Chris Powell: At least we plow well; sick vets and discretionary wars

MANCHESTER, Conn. Government in Connecticut does one thing well: snowplowing. While 2 inches of snow can send Washington, D.C., into comic panic and paralysis, Connecticut plays through even a foot or more of snow and can push it out of the way and be back in business in 24 hours.

Still, even in normal winters the snow is a drag here, and now, with heavy snow seeming to come nearly every week, it is more than a drag. It may be reducing economic output by 10 or 20 percent. Many people feel as if they are going to work mainly so they can earn money to pay someone to plow their driveway so they can go to work again.

Of course Connecticut long has managed despite having three terrible months each year. But that is because the state offered advantages offsetting that disadvantage.

On the whole for the last 25 years, since its enactment of an income tax, Connecticut has been losing population relative to the rest of the country, and the other day the Census Bureau reported that the state's population is back in absolute numerical decline as well.

Reflecting recently on state government's continuing budget deficits despite a record tax increase, budget director Ben Barnes said Connecticut has entered "a period of permanent fiscal crisis." His candor could be appreciated but Barnes also was confessing failure -- confessing that state government's policies have not been making Connecticut more prosperous but rather have been impoverishing it.

The excessive snow will make many state residents reconsider their premises for living here. To encourage them to stay put, state government better start reconsidering some of its premises as well.

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Connecticut U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is making much of his sponsorship of legislation aimed at reducing suicides among returned military veterans. The legislation is mainly a matter of requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to increase mental-health services and hire more psychiatrists, and since the legislation passed the House and the Senate unanimously, its enactment may not have required as much political courage as the press releases about it imply.

Of course war always has been traumatic, and many returning soldiers always have suffered from a self-destructive depression even when they bore no debilitating physical wounds. Today there is a fancy name for it: post-traumatic stress disorder.

But at least with the country's biggest wars -- the Civil War, World War I and World War II -- veterans had the consolation that their work absolutely had to be done, whether it was preserving the nation and ending slavery or defeating totalitarian aggression that threatened the whole world, as well as the consolation that their fellow citizens profoundly appreciated their sacrifice.

It has been much different with the country's discretionary wars of recent decades, from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan, where U.S. soldiers fought for dubious premises, where the national interest was not at risk enough to seem to require drafting the whole population into the war effort, and where the service of the soldiers was not really appreciated when they got home, because by then the wars they fought -- intervening in other countries' civil wars or trying to civilize barbarian cultures -- were not considered to have been worthwhile, the civil wars having burned themselves out on their own and the barbarians having not been civilized.

Yes, there are so many suicides of recently returned veterans, estimated at an appalling 22 every day, that the Veterans Affairs Department should have the resources to help more. But what the Armed Forces deserve most is not to be squandered on stupid and unnecessary wars -- like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan that Senator Blumenthal has supported despite their failure to reach their objectives and despite the impossibility that they ever  could reach their objectives, at least not without the all-consuming effort  that elected officials like the senator did not dare to demand from their constituents.

Chris Powell is managing edit0r of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


Selfish people in fat cars

As a libertarian about many things, I used to oppose laws against using cell phones while driving even in states  -- Rhode Island is the worst I have seen -- noteworthy for having very  incompetent, lazy and inconsiderate drivers. No more. The relentless snows have  dramatized just how bad many drivers in the Ocean State are. The people in SUV's are the worst -- perhaps because the owners tend to be affluent and spoiled. They barrel down streets many of which are  now less than a lane wide, at 20 miles an hour over the speed limit, with walls of snow and ice squeezing from both sides while yakking about their trivial lives on their phones.

I'll be pleased when the price of gasoline goes to $5 a gallon and even some of these slobs might get rid of their fat cars. They'll still be  self-absorbed, spoiled people but less able to make life miserable for others on the road, be they other drivers or hapless pedestrians looking for a sidewalk behind six-foot-high walls of dirty snow.

-- Robert Whitcomb