Category Archives: Politics

Let’s Talk Tolls

Talk of reinstating tolls on Connecticut highways has bubbled up for a while.

Now it’s reached full boil.

A bill to begin establishing electronic tolls at the state’s borders has been introduced. The full text — sent by State Senator Toni Boucher to her constituents — is below.

Toll plazas were a familiar scene on I-95 30 years ago. A proposed bill would establish electronic (E-Z Pass) tolls.

Toll plazas were a familiar scene on I-95 30 years ago. A proposed bill would establish electronic (E-Z Pass) tolls.

Boucher says that a public hearing is set for Wednesday, February 25 (10:30 a.m.) at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

If you don’t want to (or can’t) drive on the (still-toll-less) highway to the capital, you can submit testimony by email: tratestimony@cga.ct.gov, and cc Boucher: toni.boucher@cga.ct.gov. Deadline is Tuesday evening.

To take Boucher’s “border toll survey,” and/or sign her petition against tolls, click here.

One Westporter has already made his views known. Second Selectman Avi Kaner says:

Tolls on I-95 will by definition drive traffic onto our local roads. Our residents already pay gasoline taxes of over 60 cents a gallon to fund transportation. Adding tolls is yet another layer of inefficient taxation requiring the installation and maintenance of a tolling infrastructure. Connecticut’s focus should be on reforming the state pension system, ranked as the 2nd worst funded in the United States by S&P.

What do you think about tolls?  Click “Comments” (after the text of the bill below). Let us know — and please use your real, full real name.

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HB 6818, an Act Concerning The Establishment of Electronic Tolls At The State’s Borders.

CT dept transSection 1. (NEW) (Effective from passage) (a) The Commissioner of Transportation shall initiate any actions necessary for the establishment and commencement of operations of electronic tolling at the borders of the state, including, but not limited to: (1) Entering into an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration to ensure that any toll operation undertaken by the state will be allowed by the Federal Highway Administration and will not result in any adverse financial impact on the state; (2) consultation with other state and federal agencies, as necessary and appropriate; (3) the development of recommendations concerning legislative or regulatory changes needed to establish such tolls; and (4) the development of procedures to ensure that any moneys received from the operation of such tolls are deposited in the Special Transportation Fund and used only for transportation purposes.

(b) Beginning July 1, 2015, and monthly thereafter until the commencement of operations of electronic tolling at the borders of the state, the commissioner shall submit a progress report to the joint standing committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to transportation on the actions taken during the preceding month pursuant to subsection (a) of this section. Such progress report shall include, but not be limited to, any request for legislative action necessary for the establishment of such tolling.

 

Bradley Stevens: Portrait Artist, Basketball Player, Rock Star

In 2007, Brad Stevens met Hillary Clinton. Someday, he said, he’d paint her presidential portrait.

She roared with laughter. He was serious.

That’s just one anecdote in a long George Washington Magazine profile of the 1972 Staples High School graduate. He earned a BA from George Washington University in 1976, and an MFA from there 3 years later.

Bradley Stevens' depiction of Vernon Jordan hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. (Photo/GW Magazine)

Bradley Stevens’ depiction of Vernon Jordan hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. (Photo/GW Magazine)

Stevens is now one of America’s leading realist painters. His work — depicting Vernon Jordan, Allen Iverson, Felix Rohatyn, Senator Mark Warner, and dozens of other politicians, financiers, educators and judges — hangs in the Smithsonian, US Capitol, State Department, Mount Vernon and Monticello.

The GW story notes that Stevens has won praise “not just for his original portraiture and sanctioned copies of great works, but also for his landscapes and cityscapes. From the warmth of the sun to a face in the crowd and the visage of a president, he seems to find inspiration equally.”

Stevens says that his fascination with people-watching helps him “seize upon what makes someone special and different.”

The story describes the artist’s youth in Westport, where he inhabited 2 separate worlds: Staples basketball starter (he’s 6-5), and rock guitarist.

Bradley Stevens, at work in his studio. (Photo/GW Magazine)

Bradley Stevens, at work in his studio. (Photo/GW Magazine)

“I’m sure my hometown had an influence on my path toward the arts,” Stevens says. “It’s a culturally progressive place with many New York-based artists, illustrators, writers, actors, musicians and the like.”

At GW he played lead guitar in a comedy band, and received his 1st professional art commission: a caricature of George Washington himself dribbling a basketball on the court of the new Smith Center.

His early career included noted re-creations of the works of Degas, Monet, Manet and others. He’s been commissioned to reproduce famous works, including Gilbert Stuart’s famous full-length portrait of the 1st president (and university namesake).

Based now in Virginia, Stevens says that portrait painters “should have a certain lack of ego.” That’s because their work is entirely about the subject.

Portraits should link the present with the future, he says. Who knows? Maybe the future does include a presidential portrait, done by the talented Bradley Stevens.

(To read the entire story, click here. Hat tip to Jon Fraade.)

Bradley Stevens' mural of the Connecticut Compromise of 1787 hangs in the US Capitol. (Photo/GW Magazine)

Bradley Stevens’ mural of the Connecticut Compromise of 1787 hangs in the US Capitol. (Photo/GW Magazine)

Comey’s Speech On Race Draws Praise

FBI director James Comey lives at one of the most elite addresses in Westport — a very white suburb to begin with.

But speaking yesterday at Georgetown University, he addressed race relations in stark terms.

The Washington Post described Comey as a “Teller of Hard Truths,” who called the nation “at a crossroads.” The Post quoted him:

As a society, we can choose to live our everyday lives, raising our families and going to work, hoping someone, somewhere, will do something to ease the tension — to smooth over the conflict. We can turn up the music on the car radio and drive around these problems. Or we can choose to have an open and honest discussion about what our relationship is today — what it should be, what it could be, and what it needs to be — if we took more time to better understand one another.

The Post added, “Comey laid out a number of hard truths on race — a rare move for such a high-profile white law enforcement official, or even a law-enforcement official, period.”

FBI director -- and Westport resident -- James Comey.

FBI director — and Westport resident — James Comey.

The New York Times said that the “unusually candid” speech was “well received by law enforcement officials.” The Times continued:

Citing the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway show “Avenue Q,” he said police officers of all races viewed black and white men differently. (Comey added) that some officers scrutinize African-Americans more closely using a mental shortcut that “becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights” because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.

Click here to read Comey’s entire, groundbreaking speech. Or watch it below:

Tony Banbury: Report From UN’s Ebola Emergency Mission

On September 8, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave Tony Banbury his new assignment: heading up the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency  Response.

The deadly disease was ravaging 3 countries in Africa — and sowing terror as far away as the US.

Tony Banbury

Tony Banbury (Photo/Simon Ruf for the UN)

Banbury never hesitated. The Westport resident — whose day job is assistant secretary-general for field support — had been dispatched to hot spots before. He dealt with the Haiti earthquake, conflict in the Central African Republic, and the prohibition of chemical weapons in Syria.

But this crisis was different. He had to convince a staff to follow him to a continent where a deadly epidemic raged — with no end in sight.

Over the weekend in Westport, he wrote up an action plan. More than 130 countries sponsored the resolution — a record.

“We went from mission conception to mission establishment in 6 days,” Banbury says proudly. “The UN never works that quickly.”

He flew to Africa. With a staff of “young hard-chargers,” he set up headquarters in Accra, Ghana. He worked up to 16 hours every day — literally, with no day off — for the next 4 months.

Tony Banbury, with government and military officials in Guinea.

Tony Banbury, with government and military officials in Guinea. (Photo/Ari Gaitanis for the UN)

“The UN had never had an emergency health commission,” Banbury says. His group worked on multiple levels. The epidemic involved medical, political, social and humanitarian dimensions.

Usually, a UN group would gather information, assess and analyze it, create a plan, deploy personnel and equipment, then become operational. The process takes months.

Banbury’s group did all that simultaneously. The Secretary-General wanted action. They acted.

In Accra, Banbury created a command-and-control structure. He tackled tough issues, made hard decisions, negotiated with high-level diplomats.

Tony Banbury with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She is the president of Liberia, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Tony Banbury with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She is the president of Liberia, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. (Photo/Ari Gaitanis for the UN)

He spent plenty of time in planes and helicopters, too. During 6 tours of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone he met with presidents; representatives of organizations like Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, WHO and USAID; and ordinary citizens. Taxi drivers, for example, drive sick people around — and have an enormous impact on the ground.

Banbury also toured treatment centers and command posts.

All international crises share  certain elements — an urgency to achieve results, and unexpected complications.

But, Banbury says, this experience was much different from all others. Though Haiti’s death toll of 230,000 far surpassed that of Ebola, conditions following the earthquake “got better every day. The damage was already done.”

In Africa, Banbury explains, “it was so hard to understand where the disease was, or figure out infection rates. For a couple of months, each day was worse than the one before. And we knew that would continue for a while.”

A 10-year-old survivor, and Tony Banbury.

A 10-year-old survivor, and Tony Banbury. (Photo/Martine Perret for the UN)

In addition to isolating patients and finding the proper people, equipment and sites to bury the dead, Banbury’s group had to halt, then turn around numbers that rose exponentially.

“That was very hard to do,” he conceded. “But we set ambitions targets.” Thanks to his work, and a global response — including support from NGOs, governments, the US military and the UN — they succeeded.

Banbury’s assignment was supposed to end in December. But he remained in Africa over the holidays, because he wanted to set a good example for all those he had encouraged to join him.

Tony Banbury calls this the toughest moment of his 4 months in Africa. The Sierre Leone graveyard included the names of ages of Ebola victims -- and one freshly dug plot, awaiting the disease's latest casualty. (Photo/Ari Gaitanis for the UN)

Tony Banbury calls this the toughest moment of his 4 months in Africa. The Sierra Leone graveyard was filled with Ebola victims — and one freshly dug plot, awaiting the disease’s latest casualty. (Photo/Ari Gaitanis for the UN)

He knew — based on news reports from Texas and New York — that some people would fear him when he returned. He called the Connecticut Department of Public Health, Westport Weston Health District and Westport Board of Education (3 of his 4 children are still in local schools).

All provided excellent support. He took his temperature twice a day, for 21 days, and reported the results. He was symptom-free.

“It’s nice to be back,” Banbury says. It was tough missing Christmas with his family, but he’s had time to sleep, read and decompress. There was praise from his UN colleagues.

Still, Banbury confesses to mixed emotions. Eradication of Ebola is unfinished. But numbers of infections and deaths continue to fall. Today, they’re at their lowest rate since last June.

Now, Banbury is back at his regular job. He spends his days worrying about Mali, South Sudan, Iraq and Boko Haram.

Unfortunately, the work of the UN assistant secretary-general for field support never ends.

Fortunately, Tony Banbury is that man.

Click below for an interview with Tony Banbury, from the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

 

 

 

 

Paris Tragedy A Reminder Of Past Horrors

Last week’s horrific events in Paris touched every Westporter. We wondered how such things can happen. We talked about religion, freedom and humanity. We thought about France, and looked in new ways at America.

The news hit Westport’s Bart Shuldman and his wife wife Sue especially hard. In 1996 they were eyewitnesses to an IRA bomb that demolished a London bus.

Bart helped save the driver’s life. Nearly 20 years later, he remains haunted by the event. He calls such violence “truly devastating. It is worse than any picture could portray.”

That February day, Bart and Sue had just arrived in London. They boarded a taxi to their hotel. At a red light, a bus traveling from a different direction turned, then exploded right in front of them.

The taxi driver screamed. Bart and Sue watched in horror as the bus continued to travel, while opening up like a can.

The taxi driver asked what they should do. Bart said, let’s go help.

The aftermath of the 1996 IRA bus bombing in London.

The aftermath of the 1996 IRA bus bombing in London.

Not knowing if there were more bombs, they followed the bus until it stopped.  The taxi stopped. Bart and the driver jumped out.

The driver grabbed a fire extinguisher, and went to one side of the bus. Bart went to the other side.

He heard noises. It was the bus driver, who had been hit from behind by the blast. The taxi driver, meanwhile, said he’d discovered a body in 2 parts, on fire. It was the bomber.

Bart got the driver out from the rubble, and carried him to the sidewalk.  His head was bleeding badly. Bart knew the victim could not hear him, so he had the man focus on Bart’s mouth. Bart wanted to keep talking, so the man would not pass out and die in his arms.

It took a while for an ambulance to arrive. Police and medics waited a long time, as people screamed there were more bombs.

Finally, Bart was escorted back to the taxi. Sue was there, scared. Bart at been gone nearly an hour.

The bus driver survived. But he never worked again.

“These acts are more violent than any TV news report can show,” Bart says. “The destruction is horrible. The impact to a body is something you cannot imagine.”

Nearly a decade later, he is not sure why he jumped in to help. Perhaps — just as the entire world is trying to make sense of the news from France — it takes a horrible tragedy for each of us, individually, to find out something about ourselves.

 

 

Westport’s Cubans React To Thaw

Yesterday’s announcement by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro of a new relationship between their 2 nations surprised Americans and Cubans alike.

The news was particularly stunning for the small number of Westporters with Cuban heritage.

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux is a 1983 graduate of Staples High School. She grew up here, but her parents are Cuban. She says:

I think it’s time, but I have very mixed feelings. On the positive side, this gives hope that it will open dialogue to address issues in a diplomatic level.

On the negative, it will give the Castros a lifeline at a moment when they are desperate due to Venezuela’s crash due to decline in oil prices. There are also no concessions regarding the human rights of the Cuban people.

Tony Hernandez is 80 years old. He was born and raised in Cuba, but left in 1960. He says:

I feel that President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba’s communist regime is a very positive step. It ends 53 years of isolation, and simultaneously eases all the vicissitudes and misery the Cuban people have been suffering.

His daughter, Maite Hernandez, says:

I  just read that 7 million tourists are expected to visit Cuba, as opposed to 2 million in the past year. On the one hand, the flow of visitors and the money they bring will definitely boost the economy of Cuba, at a time where they have run out of countries to support them. I just hope this will translate to a better economic level for the local Cubans.

It remains to be seen whether  human rights issues will be addressed. There can be no compromise regarding this matter. Otherwise this move by President Obama will be seen as political, with the only purpose of securing himself a place in the history books.

Maite Hernandez and her father Tony.

Maite Hernandez and her father Tony.

Josh Koskoff Takes On The NRA

In 2005, President Bush signed into law a bill pushed by the NRA. It shields gun manufacturers from most forms of civil litigation.

But yesterday — the day after the 2nd anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre — 10 Newtown families sued Bushmaster Firearms, the maker of the gun used in that rampage.

Josh Koskoff

Josh Koskoff

Josh Koskoff represents the victims. Last night, the 1984 Staples High School graduate and longtime Westport resident talked to Rachel Maddow about that wrongful death suit.

It’s a tough case, he admitted. Gun manufacturers have broad immunity.

“This is an industry that makes the world’s most dangerous product,” he said. “But you can’t sue them.”

However, he told the MSNBC host, he’s undaunted. His clients are “so worthy.” He and his colleagues at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder believe they have found a way to win.

“We’ve got a case here,” the attorney told Maddow.

Josh Koskoff on "Rachel Maddow" last night.

Josh Koskoff on “Rachel Maddow” last night.

It’s clear he feels a personal stake in this battle.

“If we didn’t take this case — in our own backyard — we might as well just fold up,” he said.

Maddow said that Bushmaster refused to comment.

(To see the Koskoff interview, click on “The Rachel Maddow Show.”)

(Hat tip to Peter Propp)

 

 

Post Road Protest

In the 1960s and ’70s, the Post Road bridge was the site of anti-Vietnam War protests.

In the 1990s and ’00s, that spot — now named the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, in honor of the longtime UN volunteer — was where demonstrators railed against other US incursions.

Today, a few dozen people — and a couple of younger ones — again protested. This time the catalyst was the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in the deaths of 2 unarmed black men, in Missouri and New York.

(Photo/David Vita)

(Photo/David Vita)

 

 

Jean Donovan, Remembered

More than 3 decades after her brutal murder, Jean Donovan is back in the news.

The Westport native was 1 of 4 American churchwomen killed on December 2, 1980 by Salvadoran national guardsmen.

Jean Donovan

Jean Donovan

Jean — a junior high and Staples High School classmate of mine — was a lay missionary working in El Salvador, helping the poor.

She and 3 nuns were beaten, raped, shot in the head, then dumped by the roadside.

Now, the New York Times reports that 2 Salvadoran generals — defense ministers during the “blood-soaked” 1980s — may be deported.

The Times says:

They were allowed to settle there during the presidency of George Bush, who, like his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, considered them allies and bulwarks against a Moscow-backed leftist insurgency.

But administrations change, and so do government attitudes. Over the past two and a half years, immigration judges in Florida have ruled that the generals bore responsibility for assassinations and massacres, and deserve now to be “removed” — bureaucratese for deported. Both are appealing the decisions, so for now they are going nowhere. Given their ages, their cases may be, for all parties, a race against time.

Longtime Westporter John Suggs says that in progressive Catholic social justice networks, “Jean Donovan is considered a saint.”

A Jean Donovan Summer Fellowship at Santa Clara University — a Jesuit school — supports students interested in social justice, while in Los Angeles the Casa Jean Donovan Community Residence houses members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

A tribute to Jean Donovan  and fellow churchwomen, near the spot of their murder in El Salvador.

A tribute to Jean Donovan and fellow churchwomen, near the spot of their murder in El Salvador.

But, Suggs says, “in Westport she is all but forgotten.” The few who remember her, and mourn her passing each December, believe she has been forgotten by her town, her school and her parish. (There is a brief mention of her, he says, in the back vestibule of Assumption Church. And Staples graduate Cynthia Gibb played a character based on Jean in Oliver Stone’s “Salvador.”)

The New York Times has shed a new light on Jean Donovan’s murderers. Perhaps next month, she will not be mourned by so few.

(The New York Times story includes a fascinating 13-minute video.)

It’s Election Day. Have You Voted Yet?

People all over the world have fought — and died — for the right to vote.

They still are.

There is no excuse not to vote. None.

Especially not knowing where to cast your ballot. If you’re not sure, click here.

The polls are open until 8 p.m. But do it now!

Both the sun and Election Day signs were up early this morning, at the Westport Library polling place.

Both the sun and Election Day signs were up early this morning, at the Westport Library polling place.