Chris Powell: Skip school for a few years, but keep pensions

As "Obamacare" long has been on the verge of repeal, financial collapse, or sabotage, people in Connecticut are afraid of losing their medical insurance while others are dealing with big premium increases caused by "Obamacare" itself. 

But why should people complain about medical insurance when they still have the war in Afghanistan, which is entering its 17th pointless year?

Connecticut's nominally liberal congressional delegation doesn't complain about the war, apparently because the federal budget is full of money for military contractors in the state. Complaints about the war might get in the way of those contracts. 

At least the employees of the military contractors have good medical insurance, even if the money spent on the war in one week might provide good insurance for everyone in Connecticut for a year or two.

As Connecticut's state government enters its fourth month without a budget, people here are also afraid that local school systems will be crippled by state government's failure to deliver the usual financial aid, depriving some schools of as much as half their money.

But why should people complain about schools when state employee jobs, salaries, benefits, and pensions have been guaranteed for years to come? What's a little education compared to the security of those who work for the government?

Indeed, since a Superior Court judge and the immediate past executive director of the state school superintendents association have acknowledged that Connecticut's lower education system operates by social promotion rather than academic achievement, and since, according to standardized test results, most of the state's high school seniors never master high school math and English, why not just cancel school for a few years and put the school money into the state employee and teacher pension funds until they are made sound? 

Governor Malloy and the Democratic majority in the General Assembly have signified that state government's pension obligations have priority over every other public purpose, so how much is the mere pretense of education really worth?

SLOSSBERG'S BIG MISTAKE: What a mistake was made the other day by state Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford. 

She accepted an invitation to address the college Democrats at the University of Connecticut to explain her vote for the Republican state budget, which sharply reduces spending on the state university system. Introducing herself, Slossberg said she began her involvement in public life as a member of a parent-teacher association seeking to remove from elementary school libraries books containing derogatory racial terms. She spoke one of them, the "N word."

Whereupon the college Democrats exploded in outrage, as if the word can't be discussed even in the context of its reprehensibility and as if the students did not understand Slossberg to be repudiating it. 

Slossberg immediately apologized for giving offense, but it wasn't enough. The college Democrats distributed a statement about the incident, seeking to embarrass the senator in news reports throughout the state and causing her to issue a written apology as well.

Of course the age at which people should be prepared to discuss derogatory racial and ethnic terms is arguable, but at some point everyone should come across the "N word" in what may be the most profound and moving passage in American literature -- in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, when the title character reflects on whether he should betray his friend, a runaway slave.

Slossberg's mistake wasn't to use the "N word" with those college Democrats. It was to assume they were adults.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


Chris Powell: Lies and betrayal from Vietnam through today; rich school employees

With their 10-part series The Vietnam War just broadcast on PBS, documentary makers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have done a great service not only to history but also to contemporary public policy.

The documentary emphasizes that the famous Tet offensive of Communist North Vietnam and its guerrillas in South Vietnam, launched in January 1968, was actually a military triumph for the United States and South Vietnam but also a political disaster for them. For it exposed the U.S. government's years of lies that the war was close to won. 

Indeed, President Lyndon B. Johnson and his political associates libeled the anti-war movement as disloyal and Communist even as they confessed to each other in private that the war was going poorly and was ill-conceived. So the war was continued for another seven years just to save face.

The series also brilliantly contrasted the astounding courage and heroism of U.S. soldiers with the equally astounding stupidity of the strategy that their generals pursued. 

A former soldier summarized that strategy this way: Walk into the jungle and see if you can draw fire. Of course, our soldiers did draw fire, suffered terrible casualties, and then withdrew to remote and poorly defended fire bases without ever holding the territory that they had won with so much blood. The United States dropped more bomb tonnage on the Vietnam War theater than it dropped on Europe during World War II, but that didn't hold territory for long either. That former soldier said he especially resented having to fight to take the same ground multiple times.

Of course, this is pretty much the "strategy" now being used in the 17th year of U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan: Draw fire and then retreat with your casualties. 

At least the Trump administration, unlike the Johnson administration, doesn't pretend that the war is going well. But like the Johnson administration, the Trump administration continues the war anyway without any plausible plan for winning it -- and this time the American people and even supposedly humane members of Congress are indifferent to another endless war of attrition in Asia. 

So maybe in a decade or so Burns and Novick will be able to make a documentary called  The Afghanistan War. They could quote the quatrain from Kipling that belongs at the graves of Johnson and Nixon and will belong at Kissinger's:  

And the end of the fight is a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear: "A Fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East."

LUXURIOUS EDUCATION: A community activist in Hartford, Kevin Brookman, notes that the city's school system employs about 70 people with salaries of $100,000 or more, many of them above the governor's salary, $150,000, not counting insurance and retirement benefits. The city's new school superintendent is paid $260,000.

If the Connecticut General Assembly doesn't quickly pass a state budget he likes, the governor, operating the state by executive order, may divert to Hartford and a few other cities all the education money state government has been giving to the rest of the state's municipalities.

What will Hartford do with it all? Create more $100,000-a-year positions? Build another stadium? 

If experience is any guide, the city won't improve education with it, since student educational performance is almost entirely a matter of family cohesion, of which Hartford has little.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Forget about Afghanistan, protect lobster owners' privacy

How strange that this country's war in Afghanistan is entering its 17th year with neither success nor political controversy. Americans seem to have taken the advice given to them by the  late comedian Mort Sahl about the Vietnam War: Just accept it as part of your life. But the main American portion of the Vietnam War lasted only 10 years.

Of course, Afghanistan is not producing the U.S. military casualties Vietnam did, so presumably the public finds them acceptable if they are even noticed at all. The casualties of Afghans, often innocent civilians, are apparently irrelevant. This lack of interest has caused President Trump to delegate to the defense secretary a decision on whether to send more soldiers to Afghanistan, the current number being grossly inadequate to pacify the country. The necessity and practicality of pacifying it are not questioned, nor the cost -- billions of dollars every year even as the United States is said to lack the money to ensure that everyone has decent medical insurance in America. Indeed, the war in Afghanistan does not seem to be an issue in Congress at all.

But the other day Connecticut's senior U.S. senator, Richard Blumenthal, did express concern about a Transportation Security Administration agent's displaying on Twitter the photo of a 20-pound lobster that was found in a cooler being inspected at the airport in Boston for shipment to Georgia. The lobster had been purchased at a fish shop in Old Saybrook and the shop owner got indignant that the lobster had been displayed without the buyer's permission. So Senator Blumenthal visited the shop to concur with its owner before an audience of journalists.

 "What may seem funny to one person may feel like a violation of privacy to another," the senator said. But in displaying the lobster the TSA people did not identify its buyer and thus did not violate his privacy, while if the lobster had any privacy rights, they were first violated by the fish shop itself when it put the crustacean in a display case for sale.

No matter, for the senator had gotten on television again and for a reason -- the privacy rights of lobsters and those who would feast on them -- more interesting than his usual denunciation of the Trump administration, which everyone already knew to be incompetent and disgraceful. But another war waged half-heartedly out of mere inertia is even more disgraceful, and removing that disgrace requires Connecticut's members of Congress to speak out against it and their constituents to press them to.


Nice Guys Finish Without a Budget


Connecticut has gone two weeks without a state budget, but at least House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz this week accepted responsibility for failing to rally the House Democratic majority behind one by July 1. In part the problem may be Aresimowicz's virtues. He is known for reasonableness and patience rather than for cracking heads. To a greater extent the problem may be the division in the speaker’s party.

While most House Democrats, liberals, want to raise taxes again to cover the huge budget deficit that reflects the failure of liberal policies, Governor Malloy has turned against raising taxes, as have a few Democratic House members whose defection would send a tax-raising budget to defeat at the hands of the unusually large minority of Republicans in the House. So for the time being the hapless Democrats seem to prefer to let the governor do Connecticut's budgeting by himself day to day, to exact unpopular cuts on his own, and to take the blame, since he's not seeking re-election. If he tires of that, maybe he will invite the Republicans and dissident Democrats to send him a Republican budget without more taxes.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


PCFR speakers from far and wide

  Speakers at the 2014-15 season of the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations ( were:

Anders Corr, a geopolitical analyst and former Defense Department official in Afghanistan, on Chinese expansionism.

Richard George, former high National Security Agency official, on international cyber-security.

Prof. Evodio Kalteneker, on the Brazilian economy and politics.

Professor and journalist Janet Steele on democratic Indonesia.

Jennifer Yanco, a public-health expert and a director of the West Africa Research Association, on the Ebola crisis.

Australian Consul Gen. Nick Minchin, on his nation’s relations with Asia and the U.S.

Delphine Halgand, a high official of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, on threats to free speech and journalism. (She spoke a few days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.)

Amir Afkhami, M.D., a psychiatrist, on dealing with mental illness in war zones, particularly the Mideast.

Military historian and retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich on why America should stop fighting wars in the Mideast.

Famed Canadian journalist Diane Francis on why the U.S. and Canada should consider merging.

International landscape architect Thomas Paine on making cities more humane, especially in China.

Admiral Robert Girrier, deputy chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, on countering Chinese expansion in the South China Sea.

Gary Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack and now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on lessons for the U.S. in Libya and the future of international trade.

The new season looks exciting too. (And maybe even useful for investing decisions.)

We’re still penciling in speakers and dates, but we can say that Cuban-American businessman and civic leader Eduardo Mestre will speak on Sept. 30 about the reopening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the land of his birth.

Mr. Mestre is a member of the boards of the International Rescue Committee and the Cuba Study Group.

He’s also a senior adviser at Evercore and was previously vice chairman of Citigroup Global Markets and chairman of its Investment Banking Division. Before then, he headed investment banking at Salomon Smith Barney and its predecessor firms from 1995-2001 and was co-head of Salomon Brothers' mergers and acquisitions department in 1989-1995.

Skedded for Oct. 22 is Scott Shane, the New York Times reporter who wrote the new book Objective Troy, about  Anwar al-Awlaki, “the once-celebrated American imam who called for moderation after 9/11, but a man who ultimately directed his outsized talents to the mass murder of his fellow citizens’’ and was eventually killed by an American drone. Among other things, he’ll discuss the moral issues raised by the increasing use of drones.

Some of the people we have on the drafting board for the rest of the season:

A U.N. expert on international refugee crises; a journalist or diplomat who will discuss the Greek crisis; a member of the Federal Reserve Board who will discuss international financial-system challenges; a Japanese journalist to talk about that nation’s increasingly muscular regional posture; an expert on international shipping in light of the widening of the Panama Canal; a status report on Mexico; a Chinese philanthropist; a member of the Ukrainian Congress Committee; (we have been trying for some time to get a Russian official or journalist to give Moscow’s side of the war in eastern Ukraine), and the director of the Aga Khan University Media School to talk about training journalists in the Developing World

All subject to change. We frequently repeat Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s purported response when he was asked what he most feared:

“Events, my dear boy, events.’’

Members should feel free to chime in with suggestions.

Also, we’ll strive to frequently update the PCFR Website with supplemental news and commentary on international matters that may be of interest.

Please consult or message for questions about the PCFR.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Robert Whitcomb, chairman


Ike, LBJ and GWB also didn't act

  March 7, 2014

Milder today, with even a touch of the sweet melancholy of spring. I think that when spring (that you can feel) really arrives, maybe next month, there will be an usually exuberant explosion of green. And maybe a particularly hot summer. The meteos predict much warmer weather starting later this year as El Nino gets cooking. Good, this year's heating bill have just about bankrupted us.

First, a reminder that Eisenhower did not do a thing when the Russians invaded Hungary in 1956 and killed about 30,000 people; Johnson didn't do anything when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, and George W. Bush didn't do anything when Russia invaded and stole part of Georgia.

Fascist Russian dictator Putin still occupies Crimea and it looks at this point that not much will be done about it, at least in the short term. The Europeans fear that Putin will turn off their gas supplies; they have also essentially disarmed. This shows yet again how being dependent on fossil fuel from dictators is a dangerous thing.  The more local, renewable energy you can get, the safer you are.

Will Obama continue to look and act weak in the face of this thug? Or now that he has learned that sweet talk doesn't work with tyrants,  maybe  all of a sudden get tough, as happened when the scales feel from Jimmy Carter's eyes about the Soviets in 1979, when they invaded Afghanistan (helping to elect Ronald Reagan in 1980)?

Obama's retaliation  so far is a joke -- suspending some  visas and freezing some assets of people who weren't really in charge of the invasion of  Crimea. In fact, this was all  done at the order of Putin. It is the assets of Putin and the people around him, including the economic oligarchs of the  astonishingly corrupt current version of the Russian Empire, that need to be frozen.

By the way, one reason that Putin decided to seize Crimea is that the Soviet/Russian port there has been used to constantly resupply with armaments his fellow dictator Bashar Assad and other thugs around the world.

But reminder in all this: Eisenhower did not do a thing when the Russians invaded Hungary in 1956 and killed about 30,000 people and Johnson didn't do anything when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.