Monday, March 26, 2012


A skunk by any other name is still a skunk; here in the fair State of Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy is displaying his stripe and odor for our electorate. For those not familiar with election law in Connecticut, we have had the cleanest election system in America since 2005 when our system of public campaign financing was instituted. This event came on the heels of corrupt Governor John Rowland being run out of Hartford on a rail. Governor Malloy is now joining a seemingly endless line of politicians in this country who successfully campaign yet turn their back on principle as soon as they take office. President Obama railed against the influence of special interest money in 2008, yet refused to accept public financing. In this campaign cycle, he is gladly accepting Super PAC money to fuel his re-election effort. Like Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul, our President uses the age-old “well, everyone else is doing it” excuse. That line never worked for me when I tried to use it with my parents; it doesn't work in school or in the workplace. Yet, astonishingly, this excuse finds a perfect home in American politics.

Governor Malloy was a clear beneficiary of Connecticut's Clean Election Law in 2010 when he used public financing to defeat a very wealthy opponent. Malloy now wants to permit candidates to accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and other monied interests if those candidates are being outspent. Here is part of Malloy's facile attempt at obfuscation: "I am trying to preserve a public system. I'm willing to live by those rules. But you can't live by those rules in the state and then have other people come in and destroy the value of those rules.” If you are truly willing to live by those rules, Governor, then do so. If you think the law needs to be strengthened, then make that case and fight that fight. The Governor's senior advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso, makes the following patently absurd argument to support his boss:"He's not being a hypocrite at all. He'd prefer to live within the public financing system.” Clearly the Governor would NOT prefer to live within the system; if he truly did, he wouldn't be making this effort. You are wrong, Mr. Occhiogrosso – your boss is an enormous hypocrite.

Perhaps the underlying issue here is the Governor's decreasing popularity resulting from his attempt at education reform. Perhaps the Governor doesn't think he can defeat a challenger in a fair fight. Perhaps the Governor feels that if you don't like the rules, you should simply change them to your personal benefit. I understand that Governor Malloy, like all other politicians, can only see as far as his next re-election effort. The people of this State, for whom Governor Malloy works, can see farther than that. Governor Malloy, we can see farther, and we can see right through your farcical smokescreen. We also have pretty good memories; don't insult our intelligence more than you have already done by assuming we will forget this by the time you run for re-election in 2014.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Death Penalty, Part 3: The Company You Keep

Lawmakers in Hartford will hold hearings today on pending legislation to repeal the death penalty in Connecticut. I have already written in detail about my objections to capital punishment. There is no need, then, to reiterate the moral and ethical arguments, nor repeat the many facts upon which my argument is made. Rather, today I will appeal to the currency with which our legislators are most conversant: public opinion.

It is true that Connecticut poll respondents have indicated their favorable opinion of capital punishment by a 2-to1 margin. The Quinnipiac poll conducted at this time last year, at the height of the Petit trials, bears this out. Often overlooked, however, is that this margin is greatly diminished when respondents are asked about capital punishment versus life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Results of any poll are directly skewed by the way in which poll questions are asked. What would the results have been if the following questions were posed?:

  • Are you in favor of capital punishment even if it does nothing to deter crime?
  • Are you in favor of capital punishment even if the monetary cost is equal to or greater than the cost of life imprisonment?
  • Are you in favor of capital punishment even if it places a significantly greater emotional burden on the families of the victims?
  • Are you comfortable risking the execution of innocent people?

There is nothing wrong with opinions; everyone should have one, especially on such an important issue. I would prefer that legislators base their decisions on informed opinion rather than intellectually lazy polling.

Beyond the results of statewide opinion, I would suggest our legislators consider a broader type of public opinion. Remember those commercials for Verbal Advantage with the tag line, “People judge you by the words you use”? People also judge you by the company you keep. It is true, albeit disheartening, that up to 50% of the countries in the world have some form of capital punishment. Based on raw numbers, legislators have a convenient shield behind which to hide when they oppose repeal. As we had to dig deeper into in-state polling results, we must dig deeper into international statistics. Have our lawmakers looked at which countries maintain capital punishment? Every European nation save Belarus has outlawed capital punishment. Even Russia has abolished the death penalty. Most of South and Central America have abolished the death penalty. Where besides the United States is capital punishment still permitted? Here's where: China, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Saudi Arabia amongst others. In 2010, the United States carried out more executions than all these countries except China, North Korea, Iran and Yemen. What wonderful company to keep!

As I've stated previously, the fact that we are even having this discussion speaks rather poorly to where we are on the trajectory of human and social development. If Connecticut legislators still wish to vote against repeal of the death penalty in spite of the above information, so be it. Knock yourselves out...we'll see you in November.

Monday, March 12, 2012


“Money doesn't talk, it swears!” - Bob Dylan - It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

A message to those who are upset about the Citizens United decision and plan on taking action to redress it: Kudos to you, thank you, but don't stop there. As Jeffrey Clements, author of “Corporations Are Not People” has pointed out, the Supreme Court's decision in Buckley v. Valeo also requires attention and action.

It was this 1976 decision that effectively conflated money with speech. In Buckley, the Court stated that “(t)he First Amendment affords the broadest protection to such political expression in order "to assure [the] unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people." And further, “(t)he First Amendment protects political association as well as political expression.” No one, including this writer, would argue against the unfettered exchange of ideas or against political association. Unfortunately, this is the point where the court exits the realm of reason and enter the realm of sophistry. Note this from the Court: “The interests served by the Act (Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971) include restricting the voices of people and interest groups who have money to spend and reducing the over-all scope of federal election campaigns.” The FEC Act in no way restricts the voices of the people; it places restrictions on artificial institutions made up of many people. Neither does the Act restrict political association. Most disturbing of all is this statement from the Court: “A restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.” Aside from the twisted, laughable logic of the statement, the Court equates quantity with quality and completely overlooks the fundamental notion of “one man, one vote.”

I understand that the Constitution is open to interpretation, and that said interpretation is the role of the Court. However, in that role, Justices are sworn to “support and defend the Constitution” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” It seems prudent to me that, to bear true faith, any interpretation should focus on the intent of the founders, who were brilliant and prescient men. Many have argued that the founders could not have foreseen situations like the one in which we currently find ourselves. I would point these people to Federalist Paper #10, written by James Madison, chief architect of our Constitution. Madison wrote, “Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.” To Madison, “faction” included many things: political parties, landed interests, mercantile interests, AND monied interests. Madison writes further: “There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.” Madison and the other founders were quite aware that humans are motivated by self-interest; they knew that removing the cause of faction was an impossibility. They did, however, believe in controlling its effects. The entire notion of balance of power in the Constitution is in place specifically to balance competing interests. Finally, the founders were well acquainted with the notion of natural law passed from Aristotle through Thomas Aquinas through John Locke; the founders were students of all three. The idea that artificial corporate bodies would somehow take precedence over individuals is patently absurd, as well as insulting to the legacy of these great men.

Our rights are not unlimited. My right to free speech carries limitations: I can not slander someone, I can not incite a riot, and I can not yell “movie” in a crowded firehouse. Yet somehow, in Buckley, the Court reasoned that any limitation on corporate expression violates their First Amendment rights. Corporations are certainly allowed to express their views via news conferences, press releases, and the like. In fact, using the Court's specious logic in Buckley, they already have greater “quantity” of expression than a lone individual based on the advantage of their resources. Why must we, as individuals, move further to the back of the bus when they are already in the driver's seat?

As Clements also points out, those of us who object to Citizens United and Buckley need not be discouraged in the face of the advantage of resources held by corporate interests. Americans have fought successfully to amend the Constitution before, even as over-matched opponents versus corporate Goliaths. Doing so will take passion and action. The first step is to raise your own voice.

“Everyone has choice
When to and not to raise their voices
It's you that decides.”

George Harrison - Run of the Mill

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Great Day for Freedom

I had the distinct pleasure of hearing and meeting Jeff Clements, author of “Corporations are not People”, at today's event at the University of Hartford, organized and sponsored by Common Cause Connecticut. Thanks and kudos to Kim Hynes, Senior Organizer, Cheri Quickmire, Executive Director, and Prof. Bilal Sekou, Chairman for their work in making this event happen. Mr. Clements spoke before a packed lecture hall, with attendees ranging in age from 18 to 80, students and private citizens alike. It was heartwarming to see so many people concerned and engaged.

Clements spoke in great detail about the Citizens United v. FEC case, and gave a marvelous dissertation on the 40-year lead-up to that decision. I thought I was fairly well-versed in Citizens United, Buckley v. Valeo and other relevant history; I was wrong. I was unaware of former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell's role in setting us on the path toward corporate personhood and corporate squelching of individual voices in government. Prior to his appointment to the bench, Powell represented the Tobacco Institute. Subsequently, as an adviser to the Chamber of Commerce, he wrote a memorandum titled, “An Attack on the American Free Enterprise System”, essentially a manifesto calling for, and laying the groundwork for, corporations to actively seek and exert greater influence over politics and law. Though familiar with Monsanto Corporation and their role as a polluter, I was unaware of their crusade against Oakhurst Dairy and their fight to retain their right NOT to speak, as it related to product labeling laws. I won't do Mr. Clements the disservice of attempting to reproduce his lecture here. I strongly urge everyone of every political stripe to buy and read “Corporations are not People”; you owe it to yourself as an American.

By far the most important thing I walked away with was a sense of possibility and hope for those interested in amending the Constitution to address the problems created by the Citizens United decision. Clements reminded us of the difficulties faced by Teddy Roosevelt and the Trust Busters in their fight against monied interests and the difficulties faced in passing previous constitutional amendments such as the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. If you think that we as individuals are no match for monied interests, Clements reminded us of the passage of the 17th Amendment establishing the election of U.S. Senators by popular vote; do you think two-thirds of sitting Senators simply said, “Sure, why not?”

As one who believes we get back from the universe that which we put out to the universe, I also believe we get the government we deserve. Things change when people get angry and active. Colonial Americans were angry about various taxes, but it wasn't until the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 that they began turning that anger into action. It was passage of the Tea Act in 1773 that led to the Boston Tea Party. Are you glad that we have an EPA, a Clean Air Act and a Clean Water Act? If so, thank Sen. Gaylord Nelson and others who organized the first Earth Day in 1970, a day that saw 20 million people take to streets across America.

To eliminate the purchase of your franchise in our government, we need a new Earth Day. We need people to be aware, angry and active. We need people to follow the advice of Howard Beale in the movie “Network”:

"All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!..."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Stupor Wednesday

Note to Self: In 2016, when you make coffee at 5:30 on Super Tuesday, please make sure you have coffee grounds for Wednesday morning, or at least drag your lazy duff to the store before the polls close and you are locked onto your TV screen. Continuing to reach new heights of stupidity...

Note to Chuck Todd: Mr. Todd, I say this with an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality....God, I love you! No one breaks it down for us political junkies better than Chuck Todd. No one. Period. From county-by-county analysis and “what-to-watch-fors” to delegate math to overarching trends, he is simply the best. Bar none. He raises the enjoyment of my favorite quadrennial event exponentially.

The math race versus the perception race: Another great point raised by Chuck Todd. Exit polls, particularly in Ohio, bear this out. While Romney continues to rack up delegates, which is how one secures the nomination, he still can't seem to beat the perception problem. He won the popular vote in Ohio, and accumulated more delegates (yes, Team Santorum blew it for themselves in 3 counties), yet exit polls show that the nominee with whom Ohio GOPers would be most comfortable is Rick Santorum. I think this speaks less to voter schizophrenia than it does to Mitt's connection problem. Over and over, Romney fails to connect with voters in a meaningful way; every attempt to show that he is just like you and me rings hollow and comes across as shameless pandering. Apparently all that snobbish higher education never taught Romney the Shakespearean maxim, “to thine own self be true.”

Given the math problem for Santorum, will Romney's perception problem seriously hurt him in the race to secure the nomination? I'll go out on a limb and say, “perhaps.” I understand that Santorum would have to secure roughly 60-70% of the remaining delegates, depending on how things play out, in order to get the nomination. I understand the obstacles to achieving that. However, I would point out that delegate math is more a reflection of where we are today, and where we have been. Today is a long time ago in politics. If Santorum were smart (insert groan here), he would lay off the social conservative rhetoric (those folks will continue to support him), and focus on the blue-collar image/message. He has done well with this before, and would be well advised to hammer Romney as an out-of-touch 1%er. Most importantly, he needs to beat the drum regarding Romneycare/Obamacare on a daily basis. If he were to do that, and if Gingrich were to exit the race (see below), things could break differently. Momentum is always a huge factor in electoral politics, particularly in the 2012 GOP primaries.

Newton's Law: Word is that Santorum's surrogates will urge GOP leaders to pressure Gingrich to leave the race. Good luck with that. I suspect Newt will be around at least through the contests in Alabama and Mississippi. Most importantly, the decision to withdraw is not Newt's to make, it's Sheldon Adelson's. Newt has no rationale to continue other than his ego. When and if Adelson lowers the boom, Newt will have no meaningful financial backing.

Know your history: Dear GOP: I know you don't want to admit that the divisiveness and nastiness in your primaries will hurt you as you go forward, but don't try to minimize it by citing the 2008 Democratic primary battle. It's true that the battle ran long and late, but it was nothing like your current kumbaya fest. Yes, Obama had his "she's likable enough" line about Hillary, and yes, Hillary ran those 3AM phone call spots, but please stop insulting my intelligence, and displaying your lack of same. We know George Bush had absolutely no knowledge or understanding of history; is that the benchmark to which you aspire?

Girl got game: With all due apologies to Elvis Presley and Rob Bartlett...”I'm in love...with S.E. Cupp...uh huh huh...hey hey...yeah yeah!” Brains and beauty rolled into one package. Keep bringing it.

Vermont: I love Vermont. I mean, I really love Vermont. I married a Vermonter. But Vermont, you baffle me. You lead the fight to overturn Citizens United, and Santorum gets nearly 24% in the GOP primary? Were New Hampshirites allowed to vote in your primary?

What I learned this morning on Morning Joe: You can't put on enough TV make-up to hide the redness on Steve Schmidt's face when they played the clip from “Game Change” showing the “who vetted her?” scene. I feel for you, man.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Death Penalty, Part 2: Murder is Murder

"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." - John Donne

In my last post, I wrote about last week's press conference/lobby day at the state capitol in Hartford, organized by the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty. I focused my remarks on those who spoke and attended, rather than on the issue of capital punishment itself; I did not want to invite invective that would detract from those involved in the event, especially the courageous people who spoke at the press conference. Having done that, I suppose it's time to bring on the haters.

I have been opposed to capital punishment for as long as I can remember, and base my sentiment on several different grounds. A primary argument in favor of capital punishment is that it serves as a deterrent. I studied the issue as a member of my high school debate team in 1976. Studies at that time debunked the notion of deterrence. Studies since have come to same conclusion (see the work of Jeffrey Fagan from Columbia, among others); a survey of leading criminologists in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology showed widespread disbelief in the deterrence argument. Here in Connecticut, homicide rates have remained virtually unchanged since the re-institution of the death penalty in 1973. In that year, there were 102 homicides in Connecticut; in 2010, there were 130, for an average of 96 per year over that time period. Where is the deterrence? Facts and figures aside, does any reasonable person think, on an anecdotal basis, that the penalty for the crime enters into the thought process of the perpetrator before or during the commission of the crime???

Since 1973, we have seen the emergence of DNA testing as a critical tool in solving crime. This technology has also been a leading tool in exonerating those who were incorrectly convicted of any crime. There have been any number of instances where inmates on death row were exonerated after the emergence of DNA testing. Should we risk executing the innocent in the name of “swift justice”? People are often convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony, known to many, particularly those in law enforcement, to be inherently unreliable. Should we risk executing the innocent in those cases?

As a simple matter of dollars and cents (NO, I'm not putting a price tag on justice), capital punishment makes for bad law. Independent studies have demonstrated that the cost of capital cases is higher than the cost of life imprisonment without parole. The old notion that execution is cheaper is factually inaccurate. In addition to the higher monetary costs, what about the emotional costs paid by the victims' families who have to re-live their horror at every step of the appeals process? The additional funds consumed in prosecuting and defending these cases might be put to better use if directed toward the families of the victims, for counseling and other vital support services.

Arguments have been made in favor of “fixing” the death penalty by speeding up the process. If we even could speed up the process, we only increase the chance for innocent people to be executed. No matter what legislation we enact to hasten the process, a great part of the process takes place in federal court, out of the control of the people of Connecticut. Proponents of “fixing” the process are merely creating a convenient smokescreen behind which they hide their lack of political courage.

Finally, as an atheist, I find capital punishment to be morally repugnant. Murder is murder. Period. I have never understood, nor received a logical explanation for, the notion that my conservative friends can be “pro-life” yet still support capital punishment. When speaking about abortion, they claim that all life is sacrosanct; do we live in a world like Orwell's Animal Farm, where some life is more sacrosanct than others? Deacon Arthur Miller of St. Mary's Church in Simsbury, himself a family member of a murder victim, said it best at last week's press conference – capital punishment is vengeance, not justice. The fact that we are still debating this issue speaks unbelievably poorly of social development at this stage of human existence. As is often the case, I turn to the words of Bob Dylan to summarize my feelings, even though these words were written to address a different injustice:

Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed,
to live in a land where justice is a game.”

Bob Dylan – Hurricane

NOTE to CT Residents: If you are opposed to capital punishment, I urge you to contact your state representatives, via phone, mail or e-mail. They don't hear from constituents very often – you'd be surprised at the impact you might make. To find your representative, you may contact CNADP at or go to – they have a neat widget on their home page that will help you find your representative.