If Hartford Isn’t Farsighted Enough for a Public Bank, I’d like to See One in New London County

In 1935, as Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield, comedian and Dickens scholar W.C. Fields underscored financial struggle: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds, happiness; annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six, misery.” Were this Dickens’ London, many of us would be in debtors’ prisons run by CEOs and shareholders the political establishment allows to rig and parasitize our economy. And the fault is not in retirement pensions or luxuriant public services (unless trolley systems suddenly reappeared in Connecticut last night) it’s in hardwired, politically entrenched two-party myopia. The pandemic not only exposed inherent instability of

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Teachers of Your Memories Aren’t Necessarily Today’s

Nearly everyone will forever remember some admired or even beloved teachers whose insight, enthusiasm, and caring pointed students in the right direction. Of course there were and are some mediocre, incompetent, and even malicious teachers too, but they are easily forgotten. So even as society becomes more fractious and angry, there is still a cult of respect around the teaching profession. But that cult may not last much longer as teacher unions, most notoriously in big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, but also in most states, including Connecticut, obstruct normal school operations amid the virus epidemic. The

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Transportation Construction Costs

Why is transportation construction so expensive in our area?  What kind of honor was it when New York City recently surpassed Zurich (one of the most expensive cities in the world) as #1 on the most-expensive-place-to-do-underground-construction dishonor roll? The highly respected Regional Plan Association (RPA.org) has studied that question and offers some explanations and frightening examples.  Focusing on three recent MTA mega-projects in New York City… the Second Avenue Subway, the #7 subway extension to Manhattan’s west side and the LIRR’s East Side Access project (ESA), their findings make for depressing reading. Let’s focus on the ESA plan… an ambitious

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Jed Clampett’s Days are Numbered

With his flurry of four dozen or so executive orders to date, Joe Biden’s hit the White House floor running. Some reverse harmful artifacts of the previous administration. Nearly all acknowledge crises facing America and the world, paramount among them climate change, the pandemic, and asymmetric human migration. Using a few prudent strokes of the pen, approval ratings buoyant, Biden’s rejoined the Paris Accord, revoked permits for Keystone XL, and negated withdrawal from the WHO. By directing agencies to review and reverse 100 or so of Trump’s misguided attacks on the environment, he’s setting a tone for rational and progressive

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Legislative Dems Plotting to Bypass Lamont on Taxes

With Governor Lamont discouraging “broad-based” tax increases, many fellow Democrats in the General Assembly are planning to raise taxes around the edges. Most industrious may be Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney of New Haven. Looney would impose a special state property tax on expensive homes, a “mansion tax,” the revenue to be transferred to his hometown and other troubled cities. Looney also proposes rewriting the formula for state money to municipalities so as to give cities more and suburbs less for properties exempt from property taxes. These proposals and others are based on the premise that the cities

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To Defeat Exclusive Zoning, Stop Failing at Poverty

Maybe Connecticut should be grateful to the Desegregate CT organization for having just provided a map detailing how local zoning regulations make it almost impossible to build multifamily housing in most of the state. But didn’t nearly everybody already know that in principle? After all, the roots of exclusive zoning in the state go back to colonial times, when no one was permitted to live in the earliest towns without being approved at a town meeting as an “admitted inhabitant” and anyone who tried to move in without approval was “warned out.” Then as now the objective of this selectivity

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Schools Are Safe, If Not Oases from COVID-19

The evidence is piling up that schoolchildren, teachers and staff are safe in schools. Indeed, the evidence suggests schools are the “safest place” for them to be, as CDC Director Robert Redfield said last November. Yet, teacher unions and other school employee organizations are ignoring mounting evidence that support Redfield’s words. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control released its first two studies of in-school spread of COVID-19, first, a study of the experience of 17 Wisconsin schools that operated in-person from August through November, and, second, a review of reports from around the world about COVID-19 contagion in schools.

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Trading of Water Futures — a Cause for Concern

Human beings, and virtually all other terrestrial animals and plants, need fresh water to live. We are water’s embodiment in myriad forms. But over 97 percent of Earth’s water is toxic to terrestrial organisms because of its salinity, and more than 90 percent of remaining “sweet water,” sufficiently low in sodium to sustain life, is deep underground or solidified as ice sheets and glaciers. A scant 0.0001 percent of the planet’s fresh water is readily accessible. The hydrologic cycle, which allows life-sustaining land-based and non-potable oceanic waters to evaporate, condense again, and fall as snow and rain, helps replenish that

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What Did Gov. Lamont Mean by Failure of Tax Increases?

Addressing an internet meeting of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association a week ago, Governor Lamont made the most remarkable statement of his two years in office. “I have no interest in broad-based tax increases,” Lamont said. “Every governor, Republican or Democrat since, or including, Lowell Weicker has done that and it did not solve the problem.” Of course a few months ago the governor signed into law a broad-based tax increase that took effect three weeks ago: the half-percent increase in the state income tax that is to finance a program of paid family and medical leave, self-insurance that

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America Will Continue to Split Apart until Truth is Paramount

Because of four years’ epic mistakes and mishandling of crises, Joe Biden’s to do list is large. But I’m guardedly optimistic. At long last, we’ll have an overarching, national plan to slow the spread of COVID-19, one which entails federal mandates for mask-wearing and social distancing and aggressively uses the Defense Production Act to cover shortages of critical drugs and personal protective equipment. With once-assured serum reserves seeming a sham, coronavirus vaccine supply chains need immediate resilience, and hospitals, overwhelmed by infection rates, are in dire need of sedatives and neuromuscular blocking agents to help intubated patients on ventilatory support.

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Northeast Maglev

Imagine going from New York City to Washington DC in one hour… not by plane, but by maglev.  By comparison, today the same trip from the LaGuardia to DC’s Reagan airport takes about 90 minutes by air (not counting getting to and from the airports) and costs $276 one way.  On Amtrak’s Acela the fastest run, downtown to downtown, is three hours and costs $157.  Or you could take the bus for $30, assuming you have 4 ½ hours to waste. A maglev is a train, of sorts, that floats on a cushion of air, suspended and propelled along a

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Military-Industrial Complex OK With State’s Delegation

In his farewell address 60 years ago President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against what he called “unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Since he was a military hero, perhaps only Eisenhower could give such a warning during the Cold War without risking denunciation as a communist. But Eisenhower’s warning has never been heeded, and President Biden, with his nominee for defense secretary, is essentially proclaiming the victory of the military-industrial complex. The new president’s nominee is retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who upon leaving the Army a few years ago joined the Board of Directors of

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Almost Infamous… to Public Sector Union Leaders

I am not famous, but I am somewhat infamous, at least to leaders of two big government unions, the Connecticut State Employees Association (CSEA) and the statewide teachers union, Connecticut Education Association (CEA). In late November, CSEA launched an email membership and fundraising drive with the subject line, “State of CT Retiree Benefits Are Being Threatened.” The email included an excerpt from a mid-October column I wrote entitled “The Looming Crisis in Connecticut,” in which excerpt I warned – not threatened – that, because of the fiscal crisis and the disastrous underfunding of the State Employee Retirement Fund (SERF), “It

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Early Pension is $117,000; and New Hidden Tax Coming

Last week this column examined the government pension racket in Connecticut through the example of the “retirement” of New Haven Police Chief Tony Reyes, who is only 49 and is giving up his city salary of $170,000 to become police chief at Quinnipiac University in adjacent Hamden. Since New Haven City Hall needed a week before it could provide an estimate of the annual pension Reyes immediately will begin receiving, last week’s column surmised it might amount to $80,000. That was low. The city’s budget office now estimates Reyes’ annual pension at $117,000. While Quinnipiac is a nonprofit institution exempt

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No Nation can be a Personality Cult and Function as a Republic as Well

In 1910, long before television’s unveiling at the 1938 World’s Fair, Belgian information expert, Paul Otlet, and Henri La Fontaine imagined a global repository and distribution point for sharing the world’s knowledge. Their vision evolved into the League of Nations’ International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation (forerunner of UNESCO). In 1934, prescient of the World Wide Web, Otlet wrote about a “Radiated Library” connecting TV watchers to encyclopedic knowledge via telephone wires. The idea remained dormant until the 1960s, when J.C.R. Licklider, a psychologist and computer scientist, proposed linking the world’s computers into a network for scientific exchange. In the heart

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New Haven Chief ‘Retires’ at 49 to Pension Bonanza

Everyone agrees that Tony Reyes has been a great police chief in New Haven, having been appointed in March 2019 after nearly two decades of rising through the ranks of the police department. But the city will lose him in a few weeks as he becomes police chief at Quinnipiac University next door in Hamden. This is being called a retirement, but it is that only technically. In fact it is part of an old racket in Connecticut’s government employee pension system, an abuse of taxpayers. Typically police personnel qualify to collect full state government and municipal pensions after 20

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Commuters Are Not Coming Back

I have one belated prediction for the new year and you’re not going to like it:   After we all get vaccinated and things ‘return to normal’, regular weekday commuters on Metro-North will not be coming back as hoped.  Why should they?  Who wants to spend $400+ a month and waste 2+ hours each day, five days a week riding a train into New York City if you don’t have to?  If this pandemic has shown us anything it’s that going to an office isn’t necessary to doing our jobs. Sure, there are some people who have to show up

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Poor Leadership is as Poor Leadership Does

Delivering a memorable line in the 1994 motion picture, “Forrest Gump,” Sally Field (as Mrs. Gump) gives motherly advice to her son, played by Tom Hanks. “Stupid is as stupid does,” she says comfortingly, a bromide turned ominous by COVID-19. Already America’s coronavirus cases top 22 million with 370,000 dead. Conservative models project U.S. fatalities will reach 560,000 by April. Sixty to one hundred thousand may die this January alone because of post-holiday surges. These totals, by far the world’s worst, were neither inevitable nor teleological. They happened because people ignored advice of scientists, the CDC and other medical advisers,

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Cheerleading by Governor Belies Damage to Economy

Few may begrudge Governor Lamont the cheerfulness of his “state of the state” address upon the opening of the General Assembly this week. As he noted, since last March Connecticut has produced much heroism in confronting the virus epidemic. That heroism includes the governor’s own. For nobody runs for governor to preside over the destruction of the state’s economy amid mass sickness and death. The epidemic has been overwhelming, and even Lincoln acknowledged being overwhelmed in office. “I claim not to have controlled events,” the president wrote, “but confess plainly that events have controlled me.” They have controlled the governor

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Legislators Must Now Share Authority During Pandemic

After a cowardly absence of nine months, the General Assembly reconvenes this week. Though legislators may not recognize it, the first question facing them is whether their new session is to be one of substance or merely a formality. For Governor Lamont has been ruling by emergency decree since the virus epidemic began in March, and with the approval of legislative leaders he has extended that power until Feb. 9. If the emergency is allowed to end then, what is essentially monarchy will end too, democratic government will resume, political responsibility will be widely shared, and legislators will have to

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Challenges Should Not Tear Us Apart

It’s a sad commentary on America that our greatest challenges – the pandemic, climate change, health, wealth and educational disparities, and racial injustice – not only fail to bring us together, but widen divisions. Both major parties have not only deepened those fissures, but given them orthodoxy. Now, democracy, once a serviceable impasse to candidates with dangerous ideas and disruptive impulses, no longer assures even semblances of progress. Sowing discontent, stoking hatred, and disregarding facts and science comprise a tactical lexicon for getting votes and undermining truth. And until reason and empathy “entangle” within our social consciousness, behaving in lockstep

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Looting By Parent Company Took Courant’s Home Away

Employees of Connecticut’s largest newspaper, the Hartford Courant, cleaned out their desks the other day as the newspaper left the building at 285 Broad St. where it had operated for 70 years. It was well reported that the newspaper will continue publishing as its employees work from home, as they have done since March; that the Springfield Republican will do the printing; and that the Courant doesn’t know if it will have an office again. But why the newspaper gave up its offices has not been well reported, and it is not just because of the virus epidemic. It’s also

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Let Local School Boards Make Sensible Decisions on Classroom Instruction

Earlier this month, just days before the first Connecticut health care workers were administered the just-approved coronavirus vaccine, a coalition of public school employee unions sent Governor Lamont a petition demanding that he close schools unless and until schools implement a set of COVID-19 safety protocols designed by Connecticut Education Association (CEA). The CEA-led union coalition demanded that the protocols be enforced by the state, not local authorities. They demanded that Lamont mandate full-pay and a no-layoff policy for all public school employees through the end of the school year. What a striking juxtaposition between the selfless dedication of health

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A 21st Century Moonshot

Plastic bags and packaging were introduced in the 1950s. Transparent cellophane wrappers enabled shoppers to rummage through pre-cut portions of food, already adulterated with waxes and dyes, less appealing sides of which could be hidden by grocers. For durable goods, plastic packaging posed obstacles to light-fingered customers, and giving illusions of grandeur to the smallest of purchases. From perspectives of profit, versatility and strength, plastics have been a lightweight, malleable, nonperishable boon. Contributing mightily to our glut for oil, they’ve been a cheap structural material in everything from toys to automobiles, aircraft components to medical equipment. In the classic 1960s

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Equality in School Spending is Easy — And Would Fail Too

When the first legal challenge to Connecticut’s system of financing local education was filed 45 years ago, the complaint was inequality — that since school finance was based on the local property tax, rich towns spent much more per pupil than poor towns and had more successful schools. This correlation was misconstrued to mean that per-pupil spending determined student performance. The complaint of inequality remains the big complaint today, and during a recent internet conference call a group of ministers from Connecticut’s cities badgered Governor Lamont about it. But the ministers and others clamoring for equality in per-pupil spending don’t

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There Is No Free Pony

Early in our parenting my wife and I taught our daughter about the difference between wanting something and needing something.  She might want a pony but did she need one?  And most importantly, what was she willing to do to get that pony.  “Ponies aren’t free,” we would remind her. The same things are true for transportation, our climate and our health. A recent poll was released, commissioned by the Transportation Climate Initiative.  The name explains their mission: saving our climate by encouraging increased use of mass transit, electric vehicles and less use of fossil fuels. We all know that

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Snow Obsession isn’t News; More Taxes Aren’t ‘Reform’

Government in Connecticut is often mediocre but it usually excels at clearing the roads during and after a snowstorm like last week’s. Maybe this is because while some failures are easily overlooked or concealed, there is no hiding impassable roads. They risk political consequences. So people in Connecticut can have confidence that even the heaviest accumulations will not cause catastrophe — that their road crews will defeat the snow before anyone starves to death. Then what explains the obsession of the state’s news organizations, especially the television stations, with celebrating the obvious when there is going to be snow? First

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Make ‘99% Herd Immunity’ Our Battle Cry

Disasters are usually avoidable. Weeks before Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii and Herculaneum (A.D. 79), Bay of Naples sea floors boiled and bubbled, streams and wells near the volcano went dry, and rats and other animals left both cities in droves. In 1985, a year before it exploded, engineers at Morton Thiokol warned about Challenger’s O-rings. At temps below freezing, they insisted, O-ring rubber could stiffen and rocket booster sections might not seal. When Bob Eberling, Roger Boisjoly, Arnold Thompson and Allan McDonald asked to delay the space shuttle’s launch for warmer weather, they were overruled. Bending to press and political

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State’s Tax, School Policies Produce 40 Years of Failure

Now that the Democratic majorities in the General Assembly are increasing as a result of last month’s election, visions of sugarplums dance again in the heads of those who think that “property tax reform” and spending more on municipal schools can save Connecticut’s cities and their poor students. It’s a reminder of the popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Of course that could double as the definition of persistence — persistence being, as Coolidge said, the prerequisite for problem solving. But even for the persistent there comes a time to

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Just in Time

Notice anything missing on your store shelves?  Maybe paper products or your favorite canned soup?  Given that the pandemic has been raging for over nine months, why aren’t the shelves full again?  Why isn’t the stuff we want “getting there”? Well one of the reasons is because a Japanese engineer visited an American supermarket in the 1950’s and noticed something he thought was wrong… and we’re still paying for his astute observations. It was Taiichi Ohno, industrial engineer at Toyota, who noticed the American stores had weeks of inventory in a back room, waiting for customers purchases to allow quick

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