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January 28, 2008

Rowland Ready Day One

I’m probably the only one in Connecticut who was not surprised when disgraced former Gov. John Rowland was handpicked for a $95,000 quasi-government job in Waterbury, by its mayor. Rowland had backed Mike Jarjura in his bid for mayor in 2001, so it was payback time.

It is the perfect job for Rowland. Waterbury gets a former convicted felon, who during his tenure as governor surrounded himself with a collection of the truly corrupt, and in return Rowland gets a job doing what he does best -- making deals. For a once proud city that has fallen into disrepair and default ever since the last brass mill closed in the mid 1970s, it is sad to see this is the best city leaders think they can get.

Fresh out of prison Rowland had hoped to make money on the speaking circuit. He is one in a small group of governors who has been chased from office under threat of impeachment. While in prison, Rowland had apparently found God and hoped his locating of the Almighty coupled with the story of his transgressions as governor would make him a sought-after motivational speaker. He might have been motivated, but he was the only one.

Faced with going back to the family business of selling insurance, it is obvious that John needed to find salvation and a paycheck and what better place than government service. It’s obvious that Rowland has or had connections with lots of people he met during to his meteoric rise from unknown congressman to corrupt disgraced governor. I’m sure that Rowland figured if he could just find a few who could forget his ability to surround himself with the truly corrupt, he could land himself a plum job.

And Rowland certainly knew how to find those with no ethical compass. His Deputy Chief of Staff Lawrence Allibozek took 10s of 1,000s of dollars in bribes and other goodies for bid rigging and contract steering. They included limo rides, vacations for him and his mistress (who was also a state commissioner) and 40 gold coins he buried in his back yard. Like no one was going to find them.

Co-Chief of Staff Peter Ellef was hauled off to jail after pleading guilty to participating in a bribery scheme. And the former governor’s part in all of these shenanigans? Recall that Rowland resigned as governor in June 2004 and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison in 2005, after pleading guilty to conspiring to collect $107,000 in gifts and services from businessmen like New Britain’s William Tomasso, who got 100s of millions in contracts and tax breaks from the Rowland Administration. Recall that it was Tomasso’s company that did free renovation work on Rowland’s Bantam Lake summer getaway. Rowland bought it for $110,000 and sold it, much improved, for over $500,000.

Tomasso is doing three and a half years in the federal pen for conspiring to commit bribery and tax fraud.

Now, before you think that I hate John Rowland let me set the record straight. I’ve interviewed him dozens of times. He is an incredibly personable and smart individual. Looks you right in the eye and has a great handshake. He is so personable it is hard not to like him. Unfortunately, based on his past acts he is at best an unethical individual with truly horrible people-selection skills. Having John Rowland as a city’s development administrator is like having an embezzler run the auditing department at a bank.

But by picking Rowland as development czar, Waterbury continues its long and storied history of picking the “best and brightest” public servants. Who can forget the likes of Joe Santopietro who, along with six others, was convicted in 1992 of conspiring with bankers and developers to trade favors for bribes and kickbacks disguised as loans? And in June 2006, Santopietro was indicted in what prosecutors say was a mob-backed scheme to carve up Connecticut’s trash-hauling industry.

What about Waterbury’s most recent darling felon, winner of the “Truly Ick” contest? In 2001, the FBI stumbled on former Mayor Phil Giordano’s proclivity for having sex with a prostitute. It was his particular penchant for being “serviced” by two girls -- one 8, the other 11, one the niece of the prostitute -- who were delivered to the mayor’s office that made most of us turn cold when we heard the story. The FBI had been investigating the mayor and his administration for the comparatively bland allegation of corruption. But halted it and arrested Giordano on the sex charges in order to stop the assaults on the two kids.

So with a history of electing soon-to-be-felons it seems only logical Mayor Mike Jarjura would push to hire Rowland. He has already passed the requirement. He has already pleaded guilty and done his time. Jarjura freely admits only Rowland was interviewed for the job. After all, how many people can you find with his “qualifications?”

Thornton Wilder said it best: “Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world are fools, and the rest of us are in great danger of contagion.”

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

January 14, 2008

Pain in the Gas

Suppose I could show you how we could dramatically cut the price of gasoline, increase automobile fuel efficiency and improve air quality and the economy all in two easy steps? Interested? Hang on.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you gas prices are too high. Some blame taxes, others the Saudis, but everyone can remember gasoline at $1.50 a gallon.

That the price of gasoline adjusted for inflation has only recently caught up with the price of gas in the 1970s doesn’t matter. We all remember when gas cost less. I remember when it was 21cents at the Chevron on Route 7 in Norwalk. I was 18, it was 1972 and I was probably only making $7,000 a year. But for many that’s not the point. It used to cost less.
Federal taxes account for roughly 10 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas.

About $300 a year if you drive 20,000 miles and get about 20 miles to the gallon. Most don’t do that well, but those are “working numbers” from which we can make some rudimentary calculations.

Suppose we eliminate all federal gasoline taxes? Just get rid of ’em. I tried to figure out how much less money that would mean for the federal wallet, but with 260 million vehicles on the road in the United States today, that little calculation had my calculator screaming for mercy. Let’s just say it is a lot.

So how would we come up with the money? The billions of dollars I just picked out of the government’s pocket? I’m getting there. Hang on.

You may know that there is a “gas guzzler tax” in the United States. It is levied on cars that do not meet statutory minimum fuel efficiency standards. It doesn’t apply to minivans, SUVs and pickups because the law was written in 1978, when very few (if any) were sold. The average one-time tax is about $3,700, and on a $100,000 or $200,000 car that’s a bag of shells. How many people do you know who run out and buy a new Bentley or Aston Martin? It is a joke.

You may also know that in Europe cars are taxed based on their carbon emissions. More out of the tailpipe, more out of your wallet when you buy it. The Scandinavians have a slightly different model than the EU but the net effect is the same. The Danes would never suggest telling you what you kind of transportation you should buy. But imagine paying up to $80,000 in taxes to buy a Hummer H-2. That is the penalty for buying and registering one of those behemoths in the home of the Little Mermaid. Trust me, there aren’t too many, if any, rumbling past the statue.

In what can clearly be descried as an unscientific survey, I sat off the side of the road on Route 10 near the entrance to the I-91 connector for 30 minutes earlier this week and counted SUVs carrying more than one person. Only three had more than one person. People don’t drive these things because they need to, they drive them ’cause they want to. These monuments to “bigger has to be better” waste gas, pollute the air and are a danger to other motorists.

So here is the plan. Eliminate the federal gas tax. Instead, charge a 100 percent to 150 percent sliding-scale federal registration tax (which is not tax deductible) on vehicles that don’t get a minimum of 25 miles per gallon. You can drive a boat if you like, but you’re going to pay for the privilege. When buying a $40,000 gas-guzzling SUV or minivan costs $80,000 or $120,000, watch how fast they stack up on dealer lots. The rest of the world seems to comfortably get by driving something other than a “land-ark.” Drive a car that gets over 40 mpg? We should give you a tax deduction every year!

Better fuel mileage will mean less need for gasoline which will translate into less demand and lower prices at the pump. It will also mean cleaner air.
There is another bonus. We’ll decrease our need for foreign oil and improve our balance of trade with other nations. That might just improve a falling dollar and help the economy overall.

I’m no rocket scientist but this doesn’t seem like rocket science. We’ve spent the last 30 years paying lip service to increasing fuel economy and decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. We talk a great game even as we exempt the vehicles that use the most gas for absolutely no logical reason whatsoever.

It is time we get serious. In a country that has never seen the need for anything resembling mass transit, except in the largest metropolitan regions like Boston, Chicago and New York, at least it would be a start.

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

December 27, 2007

‘Please Waterboard Vice President Dick’

Here is my Top 10 list of things I’d really like to see happen in 2008. Originally this list stretched closer to 100 items, but I figured that might be a bit long. So here are my 10 best.

10. To Hamden Mayor Craig Henrici: Please play by the rules. If the Freedom of Information rules say you have to turn over documents then turn them over. Tell the lawyers to **shut-up** and do what you know is right, even if you don’t want to. Being mayor doesn’t mean you get to rewrite the rulebook just because you don’t like the rules.

9. Would everyone please get a dose of common sense? I don’t care if we are talking about a house or a TV, but we’re wrecking our economy buying stuff we can’t afford just ’cause some of us absolutely, positively **have** to have something because the nitwit down the street, who can’t afford it either, had to have it, too. Unless you die first, sooner or later you have to pay for all of this stuff and still have a dollar or two for retirement. Or do you expect to live off Social Security?

8. Speaking of common sense, would everyone stop thinking that Army generals are immune to political pressure. To hear it from President Bush on down, it was impossible for Gen. Petraeus to speak anything but the “God’s honest” truth about how we’re doing in Iraq. Right. And Gen. Westmoreland and a bunch of other two-bit generals kept telling us that we were winning in Vietnam. We weren’t. They LIED to us. I think this bunch also has. Generals are people, too.

7. Would Democrats in Washington please stand up for something? The Bush government has hobbled the justice department and made a mockery of privacy and the Constitution. Can I please have my privacy back? And while you are at it, would someone please indict Mr. Gonzales for crimes against Americans? His wholesale destruction of the justice department combined with his legal opinions on privacy and torture -- which resulted in the loss of one, and our involvement in the other would have landed him in front of some sort of tribunal somewhere at any other time in history.

6. Would someone please waterboard Vice President Dick Cheney, President Bush, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity? Then they can tell me it’s not torture.

5. Let’s do something about CEO pay. I’m all for paying people LOTS of money for a job well done, but how is it a company like investment house Morgan Stanley can be forced to write down (lose) $9 billion in sub-prime mortgage-related investments and the CEO gets a $9 million bonus? Using that formula, if the company actually MAKES money it’s gonna have to fire him.

4. Speaking about getting paid. Maybe this year someone will be able to provide a good argument for paying people who play kids’ games more than people who think. Baseball and football are games and the people who play them are playing a game. Why do they get multi-million-dollar contracts while educators and most professionals (particularly journalists) get paid next to nothing? Is entertainment that important or is it just that your kids’ education or knowing what’s happening in your world is so unimportant to you? We ought to be able to fix that.

3. On the presidential election: If I have a choice, can Hillary not be the nominee?

2. Could we please start some sort of meaningful tax and budget reform in Connecticut? Every year we spend more money on state government. Maybe we should spend a lot less. Isn’t it time we take a top-to-bottom look at what we do and why we do it and what we spend for it? I am not advocating spending a penny less, just asking for us to look at what we’re doing with the public’s money.

1. And education. Let’s make educating kids the priority, not filling buildings with principals, vice-principals and functionaries and meaningless tests that prove we know how to study for and give tests. We need more teachers and better equipment and better programs and fewer administrators.
OK, those are a few of mine. Good luck with yours.

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

December 9, 2007

Good God

Ronald Reagan always admitted to being a religious man, but beyond that was no one’s business. I’m not sure I know the first thing about the religious beliefs of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon or Gerald Ford. But these days it seems everyone who is running for president has a personal relationship with the Almighty. Mike Huckabee has even gone so far as to say his surge in the polls is caused by the same forces that allowed Jesus to feed the 5,000. Read that as, “God is on my side.”

Didn’t they say that during the Crusades?

I’m not going to get sucked into the decades-old argument about whether America was founded by deists or Christians. There is more than an ample body of knowledge to suggest the former, but I’ll leave it to those who have too much time on their hands to argue this for the next 100 years.

In the race for votes, it would appear some running for elected office will say and do just about anything to get a vote. Rudy Giuliani, divorcee, adulterer and a man “who has made mistakes,” seeks out the endorsement of the pompous and ever self-righteous Pat Robertson. Good thing Robertson has a TV show or he would have dissolved into obscurity years ago.

You remember Pat, don’t you? The so-called deeply religious man who said that AIDS is God’s answer to homosexuals, that "many of those people involved with Adolph Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals--the two things seem to go together.” And let’s not forget it was Pat who passed an **amen brother** to Jerry Falwell’s rant about who caused 9/11.

JERRY FALLWELL: I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we're responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.

Good thing they believe in a loving and forgiving God, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, back at the pulpit, Mitt Romney seemed to feel it was necessary to tell everyone that he is a Mormon but that the Mormon Church will not run his government. I wouldn’t expect it would. You’re running to represent the people of the United States, not the Mormon Church. You want to run the church? Move to Salt Lake City.

I think Democrats also believe in God. Then again, they could be deists just like most of our founding fathers. Where’s that Bible?

The long and short of this is that we shouldn’t elect presidents, or anyone else, based on their religion. We should elect them on their ethics, values, morals (or lack thereof) and what they think. Who cares what god they pray to? Scarier is the thought that in 2007 someone would not vote for a candidate because that individual is Christian, Catholic, Jew or Mormon. To that mental midget I would ask, “Is there any skin left on your knuckles after scraping them on the floor while walking?”

I’m a great believer in religion. Everyone should have one. Unless, of course, they don’t want one. Me? I’m Jewish but haven’t been a regular attending member of a congregation in years. My view? Not going makes me no better or worse a Jew than one who goes every day or once a week. For the uninitiated, a rabbi is a teacher as well as a keeper of the faith. That individual’s job and life is to show you how to comport yourself with others and how to act ethically and morally. Rabbi Siegel was pretty good and I think I got the lesson. Beyond that is no one’s business but mine.

And maybe that is what I wish everyone else gets in their religion classes. If you truly believe you have a personal relationship with God -- great! Shut up about it. Don’t tell everyone else, because someone is going to get jealous and say they also have a personal relationship with the almighty, and pretty soon you have the likes of Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.


Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

November 26, 2007

An Open Letter to Dr. John Lahey:

I must profess to having been startled by comments attributed to you about controlling the student press on campus, and how administrators must now inform the Office of Public Affairs if they are going to speak to any media outlets. That policy, I am led to understand, would also apply to the student media at Quinnipiac. As a journalist for over 30 years -- and I think a reasonably good one -- I’m not sure that is how we should train the next generation of journalists.

I tried to figure out yesterday just how long I have known you and where and when we first met. I think it was when I was a talk show host and we first walked with our mutual friend Murray Lender around campus (and beyond) to raise money for the American Heart Association. That was back in the early ’90s. You don’t need me to tell you how far the university has come in just under two decades, thanks in great part to your stewardship which has taken Quinnipiac from a small college to a world-class university.

It is no secret that you have assembled an incredible collection of faculty and instructors. Who would have thought 25 years ago that Quinnipiac would one day have an Ed McMahon School of Communications, never mind hand out a prestigious First Amendment Award to some of the best and brightest in broadcast journalism?

You always struck me as being insightful and thoughtful, in the best sense of those terms. And fair. So knowing what I know of you I am thoroughly perplexed at the current problems that exist between you, your administration and the Quinnipiac Chronicle student newspaper.

Some personal perspective might be in order. Since you’re not a journalist it may be hard to understand what we do and why we do it. Like moths to a flame, aspiring journalists seek out a job with long hours and for sometimes not as much money as you could make flipping burgers at McDonald’s or White Castle. The work schedule is as ruinous on your personal life as it is on your health. Job security is either measured in weeks or months. Even worse, some first-time broadcast journalists find themselves shackled to a hilariously long three-year contract in places like Bismarck, Beaumont or Boise.

We do this because we can’t imagine there is anything else in the entire world we could ever do. We’re journalists. We tell people things they need to know. My friend Jerry Nachman, who for a time was vice president of MSNBC and a news director at WNBC before going on to be editor of the New York Post, said: “News is the exposition of stuff.” I have always thought that was the best way of describing in six words what we do. We tell people stuff. Sometimes the people about whom we write wish we didn’t. Other times they wish we would write more stuff. Our job is to find that balance, and based on our training and our experience, determine what is and what is not news.

But there is one thing all journalists, from the beat cop writer to the investigative reporter, don’t let others outside our newsroom do -- and that is decide what “stuff” we print or broadcast. There are some notable exceptions, for instance if something is potentially libelous or slanderous or stuff the government considers “national security.” But those government folks have to do a lot of work to even begin to convince us it really is “national security” and not just an attempt to avoid national embarrassment or cover up national incompetence.

I write you in the defense of the students at Quinnipiac who write and publish the Quinnipiac Chronicle. They are learning how to be journalists. They are learning how to find stories, determine whether a story is worthwhile pursuing and then make an editorial decision on whether to publish. If you take away those responsibilities and opportunities, you steal the very educational opportunity the university setting provides. These are the next generation of journalists. They are the people who will find their generation’s “Pentagon Papers” or “Rowland Graft and Corruption” stories. They’ll never learn how to cover a plane crash until they see one, but they will learn the principles of good reporting.

I know that it would be easier for some (but not necessarily better) if things that happened on campus never saw the light of day. If that ever happened before, the reality is those days are gone. In this blog/YouTube/everything-is-on-the-Internet-in-an-instant world we live in everyone gets to find out everything. When the student newspaper writes about it, the local newspaper picks it up it along with the local TV station. There is just no way any longer to control how information gets out and to where it goes. And much as some would like it, that genie is just never going to fit back into that bottle.

If you were to ask me for “the fix” I’d tell you not to attempt to channel all requests for interviews through internal or external communications directors, which never works on a “good” day. They’ll get overwhelmed with a flood of requests, students will figure out how to get around the rules, so too will the press and the “rule” will instantly become meaningless. Try the reverse: make everyone available, no “rules.” However, there is a message to the staff and students. To paraphrase my Dad, “Never say or do anything that would bring shame to your good name or that of the university.”

Always worked for me and it has to work better than the direction that university is now headed.

My best wishes and best regards,

Steven D. Kalb

Steve Kalb is a freelance reporter and TV news talent coach. He is also an adjunct professor of  broadcast journalism at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)


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