Don Pesci

Don Pesci: Of understanding and forgiveness

“Christ before Pilate ,’ ’ by    Mihály Munkácsy   , 1881

“Christ before Pilate,’’ by Mihály Munkácsy, 1881

VERNON, Conn.

Longtime Hartford Courant columnist Frank Harris III is not happy with President Trump. In his latest production, “Impeach the Vampire,” Harris plumbs the depth of his dissatisfaction:

“America has never been less great than it is today. Like a vampire, the president has plunged his fangs deep into the Constitution. His fangs are sharp, and he won’t let go as he sucks the blood out of the very meaning of America. He has sunk them into the flag, sucking away the red stripes, turning them against the stars of blue. He has sunk them into the Justice Department, making it his own right arm to administer his justice rather than the justice of the land. He has sunk them into the Republican Party, turning them into wind-up vampires, hissing the Trumpian line.”

Trump supporters are not spared Harris’ op-ed lash: “For Trump supporters who voted for this man who has brought a cloud upon the land, you are forgiven. But you know now what you have done. The light of dawn has exposed this president. You see now who he is. There are no mitigating factors. No rationales. No excuses. Continued support makes you complicit in the continuing criminal acts of this crooked, conniving president.”

Was forgiveness ever so quickly withdrawn?

Forgiveness figures prominently in Douglas Murray's latest book, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, an exploration of the breakdown of Western culture. Decades earlier Julian Benda identified one cause of the breakdown in La trahison des clercs, the treason of the intellectuals. Pointing to the wreckage he saw all about him in 1920, Benda asked “Was it for this Christ and Socrates died?

There are two problems with the postmodern world, Murray argues. Leftists in our time have turned a failed Marxism, the perpetual war against the proles and the bourgeois, into a multifaceted war of all against all. They’ve done this by dividing mankind into oppressors and oppressed: men oppress women, whites oppress blacks, teachers – said Paulo Freire, the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first released in English in 1970 – oppress students. Freire’s book was used as a textbook in teacher education classes during the silly seventies. The oppressed in our time -- they are legion -- are viewed as having the only correct appreciation of racism, feminism, identity politics, gender, transsexualism, ad infinitum. With the nod of treasonous intellectuals, students are now taught by their teacher-oppressors to defer to oppressed classes, always and everywhere.

The second problem concerns what scientist and philosophers used to call objective truth, the truth that lies outside one’s own subjective experiences; the truth that remains true apart from our apprehensions of it. Some postmodern philosophers -- Murray mentions Foucault as a noxious example – have quite done with truth. There is no such thing. The world and everything in it may be explained in terms of post-Marxian power struggles. Just as pseudo-science in the post- Nietzsche period had murdered the Christian God, so objective truth in the postmodern age has been murdered by its false philosophers. And what we have now are various power struggles of a world at war with itself. Since everything is a power struggle, including such fanciful pre-postmodern notions as love and marriage, it is passion, loud voices, rather than reason, rational argument, that decide important issues of the day.

There is only one way out of this maze of irrational passion, violence and hatred Murray says – the way of forgiveness. That was the way paved by Martin Luther King Jr. in matters of race when he insisted that blacks should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. “The only means that we’ve ever come up with as a species for the undoability of our actions is forgiveness,” Murray says in a recent interview. “And our culture is obsessed with punishing any and all erroneous action in the world -- often an erroneous action that was only made erroneous 24 hours ago -- but spends no time thinking about forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is incommensurate with ignorance: To forgive is not to unknow or to forget; it is to forego infinite repetition. Forgiveness may never be an affirmation of evil. The evil is not to be ignored or soft peddled or defined away. It is to be wrestled to the ground and defeated through forgiveness and rational thought.

The postmodern mind insists everything is a power struggle rather a search for enduring truths. Pilate speaks to Christ in the language of the postmoderns. Pilate asks Christ, “Are you a king?” And Christ answers, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” at which Pilate, dressed in robes of power, scoffs, “What is truth?”

No, no, the postmodern power-worshiper replies, Pilate is right. Power is all.

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


at October 05, 2019

Don Pesci: Food fight in Connecticut

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VERNON, Conn.

Kevin Rennie wondered in his blog “Daily Ructions” why, under “the grocery tax set to take effect Oct. 1, six bagels won't be subject to the higher sales tax, but five bagels will, because they're considered to be prepared foods for immediate consumption.” And he then proposed a solution to the conundrum: “The legislature needs to change this law.”

Gov. Ned Lamont, Rennie wrote, is attempting “to erase the advantage grocery stores that sell prepared foods have over restaurants,” an alibi that seemed to him suspect. If Lamont were at all worried about the restaurant business in Connecticut, “he would not have singled it out for an increase in the sales tax from 6.35 percent to 7.35 percent. He wanted the money more than he cared about the cost of dining out and its consequences for restaurant owners, workers and patrons.”

And, truly, if Lamont and his handlers were worried about equity alone, the governor and the tax hungry crowd of Democratic progressives in the General Assembly could as easily adjust the disturbing inequity by eliminating both the restaurant and the grocery tax, leaving Rennie to buy his bagels at the grocery store without being harassed by Connecticut’s frothing tax man.

This is not likely because dominant Democrats in the General Assembly whose thirst for more tax dollars is never assuaged by tax increases are once again fighting a perpetual and losing battle against rising state employee salary and benefit increases and expanding “fixed costs,” according to the Yankee Institute.

Over at CTMirror, Mark Pazniokas honed in on the problem, which appears to have been caused by a statutory glitch: “At issue is the impact of two words in the new budget, ‘grocery store,’ on a longstanding interpretation by state tax collectors of one word, ‘meal.’

A June provision in the state budget “increases the sales tax on meals by one percentage point, from 6.35 percent to 7.35 percent.” Nothing untoward there; the Lamont administration consistently has raised or extended taxes far beyond the tolerance levels of most people. The erratic toll proposals championed by Lamont and his progressive abettors in the Democrat dominated General Assembly have been temporarily derailed by a populist uprising, the “No Tolls” movement, but hope springs eternal, and the move to plaster the state with toll gantries is still very much alive, though quiescent.

The problem, Pazniokas tells us, is that “the new law lumps in grocery stores with restaurants and caterers when it comes to the taxation of meals, and while the meaning of the word “meal” has not been changed, the new law offers a troubling gloss: “A meal as defined in this subsection includes food products which are sold on a ‘take out’ or ‘to go’ basis and which are actually packaged or wrapped.” Hence, a head of lettuce bought at a grocery store is not taxable, while lettuce in a bag is taxable.

Now, a workable solution to the problem would require a re-write of the law.

No, says president pro tem of the state Senate Martin Looney. “The call for a special session is just the Republicans being alarmist and grandstanding.” Looney is one of the two tax famished progressive gate-keepers in the General Assembly – the other is House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz – who determine which bills will clutter the legislative calendar. Both rather like ambiguous laws that provide masterful Democrat leaders with great maneuverability.

Lewis Carroll the author of “Through The Looking Glass,” provided some guidance to the problem of mis-definition in a discussion Alice has with Humpty Dumpty.

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' " Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!' "

"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things.

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

Democrat progressives in the General Assembly know and obey their masters, while some Democratic moderates silently resist the lash. But the problem outlined above is entirely political and statutory. Even progressives subscribe to the notion that whatever you tax tends to disappear, which is why they approve taxes on cancer causing cigarettes and fossil fuel products. Their faux “surprise” at the public uproar caused by their clever statutory gloss is entirely contrived.

But it now appears that any remedy short of throwing Humpty Dumpty down from the wall will not be sufficient. Legislative masters of the universe fear only votes, and they know they have a safe number of them in their pockets.

Don Pesci is a columnist based in Vernon.

Don Pesci: A refugee's continuing search for freedom

Peter Lumaj

Peter Lumaj

VERNON, Conn.

My Father’s Prayers: A Refugee’s Continuing Search for Freedom, by Peter Lumaj (Page Publishing, New York, $25.95/softcover, 208 pages; available at Amazon)

Samuel Johnson once said that the prospect of execution in a fortnight “concentrates the mind wonderfully.” So did communism in Albania, and elsewhere among captive nations, during Peter Lumaj’s formative years.

Lumaj is precisely the storm-tossed refugee that the Statue of Liberty in upper New York bay welcomes with her lifted torch: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Lady Liberty boasts, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Albania, in the Balkans, is washed by the Adriatic and lies opposite Italy. Following World War ll and the defeat of Nazi Germany, Albania was forced into the Soviet orbit.. Stalin smiled on Enver Hoxha, who emerged as the leader of the newly established People's Republic of Albania. It was not until Stalin’s death, in 1953, that the country began its painful march towards liberty. Albania’s convalescence was long and wearying.

In 1945, the country initiated an Agrarian Reform Law that allowed the state to nationalize (read: expropriate) all property owned by religious groups. Resistance was futile; many believers were arrested and executed. In 1949, a new Decree on Religious Communities required that all religious activities be sanctioned by the state alone, and in 1967 Hoxha proudly boasted that Albania had become the world’s first atheist state. Churches were converted into cultural centers for young people. That same year, a law banned all fascist, warmongerish, antisocialist groups. In 1990, Hoxha’s statute was toppled by students in Tirana, the capital city.

Soviet Stalinism was the crucible within which the Lumaj family – Catholic and, before Albania was throttled by Stalinist stooges, one of the largest family groups in northern Albania – was constantly tested.

The orbit of Lumaj’s father, a strong-willed but cautious anti-communist, was more powerful than that of that of the communist ruling class in Albania. It was under his father’s influence that Lumaj and two of his brothers decided to escape and strike a path to America. In such cases, there are always casualties. Lumaj’s father and others in his family disappeared into an Albanian concentration camp, and it seemed that the last remains of the once proud and independent Lumaj clan had been nearly wiped out.

In so many ways, Lumaj’s love of America parallels that of filmmaker Elia Kazan, an Anatolian Greek born in Istanbul (Constantinople) who fled to America and was able to impress the pain endured by his family upon a film, highly autobiographical, titled America America. One of the refugees says to another that America, seen from the hungry hearts of immigrants searching for liberty, is “an emotive idea” or, in Lumaj’s formulation, the prayers of his father.

Crossing the border into the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, Lumaj was and sentenced to 30 days in jail for having illegally crossed the Yugoslav border. Transported later to a refugee camp in Belgrade that had been penetrated by CIA agents, Lumaj met John, who invited him to take a meal at a restaurant when Lumaj was on work furlough. It was John who told him that Lumaj’s family had been taken to a concentration camp in Albania soon after his escape. Under his father’s guiding star, he told that John the endpoint of his journey would be America.

On the way back to the camp, he was apprehended by two Yugoslav secret police agents. He was beaten so badly he ended up in the hospital. Later, at the American Embassy in Belgrade, where Lumaj and his brothers were filling out immigration forms, he once again encountered John, who was in charge of the refugee- screening process.

“As he came to the end of my application, he asked me only one simple question. Why did I choose the United States three times in the section where it asked me to rank my relocation choices? Why hadn’t I chosen a second or third choice? I told him firmly that we had left Albania with the intent of becoming Americans, and that we didn’t want to go anywhere else.

“John smiled, knowing the misery we had suffered thus far to get to this point, and said simply, ‘Welcome to America.’”

Owing to his father’s prayers, Lumaj began his assimilation into the United States , in, a route traveled by many other immigrants. A few years after having landed in New York, he became a lawyer, and in 2014 he ran on the Republican ticket for secretary of state in Connecticut, losing by a slim margin.

Don Pesci is a Vernon-based columnist.



Don Pesci is a writer who lives in Vernon


E-mail: donpesci@att.net


Don Pesci: Weak political parties weaken politics

William Tweed, in 1869, the legendary boss of the Democrats’ Tammany Hall machine, in New York City, after the Civil War.

William Tweed, in 1869, the legendary boss of the Democrats’ Tammany Hall machine, in New York City, after the Civil War.

VERNON, Conn.

Even though no member of “the squad” – Democrat congressional Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts – is participating in the national Democrat presidential primary debate now underway, the drift of Democratic politics post primary has been set by them and, of course, Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders. Primaries bring out political extremists who, along with a 24-7 media, set the party narrative.

Before primaries became common in both parties, candidate selection was made by party bosses in smoke-filled back rooms, and eccentrics in the parties were allowed their 15 minutes of fame during national conventions. Party bosses disappeared long ago; more likely, they have gone underground. And national conventions are now regarded as prime-time political shows, essential for generating campaign funding and spreading political gospels through sympathetic media outlets. Over the years, party conventions have lost their sharks’ teeth.

If we are asked today who determines which presidents or governors will represent their parties in general elections -- who, in other words, are the real political bosses? – we are told the people rule through a democratic election process, a laudable goal but a laughable exaggeration. In both primaries and general elections, voters simply affirm choices made by other now shadowy figures operating behind sometimes opaque political veils.

When the sturm und drang of the primaries have abated, selected representatives of both parties, national and state, tend to drift once again towards normalcy, in popular parlance “the center.” We have developed a political language to describe this gyrating pendular motion. In primaries, political contestants are said to be appealing to “their base.” Democrats these days appeal to progressives, and Republicans appeal to conservatives, the devil take the hindmost. In general elections, convention nominees twist themselves into pretzel shapes to appeal to the “center” of the party, which today is in motion.

What happens when the center moves right or left? Mass hypocrisy and confusion ensues. The only political “sin” recognized the world over by media adepts is hypocrisy, usually punishable by a caustic few paragraphs in a quickly forgotten editorial. It used to be thought that hypocrisy is “the compliment vice pays to virtue.” Hypocrites of old doffed their hats to virtue – of course one should always tell the truth and shame the devil, but sometimes the greater good of the party requires one to explore a heavily nuanced path – in the very act of committing the only sin recognized by a diminishing media luxuriating in the pockets of some favored interest or arcane ideology.

“Trust nothing in politics,” said Otto von Bismarck, “until it has been officially denied.” That is a useful maxim for journalists to follow, but following it requires a politically imprudent break with “transactional journalism” as understood by Sheryl Attkisson, let go from her job at CBS because her employers had become the willing servants of ambitious politicians.

So then, the modern journalist is working within a system in which a now unfamiliar evil, the much misunderstood party boss, has been replaced by shadowy political elements: super PACs, Ivy League-educated political consultants, former “objective” reporters and commentators employed by powerful incumbents, bloggers of every stripe and hue, furious twitterers, masked Trotskyites, deep-pocketed billionaire short-traders whose personal fortunes prosper in the chaos and darkness they create in order to make their billions, ivy league professors who relish the destruction of their own universities, not to mention the foundational ideas that have sustained the good old USA through the Revolutionary war, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, a newly hatched progressive Democrat Party, eupeptic conservative Republicans and what Julian Benda used to call “La Trahison des Clercs,” the treason of the intellectuals.

There are lots of twists and turns in the political maze, more than a hatful of cogs and spinning wheels. Many of the Wizard-of-Oz-like backstage political shakers and movers mentioned above have learned how to manipulate the party system, primaries, the campaign-finance system, and even conventions. Political parties, especially in one-party hegemonic states, have sloughed off traditional functions such as the generating and dispersing of campaign funds, now performed by candidates themselves. Political parties are much weaker than they were when bosses ruled the roost. The most recent gubernatorial contest in Connecticut featured two millionaires, neither of whom have had deep roots in politics. Incumbents are able to generate massive campaign funding; their competitors, forced to rely on tax supplied funding, not so much. This is one of the many reasons incumbents, safely locked into gerrymandered districts, are, in the absence of term limits, so difficult to dislodge.

Don Pesci is a columnist based in Vernon, Conn.

Don Pesci: Anti-Muslim hatemongering or scholarly curiosity?

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In early August, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) jointly condemned E. Miles Prentice, the owner of the Single-A Connecticut Tigers, based in Norwich, Conn., and co-owner of the Double-A Midland (Texas) RockHounds. Prentice was assailed because of his association with the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a group, according to a story in the Norwich Bulletin, that has been identified by CAIR as an anti-Muslim hate group.

Immediately after the “hate” gauntlet had been thrown down, curious minds certainly wondered if the CFSP was indeed a Muslim hate group, which is to say a group that hates all Muslims because they are Muslims. In a story of this kind, it is important to know whether the CSP is inspired chiefly by hate or by something far less toxic -- scholarly curiosity: Is sharia law compatible with our constitutional and the common law? In addition, one would want to know whether Prentice himself hates Muslims simply because they are Muslims, or whether Prentice is being assailed because of his close association with the CSP, while he himself is free of the presumed taint of hatred. Prentice is chairman of the Center for Security Policy and appears to be far more interested in baseball than irrational hatred.

Unfortunately, none of these questions have been asked, still less answered, by those reporting on the matter. The charge of anti-Muslim hatred – like charges of racism and anti-Semitism – may be unanswerable in the absence of unambiguous definitions. No doubt racism, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred should be denounced from every pulpit in the nation, religious and secular, but the denunciations must be aimed at the thing itself, not an intimation of its shadow. And, in the absence of firm definitions, those who falsely charge others with hatred of Islam as such should be fervently denounced by men and women of good will much in the way Sen. Joe McCarthy was reviled when he sought to tag as Communists some people who were innocent of the charge. McCarthy did correctly identify some people as Communists, but he was painting with a very broad brush, and in some cases his manner of investigation proved insufficient.

In 1992, William F. Buckley Jr. brought out a book titled In Search of Anti-Semitism. The tightly reasoned book ran to 200 pages and Buckley appeared to have captured in its pages a proper context “to evaluate anti-Semitism and, at the same time, what is wrongfully thought of as anti-Semitic.” There is no such effort underway to narrowly define “Islamic hatred” in such a way that Prentice may be safely put behind its definitional bars. Neither Prentice nor the Center for Security Policy, founded in 2008.

Is it not possible that CAIR -- closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Sunni Islamist organization founded in 1928 in Egypt by Islamic scholar and schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna, which itself is closely related to Hamas, a militant anti-Israeli terrorist organization -- may regard as hate what non-Muslim commentators in the United States choose to view as critical analysis?

The Council on American Islamic Relations should be wary of throwing stones from within glass houses. CSP is not an Islamic hate group. And if Prentice is to be judged an Islamic hater because of his association with a group found on the growing enemies list of the Southern Poverty Law Center, should not CAIR and the SPLC be judged according to the same standard applied in the case of Prentice? Prentice’ response to the charge that he is a hatemonger, not ventilated fully in news outlets that have carried the sensational charge, may be found here.

There is no reason to suppose that the members of CAIR should be familiar with Kant’s categorical imperative -- “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature." Or, to put the precept in Christian terms, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That precept – that moral law – weighs heavily on the Christian conscience. But there is no reason to believe that violent jihadists, say, soiling their hands with the blood of innocent Christians, among others, think themselves under any obligation to submit to Kant’s moral law. Their submission is to Mohammed's precepts as expressed in the Koran, the hadiths and sharia law.

However, if you want to play ball in Dodd Stadium, Norwich, CT., USA, you’ll have to play by the rules. And the overarching rule is that there is a world of difference between proper scholarly activity, permitted under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, and hate mongering of a kind that falls short of slitting the throats of those who disagree with you on nice theological questions.


Don Pesci is a columnist based in Vernon, Conn.


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.



Don Pesci: The rhetorical career of Bernie Sanders, socialist

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

It is no longer true, as your mother may once have told you, that you are judged by the company you keep. Former President Barack Obama had a few diamonds in the rough on his friends list. There were the Chicago terrorist bombers Bill Ayers, a former leader of the Weather Underground, now an American elementary education theorist, and his wife Bernadine Dohrn, responsible for bombings of the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and several police stations in New York, as well as the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion that killed three of its members. Dohrn left a position in 2013 as “Clinical Associate Professor of Law" at the Northwestern University School of Law.

Far from being a repentant sinner, Ayres told The New York Times in 2001 "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." Ayers and Obama served together on the board of directors for the Woods Fund of Chicago, their terms overlapping for three years, and Ayres is credited with helping to jump-start Obama’s political career. In 1995, Alice Palmer introduced Obama as her chosen successor in the Illinois State Senate at a gathering held in the Ayers home.

Obama also attended for 20 years the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Chicago church where, apparently, he snoozed through sermons such as "Confusing God and Government" in which Wright dammed America. Wright officiated at the wedding ceremony of Barack and Michelle Obama and baptized their children. The title of Obama's 2006 memoir, The Audacity of Hope, was inspired by a Wright sermon.

Wright claimed his offending message had been taken out of context, to which Salon editor-in-chief Joan Walsh responded: "the whole idea that Wright has been attacked over 'sound bites,' and if Americans saw his entire sermons, in context, they'd feel differently, now seems ludicrous. The long clips [Bill] Moyers played only confirm what was broadcast in the snippets… My conclusion Friday night was bolstered by new tapes of Wright that came out this weekend, including one that captures him saying the Iraq war is 'the same thing al-Qaida is doing under a different color flag,' and a much longer excerpt from the 'God damn America' sermon that denounces 'Condoskeezer Rice ...”

Obama’s past associations certainly presented no bar to his accession to the presidency.

It is doubtful that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unsavory past and present associations will figure negatively in his own presidential bid. Assuming that Sanders wins the Democrat primary campaign and goes toe to toe with President Trump in a general election, he may find it difficult to grouse, after losing, that Russian spooks spiked his campaign because they preferred Trump to Sanders, the Hillary Clinton gambit.

Sanders, after all, spent his honeymoon in Russia in 1988 during the bad old days of Soviet Imperialism where, under the influence of vodka, he belted out Woody Guthrie’s ancient anthem “This Land Is Your Land.” Then too, Sanders is a socialist anti-capitalist dragon, belching fire out of his snout every half hour. One year after his Moscow honeymoon, Sanders visited Cuba, and his praise of Castro – a puff adder who was smoking gays and persecuting black Cubans at the time, not to mention the petite bourgeois small “d” democrats littering Castro’s jails -- was effusive.

Sanders, who was a congressman and the mayor of Burlington, Vt., before being elected to the Senate, did pause in his praise to note Cuba’s “enormous deficiencies” in human rights. How could he help but notice? In the United States, freedom-loving radicals like Sanders, longing to bow before the socialist shrine, bit their smothering tongues, but most of them were not shameless enough to throw bouquets at the feet of men like gods. Sanders declared he never saw a hungry child or a homeless person while in Cuba, but he did see a revolution “that is far deeper and more profound than I understood it to be.” One can hardly expect Russian President Vladimir Putin to disagree with Sanders’ pro-socialist leanings.

Senior adviser to Sanders presidential campaign Heather Gautney is convinced that “Today’s neoliberal capitalist system has become utterly incompatible with the requisites of democratic freedom.” High unemployment, Gautny said on an Iranian TV show, is a blessing because it gives people more down time to engage in protest movements. And Sanders speech writer David Sirota wrote glowingly about “Hugo Chavez’s Economic Miracle” in 2013, just as food shortages were “beginning to surface in Caracas and the countryside,” according to a piece in the Washington Times.

As a young man, Sanders should have been studying Churchill – “Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy,” a near perfect description of the last ten stump-speeches of Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. But Sanders’ ideological antennae were tuned to the Soviet Union, where he spent his honeymoon. The embrace of the indefensible is fatal in the long run, but in the short run, it is an indispensable element in the rise of autocrats. And in the long run, people who have lost an animating, democratic virtue long only to sleep under the warm, benevolent smile of a dictator.

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




Don Pesci: On tolls, Lamont is spinning like a top

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Clever frogs know how to take a step back so that they might advance two steps forward.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont met recently with the governors of two contiguous states, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, to palaver about infrastructure maintenance. A fierce middle class taxpayer opposition to tolling in Connecticut has given the governor and the two Democrat gate-keepers in the General Assembly, Senate President Martin Looney and Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, political hiccups.

Lamont began pushing for tolls during his election campaign for governor. In that campaign, Republican nominee for governor Bob Stefanowski was widely derided by Democrats and critics in the state’s media for centering his campaign on a pledge to do away with Connecticut’s income tax over a ten year period.

Pressing on, Stefanowski said his pledge was aspirational and, once accomplished, would reset Connecticut in New England’s crown as a haven from excessive taxation. In addition, it would force politicians in the state to confront the ongoing problem of excessive spending.

Couldn’t be done, everyone said; after all, the state was looking down the barrel of a biennial deficit approaching $4 billion. If politics is the art of the possible, the Democrats’ effort to impose upon Connecticut’s already tax overburdened voters a new revenue source has been, to put it kindly, unartful.
Russell Long of Louisiana might have enjoyed the first toll proposal Lamont unfurled in his gubernatorial campaign. “Most people,” said Long, “have the same philosophy about taxes.” And he poeticized the philosophy:

Don’t tax you,

Don’t tax me,

Tax that fellow behind the tree.


Get someone other than voters, in other words, to pay for your expenditure. For campaigner Lamont, the “fellow behind the tree” was large trucks steaming through Connecticut – a truck tax. Once elected, Lamont realized that truck tolling alone would not provide Connecticut with the revenue it would need for necessary infrastructure repairs. And then too, there was that pesky multi-billion deficit poking its nose over the horizon.

Lamont suggested a massive number of toll gantries, later reduced to 50, a plan that very likely ran into difficulties with federal overseers who would allow toll gantries only to reduce congestion. Connecticut may be congested with taxes, but cars? Not so much.


Along came No Tolls CT, which struck a responsive chord in the hearts of voters already overburdened by a kleptocracy that had been raiding the transportation fund since 2001.


Gatekeeper magicians Looney and Aresimowicz were unable, they said, to round up the yes votes in the General Assembly, even though Democrats enjoy huge margins in both chambers following the most recent elections in which President Donald Trump, not yet impeached, was made to play the role in the Democrat campaign script of Beelzebub, sulfur pouring out of his nostrils. The propaganda – Trump did not appear on the ballot – worked, some political commentators believe, to swell Democrat numbers in the General Assembly. Half of the Democrat caucus is composed of progressives, sulfur pouring out of their nostrils.
Lamont, as it turns out, was far more successful than Stefanowski in fooling some of the people some of the time, but his recent toll proposal has strained the credulity even of his well-wishers in Connecticut’s media.
Lamont has now reverted to his initial campaign toll proposal. Maybe tolling only trucks and tolls on bridges was not such a bad idea.

Emilie Munson of CTMirror puts it this way:

“Either proposal involving tolls or bridges would represent a significant retreat from Lamont’s proposal for numerous gantries on interstates 95, 91, 84 and the Merritt Parkway.
“And neither idea is a clear winner: both concepts face some reservations from the governor’s office and within the Democratic caucus, as well as full-throated opposition from Republican leaders.
“The resurfacing of the trucks-only concept, which he [Lamont] championed on the campaign trail and then retreated from early in office, may bring fresh accusations of political flip-flopping — even if the new suggestions are slightly different from last year’s.”

It’s not just a flip-flop, which may sometimes be written off to unforeseen exigencies. What we have here is a flip-flop of a flip-flop. Stefanowski, to his credit, neither flipped nor flopped.
Stefanowski has not entirely retreated from the political stage, nor has David Stemerman, who finished third in the Republican Gubernatorial primary.

Stemerman’s tweets are not as flashy as Trump’s lightning bolts, but they get the job done: “CT should be thriving, but a toxic combination of high cost of doing business, unfunded pension liabilities and poor infrastructure, driven by bad policies from Hartford, are hurting our state as @CNBC’s annual ranking of states for business confirms today.”

One cannot help but wonder whether the governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts might agree with that assessment. When Lamont stops spinning like a top, it might do him well to address himself seriously to the toxic combination referenced by Stemerman – and others.

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


Don Pesci: The moral deracination of the West

Members of  Bound4LIFE  in  Washington, D.C. , symbolically cover their mouths with red tape in anti-abortion demonstration.

Members of Bound4LIFE in Washington, D.C., symbolically cover their mouths with red tape in anti-abortion demonstration.

Leftists are winning the culture war, the war on Western Civilization, because rootless politicians have shown themselves unwilling to enter the lists and do battle with the new morality.

For this reason, American culture is being redefined – reinvented, as the leftists would have it – by social anarchists with knives in their brains. It has become fashionable among New York leftist politicians to wink at, and even to publicly celebrate, infanticide. No assault on traditional sensibilities, it would seem, is beyond the pale.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s notion that third trimester abortion is too close to infanticide to be tolerated by men and women of conscience is now regarded as embarrassingly quaint by New York’s smart set, among whom are Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, not his birth name.

Moynihan was a sociologist, the author of “The Moynihan Report,” a professor at Harvard University, a top adviser to President Nixon, and a four-term U.S. senator representing New York. He was also a proud liberal. Today, it is very nearly a philological sin to call the new moralists “liberal” in the sense in which liberalism had been embraced by Moynihan or, here in Connecticut, by such prominent governors as Abraham Ribicoff and Ella Grasso.

In Europe, the moral deracination – which, of course, marches under the banner of moral rectitude – has proceeded at an alarming rate. The Netherlands in 2005 stole a march on other morally backward-looking states by becoming the first country to decriminalize euthanasia for infants with presumed “hopeless prognosis and intractable pain. “ Nine years later, Belgium amended its 2002 Euthanasia Act to extend the rights of euthanasia to minors.

People living in the United Sates have always fancied that, though conjoined historically to Europe by history and ties of affection, there was an ocean separating us. Modern communications have removed this cultural prophylactic. Historical differences also have served as a barrier to disruptive ideas that in Europe plunged France into a bloody revolution centered on fatal utopian ideas.

Under Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin – socialists all – fascism and the totalist state were necessary and indispensable political instruments in creating what all three thought of as “the new man,” a mechanist free at last of a Western culture that had imprisoned humankind in religious and cultural chains. In a future shaped by mechanistic ideology, politics and brute force, the very nature of man would be irreversibly altered. This is, as Roger Scruton points out in his brief and indispensable history of the conservative movement in the Western world, Conservativism: an Invitation to the Great Tradition, the original sin of socialism, the absurd notion that the world may be made over anew by a transcendent state. For Mussolini, the fascist administrative state was a secular god clothed in omnipotence and omnipresence. “Everything in the state; nothing outside the state; nothing above the state” – such was the fascist definition of social bliss.

History, tradition, subsidiary political organizations such as family and church, a constitutional state, a media determined to declare the truth at all costs, modesty in politics, the good manners of polite society, respect for women, personal honor, the protections a state holds out to “the least among us” -- the infirm, the aged, the poor, victims of unfettered abortion – all these blessings were, in effect, walls and barriers that prevented a false god, the omnipotent and omnipresent state, from clawing away from us our God-given rights and responsibilities with its mechanical, inhuman talons.

U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, for two decades Connecticut’s attorney general/regulator-in-chief, regards any limitation of abortion, however practical or reasonable, as proceeding from immoral premises, and he continues to insist falsely that regulations concerning third trimester abortion deprive women of a right to unfettered abortion. Limiting abortion to the first two trimesters of a pregnancy does not remove a presumed right to abortion; it simply designates the time frame in which an abortion may be legally appropriate.

At the end of May, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz sent a missive to women who own businesses in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri pronouncing themselves “appalled at… actions that erode the ability of women to make informed decisions about their health and bodies” and inviting women who own businesses in such states “to relocate your operations to a state that supports the rights of women and whose actions and laws are unwavering in support of tolerance and inclusivity.” The carefully constructed sales pitch does not once mention the word “abortion.”

Indeed, any discussion of unregulated abortion on demand, at any time for any reason, is delicately dropped from the polite conversations of the political new moralists. But the euphemisms – “informed decisions” about “health and bodies” – serve to cinch the point without discomforting women, also concerned about their health and the bodies of their unborn children, whose birth decisions may have been informed by the prevalence of ultra-sound images that show late term fetuses bearing a striking resemblance to newly born children, Moynihan’s enduring point.

The new moralists have not yet raised abortion to the level of a new secular sacrament, but the Orwellian letter from Connecticut’s governor and lieutenant governor suggest that the state’s discarded motto “Still Revolutionary” may in the near future be replaced by a new sales pitch to states considering relocation – “Connecticut: The Abortion State.”

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


Don Pesci: On the trail of the Connecticut toll campaign

440px-Table-of-tolls-College-Road-London-SE21-Tollgate.jpg

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

Amazon_container_trucks.jpeg.jpeg
DeathOfASalesman.jpg

"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


Don Pesci: Humpty Dumpty's answer to a progressive's confusion

Humpty Dumpty and Alice. From   Through the Looking-Glass .  Illustration by    John Tenn   iel

Humpty Dumpty and Alice. From Through the Looking-Glass. Illustration by John Tenniel

Connecticut State Rep. Josh Elliot, a progressive Democrat from Hamden, views the state budget as “a moral document that can be used to create a more equitable and fair society,” The Hartford Courant tells us. The paper quotes Elliot on the point: “Are you taking an economic frame and saying ‘what can we do to grow GDP at all costs?’ … Or are you taking a moral and ethical frame and saying ‘what can we do to build up a just society?’ And I think those two questions are at loggerheads right now.”

There is a welter of confusion here. The point that Elliot appears to be making is that progressives like himself view the economy as having a moral dimension lost to free-marketers, i.e., redundantly rich capitalists concerned only – note the devil word “only” -- with growing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It would not be possible in Elliot’s view for a free-marketer such as, say, Fredrick Hayek, author of The Road To Serfdom -- a ruthless attack against the collectivist ethos that informs socialism, communism, progressivism and fascism -- to be a moralist.

In The Constitution Of Liberty, Hayek identifies one indispensable “moral rule for collective action… The most important among the principles of this kind that we have developed is individual freedom, which it is most appropriate to regard as a moral principle of political action. Like all moral principles, it demands that it be accepted as a value in itself, as a principle that must be respected without our asking whether the consequences in the particular instance will be beneficial.”

This is how a true moral philosopher addresses morality. In Elliot’s progressive universe Hayek’s overriding moral principle of political action – the sustenance of individual liberty – is subservient to his own undisclosed overriding moral principle, which is antagonistic to the liberty of the subject. Under the progressive scheme of things, individual liberty is sacrificed on the altar of an “equitable and fair society” created without regard to real-world circumstances by modernist super-moralists like Elliot, who know better than the little people who participate in a free market what services and goods should be provided to them. To Elliot, the liberty of the subject celebrated by moral philosophers such as Hayek is immoral.

Elliot’s framing permits only two possibilities: an economic frame that allows only the growth of products “at all costs” and an economic frame, moral and ethical, that is concerned primarily with building up a “just society.” There is no via media in Elliot’s view. His is a stark and merciless either-or: either an immoral free market society or an ethical progressive-socialist society. In Communist governments, the governed are not permitted to choose between the two.

Progressivism is the shadow of socialism, which is why so many progressives here in the United States, still a free market country, support the candidacy for president of Bernie Sanders, running for the Democratic presidential nomination but a socialist wolf in wolf’s clothing. Progressivism differs from socialism only in degree, not in kind. And, of course, socialism historically has been the nursery bed of both communism and fascism. Mussolini and Hitler both were socialists before they became fascists, and Stalin embraced the Marxism of the Communist Manifesto because he correctly recognized a visionary Communist scheme of “property ownership by the proletariat” as a perfection of socialism. There is another reason as well: Only under a Communist government is the ruling elite powerful enough to suppress the liberty of the people, which Hayek and other classical liberals such as Adam Smith characterized as the indispensable “moral rule of collective action.”

Communists, socialists and progressives – three peas in the same liberty denying pod – care little for the real-world consequences of their theoretical utopias.

When Alice objects to Humpty Dumpty’s use of words to signify opposing meanings, he offers her a lesson in tyrannical government. Humpty Dumpty has misused the word “glory” to signify “a nice knock-down argument.”

Alice protests, “But ‘glory’ doesn't mean ‘a nice knock-down argument.’"

Humpty Dumpty snarls scornfully, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'


“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -- that's all.”

Elliot may make the word “moral” mean whatever he wishes it to mean. After all, Democrats are now masters of Connecticut governance; they hold commanding positions in General Assembly, the state’s constitutional offices, and the governor’s office as well. And nearly half of the Democrat ruling majority is composed of quasi socialist progressives like Elliot. Still, the real meanings of words are stubborn things.

According to a Yankee Institute piece published in May of 2018, “The Tax Foundation’s annual ranking of states based on state and local income tax collection placed Connecticut second in the nation, trailing only New York, for the most money collected per resident. Connecticut collected $2,279 per person through both local and state income taxes. Massachusetts ranked fourth and Rhode Island 20th. The national average per capita tax rate was $1,144, meaning Connecticut has almost doubled the average tax burden.” Is there a connection between the loss of assets – salaries are assets too – and the loss of liberty?

Depressing figures such as these will increase under Governor Ned Lamont’s recent revenue expansions. In what sense is it “moral” for Connecticut’s government to increase the burden of taxation further, when we know that excessive taxation, a great deal of which is used to enhance the salaries of tax-consuming public employees, tends to drive to other states both Connecticut’s rich and middle class taxpayers, thus depriving those in need of dwindling tax resources?

Indeed, in what sense is it moral to support a government now engaged in encouraging infanticide? Connecticut is contiguous to New York, which now winks at infanticide; and, one may be certain that socially progressive governments – New York and Connecticut – sooner or later will swap their social-justice DNA, without mentioning the outsized proportion of African American women obtaining abortions relative to white women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2016 report points out that black babies made up a whopping 35 percent of the total abortions reported in 2013, although blacks represent only 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Moral? To what cleverly invented Decalogue do progressives point to justify such a disparity in abortion between black and white women?

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

Don Pesci: Where Bernie Sanders's utopian dreams would end up

New Harmony   , a utopian project in Harmony Township, Ind., as envisioned by    Robert Owen   . (1771-1858).

New Harmony, a utopian project in Harmony Township, Ind., as envisioned by Robert Owen. (1771-1858).

Empty shelves in a supermarket in Venezuela, which is led by socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro.

Empty shelves in a supermarket in Venezuela, which is led by socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever”

 – George Orwell.

CBS News has announced that the "Medicare for All" bill of Vermont’s socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, would, according to Sanders himself, "get rid of insurance companies and drug companies making billions of dollars in profit every single year." The bill is a universal health care, one size fits all, tax financed, proposal. Connecticut's U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, CTMirror reportswas one of 14 co-sponsors of Sanders’s bill.

“In my view,” Sanders said of his bill, “the current debate over 'Medicare for All' really has nothing to do with health care. It’s all about greed and profiteering. It is about whether we maintain a dysfunctional system which allows the top five health insurance companies to make over $20 billion in profits last year.”

But, of course, the Sanders bill has everything to do with health care. If adopted into law, it would effectively abolish insurance companies. Sanders himself has said that his "Medicare for All" scheme would "get rid of insurance companies and drug companies making billions of dollars in profit every single year.”

Reducing the insurance industry to rubble in an effort to curb profits that Sanders considers obscene is a bit like burning down the house to rid the living room of a mouse, or cutting off your nose to spite the fly on it.
For the thoroughgoing socialist however, all profits, exorbitant or not, are obscene.

The two socialist autocrats in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro, nationalized profits and, a few years after socialist hero Chavez had assumed room temperature, toilet paper in Venezuela disappeared, as did food and medicine. Disappearing products and services in perfected socialist states are replaced with armed soldiers, a disarmed populace, brown shirts and fists, not to mention draconian punishments for anyone who presumes to question an omnipotent and omnipresent state.  

   
Sanders is a socialist by trade and inclination, and socialists abhor company profits, without which industries could not stay in business. Adolf Hitler, a white national socialist, solved the profit problem by incorporating businesses into his fascist program. Like communism, fascism is a perfection of the socialist idea. Both Hitler and Mussolini were socialists before they settled comfortably into fascism. Mussolini perfectly defined the fascist credo in the following terms: “Everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing above the state.”

He might easily have been describing Stalin’s Russia, or Maduro’s Venezuela, or the future utopia of Bernie Sanders. Mussolini certainly was not describing the average conservative/libertarian view of the proper role of government, which is to pursue policies that promote the general welfare – not the same thing as imprisoning the general populace in welfare penitentiaries.


The perfecting of Sanders’ s socialist scheme necessitates a hostile takeover of the insurance industry by the socialist administrative state. But this is only the beginning. If insurance profits are verboten to committed socialists, why should the energy industry, also profitable, survive the attentions of Sanders/Blumenthal, or the real estate industry, Blumenthal’s own golden goose? Indeed, why not nationalize every profitable industry?


It might be useful to attempt an understanding of why Blumenthal, a Greenwich millionaire many times over, supports a scheme of government that will run insurance companies out of Connecticut and the nation.
Theories abound. One holds that Blumenthal has never had a handle on how the private marketplace really works.

After marrying the daughter of a New York real-estate mogul – Blumenthal’s in-laws own the Empire State Building, in addition to other prime holdings – the Harvard/Yale graduate went directly into Connecticut politics. As attorney general of the state for two decades, Blumenthal used businesses as a foil to ingratiate himself with the voting public and a fawning state media, both equally indispensable to his acquisition of political position and power. Blumenthal is now schmoozing with Sanders, so the theory goes, to further his own political ambitions. Even Bill and Hillary Clinton, long-time friends of Blumenthal, had great difficulty keeping down Sanders’s elixir.


The second theory goes like this: The National Democrat Party is playing with the economic DNA of the United States – only for political (read: campaign) reasons. Seizing the profits generated by a still relatively free marketplace in the United States, encumbering it with unsupportable taxes and regulations, may not advance the general good, but it certainly helps to improve the lot of political destructors-elect. Socialist Maduros of the world live in opulent splendor, while the people who struggle under Maduro’s socialist rule in Venezuela, once a pearl of Latin America, are forced to search through garbage bins for their lunch.
In Blumenthal’s case, both theories may be true -- not that truth has anything to do with the daily operations of political shysters.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist. Editor’s note: George Orwell was a democratic socialist.

Don Pesci: On the decline of political rhetoric; reaffirm subsidiarity

FDR nemesis Clare Booth Luce, famous wit.

FDR nemesis Clare Booth Luce, famous wit.

VERNON, Conn.

One of my college professors – let’s call him Stringfellow – spoke in long, flowing sentences, each of which might easily have been parsed into sparkling separate mini-poems. He liked Faulkner, disliked Hemingway, and tolerated Tennessee Williams for two reasons. Williams consciously structured some of his plays on classical Greek models – compare Suddenly Last Summer ]with Euripides’s The Bacchae – and Tennessee, he thought, was a name one could conjure with, as Wallace Stevens did adeptly in "Anecdote of the Jar," the first line of which runs, “I placed a jar in Tennessee/ And round it was, upon a hill …”

One day, a student asked Stringfellow – this would have been in the middle 60’s – “When do you plan to join the 20th Century?’ to which Stringfellow replied, “It would be a very wicked thing to wish to be a part of the 20th Century.”


The 20th Century, one of the bloodiest and confused epochs in U.S. history, left us 19 years ago last January.
The professor, students of history will notice, had a point. The century opened with World War 1, followed by World War II, followed by the Korean War, followed by the Vietnam War. And somewhere in there, we heard the Soviet Union crack and crumble, a cause of great rejoicing for nearly everyone but some few academics and willfully perverse journalists.


Every epoch has its dark side, its bloody mysteries. And it is by no means certain that succeeding generations will necessarily improve on their predecessors. In what sense is Atsuro Riley’s poem “The Skillet” an improvement on Alexander Pope’s “Epilogue to the Satires?”

Riley: “Of orange stove-eye (right front) and hawkhooked
pot-hook, overhung. Of (vaporous) supper-hour and
-hurlstorm…”

Pope: “Yes, I am proud; I must be proud to see
Men not afraid of God afraid of me.”

Good writing will be quotable and memorable. Though new, the twittering 21st Century already is eminently forgettable.


And the same holds true of men and women. When Franklin Roosevelt, campaigning against his tormentor, U.S. Rep. Clare Boothe Luce, of Connecticut, accused Luce of being a "a sharp-tongued glamour girl of forty,” the congresswoman from Fairfield County instantly retorted that Roosevelt was "the only American president who ever lied us into a war because he did not have the political courage to lead us into it." Luce died in 1987, but it is a fair bet she would have considered the tweets of most 21st Century politicians menacingly dumb and forgettable.

True, quotable Churchills are rare in human history, but most modern politicians do not even aspire to the quotability of, say, Adlai Stevenson: “Flattery is all right so long as you don't inhale.”

Pope: “Averse alike to flatter, or offend;/ Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to mend.”

Intelligent, “woke” thought, up until the 21st Century, roundly condemned the flatterers; but this was before flatterers found they could make a dishonorable but highly remunerative living as political consultants and communication directors for political campaigns. Now the disease is everywhere, tolerable only to those who do not inhale.


Stevenson: “The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal - that you can gather votes like box tops - is, I think, the ultimate indignity to the democratic process.”

Stevenson understood the radical difference between sound political policies and what he and politicians before him understood to be disruptive enthusiasms, i.e., campaign slogans parading as realpolitik. “Some people approach every problem with an open mouth,” said Stevenson, a word-perfect picture of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s New Green Deal scheme, the latest enthusiasm among Connecticut’s progressive, all-Democratic congressional delegation.

Most voters in the state are affronted by the notion that if they like their cars, they can’t keep them; if they like their houses, they can’t keep them; if they dislike windmills spoiling their scenery, they must have them; if they prefer their town governments to decide the fate of their schools and their communities, this option must not be available to them. These sensible, unbewitched people prefer more democratic solutions to thorny problems, such as: if they do not like their politicians, they should be able to get rid of them pronto!

A restoration of small “r” republican government must entail a reaffirmation of the doctrine of subsidiarity, which holds that political units closest to those affected by political decisions should prevail in making the decisions: fathers and mothers should decide the fate of their families; owners of businesses should decide the fate of their commercial enterprises; neighbors should decide the fate of their neighbors, towns should decide the fate of their municipalities; and both state and nation should busy themselves with facilitating small “r” republican government.

As to whether Connecticut is progressing or regressing politically, consider the following quote that, like a geyser of authoritarian presumption, issued from Connecticut’s progressive Speaker of the State House of Representatives, his Excellency Joe Aresimowicz. Responding to a non-binding resolution disapproving of tolls issued by towns and cities, Aresimowicz condemned such disapproval as “moronic,” an arrogant piece of anti-republican political sniping that could not even survive long as a tweet. “I used the harsh word moronic and I meant it," said Aresimowicz, who later unmeant it.


For the future, here is a useful political rule of thumb: If what you are saying is not edifying, memorable, honorable or quotable – shut up.

Don Pesci is an essayist based in Vernon.

Don Pesci: In defense of the cardinal virtues and Catholic orthodoxy

An image personifying the four virtues  (  Ballet Comique de la Reine  ,  1582).

An image personifying the four virtues (Ballet Comique de la Reine, 1582).

VERNON, Conn.

“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice”

-- “A Defense of Humilities, The Defendant’’ (1901), G.K. Chesterton

Small “o” orthodox Christians of a certain age will be familiar with the cardinal virtues. They are: prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice – all under attack by a secular culture that, judging by Hollywood or Washington, D.C., standards, appears to have won the battle. But, never fear, the four cardinal virtues form the breastplate of a church against which, its founder once proclaimed, the gates of Hell shall not prevail.

The cardinal virtues, St. Augustine tells us, better enable us to pursue the good life: “To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one's heart, with all one's soul and with all one's efforts; from this, it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).”

Peter Wolfgang is the executive drector of the Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC). His helpmeet is his wife, Leslie, the mother of seven children. A born-again Catholic, Wolfgang is on speaking terms with the members of FIC’s Clergy Advisory Council, which include the Rev. LeRoy Bailey, Jr., senior pastor, The First Cathedral, Bloomfield; Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht, Beth Israel Synagogue, Norwalk; and Rev. Earl M. Inswiller, Jr., Living Waters Fellowship Church, Windsor Locks. A member of the Connecticut Bar, Wolfgang holds a juris doctorate from University of Connecticut School of Law and sports a bachelor's degree in International Studies from The American University in Washington, D.C., all of which helps when he finds himself locking horns with a variety of secularized Jews and Christians and practical atheists. As defined by Jacques Maritain, practical atheists are those who believe that “they believe in God and... perhaps believe in Him in their brains but... in reality deny His existence by each one of their deeds." Wolfgang is not a practical atheist.



Q: I don’t think you will dispute that we live in a secular age, a time in which religious proscriptions – and, perhaps more importantly, the Judeo-Christian view of things – has been bleached from the public square. Prayers, except those said very privately in a closet, are discouraged in public schools. I’m old enough to recall a time when contraception was frowned upon in Catholic circles; it still is, but in the religiously bleached wider society, contraception is an unquestioned given. Abortion too – even late-term abortion -- is defended by “Catholic” legislators and Jewish public officials.

Here in Connecticut, Planned Parenthood counts among its most fervent proponents U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, who is Jewish, and Rosa DeLauro and John Larson, both of whom are Catholic. For a half century and more, we have witnessed a moral army in full retreat. Many Christians keep asking themselves “Where are the red lines?” Dostoyevsky used to say that for those who have shucked off religion, everything is possible. He was echoed by Nietzsche, who wondered what the future would look like in a world that had buried the Hebraic-Christian God.

That appears to be our world – of cringingly obliging Christians, practical atheists, moral libertines, and phony Christian politicians who have colluded, along with practical atheists, to imprison Christianity in what the French used to call “the little ease,” a cell so small that, while in it, the prisoner could neither stand nor sit nor lie prone. Let me ask you, where are the red lines in our culture, and are they still informed by the Judeo-Christian faith? Before answering, you might want to explain what a born-again Catholic is.



A: “I don’t know if ‘born-again Catholic’ quite captures it but I appreciate what you are trying to convey. I am someone who believes in and tries to live according to the Catholic faith. Not always successfully, as my pastor could tell you if he were not under the seal of confession. But the point of your question, I think, is that there are Catholics who are trying and there are Catholics who seem not to be trying. We should all try, and harder.

“The red lines of our culture have shifted at a dizzying speed. Judeo-Christian faith seems to be, at best, a bystander in that shift and at worst, road kill. Consider as one example the vulgar play The Vagina Monologues. Catholic watchdog groups had for years complained whenever it was shown on a Catholic college campus, to little effect. Only when transgender persons objected —because, it was claimed, the play was offensive to ‘women without vaginas’ —did it begin to be banned. That says something about who really sets the red lines in our society—and what is the real faith of those colleges.

Q: “Yeah, it’s difficult to parody that sort of behavior. Who is it – or perhaps what is it – that establishes the real ‘red lines’ in a community, if it is not valued tradition? Not to beat the Chesterton drum too often, but he was brought late in life to the Catholic faith. And the world against which he persuasive inveighed was very much like our own. He defined tradition as the democracy of the dead: ‘Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.’ Many moderns appear to be making up tradition – even history is fungible – as they go along their merry way. It seems to me that a tradition undefended from assault is a tradition abandoned. In law, as you know, and in politics as well, silence signifies assent. The opposite of silence may not be reasoned speech; it may be the chatter of cultural assassins. How should faithful Christians oppose such forces?

A: “Some demons can only be cast out through prayer and fasting. We must, first of all, attend to both. St. Joan of Arc made her soldiers go to confession before they went into battle. Christians should strive for holiness, to model in our own lives the better world we hope to bring about.

“Secondly, we must engage in the public sphere: education, lobbying and, yes, politics. Not to do so is to shirk our duty as citizens in a democratic republic. Very few Christians in the history of the world have lived in a society as free as ours. To not take advantage of that freedom is to be like the unprofitable servant who buried his one talent in the ground. No Christian should want to be that guy.

“And - I can’t emphasize this enough - our adversaries are using every means at their disposal to win the day. It pains me to say that Cultural Marxism has more fervent believers than does Jesus Christ. But that is what I often see.’’

Q: Well, yes, Marx announced rather volubly that religion is the opiate of the people. In our day, opioids have become the opium of the people – that and a politics from which the religion of the people appears to have fled from hearts and minds of nominally Catholic politicians. Some Catholics appear not to be disturbed by what we might call a return to the catacombs, Christianity in a closet. It is all very well to say that besieged Catholics should not retreat from the public square, but we are living in a time in which prominent politicians such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein feel free to say unblushingly that 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett may not be fit for service on the court because of her Catholic faith. Let me quote her exactly: “You are controversial,” Feinstein said to Barrett. “You have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail. When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” Only yesterday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a cultural Catholic, joyously signed a bill that would allow late term abortion. Are we losing the battle? If so, where is the cavalry? In past times, the church had been reinvigorated by both the clergy and, more importantly, the laity.



A: “There are still more examples that could be cited. Senators Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) recently attacked a Trump judicial nominee’s membership in the Knights of Columbus because the Knights are pro-life and for traditional marriage—positions held by any faithful Catholic—and asked if he would resign in order to be confirmed. That is where we are at. Faithful Christians are being told that they are not full citizens under the law and that they have no place in the public square.


”In the short term, yes, we are losing the battle. The Family Institute of Connecticut regularly gets call from state residents in big corporations who tell us their performance review hinges on their acceptance of anti-Christian agendas that are contrary to their faith. This was almost unheard of before the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage.’

”If there is to be a cavalry to save the day, it will not be the institutional Church. Demographic decline, clergy sex abuse and increasing hostility from the centers of power in our society have put the Church in survival mode. At best, the Church is focused on protecting the liberty of its own institutions. At worst, as we saw in the initial reactions to the boys from Covington Catholic High School, some Church leaders throw their own most faithful followers under the bus.


”But it is wrong for the laity to expect the clergy to do what ought to be our job. The Church ought to equip us and support us but it is the role of the laity to defend faith and morals in the public square. My biggest concern is a clericalism of the laity, that the most devout Catholics become so obsessed with the various crises of the Church that they are not focused on fulfilling the responsibilities of their state of life: educating themselves on the attacks on faith and family, lobbying their elected representatives and volunteering to help elect candidates who share their values and to defeat candidates who attack those values.]

“The cultural Left, particularly in Connecticut, is heavily invested in these things. Politics is their faux-religion. Catholics—and adherents of other orthodox faiths--should not let it be said that our secular adversaries believe in their fake religion more than we believe in our real one. Catholics—and the faithful of the Protestant and Jewish communities—must get involved in the public defense of faith and family.’’



Don Pesci is an essayist who lives in Vernon

E-mail: donpesci@att.net

Don Pesci: Trump replenishes Connecticut's treasury as state's cultural reinvention continues

Airline plane engine maker Pratt & Whitney’s headquarters in East Hartford. Its sales have surged with, among other things, government contracts.

Airline plane engine maker Pratt & Whitney’s headquarters in East Hartford. Its sales have surged with, among other things, government contracts.

While Connecticut Democrats were busying themselves thumping President Trump during the recently concluded elections – the state’s all Democrat U.S. congressional delegation would not shed a tear if U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer were to succeed in impeaching him – Trump has delivered the goods to The Provision State.

The state’s underperforming economy may finally join the rest of the nation, much of which had recovered from the Great Recession many moons ago, in a splendid recovery – just in time too. Economists in Connecticut have not titled the coming jobs boom The Trump Bump, although a recent Hartford Business Journal (HBJ) report, “UTC’s 4Q profits jump 73%; CEO Hayes airs separation plans HBJ” comes dangerously close.

Here is the good news: “Farmington conglomerate United Technologies Corp., which plans to split into three separate companies, on Wednesday said its fourth-quarter profits soared 72.7 percent on booming aerospace sales and a favorable U.S. corporate tax rate.

UTC CEO Gregory Hayes, a smile lighting his face, noted that profits were up and "2018 was a transformational year for United Technologies."

HBJ reported, “The thriving aviation market drove UTC's fourth-quarter surge, Hayes said in a conference call Wednesday morning, with newly acquired Rockwell Collins leading sales growth with $4.9 billion in revenues during the quarter, up 29 percent year-over-year. East Hartford's Pratt & Whitney posted $5.5 billion in sales, up 24.2 percent.”

A rising economic tide, President Kennedy once said, lifts all the boats. And this rising tide, the result chiefly of Trump’s new military procurements, will water Connecticut's parched treasury. A larger employment pie allows state government to engorge itself with new revenue – without raising taxes. It is a win-win for both anti-Trump Democrats in Connecticut like Congressman John Larson and tax-weary citizens of the state still reeling from former Gov. Dan Malloy’s crippling tax increases.

Republicans already are ringing the tocsin: Maybe if we wait a bit, we won’t need those tolls after all. Also, is it possible we may be fondling too often the third rail of New England’s social issues?

Prior to the progressive take-over of Connecticut, the state was prepared to go its own way, luxuriating in its own unique character. Connecticut was for much of its history a refuge from New York’s predatory politics and brutal taxation. All this changed with the advent of former Sen. Lowell Weicker’s successful gubernatorial bid in 1991. Weicker forced an income tax through the General Assembly; the playing field having been leveled, the state found itself in competition with New York City and Boston.

It was no contest, and Connecticut “got its clock cleaned,” a favorite expression of Weicker’s. How, for instance, can Connecticut compete with New York in job poaching?

Connecticut is now in a race to the bottom on so called “social issues.” Bad political models make for bad cultural dives to the bottom. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a nominal Catholic, has now begun a scuffle with his wounded Catholic Church. “Andrew Cuomo,” Fox News reports, “is under fire from faith leaders after he signed a bill into law that legalizes abortion up until birth in many cases.”

Cuomo will have no problem in a fisticuffs contest with his church’s faith leaders. In much of New England, it pays politically to scuff up Catholic doctrine. His real problem will be with pregnant mothers – they are women too – who have consulted ultrasound images and found that late-term fetuses bear a striking resemblance to born babies. But New York, in any case, has taken a great social leap forward, and Connecticut, a national leader on progressive social issues, has a bit of catching up to do. Progressives do not believe in definitional lines – fetus or baby? -- whatever science and common sense suggests.

Connecticut’s own Senator from Planned Parenthood, Dick Blumenthal, has yet to tell us, perhaps because no one has put the question to him publicly during one of his frequent highly scripted media availabilities, why his most cherished industry should be the only one in the United States that remains unregulated. The suit-prone Blumenthal was, for more than two decades as Connecticut’s attorney general, the state regulator-in-chief.

Connecticut’s cultural reinvention is well underway, and the political map has changed as well, mostly owing to the inattention of Republicans and the approval of the state’s left-of-center media. Culture is an Archimedean lever: Give me a place outside the world where I can place my lever, said Archimedes, and I will move the world. This is the progressive order of business; first change the culture and politics will meekly follow in its train.

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

Don Pesci: Hartford is the canary in the Conn. mineshaft

Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, one of America’s oldest and best museums. The financially and sociologically stressed city still has many impressive cultural institutions, mostly dating back to its long economic heyday as a manufacturing center and “The Insurance Capital of the World,’’ when it had a large comfortable middle class and quite a few rich folks, too. Mark Twain probably was its most famous resident.

Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, one of America’s oldest and best museums. The financially and sociologically stressed city still has many impressive cultural institutions, mostly dating back to its long economic heyday as a manufacturing center and “The Insurance Capital of the World,’’ when it had a large comfortable middle class and quite a few rich folks, too. Mark Twain probably was its most famous resident.

According to a story in a Hartford paper, the city’s mayor, Luke Bronin, a rising star in state politics, “declined to comment on the dispute” between Hartford teachers and their nominal patron, the Hartford Board of Education. The dispute is about contracts and the inability of the people of Hartford to finance years of overspending.


A few months ago, Bronin, unable to meet his contractual obligations, sought a bailout from state taxpayers. Bronin leapt from the Malloy administration frying pan, where he served as then Gov. Dannel Malloy’s chief counsel, directly into the fire as mayor of a city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and his former boss was only too happy to bail out his protege by flooding the city with state tax balm.

The Hartford school board is seeking concession from teacher union representatives, and the concessions will, if ever they bear fruit, make future state bailouts less burdensome to an all-Democrat political hegemon that may, under the enlightened administration of newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont, be less inclined to bail out Connecticut cities teetering precariously on the edge of bankruptcy.

The concessions that the Hartford Board of Education wishes to wrest from its teachers' unions are curative, which is to say they will help in overcoming crippling future deficits, while state bailouts are palliative; they simply put off an effective remedy until a more favorable moment – which, of course, never arrives. “Among the concessions sought by the school board,” we are told, “is a reduction in sick days from 20 to 15, two years of pay freezes, followed by a one percent increase in the third year, and a switch from a preferred provider medical plan to a health savings account.” In addition, “the board suggested eliminating a higher tier of pay for workers who have earned a master’s degree plus 60 additional credits, and reducing the number of union officers who are detached, with pay, from day to day district work from three to one.”


All these remedies reduce the municipal cost of labor, and it is the cost of labor that has made beggars of our state’s larger cities.


The state itself should take a lesson from this moment. The cost of labor in state government also produces the same set of seemingly intractable problems. Connecticut’s recurring deficits cannot be traced to an insufficiency of taxes, which have tripled in the course of four governors.


The crunch is coming, and it may arrive on Lamont’s lap during his first term. He would be wise not to pet the tiger. There was plenty of petting during Lamont’s first speech as governor: “I am a strong believer in labor, and now is the time to show that collective bargaining works in tough times, as well as good times. As our liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets, together we have to make the changes necessary to ensure that retirement security is a reality for our younger, as well as our older, state employees, and do that without breaking the bank.”


There are more curves in those few sentences than there are in the usual Connecticut cow path. Will Lamont present in his budget a straight path to prosperity – or not. The price of government in Connecticut has become too costly; how will Lamont reduce it so that the expenditures of the father will not be visited upon the sons, “yea even to the third and fourth generation.”


Executive director of AFSCME Council 4 Jody Barr and other labor leaders met with Lamont at the governor’s mansion a week after he had been sworn in as governor, and how did that go? Barr emerged from the meeting hopeful, according to an account by Christine Stuart of CTNewJunkie, “Barr said the governor has invited labor to be part of the process… his members have participated in the transition and are offering up ideas on how to improve state government… He said they will be at the table, but that it won’t a table where they negotiate more concessions… We’re all hopeful he’s going to bridge this fiscal thing,” Barr said. “It gives us hope we can get through it.”


One cannot drive a straight line through such oracular pronouncements.

Sometime in mid-February, Lamont will be presenting his budget to the General Assembly. If the governor’s bargaining session with union heads over contract negotiations were to be concluded BEFORE that date, the twists and turns in Lamont’s pre-contractual pronouncements will have been straightened out before the legislature decides to sign off on a budget document that very well may visit the expenditures of the fathers and mothers upon the sons and daughters of Connecticut, yea even to the third and fourth generation.


It’s perfectly reasonable for a state to give a low approval rating to a governor who deals in such budget necromancy. Dannel Malloy’s approval rating on his retirement from office, we now know, was 20 percent, the second lowest in the nation. Lamont tells us that he doesn't to wish to lose his shot. If so, he'd better shoot straight.

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

Canary.jpg

Don Pesci: Sandy Hook massacre revisited and reanalyzed

Roses featuring images of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Roses featuring images of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

VERNON, Conn.

Documents just released years after a shooter murdered 20 students, 6 teachers and his mother, and then killed himself, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, have been made available to Connecticut politicians and the general public in answer to a legal action brought by a persistent Hartford Courant.

The documents had been carefully tucked away for five years and clearly point to the social and mental deficiencies of the shooter.

All reports should have been released soon after the shooter’s suicide, because none of the information contained therein could have prejudiced any legal action. It is impossible to put a dead mass-shooter on trial for murder. In the absence of the necessary data unearthed above, a public trial of sorts, some of it sprinkled with absurd speculations, was conducted entirely in the mass media, and eventually one of the weapons used in the mass slaughter, an AR15 semi-automatic rifle, was pronounced guilty and banned in Connecticut.

Arguing that “something must be done” to prevent such slaughters in the future, decision makers in Connecticut banned some weapons, aspersed the state with their emotional solidarity with the victims, passed hastily constructed anti-gun legislation and congratulated themselves on their moral acuity.

The released documents, the Los Angeles Times noted, “which had been kept from the public until now, were part of the mass of writings, records and computer files seized by detectives from the Lanza's home after the killings. The Courant mounted a five-year quest to obtain the unreleased documents, eventually winning an appeal before the Connecticut Supreme Court.”

Even though we know that the Devil resides in details, not everyone was thrilled with the release of the documentation. The story, one letter writer noted, could not be justified because it “exalted the killer” and the rest of the country, the writer mused, “are looking for articles that uplift, as well as inform and educate.” Another writer slammed the paper for “choosing the sensational low road to infamy by publishing on page one… the Newtown killer’s writings, thoughts and other tripe… The killer has no place in our collective memory – ever.” Yet another writer winced, “We do not need to know.”

In an editor’s note, The Hartford Courant pointed out, “Understanding what a mass killer was thinking not only paints a clearer picture of the individual, it helps us identify and understand red flags that could be part of a prevention formula for future mass shootings.”

Several weeks after the shooting, Connecticut Commentary noted, “Everyone in Connecticut whose hearts have been bruised by the loss of life in Sandy Hook -- that is, everyone in Connecticut – is praying for solutions that solve the problems of people who have been bludgeoned by reality. A political milking of the crisis helps only the milkers.”

Those solutions were not forthcoming for a number of reasons: The Devil managed to hold the details close to his chest. Some politicians were, it turned out, very much interested in milking the Sandy Hook cow in such a way as to clamp restrictions on firearms, thus benefiting their future political prospects; and Connecticut’s media, though it tried mightily, had failed to wrest from the Devil the details upon which a real solution to a real problem might have been proposed. The so called “red flags” flourished by the Courant in its own attempt to uncover pertinent details were fluttering six years ago, when the psychotic shooter murdered the children and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

We know now – and knew then – the red flags that signaled mental distress.

PsychDrugShooters.com provides a detailed list of school shootings connected to shooters who have taken drugs. Their brief report on the Sandy Hook shooter notes that “While Lanza’s toxicology report showed no traces of anti-psychotic medications, sources say he was prescribed the antidepressant Celexa by the Yale Child Study Center in his early teens. Lanza also took Lexapro for a short time as a teen, but stopped after his mother reported symptoms such as dizziness, sweating, slurred speech and the inability to open his cereal box.”

A piece in the New Yorker, which draws on an interview with the father of the shooter, asserts that the shooter took no further psychotropic drugs following his reaction to Lexapro. Indeed doctors and nurses who treated the shooter speculate that the shooter's psychosis worsened because of his refusal to take therapeutic drugs.

Clearly, the shooter was anti-social and mentally disturbed. The father believes that his son’s Asperger diagnosis, though it may have been correct, masked a more dangerous psychosis. Neither the father nor the mother of the shooter, who had retreated into an impenetrable shell, expected violence from their son.

They were wrong. But the data suggest an that people who thought that the myriad of gun restrictions imposed after the murders could prevent further instances of this kind were also wrong.

Don Pesci is a columnist based in Vernon, Conn.



As X-Mass nears, atheists acting up in Bethel, Conn.

P.T. Barnum Fountain and Square, in Bethal, Conn., circa 1914.

P.T. Barnum Fountain and Square, in Bethal, Conn., circa 1914.

Christmas is approaching, not the discordant commercial enterprise we see all around us at this time of year, but the real Christmas – a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the sovereign lord of the Christian heart. Atheists, those who do not believe in God or religion, have been in the habit of seizing the occasion to celebrate an obverse Christmas by spreading ashes on the joys of the Christian heart and obliterating the season through the application of free and equal graffiti.

In Bethel, Conn., atheists are especially interested this year in ridding the town’s P. T. Barnum Square of its nativity scene. For the benefit of those atheists who do not always follow the niceties of Christianity, it should be noted that the bones of Barnum’s family are buried in the quiet graveyard abutting the Congressional church not a stone’s throw from Barnum Square.

Barnum himself subscribed to the Universalist Church. He told New York Sun reporter in an 1864 interview, “I believe there is a great Creator, infinite in his attributes of wisdom, power, and mercy: that His name is Love. I believe He is a God of all justice, and that He will chasten every person whom He ever created sufficiently to reform him, in this world, or some other." Barnum was not an atheist.

For two years, Barnum edited his own newspaper in Danbury, the Herald of Freedom, and combatted what he viewed as sectarian attempts to bring about a union of church and state.

Barnum’s views on a national or state church mirrored those of the Founders and the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

It should be noted that the strictures of the First Amendment are satisfied when the law making body of the federal government refrains from making laws that a) establish a state supported church, and b) prohibit the free exercise of religion. The two clauses are joined together in the amendment. And in matters of constitutional interpretation, courts especially should be mindful that what the Constitution has joined together no judge should “therefore put asunder.” Both clauses should be equally weighed in every judicial finding on the great question of state-religious relations.

Indeed, the clauses “inform” each other: A judicial ruling concerning the meaning of the “establishment clause” cannot, under a just interpretation, effectively repeal the “free exercise” clause. And the balance established between the two clauses is best achieved when the law making body refrains from producing enactments affecting either the establishment of a state church or the free exercise of religion.

It is very clear that the amendment opens a wide door to religious liberty, even as the same amendment opens a wide door of liberty to a free press and the expression of political opinion. Church and state are effectively “separated,” in the true Jeffersonian sense, when the state refrains from making laws or edicts that prohibit the free exercise of religion or constitutionally abuse its secular power for the purpose of establishing a national or state church.

The town’s name, incidentally, has a biblical meaning. Bethel is called “the house of God” because it was in Bethel where “God talked with him” (Hosea 12:4 Hosea 12:5 ), after which Jacob built an altar, calling the place El-beth-el. In times of trouble the Jewish people traveled to Bethel to take council with God. The Ark of the Covenant was kept there for a long time under the care of Phineas, the grandson of Aaron (20:26-28 ). Barnum’s first name, also incidentally, is Phineas.

It is not possible for atheists to drive Christians back to the catacombs, where once they gathered to worship the lord of their hearts far from the murderous glances of pagan emperors. There is no national church in the United States. Under the aegis of the Constitution, the Congregational Church of our forefathers -- in essence a national church -- has been effectively disestablished. Connecticut disestablished the Congregational church in 1818. We are left with a potpourri of religious establishments. Barnum himself drifted from Congregationalism to the Universalist Church.

On a Christmas morning, bells sound from Catholic spires, wounding the ears no doubt of Scrooge-like atheists shouting their humbug in the public square. Firm in their unbelief, we must not suppose atheist demands can be easily accommodated.

But really, the sectarian and constitutional difficulties in “the House of God” will be settled when the good people of Bethel make a distinction between a religious establishment, governed by the First Amendment, and a self-professed irreligious establishment, atheism, that seeks to cover religious displays with atheist graffiti.

One must suppose that Barnum, an avid trickster like his father, might have provided room in his circus for this amusing display of historical revisionism.

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



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Don Pesci: A measles epidemic of tolling gantries coming in Conn.?

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Hey, working suburban women who voted for the toll guy for governor -- get out your wallets. Multiple reports in Connecticut’s media advise us that Lamont eked out a win over Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski with some encouragement from suburban women, many of whom hold down jobs to which they travel – by car, not by largely empty FastTrack-powered buses.

During his gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Elect Ned Lamont was warm on tolls – but the tolls, working suburban women and others were told, would be levied only on out-of-state trucks, a dubious constitutional gambit. Rhode Island, the state from which Lamont lifted the idea, is now embroiled in law suits on the issue.

A little more than a week after the election, it was reported by the indispensable Yankee Institute that a new study commissioned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation calls for 82 tolling gantries on Connecticut highways. A note provided on a map furnished by the study authors reads, comfortingly, “Locations are for preliminary planning purposes only.”

The mapped major transportation arteries are pock-marked with red dots (see map above)— gantry locations that make the state look as if it had come down with an advanced case of measles. In a somewhat sour note, the study remarks that “fairness” in toll collections should be paramount: “Fairness – tolls should be set to ensure collection of revenues from CT as well as out-of-state auto and truck trips.” But fairness, Connecticut’s taxpayers will understand lies, like beauty and truth, in the eye of the beholder.

Speaking of fairness, Yankee notes wryly, “The study was previously kept under wraps by DOT Commissioner James Redeker and was the subject of a complaint to the Freedom of Information Commission by Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden. In July, Redeker cited the results of the study in testimony before the state Bond Commission but refused to release the study until today.” Len Suzio is no longer in the Senate, having been purged by politicians he has in the past unmercifully annoyed.

The Connecticut DOT has not yet produced a study showing the number of times tolling limited to a targeted subset has not, sooner or later, trickled down to a much broader base. And in fact, that is the case with nearly all taxes. The federal income tax began as a temporary tax on millionaires levied to pay for Civil War debt during the Lincoln administration. But in the course of time, the reinstituted income tax trickled down to non-millionaire working suburban women whose votes now have hoisted Lamont into a gubernatorial seat to be vacated in January by the most unpopular governor in the United States, Dannel Malloy, the author, along with a now revivified majority in the General Assembly, of two hefty tax increases.

If Connecticut’s onerous progressive tax system – which is the primary cause of budget instability – is ever to be reformed, the state might consider moving to a fair or flat tax in which every citizen in Connecticut pays the same rate and is therefore equally invested in state politics. The very rich, many of whom pay fewer taxes than their secretaries (see Warren Buffett on this), would pay the flat tax rate rather than shelter their assets through legalized chicanery, and the poor could be recompensed after having paid the tax. Collections would be simple, and large legal firms hired by the very rich to avoid paying crippling taxes would move on to more profitable pursuits.

Progressivism is little more than a political lure dangled before a credulous public to persuade them to vote for limitless spending that benefits politicians who shortly devise other means – tolling? – to further empty the pockets of working suburban women and all their other targets. Toll gantries placed approximately every 6.6 miles on interstates 95, 84, 91, 395, 691 and 291 and routes 2, 9, 8 and 15 would allow the state to take a major bite from working suburban women, among others. According to the study, Connecticut could collect more than $1 billion per year from electronic tolls.

If there is anyone in the state who believes that tolling – count the gantries – will be long limited to out-of-state trucks, perhaps his or her voting rights should be taken from them and given to the guy behind the tree. Mocking those who believe the claims of politicians that they will be exempted from paying taxes, the late Louisiana Sen. Russell Long offered the following short pearl of wisdom in verse: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the fellow behind the tree.”

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