A CT GOP Badge of Red Courage

This week, two events brought another sad day in America. The foremost is the Texas elementary school shooting which claimed the lives of youngsters in second to fourth grade. Kids in second grade haven’t even reached an age measured in double digits. They haven’t even spent a decade in this life. This is epic tragedy. Everyone is asking why. Yet this column is about something that preceded by hours the Texas murderer’s rampage. So, it intends no comment upon the heartbreaking event in Texas. This other sad event was the release, and widespread media magnification, of a report by a

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Democrats and Self-Defeating Moderation

Representative Kurt Schrader has a particular persona. A veterinarian, farmer, small businessman, and congressman (he is a busy guy) representing Oregon’s 5th congressional district, he is the kind of politician that spent much of his career decrying polarized politics, asking everyone to stop bickering, and claiming that he can bring people together to bring real change to Washington. Many claim that there is a lot that appeals to voters about this centrist ideal. But in practice, so-called centrism has led Schrader and his ilk primarily to obstruct their own party’s agenda. Schrader has been more focused on blocking much of

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The Bridgeport Hovercraft

A little known part of Connecticut’s transportation history is that, almost 40 years ago, there was hovercraft service from Bridgeport to New York City. If you’ve never “flown” on a hovercraft, it’s quite an experience.  The interior of the craft is filled with airline style seats and there’s often even an attendant serving beverages.  When it’s ready to depart, giant fans blowing downward lift the craft onto a bubble of air, captured by a huge rubber skirt. Then other fans push the hovering craft forward, guided by air rudders.   Think of an Everglades airboat on steroids, except this one floated above

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One Million Deaths

I had COVID last week.  After more than two years of hand washing, wearing masks and avoiding crowds, I guess it was my turn.  Fortunately, being double vaxed and double boosted, it was a relatively mild case and my recovery was hastened by antiviral pills from Pfizer. But this week marks a stark milestone (or headstone) in this pandemic:  one million Americans have died from COVID.  Worldwide the death toll is more like six million though some experts say the number of fatalities is much higher. So how are we all recovering from this pandemic? Joining transportation experts last week

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For Democracies to Prevail, Majorities Must be Equipped to make Sound Decisions About the Future

These are perilous times. The biosphere is experiencing unprecedented rates of changes. Overconsumption, unsustainable practices and anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are altering Earth’s life-supporting climate at an alarming pace. Thanks to climate change, COVID, fact denial and distortions of truth, lines between difficult and dark times continue to blur, and no Asoka, Suleiman, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King is answering our roll call.  According to the United States Humane Society, roughly 420 depraved “contests” are held in America each year in which 63,000 or more wild animals are slaughtered. Sixty such hunts occur in Texas alone. Competing for cash, hunters

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Why Can’t Connecticut Ever Lift the Poor to Middle Class?

Especially in Connecticut elected officials claim credit for trying to solve the problems they themselves created. It happened again recently with legislation proposed in the General Assembly to require larger municipalities to create “fair rent” commissions with power to cancel or reduce residential rent increases. Yes, along with housing prices generally, rents have been increasing dramatically since inflation exploded. By some calculations housing has never been more expensive relative to incomes. But the legislation effectively blamed landlords when the rent increases are largely the result of government’s own policies. Impairing the ability of landlords to make money would only discourage

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Ensuring More People Have a Say in Our Government Should be a No-Brainer

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down several key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, there was much talk from many in Connecticut about how the ruling opened the door to many forms of voter suppression across the country. In the years since, Republican elected officials in many states have indeed implemented a slew of draconian reforms that make voting harder in many areas. The pace has only increased since the 2020 election, as the pro-coup, Trumpist faction of the GOP takes over the party. Connecticut voters have little to fear about many of these “reforms” vying to restrict

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Why is There Still no Free Wi-Fi on Metro-North?

Airplanes have Wi-Fi.  Even Connecticut’s  CTfastrak commuter bus system from New Britain to Hartford gives its passengers free Wi-Fi.   Commuter railroads across the US offer Wi-Fi, including Boston’s MBTA. Wi-Fi is everywhere… but not on Metro-North.  So the Connecticut legislature has just budgeted $23 million to install 5G technology on the railroad’s M8 cars.  Are they too late?  Is it even needed? Offering Wi-Fi on a moving vehicle usually involves cellular technology, not satellites (like in planes).  In 2010 Amtrak first offered Wi-Fi on its Acela trains between Washington and Boston and they immediately had bandwidth issues.  So many passengers were using

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A Legislative Scorecard

As our Connecticut legislators wrap up their “short session” this week, it’s time to assess their work: things accomplished, mixed messages sent and issues left unresolved. Transportation is responsible for almost 30% of all air pollution in the US, more than half of that spewed by cars and trucks.  The EPA cays Connecticut is in “severe non-compliance” with Federal clean air rules, especially Fairfield, New Haven and Middlesex counties.  Our air literally stinks. So while I’m happy the state has finally committed to a Clean Air Act, it will take until 2040 for many of its provisions to take effect. 

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Bolster Economy, Repay $400 Million in Federal Loans

Republicans and Democrats in Connecticut have reached agreement on revision of the state’s biennial budget for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. Happily, Democrats conceded to several major elements of the GOP’s recently proposed $1.2 billion tax cut plan. Yet there remains one major element of the GOP plan that is unresolved: a proposal to use off-budget American Rescue Plan (ARP) money to repay hundreds of millions of still-outstanding federal loans received by Connecticut over the last two years to fund unemployment insurance benefits. Why is a loan repayment proposal part of a tax-cut plan? Because otherwise these loans must be

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Undue Influence of Wealth on International Politics isn’t Limited to Russia’s Elites

Oligarchy is derived from the Greek words oligos (“few”) and arkho (“to rule”), in essence “government by the few,” where supreme power is vested in a small exclusive class. Lately, the term “oligarch” has been used by corporate media in connection with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions imposed against Moscow’s billionaire class to blunt his aggression. But undue influence of wealth on international politics isn’t limited to Russia’s elites. Neither is it confined geographically or ideologically. Pursuit of power by the privileged is as insatiable and boundless as greed itself. So many rich Russians now live in the UK,

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About a Fair Work Week — Listening to Workers

These past few days we have been talking non-stop with policymakers about the need for stable schedules at the workplace. We have been sharing research on the impact that erratic schedules have on workers and families, from food insecurity to stress. We told legislators about how incredibly frustrating and scary it is for someone not to know how much money they will make any given week. We have shown extensive, in-depth research on this issue, on how positive the impact of fair schedules and Fair Workweek legislation is both on workers and their employees. We even have polling data that

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Trooper Isn’t the Only Cause of Mentally Ill Man’s Death

Now it will be for a jury to decide whether state Trooper Brian D. North is guilty of manslaughter or was justified in fatally shooting Mubarek Soulemane more than two years ago after the mentally ill 19-year-old hijacked a car at knifepoint in Norwalk and led police on a 30-mile chase before being cut off in West Haven. Because of police body and dashboard camera video, the manslaughter charge brought last week by state Inspector General Robert J. Devlin Jr. is entirely plausible. When he was shot, Soulemane was sitting in the car with the windows up, holding a knife

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Are Connecticut state workers overpaid?  I don’t think so

Are Connecticut state workers overpaid?  I don’t think so. Connecticut state employees are about to get a retroactive, four-year contract that gives them a $3500 bonus, annual 2.5% pay increases and their “step increases” tied to seniority and their jobs.  By one estimate, this all works out to an additional $10,000 per worker over four years. Total cost to taxpayers:  $1.86 billion. Watching the legislature debate this package I had to chuckle.  Despite all the fuss and bluster, this now looks like a sweetheart deal compared to what would be negotiated in today’s era of hyper-inflation. Just 2.5%?  A bargain!

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American Politics are Weighted Against Any Candidate “Simultaneously Intelligent and Honest.”

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its annual report warning of shrinking timetables in which to slow global warming before crucial, irreversible tipping points are reached. If the U.S. and global community fail to aggressively transition from fossil fuels to green, renewable energy, Earth will become increasingly uninhabitable. Current dependency on petro-dictatorships, such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, compounded by domestic suppliers’ price-gouging at home, also affect national security. Absence of bold leadership assures worsening stretches of extreme heat, devastating floods, droughts, rising seas, worsening storms, famine, disease, dying forests and ocean acidification. Heightened exposure

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Metro-North’s Hypocrisy Unmasked

I love getting email, especially from frustrated Metro-North commuters.  Consider this thoughtful email I received a week ago from a six-day a week rider, Scott Mikita who works on Broadway: “I am actually on a train into work right now and Googled “Metro North conductor claims he can’t enforce mask mandate” and your article from Sept 2021 popped up. I take 12 train rides per week and have seen ridership increase since coming back to work in September 2021. I have also noticed that trains are often shorter than before and some conductors reluctant to open empty cars, even on

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Stable Jobs and the Promise of the Middle Class

America, or the vision of America that Democrats claim to offer, always relies on a simple promise: a good job as the foundation of a solid, stable middle class. For many years, America delivered on this promise, giving workers the stability and respect they deserve.   Today, however, many working-class Americans have a sense of dissatisfaction, of being left behind. We heard, even before the pandemic, about the anger, the frustration of the blue-collar, non-college educated worker, and how the Democratic Party was increasingly losing support of what used to be their base. To understand why this is happening, it is

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Board Refreshment: Why Do It?

In my February column, “Why Do Corporate Boards Pick Certain People,” I discussed various factors that can affect the choice of new board members, including the outside influence of large institutional asset managers, governance organizations, such as NACD or ISS, and the proliferation of board preparation academies, such as those at Stanford and Harvard.   These outside influences have encouraged diversification by gender, ethnicity and age, as well as encouraged new skills and thinking in cyber security, digital innovation, technology and cultural market representation.  The resulting corporate goals, to name a few, have been to realign boards with an updated strategic

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Why They De-Electrified the Danbury Branch

It was a huge mistake, one that commuters and planners have regretted for over sixty years.  For it was in 1959 that the last electric locomotive pulled a train on the Danbury branch. Yes, that meandering 24 miles of single track railroad connecting South Norwalk and Danbury was once electrified. For 34 years, long before the invention of diesel locomotives, it saw electric trains running “under the wire”. Why did that change? Most rail historians, like former New Haven and Metro-North veteran Jack Swanberg blame one man:  Patrick B McGinnis, President of the New Haven.  “He was not a good

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Connecticut Pays High Price to Satisfy State Employees

Another day, another study finding that Connecticut state employees are paid so much better than private-sector workers. The latest study was done by a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Andrew Biggs, who holds a doctoral degree from the London School of Economics. Biggs’ conclusion matches that of similar studies in recent years — that the nominal salaries of state employees are a little smaller than those of private-sector workers in comparable positions, by about 6%, but their fringe benefits — pensions and medical care — are more than three times greater than what private-sector workers get, an average

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Why You Can’t Pump Your Own Gas in New Jersey

You can pump your own soft-serve ice cream at trendy yogurt shoppes.  But you still can’t pump your own gasoline in New Jersey. Why? Once again, lawmakers in Trenton have killed an effort to save motorists money at the pump, allegedly in the name of safety. Self-serve gasoline has been the rule nationwide for 73 years, ever since the first pump-your-own gas station opened in California in 1947.  Prior to that, all gas stations were full-service.  Not only did the “pump jockeys” fill your tank but they’d check your oil, water levels in your radiator and wash your windows… and

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Legislators Should Evaluate Existing Compensation Before Voting on Increases

In early March, Connecticut Governor Lamont proposed to award state employees significant wage increases and bonuses over three years. But before moving ahead, policymakers should consider whether public employee pay increases are warranted. A recent study authored by one of us finds that the average Connecticut state employee already receives total pay and benefits roughly one-third higher than is received by comparable private sector workers in Connecticut. This 33% premium is the fifth highest compensation premium out of the 50 U.S. states. Lamont’s proposal would likely widen that gap. According to state employee union documents, Lamont is proposing to award

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Evading Vote on Sheff Case, Legislature Fails Democracy

Renovating the state’s child-protection agency isn’t the only issue Connecticut has just taken 32 years to resolve in court. The same amount of time has just elapsed with the resolution of the Sheff v. O’Neill lawsuit over de-facto racial segregation in Hartford’s schools. The child-protection case plodded along in federal court while the school case moved glacially in Connecticut’s own courts. The cases raised important issues, even if they failed to address the big underlying problems, and they settled some big state government policies. But they did so without much involvement of the General Assembly and thus without much ordinary

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The Gas Tax Hustle

Attention all chiropractors and physical therapists!  Please report immediately to the state Capitol to treat the sore muscles of lawmakers who’ve twisted themselves into a pretzel, patting themselves on their backs for cutting the gasoline tax! What a surprise (in an election year) that lawmakers voted unanimously to cut the gasoline tax 25 cents a gallon from April 1 – June 30th.  What a massive sense of relief for money-short taxpayers to save, what, $25 per car this spring.  Wow!  Let’s all drive to Disneyworld. And what do you think will happen in June when summertime driving season really kicks

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On Daylight Savings

The 48 contiguous United States exist roughly between 24.52 degrees to 49.38 degrees north latitudes. Hawaii, also located in the northern hemisphere is 19.7 degrees N latitude, only 1,375 miles from the equator. Consequently, variations in sunlight throughout the year are less dramatic. Anchorage, Alaska, by contrast, at 61.21 degrees N latitude is only 824 miles from the Arctic Circle. Differences in sunlight between Alaskan winters and summer months are huge. Northernmost locales, such as Barrow, spend 67 days of winter in total darkness while summers contain 80 or more days of uninterrupted daylight. For Alaska and Hawaii, the folly

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Ride Sharing is Back!

How’d you like to save thousands of dollars in commuting costs by car?  And at the same time cut the number of vehicles on our highways? The answer:  ride sharing. With the sudden surge in gasoline prices there’s renewed interest in car / van pooling, as the folks at CTrides can attest.  They’re the state agency tasked with selling the idea of “green rides”, though I think it’s the green in your wallet that most captures commuters’ attention these days, not just saving the environment. But it is true that 38% of all greenhouse gases come from transportation and with

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Lamont’s Budget Violates ARP Rules, Funnels $2.9B into State and Teacher Pensions

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States have done many things with the federal aid that state governments received under last year’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP). One thing they are expressly prohibited from doing is pouring that money into pensions for well-paid public employees. Connecticut is doing it anyway. In February, Gov. Ned Lamont’s released his $48 billion two-year budget proposal. It funnels $2.9 billion in special deposits into the state employee and teacher pension funds. This is an amount equal to all the ARP aid the state received. These special deposits are over and above Connecticut’s regularly scheduled $7.2 billion in state contributions to the

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If US and Other Nations Support Ukraine by Conserving Fossil Fuels, Putin’s Gambit Will Fail

War, by its frequency, spawns many quotations. Heraclitus observed that “deliberate violence is more to be quenched than a fire.” Dwight Eisenhower, who helped orchestrate the largest amphibious assault in military history, saw war’s waste and futility firsthand. “Every gun that is made,” he said. “Every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” While Ukrainian courage and solidarity, epitomized by President Zelensky in Kyiv, never ceases to inspire, Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack of their country risks diverting our attention

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Time is Running Out — U.S. and NATO Should Establish No-combat Zone in Western Ukraine

The U.S. and key NATO members should occupy western Ukraine and establish a no-combat zone. They should take action despite Putin’s nuclear threats, and they should act immediately, because the window of opportunity is closing.  A full NATO occupation of western Ukraine would preserve a free and independent nation in the west, while diminishing chances of Ukrainian success in the east. Yet those chances seem low at present, despite President Zelenskyy’s incredible leadership. In order not to provoke Vladimir Putin into direct conflict with NATO/U.S. forces, it would have to be a two-sided no-combat zone, off limits to both Ukrainian

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Problems at Metro-North? A Man from Ukraine Can Fix That

In the waning days of WW II, the Americans sent a special unit into Germany to find one man, not to bring him to justice but to eventually put him in charge of the U.S. space program. His name was Werner von Braun. Now I think, whatever the outcome of the Ukraine conflict, a similar effort should be made to rescue Oleksandr Pertsovskyi. Not familiar with his work? Well two million Ukrainians are benefiting from his skills. He may have saved their lives. You see, Pertsovskyi is head of passenger rail operations at Ukrzaliznytsia, the Ukrainian national railroad which is

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