Connecticut

Don Pesci: Connecticut's identity crisis

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“A rose by any other name,’’ Shakespeare wrote, “would smell as sweet.’’ However, we should never forget that naming is essential. No one appreciates this more than journalists and philosophers who are in the business of correctly naming people, things and ideas.

The name “Connecticuter” (pronounced Connetta-cutter) has cropped up recently as a possible name for people who live in Connecticut.

The name Connecticut itself, like other native-American place names, presents unique difficulties because they are tongue twisters. The tongue trips over Quinnipiac College; some talking heads invariably mispronounce it. Connecticut the place was named with reference to the river that flows through it, called by native-Americans Quinnehtukqut, which means "beside the long tidal river.

People who live in Connecticut have at various times been called Nutmeggers and Connecticuters. Research director for the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute Natalie Jackson found this locution while searching through the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual. The U.S. Government Printing Office conferred that title on Connecticut in 1945, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists the definition of ‘Connecticuter’ as “a native or resident of the state of Connecticut.

The chief objection to this designation, a sour-tongued cynic might say, is that the name might have been proper in 1945, but currently the state is knee-deep in debt to the tune of $60 something billion, and progressives in the state’s General Assembly are loathed to balance their accounts by cutting labor costs; therefore, any nickname that hints at cutting -- Connetta-cutter – would be highly misleading, however politically useful.

Connecticut State historian Walt Woodward has put the state on the psychiatrist’s couch and suggested that Nutmeggers may have some difficulty naming themselves because of a longstanding identity and status problem: “For people who love Connecticut, and there are a lot of people who feel an intense connection to the state, they still have trouble coming up with — what is it that we love about Connecticut? What is our unique identity? Even though Connecticut has a definite identity and it is instinctively clear to people, it is hard for them to define. All that angst about identity sometimes gets focused on what we call ourselves.” Woodward prefers to call himself a Connectican.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy has promised to have a chat with Hartford Courant writers about this perplexing issue. One can only hope he will not propose a bill in the Senate formally nicknaming the Nutmeg State. That would only plunge in statutory cement the state’s angst, and most of us would still be wondering who we are. Actually, Connecticut had in the past defined itself rather modestly with respect to its contiguous states. We were less showy than Massachusetts, a haven from the angst-ridden lifestyle of the average New Yorker, and we were comfortable with our non-notoriety, provided we could hang on to our wealth and dignity.

Our sour cynic above might suggest “Conner’” as an appropriate nickname. Indeed, that is what the “Nutmegger” designation initially suggested. In the good old colonial days, Nutmegger vendors from Connecticut were known to spike their loads of nutmeg with wooden nuts cunningly fashioned in the form of nutmegs, a well know and under-appreciated con. Those folk from Connecticut, traders thought, were too clever by half. So long as the people of Connecticut were clever, the name stuck. It has long since gone out of fashion, as have other Connecticut designations: “The Constitution State” and “The Provision State”, so called because Connecticut was a provider of military wares to the fledgling government of the revolutionary republic.

Connecticut’s identity crisis, it should be noted, is of recent vintage. We have during the last three decades shed our historical identity as prudent and watchful guardians of the public purse. We have leveled the political playing field between Connecticut and contiguous states, New York and Massachusetts, by instituting an income tax, thus negating our political advantage as a tax haven and cost-conscious spender in New England. And we have lost a good deal of our bad-boy cleverness, except in the anarchical-sections of our cultural political barracks, where disruptive innovation is encouraged. Public school kindergarteners in once Puritan Connecticut may now enjoy in their classrooms the company of cross-dressing males. Pretty much all business activity in the state is encumbered with regulations and taxation, and we continue to pester with crippling and punishing regulations women’s health centers that will not allow abortionists to cross their lintels.

On the other hand, there are some enduring positives. We are still a small state, relatively speaking, and no politician can through legislation alter the state’s geographical location between Boston and New York. Despite the Connecticut’s rapid political change, we may still depend upon the four seasons visiting us at their appointed times. Even though all’s not right in the world, God is still in his Heaven and, as Otto von Bismarck used to say, “God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.” Despite the reductionism of modern times, the state's motto still is "Qui Transtulit Sustinet" -- He Who Transplanted Still Sustains.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist.



Chris Powell: Looking for a freedom-of-information hero in Conn.

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At its annual meeting the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information usually presents an award to a public official who has performed outstanding service to the right to know in the past year. But no such award was presented at the annual meeting a few weeks ago, for the council could not find such a hero.

As reported comprehensively last Sunday by Gabriella DeBenedictis in the Waterbury Republican-American, freedom of information is under attack in Connecticut. Bad as the previous administration was on this issue, Gov. Ned Lamont's administration may be worse, perhaps because the majorities of his party, the Democratic Party, have increased in the General Assembly.

The governor and legislature have just created an agency to disburse as much as $300 million to public education programs, at least $100 million of it state government money, while exempting the agency from freedom-of-information and ethics laws. The agency was prompted by a gift of $100 million from billionaire fund manager Ray Dalio and his wife, Barbara, a sum that has been matched by state appropriation. Another $100 million may be raised for the agency from other rich people. Apparently the Dalios requested the exemption from the FOI and ethics laws, though until now rich people in Connecticut somehow have managed to give money away without impairing open government.

With state officials on its board, the agency may operate as a slush fund for political patronage. Not surprisingly, the agency and its exemptions from accountability were enacted as part of the state budget bill without a public hearing.

A few weeks ago the governor signed and the legislature approved a new contract with the state police union that prohibits public access to complaints against troopers if the police administration finds the complaints false or unverifiable. This will facilitate whitewashes and cover-ups. For years a similar provision in the contract for the state university professors union has obstructed journalistic investigation of sexual harassment and other misconduct.

Approving the concealment provision in the state police contract, the governor and legislature signified that they haven't paid attention to the scandals with the professors or else that they place the interest of unionized government employees above the public interest.

Such provisions are possible only because state law authorizes state employee union contracts to supersede freedom-of-information law. Legislative leaders this year refused even to hold a hearing on repealing the supersedence law. Again legislators served the unions instead of the public.

The governor and legislature this year also enacted a law allowing secret arrests in domestic violence cases when both parties are charged. This will facilitate politics and influence peddling during secret resolution of the charges before they reach court and the defendants are identified. Public officials seeking to conceal their own misconduct will find this especially useful.

This year the legislature also failed to pass a bill proposed by state Rep. Michael Winkler, D-Vernon, to prohibit towns from charging $20 to people who want to make their own scans of public documents, avoiding photocopying charges. Town clerks want the extra revenue. They might as well charge admission to Town Hall.

Will Connecticut have a hero of freedom of information next year? It depends on whether more elected officials realize that good government might be good politics too.


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Conn. mulls new tax system

The Connecticut State Capitol

The Connecticut State Capitol

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and that state’s legislative leaders are considering replacing most of the state income tax with a payroll tax, though apparently not this year.

It would be a complex plan but the core of it seems to be to have employers pay a 5 percent state payroll tax on all wages and salaries. The assumption is that employers would cut pay by 5 percent to make themselves whole. This, it is argued, would end up reducing the amount that employees must pay in federal income tax and Social Security and Medicaid taxes. Behind this is, among other things, the state trying to find ways to offset the effects of the $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions (targeting mostly Democratic-run states) set by the Republican tax law of 2017 as well as to replace most of the Connecticut income tax.

Officials in neighboring states will, I assume, be watching to see what, if anything, happens with these Connecticut tax-reform ideas. In any case, the 2017 tax law will force numerous adjustments in state and local taxes in various places over the next few years.

Don Pesci: On the trail of the Connecticut toll campaign

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Tolling in Connecticut is what the advertising men would call a tough sell, and it helps in circumstances such as these to bring in some political spin doctors to assist in the delivery.

Many people in Connecticut, almost certainly a majority, do not want tolls. On May 9, No Tolls Connecticut delivered to the governor’s office a “No Tolls” petition signed by 100,000 people.


Candidate for governor Ned Lamont said during his campaign he would favor tolls only if people outside the state, truck drivers mostly, would be depositing their mites in Connecticut’s revenue collection basket. He said this several times while the TV cameras were rolling.

Later Lamont changed his mind, always the prerogative of pretty women and ambitious politicians. But Lamont’s reversal – which came shortly after he had won his gubernatorial campaign – could not be justified as a “misspeak.” He could have used the services of a good narrative builder right there, but Roy Occhiogrosso, former Gov. Dan Malloy’s flack catcher and narrative builder, perhaps was busy hauling in the dollars from his other clients.

According to Occhiogrosso’s Global Strategy Group bio, “Roy returned to GSG – where he was a partner from 2003 to 2010 – in 2013, after serving for two years as senior adviser and chief strategist to Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy. Roy believes that, at some level, everything is about communications. And that if you communicate proactively and properly – using traditional and new media, and social media, internally and externally – you can win your fights and avoid problems.”

Some elements of Occhiogrosso’s strategy on tolls have been activated by Lamont, and no doubt Occhiogrosso will be able to spin some profit from the toll contretemps. He is not alone in supposing that a well-constructed narrative – the bulk of American politics these days is narration, story building – can overcome not only populist opposition but reality itself.


Joining the tolls-are-good-for-you effort are, according to Jon Lender’s piece in The Hartford Courant, a number of Global Strategy Group strategists. The group has produced a “23-page document, entitled ‘Connecticut Campaign for Transportation, 2019 Legislative session,’” that fell into Lender’s hands, and he publicized the private communique; it’s what good investigative reporters do.


Part of the difficulty with tolling is that nearly everyone in Connecticut understands a toll to be a consumer tax. And, to put it in blunt non-narrative, populist terms, people in the state have had it up to their ears with taxes.

First there was the income tax -- necessary, people were told by political narrators, to bring backward Connecticut into the 21st Century. Prior to the income tax, the state relied on consumption taxes, which were, said the political narrators, regressive.

Then Malloy – and Occhiogrosso – came ambling down the road and increased both income taxes and consumption taxes to pay off debts incurred by General Assembly politicians, mostly Democrats, who had invested not a penny into the state employees’ seriously under-financed pension fund for about 30 years after the fund had been created. Numerous “lockbox” funds then were raided by the same cowardly politicians, the appropriated loot dumped into the General Fund. Naturally, Malloy and company were forced to raise taxes to pay off mounting debt. Malloy was followed by Lamont, a protégé of former Gov. Lowell Weicker, who called Weicker to ask himj how he had managed to get an income tax through a then moderate- Democrat opposition in the General Assembly.


The 24-page secret communique suggests remedies to overcome mounting and entirely predictable opposition to tolls, and there is reason to believe that Lamont already has adopted some suggestions: “To overcome resistance, a strategy would be developed ‘to drive legislative support for a tolling concept that will maximize revenue while holding CT citizens as harmless as possible (example: resident discount)… Convincing the legislature to vote for a comprehensive tolling bill — one that includes trucks and cars, albeit with a substantial discount for CT drivers, won’t be easy.

‘‘Opponents have already framed this in simple terms: ‘it’s another huge tax increase.’ In order to win this fight we’re going to have to first reframe the debate — so that’s about ‘jobs and economic development,’ and not just another tax increase… ‘ Government Relations Tactics’ would include: showing legislators ‘how money earned via tolls can significantly improve their specific districts — driving the correlation between tolls and local improvements to infrastructure; highlighting the ‘vs.’ factor by using ‘polling data to share statewide how CT residents feel when you compare tolls to an increase in gas taxes, property taxes, car taxes, etc.’ and providing ‘legislative leadership the necessary political data to ‘whip’ their caucuses’ into support for tolling.”

Getting an unpopular measure passed through the legislature requires an almost religious faith in the power of deconstructing and reconstructing emotion-based “narratives.” The palpable, ruinous consequences of further tax increases can always be buried in a coffin of fanciful – and costly – propaganda.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.

Don Pesci: Amazon strikes back at Willy Loman

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"Sometimes...it's better for a man just to walk away. But if you can't walk away? I guess that's when it's tough.”

—- The Willy Loman character in Death of a Salesman

The old saying is “You can’t fight City Hall.” That is partly true. City Hall is huge and more powerful than you. The gods of government have resources denied to the little people, but then government is supposed to be on the side of the little people, as is the media, a presumed joint support that tends to even the perpetual battle between the lions of the market place and … let’s call him Willy, after Willy Loman, the chief character in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman.

The Willy of this piece is a Connecticut salesman – there are many of them – who do business with Amazon. And Willy has a problem that will not be settled by the usual white-hatted Attorney General of Connecticut or legislators who weep over the little guy or the media, afflicters of the comfortable and comforters of the afflicted. You can bet your house on that.

In the world of commerce, Amazon is bigger than God. It seems only hours ago that the equivalent of City Hall in Connecticut, state government – not only in Connecticut and its environs, but everywhere in the nation – was breathing heavy in strenuous attempts to lure Amazon into their beds, the better to ravish the e-commerce giant with taxes.


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was dashed when Amazon, searching for a place in the Northeast to locate part of its headquarters, kissed the state goodbye. Pummeled by progressives in New York -- among them Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio (birth name Warren Wilhelm Jr.) and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- for having considered the governor's crony-capitalist $3 billion tax break, the company withdrew an offer to plop a new facility in New York that might have generated $27 billion in revenue.


“What happened is the greatest tragedy that I have seen since I have been in government,” moaned a grievously wounded Cuomo.


Crony capitalist blood began to beat like a tom-tom in former Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s veins, and it still swells in Gov. Ned Lamont’s heart. Both Malloy and Lamont are crony-capitalist governors -- is there any other kind in the high-taxed Northeast? Wouldn’t it be grand to net such a massive leviathan? Malloy moved on, Lamont is fishing still.


But salesman Willy is dangling at the end of an economic rope, and he writes, somewhat desperately:


“If I sell something on Amazon, they take 15% as a referral fee. This covers marketing, customer acquisition, and credit card fees. If I use Amazon to warehouse and ship the item, they then charge a pick and pack fee. That is also taxed. So if I do $1M a year in gross sales, Amazon ends up taking about 33%."


Adding the cost of doing business with Amazon, Willy notes “$330,000 in fees, with 6.35% sales tax is almost $21,000 a year. You should understand that Amazon is half of e-commerce. Third party sellers [like Willy] represent over half of their sales. Connecticut, through its tax additions, just made it impossible for 25% of e-commerce to do business here.”


Along with his note to Connecticut Commentary, Willy enclosed the “Dear Willy” letter he had received from god:


The "Dear Seller" letter Willy received read in part:


“Amazon is required to collect taxes on Selling on Amazon fees in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, South Dakota or West Virginia, based on each state’s tax rates. Selling on Amazon Fees include the Referral Fee, Subscription Fee, Variable Closing Fee, Per-item Fee, Promotion & Merchandising Fee, Refund Commission Fee, Checkout by Amazon, and Sales Tax Collection Fee... If your business is located outside Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, South Dakota or West Virginia, we will not collect sales tax on the Selling on Amazon fee you pay.


“Amazon is required to collect taxes on FBA Prep Services in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois or West Virginia, based on each state’s tax rates. FBA inventory prep fees include the Labelling Fee, Polybagging Fee, Bubblewrap Fee, Taping Fee, and Opaque Bagging Fee...


“You will be able to view the sales tax collected on your fees in the transaction details page of your Payments reports.”


Willy is a Connecticut native with deep roots in the state. He’s married with young childern. And the blade of crony capitalism has fallen bloodily on Willy’s neck, because he is, in fact, an independent businessman who is expected to shut up and pay. Crony capitalism is a complex arrangement in which tax heavy states such as Connecticut and New York supply seed tax money to super-leviathans like Amazon as inducements to locate in the states; the companies then pass along to its customers and third party salesmen like Willy the costs they incur from their location in a high tax state like Connecticut. But the tax axe invariably falls on Willy’s neck. Large companies are tax collectors, not tax payers. The real taxpayers are those who consume the products and services of companies such as Amazon – and small businesses like Willy’s from whom Amazon recovers the additional costs incurred by tax increases.


It will not take long for Willy to realize “Sometimes...it's better for a man just to walk away.” No one profits when Willy walks. It would be well for legislators to remember the line in Willy’s letter. Connecticut, along with a handful of other states singled out in Amazon’s “Dear Seller” letter, has “through its tax additions,” Willy writes, “just made it impossible for 25% of e-commerce to do business here.”

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.




Posted by Don Pesci at 2:04 PM

Labels: Cuomo, Lamont, Malloy, Willy Loman


Chris Powell: Hiding criminal records doesn't help ex-cons

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Most people who go to prison in Connecticut, even for a short time, will have a hard time rebuilding their lives. At best they will be considered damaged goods, necessarily inferior to job and housing applicants who have not been in prison. At worst they will be considered criminals still, since within a few years most former convicts are sent back to prison for one reason or another.

An ex-convict who can't obtain housing and a job soon upon his release is almost compelled to return to crime. So the solutions being advocated by leading liberals in the General Assembly are to conceal criminal records, at least for nonviolent offenses, and to forbid landlords from refusing to rent to former offenders solely on the basis of their criminal history.

But the problem with convicts returning to society goes far beyond the accessibility of criminal records. For most former offenders lack education and job skills and had terrible upbringings, and many suffer learning disabilities. This is why many turned to crime and especially drugs in the first place, and just as much as their criminal history, if not more so, their lack of job skills is why they are considered undesirable employees and tenants.

By contrast, anyone returning from prison after a drug conviction who nevertheless has some education and job skills -- say, an engineer, meat cutter, plumber, or computer programmer -- won't have nearly as much trouble finding a job and a home. Employers and landlords will be far more receptive with someone who has the skills to support himself by honest work.

Keeping employers and landlords ignorant of criminal records won't confer education and job skills on ex-cons. If they come out of prison no more employable than when they went in, enforcement of ignorance about their criminal records will do them little good. Even if they find an apartment, without a job paying enough to sustain it they may be back to crime and prison soon enough anyway.

So rather than demonstrate contempt for the public by enforcing ignorance of criminal records, state government should pursue several other policies with former offenders.

First, the state should repeal drug criminalization, which ensnares most young offenders and has proven futile anyway. Second, the length of criminal sentences should be tied to an offender's gaining education and job skills. And third, state government itself should provide basic jobs and rudimentary housing to former offenders as long as they can't get them on their own.

Of course the latter policy would cost some money, but then current practice -- to release prisoners without job skills and housing and watch haplessly as most go back to prison in a few years -- already is more expensive.

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A REFERENDUM ON TOLLS?: Republicans suddenly have received a great opportunity to give meaning to the five special elections being held Tuesday to fill five vacant seats in the General Assembly, three in the Senate and two in the House. All the districts are so heavily Democratic that their occupants felt comfortable abandoning them soon after their re-election so they might accept appointment to executive positions by Governor Lamont.

That is, can the Republican candidates turn the elections into referendums on the governor's reversing his campaign position and endorsing general tolling on state highways?

Are even voters in Democratic districts upset enough by how fast the governor repudiated what he told them during the campaign?

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


Chris Powell: Abortion measure assumes that women are stupid

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Judging from the dishonorable and irresponsible men by whom they become pregnant, many women in Connecticut are not very smart. But are they really so stupid that they need more than a minute to distinguish an abortion clinic from a "crisis pregnancy center" that opposes abortion?

That is the presumption of legislation causing controversy in the General Assembly, as it has done in other states, to punish anti-abortion shops for deceptive advertising. Abortion advocates accuse the anti-abortion shops of posing as abortion clinics to lure pregnant women and dissuade them from having abortions. The anti-abortion shops and their supporters deny deceiving anyone, but the anti-abortion shops and the abortion clinics are in brutal competition with each other.

Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act already authorizes the state Department of Consumer Protection to sue businesses that have caused loss to customers through deception, so the proposed legislation might be redundant if what the anti-abortion shops do is construed as trade and commerce. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a California law compelling anti-abortion shops to make certain statements to clients is probably an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

In any case the proposed legislation in Connecticut is largely a mechanism by which the pro-abortion side aims to intimidate the anti-abortion side and to frighten legislators into striking pro-abortion poses. The claim that a woman's visit to an anti-abortion shop may critically delay her access to medical treatment is hardly persuasive when, if she is seeking an abortion, all she has to do is ask if the shop will provide or facilitate one.

The proposed legislation is part of the political left's larger campaign against freedom of speech generally. But the more the left practices intimidation here, the less it may persuade the country that there is nothing questionable about abortion, not even abortion of late-term, viable fetuses and infanticide. Indeed, the Democratic Party, the party of the left, is already giving the impression that it considers abortion the highest social good.

This is crazy fanaticism.

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Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont's open letter to the state, published last week, was a welcome preface to his budget proposal, due this week. But it invited questions.

The governor called attention to the problem of "fixed costs" -- pension, salary, and other commitments set by law and contract that already consume more than half the state budget. Saving the state will require unfixing them, returning them to the democratic process. Will the governor have the courage to propose that?

The governor also suggested repeal of some sales-tax exemptions. Altogether sales-tax exemptions cost state government an estimated $3 billion every year. But while fairness might argue for repeal of some exemptions, any expansion of the sales tax would remove more money from the private economy unless the overall tax rate is reduced. So fairness alone here will not be cause for celebration.

In remarks to business leaders, the governor said that he would propose sharply curtailing state government's bonding, restricting it to necessities. Indeed, for many years the bonding package has been the political pork barrel, with both parties feasting on inessentials to buy votes.

Only the details of the governor's budget will establish where he aims to take Connecticut. But in his campaign he promised change, and change can mean only restraint.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Malloy leaves feeling the ingratitude of the great unwashed

Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2016,

Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2016,

From the many valedictory interviews he gave to journalists last week, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy seems to be departing as bitter as Connecticut is about his eight years in office.

Malloy says he meant all along to be unpopular by always doing the right thing, apparently presuming that the public always perceives the right thing as the wrong thing. While civic engagement and literacy indeed have continued their collapse during Malloy's administration, people remain entitled to their opinion, and the governor isn't leaving them persuaded. But even as he retires as Connecticut's most disliked governor in modern times, he should be enjoying the last laugh, since he did persuade enough people when it counted, twice getting the most votes for governor.

Malloy can't acknowledge it, but there are reasons for being unhappy with him quite apart from his supposedly always doing the right thing for the ungrateful great unwashed.

During his re-election campaign he said he wouldn't raise taxes, but, returned to office, he raised them hugely. (Was lying doing the right thing?) While portraying himself as a hands-on administrator, he was brazenly indifferent to misconduct and incompetence in state government and sometimes sought to conceal it. He pandered to political correctness and proclaimed it as sound policy. A Democrat, he candidly told the government employee unions, his party's base, "I am your servant," and in this he kept his word, making his highest priority the preservation of government employee compensation.

In one interview last week the governor even attributed the defeat of some Republican state senators to their supposed bigotry against homosexuals. The senators, Malloy charged again, had voted against his nominee for chief justice of the state Supreme Court because he is gay, not for his having been part of the court's majority that presumed to erase capital punishment from the state constitution. Yet the nomination was hardly mentioned in the recent state legislative campaigns. Mostly the Democrats hung President Trump around the Republicans' necks. Malloy's charge is still hard to believe, but thank God if something in the election had nothing to do with Trump.

As with any administration, Malloy's did some good things, and his office last week issued a lovely report enumerating what he thinks they are. For example, he hastened Connecticut's move away from drug criminalization; increased medical insurance for the poor and resisted the Trump administration's malicious sabotaging of universal coverage; nearly eliminated homelessness among military veterans, and improved Bradley International Airport.

But state government remains grossly insolvent and overextended and all that good stuff was peanuts against the failures Malloy never confronted: the failure of social promotion to educate, the failure of unconditional welfare to lift people to self-sufficiency, the failure of the contentment of the government class to trickle down to taxpayers, and the failure of ever-increasing taxes and regulation to grow the private sector, which finances everything.

The better high school graduation rate Malloy often touted is deceitful when most graduates learn little and need remediation. No matter how much is spent in their name, Connecticut's cities grow poorer and more demoralized and depraved. And, perhaps the key measures, under Malloy the state's population declined relative to the rest of the country and its economy shrank.

Malloy was left a disgraceful mess and is bequeathing one to his successor. But then of course everything always could be worse.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: So why not just leave already?

G.K. Chesterton, in 1911. “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

G.K. Chesterton, in 1911. “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”


Anyone who got a penny for each time he heard someone threaten to leave Connecticut because of its corrupt and ineffectual state government would be rich.

Anyone who got a dollar for every such person he heard who fulfilled his threat and actually left the state might be able to buy a cup of coffee.

Even so, such threats are cascading like student test scores because of the triumph of the Democratic Party in the recent state election, since it followed eight years of Democratic administration that even the party’s own candidate for governor called a disaster. Talk radio and newspaper letters columns are featuring more such threats than ever.

Yes, there’s more to gripe about, since, even before addressing the estimated $4 billion state budget deficit ahead of them, Democratic state legislators are exulting in how much more they plan to increase government spending as well as the cost of doing business in the state by raising the minimum wage and requiring paid family leave.

But people so noisily threatening to leave the state are only advertising that they’re still here. They would have far more political impact if they’d just shut up and go.

And yes, Connecticut’s trend of politics and policy will lead inevitably to a state inhabited only by government employees and welfare recipients staring blankly at each other wondering where the private sector went and who is left to be preyed upon. But this is only the age-old corruption of prosperity that has befallen many other important states, such New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan and California.

Florida may be most popular with exiles from Connecticut, especially because of its warm winters and lack of a state income tax. But summers there can be brutal, hurricanes there can interrupt electricity for weeks at a time, the geography is flat and swampy, and the predatory wildlife -- alligators and Burmese pythons -- can put in perspective Connecticut’s government employee unions and the politicians who serve them.

So those inclined to continue contending for Connecticut may take heart from the great G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a century ago:

"The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it.

"The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. ...

"Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing -- say, Pimlico." (Pimlico was then a slum area of London.) "If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico; in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico, for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful.

"The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico -- to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved.

"For decoration is not given to hide horrible things but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence.

"Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great.

"Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honor to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it.

“Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

By February everyone in Connecticut will have been entitled to a week or two down south. But if they are still of fighting age the best ones will return and join the resistance. At least spring will vindicate them.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Of American single parenthood and low test scores

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How much money has Connecticut state government thrown lately at what is called the "achievement gap" in the public schools, the gross underperformance of minority and impoverished students? Probably hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the results of the most recent standardized test taken by students in Grades 3 through 8, announced last week, show no improvement over the last four years, the period during which the current test has been administered.

Two-thirds of black, Hispanic and impoverished students are below grade level in math or English or both, 40 percent of them far behind. While the "achievement gap" correlates largely with household poverty, other standardized tests long have shown that half to two-thirds of all Connecticut high school seniors never master high school English or math but are graduated anyway. (Results are similar in other states.)

The evidence in Connecticut is overwhelming that educational achievement has little connection with spending and everything to do with parenting. But the major-party candidates for governor, Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski, pledged last week not to reduce state funding for municipal education. They pledged this not because it makes any sense as policy but because most of the money underwrites teacher compensation, there are more than 40,000 teachers in the state, they constitute its biggest special interest, and they want parents to think that money equals education.

Many parents want to think that as well. They don't want to be told that the failure of education is their failure to raise their kids properly. About 40 percent of Connecticut's children live in single-parent households and thus many get only half or less of the attention they should get. In the cities it's close to 90 percent.

In guaranteeing the status quo in state aid to municipal education, Stefanowski has made himself especially ridiculous, since, while pledging to repeal the state income tax over eight years -- or, as his latest remarks suggest, maybe 10 years -- he is locking a huge amount of spending into future state budgets before identifying even one substantial expense he would reduce.

But last week Lamont made himself ridiculous enough on education by proclaiming what he supposes to be the need for more "workforce training" even as the test scores show that primary education itself is failing amid the state's policy of social promotion. That is, all students know that they needn't learn anything to advance from grade to grade and graduate from high school.

So it's no wonder employers complain that while they have openings for good jobs they can't find skilled workers. It's hard enough to find high school graduates who have a high school education.

There can be no improvement while public education in Connecticut remains too politically influential to audit. It will keep consuming more and producing less.

Those Grade 3-8 test scores weren't the only hint last week that simple demographics are everything. A survey by the United Way concluded that 40 percent of the state's households don't have enough income to cover necessities.

A closer look indicates that most of those households are single-parent. It is as if people never heard that having children and raising them properly is expensive and not to be undertaken without a dependable spouse and income security. But then government long has been encouraging childbearing outside marriage.


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


Chris Powell: Conn. could use less SALT; McCain a hero but with a very mixed record

Part of the Greenwich Yacht Club at low tide. Greeenwich is famous as the home of many very rich people, many with connections to Wall Street. 

Part of the Greenwich Yacht Club at low tide. Greeenwich is famous as the home of many very rich people, many with connections to Wall Street. 



While the Trump administration's new federal tax law is largely irresponsible, running up enormous debt to give breaks to the wealthy, in one respect it is exactly what the country needs. That is, the new law limits to $10,000 the personal income tax deduction for state and local taxes, the SALT deduction. 

The deductibility limit is outraging elected officials in high-tax states in the Northeast and California, and in Connecticut the Malloy administration has joined them in a federal lawsuit claiming implausibly that the limit is unconstitutional. 

The plaintiffs complain that the limit will depress home prices and economic growth and make it harder for state government to pay for essential services. 

This is nonsense because the high spending and taxes of the plaintiff states have already impeded their growth and cost them population. States with lower spending and taxes are growing faster economically and in population. 

The real issue here is whether federal policy should make it easier for state governments to overtax their people and be inefficient. Of course the Trump administration is hardly efficient itself, but a state that, like Connecticut, keeps imposing record tax increases while producing huge budget deficits deserves no help from federal policy. 

The elected officials running Connecticut and the other high-spending, high-taxing, and population-losing states are desperate to avoid confronting the special interests they have been coddling, particularly government employees. No state that, like Connecticut, maintains collective bargaining for government employees and binding arbitration for their union contracts while its government is effectively insolvent is even trying to put its affairs in order. 

Connecticut residents are only starting to understand the burdens and ineffectiveness of their state government. Limiting the federal tax deductibility of state and local taxes will improve their understanding and encourage their overdue resentment. 

* * * 

President Trump has a talent for contaminating everything he touches, as demonstrated by his disgraceful response to the death of Arizona Sen. John S. McCain. Ironically, Trump's disrespect turned McCain into more of a national hero, particularly for Democrats who want to bring the president down. 

Anyone who performed military service and as a result was held for more than five years as a prisoner of war, was tortured by a vicious enemy, and as a result suffered permanent physical injuries is a hero no matter what the president thinks of him. Indeed, it was contemptible for Trump to disparage McCain when Trump obtained a military draft deferment with a case of “bone spurs” that cleared up as soon as the draft ended. 

But McCain's political record was mixed at best. 

Early in his Senate career he pressured banking regulators to go easy on a crooked financial magnate from whom he had accepted extravagant gifts and campaign contributions. This was corrupt and McCain was criticized for it by the Senate Ethics Committee. At least he came to regret what he had done. 

Further, in Congress McCain always supported stupid U.S. military interventions and imperial wars around the world. Thousands died because of these interventions and wars. 

But McCain mellowed and in his later years often pursued national and bipartisan interests. While he had a temper, he was also a regular guy without senatorial arrogance. He got along with people despite political disagreement. That's what most should be remembered about him. 


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

 

Conn. seems to be reviving

Looking across the Connecticut River at Hartford.

Looking across the Connecticut River at Hartford.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com

Connecticut has been hammered by Republican politicians for years for its high taxes and sluggish economy. From the propaganda you’d never know that Connecticut remains the richest state on a per-capita basis, followed by Massachusetts.

In any event, things are  finally looking up in the Nutmeg State. Among the good news, The Hartford Courant reports:

Seven Stars Cloud Group, a financial technology company, will spend $283 million to create a tech hub at the former University of Connecticut regional campus in West Hartford.

Infosys will create a regional tech and innovation hub in Hartford, which has been in  a steep economic and social slide for years, and hire 1,000 people for its information-technology and consulting business.

Stanley Black & Decker will open an advanced-manufacturing center in downtown Hartford to develop its “smart factory’’ initiative.

CVS will keep the headquarters of Aetna, which it is buying, in Hartford.

EIP LLC is setting up banks of computer servers in an abandoned factory in New Britain, an old factory town, to process and store data for many businesses.

Despite its woes of the past few years, Connecticut’s large number of highly educated people and its location between the wealth-creating behemoths of Greater Boston and New York will continue to make it very attractive to sophisticated businesses – generally more so than the low-or-no-income-tax and low-public-services Sunbelt states. The Northeast will remain, after all these years, the richest part of the country.

Meanwhile, the financial-services complex in  Fairfield County, and especially Stamford, closely linked to nearby Wall Street, will slowly shrink, as artificial intelligence and other technological change, as well as offshoring, reduce job counts. Finance has been the biggest wealth creator in Connecticut for a long time. It’s a healthy sign for the state that geographical and industry diversification, most of it involving high technology, is well underway.

By the way, I spent much of a recent Friday and Saturday driving around to see friends in Westport, Norwalk and Greenwich, all in rich Fairfield County. If taxes on the rich are so onerous  in the Nutmeg State (where I lived for four years when in school) how come I saw so many new mansions and McMansions going up? It looked richer than ever!

Don Pesci: Connecticut a national laughingstock

As  Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy sets off into the sunset, The Wall Street Journal reviews, in as economical a manner as possible, the real state of the state of Connecticut, once the diamond in the crown of New England.

“The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis recently rolled out its annual report on personal income growth in the 50 states, and for 2017 the Nutmeg State came in a miserable 44th.” That’s the good news.

The paper refers to Governor Malloy as the “progressive paragon” and notes his “performance is even worse when you look at the details. The nearby chart shows that the state’s personal income grew at the slowest pace among all New England states, and not by a little. Governor Dannel Malloy’s eight-year experiment in public-union governance saw income grow by a meager 1.5% for the year, well below Vermont (2.1%). The state even trailed Maine (2.7%) and Rhode Island (2.4%), which are usually the New England laggards.”

In personal-income growth, Connecticut is the poor-boy of states. “Connecticut was 49th out of 50 states in 2012, 37th in 2013, 39th in 2014 and 2015, and 33rd in 2016. The consistently poor performance, especially relative to its regional neighbors, suggests that the causes are bad economic policies, not the business cycle or a downturn in a specific industry.”

And finally, the most progressive state in the Northeast has now become the most regressive state in the Northeast. “The fact that Connecticut, which is next to America’s financial capital, has grown so poorly amid an expansion that was especially good for financial assets is a damning indictment of its political leadership. It is a particular tragedy for the state’s poorest citizens who may not be able to flee to other states that aren’t run by and for government employees. Maybe we should call it the Regressive State.”

Among the 446 comments the editorial provoked, is one that suggests the more progressives learn, the less they know. “Dan, Dannel, Daniel just announced a bill from the still Democrat controlled legislature is making its way to the governor’s desk and he plans to sign it.  That bill will grant tuition help to undocumented persons at Connecticut's state universities.”

These are not the kind of recommendations politicians generally want on their political resumes; though, of course, there will always be a feather bed somewhere – perhaps in progressive academia – for failed heroic progressive politicians. Malloy eventually may land on a soft surface, but it will take heroic efforts to effect changes in Connecticut that will return the state to its former glory.

More than a quarter century has passed since the father of Connecticut’s income tax, former Gov. Lowell Weicker, warned in his gubernatorial campaign that instituting and income tax in the midst of a recession would be like “pouring gas on a fire,” after which, once ensconced as governor, Weicker proceeded to pour gas on the fire. We have been living in the flames of an almost seamless unending recession ever since. As everyone who has not fled Connecticut for less punishing states elsewhere knows, Malloy called Weicker and raised him two tax increases, the first the largest and the second the second largest in state history. With the right policies in place, it would not have taken the state more than three decades to recover from its progressive governors and its progressive Democrat majority leaders in Connecticut’s General Assembly.

Since the Weicker bonfire, Republican gains in both the state House and Senate seem to suggest that a slim majority of Connecticut voters has come to appreciate Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity:  doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In the coming election, Republicans, now even in the Senate and seven seats away from Democrats in the House,  will be running against Malloy’s ruinous policies. State Democrats will be running against President Donald Trump, or rather a highly exaggerated cartoon of Trump.

The progressive policies of Malloy and his co-conspirators in the General Assembly cannot rationally be defended, because any defense is answered by the realities mentioned in the editorial  staring murderously at all Connecticut citizens.

Malloy’s response to Connecticut’s rapid downfall, directly related to the state’s hegemonic Democrat leadership and its lofty, feeling infused but reckless progressive policies, can best be illustrated by Mike Lawlor’s latest proposal. Connecticut’s Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning -- who as co-chairman, along with Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald, agitated effectively for the abolition of the death penalty and who set loose Frankie“The Razor” Resto on Meriden – has proposed the state should increase spending on prisoners’ meals, while the state slips sleepily into yet another multi-million dollar budget deficit. 

A Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Melissa Ziobro,  said of the latest Malloy-Lawlor venture into populist progressive politics, "Not only did he [Malloy] prioritize this money for criminals, he also eliminated money for seniors who are having meals for wheels deliveries.”

Lawlor has a ravenous appetite for wrong reforms. Connecticut’s new governor, Democrat or Republican, should eliminate his position, which is menacingly unnecessary. In fact, any prospective governor who promises -- "first thing I do when elected is to make Lawlor redundant" -- may pile up quite a few votes.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.

 

Don Pesci: Most Republicans are RINOS

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With apologies to Shakespeare: “Spending’s the thing, wherein we’ll catch the conscience of the King.”

There is in Connecticut no truer Trumpian liege lord than Joe Visconti, a gubernatorial candidate who described himself in one of his campaign documents as “Trump without the millions.”

When Trumpians refer disdainfully to “the DC Swamp,” they have in mind the kind of uncontrolled spending that, during the Obama administration, doubled President George Bush’s $10 trillion deficit. The current deficit now has been boosted by the U.S. Congress, and it was Trump who signed – very reluctantly, to be sure – the “drain the swamp’s” death warrant.

After Trump had signed the budget, Visconti advised: “Still love & support Trump but MAGA [Make America Great Again] is dead. You can’t give huge tax breaks and then give away a trillion $$ in spending in the same year and not expect a $22 Trillion deficit. Build the wall is dead. Lock her [Hillary Clinton] up is dead. Nothing but empty slogans now. As for Republicans? Most are Democrats, always have been. The bill should never have been assembled by Ryan the RINO [Republican In Name Only] but it was. Nothing but betrayal. Here’s how it rolls out in 18, we lose the House because Trump supporters aren’t blind and won’t come out for RINOs, Trump isn’t on the ballot. Pelosi takes over and starts impeachment proceedings day 1.”

Laura Ingraham lamented that the omnibus bill was a huge boondoggle designed to fool most of the people most of the time. Connecticut has its own version of the national omnibus bill, a catch-all bill at the end of the legislative season that few exhausted legislators manage to read. Such massive bills are pokes designed to hide crony swamp dweller's legislation.

The national poke more than adequately finances a military that former President  Obama seriously under-financed. It might be recalled that Trump, entering office and during his rambunctious campaign, presented himself as a Pat Buchanan anti-interventionist, after which he surrounded himself with generals. The world is a messy place for anti-interventionist presidents. The budget does not adequately finance the border wall upon which Trump campaigned, but Planned Parenthood, against which Trump campaigned, receives its pound of budget flesh.

Earlier in January, Senator from Planned Parenthood Dick Blumenthal and other extremist socially progressive Democrats beat back a bill that would have imposed a mild and painless restriction on those seeking abortions, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” The bill did not interfere with a woman’s right to procure an abortion; it simply restricted abortions to 20 weeks of a pregnancy, a period of time after which, science tells us, the fetus can feel pain. The bill also provided that women who defied the bill could not be prosecuted under the law, while those providing the abortion would be penalized.

Pro-abortion senators such as Blumenthal waved their old campaign placards against the bill.  “It is shameful and disgraceful,” Blumenthal fumed, “that this measure should be before Congress. Hands off women’s health care.” The reader will note a tactical change in language: According to Blumenthal, the bill would not interfere with a woman’s “right to choose abortion,” merely hasten the choice. Abortion has little to do with health care and everything to do with abolishing parenthood.  The regulation prone Blumenthal later would pronounce “immoral” those who defended a bill that regulated abortion on behalf of unborn children who feel the deadly pain of an abortionist’s knife. As Attorney General of Connecticut, Blumenthal consistently favored the regulation of businesses in his state, and he continues to do so in the Senate, bills affecting Planned Parenthood being a notable and glaring exception to his rule.

No, sorry. It is late-term abortion, the selling of baby parts and the inability of pro-abortionists to make relevant developmental distinctions in the stages of human life from conception to birth that is, by any stretch of the moral imagination, indecently immoral. In their campaigns, cowardly Republicans seem willing to cede the moral high-ground to the immoralists.  

The imposition of the Trump tariffs has split Republicans, but Republicans and Trump were marching in tandem on the matter of immigration. That battle has been lost, largely owning to court decisions that have about them the stench of unconstitutionality. Here is Nancy Pelosi crowing her victory in assuring that the nation’s borders remain ungovernable and permeable: “Democrats won explicit language restricting border construction to the same see-through fencing that was already authorized under current law. The [omnibus spending] bill does not allow any increase in deportation officers or detention beds.”

So, the obscenely large spending bill is a win, win for progressive big spenders and a lose, lose for taxpayers. Democrats in Connecticut have offered Republicans the same plank that leads to the same shark-infested waters. Whether they will sleepwalk the plank to their appointed end remains very much an open question. 

Don Pesci, a frequent contributor, is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.

Don Pesci: How to fix Connecticut's fixed-cost problem

"Sisyphys'' (1548–49), by  Titian .

"Sisyphys'' (1548–49), by Titian.

Jim Powell asked in an eye-opening piece in Forbes magazine 67 months ago, “How Did Rich Connecticut Morph Into One Of America's Worst Performing Economies?"

A partial answer, freighted with supportive data, has now been advanced in a piece commissioned by The Yankee Institute titled “Above the Law: How Government Unions’ Extralegal Privileges Are Harming Public Employees, Taxpayers And The State." 

Everyone, both inside and outside the state, is intimately familiar with the bad news most of us have internally affirmed during the past few decades. Consider the rise in the Connecticut’s “fixed costs,” a fixed cost being one that can be reduced only by extraordinary, politically unlikely efforts: “In 2006, fixed costs constituted only 37 percent of the state’s budget; by 2018 that amount was 53 percent.” In 2016, the Census Bureau reported that Connecticut was one of only eight states to lose population. Fixed costs are strangling the state’s economy and pushing taxpayers and workers out of state.

Chris Powell, who lately retired as managing editor of the Journal Inquirer newspaper, in Manchester, Conn., was asked some time past what should be done about “fixed costs,” to which he replied, “Unfix them.” A fixed cost is one that legislators who have pledged their troths to unions are disinclined to unfix for politically insidious reasons. So long as decision-making in matters of salaries, pensions and benefits remain in the hands of unions negotiating in secret with obliging governors, cowardly legislators subject to reelection will be more than happy to deed their budget responsibilities to others who will "fix costs" so that they then cannot easily be ameliorated by constitutional means.


During Gov. Dannel Malloy’s first term in office, taxes in 2011 increased by $2.5 billion, a record jump that included a 20 percent surcharge on corporate profits. Another $1.3 billion hike occurred in 2015. So onerous are Connecticut taxes that the Tax Foundation “rated the state as 44th in the nation for tax burden, and the second worse – 49th – for property taxes.” Coincidentally, the non-partisan Office of Policy and Management and the Office of Fiscal Analysis showed “a combined downward revision of $1.6 billion in projected tax revenue for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 compared to estimates provided just five months earlier.”

The state was taxing more and getting less, not a surprise to anyone familiar with the law of diminishing returns. At some tipping point in the tax scale, tax increases produce less revenue. Steadily increasing labor costs reduce a state’s ability to meet other more important obligations – especially when the state is averse to implementing long term, permanent reductions in spending.

The late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said that the trouble with socialism is that “sooner or later, you run out of other people's money.” The same holds true in a progressive state like Connecticut, in which labor costs continue to rise but further taxation is no longer possible because there are limits, economic and political, to taxation . If you cannot reduce labor costs through sensible and necessary measures, and if you cannot meet rising costs through tax increases, the only remaining option open to you, if you are a professional politician, is to commit hara-kiri and deed the intractable problems to your successor – the path chosen by Governor Malloy, who had declined to defend his ruinous policies by running for a third term in office.

The way out of the dark and forbidding forest is the way in – in reverse. Connecticut must move “fixed costs” into the fixable column overseen by elected legislators. This can be done in part by removing pensions and benefits from items negotiated during union-administrative contractual lovefests. Better still, why not allow elected legislators to set all presently negotiated items through statute? By eliminating union contracts and collective bargaining altogether, the General Assembly will simply be reassuming its constitutional obligations; it is the legislature, not the governor in conclave with unions, that is constitutionally obligated to appropriate and expend tax money. It is our elective system of government that holds legislators responsible for getting and spending, and this constitutional authority cannot be farmed out to unions and arbitrators without fatally damaging our republican form of government. Who died in the Constitution State and left unions, arbitrators and cowardly House and Senate leaders our bosses?

In a summary section of “Above The law,” the Yankee Institute provides common sense reforms that, if instituted, “will restore democracy to the Constitution State and secure fairness for taxpayers." These reform measures include:  ending the supersedence of labor contracts over state law; prohibiting unelected arbitrators from writing law; promulgating a law requiring unions to undergo regular recertification elections by workers; require the publication and public distribution  of all government union reports; limit collective bargaining to wages only; prohibit government employee layoffs based solely on seniority; allow all government workers  to opt into union membership every year; at the same time, allow workers to refuse union membership and represent their own interests; enact right-to-work laws for private sector employees now operative in 28 states; eliminate card check and make secret ballot elections the sole method by which workers may select or vote out a union; and lastly, enact meaningful and long term public pension reform.

A government that cannot regulate itself cannot sustain itself as a representative republic, but must eventually become a fixed, inalterable administrative state that abolishes self-rule through constitutionally prohibited means – such as distributing constitutional obligations to unelected bodies unanswerable to the people.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.

Back to Connecticut: Picking a place to live involves a lot more than economics and politics

The Black Horse Tavern ,  in  Old Saybrook, Conn., built about  1712 by John Burrows. It is  just west of the site of the historic Fort Saybrook, the major fortification of the 17th-Century  Saybrook Colony. The building served as a tavern and inn until 1924. It's now a private house.

The Black Horse Tavernin  Old Saybrook, Conn., built about  1712 by John Burrows. It is  just west of the site of the historic Fort Saybrook, the major fortification of the 17th-Century  Saybrook Colony. The building served as a tavern and inn until 1924. It's now a private house.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

Jeff Larder wrote a charming piece in the Jan. 19 Hartford Courant headlined “Why I Came Back to Connecticut.’’ It could apply to any place with problems, which means any place. Mr. Larder, who lives in Old Saybrook,  on Long Island Sound, had previously lived in Boston and Cape Cod. He moved back to the Nutmeg State in 2015.

There he has found plenty of things to complain about, including a “dysfunctional statehouse” (how many are highly functional?), “an exodus of jobs’’ and the “state full of suburbs flailing in a post-suburban world.’’  Further, the state’s “casinos are gross.’’ Yep, they are intrinsically gross.

Of course, some or even all of his complaints could be heard in many other states.

But economics isn’t everything. There are many reasons to live someplace.

He writes:

“....Connecticut more generally is at the happy middle of a diversity of experiences that comprise life at its best. In the span of a month, I had the best barbecue pork I've ever eaten in Hartford and the tastiest faux-chicken sandwich I've ever eaten at a vegetarian place in New Haven. Rolling farms, open space and hiking trails are minutes from downtown music venues and indie bookstores and record shops. The beaches aren't Malibu-caliber, obviously, but they're calm enough to teach your toddler to love the water….

“If Connecticut occasionally feels like an afterthought between two cities, remember that Manhattan is priced for wide-eyed optimists and pulseless corporate assassins, and the cranes in Boston seem hell-bent on building luxury apartments and the world's largest food court. Major metropolises are having trouble keeping around artists and creatives — the same people who make cities exciting places to live and can least afford the rent — and they've long been beyond the reach of middle-class families. Meanwhile, Connecticut's colleges, small and underutilized cities, and proximity to those same high-priced locales amount to an abundance of potential energy.’’

Sounds applicable to the cute little state to its east.

To read his essay, please hit this link:

Chris Powell: As civic life and local news media decline, why keep slogging on?

How many more press runs?

How many more press runs?


When the Journal Inquirer, of Manchester, Conn.,  merged the weekly newspapers in Rockville, South Windsor, and East Windsor, Conn., and went daily in August 1968, its premise, like the premises of the Connecticut newspapers that had been started long before, was that people wanted local news. The Hartford newspapers serving the growing suburbs to the north and east were not providing much of it. For 25 years the upstart's circulation grew steadily and two of its competitors closed, in large part because they lacked local news. 

Back then Connecticut, literate and prosperous, had the highest per-capita newspaper readership in the country. But for most of the last 25 years newspaper circulation throughout the country and in Connecticut has declined, even for the most local of papers. 

This is commonly blamed on the rise of the Internet, but recent surveys suggest it is something else. They find that most people are not using the Internet much to obtain local and state news, that most of the news sought on the Internet is national and world news, that there isn't so much interest even in that news, and that most use of the internet is not for news but for social contact, shopping, and amusement. 

While newspapers and their internet sites remain the primary providers of local and state news, it seems that interest in such news has collapsed.

Indeed, the collapse of interest in local and state news may correlate less with the rise of the Internet than with the collapse of civic engagement generally as indicated by measures like voter participation. 

Census and voter registration figures suggest that even in Connecticut about 25 percent of the eligible adult population doesn't even register  to vote. As a result, actual voter participation is probably only 50 percent of the eligible population for presidential elections, a third for state elections, and around 10 percent for municipal elections.

For example, far more people voted in Manchester's town election in 1962 than in its town election in 2017, though the town's population is 40 percent larger.

That is, newspaper readership, like voter participation, is mainly a matter of demographics. The more literate, self-sufficient, and engaged with public life people are, the more they read newspapers. The less literate, self-sufficient, and engaged with public life people are, the less they read newspapers -- and the demographics of Connecticut and the whole country are declining fast. 

No one needs newspapers for keeping up with the Kardashians.

Trouble for newspapers is not the worst of it. Democracy and the country are in jeopardy.

So someone who has spent 50 years at a newspaper in Connecticut may be permitted his discouragement. The civic engagement business was never lucrative, but now nearly all local- and state-oriented newspapers struggle to survive. 

As the state's economic and demographic decline accelerates, knowledge of Connecticut's past, present, and public policy has lost all financial value except for those who would use it to extract the last scraps of patronage and graft from the state's hapless and insolvent government.

Of course many lives are always wasted, but what kind of future awaits Connecticut when most of its high school graduates never master high school English and math, much public college instruction is remedial, and most people cannot identify the state's three branches of government? (You know -- the teacher unions, the lawyers, and the liquor stores.) Maybe Dire Straits was right:


I shudda learned to play the guitar.
I shudda learned to play them drums. ...
Maybe get a blister on your little finger.
Maybe get a blister on your thumb.




Some pensioners wear T-shirts inscribed: "I'm retired. Having fun is my job." They may have earned their fun, and old folks remain the best newspaper readers, but how much attention are even they paying to Connecticut these days, especially since so many of them are moving to warmer and less-taxed jurisdictions, as even the state's most recent former governor has done? 

While everyone of a certain age is entitled to a little time out of the winter cold, for a former governor to leave the state is also demoralizing, and a warning too. 

For many state residents have nowhere else to go, nor, as Bing Crosby and Judy Garland sang, do they want to abandon Connecticut despite the damage being done to it:



Circled the globe dozens of times.
Seen all its wonders, known all its climes.
I've searched it with a fine-tooth comb
And found that I only have one home, sweet home.
Connecticut always will be my home.



Still, after so much time in the news business it can be difficult not to view much of what is reported as trivial or a cliche, as T.S. Eliot did even before the era of "weather every 10 seconds."


You will see me any morning in the park
Reading the comics and the sporting page. 
Particularly I remark:
An English countess goes upon the stage, 
A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance, 
Another bank defaulter has confessed.



Of course while the news is repetitive it is not all trivial to the people directly involved, and it usually involves different people, who make it new, though they may no longer care as much about appearing in print as they care about appearing on "social media," where news tends to be less about wars and rumors of wars than boyfriends, girlfriends, relatives, and pets.

So what is the point of staying in the newspaper business? Maybe only spite. It might be hard to let certain people in what is left of the state's public life think that no one was on to them.



Fare thee well now.
Let your life proceed by its own design.
Nothing to tell now.
Let the words be yours. I'm done with mine.




Chris Powell will retire Monday as managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. He plans to continue writing columns for Connecticut  newspapers and New England Diary.

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Don Pesci: All hail Chris Powell; Trump tax cuts may lift Conn., too

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities
 -- Voltaire

 

Chris Powell would blush to hear someone say it, but his retirement as managing editor of the {Manchester} Journal Inquirer in January will leave a gaping hole in Connecticut journalism. Fortunately, Powell’s voice will still ring out in columns. The press notice announcing his retirement was placed amusingly on the right side of the paper’s obituary page. {Mr. Powell is a frequent contributor to New England Diary.}

Powell’s columns, many of them analytical jewels, always have had in them just enough bite to awaken slumberous readers. Unlike some commentators, he has managed to keep himself out of his writings, which in the age of twitter may be a sign of saintliness. But of course a writer is always present in his work as, say, Cervantes is present in Don Quixote.  In the same way, a managing editor of a paper is present in his product. There are a number of fine journalists in Connecticut who have fallen out of Powell’s pockets.

***

President  Trump may survive moves to eject him from his presidency, a consummation devoutly wished by two of Connecticut’s fiercest anti-Trumpers, U.S. Senators Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. The state’s junior senator, Murphy, will be up for re-election in the New Year. Connecticut likely will suffer from that provision in the new tax-reform bill that will prevent high tax states – we have the distinction of being the third-highest tax state in the nation, lagging behind New Jersey and New York -- from offering write-off provisions for state taxes.
 

There may, however, be ancillary benefits to Trump’s tax reforms. Many economists familiar with President  Kennedy’s tax reforms, somewhat similar to those of Presidents Reagan and Trump, anticipate increases in job production and GDP growth, a rising tide that will, as Kennedy once put it, lift all the boats – including Connecticut’s seriously damaged dinghy. The one thing Nutmeggers may not see in the New Year is an attempt to recover from the expected consequences of the new tax reforms through a reduction of state taxes.

***

The “Me Too” movement may ebb somewhat in the New Year, because nothing is so temporary as a temporary tax increase or a movement that has become fashionable in Hollywood. Proponents of chivalry will agree the movement has been cleansing in its effects and too long in coming. But Hollywood will survive this temporary setback to libertinism, because Hollywood always survives its breeches of good manners. It is uncertain at this point whether the “Me Too” movement will or will not signal a truce on the unending war between the sexes. Distantly related to the “Me Too'’ movement, some liberal Democrats who were not sufficiently enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign are now offering guarded apologies. Married to former a president, she too was a Me Too’er.

***

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, whose approval rating in Connecticut is a few points higher than Hell’s minor devils, will not be with us in the New Year, but he will have left behind, as a memorial of his passing, a load of wreckage. Bets are on whether a gubernatorial library will be erected to preserve Malloy’s destructive tendencies during his two terms on office, including both the largest and the second largest tax increases in state history. In certain quarters, the leave-taking of the most progressive governor in Connecticut since Wilbur Cross – discounting former Maverick Gov. Lowell Weicker -- will be celebrated with a moment of telling silence. Progressivism, which is state-socialism without the Gulag, will survive Malloy’s passing, because progressivism always survives.

Most recently Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget guru, wrote a letter to his boss doubting whether legislators could restore cuts to a program that helps seniors and the disabled pay for Medicare insurance without seriously damaging a balanced budget that has mysteriously become unbalanced weeks after it had been written into law. Malloy wrote in reply that he was grateful for Barnes’s analysis, which “illustrates the difficulty of realizing significant savings on top of what we’ve already achieved with respect to overtime and ‘other expenses’ accounts. We must avoid a ‘fix’ to the MSP that relies on overly optimistic savings or unrealistic lapses, which would only exacerbate the larger, looming budgetary challenge we face.” The Malloy administration had during its run continually relied upon fanciful budget projections, thefts from this or that “lockbox” to be deposited in the general fund, and temporary “fixes” such as layoffs that Malloy’s SEBAC agreement would deny to future governors until 2027, the year when his union favorable agreement with SEBAC is due to expire.

***

No one on Connecticut’s media laughs at such preposterous posturing. Karl Kraus -- Austrian writer and journalist, essayist, aphorist, playwright, poet, perhaps the most significant European satirist since Jonathan Swift, seriously thought the fate of civilization “may depend upon the placement of a comma.” Asked why he wrote, Kraus said “I have to do this as long as it is at all possible; for if those who are obliged to look after commas had always made sure they were in the right place, then Shanghai would not be burning.”

It is a thought serious journalists might want to bear in mind during the New Year.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.

 

 

 

Conn. gun crackdown seems to work

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Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

After a lunatic young gunman murdered 20 first graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, Nutmeg State legislators in  2013 broadened the definition of “assault rifle’’ and the sale of gun magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. State law also requires a permit to buy any gun or ammunition. And Connecticut has a registry of weapon offenders and a universal background check system.

Ron Piniciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, told WNPR that the state had 53 homicides with guns in 2016, way down from the 92 before the new law took effect.  But then, southern New England has long had among the lowest gun-death rates in America.

Interestingly, reports WNPR, gun sales are still rising in the state. But Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s undersecretary for criminal-justice policy and planning, says the rigorous permitting process keeps down the violence.

There have been variants of the Connecticut legislation promoted in Congress but as long as the National Rifle Association, which acts as chief lobbyist for the gun-manufacturing industry, holds sway there, don’t expect anything. Polls suggest that most Americans want tougher gun laws, but that counts for little on Capitol Hill!

Gun-control advocates lack the lobbying and campaign-contribution money of the weapons industry and, whatever the opinion polls show, gun lovers vote more intensely than do gun-control folks. And the gun lobby and its servants in Congress and the White House are far more politically ruthless than are gun-control people. For that matter, on a range of issues from health care to taxes to the environment, the majority of the public seems to favor slightly left-of-center positions, if national opinion polls mean much. But they vote at considerably lower percentages than do people on the right. They get the government they deserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don Pesci: Two roads diverge widely in the Nutmeg State

-- Photo by Global Jet    The ever-expanding main campus of the University of Connecticut, in Storrs.

-- Photo by Global Jet

The ever-expanding main campus of the University of Connecticut, in Storrs.

“When the enemy is making a false movement we must take good care not to interrupt him” -- Napoleon

That the Connecticut compromise budget is predominantly a Democrat production should come as a surprise to no one. Weighing gains and losses in the scales, the left in Connecticut, best represented by House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, a union employee, has prevailed over its opponents.

The state’s capital,  Hartford, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, will receive a bailout from state taxpayers, at best a temporary solution to long-brewing, unresolved problems centering on the city’s hegemonic political structure, and a virtual guarantee that the city’s political shakers and movers will be bellying up to the bailout bar again in the not too distant future. University of Connecticut funding, cut in the Republican budget that had passed both Houses of the General Assembly, has been restored. Major changes in employee pensions, a prominent feature in the Republican budget, were dropped – but not, Republicans remind us, as a campaign issue.

Democrats yielded on shifting teacher pension costs to municipalities, a major feature of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s rule by executive order regime. Republicans did succeed in imposing a cap on state spending as well as limits on the bonding of long-term capital projects, though they would be wise to make certain that proper enabling legislation is attached to the measures.  Some months ago,  state Atty. Gen.  George Jepsen advised that the constitutional cap on spending, a feature of the Gov. Lowell Weicker income-tax measure, was unconstitutional because the General Assembly had never supplied definitions necessary to enable the bill.

Taxes, a litmus test issue for Republicans, will be increasing – again. Malloy, the outgoing Democratic governor has now, with the concurrence of the dominant Democratic General Assembly, raised taxes three times. The lame-duck governor is the author and inspiration of the largest and second largest tax increases in state history, one of the reasons his approval rating is in the tank.

In a pot calling the kettle black political strategy, much will be made by Democrats in upcoming campaigns of Republican duplicity on the matter, although it will be obvious to all that Republicans yielded to a superior political force wielded by Democrats. Not sweet reason -- Democrats were never interested in palavering with Republicans on budget matters -- but superior force and numbers wielded by Democrats shaped the final budget product.   

Malloy’s reaction to the compromise budget was, some think, bitter – possibly because he was excluded from deliberations on what many hope may be the final budget product in Connecticut – but perfectly in keeping with his overbearing nature. General Assembly members wanted a budget they could live with; which is to say, they wanted a budget they could campaign on. Malloy, who bade goodbye to future campaigns months ago, need no longer struggle to run on his lamentable record in office. Had he chosen to run again, he doubtless would have sunk the re-election prospects of his fellow Democrats.

The compromise budget – such as it is – should be considered a prelude to the upcoming 2018 elections.

Most savvy Democrats instinctively understand they need to put some distance between non-lame duck Democrat legislators and Malloy, Connecticut’s self-immolating governor. And it is this perception that has made them amenable to compromise, even as it has raised Malloy’s hackles.

If Malloy does veto the compromise budget, “the bad” will be on Democrats. If the budget in its current form is not vetoed or passes as a result of a successful veto override, both Republicans and Democrats will be able to run in the upcoming elections as pragmatic compromisers.

In the seemingly endless prelude to the budget, both parties had staked out positions on the economy and society that are widely divergent, the cause, some commentators have said, of the long budget standoff. With the passage at last of a compromise budget, divergence between both parties will increase rather than diminish – because this divergence is rooted in two competing and opposite visions of government.

Never in Connecticut history has it been more true that the destination of the state will depend on the road taken as determined by upcoming elections, which is simply a way of saying that votes will determine Connecticut’s now precarious future. And this time there will be no retreat from the road that will, in Robert Frost’s formulation, “make all the difference.” 

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based journalist.