Friday, October 30, 2009

Economic Hope, Fear Mix As Municipal Leaders Gather

By DON STACOM
October 9, 2009


HARTFORD — - Based on history and economic theory, Connecticut's recession has passed — and wasn't very severe when it was happening, economic futurist Lowell Catlett told several hundred municipal leaders at a convention Thursday.

The real explanation for why so many residents are worried or distressed about the economy is that people have come to expect a historically high standard of living, and often balk at even minor backsliding, Catlett said.

"What is luxury to one generation becomes necessity to another," he said in his keynote address to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities' annual conference.

"The recession started in the fall of '07. By history, it's over — promise," Catlett said. "No, I'm not making light of people who are out of work. But about 18 months is all you can stand of people whining and moaning."

But most of the audience has spent the last six months slashing budgets, bargaining for union concessions, cutting services and extending year-old hiring freezes, and other speakers at the convention were far more pessimistic than Catlett, a professor from New Mexico State University who consults for federal agencies as well as several major U.S. businesses.

"We're going to talk a little about how we'll get through the next 28 to 30 months," Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez said. "There are going to be more tough choices."

Catlett's optimism, humor and Lewis Black-style of delivery kept listeners entertained, but didn't seem to change anyone's mind. City managers, mayors, first selectmen and local finance directors from across the state spent the day at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford talking about strategies for what they anticipate will be at least two years or more of ferociously tough times for local governments. Taxpayers will feel the pressure because they can expect to pay more while getting fewer services, many municipal leaders said.

At a panel on combating blight, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said there are warning signs that bank foreclosures will rise this year as investors and low-income home buyers walk away from properties where values have dropped below the cost of the mortgage.

"This is going to be a bigger and bigger issue around the state. There's a dark cloud coming," Malloy said.

Foreclosure by out-of-state banks or absentee investors can quickly damage the surrounding neighborhood if the property isn't kept up, he said.

State Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie cautioned communities against expecting extensive new highway initiatives because federal and state funds are being stretched thin. That means maintenance of existing roads and bridges will suffer until new revenues are developed.

"We have a deepening hole in our preservation effort," he said. "The picture is not very pretty. That's the reality."

But there was a more exuberant message from Catlett. Connecticut's gross domestic product actually grew last year, and the percentage of residents who can afford to own a home remains significantly higher than 30 years ago, he said.

Catlett blamed some of the pessimism on fellow economists.

"If there's a dog and an economist at your back door and you let them in, how do you tell them apart?" he asked. "The dog quits whining."


LEGISLATORS MAY MEET ON OVERRIDE ...


Legislators May Meet On Override


Just when it appeared the state budget clash of 2009 was long over, the legislature is considering returning next week to override a controversial bill that Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed because she said it spent too much money in tough fiscal times.

The attempt is in response to Rell's rejection of a Democratic-written bill that would spend $1.3 million for a study of the effects on children of incarcerated parents. The bill also would prevent the governor from cutting $7.8 million in various expenses for the judicial branch. Rell and lawmakers clashed over those issues repeatedly before Rell vetoed the bill nearly three weeks ago.

The issue arose Friday when the House Democrats, who control the chamber 114-37 over the Republicans, sent an e-mail to legislators asking whether they would be available to vote Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of next week.

"We're going to find out if we can get the attendance — which day, if any, of those three days," said Douglas Whiting, a spokesman for House Speaker Christopher Donovan. "If we can get enough people to come in, we will come in and try to do the override. Obviously, it takes both chambers to override a veto."

The bill passed in the Senate, 19-14, with three members absent — far short of the 24 votes needed for an override. But senators sometimes change their minds, and it was unclear Friday night if the Senate has the votes to overturn Rell.

"We have not made a decision yet on a possible veto override," said Derek Slap, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams.

The potential uncertainty prompted House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero of Norwalk to call upon Democrats to avoid a "symbolic session" that would end without an override.

"It costs the taxpayers $10,000 per day just to have us in session," Cafero said. "Calling us in to override the governor's veto without definitive knowledge that they have the votes is the height of irresponsibility and political theater. Don't waste time on the taxpayers' dime."

The bill is important because the state's chief court administrator, Judge Barbara Quinn, has warned that the proposed cuts by Rell could lead to the closing of three courthouses: the main courthouse in Bristol and the juvenile courts in Willimantic and Norwalk. Besides the closing of the courthouses, the cuts would force the judicial branch to substantially reduce the $750,000 that goes to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and eliminate a plan for a $500,000 program for legal services to the poor. Funding for domestic violence, legal, and children's services in the courts would be reduced by nearly $1 million.

Advocates for the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence have called for the override.In her various budget proposals, Rell sought to close six courthouses, in Bristol, Manchester, Norwalk, Putnam, Derby andMeriden. But the Democratic-controlled legislature refused to close any of them, including the one in Meriden, the hometown of Speaker Donovan.

    State Legislature Spends Extravagantly On Its Mailings


    ITS NEVER TOO EARLY TO CONSIDER REPLACING OUR STATE LEGISLATOR ... 

    State Legislature Spends Extravagantly On Its Mailings

    In case you want or need to know it — which maybe you don't — your friendly and diligent state legislator has some "news" for you. You receive it periodically by mail, in full-color constituent mailings and, naturally, you pay the postage.

    All told, the 187 members of the Connecticut General Assembly sent out 4.6 million pieces of mail to constituents in the most recent budget year that ended June 30, at a cost to taxpayers of about $1.1 million for postage. That doesn't count what have historically been hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual printing costs.

    In the full-color pictures, your legislator is almost always smiling, because there's almost always good news about what he or she has accomplished or helped achieve. If there's any bad news in the constituent fliers, it's the fault of legislators or the governor in the other political party.

    The rules of the legislature — which the legislators make themselves — permit each member of the House and Senate to send out thousands of constituent newsletters a year, as long as they're not "for the conducting of campaign business" and a few other prohibited purposes, such as polling.

    If there's a familiar ring to this, it might be because previous Government Watch columns have dealt with taxpayer-funded mailings by Connecticut's members of Congress to their constituents, and by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to recent college graduates. This column completes the taxpayer-funded-mailings cycle, at least for the moment.

    As with the congressional mailings, the state legislators' newsletters do not convey hard facts in a cold, unbiased tone. For example:

    •Here's what Republican state Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton said in her "2009 Budget Update" mailing: "In February, Gov. M. Jodi Rell presented a balanced budget proposal that made difficult choices without tax increases and without any cuts to education or municipal aid. Since then, our economy has worsened and our deficit has grown. Unfortunately, the majority leadership has failed to respond to changing economic conditions. Rather than make the difficult decisions necessary to reduce government spending,Democrats proposed a $3.3 billion tax hike. ..."

    •Here's what Republican state Sen. L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich said in his "2009 Budget Update" mailing: "In February, Governor Rell presented a two-year budget proposal that would balance our state's budget without raising taxes and without cuts to municipal or education funding. Since then, however, our economy has worsened and pushed us further into fiscal crisis. Unfortunately, the majority party has failed to acknowledge our deteriorating economic conditions. Rather than acting decisively to reduce government spending, the majority party proposed a $3.3 billion tax hike."

    See any similarities? They did change a few words here and there, but if this were a high school exam and those two were sitting next to each other, they would be in trouble.

    Democrats aren't any different:

    •  "We have all been feeling the impact of the current economic crisis," Democratic Rep. Claire Janowski of Vernon said in a newsletter. "Many of us are concerned about job security, the possibility of unemployment or foreclosure."
    •  "We have all been feeling the impact of the current economic crisis," Democratic Rep. Bruce V. Morris of Norwalk said in a newsletter. "Many of us are concerned about job security, the possibility of unemployment or even foreclosure."

    Morris stuck in an "even" before "foreclosure" — but, again, if this were high school, those two might be sitting in the vice principal's office with Boucher and Frantz.

    So you can clearly see that what you're getting from these people is something that's mass-produced but sounds personalized.

    This is not exactly a shock, because citizens have been bombarded on the Internet and television with evidence of the ways and means of political public relations. All of the four Connecticut legislative caucuses — House and Senate Democrats and Republicans — have press staff members who write this kind of thing.

    But because these newsletters are about tough financial times for the government and taxpayers, and the way out of a fiscal crunch is to cut unneeded spending, then it might occur to somebody that this is not a time to spend $1 million a year on this kind of "news." That, however, would be like expecting a duck to stay out of the water. 

    The legislators' answer to that is always the same: These pieces of mail provide phone numbers, e-mail addresses and websites that constituents can use to get information and contact their representatives. Lawmakers also note that they need to respond by mail to a certain number of citizens' direct inquiries about individual problems.

    But, ultimately, it's for constituents to decide whether the mass mailings amount to useful information, useless propaganda or "the conducting of campaign business."

    Some mailings don't fit the normal mold, such as the 2009 "Summer Info & Fair Guide" from Republican state Rep. Pam Sawyer of Bolton, a two-fold, two-color, 11-by-17-inch flier on heavy paper containing a statewide fair map and schedule from July through October, along with five pictures of Sawyer herself.

    In any case, here are the legislative postage champs for the state fiscal year of 2008-09, according to the latest figures from the Office of Legislative Management. Top leaders get to do more mailing than regular members of the state Senate and House:
    •  In the Senate, President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, $41,194; Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, $27,186; Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, $20,430; Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, $18,257; Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, $17,905. Debicella is running for the GOP nomination for the U.S. House in the 4th District.
    •  In the House, Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, $9,799; Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, $9,348; Rep. John Frey, R-Ridgefield, $6,875; Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, $6,832; and Rep. Lawrence Miller, R-Stratford, $6,701.
    Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at jlender@courant.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115.

    New Haven Education Experiment Could Be A Leading Light For Schools Around Nation


    Courant.com

    New Haven Education Experiment Could Be A Leading Light For Schools Around Nation
    courant.com/news/education/hc-new-haven-teacher-contract-1030oct30-green,0,2227198.column

    Rick Green
    October 30, 2009
    New Haven, increasingly a model city for the state, is about to begin an education experiment that could lead school reform efforts around the nation.

    Teachers will be evaluated, at least in part, on how well students perform. Classroom teachers who struggle will be asssisted and bad ones may be given the boot. It's also possible teachers will get bonus pay if students perform well. Failing schools may close and new ones could open. The union will not be able to block school reforms.

    And teachers, for a change, will play an active part in making decisions.

    This isn't just happy talk: The city and the New Haven Federation of Teachers have signed a four-year contract, promising to make this happen.

    So remarkable is this deal — negotiated over months of difficult, frank discussions — that top officials from the U.S. Department of Education and the American Federation of Teachers came to the city to praise the agreement this week, hoping that it will become a model in districts around the nation. School officials, not surprisingly, want the Obama administration to reward them handsomely for their work. This is a strong possibility.

    At a time when we still see tiresome, endless union-administration bickering in Hartford, and Connecticut still has the country's biggest school achievement gaps between the haves and have-nots, New Haven deserves a standing ovation.

    "It's going to do something that is outlawed in most states — make student performance a factor in teacher evaluation. That's for tenured teachers," New Haven Mayor John DeStefano told me. "It's also tied to more support for teachers. It allows us to change work rules in certain schools."

    "We are not doing this in an antagonistic fashion," said DeStefano, an eight-term mayor who worked closely with his long-time superintendent of schools, Reginald Mayo, to make this happen. "This is well worth the investment."

    It doesn't hurt that there's a generous golden nugget tucked inside the contract, which was approved by a 842-39 vote two weeks ago.

    The deal will bring teachers 3 percent annual raises in each of the next four years in addition to the automatic increases that come with each year of seniority.

    Significantly, local, state and national union leaders were part of the negotiating, an unusual step. The city also brought in a highly regarded negotiator from Chicago.

    "People attempted to solve problems, not win arguments," said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten at a public forum in New Haven earlier this week, "... as opposed to screaming about the contract issue on the front pages of the New Haven Register or any other paper."

    Through the spring and summer, teachers, school administrators and labor lawyers met to hammer out a deal.

    "There were certainly times when things got edgy. But we were committed. We recognized from the beginning that this requires compromise. The truth had to be somewhere in between," New Haven Federation of Teachers President David Cicarella told me.

    "It's not fair to base a teacher's reputation and career on things that are outside of their control," Cicarella said. But "we are going to look at student achievement in relation to a teacher's evaluation. Unions just don't do that.

    "We are willing to be accountable. We are willing to look at the performance of teachers. We want it to be fair."

    Sure, it's a feel-good moment and the beginning of what Connecticut Federation of Teachers President Sharon Palmer told me will be a very difficult journey. But it's also something very different for urban education: unions and management finding common ground.

    Outdated contracts with work rules designed for a factory floor don't have to get in the way anymore. The many factors that affect learning — from home life to the classroom teacher — will be considered. Teachers who need help and mentoring will get it.

    "The perception is that we are the people who just want the status quo," Palmer told me.

    In New Haven, that may not be the case anymore.

    • Rick Green's column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. Read his blog at courant.com/rick.

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    FREE CELLULAR PHONE SERVICE ... YUP ... THAT'S RIGHT FREE!!!


    SafeLink Wireless is a government supported program
    that provides a free cell phone and airtime each
    month for income-eligible customers.







    Lifeline Service in Connecticut

    https://www.safelinkwireless.com/EnrollmentPublic/home.aspx
    Congratulations, SafeLink Wireless is offering Lifeline Service in your area! Below is a summary of the benefits you can receive, how to qualify for service, and how to apply today.

    Get Started Now

    If you’re ready to fill out your application online click the button below to get started now! If you still have questions about SafeLink Wireless or the Lifeline Service please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page here.

    Benefits in Connecticut open↓ close↑

    Through SafeLink Wireless’ Lifeline Service you can receive:
    • A FREE SafeLink Wireless phone
    • A FREE cellular plan that gives you 64 Minutes every month

    Qualifying in Connecticut open↓ close↑

    You qualify for Lifeline Service in your area if...
    1. You already participate in one of the following assistance programs:
      • Care for Kids
      • Connecticut Energy Assistance Program
      • CONNPACE
      • Contingency Heating Assistance Program
      • Federal Public Housing Assistance / Section 8
      • Food Stamps
      • Medicaid/Title 19 (including Husky and Healthy Start)
      • Personal Care Assistance
      • Refugee Program
      • Rental Assistance
      • State Administered General Assistance
      • State Supplement to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled
      • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
      • Temporary Family Assistance
    2. No one in your household currently receives Lifeline Assistance through another phone carrier. If someone in your household is receiving Lifeline Assistance you must cancel the service before applying for Lifeline Service through SafeLink Wireless.
    3. You have a valid United States Postal Address. In order for us to ship you your FREE phone you must live at a residence that can receive mail from the US Post Office. Sorry, but P.O. Boxes cannot be accepted.

    Applying in Connecticut open↓ close↑

    Applying for SafeLink Wireless Service in your area is quick and easy, and by using this site you can be approved in less than ten minutes. To apply, just follow these steps:
    1. Fill out the application on this website.
    2. Download the completed application for your records.
    3. Write down the Enrollment ID that we provide when you fill out your application! With your ID you will be able to check on the status of your application here, or by calling us at 1-800-977-3768.

    FINALLY....THE $64,000 QUESTION WAS ASKED...


    FINALLY....THE $64,000 QUESTION WAS ASKED...    


     YESTERDAY ON "ABC-TV" (BETTER KNOWN AS THE ALL BARRACK CHANNEL)
     DURING THE "NETWORK SPECIAL ON HEALTH CARE"....  OBAMA WAS ASKED:


     


     
     "MR. PRESIDENT WILL YOU AND YOUR FAMILY GIVE UP YOUR CURRENT HEALTH CARE PROGRAM AND JOIN THE NEW 'UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE PROGRAM' THAT THE REST OF US WILL BE ON ???
    "..... (BET YOU ALREADY KNOW THE ANSWER)... 

    THERE WAS A STONEY SILENCE AS OBAMA IGNORED THE QUESTION AND CHOSE NOT TO ANSWER IT!!!...


     IN ADDITION, A NUMBER OF SENATORS WERE ASKED THE SAME QUESTION AND THERE RESPONSE WAS..."WE WILL THINK ABOUT IT."


     AND THEY DID. IT WAS ANNOUNCED TODAY ON THE NEWS THAT THE "KENNEDY HEALTH CARE BILL" WAS WRITTEN INTO THE NEW HEALTH CARE REFORM INITIATIVE ENSURING THAT CONGRESS WILL BE 100% EXEMPT!


     SO, THIS GREAT NEW HEALTH CARE PLAN THAT IS GOOD FOR YOU AND I... IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR OBAMA, HIS FAMILY OR CONGRESS...?? 

     WE (THE AMERICAN PUBLIC) NEED TO STOP THIS PROPOSED DEBACLE ASAP !!!!... THIS IS TOTALLY WRONG !!!!!
     

     PERSONALLY, I CAN ONLY ACCEPT A UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE OVERHAUL THAT EXTENDS TO EVERYONE... NOT JUST US LOWLY CITIZENS... WHILE THE WASHINGTON "ELITE" KEEP RIGHT ON WITH THEIR GOLD-PLATED HEALTH CARE COVERAGES.

    If you don't pass this link around, may you enjoy his Plan! 

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    THE HUMAN MEAT GRIINDER ... AND FOR WHAT PURPOSE?


    Having spent 4 years in the U.S.A.F. 1964 - 1968 during a prior human meat grinder ... let their neighbors address the regional problem.  This conflict is not about colonialism, resource control, strategic anything ... leave and let the diplomatic corp handle the situation.


    First U.S. Official Resigns Over Afghan War

    Senior diplomat in Afghanistan said he believes the war is simply fueling the insurgency

    WASHINGTON -- A former Marine who fought in Iraq, joined the State Department after leaving the military and was a diplomat in a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan has become the first U.S. official to resign in protest of the Afghan war, the Washington Post reported early Tuesday.
    Matthew Hoh, who describes himself as "not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love," said he believes the war is simply fueling the insurgency.
    "I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," Hoh wrote in his resignation letter, dated Sept. 10 but published early Tuesday. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."
    The move sent ripples all the way to the White House, the paper said, where officials immediately appealed for him to stay out of fear he could become a leading critic.
    U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff, but Hoh declined. He then flew home and met with Richard Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
     Holbrooke told the Post he disagreed that the war "wasn't worth the fight," but did agree with much of Hoh's analysis.
    "We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer," Holbrooke said in an interview with the newspaper. "We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him."
    The revelation comes as President Obama pledged on Monday not to "rush the solemn decision" to send more troops to battle in Afghanistan as he weighs military options on what to do next in the troubled war.
    The administration is debating whether to send tens of thousands more troops to the country, while the Afghan government is moving to hold a Nov. 7 runoff election between President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah. The runoff comes after complaints by international monitors of fraudulent voting in the first election.
    ABC News, citing unnamed sources, reported Monday evening that Obama will likely announce his decision for Afghanistan between that nation's runoff presidential election on Nov. 7, and the president's departure for Tokyo, Japan, on Nov. 11.
    "I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary," Obama told service men and women at Naval Air Station Jacksonville on Monday. He promised a "clear mission" with defined goals and the equipment needed to get the job done.
    Obama, who is in the process of weighing options put forward by the Pentagon that include various levels of increased troops, spoke of the latest example of the dangers and sacrifices there -- helicopter crashes that killed 14 Americans in the deadliest day for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan in more than four years.
    The Associated Press contributed to this report.