contest for a U.S. House seat in the 5th Congressional District. There was, however, a proviso: Any assistance from radio talk show host Rowland must be masked – and renumerated. It was the renumeration, not the assistance, that caught Mr. Rowland’s foot in the prosecutorial snare.

Connecticut’s political commentators have sometimes passed from political commentating to politics without much unfavorable notice. Charlie Morse, perhaps the longest serving political commentator at the Hartford Courant, joined the Lowell Weicker gubernatorial campaign after having written scores of columns favorable to Mr. Weicker, but Mr. Morse never accepted payment from Mr. Weicker for having written the columns. That’s a journalistic no-no. However, he did continue writing about Mr. Weicker for the Courant after having accepted a job in the Weicker administration, which is also a no-no and amounts to journalistic renumeration.

These speed bumps were no bar to Mr. Rowland, who had in the past spent some time in prison after having pled guilty to a charge of “depriving the public of honest service” when he was governor of Connecticut.

Following Mr. Rowland’s conviction, which itself followed an aborted impeachment, Hugh Keefe, who had defended many politicians caught in the coils of corruption, noted that Mr. Rowland had compromised his reputation for nickels and dimes: “…when you look closely at what he did, it was nickels and dimes. And I've known a lot of politicians, who I can talk about now because they're dead, and what was going on in the Rowland administration is really not out of line with what I know was going on in the '50s, '60s and ‘70s.”

According to prosecutors, the Lisa-Wilson Foley caper netted Mr. Rowland $35,000 – nickels and dimes.

And the tar baby soiled everyone he touched.  Former Connecticut Party Chairman Chris Healy was a senior advisor to the Lisa-Wilson Foley campaign. Mr. Healy, “Political Advisor 1” in prosecution documents, authored a public statement in 2012 “denying Rowland was being paid by the Wilson-Foley campaign and saying Rowland had a paid business relationship with Foley's nursing home chain,” according to Hartford Courant story.

Queried by a courant reporter on his false statement, Mr. Healy “said that his statement only repeated what the Foleys and Rowland told him, and that he didn't know it was false. In light of Monday's guilty pleas, he said, the Foleys ‘did not tell me the truth, obviously,’ and ‘I guess’ Rowland didn't either.”

Mr. Rowland may have lied to his employer as well. Early last month, retired news director for WFSB-TV3 in Hartford Dick Ahles wrote in an op-ed piece in the Journal Inquirer, “Rowland works for a respected news organization, one of the few left on the radio. If a newspaper columnist, paid to express his opinion on politics and politicians, was employed by a candidate or her husband or even working voluntarily for a candidate without telling his readers, he’d be fired or at least have his column taken away until the matter was settled.

The matter of the Big Lie, according to the emails provided in prosecution documents, has been settled, and the spreading tar ought to be contained.