Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bloomberg

Whom Do You Trust More?

Last month Berkshire Hathaway sold two-year bonds that yield less than federal notes of the same maturity, according to Bloomberg (h/t: Michael Barone).

That is a truly astonishing fact. The interest the market demands on a bond is determined by 1) the present cost of money, 2) the expected inflation over the life of the bond, and 3) the risk of the bond issuer defaulting. The first two affect every bond equally, so differences in interest rates on similar securities reflect the market’s judgment on the possibility of default.

For a century and more, the securities of the United States Government have been, almost by definition, the safest investment one could make. Even in the depths of the Great Depression no one doubted that the federal government would make good on its debts. Indeed, in the fall of 1932, as the American economy was falling off a cliff, interest rates on treasury bills (the shortest-term federal debt) went negative. Treasury bills are sold at a discount and mature at par rather than pay interest. But in 1932, demand for them pushed the price over par. Investors, in other words, paid for the privilege of investing in the safest possible investments, the short-term paper of the United States.

So the market now has more faith that Warren Buffett (and Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson too, by the way) will pay off their bonds than that the federal government will do so — just two years down the road.

Thanks, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Thanks very much.

Last month Berkshire Hathaway sold two-year bonds that yield less than federal notes of the same maturity, according to Bloomberg (h/t: Michael Barone).

That is a truly astonishing fact. The interest the market demands on a bond is determined by 1) the present cost of money, 2) the expected inflation over the life of the bond, and 3) the risk of the bond issuer defaulting. The first two affect every bond equally, so differences in interest rates on similar securities reflect the market’s judgment on the possibility of default.

For a century and more, the securities of the United States Government have been, almost by definition, the safest investment one could make. Even in the depths of the Great Depression no one doubted that the federal government would make good on its debts. Indeed, in the fall of 1932, as the American economy was falling off a cliff, interest rates on treasury bills (the shortest-term federal debt) went negative. Treasury bills are sold at a discount and mature at par rather than pay interest. But in 1932, demand for them pushed the price over par. Investors, in other words, paid for the privilege of investing in the safest possible investments, the short-term paper of the United States.

So the market now has more faith that Warren Buffett (and Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson too, by the way) will pay off their bonds than that the federal government will do so — just two years down the road.

Thanks, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Thanks very much.

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Forget Bipartisanship — What About His Own Party?

As Pete has commented, Obama spinners wield the “bipartisanship” sword when convenient and tuck it away when not, or as Nancy Pelosi bizarrely suggested, they redefine bipartisanship as not requiring bipartsian support for the bill. (Sort of like fiscal discipline without the discipline part.) But Obama has a bigger problem — his summit performance seems to have not rallied his own side, but rather to have alienated many Democrats. Bloomberg reports:

Obama plans to announce a way forward this week on the biggest overhaul of the U.S. health system in 45 years in a bid to break an impasse on the bill. Some House Democrats are uneasy over the likely use of a procedure called reconciliation that would sidestep Republican opposition by requiring only a simple majority vote in the Senate. “It looks like we’re trying to cram something through,” said Representative Baron Hill, an Indiana Democrat who voted for the original House bill.

Hill said he might not back a measure if it goes through reconciliation, which is intended for budget matters. A “sizeable number” of the 54 fiscally conservative Democrats who call themselves Blue Dogs are also concerned, said South Dakota Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

Even the lawmaker who related the sob story of wearing the dead sister’s dentures has her concerns. (“There is some consternation,” said New York Representative Louise Slaughter, a Democrat who runs the House Rules Committee.) As Representative Alcee Hastings put it, “I see a risk of some people who are vulnerable being made more vulnerable.” And he’s in favor of ObamaCare.

The president could well have made things worse by his performance at the health-care summit — allowing the Republicans to demonstrate their bona fides and revealing a paucity of legitimate responses to their very probing critiques. He certainly didn’t endear himself to the GOP, but — even worse — he provided little comfort to his own side. In the end, the summit may well prove to be decisive, but not in the way the White House had hoped.

As Pete has commented, Obama spinners wield the “bipartisanship” sword when convenient and tuck it away when not, or as Nancy Pelosi bizarrely suggested, they redefine bipartisanship as not requiring bipartsian support for the bill. (Sort of like fiscal discipline without the discipline part.) But Obama has a bigger problem — his summit performance seems to have not rallied his own side, but rather to have alienated many Democrats. Bloomberg reports:

Obama plans to announce a way forward this week on the biggest overhaul of the U.S. health system in 45 years in a bid to break an impasse on the bill. Some House Democrats are uneasy over the likely use of a procedure called reconciliation that would sidestep Republican opposition by requiring only a simple majority vote in the Senate. “It looks like we’re trying to cram something through,” said Representative Baron Hill, an Indiana Democrat who voted for the original House bill.

Hill said he might not back a measure if it goes through reconciliation, which is intended for budget matters. A “sizeable number” of the 54 fiscally conservative Democrats who call themselves Blue Dogs are also concerned, said South Dakota Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

Even the lawmaker who related the sob story of wearing the dead sister’s dentures has her concerns. (“There is some consternation,” said New York Representative Louise Slaughter, a Democrat who runs the House Rules Committee.) As Representative Alcee Hastings put it, “I see a risk of some people who are vulnerable being made more vulnerable.” And he’s in favor of ObamaCare.

The president could well have made things worse by his performance at the health-care summit — allowing the Republicans to demonstrate their bona fides and revealing a paucity of legitimate responses to their very probing critiques. He certainly didn’t endear himself to the GOP, but — even worse — he provided little comfort to his own side. In the end, the summit may well prove to be decisive, but not in the way the White House had hoped.

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Obama Can’t Decide — Again

Obama declares himself agnostic on a key campaign promise and the most important economic call he will make this year:

President Barack Obama said he is “agnostic” about raising taxes on households making less than $250,000 as part of a broad effort to rein in the budget deficit.

Obama, in a Feb. 9 Oval Office interview, said that a presidential commission on the budget needs to consider all options for reducing the deficit, including tax increases and cuts in spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

“The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table,” the president said in the interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. “So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions.”

It is rather typical of him. We have come to expect a lack of policy definition, an unwillingness to make hard choices (you really do have to be for or against letting tax rates rise — it’s not a “false” choice), a cluelessness regarding the economic impact of his policies or the uncertainty they are generating, and a conceited self-portrait as a president unbound by ideology. He wants to know what works? He should look at the revenue generated by the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. He wants to know what would work to cut the deficit? Cancel the spending increases and roll back expenditures to 2007 levels.

It is not that hard — unless you find choosing, governing, and leading hard. And then the Hamlet-routine and the seeming indifference to fundamental policy decisions makes him appear craven and irresolute. You can sympathize with the Democrats. He is the captain of their ship, the party’s leader, and his best answer is “I don’t know”? The Clintons must be kicking themselves and shouting into pillows. This is the guy they lost to? Yup.

Obama declares himself agnostic on a key campaign promise and the most important economic call he will make this year:

President Barack Obama said he is “agnostic” about raising taxes on households making less than $250,000 as part of a broad effort to rein in the budget deficit.

Obama, in a Feb. 9 Oval Office interview, said that a presidential commission on the budget needs to consider all options for reducing the deficit, including tax increases and cuts in spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

“The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table,” the president said in the interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. “So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions.”

It is rather typical of him. We have come to expect a lack of policy definition, an unwillingness to make hard choices (you really do have to be for or against letting tax rates rise — it’s not a “false” choice), a cluelessness regarding the economic impact of his policies or the uncertainty they are generating, and a conceited self-portrait as a president unbound by ideology. He wants to know what works? He should look at the revenue generated by the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. He wants to know what would work to cut the deficit? Cancel the spending increases and roll back expenditures to 2007 levels.

It is not that hard — unless you find choosing, governing, and leading hard. And then the Hamlet-routine and the seeming indifference to fundamental policy decisions makes him appear craven and irresolute. You can sympathize with the Democrats. He is the captain of their ship, the party’s leader, and his best answer is “I don’t know”? The Clintons must be kicking themselves and shouting into pillows. This is the guy they lost to? Yup.

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Re: Time to Throw Holder Under the Bus

The Washington Post editors actually like the idea of a civilian trial for KSM, but not even they can defend the incompetence of Eric Holder. They write:

The failure to solicit input from the Bloomberg administration is inexcusable. Federal prosecutors normally do not — and are not required to — consult with local jurisdictions before filing charges. But this is not a typical case, and New York is not a typical venue.

The breach of common sense also goes a long way toward explaining why Mr. Bloomberg changed his mind about the wisdom of holding a trial in Manhattan after his administration conducted its own review and crafted a security plan.

Holder’s lack of due diligence does not extend merely to the trial’s logistics. You will recall that when testifying shortly after the decision had been made, he seemed not to have considered how serious was the break from past legal precedent nor consulted with anyone with past experience in terrorism trials. Likewise, when he made the decision to reinvestigate CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques, it does not appear that he consulted with career prosecutors who previously had declined to prosecute. Holder also did not review their declination memos, which set forth the reasons why successful prosecutions could not be obtained. And let’s not forget that the Justice Department told the president he had to release the detainee-abuse photos, only to see a perfectly acceptable solution be devised to prevent their release once a firestorm of protest erupted.

There are two explanations for such serial malpractice. First, he may have an incompetent or hopelessly biased staff that failed to present complete information and raise key issues for Holder’s consideration. Second, he may not care about getting the law right so long as he is doing the bidding of the Left’s extreme agenda and furthering what he perceives are the president’s policy goals. In either case, there is no excuse for an attorney general who gets the law wrong and continually embroils the administration in one fiasco after another.

Holder is, in a very real sense, becoming as much of a liability to Obama as Alberto Gonzales was to George W. Bush. The difference, of course, is that Obama is still early in his presidency, with an unfulfilled agenda and ample time to recover his political standing. Now, of course, Bush eventually fired Gonzales and replaced him with one of the most distinguished men to occupy that office. Maybe this is one time Obama should follow his predecessor’s example.

The Washington Post editors actually like the idea of a civilian trial for KSM, but not even they can defend the incompetence of Eric Holder. They write:

The failure to solicit input from the Bloomberg administration is inexcusable. Federal prosecutors normally do not — and are not required to — consult with local jurisdictions before filing charges. But this is not a typical case, and New York is not a typical venue.

The breach of common sense also goes a long way toward explaining why Mr. Bloomberg changed his mind about the wisdom of holding a trial in Manhattan after his administration conducted its own review and crafted a security plan.

Holder’s lack of due diligence does not extend merely to the trial’s logistics. You will recall that when testifying shortly after the decision had been made, he seemed not to have considered how serious was the break from past legal precedent nor consulted with anyone with past experience in terrorism trials. Likewise, when he made the decision to reinvestigate CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques, it does not appear that he consulted with career prosecutors who previously had declined to prosecute. Holder also did not review their declination memos, which set forth the reasons why successful prosecutions could not be obtained. And let’s not forget that the Justice Department told the president he had to release the detainee-abuse photos, only to see a perfectly acceptable solution be devised to prevent their release once a firestorm of protest erupted.

There are two explanations for such serial malpractice. First, he may have an incompetent or hopelessly biased staff that failed to present complete information and raise key issues for Holder’s consideration. Second, he may not care about getting the law right so long as he is doing the bidding of the Left’s extreme agenda and furthering what he perceives are the president’s policy goals. In either case, there is no excuse for an attorney general who gets the law wrong and continually embroils the administration in one fiasco after another.

Holder is, in a very real sense, becoming as much of a liability to Obama as Alberto Gonzales was to George W. Bush. The difference, of course, is that Obama is still early in his presidency, with an unfulfilled agenda and ample time to recover his political standing. Now, of course, Bush eventually fired Gonzales and replaced him with one of the most distinguished men to occupy that office. Maybe this is one time Obama should follow his predecessor’s example.

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Why Shouldn’t Holder Be Fired?

Some of us suspected that the Obama team would find a reason to pull the plug on the KSM trial as it became increasingly apparent how unworkable and dangerous a public trial of a jihadist was. Few suspected that the entire stunt would collapse so quickly. But it has. The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”

How did we get from there to here so quickly? The Times explains:

The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.

But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo):

Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on Nov. 13; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases.

But by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.

One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”

There seems to have been, aside from the lack of any reasoned legal judgment, no basic political groundwork laid for this momentous decision. Had we not grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Obami, this would be stunning. Now, it frankly seems to be par for the course.

Two things are clear from all of this. First, the administration’s critics have been vindicated. And second, those who came up with this harebrained scheme, including but not limited to Holder, should be canned. The president isn’t fond of firing anyone, but if ever there was a time to show that the president really does possess some rudimentary executive skills, this is it. Otherwise, the public will assume that bungling through one national-security issue after another is simply business as usual in the Obama administration.

Some of us suspected that the Obama team would find a reason to pull the plug on the KSM trial as it became increasingly apparent how unworkable and dangerous a public trial of a jihadist was. Few suspected that the entire stunt would collapse so quickly. But it has. The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”

How did we get from there to here so quickly? The Times explains:

The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.

But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo):

Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on Nov. 13; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases.

But by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.

One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”

There seems to have been, aside from the lack of any reasoned legal judgment, no basic political groundwork laid for this momentous decision. Had we not grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Obami, this would be stunning. Now, it frankly seems to be par for the course.

Two things are clear from all of this. First, the administration’s critics have been vindicated. And second, those who came up with this harebrained scheme, including but not limited to Holder, should be canned. The president isn’t fond of firing anyone, but if ever there was a time to show that the president really does possess some rudimentary executive skills, this is it. Otherwise, the public will assume that bungling through one national-security issue after another is simply business as usual in the Obama administration.

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Not So Much Hope

Bloomberg reports:

Americans have grown gloomier about both the economy and the nation’s direction over the past three months even as the U.S. shows signs of moving from recession to recovery. Almost half the people now feel less financially secure than when President Barack Obama took office in January, a Bloomberg National Poll shows. …

Fewer than 1 in 3 Americans think the economy will improve in the next six months. They are pessimistic that the government will succeed in reducing unemployment or lowering the budget deficit. A year into Obama’s presidency, only 32 percent of poll respondents believe the country is headed in the right direction, down from 40 percent who said so in September.

Even Democrats are souring: “the proportion saying the country is on the right track dropped to 58 percent from 71 percent in September.” Only 26 percent of independents think we’re on the right track, down 3 points from September.

Plainly the high unemployment rate has much to do with the national mood. There’s also a disconnect between what Congress and the White House are spending nights and weekends on — a health-care plan Americans don’t want — and the real top priority for Americans: “Eight of 10 Americans rate joblessness a high risk to the economy in the next two years, outranking the federal budget deficit, which is cited by 7 of 10. An increase in taxes is named as a high risk by almost 6 of 10.” The Obami can read the polls, too, which accounts for the “jobs summit” and another set of stimulus proposals.

But I suspect it will take more than dog-and-pony shows and serial stimulus plans to lift Americans’ spirits. They expect the Congress and White House to do something about what they care about and do it fast. Since the Democrats remain obsessed with their liberal wish list — climate control and ObamaCare, neither of which rates very high on the public’s list of priorities, incumbents run the risk of appearing disconnected from their constituents, if not downright clueless. Probably not a desirable position to be in going into an election year.

Bloomberg reports:

Americans have grown gloomier about both the economy and the nation’s direction over the past three months even as the U.S. shows signs of moving from recession to recovery. Almost half the people now feel less financially secure than when President Barack Obama took office in January, a Bloomberg National Poll shows. …

Fewer than 1 in 3 Americans think the economy will improve in the next six months. They are pessimistic that the government will succeed in reducing unemployment or lowering the budget deficit. A year into Obama’s presidency, only 32 percent of poll respondents believe the country is headed in the right direction, down from 40 percent who said so in September.

Even Democrats are souring: “the proportion saying the country is on the right track dropped to 58 percent from 71 percent in September.” Only 26 percent of independents think we’re on the right track, down 3 points from September.

Plainly the high unemployment rate has much to do with the national mood. There’s also a disconnect between what Congress and the White House are spending nights and weekends on — a health-care plan Americans don’t want — and the real top priority for Americans: “Eight of 10 Americans rate joblessness a high risk to the economy in the next two years, outranking the federal budget deficit, which is cited by 7 of 10. An increase in taxes is named as a high risk by almost 6 of 10.” The Obami can read the polls, too, which accounts for the “jobs summit” and another set of stimulus proposals.

But I suspect it will take more than dog-and-pony shows and serial stimulus plans to lift Americans’ spirits. They expect the Congress and White House to do something about what they care about and do it fast. Since the Democrats remain obsessed with their liberal wish list — climate control and ObamaCare, neither of which rates very high on the public’s list of priorities, incumbents run the risk of appearing disconnected from their constituents, if not downright clueless. Probably not a desirable position to be in going into an election year.

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VP Non-Story

The weekend at the McCains’ attended by a number of vice presidential hopefuls seems to have been mostly an exercise to generate meaningless speculation by the media over a non-event. It’s one step above anonymous sources mulling over a McCain-Bloomberg ticket. (Yeah, a New York socially liberal billionaire is just the person to help sway those Appalachian voters and calm the GOP base.)

The apparent stunt diverted whatever lingering attention there might have been over McCain’s medical records or his wife’s tax returns and allowed McCain the benefit of a bit of news without ever leaving home. At some point there will be serious news on the VP front to report. This wasn’t it.

The weekend at the McCains’ attended by a number of vice presidential hopefuls seems to have been mostly an exercise to generate meaningless speculation by the media over a non-event. It’s one step above anonymous sources mulling over a McCain-Bloomberg ticket. (Yeah, a New York socially liberal billionaire is just the person to help sway those Appalachian voters and calm the GOP base.)

The apparent stunt diverted whatever lingering attention there might have been over McCain’s medical records or his wife’s tax returns and allowed McCain the benefit of a bit of news without ever leaving home. At some point there will be serious news on the VP front to report. This wasn’t it.

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Bloomberg’s Legacy

The mayoralty of New York’s Michael Bloomberg has been an uncommonly boring one, and primarily for that reason, it has been judged a smashing success. For those who felt exhausted by the constant battles between Rudy Giuliani and the city’s liberal elites in the eight years prior to his election, Bloomberg brought a surprising measure of peace — some of which he purchased, by the way, through personal gift- and grant-giving, which had the effect of quieting attacks from leftie and arts institutions that liked nothing more than to get into a scuffle with City Hall and thereby earn plaudits and attention from the New York Times. Given the size of Bloomberg’s personal fortune, the money he spent to buy himself social quiet was doubtless worth it. And for causing these intolerable loudmouths to shut themselves up and enjoy their financial goodies, Bloomberg deserves a pat on the back. And for keeping the city on the even keel on which Rudy had left it, he deserves credit as well. He didn’t upset the apple cart.

That said, however, Bloomberg’s mayoralty has been, at least to measure by his own ambitions, a horrific failure. This week brought the collapse of his grand design for a car-toll system in Manhattan. This followed the failure, two years and tens of millions of dollars in planning ago, to secure the Olympic games for New York City in 2012 — a loss that had every single person who lives in the city sighing with relief, as you could not find a single person here outside of the construction trade that did not dread the possibility of the city being turned inside out for three solid weeks so that a bunch of stoned volleyball players could vie for a medal on an invented East River beach in the very unpicturesque neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And that followed the failure, two years before that, of his plan to build a stadium in the West 30s only a few years after Rudy had tried and failed at the same thing.

Bloomberg’s signature accomplishments have been: an increase in the property tax, most of which he then returned to city folk in the form of a tax rebate; and a draconian smoking ban, which has caused jam-ups in front of every bar in the city, as drunken louts and lasses crowd the sidewalk, puffing madly away because they are no longer allowed to have a cig with their scotch. He also succeeded in taking control of the city’s elementary schools, a long-sought-after reform that has resulted in mostly nothing.

And now comes the hard part. The reduction in economic activity that inevitably accompanies a slowing or recessionary economy will hit New York City’s public coffers very hard. The city makes its money from transactions — stock trades, mergers and acquisitions, and the like — of which it takes a teeny tiny cut. When the number of those transactions falls from 100 billion a year to 50 billion in a year, the city instantly finds itself going from a surplus in its budget to a huge deficit that, by law, it must close. And it will fall to Bloomberg to close it. And close it he will, with his favorite method of closing it — raising taxes.

He is going to end his mayoralty vastly less popular than he has been through most of it. And that will reflect the true quality of the mayoralty, which has been mediocre.

The mayoralty of New York’s Michael Bloomberg has been an uncommonly boring one, and primarily for that reason, it has been judged a smashing success. For those who felt exhausted by the constant battles between Rudy Giuliani and the city’s liberal elites in the eight years prior to his election, Bloomberg brought a surprising measure of peace — some of which he purchased, by the way, through personal gift- and grant-giving, which had the effect of quieting attacks from leftie and arts institutions that liked nothing more than to get into a scuffle with City Hall and thereby earn plaudits and attention from the New York Times. Given the size of Bloomberg’s personal fortune, the money he spent to buy himself social quiet was doubtless worth it. And for causing these intolerable loudmouths to shut themselves up and enjoy their financial goodies, Bloomberg deserves a pat on the back. And for keeping the city on the even keel on which Rudy had left it, he deserves credit as well. He didn’t upset the apple cart.

That said, however, Bloomberg’s mayoralty has been, at least to measure by his own ambitions, a horrific failure. This week brought the collapse of his grand design for a car-toll system in Manhattan. This followed the failure, two years and tens of millions of dollars in planning ago, to secure the Olympic games for New York City in 2012 — a loss that had every single person who lives in the city sighing with relief, as you could not find a single person here outside of the construction trade that did not dread the possibility of the city being turned inside out for three solid weeks so that a bunch of stoned volleyball players could vie for a medal on an invented East River beach in the very unpicturesque neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And that followed the failure, two years before that, of his plan to build a stadium in the West 30s only a few years after Rudy had tried and failed at the same thing.

Bloomberg’s signature accomplishments have been: an increase in the property tax, most of which he then returned to city folk in the form of a tax rebate; and a draconian smoking ban, which has caused jam-ups in front of every bar in the city, as drunken louts and lasses crowd the sidewalk, puffing madly away because they are no longer allowed to have a cig with their scotch. He also succeeded in taking control of the city’s elementary schools, a long-sought-after reform that has resulted in mostly nothing.

And now comes the hard part. The reduction in economic activity that inevitably accompanies a slowing or recessionary economy will hit New York City’s public coffers very hard. The city makes its money from transactions — stock trades, mergers and acquisitions, and the like — of which it takes a teeny tiny cut. When the number of those transactions falls from 100 billion a year to 50 billion in a year, the city instantly finds itself going from a surplus in its budget to a huge deficit that, by law, it must close. And it will fall to Bloomberg to close it. And close it he will, with his favorite method of closing it — raising taxes.

He is going to end his mayoralty vastly less popular than he has been through most of it. And that will reflect the true quality of the mayoralty, which has been mediocre.

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Out of the Box, or Off the Wall?

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

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Whither the Disgust?

The Clinton campaign’s recent antics have been greeted with what feels like universal disgust. From pandering to blacks, to the bullying of Obama, to the brazenly tag-team nature of their every last gambit, a nonscientific survey of opinions finds the couple too much to stomach. At PJM, Michael Weiss has a worthwhile round-up of the bile directed at Bill. He adds, “Clinton likes to blame the media, but how can the media help itself? The aged and flabby Mr. Slick thunders and grumbles about the youthful and lean Mr. Smooth–copy like this doesn’t just hand itself to you every four years.”

Agreed. But does the lurid copy translate into a concrete revolt among Democratic voters nationwide? According to this poll, no. Here’s the Contra Costa Times:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., maintains a solid lead in her party’s presidential race among Democrat voters nationwide, despite a surge in support since late last year for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll has found.

Clinton was preferred by 42 percent of the likely Democrat voters polled, Obama by 33 percent — a significant increase for him since a similar poll in early December, when he was the choice of 21 percent. Clinton’s support remained virtually unchanged during that period.

Obama is gaining popularity without taking a bite out of Hillary. This speaks brilliantly to the peculiar lenses worn by the Clinton fan. Watching the Clintons waver between self-righteous belligerence and self-righteous victimhood, these die-hards can’t help but notice Obama’s superior character. Yet they can’t help dismissing it in favor of the familiar couple whose phony charms are as irresistible as fast food. The media may at last be nauseated, but the Clinton base is still gorging.

The Clinton campaign’s recent antics have been greeted with what feels like universal disgust. From pandering to blacks, to the bullying of Obama, to the brazenly tag-team nature of their every last gambit, a nonscientific survey of opinions finds the couple too much to stomach. At PJM, Michael Weiss has a worthwhile round-up of the bile directed at Bill. He adds, “Clinton likes to blame the media, but how can the media help itself? The aged and flabby Mr. Slick thunders and grumbles about the youthful and lean Mr. Smooth–copy like this doesn’t just hand itself to you every four years.”

Agreed. But does the lurid copy translate into a concrete revolt among Democratic voters nationwide? According to this poll, no. Here’s the Contra Costa Times:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., maintains a solid lead in her party’s presidential race among Democrat voters nationwide, despite a surge in support since late last year for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll has found.

Clinton was preferred by 42 percent of the likely Democrat voters polled, Obama by 33 percent — a significant increase for him since a similar poll in early December, when he was the choice of 21 percent. Clinton’s support remained virtually unchanged during that period.

Obama is gaining popularity without taking a bite out of Hillary. This speaks brilliantly to the peculiar lenses worn by the Clinton fan. Watching the Clintons waver between self-righteous belligerence and self-righteous victimhood, these die-hards can’t help but notice Obama’s superior character. Yet they can’t help dismissing it in favor of the familiar couple whose phony charms are as irresistible as fast food. The media may at last be nauseated, but the Clinton base is still gorging.

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Zingers

Yes, Rudy did show his good humor and personality on deflecting the “What happened?” question. McCain does a great job of responding to his mom’s remark that Republicans will “have to hold their noses” to vote for her son. (And you thought your mom was an embarrassment.) He makes the best case he can, but can’t resist saying he puts his country above party. That’s McCain –love him or not. Russert pushes Romney on why he won’t say how many of his millions he spent. Romney gives a hint that it’s less than Bloomberg, Forbes and Corzine. A sticky moment, although he tries to turn this to his advantage by saying he is not beholden to others. Russert is really fairly aggressive here.

Yes, Rudy did show his good humor and personality on deflecting the “What happened?” question. McCain does a great job of responding to his mom’s remark that Republicans will “have to hold their noses” to vote for her son. (And you thought your mom was an embarrassment.) He makes the best case he can, but can’t resist saying he puts his country above party. That’s McCain –love him or not. Russert pushes Romney on why he won’t say how many of his millions he spent. Romney gives a hint that it’s less than Bloomberg, Forbes and Corzine. A sticky moment, although he tries to turn this to his advantage by saying he is not beholden to others. Russert is really fairly aggressive here.

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Mike and Mike: A Response to John Podhoretz

There’s a good deal to agree with in John’s post on the Bloomberg presidential candidacy. His characterization of the politically “ambiguous coloration” of the pols and former pols gathering in Oklahoma is apt. It should be added that they’re all former big-time political players who, having been sidelined, would be given a chance to return to center stage by way of a Bloomberg candidacy. Bloomberg, with their backing, wouldn’t have to win, but would only have to help reframe the political agenda to provide himself and his backers with moral victory—money being no object.

Fundamental to John’s argument is the fact that political participation is up and thus post-partisanship will have no appeal. But look at matters through Bloomberg’s eyes. Suppose that by February 6, when more than half of the delegates have been chosen, the nominees are Huckabee and Obama; the former unacceptable to large sections of his own party, the latter who, having never run so much as a candy store, has a record that makes John Kerry’s look impressive. Then both parties, with the election ten months away, will suffer from a splenetic outpouring of buyer’s remorse. (This at a time when less that 30 percent of the country has a positive sense of either the GOP President or the Democratic Congress.)

Many independents and weak partisans—to judge from poll numbers that find that 58 percent of the electorate thinks it is “very important” that the next President be able to cross party lines to work with political opponents—may look on both Huckabee and Obama as the products of a hyper-polarized political process that has failed. Bloomberg, sheltered for the past four years by a financial services boom that has come to an end and a very friendly local press, would find such opponents irresistible. But the outcome could surprise people.

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There’s a good deal to agree with in John’s post on the Bloomberg presidential candidacy. His characterization of the politically “ambiguous coloration” of the pols and former pols gathering in Oklahoma is apt. It should be added that they’re all former big-time political players who, having been sidelined, would be given a chance to return to center stage by way of a Bloomberg candidacy. Bloomberg, with their backing, wouldn’t have to win, but would only have to help reframe the political agenda to provide himself and his backers with moral victory—money being no object.

Fundamental to John’s argument is the fact that political participation is up and thus post-partisanship will have no appeal. But look at matters through Bloomberg’s eyes. Suppose that by February 6, when more than half of the delegates have been chosen, the nominees are Huckabee and Obama; the former unacceptable to large sections of his own party, the latter who, having never run so much as a candy store, has a record that makes John Kerry’s look impressive. Then both parties, with the election ten months away, will suffer from a splenetic outpouring of buyer’s remorse. (This at a time when less that 30 percent of the country has a positive sense of either the GOP President or the Democratic Congress.)

Many independents and weak partisans—to judge from poll numbers that find that 58 percent of the electorate thinks it is “very important” that the next President be able to cross party lines to work with political opponents—may look on both Huckabee and Obama as the products of a hyper-polarized political process that has failed. Bloomberg, sheltered for the past four years by a financial services boom that has come to an end and a very friendly local press, would find such opponents irresistible. But the outcome could surprise people.

Yes, Bloomberg’s money is a political aphrodisiac, but it could also be a liability. Huckabee has been striking political gold with his “twenty to one” mantra, referring to the spending ratio between Mitt Romney and himself. Given the country’s sour mood on globalization, immigration, and the growth of income inequality—all exemplified by Bloomberg personally and politically—Mayor Mike is probably the one candidate who could make former Governor Mike president in a three-way race. On the other hand, if McCain or Giuliani and Hillary are the major party nominees, Bloomberg might well hold back, not wanting his educational failures to be subjected to the scrutiny of the national press. (Just imagine the ads! From either party!)

Bloomberg says he’s beyond politics and a great manager. But if a CEO were given unprecedented control, a longer worker day, and $7 billion to improve his company and produced nothing in the way of results—and that’s what Bloomberg got to run the New York City schools—you’d want to fire him, not make him President.

Bloomberg may have been able to fool New Yorkers, but the rest of the country is too smart for that. This said, the one thing we can expect in this extraordinary presidential race is to be surprised repeatedly.

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The Bloomberg Presidential Fantasy

With the coming of the New Year came major pieces in as all three New York papers on the growing possibility of an independent presidential big by the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He will attend a confab next week in Oklahoma, hosted by former Democratic Senator and current University of Oklahoma chancellor David Boren that will include many prominent current and former politicians who claim deep frustration with the partisan polarization of the present moment — including lude one-time Sens. Gary Hart, Sam Nunn, William Cohen, and Chuck Robb, and one sitting Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

At lunch a few weeks ago, two prominent Democrats with long experience in electoral politics, both very sensible men not given to hysterical excitement, told me they they think he has a plausible chance of winning the presidency. This struck me as dumb-founding. After all, no independent has ever won the presidency. No independent candidate has even come remotely close to winning. So why would Bloomberg’s bid be different? The consultants said Americans have a profound sense that the political system is broken and that a candidate whose career transcends party and ideology — but who can make a strong case that he is a brilliant leader who gets things done — could bring something new to American politics.

It’s true Bloomberg, the 25th richest man in the United States, could bring something entirely new to politics, i.e., spending half a billion or more on his own candidacy. It’s hard to overestimate how attractive this makes him tos ome people who are intrigued by the possibility of a Bloomberg run, in part because they might actually personally profit by it. Who would pocket that half a billion anyway? A lot of it would go to consultants. Don’t think that’s not an element in the whispering campaign on Bloomberg’s behalf, because it very much is.

Otherwise, how to explain the theory whereby a Jewish billionaire liberal from New York who can claim to have managed New York City in an efficient but hardly inspired or inspiring fashion is the person to cause a revolution in American politics down to the cellular level? 

Here’s another possible reason: Bloomberg is thrilling to people because he’s nominally a Republican but actually a Democrat. Thus, he can gull foolish Republicans into believing he’s one of them while actually being one of us. Every one of the people who is gathering in Oklahoma next week has one thing in common: They were either Democrats who served in Republican states and therefore had to take on a more ambiguous coloration, or they were Republicans serving in Democratic states and had to do the same. They are all social liberals, but some of them have a dash of rightward-leaning thinking — a dislike of deficit spending, say, or a more hawkish bent — they sprinkle on their liberalism like tabasco on eggs. It’s no wonder Bloomberg has become their deus ex machina. He shares with them a passionate love for and worship of of his own political positioning, the conviction that there is something inherently superior about a person who stands at a remove from ideological conflict.

What’s hard to understand about the Bloomberg fantasy is the assertion that the nation needs someone like him. The past four national elections have seen a startling increase in the level of engagement on the part of voters, with turnout rising to historic levels in 2000, only to rise 22 percent higher in 2004. This indicates not a withdrawal from politics because of a disgust with the possible choices, but the opposite. And the results reflect that. The midterm elections in 2002 and 2006 saw voters making clear ideological and practical distinctions between candidates and parties, to the benefit of Republicans in 2002 and to the benefit of Democrats in 2006. Washington’s fractious divide between Right and Left is a mark not of a failure in the system, but is a fair reflection of the nation’s divided political reality.

Obviously, voters get angry. They were angry about the Iraq war from two directions — people on the Left because we were fighting it in the first place and people on the Right because we weren’t winning it. They don’t like the behavior of Washington politicians. But they do see to it that things change when they get upset. Selling the White House to a billionaire whose sole promise is that he won’t make anybody too angry is not an answer to what ails us. My guess is that Bloomberg is smart enough to understand this.

With the coming of the New Year came major pieces in as all three New York papers on the growing possibility of an independent presidential big by the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He will attend a confab next week in Oklahoma, hosted by former Democratic Senator and current University of Oklahoma chancellor David Boren that will include many prominent current and former politicians who claim deep frustration with the partisan polarization of the present moment — including lude one-time Sens. Gary Hart, Sam Nunn, William Cohen, and Chuck Robb, and one sitting Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

At lunch a few weeks ago, two prominent Democrats with long experience in electoral politics, both very sensible men not given to hysterical excitement, told me they they think he has a plausible chance of winning the presidency. This struck me as dumb-founding. After all, no independent has ever won the presidency. No independent candidate has even come remotely close to winning. So why would Bloomberg’s bid be different? The consultants said Americans have a profound sense that the political system is broken and that a candidate whose career transcends party and ideology — but who can make a strong case that he is a brilliant leader who gets things done — could bring something new to American politics.

It’s true Bloomberg, the 25th richest man in the United States, could bring something entirely new to politics, i.e., spending half a billion or more on his own candidacy. It’s hard to overestimate how attractive this makes him tos ome people who are intrigued by the possibility of a Bloomberg run, in part because they might actually personally profit by it. Who would pocket that half a billion anyway? A lot of it would go to consultants. Don’t think that’s not an element in the whispering campaign on Bloomberg’s behalf, because it very much is.

Otherwise, how to explain the theory whereby a Jewish billionaire liberal from New York who can claim to have managed New York City in an efficient but hardly inspired or inspiring fashion is the person to cause a revolution in American politics down to the cellular level? 

Here’s another possible reason: Bloomberg is thrilling to people because he’s nominally a Republican but actually a Democrat. Thus, he can gull foolish Republicans into believing he’s one of them while actually being one of us. Every one of the people who is gathering in Oklahoma next week has one thing in common: They were either Democrats who served in Republican states and therefore had to take on a more ambiguous coloration, or they were Republicans serving in Democratic states and had to do the same. They are all social liberals, but some of them have a dash of rightward-leaning thinking — a dislike of deficit spending, say, or a more hawkish bent — they sprinkle on their liberalism like tabasco on eggs. It’s no wonder Bloomberg has become their deus ex machina. He shares with them a passionate love for and worship of of his own political positioning, the conviction that there is something inherently superior about a person who stands at a remove from ideological conflict.

What’s hard to understand about the Bloomberg fantasy is the assertion that the nation needs someone like him. The past four national elections have seen a startling increase in the level of engagement on the part of voters, with turnout rising to historic levels in 2000, only to rise 22 percent higher in 2004. This indicates not a withdrawal from politics because of a disgust with the possible choices, but the opposite. And the results reflect that. The midterm elections in 2002 and 2006 saw voters making clear ideological and practical distinctions between candidates and parties, to the benefit of Republicans in 2002 and to the benefit of Democrats in 2006. Washington’s fractious divide between Right and Left is a mark not of a failure in the system, but is a fair reflection of the nation’s divided political reality.

Obviously, voters get angry. They were angry about the Iraq war from two directions — people on the Left because we were fighting it in the first place and people on the Right because we weren’t winning it. They don’t like the behavior of Washington politicians. But they do see to it that things change when they get upset. Selling the White House to a billionaire whose sole promise is that he won’t make anybody too angry is not an answer to what ails us. My guess is that Bloomberg is smart enough to understand this.

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Giuliani’s Weak Spot?

It’s not easy for a thrice-divorced Catholic mayor with a penchant for drag and a pro-choice, pro-immigration, and pro-gun control record to become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, it’s not easy to attack that candidate as your typical, sinister, white guy in a suit, either.

For months, the liberal press has stood back, expecting either that Rudy Giuliani would self-destruct—as he did in his aborted 2000 senate campaign, when he entered into a nasty, high-profile divorce, crashed on the couch of gay friends, and publicly discussed the effects of his cancer treatments on his sex life—or that Republicans would disavow him once they learned more about his personal life and political views. When it comes to his 9/11 performance, though, Giuliani’s foes have barely touched on what just may be the most vulnerable part of his record.

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It’s not easy for a thrice-divorced Catholic mayor with a penchant for drag and a pro-choice, pro-immigration, and pro-gun control record to become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, it’s not easy to attack that candidate as your typical, sinister, white guy in a suit, either.

For months, the liberal press has stood back, expecting either that Rudy Giuliani would self-destruct—as he did in his aborted 2000 senate campaign, when he entered into a nasty, high-profile divorce, crashed on the couch of gay friends, and publicly discussed the effects of his cancer treatments on his sex life—or that Republicans would disavow him once they learned more about his personal life and political views. When it comes to his 9/11 performance, though, Giuliani’s foes have barely touched on what just may be the most vulnerable part of his record.

When Giuliani announced his candidacy last November, the DNC responded with a press release attacking Giuliani for being…too left-wing—he was once a registered Democrat, he opposed the partial-birth abortion ban and some of Bush’s tax cuts, and he supported gay rights. In an editorial, the New York Sun remarked, “Mr. Giuliani may want to keep this press release on file for use in a general election campaign…. ‘Even the Democratic National Committee says I am pro-choice,’ Mr. Giuliani is going to be able to tell Democrats and independent voters.”

The incoherence of the DNC press release (which also attacked Giuliani for being too right-wing!) helped the candidate survive a choppy, ill-prepared launch, in which he stumbled badly while answering easy questions about abortion, the Terri Schiavo affair, and the various ethics and corruption scandals involving his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, which came out after President Bush nominated Kerik for Secretary of Homeland Security. Before these mistakes could crystallize into a defining moment, though, Giuliani righted the ship. That said, his critics on the Left continue to miss the mark in their hunt to bring down the Republican with the most appeal to Democratic and independent voters.

Consider three recent critiques of the candidate. In the New Yorker, a remarkably long—sixteen pages and nearly 15,000 words—and meandering profile by Peter J. Boyer offers a too-cute-by-half inversion of the newly outdated conventional wisdom that the South will bring down Giuliani as it did McCain in 2000. After a thinly-sourced accounting of how Giuliani’s contentious style rubbed many New Yorkers the wrong way, the article reaches the conclusion that, as one second-tier critic of the mayor puts it, “All the things that a lot of New Yorkers, myself included, hate about this guy are the things that are actually fuelling his campaign.” Thousands of words into what’s effectively a sanctioned hit focused on how Giuliani alienated New Yorkers, Boyer correctly concludes that this alienation may be a political asset, and certainly does no harm.

Still less effective is the cover story of the August issue of Harper’s, “A Fate Worse Than Bush,” by the superb historical novelist Kevin Smith. It’s a nine-page complaint about how in the “new politics, the candidate is everything” (how this differs from the old politics escapes me). Smith claims that Giuliani governed through “regular authoritarian gestures” and “achieved almost nothing of significance.” As in the New Yorker piece, there’s plenty at which the self-satisfied can nod knowingly, but nothing of worth for those still considering their decision, let alone the writers and operatives looking to craft a compelling critique of Giuliani.

The one attack with some teeth comes from Village Voice political reporter Wayne Barrett, the legendary digger who’s long played Ahab to the mayor’s white whale. In “Rudy Giuliani’s Five Big Lies About 9/11,” the cover story of last week’s Voice, Barrett launches a lengthy, and at points compelling, attack on the mayor’s 9/11 record. Most resonant is Barrett’s well-documented claim that Giuliani did little to protect the health and safety of first responders, who, at an alarming rate, are being diagnosed with cancer and various rare illness.

As previously noted in these pages, Giuliani’s decision to focus on 9/11 and neglect the rest of his accomplishments as mayor leaves him highly vulnerable to an effective assault on his record in the days and months following the terrorist attack. It’s a danger from which he attempted to insulate himself with his claim earlier this week that “I was at Ground Zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers…. I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to.” First responders and political foes pounced on the statement, for which Giuliani quickly apologized.

It was a rare misstep from his increasingly disciplined campaign, but it was a dangerous one—there’s little doubt that the health issues swirling around first responders will become a national story before the campaign is over. While this story will also hurt Clinton and Bloomberg to some extent, it’s Giuliani who has the most to lose should his image as a heroic responder be tarnished.

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The Fulani Follies

It has been proven yet again that New York City’s colorful political scene rivals that of any municipality or state. To wit: Lenora Fulani—the political cult leader—appears to be making a comeback, planning a run for the mayoralty in 2009.

In 1989, Fulani wrote that Jews “function as mass murderers of people of color” and “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel.” Last week she said: “The language I used was harsh, and today I would call it excessive.” Irrespective of whether Fulani is an anti-Semite (the fact that she waited eighteen years to repudiate these remarks and has only done so on the verge of announcing her intentions to run for political office renders her motivations highly suspect), she still remains a disreputable public figure. She has long been allied with Fred Newman, who, as a “revolutionary” psychotherapist, playwright, and Marxist political activist, rivals L. Ron Hubbard in his megalomaniacal dilettantism and knack for operating cults behind the veneer of an ostensibly respectable front group. Newman and Fulani eventually manged to gain control of New York’s Independence Party. Yet, like many Marxists, the two are opportunists first and ideologues second, as this 2005 piece in the New York Times (which discusses Newman’s one-time support for Al Sharpton) and this 1999 piece from the Nation (about Fulani’s erstwhile allegiance with Pat Buchanan) demonstrate.

Mayor Bloomberg sought—and won—the support of Fulani’s Independence Party in his 2001 election, and has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party’s political coffers. He even went so far as to join with Fulani’s group in the campaign to bring non-partisan elections to New York City, which would have weakened the Democratic Party and strengthened the Newman/Fulani faction. When necessary, Bloomberg has delivered the standard disapproving sound-bite about the wackiness of those running the Independence Party. Politics does make strange bedfellows, particularly in New York. But before the Mayor begins to tread in Presidential waters, he would do well to explain why he spent so many years currying favor with such disreputable politicians.

It has been proven yet again that New York City’s colorful political scene rivals that of any municipality or state. To wit: Lenora Fulani—the political cult leader—appears to be making a comeback, planning a run for the mayoralty in 2009.

In 1989, Fulani wrote that Jews “function as mass murderers of people of color” and “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel.” Last week she said: “The language I used was harsh, and today I would call it excessive.” Irrespective of whether Fulani is an anti-Semite (the fact that she waited eighteen years to repudiate these remarks and has only done so on the verge of announcing her intentions to run for political office renders her motivations highly suspect), she still remains a disreputable public figure. She has long been allied with Fred Newman, who, as a “revolutionary” psychotherapist, playwright, and Marxist political activist, rivals L. Ron Hubbard in his megalomaniacal dilettantism and knack for operating cults behind the veneer of an ostensibly respectable front group. Newman and Fulani eventually manged to gain control of New York’s Independence Party. Yet, like many Marxists, the two are opportunists first and ideologues second, as this 2005 piece in the New York Times (which discusses Newman’s one-time support for Al Sharpton) and this 1999 piece from the Nation (about Fulani’s erstwhile allegiance with Pat Buchanan) demonstrate.

Mayor Bloomberg sought—and won—the support of Fulani’s Independence Party in his 2001 election, and has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party’s political coffers. He even went so far as to join with Fulani’s group in the campaign to bring non-partisan elections to New York City, which would have weakened the Democratic Party and strengthened the Newman/Fulani faction. When necessary, Bloomberg has delivered the standard disapproving sound-bite about the wackiness of those running the Independence Party. Politics does make strange bedfellows, particularly in New York. But before the Mayor begins to tread in Presidential waters, he would do well to explain why he spent so many years currying favor with such disreputable politicians.

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New York City Under Attack Again

Three-and-a-half inches of rain fell here yesterday, causing immense chaos and raising once again the question of whether the city is prepared for the possibility of something worse, like six inches of rain, not to mention a major terrorist attack.

One of the critical issues raised by yesterday’s episode is the way information is distributed in a crisis. As I noted after a steam pipe burst in Manhattan on June 18, New Yorkers were left in the dark about the nature of the blast whose plume was visible for miles. The news media did not get on the story for at least an hour, and the city did not have any means of its own by which to address the public.

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Three-and-a-half inches of rain fell here yesterday, causing immense chaos and raising once again the question of whether the city is prepared for the possibility of something worse, like six inches of rain, not to mention a major terrorist attack.

One of the critical issues raised by yesterday’s episode is the way information is distributed in a crisis. As I noted after a steam pipe burst in Manhattan on June 18, New Yorkers were left in the dark about the nature of the blast whose plume was visible for miles. The news media did not get on the story for at least an hour, and the city did not have any means of its own by which to address the public.

Responsibility for yesterday’s disarray—in which most of the city’s subway system was out of commission for half a day—fell on the MTA, a body whose structure is designed to let elected officials escape blame for its failures, but which ultimately is under the control of Governor Spitzer. Whether the subway infrastructure can be fixed so as to avoid recurrent shut-downs is not the central issue. The flow of information—or lack thereof—is.

Yesterday, once again, the authorities were unable to provide information to the public for hours. The MTA’s website was not updated until 11 AM, more than five hours after the storm had passed. At the same time, a lack of bandwidth kept information-hungry commuters from tuning in. Faulty computer equipment is now being blamed, but that was hardly the only deficiency. The New York Times reports that for much of the morning, the MTA’s subway information office “had only one employee on duty; the others were trying to get in.”

Even if the MTA failed abysmally, the city could have stepped in and played a critical role. But Mayor Bloomberg’s much vaunted 311 telephone-information system was also overloaded with callers who could not get through. The lucky ones, like me, who did reach operators were transferred to an MTA number featuring a busy signal. The city’s website, too, was left unchanged; throughout most of the day, it displayed information on alternate-side-of-the-street parking regulations.

At this point, one does not expect much of anything from Governor Spitzer, who is both new to office and preoccupied with his self-inflicted political wounds. Mayor Bloomberg is something else. He made billions by finding innovative ways to provide information to those who need it via “Bloomberg boxes.” But the city has either not yet put in place even the most rudimentary emergency-communications tools, or it has not figured out how to activate them in an emergency.

Either way, New York is not remotely prepared to deal with the havoc that could be wreaked by another Muhammad Atta. Before a truly major disaster strikes, the city sorely needs a Bloomberg-box system of its own.

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Two Mayors

With Mayor Bloomberg now making eyes at the presidency, there are three New Yorkers running for the office—and two of them are in the race because of 9/11.

Rudy Giuliani, who remains unpopular in the city he brought back from the brink of economic and social collapse (a recent Daily News poll showed New Yorkers favored Bloomberg over Giuliani as mayor by 56 percent to 29 percent, or nearly two to one), has been running as America’s Mayor, the leader who emerged from the smoke of the fallen towers.

Giuliani had been preparing for that moment since 1993, when he took office months after the tower bombing, which took pride of place in his first State of the City address. Later, he was widely mocked for constructing a bunker for the city’s new Office of Emergency Management, and for expelling Yasir Arafat from Lincoln Center. He’d also been preparing the city. Imagine the same attack in the terribly different New York of 1989—first violence erupting elsewhere while the police are at the towers, and later an out-migration of businesses and citizens.

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With Mayor Bloomberg now making eyes at the presidency, there are three New Yorkers running for the office—and two of them are in the race because of 9/11.

Rudy Giuliani, who remains unpopular in the city he brought back from the brink of economic and social collapse (a recent Daily News poll showed New Yorkers favored Bloomberg over Giuliani as mayor by 56 percent to 29 percent, or nearly two to one), has been running as America’s Mayor, the leader who emerged from the smoke of the fallen towers.

Giuliani had been preparing for that moment since 1993, when he took office months after the tower bombing, which took pride of place in his first State of the City address. Later, he was widely mocked for constructing a bunker for the city’s new Office of Emergency Management, and for expelling Yasir Arafat from Lincoln Center. He’d also been preparing the city. Imagine the same attack in the terribly different New York of 1989—first violence erupting elsewhere while the police are at the towers, and later an out-migration of businesses and citizens.

While his stump speech touches on the return of order to what’s been famously dubbed the ungovernable city, Giuliani’s been loath to connect his role after the attack with the rest of his mayoralty. Before the towers fell, his local approval rating had dropped below 40 percent. So he’s quarantined his shining hour from his time in office by treating 9/11 as Americans largely understood it: The moment when Everything Changed.

It’s a bad idea. Outside of New York, Giuliani’s widely considered a great mayor. What’s more, the strategy exposes him to swift-boating. Already, Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice and Dan Collins (husband of Times editorial board head Gail Collins) have published Grand Illusion, a harsh critique of Giuliani’s reputation as terror fighter. The International Association of Fire Fighters has put out a video that paints him as an ill-prepared coward, and even the Onion has joined the attack.

Though Bloomberg spent a then-record $74 million (nearly $100 per vote!) of his own money in 2001, it wasn’t until Giuliani endorsed him shortly after 9/11 that he emerged as more than just another rich man indulging a Quixotic mid-life crisis. Though he deserves a share of the credit for New York’s recovery from it, Bloomberg rarely mentions the attack that elected him.

There’s a reason for his reticence. Nearly seven years later, nothing has been built at Ground Zero, largely because Bloomberg instead developed parts of the city a safe distance from his predecessor’s oversized shadow, still looming over the site. Bloomberg’s silence is mirrored by a mayoralty and now a presidential run entirely without a foreign policy, an omission which will prove damaging as he faces increased national scrutiny.

As in 2001, Bloomberg is again a longshot candidate sidestepping the primaries to come in late with money to spend (and spend well) in pursuit of an office for which he’s expressed no particular vision. Should Giuliani win the Republican nomination, expect Bloomberg to claim that a few weeks of symbolism aside, it’s Mayor Mike who deserves the credit for the city’s post-attack fortunes.

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Congestion Pricing, Stalled

Michael Bloomberg’s all-but-declared presidential campaign suffered a serious setback on Monday, when the New York state legislature refused to sign on to plans to impose congestion pricing on New York City. The mayor’s plan would have charged people to drive into midtown Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Congestion pricing is a good idea—in principle. There were, however, numerous substantive problems with Bloomberg’s plan, which would not have reduced traffic so much as redistributed it to less well-to-do areas bordering the mid-Manhattan congestion zone. But what may have been its real undoing was the mix of arrogance and managerial incompetence that the mayor brought with him to Albany.

Bloomberg’s proposal, from the start, struck skeptical legislators as a ploy designed to burnish the mayor’s green credentials for a run at the presidency. And the mayor (who spent the days before the decision not lobbying in Albany, but attending the Aspen Festival) never did the groundwork necessary to win approval in the State legislature. When concerns were raised that the subways were already heavily overcrowded and increasingly late—problems sure to be worsened by the plan—Bloomberg dismissed them out of hand. “He does not accept criticism and he views advice as criticism,” said one Senate Democrat. “He had no answers for complaints that weren’t flippant.” “If the mayor came in with one vote, he left with none,” said Senator Kevin S. Parker (D-Brooklyn). So angered were Albany Democrats that they voted as a bloc to defeat the measure.

Bloomberg cites his previous successes in working with the state legislature as part of his leadership portfolio. But in New York, collaboration like this is less impressive than it sounds: the New York City charter gives the mayor the upper hand in (almost) any conflict. This makes the congestion-pricing flop (as well as Bloomberg’s first-term failure to rally support for his plan to build a heavily-subsidized stadium on the west side of Manhattan) all the worse. Bloomberg, famously autocratic as a CEO, apparently suffers from the same problem in political life. His insistence that he’s above politics—a conceit cushioned by his ability to buy political support—hasn’t cut any ice in the cozy confines of Albany. One can only imagine how it would be received in Washington.

Michael Bloomberg’s all-but-declared presidential campaign suffered a serious setback on Monday, when the New York state legislature refused to sign on to plans to impose congestion pricing on New York City. The mayor’s plan would have charged people to drive into midtown Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Congestion pricing is a good idea—in principle. There were, however, numerous substantive problems with Bloomberg’s plan, which would not have reduced traffic so much as redistributed it to less well-to-do areas bordering the mid-Manhattan congestion zone. But what may have been its real undoing was the mix of arrogance and managerial incompetence that the mayor brought with him to Albany.

Bloomberg’s proposal, from the start, struck skeptical legislators as a ploy designed to burnish the mayor’s green credentials for a run at the presidency. And the mayor (who spent the days before the decision not lobbying in Albany, but attending the Aspen Festival) never did the groundwork necessary to win approval in the State legislature. When concerns were raised that the subways were already heavily overcrowded and increasingly late—problems sure to be worsened by the plan—Bloomberg dismissed them out of hand. “He does not accept criticism and he views advice as criticism,” said one Senate Democrat. “He had no answers for complaints that weren’t flippant.” “If the mayor came in with one vote, he left with none,” said Senator Kevin S. Parker (D-Brooklyn). So angered were Albany Democrats that they voted as a bloc to defeat the measure.

Bloomberg cites his previous successes in working with the state legislature as part of his leadership portfolio. But in New York, collaboration like this is less impressive than it sounds: the New York City charter gives the mayor the upper hand in (almost) any conflict. This makes the congestion-pricing flop (as well as Bloomberg’s first-term failure to rally support for his plan to build a heavily-subsidized stadium on the west side of Manhattan) all the worse. Bloomberg, famously autocratic as a CEO, apparently suffers from the same problem in political life. His insistence that he’s above politics—a conceit cushioned by his ability to buy political support—hasn’t cut any ice in the cozy confines of Albany. One can only imagine how it would be received in Washington.

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