Friday, September 19, 2008

Let's talk about that 'Bush Doctine'

The Sarah Palin phenomenon is burning out faster than Lehman Brothers. Two weeks ago, her favorability ratings were off the charts. Now they're already in negative territory.

But who cares -- Americans hardly ever vote based on the bottom of the ticket. As for the health of John McCain should he be elected, we could all follow Joe Lieberman's lead. Asked at the Republican convention about Palin's qualifications, he said, "Well, you know, let's assume the best. John's in great shape; he's gonna be the president and let's assume that nothing bad will happen."

Great advice, senator. As Iraq proved, hope is a wonderful plan.

But as people are finding out more about Palin, there's too much that's not being said. We're familiar with McCain's take on foreign policy. Going back to January 2002, when he shouted, "Next stop, Baghdad!" while speaking to U.S. troops headed for Afghanistan, it's been clear he thinks, if anything, President Bush has been too timid in pursuing his policies.

About Palin, though, we don't know. In her first television sit-down, she famously didn't know what the "Bush Doctrine" is. This has been explained away by supporters saying, in effect, "So what? Most people on the street don't know what it is, either." To which one can only respond, most people on the street are not running for vice president.

But what's most important isn't her lack of knowledge (though that is a serious problem); it's that the Republicans are promising to keep these policies going.

In the ABC interview, after stalling for a moment, the governor got it wrong. So did her interviewer, Charles Gibson. "The Bush Doctrine, as I understand it,'' he said, "is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a pre-emptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us."

He's wrong. No one in the political mainstream disputes the right of "anticipatory self-defense" or a pre-emptive strike. If the country is going to be attacked, the nation has a right to defend itself.

The Bush Doctrine goes further. Leading up to the war in Iraq (which is still going on, by the way), the president laid out the right for our country to attack any other country that might -- someday; we don't know when, but it could happen -- somehow pose a threat. That's why we attacked Iraq (supposedly; to this day, no one but the president really knows). They weren't a threat at the time, but they could have become one someday, maybe.

That's not pre-emption. It is insane, but it is not pre-emption.

Bush favored "preventive" war. If that's our policy going forward, we should expect a lot of wars in the coming years. How many countries are there that might pose a threat someday? Russia, China, North Korea, Iran -- and we may have just added Spain. Are we supposed to invade all of them?

With the stock market crashing and the government nationalizing the finance industry, no one is talking about these things. But they matter. In a best-case scenario, American troops will be out of Iraq by 2011 or so -- a full eight years after we invaded. We spend the equivalent of an AIG bailout, $85 billion, over the course of a few months there.

And still, despite the happy talk from people who supported this war from the beginning (Chris Shays, that's you), Americans are still dying there -- fewer than a year ago, but they are still Americans who would otherwise be alive. Iraqis are still dying. Car bombs are exploding on a weekly basis. McCain, though, told Time magazine last month that Iraq is "a peaceful and stable country now."

He's wrong about a lot of things, but he will never top that one.

Palin gives every indication that she's OK with the way this country went to war. Since she might be president someday, she could at least tell us her thoughts on the matter.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. He can be reached at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Bridgeport must weather economic storm

Bridgeport can't be blamed for this one.

The momentum behind most of the major development projects in town has stalled. Steel Point is in limbo, downtown construction is at a crawl and there's little to report from the other large-scale projects around the city. But there's probably nothing that could have done differently.

The slowdown is hurting development across the country. But because Bridgeport is a poor city that is banking on big-ticket projects to bring it back to life, it stands to suffer more than its share. And with little to fall back on, the situation looks more dire here than it would in a relatively well-off place.

For instance, New York. The country's largest city has been building like crazy for more than a decade, and has enough built-in wealth to weather some difficulties. It would take a lot more than a mere slowdown to knock New York off its current heights; it's one of the benefits of being the financial and cultural capital of the universe. And there are millions of new people projected to move in over the next few decades.

But at a basic level, New York is facing the same problems as Bridgeport. Most of its high-profile mega-projects, financed publicly, privately or in combination, in the past year have been either scrapped or drastically scaled back. Costs are shooting up, and demand for housing and retail is cratering.

For instance, the Fulton Street Transit Center in Lower Manhattan, which was supposed to be a

showpiece near the World Trade Center site, with a glass dome rising over the connection of 12 subway lines and 23,000 square feet of retail space. As the cost climbed by tens of millions of dollars, the dome was scrapped and the entire project has come to a halt. There's no telling what it will look like if and when it's finally finished.

Then there's the plan to build a new Penn Station on the West Side. That project kept growing in scale and dollars, eventually including a number of high rises alongside a rebuilt Madison Square Garden. It collapsed under its own weight, and now there's little hope of rescuing the underground train station in the near future.

The World Trade Center site is a story unto itself, and faces challenges that dwarf any other development. But it, too, has been hamstrung by the bad economy. There's little sense in putting up all that office space if there won't be people or businesses to put in it.

There's a definition of a recession the economy hasn't met -- unless the nation experiences negative economic growth for two straight quarters, we're apparently not in a recession. Why that's supposed to matter to anyone is another question.

People judge the economy by what they're dealing with, not by what the aggregate numbers tell them. People are struggling, and businesses are struggling right along with them.

Cities, likewise, don't judge the economy on what national numbers tell them. There's too much at stake. But neither can they sit back and wait for the problems to work themselves through.

That's why it's encouraging to see that, despite the problems, Steel Point and the other big developments are still breathing. If they can survive this lull, which is no sure thing, the city could be in good shape to capitalize on the inevitable recovery.

It had better hope so. If the recovery takes too long to arrive, there's no real backup plan.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. He can be reached at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Stadiums a losing bet for development

This is a scenario Bridgeport knows something about.

A sports stadium earns favorable tax agreements on the promise of economic growth. In the end, the stadium benefits the few while the many foot the bill.

It's not the Arena at Harbor Yard, it's the boondoggle in the Bronx. The new Yankee Stadium, a report shows, is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and offering almost nothing in return.

A report from a New York City Council member concluded that the city and state invested as much as $850 million in cash and tax breaks in the new stadium, while the economic benefit will go mainly to the team's ownership, which is already doing just fine. In addition, the stadium's construction resulted in the loss of acres of parkland used by some of the city's poorest residents.

The team and the city dispute the findings, but the results by now are clear -- stadium construction is about the biggest farce going when it comes to spurring economic development.

Put it this way: The Yankees are the most successful team in U.S. sports history. Their stadium sits in a neighborhood, the South Bronx, that for decades was synonymous with urban blight. If that much success did that little for the local area, no one should expect better results elsewhere, including Bridgeport.

Stadiums bring a minimal level of new employment and, considering they are unused for much more time than they are in use, can in fact be a blight in their own regard. When there's no game, there are no people.

Bridgeport has learned this; Harbor Yard did not spark a development revolution. New York should have known it, as well.

Make commitment to regionalization

It's the curse of Connecticut. With 169 towns and cities vying for their own slice of the pie, neighboring communities have little incentive to work together.

For well-off towns, that's no problem. But the cities that have lost business and industry over the decades have little recourse. It's one of the main reasons our state looks the way it does, with rich towns surrounding poor cities, and little done to bridge the gap.

Every so often a plan comes along to change that. The hope of regionalization is that towns with money to spare would realize it's in their interest to see their neighbors succeed, as well. Fairfield, for example, does quite well for itself, while next-door Bridgeport has trouble paying its bills.

But it's not just for the cities. A recent proposal calls for a study to determine how Monroe, Trumbull and Easton might benefit from forming a regional emergency dispatch center. It makes good sense - the three towns currently handle emergency dispatching separately, but sometimes share resources, like traffic accident investigation units, canine units and crisis negotiators.

This kind of thinking on a wider basis could lead to real cost-saving opportunities around the state. If local officials can move past their typically insular views, there are some interesting options out there.

But it is the cities that have the most to gain. It's long been posited that if Bridgeport could annex the towns on its borders, the standard of

living for everyone would increase. There would certainly be more money for education - the key component in economic development.

That's not going to happen, but there are steps to be taken. Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch has long championed these efforts, and at a forum sponsored by the regional business council, other local leaders pledged support, as well.

For starters, the local communities could look to regionalize the water pollution control apparatus. It's a burden on Bridgeport, and one that could and should be shared with neighbors.

There will always be thorny issues like neighborhood schools that will stymie progress, but they shouldn't be allowed to halt the entire endeavor. Last week's meeting should be a starting point, and local leaders should commit in writing to workable regionalization plans.

Slowly, the suburbs are realizing that the health of the cities affects everyone. The sooner steps can be taken to improve that health, the better for everyone.

Rell, Blumenthal exploit public fear

No one can deny the emotion surrounding the case of convicted rapist David Pollitt and his much-discussed release from prison last year. But we count on our elected officials to make fact-based decisions, not outbursts.

In this regard, Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal failed the people of Connecticut.

The Pollitt case is difficult for any number of reasons. Convicted of a series of rapes, he served his sentence before being released, with significant restrictions, to the home of his sister, in Southbury. Rell and Blumenthal disgraced themselves then, insisting the Pollitt be held in prison even though his term was up.

Residents of Southbury were understandly nervous about the prospects on Pollitt living in town. Rell and Blumenthal could have used the opportunity to make clear that he would be restricted in his movement and watched at all times by an electronic monitoring device. Instead, they gave in to mob mentality and demanded he be kept in prison.

No one is in favor of seeing someone dangerous on the streets again, but if the law says he is to be freed, he must be. We don't make laws on an ad-hoc basis.

When Pollitt's monitoring device malfunctioned last week, Rell and Blumenthal wasted no time demanding he be returned to prison immediately. They could have let law enforcement do its job and waited for some facts to arrive before sending out their press releases, but they decided to play to the cameras instead.

As it turns out, the problem was faulty electronics ­-- as well as faulty leadership.

No one is advocating anything other than a strict interpretation of the law. If someone has served his sentence, our leaders must not demand he be kept in jail. That's giving in to fear.

Similarly, if there's reason to think a convict's parole has been violated, then let the process take its course. The actions of Rell and Blumenthal did nothing but once again ramp up fear in Southbury. It was political grandstanding at its worst.

Lack of oversight ends predictably

There was a time (for many, we're still in it) when the fashion was to rail against government regulation in all its forms. If only we could get that pesky oversight out of the way, then the economy could reach its real potential, or so the thinking went.

If the events of the past week haven't convinced people of that notion's fundamental misguidedness, it's likely nothing will.

The oversight that kept the excesses of Wall Street largely in check since the Great Depression have been over the past decade systematically swept aside. It's the free market run wild -- Congress and federal regulatory agencies were told to step aside.

Now look where we are.

First, the U.S. Treasury took over the mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; then came the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the sale of Merrill Lynch. The topper, though, was the unprecedented $85 billion government bailout of the insurer American International Group.

Meanwhile, the stock market on Monday suffered its worst day since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The takeover or sale of so many venerable institutions has everyone who is not a financial expert perplexed, and profoundly worried about the overall state of our economy.

There is no single factor to blame for the debacle, but surely the decline of regulatory influence has played an important role. Without anyone keeping watch, financiers took enormous gambles on ever-larger profits -- gambles they took with other people's money.

Those gambles may have paid off for a while, but eventually, as always happens, there was a price to be paid. That time is now.

The events of the past few weeks should be enough to turn the tide against the anti-regulatory status quo of the recent past. At the very least, though, the current situation should be enough to make people think twice before blaming an ordinary homeowner facing foreclosure or other fiscal calamity. People make bad decisions, but not all of us can count on an $85 billion package to bail us out.

This is what it looks like when government looks out for the interests of the powerful at the expense of the powerless.

Sept. 11 a day Americans will never forget


It's unfortunate this needs to be said, but some people don't believe it: No one -- no one -- has forgotten 9/11.

To this day, seven years after the most terrifying morning in recent American history, the attacks continue to be used as a political cudgel. People who disagree about matters of foreign policy are accused of "forgetting" Sept. 11, 2001 -- as if that were possible, let alone advisable.

Today, at least, let there be no doubt. We remember those who died, we mourn those we have lost, and we unite to prevent it from happening again. It would be nearly impossible to find anyone, of any political bent, who feels otherwise.

That does not mean everyone agrees on the best way to do that. But we must, at long last, stop the politicization of people's deaths at the hands of terrorists. Declining to support a specific course of action is not tantamount to surrender, no matter how loudly some people might yell that it is.

The debate over how to keep America safe is not over. President Bush, in his speech to the Republican National Convention this month, invoked 9/11 to help make his point.

"We need a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001: that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again," he said.

That was the lesson he took from 9/11, but it wasn't the same lesson everyone took. Starting wars -- staying "on offense" -- is not a universally agreed upon method of curtailing those who wish us harm. And there are many reasons to doubt this country has been on the right path all these years.

Boosters will point as evidence of our method's effectiveness to the fact that there have been no comparable attacks on American soil since that day. But they lack proof of causality -- one event following another does not mean one event was caused by another.

There are, though, effects of our actions that are verifiable. The dead from the wars we waged in response to Sept. 11 are losses the same as those who died on the day itself. Some may think those deaths were a necessary price this country paid for its safety. Maybe they're right, but it's small consolation to the families and loved ones of those who died.

As the day of the attacks recedes into history, the terror and tragedy remain fresh. No one who was alive that day will ever forget it, no matter where they were or how much the horror affected their lives. Everyone was touched by it in one way or another, and the grief and pain will never fully dissipate.

We do, however, carry on. We don't live our lives in fear. And though the issue has faded somewhat from the news -- the presidential election is focused to a large degree on economic factors -- everyone carries the knowledge that the worst could happen at any moment.

It's not an easy balancing act. Common sense tells us we're much more likely to die in a highway accident than at the hands of a terrorist, but the mind doesn't always -- or even often -- behave rationally. We worry more about tainted tomatoes than the flu, even though we know in our heads which one poses the greatest danger.

Acknowledging the fact that we're unlikely to be killed by terrorists, though, does not equate "forgetting" about life's dangers. Thousands of people simply going about the course of their day were killed for no remotely justifiable reason in New York, at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field on 9/11; no one has forgotten that, no one diminishes their loss, and no one ever will.

We also will forever pay attention to the shockingly real possibility that those who wish us harm could someday arm themselves with the most destructive weapons ever devised. If our nation has any national security policy at all, foremost among its goals must be securing all fissile material around the globe before it falls into the hands of terrorists. A terrorist with a nuclear weapon is the ultimate nightmare.

In the heat of an election season, politics will inevitably come to the forefront. But we can demand better. To those who seek our votes: Do not use our dead as political props. Do not equate their deaths with your policies.

We are all Americans. Let us acknowledge that much and deal with our differences without exploiting our grief, which is as strong today as it was seven years ago.