How Wrong Can One Person Be?

I know it’s exciting when someone new walks in and turns everyone’s heads. They’re mysterious. That’s sexy. And, if they can put words together into complete, grammatically correct sentences, they (by today’s standards) are brilliant.

So, suddenly, the known quantity of the person we’ve been with seems suddenly unbearably dull. And all their flaws become magnified to funhouse proportions. We’re prone to find fault with old reliable. We dream of dancing with the New Kid In Town.

But sooner or later, the New Kids reveal themselves to be complete jerks. What was once cool, suddenly seems mean. We realize that New Kid hasn’t been laughing with us, New Kid has been laughing at us. Or worse, we realize that seemed “cool” is actually, kinda dumb.

It may sound like middle school, but that’s politics in America today. And Linda McMahon has been CT’s New Kid du jour. But guess what? Turns out that scrappy-business-woman-who-will-shake-things-up-in-Washington-and-go-to-the-mat-for-us-in-CT narrative isn’t really an accurate character portrayal. McMahon really, really, is far more out of touch with “real people” in CT than she claims.


McMahon was asked if she supported increasing the minimum wage. (This wasn’t a gotcha media question out of nowhere. She’d just received the endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Business, who is decidedly anti-minimum-wage increases: http://www.nfib.com/issues-elections/issues-elections-item?cmsid=240). She responded:

“What I think what we have to look at whenever we’re talking about minimum wage increases is where is our economy is at this particular point, and how’s that going to impact the businesses that are going to have to pay those wages?” McMahon said.

Yes. It must be really, really terrible to be paying out minimum wage to one’s workers. Really, if we wanted to help out mom-and-pop business owners (like McMahon and her hubby, who run a mom-and-pop small business themselves, dontcha know?), we’d indenture workers to them for 7 years.

“Pressed further, McMahon admitted she did not know the current minimum wage or if anyone at World Wrestling Entertainment is earning that amount.”

Oh. That’s probably why she needs to study it more, then. For the rest of us, who already know that the minimum wage is $8.25/hr in CT (and $7.25 from the feds), and who also know that the federal minimum wage recently rose after nearly a decade of remaining stuck at $6.55/hr, do we really need the review?

Minimum wage is only the bottom rung (well, second bottom rung: don’t forget the many employees who earn less than minimum, and rely on tips to make up the difference. And Americans are lousy tippers.) of the pay-scale ladder. And it’s been clear to anyone who earns an hourly wage that our wages are not keeping up with our cost of living. By keeping the minimum wage down, wages all up the ladder stagnated. (Except at the tippy top. Where Linda McMahon sits.) Which is part of the reason we are in this nightmare recession to begin with.

McMahon, however, doesn’t earn an hourly wage. She earns $46 million a year with her little mom-and-pop business. Now, much of that money is “bred”: it’s dividends and compound interest on investments and all kinds of other low-tax, non-work-related income that one can get when one has accumulated a huge pile of cash. If McMahon’s earnings were calculated hourly, assuming 50 work weeks a year –I’m giving her 2 weeks’ vacation like the rest of working stiffs– she’d be making $23,000 an hour.

Nice work if you can get it. Which, apparently, McMahon can, but she’d rather you and I ….. can’t.

Now, McMahon, sensing she’d maybe said something a little out-of-touch, quickly back-pedaled:

“Don’t take away this morning that I’m saying that we should scrap minimum wage,” she said. “That is clearly not my position.”

So, she’s not for not increasing minimum wage? Or, she was for it, but now she’s against it? Or, she has no idea what it’s like to live on $14,500 a year ($16,500 in CT), but she does know that increasing the tax rates on people earning $250,00 + is just too much to be borne? Clearly, her position is entirely unclear. But, her sympathies do lie with the people who have to pay their workers.

Oh well, any rising star candidate can have one bad moment, right?

Except, the more I hear from McMahon (and, honestly, I get so much junk mail from her campaign, I feel like I went to high school with her), the less I understand about her positions.

Maybe you don’t know this, but immigration has become somewhat of a hot topic this election cycle (I know. Who knew?). Two important pieces of immigrant-related legislation were nearly voted on this week. (Except that the GOP voted to not vote on either one of them. Hasta la vista, baby!) Maybe you’ve heard that CT is home to a sizable population of immigrants?

Well, it’s all news to McMahon!


“In an interview, she claimed ignorance of two issues of top concern for Latino advocates, especially in a city that has thousands of illegal immigrants: She said she is not familiar with the federal Dream Act, a federal bill that would have allowed “alien children” a path to citizenship. She also said she had not heard about the New Haven’s municipal ID, which made national headlines when Mayor John DeStefano created it in 2007 for all residents, regardless of immigration status.”

Awesome. It’s not like the legal status of American-born children of non-native-Americans will be of any consequence to CT, right? It’s not like issues of immigration and minimum wage are completely unrelated. Nor the idea of educating children of immigrants (legal or otherwise) won’t have an impact on our workforce, our economy, or wages!

(Hmmm, maybe McMahon should ask her kindred spirit - another mom-and-pop-small-business owner! - and fellow office-seeker, Meg Whitman, about thorny issues of immigration and wages …


…. Maybe not.)

Then there’s McMahon’s two-step cha-cha position on education:


“As a member of the state Board of Education, McMahon supported the state's application for federal Race to the Top funds, an education program that many in the Tea Party see as another federal intrusion into what should be the province of local and state government.

“But McMahon did tell [Freedomworks] she would consider voting to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the Department of Energy and, possibly, the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Or, maybe she didn’t!

“McMahon's campaign says McMahon's position to the Tea Party was that she would have to study the issue, before deciding if she could support dismantling any federal agency.

Except, there’s a Video of her remarks, taken by an audience member, is available on YouTube.

The question comes at 4:45: “Can you name the top 2 or 3 federal agencies you would dismantle?”

The answer is coy.

"I'm not sure that I know an agency should be totally dismantled and done away with until I've had an opportunity to look at it more," she said. "Some that come to mind that I think would have a first look: one would be the Department of Education."

So, she won’t dismantle the DoE, until she’s looked at it. Then she’ll dismantle it.

I now have a headache in my right eye. This is political hair-splitting. Does McMahon ever state a clear policy position? For someone who has used her “political outsider” credentials a major line on her resume, she sure learned the argot of political double-speak pretty quick. (I should also add, she put the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency on the chopping block as well.)

Or her remarks on repealing health care reform (at about minute 2 in the same video): she thinks we need health care reform, but because there was “no bipartisanship” in the recent overhaul (which is true only in the sense that no Republicans voted for it. Because there are a lot of Republican ideas in HCR. But that’s another blog post), she wants to “repeal it” and “start over.” And probably end up with a bill that looks remarkably similar, but with less access to health care for the middle and working class. And more perks for the ultra-wealthy, like herself.

That’s what really gets me. Here is a candidate who pretends to be “for the regular people.” But she’s really in it for people like her. Top earners. (And, of course, she then smears her opponent with her own flaws.)


Here’s the rundown so far (based on her campaign website):

Linda McMahon is for:

tax reductions on capital gains and dividends

abolition of the estate tax and the gift tax

greater tax deductions to encourage savings for IRAs and higher education

passage of pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea

All of which help to enrich the top earners, at the expense of bottom earners.

She’s against:

the minimum wage (starve the worker, so the employer can make more)

health care reform (so her “independent contractor” wrestlers have even fewer options when the steroids they’ve used to stay employed melt their internal organs.)

the stimulus (we should take all that money and “pay down our national debt.” So the jobless, and the soon-to-be-homeless can feel financially responsible, I guess.)

“burdensome regulations” (want some eggs?)

All of which help to level the playing field for the middle and working class. (Once again, let me refer you to Senator Al Franken’s brilliant one-act play:


Because sometimes, you need Helen Hunt and Drew Barrymore to explain regressive tax policy.)

She’s also, apparently, against the Department of Education, for reasons I can’t begin to guess.

On top of it, she doesn’t even bother to know the details of things that concern “regular people”. Like what the minimum wage actually is. Or what the DREAM act might mean to cities like New Haven. But then, we should recognize this character trait by now. Look at how hard she and her husband worked to make sure they were enriched at their wrestlers’ expense! (Insert your own links here. There are many. Just don’t go to that vapid ad with the 2 soccer moms jabbering about “soap opera.”)

Color me unimpressed with Linda McMahon. She’s wrapped up Reaganomics talking points in wrestling tights and cape, but she’s no more compassionate about the actual plight of actual constituents than any other Beltway bloodsucker. And she’s willfully ignorant on issues that do not intersect with her rarified world of the very, very rich.

While certainly more polished(and less whackadoo) then, say, Sarah Palin or Christine O’Donnell, under the surfaces, she’s cut from the same “Me first! Screw you!” cloth.

Cool? Nope. Smart? Not in my book. Senatorial? Let’s hope not.


Here's what McMahon's opponent did today:


Which will certainly come as a relief to many CT homeowners. (I've been wondering: if McMahon is really so concerned about her potential constituents, why doesn't she dole out $25 million in mortgage relief to CT homeowners unemployed from the Great Recession? How many houses would $25m save from the bank auction? And how would keeping these people in their homes positively impact the CT economy? Linda? Call me!)


The hits keep coming. (This is where being a shut-in on a Friday night pays off. Who else saw Rachel Maddow tonight?)


When asked by an audience member at a TEA-bagger event, if she'd ever lobbied congress:

"McMahon then acknowledged having made campaign contributions to both parties. But “in terms of lobbying dollars in Washington, I have not spent lobbying dollars in Washington,” she said. "

Too bad she's, um, lying.

"Between 2001 and 2008, McMahon’s company paid at least $680,000 to lobby Congress and federal agencies over such issues as the defense authorization bills of 2002 and 2003, which included taxpayer-funded advertising programs during wrestling programs. McMahon’s company also sought lobbying help during a Congressional steroids investigation.

Yeah. Lying. Pants-on-fire lying.

But this is my favorite part:

"The McMahon campaign dismissed the issue as a simple matter of imprecise language and defended the lobbying payments."

I'm guessing she left herself some wiggle-room with the sentence, "I have not spent lobbying dollars in Washington." She probably wasn't "in Washington" when she made those lobbying payments. She was probably on the phone, credit card in hand, in CT. Or, she sent a flunky to DC with the check while she was on vacation. Or, maybe, she was in the District of Columbia, but not in Washington State. See? It's all a big misunderstanding!

So. Tell me again how Linda McMahon is an "outsider" offering us something "new?"


salary salads

Here’s some interesting news about salaries, concessions, and taxes.

New Milford teachers and the Board of Ed have peacefully renegotiated teacher contracts for the 2011-2012 year.



It’s pretty frugal:

The contract will freeze teacher pay for the next year. $0 raises. 0% step increases. $0 in longevity pay. $0 extra dollars for extracurricular service. Whatever a teacher is making this year, they make next year (if they are still working at all).

Additionally, teachers will also pay a little more out of pocket (in the form of co-pay increases) for medical care.

(Oddly, not everyone is thrilled by this. Bill Wellman and Nancy LaTour of the BoE, wanting more concessions, voted against the contracts.)

Compare this with the last contracts, in the halcyon days of pre-crash 2008:


when teachers’ salaries increased, on average, 3.4%.

(And Bill Wellman thought this was “excellent.”)

Let’s say this again, slowly.

New Milford teachers have agreed to flat salaries, and increased medical costs, for the next year. Tax payers aren’t being asked for a single dime over last year.

This seems fair, given the current state of the economy. If anyone still remembers last spring, and the budget battle, many, many people criticized teachers for “squeezing” tax payers (by not granting salary concessions mid-contract).

Some people even thought the budget meetings required defibrillators:


At the same time, the Town-side employees were repeatedly praised for nobly sacrificing raises and benefits increases out of compassion for the struggling tax payers.

(Which is a tad disingenuous. Given that the NM Police contract expired in 2008, and the new contract was finally settled in arbitration this year - which I cost tax payers how much? - the salary picture, at least for the police, seems a bit more complex than certain members of the Town Council would have us believe.)




(That’s not knocking the police. Their work is hard and dangerous. That our police force has done so for 2 years under an expired contract is shameful, but it’s not the police force I’m ashamed of.)

Well. Anyway. That was spring.

What’s happening on the Town side this fall?


Huh. Looks like every non-union employee on the town side just got a 2% raise.

Retroactive to July 2010.

In the budget that was trumpeted as containing 0 salary increases.

Come again?


The Town Council, after slapping everyone involved with education silly last spring, just undercut their own argument.

Ummm … wha?

Where is money coming from?

Didn’t Roger Szendy tell us that the cupboard was bare, the well was dry, and, if money were toilet paper, there wasn’t a square to spare? (He did.)


(Which is kind of funny, when you remember things like this):


But, apparently, cupboards are not as bare as all that:

“Mayor Murphy stated the money for the non union personnel wage adjustments will be coming out of the contingency line and out of the Fringe Account.”

Say What?!

The contingency line and the Fringe Account?

Pardon me, but:

  1. Didn’t the Board of Ed get raked over the coals by Paul Szymanski for transferring money form different columns of the school budget? (Oh, yes, he did. He had a facebook page and a website and huge, honking billboards telling everyone with eyeballs just how awful, dirty, shameful, carnie-huckster that kind of transfer is!)



So, why is it ok for the town to make these kinds of transfers? What’s the difference? It was the Mayor’s idea, so it’s ok?

  1. Is a salary increase truly a “contingency” expense? (It’s not in my household.) What happens next year, when it’s budget time again, and the revenue side has not improved (as Roger Szendy keeps telling us. His message is “Be afraid. Be very afraid” about future budgets.)? Will the Town Council raid the contingency line again to keep those salaries where they are? Or will they yank that 2% (or more) back from the non-union employees?

I don’t deny that town employees deserve the increase. I don’t deny the good work done by town employees. So don’t start. That’s not the point.

The point is, there seems to be one set of standards the BoE is expected to follow, or beware the wrath of billboards. And there is another set of standards the TC is allowed to follow. Especially between budget seasons.

Because there’s no way the average tax payer is keeping their eye on this ball. I’m sure next budget season, we’ll hear the same garbage from the same cranks about how teachers are greedy, the BoE is can’t handle money, and no one will note that teachers and the BoE held the line on salaries, while the Mayor and TC basically used the vacation credit card to pay the mortgage.

It’s all perfectly legal.

But it sure ain’t fair. Not to the taxpayers, who were sold a story about financially responsible town officials and greedy educators. Not to the BoE members, who were vilified for “underhanded” processes that are, apparently, totally cool for the TC. And not to the school and town employees, who are clearly being treated as “good kid/bad kid” in a tragically dysfunctional family.