Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Constitution: It had a good run


So many memories.

All the focus is on choosing his successor, but who will take a moment to pay homage to the White House's current occupant, the only president we've got?

President Bush's term has taken us places we never thought we'd go. Who knew eight years ago we'd have national discussions about torturing people?

Everyone is familiar with the Bush team's greatest hits, where torture, amazingly, doesn't even come out on top. How can you do worse than violating one of the universally understood lines between civilization and barbarism?

Well, starting unnecessary wars is one way. With the end of the occupation maybe, finally in sight, Iraq apologists are scrambling to find something to hold onto there, something that was worth the thousands of deaths and the leveling of a nation.

They're coming up short. We were lied into a war we didn't have to fight, and we'll be paying for it for decades.

But there are stories from the Bush years that go beyond the ones we'll all remember. One of my favorites, which might encapsulate the disaster and how we got there better than anything else, involves a scandal that, in a sane world, would have brought down the presidency. In the world we live in, it hardly made a ripple.

This one was about turning the Justice Department into an arm of the Republican National Committee. U.S. attorneys were fired for insufficient partisanship, career positions were illegally filled on the basis of politics, and more. All impeachable offenses, but come on — as scandals go, it can't compete with waging war based on the president's gut.

This particular story involved a former White House political director named Sara Taylor, who testified before Congress last year on the firing of U.S. attorneys. She didn't want to talk about it, and explained herself like this: "I took an oath. And I take that oath to the president very seriously."

That's it.

That says it all. Every catastrophe of the past eight years wrapped up in one short sentence.

Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy, to his credit, called her on it. "I was really struck by one of your answers," he said to her. "You said, 'I took an oath to the president, and I take that oath very seriously.' Did you mean, perhaps, you took an oath to the Constitution?"

Taylor: "I — yes, you're correct. [What I] said is that I took an oath; I took that oath seriously. And I believe that taking that oath means that I need to respect, and do respect, my service to the president."

Leahy: "No. The oath says that you take an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. That is your paramount duty. I know the president refers to the government as being his government. It's not. It's the government of the people of America. Your oath is not to uphold the president. Nor is mine to uphold the Senate. My oath, like your oath, is to uphold the Constitution."

That's not, of course, how the Bush people saw it. Yes, this is supposed to be a nation of laws. It's actually, to get technical about it, one of the basic tenets of Western civilization — the Magna Carta and all that. But who cares?

The Constitution, court precedent, laws passed by Congress and signed by earlier presidents — even those signed by Bush himself, what with his creative use of "signing statements" to undercut his own signature — meant nothing, and continue to mean nothing.

Political operatives throw around accusations of anti-Americanism with impunity, but if anything is anti-American, it's this. The country has made it more than 200 years with the rule of law, but the Bush administration threw it in the trash.

What's somehow worse is that they not only went from the rule of law to the rule of man, they resorted to the rule of this man. If you're going to toss aside the basic principles of the greatest, freest country on the face of the earth, why would you do it for George W. Bush? This is the best they could come up with?

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or by e-mail at

Shays is happy to change the subject


November's election, we're told, is all about the economy. Past years' concerns about war and terrorism are supposedly out the window — voters will make up their minds based on $4 gas and the mortgage crisis.

That should be bad news for incumbents. Tough economic times can be all the reason voters need to make a change.

But one local politician should consider himself lucky.

President Bush isn't running again, and neither of our U.S. senators is up for re-election. So that leaves 4th District Rep. Christopher Shays as the only local incumbent facing the wrath of voters over rising prices and stagnant wages.

But is this bad news for him, electorally speaking? He can argue, as he has, that it's not his party in charge of Congress these days. And he's made enough noise over the years about alternative energy and gas-mileage standards that he can plausibly claim to be part of the solution.

But whether that's true is questionable, at best. He's taken to pushing for loosening restrictions on offshore oil drilling, which happens to directly contradict the position he once held. He reasons that now that the demand side of the energy equation is taken care of — with improved vehicle mileage standards passed by Congress this year — it's time to focus on the supply side.

Never mind that no one thinks opening up offshore drilling will have any impact on gas prices. Just being seen as "doing something" is supposed to be enough.

So despite his green reputation, Shays is giving in to the electorate's worst impulses — more drilling is a damaging prospect that won't actually solve anything.

Shays has gone so far as to take part in Republican stunts like the ongoing dimly lit protest of Congress' August recess. The GOP said no one should go anywhere until the nation's energy problems are dealt with — as though everything would be OK if only Congress was in session.

It's just an election-year sideshow, but even by those standards, it's insane. Shouldn't Republicans be happy the Democrats are taking time off?

But for Shays, rather than facing a burden other incumbents feel, the overwhelming focus on the economy is convenient. It's comforting. It takes the focus off the fact that he has been wrong — disastrously — on every big foreign policy issue of the past seven years.

If everyone's talking about gas prices, no one will be asking why Shays was so gung-ho about attacking a country that posed no threat to us. No one will ask him what five-plus years of his delusional statements about Iraq have brought us.

Of course, Iraq is a moot issue. Violence there is down; U.S. deaths are down. We won! Or maybe not. Either way, we have a shiny new global hotspot in Georgia; Iraq is yesterday's news.

But it's people like Shays we have to thank for the Iraq disaster. American deaths have fallen, and yet still no one can tell us why any of our troops had to die there. Did we achieve our goal? Were the tens of thousands of dead Iraqis worth whatever we've been doing there? To whom? Going on six years in, and still no coherence, let alone real answers.

But, again, if the debate this fall is about mortgages, no one will revisit Shays' remarks about prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. A year ago, in a speech at Sacred Heart University, he said that scandal was about "a military unit run amok" and that it would have been better for everyone if the story had never been made public. The Army general who led the Abu Ghraib investigation, though, this summer said the Bush administration committed war crimes. Maybe Shays thinks we're better off not hearing about that.

Surely he would rather talk about home heating oil. And why wouldn't he? Otherwise, people could ask him about what he said in April 2003, soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein. "We have to succeed," he said. "Failure is not an option."

How's that working out for us?

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or by e-mail at

Monday, August 18, 2008

Keeping the world safe from bloggers


So who’s a bigger threat, the terrorist or the blogger? They’re both convenient stand-ins for the downfall of society.

But as we consider the dangers, maybe we can all agree on one thing — no more hyping the existence of bad guys as if there are people out there disputing the matter.

“There are terrorists out there who really do want to destroy our civilization and murder millions of Americans,” said U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman this past week. Against whom he was arguing remains uncertain.

It’s become something of a cudgel against people who disagree about how we deal with these problems. Someone — say, oh, I don’t know, Lieberman — will pull out the old favorite: “Don’t you know we’re at war?” It’s not meant to encourage debate; it’s meant to shut people up.

It’s not a question of whether there are bad people out there. But it is about capabilities. If some two-bit nobody down the street says he wants to wreak havoc on the planet, by all means, do what it takes to stop him. But don’t pretend his words are the same as his abilities.

And don’t pretend that those who want the country not to stoop to tactics beneath us — torture, detention without trial — don’t care about security.

We get it. They’re out there. No one’s arguing that point.

Lieberman made the above statement at a much-criticized appearance with the group Christians United for Israel, whose leader, Pastor John Hagee, has a history of indecorous statements about any number of groups. The senator’s speech made big news, but it’s hard to see why; he didn’t say anything he hasn’t repeated elsewhere the past few years.

But he did make one interesting comment, talking about those who criticized his Hagee trip. “Dear friends,” he said, “I can only imagine what the bloggers of today would have had to say about Moses and Miriam.”

Those darn bloggers.

Estimates show there are between 50 million and 100 million blogs in this country, so it’s doubtful the senator is talking about everyone who has one. Even accounting for people who write more than one, you’re still looking at millions in the U.S. who could reasonably be called “bloggers.”

Generalizing about blogs or bloggers makes no sense. Someone criticizing them might as well say, “I just don’t like writers.” People have blogs written from all levels of expertise, about any topic imaginable, and they reveal as much or as little about themselves as they want.

But it’s safe to say Lieberman was not talking about people who record for posterity their dinner menu. He — and he’s not the only one — is mad at a certain substrain of online writer who, in Lieberman’s view, degrade our discourse with uninformed political analysis and the occasional swearword.

What really bothers him, though, is people calling him on statements that might’ve gotten a pass 10 years ago.

Some criticisms of bloggers are true; for instance, most political bloggers do little original reporting. But that’s not why people read them. At their best, blogs pull in bits and strands from news around the country to help fill in the gaps.

In the past, the only sources of national news were television or the local newspaper, and most of that came from a wire service. Now, with access to different reporters’ takes from around the country, it’s a lot easier to pull together stories that would have disappeared in years past.

And it’s harder for politicians, because everything they say is in the public record. The benefit there isn’t about reporting everyday gaffes; it’s about establishing patterns.

That’s why no one who’s followed Lieberman over the past decade was surprised about his embrace of someone like Hagee. He hasn’t taken a sharp turn to the right since his 2006 Senate campaign, as some recent detractors have argued; he’s been out there for years.

And if it takes the dreaded bloggers to get that kind of message out to people, so much the better.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or by e-mail at

Shays can't escape Iraq


For left-leaning 4th District voters, what’s so bad about Rep. Christopher Shays? He’ll again face a close race this fall, but is he worth tossing aside?

He’s pretty good on global warming. He supports alternative energy. He says he wants universal health care. What’s so bad about all that?

His biggest selling point may be that he no longer faces what could be called the “Lincoln Chaffee factor.” Chaffee, the moderate Republican who represented deep-blue Rhode Island in the Senate until 2006, faced anguished voters that year who, he said, wanted to support him but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for continued Republican leadership. Beloved or not, Chaffee was tossed aside.

Shays faced a similar problem. He’s never been much good in the arch-villain role, but he was an obstacle standing in the way of getting the GOP goon squad of Tom DeLay, et al., out of power.
But he squeaked through the past two races, and now the impetus driving the “Get Shays” movement has been lost — the Democrats already won.

With zero danger of a GOP resurgence that would once again shift congressional leadership, voters can again take a close look at the contenders. And Shays, it’s true, looks good on a whole list of issues. Also, his contention that Republican moderates are a group worth having around isn’t without merit.

But then there’s the issue he’d love to go away, but won’t. He’s hoping, he says, the war in Iraq won’t be as big an issue as the past two races.

His hopes are misplaced.

As long as he keeps with the fantasy that Iraq is going, in his words, “incredibly well,” he will continue to be haunted by the war’s failures.

In a recent visit with this newspaper’s editorial board, Shays lauded, for what may have been the millionth time, the progress of the Iraqi military, and praised that country’s political advancements. All par for the course, if still misguided.

But he said something else interesting. When asked how far away the day is when a foreigner — say, an American — could take an unguarded stroll down a Baghdad street and not fear for his life, he said it was close, if not here already.

But he added that he would be worried about something bad happening on such an imaginary stroll, because, if someone important got hurt or killed, people would be liable to declare the whole thing a mistake.

By “the whole thing,” I think he meant the war — the decision to invade in the first place. And I hate to tell him this, but that ship, as the saying goes, has sailed.

Americans have made their decision about the war, and they don’t like it. Nothing that has happened in Iraq in years has affected public attitudes.

People, by large margins, want out. They don’t want to wait for some magical day when peace will reign and democracy will bloom. They want the war to end, and soon. (See for the details.)

Shays, despite his hopes, will again have to battle the fact that he’s in favor of staying until who-knows-when. Even the Iraqi government now wants us out.

It won’t matter how good his energy plan looks if he keeps supporting a policy that’s getting people killed for no discernable reason. If the “Get Shays” forces need a reason to mobilize, this is it.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or by e-mail at

Dodd keeps focus on what matters


Let’s get this out of the way first: Sen. Christopher J. Dodd should have known better about his sweetheart mortgage deals. People are up in arms about it, and for good reason. It’s not just impropriety; it’s the appearance of impropriety that causes problems.

So, to paraphrase Chris “Mad Dog” Russo: Bad job, senator. Bad job.

Having said that, I don’t much care. I can’t imagine Dodd would take a risk on sacrificing his career over a break on his mortgage. It’s probably hopelessly partisan, but I don’t think it’s an issue worth dwelling on.

What does matter, and is worth dwelling on, is that Dodd gave a speech last week on the floor of the Senate that summed up better than anything else all the frustration, anger and outrage of living in George Bush’s America. From Iraq to torture to wiretapping and everything in between, Dodd brought together in one place what people have been feeling who can’t believe what has happened to their country.

The issue in question concerned a bill that modernizes the nation’s surveillance laws. It makes some changes that no one contests. What it also does is throw out lawsuits of people who say phone companies helped the government illegally spy on them.

Now, the way this normally works is a judge rules on whether the suit can proceed, and then a court decides for one party or the other. This legislation, though, would pre-empt that process. Instead, it would say that no matter what these companies did, they cannot be held responsible. Even if they knowingly broke the law, it doesn’t matter.

Of course, the Constitution says something about preventing illegal searches, and by all accounts, what the phone companies did was illegal. The government told them to break the law, they did and now Congress wants to say it’s OK.

Well, it’s not OK. But it’s also the way things are done here these days.

We are supposed to be, if nothing else, a nation of laws. We certainly preach about the rule of law to the rest of the world often enough. But what this bill is saying is that the law doesn’t matter; what we say matters — “we” being the government.

But if the rule of law means anything, it has to matter every time. It has to apply to everyone, people and corporations, equally. If people or companies can break the law and get away with it because the government says so, then we don’t live in the country we think we do.

Dodd took it a step further. “Retroactive immunity is on the table today; but also at issue is the entire ideology that justifies it, the same ideology that defends torture and executive lawlessness. Immunity is a disgrace in itself, but it is far worse in what it represents.”

It’s how we ended up in a war with no coherent rationale; with administration lawyers explaining away torture and secret prisons.

Dodd continued, listing the administration’s many sins: “We are deceiving ourselves when we talk about the U.S. attorneys issue, the habeas issue, the torture issue, the rendition issue, or the secrecy issue, as if each were an isolated case. As if each one were an accident. …

“There is only one issue here. Only one: the law issue.”

Today, we have a president and an executive branch who do not feel bound by the rule of law. Anyone who thinks a presidential election is going to be enough to wash that away will be disappointed.

Dodd will never be president, but we’re lucky to have him in the Senate. Someone has to say these things. Someone has to make clear to the world, and to history, that we know how far our country has sunk.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or by e-mail at

Time to get cities back on national agenda


The presidential primaries have dragged on, but it’s hard to figure how all this is a bad thing. It’s been years since anyone cared who won such votes in places like Oregon or South Dakota. The more involved, the better.

And anything is better than leaving party nominations up to a pair of unrepresentative states that nonetheless have a huge say in who gets the final nod. New Hampshire and Iowa have few people, little diversity and no cities. They have no business setting the primary agenda.

That part of the quadrennial schedule is long past, but it’s worth thinking about the next time. Many observers consider it a good thing to have a relatively small, low-population bellwether get things going — it gives voters a chance to get to know the candidates in somewhat intimate settings for months before the vote.

Those are valid points; there should be a starting spot where voters can find out all they can about their choices. But it shouldn’t be Iowa or New Hampshire.

It should be Connecticut.

It makes too much sense to ever happen, but this state is the best suited in the nation for the role.
  • It’s small. The third-smallest, in fact, meaning it’s easy to get across in half a day or less. Candidates could hit every corner twice over and give all 3 million or so of us a chance to hear them out.
  • It’s (somewhat) representative. State demographics rank much closer to national averages than either Iowa or New Hampshire. Using 2006 numbers, look at the states’ white, black and Hispanic populations in comparison:

    %w 80.1 84.6 94.6 95.8
    %b 12.8 10.2 2.5 1.1
    %H 14.8 11.2 3.8 2.3

    Connecticut isn’t the most diverse place on the planet, but we’ve got those two beat.
  • A lot of people live here. Our population isn’t huge by national standards, but we’re No. 4 in density. Since most people in this country live in cities or suburbs, Connecticut is representative of most people’s situations.
  • We also have small towns. Litchfield County and, especially, the eastern half of the state are still mostly rural, and there are working farms dotting the countryside. Like the rest of the country, farming isn’t what it once was, but we still have them.
  • Income disparity — the nation has it; we’ve got it more. Rich people are legion in towns closest to New York, but the cities are bastions of poverty. Closing this gap should be among presidential candidates’ top priorities.
  • Finally, we have cities. Not booming metropolises, certainly, but New Haven, Hartford, Stamford and, of course, Bridgeport are big enough, and with enough problems, to finally get urban issues part of the national discussion. Instead of spending months on ethanol, which everyone knows is a sham, candidates could compare policies on smart growth, congestion, mass transit, urban poverty, etc. These are issues that affect vastly more Americans than the typical farmers’ problems that dominate Iowa.
    As it is now, cities are basically absent from the national political debate. Even though most Americans live in or close to one, the problems of urban life don’t make the agenda. Maybe changing the nominating process could fix that.

There’s no chance our state will topple the traditional starter states, and, it’s true, Rhode Island or Delaware would work about as well. But something ought to change. Though we didn’t see it this year, with Iowa and New Hampshire producing different results for both parties, too often those states set the table for everyone else.

Imagine candidates swinging through the Naugatuck Valley towns, stumping in Bridgeport, stopping off at Jones Family Farms. The site of closed factories in the background would dominate the nightly news for months.

It beats an Iowa cornfield.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or by e-mail at

Society held hostage by cars, roads


First, we need to redesign and rebuild every town in the U.S. The rest should be no problem.

That’s about the state of our plans for dealing with global warming in this country. If this is as serious a problem as we’ve been told, and all signs indicate that it is, we’re going to have to do a lot better on solutions.

The crux of the problem is that this country, outside a few metropolitan centers, is built around the automobile. There has never been a shortage of wide open spaces for branching out, and we’ve taken full advantage. Now, we’re stuck.

For a variety of reasons, basing our lives around cars doesn’t look to be viable in the long term. Like most everything else we need, cars depend on oil — of the cheap and unlimited variety.

Not only are we liable to run out of it (which is a separate issue), but we’re realizing the long-term problems that come from burning it.

Global-warming deniers are still out there, but for the most part not taken seriously. It’s pretty commonly understood by now that continuing to rely on gasoline-powered personal vehicles to get everywhere is impractical. Carbon emissions over the decades have contributed to climate change, with rising ocean levels and weather disasters in the forecast.

The trouble is that (almost) our entire built environment is based around that car-only model.
If you live in the suburbs, think about how many places you can practically go without a car. Then think about where the closest mass transit system stops. And think about whether you have any idea where it goes or on what schedule it runs.

Changing this situation seems to top the list of most global-warming policy proposals. Adding density, encouraging mixed uses (housing, retail, entertainment all together), and rewarding brownfield development (on the site of contaminated former factories) are touted as solutions for cutting down on the necessity of driving.

They’re all good ideas. And it’s true, many people are finding city life more attractive these days, with downtown revivals across the country, from Portland, Me., to Portland, Ore.

The problem is the pace. With the amount of time and energy it takes to make even one small move — getting approval to build apartments in a former bank, for instance — the idea that we can make enough necessary changes fast enough to make a difference seems dubious, at best.
We’re looking at:

  • convincing enough people that a car-free lifestyle is right for them;
  • changing regulations, zoning and otherwise, in towns and cities across the country allowing for dense, rather than sprawling, developments;
  • allowing for thousands of miles of mass transit lines of one form or another to be built between places currently served only by roads; and
  • doing all this before we either run out of gas or pass the global-warming tipping point, whenever that is.
The good news is that the issue is firmly on the agenda; it’s no longer considered strictly an “environmental” issue to be concerned about our consumption patterns. And the renewed interest in downtown living is real, albeit slow-going — just look how long it’s taking for a downtown Bridgeport constituency to come together.

Also, the rising price of gas is having an impact. Across the country, ridership on mass transit is up significantly, and the prospect of $50 fill-ups for the foreseeable future means that will continue. Whether that will lead to the billions of dollars in upfront costs that new transit systems require is another story, but it’s progress that can’t be ignored.

But consider the obstacles, besides those listed above. On the Post Road through Milford and Orange, it’s not even practical to walk between neighboring shopping plazas. Dense housing developments face months or years of regulatory hurdles and neighborhood protests, while single-family standalones sail through unquestioned. The mere mention of more money for bicycle paths is enough to get free-marketers in a snit.

It’s not hopeless, but it’s past time to pick up the pace. In Connecticut, with 169 individual fiefdoms each vying for their own slice of the pie, that could be a stretch.

Or we could be like Lex Luthor and start buying up future oceanfront property in Nevada.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or by e-mail at

Still waiting for Iraq answers


Maybe a year from now, when President McCain confers with newly installed Defense Secretary Joseph I. Lieberman, we’ll finally get a sense of what we’re doing in Iraq. That will be about the six-year anniversary of “Mission Accomplished,” so maybe that would be a good time to hear some answers.

The prognosis will probably sound something like this — conditions are improving, but not to the point that we can expect to leave anytime soon. That will line up with pretty much every official statement about the war since 2003.

We’ve reached the point today when the president can admit that he willfully lied to the public on multiple occasions about the war’s progress and no one bats an eye.

Speaking of positive statements he made during the summer of 2006, President Bush said this: “Look, you can’t have the commander in chief say to a bunch of kids who are sacrificing either, ‘It’s not worth it,’ or, ‘You’re losing.’ I mean, what does that do for morale?”

Much better for morale to flat-out lie. Didn’t we used to impeach presidents on this sort of thing?

Bush is an afterthought at this point, and his meanderings on the topic of the day don’t amount to much. (He also, in the same interview, admitted he was OK with top White House staff getting together to approve torture techniques. Whatever.)

So none of this would matter much if we didn’t have a candidate running for president who promised four more years of Bush foreign policy. But the McCain-Lieberman team is all in on Iraq, and their election would guarantee we wouldn’t be changing anything as long as they stayed in office.

Lieberman’s personal descent into self-parody, of course, continues as usual. Asked if he thought Senate colleague Barack Obama was a Marxist, he answered, “Well, you know, I must say that’s a good question,” before deeming Obama’s positions “far to the left of me and I think mainstream America.”

Just read that line again. Lieberman is equating his own positions with that of “mainstream America”? The same mainstream America that turned against this war years ago and wants nothing more than to just get out? The same mainstream that thinks maybe bombing Iran while we’re fighting two other wars might not be the smartest move at the moment?

Joe, too, knows his time is running short unless he can drag McCain over the finish line. When Senate Democrats, as seems likely, improve on their slim majority after November’s elections, party leadership will no longer be dependent on Mr. Sanctimony to stay in their caucus. Unless he gets that McCain cabinet post he’s surely counting on, no more “Meet the Press” for him.

When Lieberman delivers the keynote address at the Republican National Convention this year, proving to independent voters how eager McCain is to reach across the aisle to someone who thinks exactly like him on most issues, he’s sure to tell us we’re on our way to victory in Iraq. Since we’re so far past the point of even knowing what “victory” means, it will be interesting to see if anyone calls him on it.

It may not matter much. Americans like a winner, after all. We’re not into “retreat and defeat” or “the blame game,” but we do enjoy a good rhyme scheme, apparently.

So what’s to be done? We aren’t in a dramatically different position on Iraq now than at any time over the past five years. The violence ebbs and spikes, U.S. troop deaths continue unabated, up to 10 percent of the Iraqi population has been killed or displaced from their homes by the fighting — but our presidential debates focus on flag lapel pins.

McCain has made his promise. “There’s going to be other wars,” he says. We won’t be able to say he didn’t warn us.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or by e-mail at

Don't treat your voters like children


What was most impressive about Barack Obama’s speech last week wasn’t the subject matter or the delivery. What leaves the biggest impression is the fact that, by all accounts, he wrote it himself.

It’s hard to internalize the idea of a president who talks to people like grownups. We’ve had seven years of one disaster after another, all delivered by someone who sounds like he’s talking to a bunch of 6-year-olds. It might be nice to get past that.

For instance, we’ve heard a lot of talk about terrorists — or “evildoers” — who kill people because they “hate our freedom.” That’s one way to put it. Even accepting that formulation, the question of why we had to invade a country that had nothing to do with attacking us remains unanswered.

But President Bush and his tortured — so to speak — explanations have been the rule all these years. People once thought to be at least mildly intelligent (if usually wrong) have reduced themselves to bizarre non sequiturs when it comes to national security policy.

Our own Sen. Joe Lieberman, apparently confused by his party affiliation, recently decided laws against torture don’t matter anymore. “We are at war,” he said. That solves that, apparently.

He was one of 45 senators who voted in opposition to a bill that would have prohibited waterboarding. “It is not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies. The person is in no real danger,” he said. OK, then.

Lieberman has cast his lot with the Republicans, allowing his full-on descent into demagoguery to continue unabated. Even he has to know he doesn’t make sense anymore, but next to his friend John McCain, he’s the voice of reason.

It’s McCain who has had trouble lately differentiating Sunnis from Shiites. When it comes to Iraq, those groups tend to disagree with each other, but to McCain, they’re all one looming menace out to kill freedom-lovers everywhere.

“Al-Qaida is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran,” he said, and on more than one occasion. It took a prompting from his pal Joe to set him straight.

“I’m sorry; the Iranians are training the extremists, not al-Qaida,” he said later. Same difference. All bad guys.

Obama, whatever else you say about him and his speech, didn’t go that path. Speaking about his pastor’s history of controversial remarks and racial tensions in general, he didn’t insult anyone’s intelligence. He didn’t call anyone evil or tell us his political opponents are endangering America. It’s a nice change.

The Bush-Lieberman-McCain team has been at it so long they hardly remember anything different. What was refreshing about Obama last week was how little he sounded like his fellow Democrats, who spend so much time being scared of looking weak that they end up looking weak because of it.

It’s what led Hillary Clinton, not to mention John Kerry and John Edwards, to support this five-year-old catastrophe of a war back when their opposition might have made a difference. But no, they were worried about future Republican attack ads, and petrified the war would go well and they’d look foolish.

In late 2002, real opposition from Clinton, who once lived in the White House, or Kerry, an early favorite for his party’s presidential nomination, could have meant something. But they played along, accepting all the logical flaws that went into the war’s rationale.

Saddam has weapons, he supports terrorists, he’s an evil dictator, he’s a threat to this country — some of the arguments were true, most were not and none of them added up to a legitimate reason to start a war. But the opposition at the highest levels was missing.

Maybe a leading politician who didn’t treat voters like children would’ve been helpful. Obama wasn’t in Congress then, so maybe he doesn’t get credit for opposing this disaster. But say this for him — at least he wasn’t for it.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or by e-mail at

Warning signs blinking brightly downtown


Surely no one thinks this is an isolated incident.

There was a collective gulp last week among believers in the future of downtown Bridgeport on the news that one of the area’s signature projects might be in trouble.

Developer Phillip Kuchma, whose Bijou Square has been moving along nicely for months, is looking for help from the City Council to complete his $24 million, 84-unit structure on Fairfield Avenue. The project’s main lender has apparently grown skittish, and wants tax help from the city before any more money is committed.

It’s possible, of course, that this is a short-term problem that can be solved with a little nudge from the city. But when it comes to downtown redevelopment, everyone has learned to be wary.

There are many promising projects in the planning stages — from the Magic Johnson site to Steel Point and the condominiums near Seaside Park — but those exist only on drawing boards. The Kuchma site was making real headway, with tangible progress. A hiccup there catches everyone’s attention.

After pledging all along to build the complex without state or city assistance, Kuchma now says lenders won’t provide the necessary money to complete the development unless sale prices are mitigated by a tax break.

He’s probably right. Why wouldn’t lenders be thinking twice about this sort of thing?

The underlying problem is that so much of the city’s growth is planned around the housing market, which is going through its worst stretch in years. Foreclosures are everywhere, and the near future promises a glut of available units. What looked like promising developments a year or two ago suddenly look dicey, at best.

It’s unfortunate that the city, cash-strapped itself, will likely have to step in and rescue this project, but it can hardly be called surprising. There’s a reason why there has been no new downtown construction in decades. For all the happy talk of a better Bridgeport around the corner, there is so much up in the air that even boosters are uneasy.

A variety of plans call for hundreds of new condominiums and rentals throughout downtown in coming years. But the problem, as anyone who’s seen the news in the past six months knows, is no one is buying anything. To think that people will buck that trend to live in a nearly vacant downtown with almost no services is crazy. No wonder lenders are demanding tax help.

Meanwhile, the city is forgiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes to developers while it continues to track down every dime in unpaid car fees. It’s a pretty simple concept — everyone should have to pay taxes, and everyone should face the same penalties if they don’t. But it all depends on who you know.

It wasn’t that long ago the city forgave more than $3 million in back taxes on the decrepit building at 333 State St., which looks worse, if that’s possible, today than it did five years ago. (On my first trip into the city, I took one look at that building and thought, “Do I really want to work down here?”)

Probably the biggest blight on downtown — which is saying something — the building should have been torn down years ago. Especially with the housing crisis and all the new units in the offing, the structure just needs to go. Let Housatonic Community College get some room to breathe and take that thing down.

As for Bijou Square, the City Council has little choice but to come through with the money. What is it going to do, let it sit there unfinished? Bridgeport already has enough symbols of decay and unfulfilled promise; it doesn’t need another one.

The city can hope this is just an economic rough patch that must be endured, and that the housing market will soon regain some of its footing. But none of the indicators point in that direction. Without a shocking turnaround, this will likely not be last story of a promising local development in trouble.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or by e-mail at

Shays stays the course on Iraq

Rep. Christopher Shays just can’t understand it. Why can’t he convince everyone about Iraq?
The congressman is either the truest of true believers or a world-class actor. In his most recent visit with this newspaper’s editorial board, he struggled to understand why his listeners wouldn’t grant him the benefit of the doubt when he talked about improving conditions in Iraq.
He’s the expert, having been there 19 times (at last count). But he hurt his credibility when he threw out the old line about the Iraqi military, and how well their training was going. As though no one had heard that one in the past five years.
The fundamental confusion is this: Shays says he supports a time line to get American troops out of Iraq, but he is supporting John McCain for president, and McCain is talking about a multigenerational U.S. commitment there. Shays says these points are not contradictory.
The real question, then, is this: If Chris Shays alone made Iraq policy, what would he do? If he instituted his time lines, how many U.S. troops would be in Iraq after they’d expired? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Because McCain is talking 50 years, minimum. Iraq’s defense minister recently said U.S. help will be required there for another 10 years, at least. And we’re building some serious long-term bases over there.
McCain’s point is that Americans will accept such a commitment as long as American troops aren’t dying. Look at Korea and Germany, he says. And that’s fine, if he believes that, but we’ve been hearing something different about Iraq for a few years now.
Here’s George W. Bush on April 13, 2004: “In terms of how long we’ll be there: as long as necessary, and not one day more.” That’s been the official line from the start.
Does Shays agree with this? Does McCain? Will it be “necessary” to stay 50 years?
I don’t think it’s bizarre that people can’t understand Shays’ position. He says it hasn’t changed. Maybe it hasn’t, but it doesn’t matter because no one knows what it was to begin with.
Later in the meeting, Shays repeated his contention that the media’s treatment of the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison — and not the abuse itself — led directly to the deaths of American troops. It became a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists, he said, who went out and killed Americans.
His first mistake here is, as usual, understating the extent of the abuse. This was not a “night crew run amuck,” as he likes to say. Official military reports have confirmed that.
Even granting him that, though, he says the problem would have been uncovered by some visiting official — maybe Shays himself — and then handled, quietly. No need to tell anyone anything.
What was left unsaid was how long members of the media, once they found out about the abuse, were supposed to wait for Shays or someone else to fix it. He says he doesn’t want censorship, he wants the media to show better judgment. But in whose interest is it to let abuse go unreported?
His position is devoid of logic. Suppose, for argument’s sake, in the midst of battle the American military accidentally blows up a bus filled with schoolchildren. It’s a war; bad things happen. Should the media refrain from saying what happened because it makes the military look bad?
The media is not in business to do PR for the military. Reporters, photographers and support staff put themselves at considerable personal risk to tell what happens. If evidence of American abuse makes more news than bad behavior by our enemies, that’s how it should be. U.S. troops are supposed to be held to a higher standard than insurgents.
Each time I write anything about Iraq, a place I’ve never been and know nothing about other than what I read, I get all sorts of reader feedback, positive and negative. Much of the latter focuses on how I’m undermining our troops or hating America or something because I take issue with whatever Joe Lieberman said that week, but that kind of thing I’m used to.
But I had one exchange with the father of someone serving in Iraq who was unhappy with something I wrote, and we exchanged a number of messages, all of them civil and most of them pleasant.
Buried in one of them, though, I’m guessing in reference to his son, was this: “Stop making it sound like you have a personal interest in it.”
This, honestly, stuns me.
It’s true, I don’t have a directly personal interest in the war; no one in my immediate family and none of my close friends are there. But I refuse to believe that it’s commendable for people to just ignore what happens there.
I’m trying to imagine how it would be better to take at face value everything this country’s leadership has to say about Iraq. When I hear Lieberman or Bush or Shays making the same arguments they’ve been making for five years with nothing to show for it, I think that’s worth a mention.
Maybe I’m wrong.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Supporting a war for political reasons indefensible

With our good friend Joe Lieberman back in the news, it seems as good a time as any to go over again just what it is people find so disagreeable about him.
No, it’s not the fact that he endorsed a Republican, John McCain, for president. “Independent” is not the same as “unpredictable,” and this move shocked no one. If he’d endorsed anyone else — say, a Democrat — that would have been a surprise.
He’s been tacking to the right for years now, and stands with McCain at the furthest extreme of the “all war all the time” right wing. But he wouldn’t dare take that final step and switch parties. As a Republican, he’s nobody. As a Democrat (or whatever he’s calling himself these days), he gets on TV all the time for bashing his fellow party members, saying they don’t have what it takes to defend America or some such nonsense.
Republicans who attack Democrats don’t make news, and don’t get invited on Sunday morning talk shows. Joe isn’t giving up his pulpit anytime soon.
But the McCain endorsement did bring to mind the No. 1 defense of Joe supporters from last year’s Senate primary. It’s only one issue, people said. I’m not with him on the war, but he’s been good in other areas.
As though this five-years-and-counting nightmare in Iraq could be so easily dismissed, like it was a position on the estate tax. This war, where tens of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of U.S. troops have been killed, where we made every country in the world think twice about ever helping us again, where we’ve put our grandchildren into debt, where we’ve taken our eye off the place where the people who attacked us were actually based — that can be dismissed as “one issue”?
The war is the issue. Nothing else is close.
It’s also true that, had Lieberman gotten his way, our military would be well into Iran by now. How disappointed he must have been at the news they weren’t so scary after all.
War opponents have been told that we have to acknowledge the progress that’s been made in Iraq these past few months. And it’s true — what was once a truly hellish situation can now be labeled, maybe, “awful” or just “disastrous.” In any war, given years of ethnic cleansing and sectarian killings, violence will eventually fall. There are fewer people left to kill.
Today, even with reduced violence, Western journalists are unable to roam freely the streets of the capital. It’s too dangerous. When an American can take an unprotected stroll through the streets of the capital, then I’ll start to believe things have changed.
Lieberman led the charge into Iraq, and John Edwards and Hillary Clinton were falling all over themselves to join him. It seemed, at the time, the right thing to do politically. Democrats have to prove they aren’t soft on defense, after all.
But if it was right politically, it was wrong in every other way. And it’s why I’ll have to think hard before voting for anyone (Chris Dodd included) who supported this disaster, regardless of where they stand now.
I look at it this way: If I, as some nobody with no Washington connections and no expertise, could tell the Bush team was pushing a line on Iraq, then so could anyone else. Yes, they used some good tricks, but the holes in the “We must attack now” argument were big enough to fly a Black Hawk through.
There was no sign this country was in danger. There was nothing to the much-desired Sept. 11 link. They didn’t even try to pretend the Iraqi military posed a threat. And as far as the whole “freeing the Iraqi people” routine, I figured as long as we were willing to invade North Korea, Congo, Burma, Zimbabwe, Haiti, etc., as soon as we were done in Iraq, then that argument might have some merit. But selective outrage at bad dictators who happen to sit atop huge oil reserves did not seem like something worth supporting.
The argument isn’t that I had any special foresight that this might turn out badly. It’s that I refuse to believe that Lieberman, Clinton, Edwards, Chris Shays and all the rest didn’t know it as well. For whatever reason, and I’m sure there were many, they decided to support it anyway.
Without Democratic support, it would have been infinitely harder to get the war George Bush so badly wanted. But instead of offering up even token resistance, most party leaders convinced themselves they were making the right move. These are not politicians worth anyone’s support.
As for Lieberman, I’m happy he’s pushing for better gas mileage in SUVs. That’s wonderful. It comes nowhere near making up for the damage he’s done.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Baseball fans just shrug and keep watching

In the history of baseball, no one had ever hit more than 61 home runs in a season. Between 1998 and 2001, it happened six times. Were we to believe some sort of fitness craze brought that on?
As a baseball fan, it’s hard to see how the recent report on steroids and other illegal drugs in the sport will change much, except to make Roger Clemens’ life a little more unpleasant. But he’s not such a pleasant guy to begin with.
What’s most striking is how little anyone is surprised. Of course performance-enhancing drugs have been enhancing players’ performances lately. Just look at the numbers.
Like the home run totals, in the entirety of baseball history, players’ careers followed a familiar pattern. Top performances in a player’s mid- to late 20s were followed by a plateau for a while and then a steady decline. In recent years, players like Clemens and Barry Bonds enjoyed their best seasons after age 35.
The report brought no shortage of scorn on star players, especially supposed straight arrow-types. Like Andy Pettitte of the Yankees. Isn’t he the guy who’s always going on about Bible study?
It was the Yankees who were hit harder than anyone, with their two pitchers in addition to a number of cogs on their 1996-2000 World Series teams turning up in former Sen. George Mitchell’s report. Clemens, sure, but Chuck Knoblauch and Dave Justice were not expected.
Besides the well-known names, what was most interesting in the report was the multitude of borderline major leaguers who never quite made it big. This is where fans might show some sympathy.
Chris Donnels, for example, was a guy who went up and down between the majors and AAA his whole career. A one-time prospect for the Mets, he amassed about 800 at-bats over an eight-year stretch, never hitting more than four home runs in a season. On six big-league teams, he never caught on for more than a year or two.
How could someone like that not be tempted? The minimum salary in the major leagues at that point was a few hundred thousand dollars a year. And if he could string together a good season or two, there was a chance at a multimillion-dollar payday, and the promise he’d never have to think about money again.
It didn’t happen, but not for lack of trying. The Mitchell report pointed to Donnels along with dozens of other borderline talents, not quite good enough for the big money, but hanging around on the edge. They, not the Pettittes and Clemenses of the world, are the ones who might earn some fan sympathy.
Then there’s the question of tainted performances, and titles won that maybe could have gone somewhere else. As a Mets fan, I couldn’t help but notice a large percentage of players on the 2000 Yankees, the team that beat the Mets to win the World Series that year, showing up in the report. Would they have won without the drugs? Impossible to know, just like it’s impossible to know how many Mets were juicing up at the time. The report was far from comprehensive. But it would have been nice to know.
Those same Mets recently shoved off their catcher of two years, who signed on with a rival and promptly went on the attack and said he couldn’t wait to play his former team 19 times next year. This player, Paul Lo Duca, turned up in the Mitchell report.
Similarly, former MVP Miguel Tejada figured prominently in the report. He was traded the day before it came out. Maybe Lo Duca’s and Tejada’s former teams knew a few things.
But baseball does cherish its records, so it’s hard to see what it will do about the past 15 years or so. All those home runs did leave the yard, after all, and if baseball looked the other way while it happened, cashing in on home run fever, they’re in no place to get mad about it now.
As for the argument that, because pitchers and hitters were both taking drugs that it all evened out somehow, that doesn’t go very far. No one is arguing that every player was on drugs, so naturally the enhanced types could feast on the naturals. The numbers seem to show that was the case.
I wasn’t someone who gave up on baseball after 1994 and the canceled World Series, and I won’t give up on it now. If I can make it through the Great Mets Collapse of ’07, surely I can live with the fact that Lenny Dykstra was a cheater.
But maybe at some point we can stop doing this sort of thing every decade or so. It’s getting old.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Downtown stuck in the dark

Nothing drives someone out of a neighborhood faster than a boarded-up building.
Bridgeport’s South End has some outstanding housing developments, in the works and already open. The trend of turning abandoned factories and schools into fashionable lofts has taken off.
But amid those new oases, in an otherwise nondescript residential neighborhood, there they are — burned-out, falling down, abandoned buildings, with who-knows-what inside and an air of menace on the street.
Maybe Magic Johnson’s pleasure palace up the street will change things, or the luxury towers planned on the former Remington site. Either way, it’s going to be hard to excite potential homeowners with lingering urban decay on many blocks.
Then there’s the garbage.
Walk down any street outside the downtown core (ably kept up by the Downtown Special Services District) and you’ll be dodging trash the whole way. Post employees park on State Street and then walk a few blocks up to the main office, and it’s an obstacle course of wrappers, plastic bags and discarded paper (if you’re lucky) the whole way.
Also, streetlights. That walk on State Street includes a stretch under the Route 8/25 connector. It’s a short distance, but it gets plenty dark under there, especially this time of year. There are four different streetlights in the underpass; they’re all burned out.
Most cities have faced similar problems. Before he became a national figure on Sept. 11, Rudy Giuliani’s biggest claim to fame was “cleaning up” New York City. Never mind that every major city in the country made similar gains in crime-fighting and quality-of-life issues; it was Rudy who received, and still claims, the credit.
But even taking the national trend into account, there’s no denying New York got a lot safer. And one of the main drivers behind that was what became known as the broken-windows theory of crime-fighting. The thinking is, when presented with a dangerous, drug-infested neighborhood, start with the little things — cracked pavement, fallen-down fences, garbage on the streets, broken windows.
As the theory goes, as those quality-of-life issues get better, so does the general tone of the neighborhood, to the point that people feel safer, crime starts to drop and more people move in.
There’s more to it than that, and a stepped-up police presence is necessary, which means more money. But the basic idea is sound. Fix the little things, start at the bottom and watch those changes make a difference at the top.
If any city could use that kind of approach, it would have to be Bridgeport.
We have no shortage of the alternative, the top-down approach. The promised gains from the recently approved Steel Point plan are 100 percent based on the trickle-down theory. No, the people who live here won’t be able to afford a home there or maybe even to shop there, but the money that comes in through increased tax revenue will benefit everyone.
Even at the most optimistic, though, we’re talking 20 to 30 years down the road when that tax revenue starts to make a difference. But the city is counting on success there — and in other large projects — to change the culture of Bridgeport, make it a place where people feel comfortable investing and building. That, theoretically, is how the people who live here will see immediate gain, in the city’s improved reputation and its accompanying benefits.
Talk about a dicey proposition.
Even in the best-case scenario, all this taxpayer money is going toward something ephemeral, something that may or may not happen down the road. The gains are real for the out-of-towners who buy a luxury condo on the water, but not so much for a working family here.
In the meantime, spending money on cleaning up garbage, knocking down abandoned buildings and fixing broken windows could have immediate benefits.
Imagine walking down well-lit streets around downtown. At the moment, there aren’t many places to go in the area to eat, have a drink, see a movie, etc. But there are some. And the best way to guarantee no one will take a stroll through the area is to keep those streetlights dark.
Broken-windows fixes aren’t cheap, but it’s about priorities. Taking that approach doesn’t benefit developers or banks, at least not immediately, but it can make a difference in ordinary people’s lives.
And there’s no reason that approach precludes development, even on a large scale. But what it could mean is that for every dollar set aside for a private development, a certain amount must be set aside for infrastructure improvements and the like.
It should be clear to everyone that it will take much more than luxury development to get the city going again.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

As usual, Bridgeport left to fend for itself

Forget about neighbors. Listening to contenders for local office come through for endorsement interviews the past several weeks, it’s hard to believe some of these communities are on the same planet.
Candidates talk about what’s making news in their towns, and it’s striking how priorities differ. Some are concerned about maintaining the Colonial charm downtown, or fighting overdevelopment. Traffic is always a problem. In one town, the local outrage is all about height and bulk restrictions on million-dollar homes.
In these suburbs, it all comes down to taxes. The services are there, but no one wants to pay for them, so candidates argue about who can do more for less. There were a dozen variations on the “I’ll make government work smarter” theme from various challengers (as well as the unfortunate promises to “think outside the box”).
Then there’s Bridgeport. With a recent report saying its high schools function as “dropout factories” and a childhood poverty rate more than twice the state average, Bridgeport’s mayoral hopefuls would give anything to have the problems of the suburbs. Instead of maintaining old-time charm, leaders here are trying to build an entirely new city.
Bridgeport for decades has absorbed the problems from its neighbors, leaving the outlying towns to fight over zoning minutiae and traffic signals. No, it’s not minutiae to the people whose houses and streets are affected, but for the wider population, it’s hard to get worked up about.
The candidate interviews give lie to the idea that any sort of regional planning is ever coming here. The idea behind that goal goes to the question of why Connecticut’s cities, so often surrounded by wealth, can struggle as much as they do. Why are Hartford and Waterbury and Bridgeport in so much trouble if their suburbs are sailing along unscathed?
The answer is that those cities could be doing just fine if they and their five or seven closest neighbors were under one government. If Bridgeport annexed, say, Fairfield, Trumbull, Shelton, Stratford and Easton, there would be dramatically more wealth to work with to solve the inner city’s problems, and significantly more resources to dilute the negative effects of the post-industrial economy.
Instead, every town and city is stuck playing essentially a zero-sum game, where what’s good for one is often to the detriment of a neighbor. If wealthy families or businesses leave Bridgeport for Fairfield, it’s not a two-way street in terms of benefits.
But regional planning need not involve some sort of supercity swallowing its richer neighbors. Just increasing the ability of well-off towns to help poorer neighbors, and efforts to evenly distribute problems among the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy, would pay huge dividends for the cities.
The problems is that it’s not in the interests of suburban voters. It’s not that Fairfield and Trumbull don’t care about Bridgeport; leaders there rightly recognize that what happens to the region’s largest city affects everyone. But they’re not willing to risk what their towns have built up. To surrender autonomy or tax dollars in a possibly fruitless attempt to help a neighbor in need would be to guarantee a potent election-year issue for any challenger.
It’s the same reason why cities get short shrift in the Capitol. It’s a suburban-dominated state, so suburban issues take precedence in the Legislature. The cities get what’s left over or worse, especially if their delegations can’t get their acts together.
So Bridgeport is left to fend for itself. It’s little wonder the city has to take what it can get when developers come calling.
There’s plenty of talk about how Bridgeport has turned the corner, and how all these new apartments and development deals will finally lift the city to its former glory. Maybe they will. But whoever wins Tuesday’s mayoral election ought to know full well what he’s getting into. It’s going to take a lot more than tweaking the zoning regulations to get Bridgeport where it wants to go.
Maybe in a decade or so, the city will be lucky enough to have candidates who can vow to fight overdevelopment. Then Bridgeport and its neighbors will finally feel like they’re in the same boat together.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Keep in mind what not to do downtown

If there’s such a thing as an urban planning hell, it probably looks a lot like New Roc City, a multi-use complex in Westchester County, N.Y.
A 1.2 million-square-foot entertainment/retail/residential complex in the heart of downtown New Rochelle, the project makes a mockery of everything planners hold to be important. It takes notions like walkable streets, mixed uses and transit-oriented downtowns and turns them on their heads, wrapping all those admirable qualities in a hermetically sealed entertainment zone, which in no way relates to the surrounding cityscape.
It’s truly massive. It includes an 18-screen movie theater, an indoor go-cart track, a skating rink, a bowling alley, a video arcade, plus apartments, a hotel, a grocery store and thousands more square feet of retail.
Plus parking. Lots and lots of parking.
From the outside, it’s a massive block of forbidding nothingness. There are no pedestrians coming and going, no spillover effect into the rest of downtown and little to suggest anyone is even alive inside. All the action, from living to shopping to eating, takes place inside.
Completed in 1999, the project was the centerpiece of a redevelopment effort in this city of 72,000, with a dilapidated downtown surrounded by wealthy suburbs.
If the planners of Bridgeport’s mega-projects take anything from this example, it should be to avoid its mistakes at all costs.
New Roc City looks great on paper, and no doubt brings in plenty of tax money. It has become a destination in Westchester, the only place around to get the kind of one-stop entertainment shopping people sometimes look for.
But in terms of revitalizing downtown, bringing life to the streets, it might as well not even be there. All the storefronts face inward, to an interior courtyard. Built to mimic the style of old-fashioned New York City buildings, the fancy facades do nothing for someone walking down the street. It’s Disneyland inside, but outside you could be standing next to an empty convention center.
That’s why it’s so important to see how Bridgeport handles its own projects, like Magic Johnson’s $222 million deal on the site of the former Pequonnock Apartments. It’s plenty ambitious, combining 260,000 square feet of retail space with more than 350 housing units, a movie theater, a hotel and parking. But what it ultimately looks like will mean just as much as the kind of money it brings in.
If the 11-acre site adjacent to Harbor Yard is allowed to weave as naturally as possible into surrounding streets, it could mean a new era for the south end of downtown. It could give people looking for pedestrian-accessible amenities someplace worth walking to.
But if the plan as it looks now is turned around, and all the attractions face the inside with nothing but driveways and loading docks facing the city street, there could be real problems. Blank facades on even the biggest attractions don’t help anyone. Picture the side of the Arena at Harbor Yard on a non-event day.
Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, with the former NBA star as a founding partner, specializes in places like Bridgeport, and has a track record of success. Of the three largest projects on the Bridgeport horizon, along with Steel Point and the former Remington site on Long Island Sound, it probably shows the most promise, and is most likely to be completed first. But the city needs to keep a close eye on plans, and make sure whatever goes there is for the benefit of the surrounding neighborhood.
Even in the best-case scenario, there’s a real limit to what economic development projects can do to lift a city out of poverty. All the models show that promises of job creation are often fleeting; despite developers’ assurances, there’s little that can be done to keep residents of neighboring towns from new jobs.
The real benefit from successful development goes to city landowners. If and when the community becomes more desirable, land values go up, and property gets more expensive. Renters gain exactly nothing from the deal.
What really makes a difference in the lives of a city’s poor and downtrodden is an improved school system. Better education is about the only surefire way there is to permanently lift people out of poverty. But, because education already takes up most of any city’s budget, there’s not much cash to go around. High taxes, too, have residents screaming for help. So, the thinking goes, the only way to bring in new taxes to both help out homeowners and provide for the schools is to entice developers.
It’s a dicey proposition, which in no way guarantees success. About all that can be controlled in the long run is what those projects are allowed to look like. Keeping New Roc City out of the south end of Bridgeport’s downtown is a great start.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Another chance to celebrate slips away

It shouldn’t matter.
What are the New York Mets to me? Twenty-five people I’ve never met and who have never given me a second thought. Why should their collective actions affect me?
But they do. A team I’ve followed since the fifth grade, I watched them blow what should have been an insurmountable seven-game lead in two weeks and miss the playoffs. It was like a slow-motion train wreck. Each day I asked myself, “They can’t really blow this, can they?”
But they did, which brought a new round of asking myself why I care in the first place. I can’t change what happens on the field; I can’t take credit for their accomplishments or blame for their shortfalls. But somehow, it still matters.
If it didn’t matter, I wouldn’t have been accepting people’s condolences all week as though I’d just lost a close friend.
If it didn’t matter, I wouldn’t have been obsessively checking scores on my cell phone every time I was out of the house as the season wound down, wondering how yet another 3-0 lead had turned into an 8-4 loss.
If it didn’t matter, I wouldn’t bother reminding Yankee fans that they ought to think really hard before bringing up words like “historic collapse.” Losing a series after being three outs away from a sweep — that’s one that will stand up for a while.
Most people develop a connection with a team for one of two reasons — either it was passed down from a family member or the team was good when you started paying attention. For me, it was a bit of both. I started watching baseball soon after the 1986 World Series, which the Mets won, and I was crushed when the Dodgers’ Orel Hershiser shut my team out in Game 7 of the ’88 National League Championship Series.
People identify with their team, and then they take it a step further. They start thinking they really do play a part in what happens, as though the team’s failure is a fan’s failure, and the team’s success is a sign of personal virtue. Note the widespread use of the word “we” when discussing a group of strangers.
People seemed to expect me to feel ashamed this season as the end drew near, as though I was playing a part in it. Was it my fault the bullpen couldn’t get anyone out for a month?
Similarly, during the back-and-forth banter that goes on among fans, someone was overheard in the newsroom this week saying, “The Yankees aren’t afraid of the Red Sox,” or something to that effect. What can that possibly mean? Did this fan burrow into Joe Torre’s brain and determine his state of mind?
My team is good, therefore I am good. Your team blew a seven-game lead, so you have failed.
Still, taking the wide view, it makes a lot more sense to talk about health care or when the Iran war is going to start or something fun like that. Why do we care about sports?
The best explanation I can come up with concerns the only other team I let myself get bent out of shape about, the UConn men’s basketball team. I’ve been with them for a while, but my peak fan years came during my eight semesters as a student in Storrs.
I’m not ashamed to admit that a Monday night in late March of 1999 was one of the best days of my life. Surrounded by four years’ worth of friends and acquaintances, we watched UConn beat its longtime nemesis, Duke, in one of the best national title games in history. It wasn’t decided until the clock read 0:00, and then the campus exploded.
And it wasn’t one of those “call the riot police” ways that Storrs is sometimes known for, but a genuine outpouring of communal happiness. People would run into someone they knew vaguely from a class three years before and they’d start hugging like they were old friends.
It’s that kind of celebration every sports fan hopes for. When you follow a team your whole life, through disappointments and setbacks and everything else, and then your team wins it all, there’s nothing like it.
If I live to 100, that ’99 title will probably stand as my No. 1 moment as a sports fan, just because it all came together in one place — my school, senior year, big underdogs, close game, top rivals on the other side. UConn winning a second title five years later was great, but nothing like the first one. Still, though, a great time to celebrate with friends.
And that’s what it comes down to. There was a chance, maybe a small one, I’d get another victory celebration this year. Once you get a taste of that feeling, or see someone else get it, you know what you’re missing the next time around. And when your team falls short, it hurts.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

September '08, Lieberman has a date in Minnesota

It’s nice of Joe Lieberman to tell us what he finds unacceptable.
An advertisement paid for by an online political action committee was called “an outrageous and despicable act of slander that every member of the Congress — Democrat and Republican — has a solemn responsibility to condemn.”
It must be serious to get him all worked up like that. Whoever did it must be responsible for thousands of deaths and a war without any end in sight, or even a discernable purpose.
But no, it was just an ad, paid for by, attacking the credibility of Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq. In the eyes of Lieberman and his fellow travelers, then, it’s OK to lie the country into war and continue lying to keep our troops there. But question the motives of the war’s designated spokesman, and you’re in big trouble.
That Lieberman’s ire is not directed at the failed policy is unsurprising. For Joe, like President Bush, it’s only about staying in Iraq for its own sake. There is no goal, other than to stay. There is no purpose, other than to make sure we’re exactly where we are right now when Bush leaves office in January 2009.
Why anyone else should want this is the real question.
As the general gave his testimony on the state of the war last week, the ad in question, placed in The New York Times, took issue with the military’s selective use of hopeful statistics. Other, independent reports showed conditions in Iraq, including civilian deaths and political progress, at far worse levels than the general’s own, unsourced data. (The ad also used an apparently heinous pun on the general’s last name.)
So Lieberman knew who to blame. Anyone questioning the word of the general must be condemned.
But what, really, did anyone expect Petraeus to say in his testimony? He said conditions in Iraq were improving, but not so much that we could leave anytime soon. He recommended putting off a decision on any real troop withdrawal for at least — of course — six months. Since the war started, it’s been one official after another kicking the big decisions another six months down the road.
The hype surrounding Petraeus was well planned. By putting his credibility, and not Bush’s, on the line, critics were urged to once more give the new plan a chance and hear the man out. He gave the president exactly the immunity he needed to again put off doing anything of substance.
Petraeus proved himself a politician first and foremost. He was there to defend the president and the president’s war, and opened himself up to exactly the kind of criticism the ad directed at him. No one expected disinterested analysis — he was there as a salesman, and criticizing the salesman of a war people hate ought to be expected.
So no one should have expected Petraeus to declare our military efforts — and by extension, himself — a failure. He said what war backers, like Lieberman, have been saying for years now: Times are tough, but we’re starting to see some progress, and whatever we leave behind in the event of a withdrawal would be infinitely worse than what we see now.
Funny how they can never predict when good things will start to happen, but they know exactly when all the bad stuff will start — as soon as we leave.
Lieberman, the No. 1 war-backer in the nation’s capital, has been singing this tune for years. But it’s beyond question that he and his ilk have lost the American public. By 59 percent to 34 percent, more people in a recent poll said they believe history will judge the Iraq war a complete or partial failure.
We don’t, of course, make policy by taking a show of hands. But our representatives our supposed to, at the very least, represent us.
Instead, we get a senator who says this: “… that unity that we felt after
Sept. 11, we have to find a way to get it back because we’ve descended into terrible, partisan political sniping. The fact is, al-Qaida, the al-Qaida that attacked us on 9/11 six years ago today, the al-Qaida that we’re fighting in Iraq today, they don’t distinguish between Republicans or Democrats.”
Arguing about a war we never should have started is not “partisan.” Saying our troops should stop dying for a fight we can’t win is not “political.”
Lieberman knows there was no al-Qaida in Iraq before we invaded. He knows the people who attacked us on 9/11 have nothing to do with the people we’re fighting now. But he will say anything, no matter how outrageous, to stick up for his pet war. He has no limits.
The odds of Joe being named keynote speaker at the 2008 Republican National Convention get shorter all the time.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

State letting successful people slip away

Connecticut lost a seat in Congress after the 2000 Census. We’re not getting it back anytime soon.
People aren’t moving here, and people who were born here are leaving. If population growth remains anemic, we could lose another seat in the next few decades. Our neighbors in Massachusetts and New York are in serious danger of losing even more representatives to Southern and Western states.
And no one is surprised. Why would people live here? No one can afford it. The winters are awful. Why not escape to the sunshine?
I’ve been thinking about Southern migration since a highly successful pair of friends announced they were abandoning Connecticut for sunny Charlotte, N.C. When a husband and wife with their presumed earning potential (he’s a pharmacist, she’s a nurse in an intensive care unit) can’t make it work in this state, it’s natural to wonder why.
Everyone has personal reasons for making major life decisions — family, job opportunities, cost of living and a dozen other things factor in — and it’s never a good idea to extrapolate a trend from an anecdote. Just because one person is doing it doesn’t mean everyone is. But the Census numbers don’t lie: Connecticut is falling behind.
National Census data released in 2000 predicts populations out to 2030, and the numbers show Connecticut’s 30-year population growth at a paltry 8.3 percent. That’s not quite in Dakota territory, but it’s not great, either. The national rate is projected at 29 percent; North Carolina will increase by 52 percent.
What does North Carolina have that Connecticut doesn’t? Warm weather year-round doesn’t hurt. Lower prices, and fewer taxes, mean housing dollars go a lot further. More space brings less congestion. And the cities are young and vibrant instead of old and decrepit.
Barring family concerns, why would a youngish college graduate choose to live in Bridgeport or New Haven over Raleigh or Charlotte? True, it gets hot in the summer down there. But if that’s all we’ve got going for us, the state’s in a lot of trouble.
Our other asset, of course, is the greatest city in the world just a short train ride away. But that’s why no one can afford to live here in the first place. It’s not that anyone’s dying to live in Shelton or Trumbull, or even Greenwich. It’s easy access to New York that puts the state out of people’s reach.
Not everyone, clearly. The people at the top are doing fine, and there are more of them than ever. But the state is pricing out everyone else. How anyone without a trust fund or a hedge fund can afford to buy a house between here and the New York state line is a mystery.
A few places remain affordable. Bridgeport is one, for now, but it won’t stay that way if the city’s boosters have their way. All that luxury housing in the pipeline isn’t planned for working families; it’s to bring in young commuters to Manhattan. Those are the people who will bring cachet, and money, back into the city.
And it’s not just downtown. Once the third Fairfield train station is finished just over the town line, forget about affordable housing in Black Rock. Already the neighborhood is exploding, and prices will only go up.
The question has always been how far this money would push. Stamford and Norwalk are basically off-limits to budget buyers (and don’t even think about the suburbs around them). Maybe the wave will push up into the Valley and Shelton will start to look like Darien. But should we want that?
Then you have to wonder how far up Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport the money will reach. Once Black Rock is conquered, maybe State Street is next. And if it is, who knows who will be able to afford to live there.
So it’s not surprising that people with minimal family ties would look to get out. And if that means 60-degree days in December, so much the better.
Urban renewal and development are almost always placed in a positive light, and it’s true that Stamford and Norwalk are more pleasant places to live than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Bridgeport desperately wants to join them, and no one wishes any ill on the people working hard to get by here. But if the city’s recovery prices people out, then the question becomes, who are we really doing this for?
Maybe all this development is in our best interests or maybe not, but North Carolina seems to be OK with it.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

If it's Sunday, Joe Lieberman is fear-mongering

Joe Lieberman has something in common with the terrorists.
No, he’s not blowing up any buildings, but their goals are the same. They both want us to be scared.
Terrorists know they can’t kill every person they want to kill, so they plan their acts for maximum effect. It’s not just about exploding a bus, it’s about making people think twice about getting on a bus. It’s about changing the way people live their lives.
Lieberman, just as surely, wants us to change our ways. He wants us to be scared. He says it’s in the service of opening our eyes to the dangers of terrorism, but there is no one who thinks the world is a safe place. We all remember 9/11. We haven’t forgotten. He’s not the only one with a license to recall atrocities.
But not everyone wants to sacrifice our way of life based on those threats. Not everyone is ready to throw away liberties and launch more unnecessary wars on Lieberman’s word.
He’s about four years too late. These days, no one but the 28-percenters is supporting war based on fear and lies. It may have worked once, but people are, at last, warier.
He remains a master of the non sequitur. He said on a Sunday morning talk show last week that the foiled car bombings in England should make people stop asking our government to follow the law.
“I hope these terrorist attacks in London wake us up here in America to stop the petty partisan fighting going on about … electronic surveillance.”
To call a desire for the president of the United States to kindly stop ignoring the law as it relates to domestic surveillance “petty” and, God forbid, “partisan” would be laughable if the man saying it wasn’t a United States senator. But he is, which makes his commentary frightening — and un-American.
Tapping phones had nothing to do with the England plot’s failure, and no one in this country is arguing against using electronic surveillance. People are making the uncontroversial claim that the president shouldn’t get to decide unilaterally who will be monitored, without any oversight from the courts or anyone else. This is not a “petty” concern.
It’s similar to his claim during his re-election campaign last year that his opponent’s call for withdrawing American troops from Iraq provided a victory to people who wanted to blow up a plane in England. Not only is it offensive, it doesn’t even make sense.
Lieberman wants to lump everyone in the world who doesn’t like us into some all-encompassing mass of evil-doers. “If we pull out of Iraq,” he says, “Iran and al-Qaida are the victors. … Because if Iran and al-Qaida take over Iraq, they will destabilize the entire Middle East, and they will strike at us here at home.”
That statement is, to put it mildly, ridiculous. Sunni al-Qaida and Shiite Iran are not allies. Maybe Lieberman has seen the news from Iraq over the past few years. They’re having quite a war over there based on just these issues.
Surely, he knows this. But just as clearly, he doesn’t care. He wants us to be scared. Scared enough to give up our rights in search of some fantasy of absolute safety. Scared enough to support yet another war, at a time when we’re already fighting two that we can’t win. Scared enough that we won’t question what our leaders are doing, and how many people have to die while they do it.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg won a lot of fans recently when he became maybe the first public official since this all started to put things in perspective. After the arrests of some people who wanted, but lacked the means, to kill a lot of people at Kennedy Airport, Bloomberg struck a cord.
“There are a lot of threats to you in the world,” he said. “You can’t sit there and worry about everything. Get a life.”
He didn’t deny that there are people who want to kill us. He didn’t say terrorism is not a threat. But he also refused to let that threat dictate the way the city goes about its daily routines. No one ignores terrorism, but we’re not about to rewrite the Constitution to fight it, either.
At least, most of us aren’t.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Keeping up with downtown development

The mayor was mad at me.
In response to some unkind words I wrote in this space a few weeks back about the pace of downtown Bridgeport’s redevelopment, Mayor John M. Fabrizi offered to take me around town and show me all the bright spots, all the progress being made.
I was happy to accept, mostly because, since I haven’t been doing this all that long, I liked the idea that the mayor knew who I was.
But I also liked the idea of getting a firsthand look at these places I read so much about. It’s true, I could have driven myself down to any number of these spots — and I have checked out a good number of them — but still, a legitimate tour guide seemed like an opportunity worth taking.
In my life outside work, I take classes toward a degree in urban planning. Waterfront redevelopment, transportation initiatives, inclusionary zoning — these topics put plenty of people to sleep, but I spend my spare time on this stuff.
It affects everyone. We all drive on I-95, we all pay taxes, we all go to the mall, or the beach, or the movies. Land-use regulation can seem pretty arcane, but no one’s life is detached from it.
And of all the cities in the country to live in, it’s hard to think of a better petri dish than Bridgeport. This city has faced every urban blight in the books these past few decades — disappearing industry, flight to the suburbs, dangerous streets, epic corruption. The fact that it’s maybe, possibly on the way back is a testament by itself.
There’s a niche for Bridgeport to fill. Working people, especially young ones, need to live somewhere, and Bridgeport might be a palatable possibility. The multitude of housing proposals on tap needs to pay some dividends for the downtown.
It all comes down, in many people’s opinion, to eyes on the street. If there are people downtown, at all waking hours, then everything else will come together. The safest cities in the country (like New York) have constant activity, perpetual motion. The more people are around, the safer everyone feels, and the more skittish potential criminals become.
This isn’t a novel concept. It goes back at least to New York City legend Jane Jacobs, a Greenwich Village resident and activist who fought to keep her neighborhood intact when it was threatened by an expressway. The plan, at the time seen as a foregone conclusion, was to extend Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue south through Washington Square Park and connect it to the planned Lower Manhattan Expressway.
That road never got built. Activists saw how other highways had chopped neighborhoods to bits, and were determined it wouldn’t happen to them. Farther north, the Bronx is just now starting to recover from its multiple body blows, the most egregious of which, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, is held up as the symbol of all that is wrong with out-of-control planners who care nothing for the cities they purportedly serve. I-95 through Bridgeport could fill that same role.
Jacobs fought to keep neighborhoods together; she recognized the fundamental value in local stores, sidewalk encounters and person-to-person contact. It’s what makes New York City great, and what cities around the country, Bridgeport included, have been trying to build for generations now.
The downtown is here; the buildings are up. Now we just need the people. No one wants to see the city recover more than the people who live and work here, and I do both. And with Citytrust, the Remington site, Read’s and even Steel Point, things are happening.
In the meantime, we need people. Walkers, runners, pedestrians, stroller-pushers, theater-goers, lunch-eaters, game attendees — all sorts. They are the ones who will get Bridgeport back where it belongs.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Primaries draw little interest

Public officials, take note: A remarkably small slice of the electorate has decided who will represent the major parties in state and local elections this fall.
Democratic primaries throughout Connecticut on Tuesday brought a few surprises, but it must be disheartening for winners as well as losers that turnout was so light. Even in heavily Democratic Bridgeport, where a number of hard-fought local races promised to spark at least some interest, fewer than one in 10 eligible voters went to the polls.
For state Rep. Robert Keeley, it’s a difficult way to lose his seat after 24 years in office. Challenger Auden Grogins deserves credit for running a strong campaign, but it’s disappointing to see so few people turn out to decide races that can have a real impact. State government can seem removed from day-to-day life, but decisions in Hartford affect all of us.
Many of the local primaries were a continuation of last year’s mayoral race between winner Bill Finch and state Rep. Christopher Caruso, who defeated his own challenger handily. But the split decision, with Caruso supporter Keeley falling while others among his backers kept their seats, promises no thawing of tensions in the Park City for the foreseeable future.
For the right to challenge U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays in the 4th District, it was a rout of epic proportions. Jim Himes, of Greenwich, defeated his opponent, Lee Whitnum — who lacked funding, supporters and a coherent rationale behind her campaign — by pulling in about 87 percent of the vote. Even considering his opponent’s weakness, that is a wide margin of victory. Himes emerges well positioned to take on Shays this fall.
But the real legacy of this primary should be the realization that August primaries are a bad idea. It was just two years ago that such a vote set records for turnout; but that race — resulting in U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman losing the nomination of his lifelong political party — was the exception. Most primaries don’t attract international attention, and consequently do not draw many people away from their vacations.
This primary day was proof of that, with no-wait voting all across Bridgeport and the region. No one questions the legitimacy of the outcomes — every candidate faced the same conditions. But state leaders should think seriously about whether voting in the dead of summer is the best way to meet the will of the people.

Get real: Theater fix won't be cheap

Is there any hope for an honest discussion of the Shakespeare Theater?
It’s a beautiful facility, a model for similar structures worldwide. But it’s also been out of use for two decades. Anyone who thinks getting it back into shape will be easy and cheap is kidding himself.
But it doesn’t pay to be the bearer of bad news, and that was the position representatives of the BL Cos. of Meriden found themselves in last week. They came before the Stratford Town Council with the uncontroversial conclusion that the theater’s rehabilitation will be expensive.
Some council members were hearing none of it. “Useless,” they called the company’s report. “It seems like you guys just walked through the building, didn’t test anything and just threw out a number of what you think it might cost,” said Majority Leader Michael Julian, R-1.
The mind boggles.
What does Julian, or anyone, think a company like this would have to gain by not doing its job correctly? Who are they supposed to be covering for? Must everything be a giant conspiracy?
Construction is expensive. Building codes are precise. Stratford can’t just put together a slapdash job and expect to slide by, especially not in a
world-class facility like the Shakespeare Theater.
The consultant group studied a range of options, and gave an honest estimate as to the project’s cost. Apparently, it’s all supposed to be a big scam.
No wonder everything in Stratford takes 10 times longer than it should.

Demand answers on anthrax probe

How did we forget about anthrax?
For years, we’ve heard defenders of the Bush administration’s record argue that, despite anything else you could say, at least the U.S. hadn’t been hit by another terrorist attack since 9/11. But it’s not true, and never was.
The weeks following the destruction of the World Trade Center were terrifying in their own right, with the deadliest bioterror attacks on U.S. soil killing five people. With intended targets including top government officials and media celebrities, it was a deeply disturbing period in our history. No one knew what to expect next.
And the pain hit close to home. One victim, surely unintended, was Oxford resident Ottilie Lundgren, whose mail apparently garnered a miniscule amount of anthrax in a sorting facility.
For the families of those targeted and killed, of course, the incident has never faded from memory. But for the rest of the country, the anthrax attacks have been obscured by years of war and questionable antiterrorism strategies. It seemed likely we would never know who was responsible.
But that memory blackout exploded last month with word that the government had identified a person they said committed the acts, a top scientist at a U.S. Army facility who apparently committed suicide before evidence against him could be presented. The government wants to present this case as closed — the alleged perpetrator, Dr. Bruce E. Ivins, acted alone, the U.S. says.
But despite the release of documents and evidence that seem to point in that direction, all questions have not been answered. To assuage public doubts, investigators should welcome and Congress should demand a full airing of the probe’s particulars, from 2001 until today.
And investigators must answer some questions, including:
  • Why did the probe take so long? Apparently, only a few people had access to the strain of toxin in question, which was identified soon after the attacks.
  • If Ivins was as mentally unstable as investigators say, how did he maintain high-level clearance to deal with such materials on a regular basis? What kind of screening process is used to keep these poisons out of unstable hands?
  • What of initial reports from government sources that linked the anthrax attacks to Saddam Hussein? Such rumors from high levels helped prepare the nation for war in Iraq — an outcome we continue to pay the price for all these years later.
The federal government’s reputation for truth-telling is in tatters, and a full airing of this investigation’s particulars could go a long way toward changing that. The country has a right to know what happened, and could benefit from knowing the government got this one right — assuming, of course, it did.

Listen to experts on theater costs

Stratford officials need to withhold judgment on a price estimate to reopen the Shakespeare Theater until all the facts are in. Though initial numbers look high (as much as $19 million, compared to the chosen theater operator’s $3 million), council members need to hear the details before making a decision.
The theater has been closed for decades, and after years of false starts and backsliding, the town has an operator in place. But the theater’s physical condition, it’s safe to say, has not improved over the years of disuse.
The BL Cos. LLC, of Meriden, has issued a 1,000-page report to Mayor James R. Miron and the council that says it could cost much more than previously expected to get the theater going again. The price tag for the most comprehensive renovations could climb to $19.2 million.
The company is expected to detail its report when the Town Council meets in a special session tonight in Town Hall.
From the beginning, nothing has been easy about getting the facility open again. There’s good reason to think that if operating a working Shakespearean theater in Stratford was a viable business option, someone would have found a way to do it years ago.
As it is, Stratford officials can only work with what they’ve got. That means they have to deal with costs and obstacles as they exist, not as they wish they looked. Nineteen years is a long time for a theater to stand vacant, and renovation costs, along with everything else, are skyrocketing.
This can’t be done on the cheap. Listen to the survey’s findings, and figure out the best way forward. Stratford can’t ignore the facts because they happen to be inconvenient.