Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York City

Big Names Still Passing on NYC Mayor’s Race

In a 2009 story about the succession of the Dalai Lama, the New York Times reported that the “search for the present Dalai Lama commenced in earnest in 1935 when the embalmed head of his deceased predecessor is said to have wheeled around and pointed toward northeastern Tibet.” The Times continued: “Then, the story goes, a giant, star-shaped fungus grew overnight on the east side of the tomb. An auspicious cloud bank formed and a regent saw a vision of letters floating in a mystical lake, one of which — Ah — he took to refer to the northeast province of Amdo,” where a young child was found and determined to be the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Though not quite so fanciful and dramatic, the search for the next mayor of New York City, after two very high-profile mayors who became national figures, sometimes attracts a disproportionate amount of intrigue and suspense. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is alive and well, but he, too, turned his head in an attempt to guide his people to their next leader–and apparently fixed his gaze on Foggy Bottom. The Times reports today:

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In a 2009 story about the succession of the Dalai Lama, the New York Times reported that the “search for the present Dalai Lama commenced in earnest in 1935 when the embalmed head of his deceased predecessor is said to have wheeled around and pointed toward northeastern Tibet.” The Times continued: “Then, the story goes, a giant, star-shaped fungus grew overnight on the east side of the tomb. An auspicious cloud bank formed and a regent saw a vision of letters floating in a mystical lake, one of which — Ah — he took to refer to the northeast province of Amdo,” where a young child was found and determined to be the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Though not quite so fanciful and dramatic, the search for the next mayor of New York City, after two very high-profile mayors who became national figures, sometimes attracts a disproportionate amount of intrigue and suspense. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is alive and well, but he, too, turned his head in an attempt to guide his people to their next leader–and apparently fixed his gaze on Foggy Bottom. The Times reports today:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has long struggled to imagine a successor with the combination of star power, experience and grit to fill his shoes.

But not long ago, he was struck by an inspiration: Hillary Rodham Clinton, the retiring secretary of state.

In a phone call confirmed by three people, Mr. Bloomberg encouraged Mrs. Clinton to consider entering the 2013 mayor’s race, trading international diplomacy for municipal management on the grandest scale. She would, he suggested, be a perfect fit.

Much about the call, which occurred some months ago, remains shrouded in mystery. But Mr. Bloomberg’s overture to the former first lady highlights the level of his anxiety about the current crop of candidates, his eagerness to recruit a replacement who can rival his stature and his determination to become a kingmaker in the political arena he will soon exit.

Bloomberg was famously unwilling to “soon exit” when his term-limited time in office drew to a close, so he had the rules changed to allow him to stay in office. The people needed him, and no one had yet banned large sodas. And it is something of a testament to this unwillingness to let go that Bloomberg wants to choose his successor. But it is also a reasonable concern: the current crop of candidates is surprisingly underwhelming on the Democratic side, and almost literally empty on the Republican side.

New York City Republicans have apparently failed to convince Police Commissioner Ray Kelly–the city’s most popular major figure, and for good reason–to run on the GOP ticket (or run at all). The old Nixon aide Roger Stone used the opening to push conservative commentator and Daily News columnist S.E. Cupp to run. Cupp, like Hillary on the Democratic side, politely but firmly declined. Another GOP possibility is Joe Lhota, who served under Rudy Giuliani and is currently head of the city’s transportation authority, though he lags in early polls to the Democrats, as does former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion, a former Democrat who served in the Obama administration who is working to make the party switch to run on the GOP ticket.

Hillary Clinton seems to be laying the groundwork early for a 2016 presidential run, which would preclude her from simultaneously running New York City–a mayoralty that is more akin to running a state with a dash of national security frontline policymaking. The job is a tall order, and Clinton seems to have her heart set on the White House for now. But Bloomberg’s choice of Clinton is revealing; though perhaps Hillary would make a good mayor, Bloomberg chose her for all the wrong reasons. The Times continues: “In Mrs. Clinton, it seems, a mayor known for his sometimes unsparing critiques of those in public life sees a globe-trotting problem solver like himself.”

New Yorkers would no doubt cringe at that sentence. When Bloomberg considers himself a globe-trotting problem solver, what he means is someone who spends a lot of time talking about problems that need solving. In fact, Bloomberg’s biggest weakness as a mayor is that he is not a problem solver. As I wrote in the days after superstorm Sandy, Bloomberg had been warning that inclement weather would cause near-unprecedented storm surges. Yet instead of securing the city’s infrastructure or pushing plans to build storm surge barriers, Bloomberg was content to just be a prophet of doom.

The city of New York thrives when in the hands of real problem solvers–like Giuliani, or Ray Kelly at the NYPD. Giuliani was the embodiment of hardheaded practicality, a seeming contradiction but one that explains what it takes to be mayor of New York. Bloomberg’s legacy is already shaky; the last thing he should be doing is trying to find a Davos schmoozer to fill his shoes.

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Storm Exposes the Magnitude of Bloomberg’s Failure to Govern

Questions surrounding any public crisis hew closely to the schedule of the crisis itself. So when Hurricane Sandy was approaching the East Coast last week, everyone wanted to know whether the affected areas were adequately prepared. During the storm itself, people wondered what the damage was going to be. And in the wake of the storm, all attention is paid to reaction and recovery efforts. Since those efforts now appear to have hit some unexpected problems, it’s natural that the earlier questions have receded to the background.

But they shouldn’t be forgotten. Because for all the comparisons of Michael Bloomberg to Rudy Giuliani, who led New York—and the nation—through the early hours after 9/11, it’s worth recalling that a big part of the reason Giuliani responded so well was because he was intent on getting the city and its employees ready for anything. When that “anything” struck, as it did a couple of times in Giuliani’s tenure, America’s Mayor struck back. It is here, too, where Bloomberg fails spectacularly to fill the shoes of Rudy Giuliani.

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Questions surrounding any public crisis hew closely to the schedule of the crisis itself. So when Hurricane Sandy was approaching the East Coast last week, everyone wanted to know whether the affected areas were adequately prepared. During the storm itself, people wondered what the damage was going to be. And in the wake of the storm, all attention is paid to reaction and recovery efforts. Since those efforts now appear to have hit some unexpected problems, it’s natural that the earlier questions have receded to the background.

But they shouldn’t be forgotten. Because for all the comparisons of Michael Bloomberg to Rudy Giuliani, who led New York—and the nation—through the early hours after 9/11, it’s worth recalling that a big part of the reason Giuliani responded so well was because he was intent on getting the city and its employees ready for anything. When that “anything” struck, as it did a couple of times in Giuliani’s tenure, America’s Mayor struck back. It is here, too, where Bloomberg fails spectacularly to fill the shoes of Rudy Giuliani.

As Fred Siegel writes in his book on the Giuliani years, the mayor “had been talking and thinking about the problem of terrorism—something to which most New Yorkers were oblivious—from literally his first day in office. The city’s largely successful response to 9/11 was the product of years of preparation.”

And it wasn’t just preparation for terrorism. Siegel writes of the behind-the-scenes work that readied the city for just about any anything conceivable. In 1999, a heat wave led to power outages in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan that totaled about 300,000. Giuliani took action to prevent the power outages from taking out Brooklyn as well, and then rallied the city to the Heights. Rather than the looting that had taken place in New York in the past, the city remained under control with Giuliani working around the clock and winning the cooperation of the residents of the Heights.

The city’s Department of Health developed a “syndromic surveillance system” to prepare for chemical or biological attacks. When West Nile virus hit the city (also in 1999), the response was immediate and helped contain the virus. New York’s response, as in other cases, was praised as a model as other cities battled West Nile that year.

Leading up to the Y2K scare, the city, led by Giuliani, Jerry Hauer, the director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, and Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota (who now heads the city’s MTA), prepared for several possible terrorist attacks and other emergencies on New Year’s, including a gas attack at the World Trade Center that assumed 1,000 injured. Lhota said they practiced and prepared like a football team. “If any city was ready for trouble,” Siegel writes, “it was New York.”

On New Year’s Eve, while Giuliani was overseeing events in Times Square, Siegel writes:

Hauer and Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota were in the World Trade Center command post accompanied by three hundred crisis managers from city departments, Con Edison, Verizon, the Red Cross, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the FBI, and the National Guard. And although the public didn’t know it, the National Guard had been quietly pre-positioning in Brooklyn as part of an emergency plan for evacuating Manhattan.

Nothing happened that night. But Giuliani’s team and the city “had passed the test,” Siegel writes. “Gotham was ready for a future emergency.”

So while it’s true that Bloomberg’s response pales in comparison to that of Giuliani, it’s not just the ability to inspire and the natural instincts of a leader that separate the two men. Stories like this one in the New York Times, which discuss the warnings that the city was vulnerable to a storm like Sandy long before this year’s hurricane hit radar screens, will likely follow Bloomberg as well. And the lack of preparation will be especially inexcusable for Bloomberg, who has stomped around claiming that the storm was a result of the very climate change he has been warning about for years. If he was so sure about coming climate change storms, why wasn’t he ready for this one?

This is the most damning paragraph from that story:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is known worldwide for his broad environmental vision. But one former official said it had been difficult to move from theoretical planning to concrete actions, and it was hoped that the storm this week would change that.

Bloomberg knew the dangers, according to this official, and spent years talking about it in the abstract. But he didn’t take any concrete action, instead satisfied to wag his finger at others.

So yes, Bloomberg is an underwhelming leader in the city’s time of need. But if these reports are true, he has failed this city on a much deeper, and much more consequential, level. Though Bloomberg obviously didn’t learn from his predecessor’s successes, New Yorkers can only hope that the next mayor learns from Bloomberg’s failures.

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A Marathon During a Humanitarian Disaster? Yes, Says Bloomberg

For New Yorkers, the suffering of Sandy is everywhere and is still far from over. The election is four days away and the national media has largely shifted its concern from the heartache on the East Coast to the presidential race. The horror stories are growing, and at the same time, growing more silent because of a distracted press.

Yesterday, while Mayor Mike Bloomberg, was promoting his endorsement of President Obama, his city within a city, trapped in darkness, dissolved further into darkness. Residents of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island have been battered. They have no power, no gas to run their cars or generators (if they have them, most do not), no cell phone power to contact their families, almost no access to public transportation and very tenuous access to clean water and food. Many are watching the situation devolve into a Katrina-like scenario, but on a wider scale.

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For New Yorkers, the suffering of Sandy is everywhere and is still far from over. The election is four days away and the national media has largely shifted its concern from the heartache on the East Coast to the presidential race. The horror stories are growing, and at the same time, growing more silent because of a distracted press.

Yesterday, while Mayor Mike Bloomberg, was promoting his endorsement of President Obama, his city within a city, trapped in darkness, dissolved further into darkness. Residents of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island have been battered. They have no power, no gas to run their cars or generators (if they have them, most do not), no cell phone power to contact their families, almost no access to public transportation and very tenuous access to clean water and food. Many are watching the situation devolve into a Katrina-like scenario, but on a wider scale.

In the powerless neighborhoods of New York, especially in the public housing projects, life is beyond recognizable from a week ago. Elevators to high-rise buildings are inoperable, water and sewage is cut off, and there is for many, no end in sight. Yesterday the National Guard arrived to bring food and water for the first time. Residents waited in long lines for hours to claim it. Those who could not make it down flights of stairs to do so, the elderly and disabled, are especially vulnerable.

There is a massive reallocation of resources about to take place. Generators and food trucks are being disbursed this weekend in New York City. For Sandy survivors? No. For runners in the New York City Marathon. Mayor Bloomberg, in his infinite wisdom, has decided to divert desperately needed resources during an unprecedented tragedy to a marathon. The route these runners will take brings them through neighborhoods, past homes and apartments, that were destroyed a week prior. These runners currently have reservations for hotel rooms that are occupied by those displaced from their homes, many hotels are honoring these reservations, and if they are not, the hotels are forced to fight with marathon attendees to keep evacuees housed in their hotels. These runners will be protected by a police department that is already unable to protect homes and businesses from looting.

While Mayor Bloomberg might be happy to give his endorsement to President Obama, it may not be so wise for Obama to tout this endorsement. The outcry over Bloomberg’s handling of Sandy is steadily growing. Before she struck, experts were questioning his preparedness and seriousness about the storm. While he was busy promoting the president yesterday, the bodies of two toddlers in Staten Island were discovered in the marsh, swept out their mother’s arms during the storm. Instead of comforting the family of an off-duty NYPD officer who died protecting his family, prior to that officer’s funeral, Bloomberg was holding yet another press conference.

This weekend’s marathon is the last straw for a city stretched to its limits. Mayor Bloomberg, it’s time to take a lesson from your predecessor. After 9/11, Americans fell in love with Rudy Guliani. That kind of courage and leadership is something this city desperately needs. Through sheer force of will, New Yorkers are pulling through this test, and they will pass it. Mayor Bloomberg, on the other hand, has already failed.

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New York, New York

Maureen Corrigan’s review of The Scientists yesterday at NPR makes an interesting claim in its first paragraph. Marco Roth’s new memoir of growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the Eighties nudges Corrigan into a taxonomy of New York literature:

Every New York story ever written or filmed falls into one of two categories. The first — like Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or the musical On the Town — regards New York as the representative American city, a jam-packed distillation of the country’s dreams and nightmares. The second group views New York as a foreign place — a city off the coast of the U.S. mainland that somehow drifted away from Paris or Mars.

The normal response to any two-part invention like this is to begin coughing up exceptions. (What about Edith Wharton’s Old New York? The Lower East Side and Jewish Brooklyn of Anzia Yezierska, Henry Roth, and Daniel Fuchs? The Harlem of Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin? The Queens of Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker?) The protesting sputter of exceptions may be the whole purpose of such an exercise, which can’t stand up to logical scrutiny on its own. To divide every “story ever written” into just two categories is to invite you to think about the stories carefully and in detail.

But I’m thinking about something else. Ever since I started book blogging four years ago, I have been moaning about “the almost complete disappearance of regionalism from American fiction” and groaning how very few writers these days are “striking roots in any single American soil.” It’s one of my tiresome little themes. Even when a novelist is successful in evoking the peculiar genius of a place — recent examples would include Michael Chabon’s borderland between Berkeley and Oakland in Telegraph Avenue, Pauls Toutonghi’s Butte in Evel Knievel Days, Richard Ford’s wind-blown prairie town in Canada — the place is not his native ground. Chabon’s previous novel was set in a possible (not an actual) Alaska; Toutonghi’s, in Milwaukee; Ford’s, in suburban New Jersey. The last true regionalist in American fiction may be Louise Erdrich, who maps the same corner of North Dakota where the Indian reservation collides with the white man’s town in novel after novel.

There have been New York regionalists. To think of Wharton as a New York regionalist is to arrive at a new appreciation of her. Francine Prose sticks close to the city — if the metropolitan region of New York stretches north to the Taconics, east to Fire Island, and west to the New Jersey suburbs. (There is nothing south of New York.) Paul Auster writes again and again of New York, although the unmarked intersection where fictional worlds meet physical reality is where he prefers to set up camp.

The truth is that New York is either an anthology of places — Cynthia Ozick’s Bronx, Jonathan Lethem’s Brooklyn, Alice McDermott’s Long Island, Richard Price’s Jersey City — or it is Manhattan, which can turn pretty quickly into a symbol rather than a human habitation (as in Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin). Even Saul Bellow, whose 1947 novel The Victim is one of the best books about the city, edges away from geography and into allegory:

On some nights New York is as hot as Bangkok. The whole continent seems to have moved from its place and slid nearer the equator, the bitter gray Atlantic to have become green and tropical, and the poeple, thronging the streets, barbaric fellahin among the stupendous monuments of their mystery, the lights of which, a dazzling profusion, climb upward endlessly into the heat of the sky.

The best New York book of all time is Alfred Kazin’s 1951 memoir A Walker in the City, because it explores Brooklyn at street level. That’s really the only way to know New York, which is why an entire literature is required to study the city as a whole. Early last year the novelist Edmund White named his choices for the ten best New York books. Not to duplicate him, I’ll list ten more (in chronological order):

  1. Abraham Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky (1917)
  2. Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)
  3. Dawn Powell, Turn, Magic Wheel (1936)
  4. Ann Petry, The Street (1946)
  5. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  6. Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959)
  7. Saul Bellow, Mr Sammler’s Planet (1970)
  8. Chang-rae Lee, Native Speaker (1995)
  9. Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler (1997)
10. Zoë Heller, The Believers (2009)

Maureen Corrigan’s review of The Scientists yesterday at NPR makes an interesting claim in its first paragraph. Marco Roth’s new memoir of growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the Eighties nudges Corrigan into a taxonomy of New York literature:

Every New York story ever written or filmed falls into one of two categories. The first — like Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or the musical On the Town — regards New York as the representative American city, a jam-packed distillation of the country’s dreams and nightmares. The second group views New York as a foreign place — a city off the coast of the U.S. mainland that somehow drifted away from Paris or Mars.

The normal response to any two-part invention like this is to begin coughing up exceptions. (What about Edith Wharton’s Old New York? The Lower East Side and Jewish Brooklyn of Anzia Yezierska, Henry Roth, and Daniel Fuchs? The Harlem of Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin? The Queens of Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker?) The protesting sputter of exceptions may be the whole purpose of such an exercise, which can’t stand up to logical scrutiny on its own. To divide every “story ever written” into just two categories is to invite you to think about the stories carefully and in detail.

But I’m thinking about something else. Ever since I started book blogging four years ago, I have been moaning about “the almost complete disappearance of regionalism from American fiction” and groaning how very few writers these days are “striking roots in any single American soil.” It’s one of my tiresome little themes. Even when a novelist is successful in evoking the peculiar genius of a place — recent examples would include Michael Chabon’s borderland between Berkeley and Oakland in Telegraph Avenue, Pauls Toutonghi’s Butte in Evel Knievel Days, Richard Ford’s wind-blown prairie town in Canada — the place is not his native ground. Chabon’s previous novel was set in a possible (not an actual) Alaska; Toutonghi’s, in Milwaukee; Ford’s, in suburban New Jersey. The last true regionalist in American fiction may be Louise Erdrich, who maps the same corner of North Dakota where the Indian reservation collides with the white man’s town in novel after novel.

There have been New York regionalists. To think of Wharton as a New York regionalist is to arrive at a new appreciation of her. Francine Prose sticks close to the city — if the metropolitan region of New York stretches north to the Taconics, east to Fire Island, and west to the New Jersey suburbs. (There is nothing south of New York.) Paul Auster writes again and again of New York, although the unmarked intersection where fictional worlds meet physical reality is where he prefers to set up camp.

The truth is that New York is either an anthology of places — Cynthia Ozick’s Bronx, Jonathan Lethem’s Brooklyn, Alice McDermott’s Long Island, Richard Price’s Jersey City — or it is Manhattan, which can turn pretty quickly into a symbol rather than a human habitation (as in Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin). Even Saul Bellow, whose 1947 novel The Victim is one of the best books about the city, edges away from geography and into allegory:

On some nights New York is as hot as Bangkok. The whole continent seems to have moved from its place and slid nearer the equator, the bitter gray Atlantic to have become green and tropical, and the poeple, thronging the streets, barbaric fellahin among the stupendous monuments of their mystery, the lights of which, a dazzling profusion, climb upward endlessly into the heat of the sky.

The best New York book of all time is Alfred Kazin’s 1951 memoir A Walker in the City, because it explores Brooklyn at street level. That’s really the only way to know New York, which is why an entire literature is required to study the city as a whole. Early last year the novelist Edmund White named his choices for the ten best New York books. Not to duplicate him, I’ll list ten more (in chronological order):

  1. Abraham Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky (1917)
  2. Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)
  3. Dawn Powell, Turn, Magic Wheel (1936)
  4. Ann Petry, The Street (1946)
  5. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  6. Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959)
  7. Saul Bellow, Mr Sammler’s Planet (1970)
  8. Chang-rae Lee, Native Speaker (1995)
  9. Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler (1997)
10. Zoë Heller, The Believers (2009)

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Obama and the Lessons of John Lindsay

Since we’re now in the portion of the presidential election campaign in which the parties hold their respective national nominating conventions, the urge to find historical comparisons to analyze the candidates will be even stronger than usual. But there is one comparison when contemplating President Obama’s re-election agenda that seems apt, but goes unmentioned: John Lindsay.

Lindsay, like Obama, was young, charismatic and telegenic when he ran for mayor of New York City in the mid-1960s. Like Obama, Lindsay ran as a moderate (he was actually a liberal Republican, but eventually switched parties to run for president as a Democrat), and like Obama Lindsay ran a campaign of hope and optimism at a time of dreary pessimism. But Lindsay also put in place some of the worst public policy New York saw in the 20th century, and the assumptions and outlook that led him to that legislation mirror those of the current occupant of the White House. If Barack Obama wins re-election, he will take office forty years after Lindsay left his, and the latter’s administration offers us a good case study of the weaknesses of Obama’s political instincts.

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Since we’re now in the portion of the presidential election campaign in which the parties hold their respective national nominating conventions, the urge to find historical comparisons to analyze the candidates will be even stronger than usual. But there is one comparison when contemplating President Obama’s re-election agenda that seems apt, but goes unmentioned: John Lindsay.

Lindsay, like Obama, was young, charismatic and telegenic when he ran for mayor of New York City in the mid-1960s. Like Obama, Lindsay ran as a moderate (he was actually a liberal Republican, but eventually switched parties to run for president as a Democrat), and like Obama Lindsay ran a campaign of hope and optimism at a time of dreary pessimism. But Lindsay also put in place some of the worst public policy New York saw in the 20th century, and the assumptions and outlook that led him to that legislation mirror those of the current occupant of the White House. If Barack Obama wins re-election, he will take office forty years after Lindsay left his, and the latter’s administration offers us a good case study of the weaknesses of Obama’s political instincts.

A great guide through the problems of the Lindsay years is Greg David’s new book on the economics of postwar New York: Modern New York: The Life and Economics of a City. David was editor of Crain’s New York Business for two decades, and the book’s chapters are essential snapshots of each mayoral administration during those years. David’s chapter on Lindsay is particularly relevant.

As David notes, to Lindsay, “Business’s primary role was to provide the revenue for city government to right social imbalances.” So tax hikes were an important first step for Lindsay, and he agreed with the New York Times, which defended the tax plan: “in an assumption fraught with consequences,” David writes, “the Times said that the city’s businesses and residents could afford to pay more.”

Lindsay sold his pro-government tax plan by claiming that the money was for hospitals, schools, fire departments, and so on. But Lindsay used the money in large part to balloon the public payroll and city budget. The hiring spree seemed like a way to offer city residents more job security than in the private sector (and to keep unemployment numbers down, even if artificially) until, thanks in part to Lindsay’s own policies, it became clear the city couldn’t afford those jobs. But no matter: Lindsay and his allies argued that government made it possible for the city’s businesses to succeed, and it was time they gave back (sound familiar?).

The new tax structure brought the results with which we are by now quite familiar: “Within a few years, the business tax became a crushing burden on the manufacturing sector it was supposed to save,” David writes. Indeed, the business income tax (instituted to replace a gross receipts tax), according the Budget Bureau, cost businesses almost 45,000 jobs in its first five years. In its sixth year, the rate was raised again, costing close to 10,000 additional jobs.

All the while, Lindsay thought he was doing just fine, in part because flight from the city kept unemployment lower than it would have been had New Yorkers stayed put (much like Obama’s unemployment numbers benefit from those who drop out of the work force). The country was experiencing a recession, and Lindsay simply blamed the recession he didn’t cause, not his policies (sound familiar?). Yet by 1971 the country’s recession had begun to give way to a national recovery–a recovery that, thanks to Lindsay’s anti-business policies, eluded New York City. “He had exacerbated the worst recession in the city’s history, assured the rise of an enormous public sector through his income tax, and established a system of rent regulation that would pit New Yorkers against each other,” writes David.

The failed rent regulation policies were a perfect example of the folly of government price controls. Residents of wealthy neighborhoods whose rent control was grandfathered in paid meager prices for buildings that were getting increasingly expensive to maintain, leaving the landlords without the money to do so and the city without as much as $500 million in lost property taxes.

It’s a familiar story: the government puts in place policies that drive up prices. Consumers complain, and so the government enacts price controls intended to curb the problem, but ends up aggravating it by distorting the market and forcing producers to make up the lost revenue elsewhere. Have the technocrats learned this lesson? Hardly. The Obama administration enacted its health care reform bill that would cause premiums to rise. Once they figured this out and consumers howled, the Obama administration began making plans to add–you guessed it–price controls into the mix. As it happens, Obamacare is already designed to increase price controls.

Lindsay actually won re-election, but he was forced to base a good part of his campaign on his own likeability and the lackluster charisma of his opponent (again, sound familiar?). That was all fine for Lindsay, but not for the city he served. His second term saw job losses mount—factory job losses tripled what they were in Lindsay’s first term.

The good news is that with more effective governing in subsequent administrations, the city eventually recovered from John Lindsay. It turns out that personal charisma and lofty rhetoric are no match for competent economic management.

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Goldman Sachs Invests in Crime Reduction

Government continues to struggle to find solutions for many of our most pressing social problems: reducing homelessness, lowering incarceration rates, improving the performance of inner-city schools. Despite the constant stream of taxpayer money into these efforts, the results have been slow to come and unimpressive (with some notable exceptions, like the reduction in overall crime under Mayor Giuliani).

The New York Times reports today on a new public-private partnership between Goldman Sachs and a Rikers Island program that aims to reduce recidivism rates among adolescent prisoners. If it succeeds, Goldman profits off its initial investment in the program; if it fails, Goldman loses money:

In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to announce on Thursday that Goldman Sachs will provide a $9.6 million loan to pay for a new four-year program intended to reduce the rate at which adolescent men incarcerated at Rikers Island reoffend after their release. …

The Goldman money will be used to pay MDRC, a social services provider, to design and oversee the program. If the program reduces recidivism by 10 percent, Goldman would be repaid the full $9.6 million; if recidivism drops more, Goldman could make as much as $2.1 million in profit; if recidivism does not drop by at least 10 percent, Goldman would lose as much as $2.4 million.

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Government continues to struggle to find solutions for many of our most pressing social problems: reducing homelessness, lowering incarceration rates, improving the performance of inner-city schools. Despite the constant stream of taxpayer money into these efforts, the results have been slow to come and unimpressive (with some notable exceptions, like the reduction in overall crime under Mayor Giuliani).

The New York Times reports today on a new public-private partnership between Goldman Sachs and a Rikers Island program that aims to reduce recidivism rates among adolescent prisoners. If it succeeds, Goldman profits off its initial investment in the program; if it fails, Goldman loses money:

In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to announce on Thursday that Goldman Sachs will provide a $9.6 million loan to pay for a new four-year program intended to reduce the rate at which adolescent men incarcerated at Rikers Island reoffend after their release. …

The Goldman money will be used to pay MDRC, a social services provider, to design and oversee the program. If the program reduces recidivism by 10 percent, Goldman would be repaid the full $9.6 million; if recidivism drops more, Goldman could make as much as $2.1 million in profit; if recidivism does not drop by at least 10 percent, Goldman would lose as much as $2.4 million.

These investments, known as “social impact bonds” have been used in Britain and Australia, but this would be the first attempt in the U.S. It’s an idea that has upsides for both liberals and conservatives: for liberals, it’s a way to entice private enterprise into supporting public social programs; for conservatives, it’s a way to introduce free market principles into government initiatives. The Goldman Sachs social impact bond in particular sounds like it will bring innovation and accountability to a subject — reducing reincarceration rates — that is lacking in both.

Goldman doesn’t seem to have much to gain or lose financially, other than pocket change (the $2 million at stake is a rounding error compared to the $900 second-quarter profit it reported last month). But the public relations pressure will probably be the biggest incentive.

It’s actually very interesting that Goldman has chosen to invest in reducing recidivism. The free market is a force of miracles that can pull countries out of poverty, tear down walls dividing social classes and allow us to reach new heights of innovation. But it can only reduce social problems to a point; individual choice still exists, and so crime, poverty and homelessness will always remain in some capacity. Is it possible that the recidivism rate can’t be lowered much more than it already has been? There is already a significant cost to choosing a criminal lifestyle. If someone is determined to continue along that path, can any amount of therapy or job training actually reform them? That’s what this social impact bond initiative seems meant to address. And it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, Goldman’s program will have.

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Occupy Wall Street vs. New Yorkers

Jay Nordlinger occasionally writes at National Review Online about conservatives’ desire for cultural “safe zones”–places to experience the arts without liberal politics intruding on what is meant to be an escape from our ubiquitous political skirmishes. Nordlinger publishes his own experiences and those of readers who attend a concert, the theater, a museum, etc. only for it to be turned into a venue for liberal preaching to an assumed choir.

Rock music, of course, is almost by nature activist, and concerts are far from being “safe zones.” Last night, a concert in downtown Manhattan seemed to be heading in that direction, but then took a peculiar turn. After a rock band opened for the headliner, a “special guest” was announced. This guest would introduce the headliner–a Canadian alt-rock band–but first he wanted to deliver some of his spoken-word beat poetry. The crowd, a young New York audience around the corner from Union Square Park’s Occupy Wall Street adjunct, was amenable, and cheered the poet. The poet was energetic, and the crowd continued to applaud at the beginning of the set. But then something strange happened.

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Jay Nordlinger occasionally writes at National Review Online about conservatives’ desire for cultural “safe zones”–places to experience the arts without liberal politics intruding on what is meant to be an escape from our ubiquitous political skirmishes. Nordlinger publishes his own experiences and those of readers who attend a concert, the theater, a museum, etc. only for it to be turned into a venue for liberal preaching to an assumed choir.

Rock music, of course, is almost by nature activist, and concerts are far from being “safe zones.” Last night, a concert in downtown Manhattan seemed to be heading in that direction, but then took a peculiar turn. After a rock band opened for the headliner, a “special guest” was announced. This guest would introduce the headliner–a Canadian alt-rock band–but first he wanted to deliver some of his spoken-word beat poetry. The crowd, a young New York audience around the corner from Union Square Park’s Occupy Wall Street adjunct, was amenable, and cheered the poet. The poet was energetic, and the crowd continued to applaud at the beginning of the set. But then something strange happened.

The poet gave a shoutout to Occupy Wall Street, not far from the movement’s epicenter, certainly thinking he was playing to the home crowd. And he was booed. Loudly. Unrelentingly. The boos began to drown him out, and only got louder when the poet recited a line accusing the U.S. military of being worker bees in a genocide factory. Then he made a rookie mistake: he insulted the New York Police Department.

That was the last you could hear the poet, as the entire venue was booing and jeering him–not playfully, either; someone threw a bottle at him. This was exactly the target audience, one would have thought, for such a performance. But the incident demonstrates how outsiders view New York City from afar–this poet was from Rhode Island by way of Calgary, I believe–and how that clashes with the reality of the city.

Unlike the Tea Party, with Allen West, Marco Rubio, and others (perhaps after last night, Ted Cruz), the Occupy movement is as far from diverse as a political movement can get. The poet would have had a better grasp of this had he taken a walk around nearby Union Square Park, as I did, before the show. There he would have seen a sparsely populated, universally white Occupy camp ten feet away from where a young Hispanic grade-schooler who looked about 8 years old, with his father proudly looking on, was playing chess with an Indian gentleman, graying at the temples.

Such diversity is the norm, not the exception, in New York, and the Occupy movement’s ethnically homogeneous call to class war is both unrepresentative of, and offensive to, the larger New York community. It’s a city full of hard-working immigrants who have no interest in anarchist fantasy camp.

Additionally, the New York Police Department is a major reason the city of New York is now one of the ten safest cities in the country. Insulting the NYPD is a good way to rankle even liberal New Yorkers. And after 9/11, few New Yorkers would put up with this kind of nonsense.

Later in the show, the poet reemerged. The crowd seemed willing to tolerate him at first, having just listened to a great set from the band. But then the poet remarked that the world would be better if New York would rid itself of Wall Street in general, and “bankers” in particular. And the crowd let him have it again. Wall Street’s tax revenue pays for much of the city’s public services; New Yorkers are often liberal, but rarely that stupid. After the show, the band’s lead singer tweeted his disappointment:

interesting NYC show tonite. guess we lost some fans. I’ve always believed INTOLERANCE was the enemy, not each other. #disappointing

Another lesson: good luck telling New Yorkers to keep their opinions to themselves. I doubt the band lost any fans, but they may have stumbled upon a safe zone.

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Bloomberg: Police Should Strike Until I Get What I Want

When it became clear that the Occupy Wall Street encampment in lower Manhattan was a health and safety danger riddled with sexual assaults, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took action… eventually. After a couple of months. New Yorkers already knew that Bloomberg was no Rudy Giuliani, who combined smart conservative policymaking with a dedication to the city’s safety, security, and dignity. But they learned something else as Bloomberg watched businesses close and the violence spread: Bloomberg was willing to sacrifice public safety to make grand political gestures.

And they learned that lesson again yesterday. Bloomberg, who is as pro-gun control as anyone with his own army, went on Piers Morgan’s show and revealed that the Occupy protests seemed to have left a special place in his heart for subjecting the city to periodic bursts of anarchy:

“I don’t understand why police officers across this country don’t stand up collectively and say we’re going to go on strike, we’re not going to protect you unless you, the public, through your legislature, do what’s required to keep us safe,’’ he told CNN’s Piers Morgan.

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When it became clear that the Occupy Wall Street encampment in lower Manhattan was a health and safety danger riddled with sexual assaults, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took action… eventually. After a couple of months. New Yorkers already knew that Bloomberg was no Rudy Giuliani, who combined smart conservative policymaking with a dedication to the city’s safety, security, and dignity. But they learned something else as Bloomberg watched businesses close and the violence spread: Bloomberg was willing to sacrifice public safety to make grand political gestures.

And they learned that lesson again yesterday. Bloomberg, who is as pro-gun control as anyone with his own army, went on Piers Morgan’s show and revealed that the Occupy protests seemed to have left a special place in his heart for subjecting the city to periodic bursts of anarchy:

“I don’t understand why police officers across this country don’t stand up collectively and say we’re going to go on strike, we’re not going to protect you unless you, the public, through your legislature, do what’s required to keep us safe,’’ he told CNN’s Piers Morgan.

Bloomberg made this astonishingly dangerous remark in response to the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, demanding new tougher gun control legislation. Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that the suspect in this case was building sophisticated bombs in his apartment, and probably would not have been deterred by gun laws. Bloomberg has always had some difficulty with cause and effect–he suggested the Times Square bomber, a self-proclaimed jihadist, was really just angry about President Obama’s health care bill.

And let’s put aside, also, the fact that just as he doesn’t abide by various prohibitions he tries to force on the commoners, Bloomberg’s own safety would never be in doubt. Just yours. And try to put aside the irony of Bloomberg threatening to figuratively put a gun to the public’s head to pass gun control legislation they oppose.

Actually, don’t put any of that aside. Just remember, the next time someone accuses conservatives of holding the country hostage over policy disagreements, Bloomberg has shown us what that would actually look like.

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Identity Politics in the Empire City

The recent political history of New York City would suggest that Bill Thompson, the former city comptroller, should be in pole position heading into the 2013 mayoral election. That’s because when Thompson challenged current Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009 he went into the election the longest of long shots and managed to come within five points of the mayor, who also happens to be a billionaire and global brand.

That the election turned out to have been winnable for the unknown Democrat left the national Democratic Party–which completely ignored its nominee–furiously shifting the blame. Anthony Weiner (remember him?), who considered running against Bloomberg that year, suggested one of President Obama’s futile trips out to New Jersey to help the sinking political fortunes of Jon Corzine might have been better spent helping Thompson. “Maybe,” the White House viciously shot back, “Anthony Weiner should have manned-up and run against Michael Bloomberg.”

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The recent political history of New York City would suggest that Bill Thompson, the former city comptroller, should be in pole position heading into the 2013 mayoral election. That’s because when Thompson challenged current Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009 he went into the election the longest of long shots and managed to come within five points of the mayor, who also happens to be a billionaire and global brand.

That the election turned out to have been winnable for the unknown Democrat left the national Democratic Party–which completely ignored its nominee–furiously shifting the blame. Anthony Weiner (remember him?), who considered running against Bloomberg that year, suggested one of President Obama’s futile trips out to New Jersey to help the sinking political fortunes of Jon Corzine might have been better spent helping Thompson. “Maybe,” the White House viciously shot back, “Anthony Weiner should have manned-up and run against Michael Bloomberg.”

But for obvious reasons, Weiner won’t run for the Democratic mayoral nomination this time either, and Bloomberg will not attempt to run for his third second term. So it should fall to Thompson, logic tells us, to become New York’s next mayor. Yet Thompson is already an underdog. The frontrunner is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Quinn has establishment support and is generating some excitement for the fact that the city has never had a woman mayor. She is also openly gay, and planning to marry her partner this year. Identity politics are never far from the spotlight during New York mayoral elections, but the fact that Quinn is running against Thompson, who is black, virtually guarantees this element of city politics will be present during the 2013 contest.

And in New York, such politics often place New York’s Finest, the NYPD, at the center of attention. The police department’s stop-and-frisk policy has come under fire from minority advocates claiming racial profiling, which is how to understand this part of Thompson’s platform, as reported by the New York Times:

He pledged to replace the current police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, and he said he would oppose any tax increases.

Kelly, however, is currently enjoying a 64 percent approval rating (ten points higher than the mayor), and the NYPD earns an approval rating of 63 percent from New Yorkers. But black New Yorkers give Kelly only a 51-percent approval rating, and give his NYPD only 42. (Fifty percent of the city’s black voters disapprove of the NYPD.) So if you’re Christine Quinn, and the city’s minority residents are giving the NYPD a bit of the cold shoulder, how do you support the very popular police commissioner and his very popular police department without alienating black voters?

Quinn had an answer. While Thompson responded to the stop-and-frisk policy by threatening to fire Kelly, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who is also likely running for the Democratic nomination, lashed out at both the possible profiling element and the efficacy of the policy, Quinn took a more thoughtful tack. She suggested some changes to the policy in a letter to Kelly, but did not advocate scrapping it. She also included some praise for the policy: “We understand the vast majority of the lives saved were men of color and that part of the NYPD’s policing strategy that led to this decline is based on stop, question and frisk.”

“Politically, that line is important,” wrote Capital New York’s Azi Paybarah. It’s also true, and carries echoes of the unmatched and dramatic drop in crime in New York City that began in the 1990s. As Heather Mac Donald recently reflected on that time:

This massive crime rout has transformed the entire metropolis, but the most dramatic benefits have been concentrated in minority neighborhoods. Mothers no longer put their children to sleep in bathtubs to protect them from stray bullets, and senior citizens can walk to the grocery store without fear of getting mugged. New businesses and restaurants have revitalized once desolate commercial strips now that proprietors no longer have to worry about violence from the drug trade. Over ten thousand minority males are alive today who would have been killed had homicide remained at its earlier levels; the steep decline in killings among black males under the age of twenty-five has cut the death rate for all young men in New York by half.

New York is still a liberal city with liberal sensibilities, but if the NYPD’s poll numbers are any indication, it remains a city with a deep and abiding respect for its renowned police force. That respect is hard-earned and well-deserved, and it’s no surprise that the candidate who appears to share that sentiment has found herself at the front of the pack.

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New York: We Tell You What to Eat

New York, like many other large cities on the coast, is run by well-meaning liberals. They pass a lot of great on paper laws that are for our own good – or at least that’s what they say. When most people picture the typical New Yorker, they see a hipster, waiting in line at a Whole Foods or a Trader Joes (two supermarkets known for their organic fare) with a cart full of kale chips and tofu that they will pay $20 for. Our Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, would like every citizen of the city to embody this stereotype. His list of “accomplishments” in the fight to get every New Yorker to be an organic vegan Whole Foods stockholder have been well-documented on this blog and in our magazine, but here are a few examples:

  • Replacing entire lanes of traffic in the middle of midtown Manhattan with bike lanes and tables and chairs – turning what was already a nightmare into more of a disaster
  • A crackdown on salt-rich food in restaurants and manufactured food
  • A ban on food produced in the city made with transfat
  • Requirement mandating that restaurants post nutritional information on every item on their menu
  • A grading system from A to F on health code violations, posted in every restaurant’s window

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New York, like many other large cities on the coast, is run by well-meaning liberals. They pass a lot of great on paper laws that are for our own good – or at least that’s what they say. When most people picture the typical New Yorker, they see a hipster, waiting in line at a Whole Foods or a Trader Joes (two supermarkets known for their organic fare) with a cart full of kale chips and tofu that they will pay $20 for. Our Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, would like every citizen of the city to embody this stereotype. His list of “accomplishments” in the fight to get every New Yorker to be an organic vegan Whole Foods stockholder have been well-documented on this blog and in our magazine, but here are a few examples:

  • Replacing entire lanes of traffic in the middle of midtown Manhattan with bike lanes and tables and chairs – turning what was already a nightmare into more of a disaster
  • A crackdown on salt-rich food in restaurants and manufactured food
  • A ban on food produced in the city made with transfat
  • Requirement mandating that restaurants post nutritional information on every item on their menu
  • A grading system from A to F on health code violations, posted in every restaurant’s window

Yesterday, the Mayor announced that his office has forced the city’s homeless shelters to stop accepting home cooked food for the city’s hungry because its nutritional value cannot be assessed and it — gasp! — might contain too much salt or fat. While I have yet to do any ‘man on the street’ interviews with New York’s homeless, I’m going to venture the guess that given the choice between unhealthy food and no food, their vote would probably be for food.

During an economic crisis that has put considerable strain on the city’s resources, the Mayor has decided to turn away countless donations of food for the city’s most vulnerable citizens, opting instead to allow the city to pick up the tab. What next from the nanny state? Mandatory hand washing before meals? Arrests made on those of us who give their dinner leftovers to the homeless?

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NYC Teachers’ Union’s First Priority Still Isn’t Students

For the sixth time in recent weeks, an employee of the New York City school system has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing students. This latest case involved an instructor reportedly forcibly touching a 14-year old student at the High School for Graphic Communication Arts. The city is proud that such cases are down from 2007′s high of 619 complaints; last year there were 561 formal complaints filed, a 9 percent decrease. While not all of these formal complaints were found to be of merit, there are certainly unreported cases each year as well. In the midst of this flurry of negative publicity involving the city’s teachers, the main union representing the city’s teachers is actually on the offensive against the city.

This week, the names and scores of 18,000 of the city’s teachers were published, outraging the city’s teachers’ union that has battled for two years to keep the information private. The New York Times reports:

In the days leading up to the release on Friday of the city’s Teacher Data Reports, which are an effort to assess how much individuals added to the progress of students in their charge, many critics worried about the shame and humiliation low-scoring teachers would be subjected to, especially given the ratings’ wide margins of error.

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For the sixth time in recent weeks, an employee of the New York City school system has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing students. This latest case involved an instructor reportedly forcibly touching a 14-year old student at the High School for Graphic Communication Arts. The city is proud that such cases are down from 2007′s high of 619 complaints; last year there were 561 formal complaints filed, a 9 percent decrease. While not all of these formal complaints were found to be of merit, there are certainly unreported cases each year as well. In the midst of this flurry of negative publicity involving the city’s teachers, the main union representing the city’s teachers is actually on the offensive against the city.

This week, the names and scores of 18,000 of the city’s teachers were published, outraging the city’s teachers’ union that has battled for two years to keep the information private. The New York Times reports:

In the days leading up to the release on Friday of the city’s Teacher Data Reports, which are an effort to assess how much individuals added to the progress of students in their charge, many critics worried about the shame and humiliation low-scoring teachers would be subjected to, especially given the ratings’ wide margins of error.

Critics of the release are concerned about hurting the feelings of adults who have been told they are not effectively doing their jobs. The formation of the ratings, however, seems more than fair to this former grade school teacher. Forty percent of the score is based on test performance; half of this is based on students’ progress from one year to the next on state standardized tests. The other 20 percent allows school districts to measure achievement based on their own benchmarks, for example,”the progress of specific groups of students, like those who are not proficient in English or have special needs. They also could devise their own tests, or use tests developed by a third party, provided that the tests were approved by the state.”

Teachers often complain about the inability of tests to measure student growth, knowledge and achievement. The ratings aim to make up for this by basing the remaining 60 percent of the rating on principal observations, which teachers then complain are too subjective. If they don’t want tests (even if they design them themselves) and they don’t want observations, how exactly are their performances supposed to be measured?

Teachers who are rated as “ineffective” can appeal to an independent panel and outside observers, in addition to the principals who decided 60 percent of the rating, who would reevaluate performance after a development plan is devised. The real issue, I suspect, is the leverage the scores now gives the city in hiring and firing decisions:

In cases in which the observers back the principals’ findings, the city would move to fire the teacher with a presumption of incompetence and an expedited procedure. Currently, the city has the burden of proof, making dismissal much more difficult.

New York City is famous for its “rubber rooms” – a place for teachers to read, sleep and play games on the city’s payroll to spend the day outside the classroom because they have been deemed unfit to teach. While the rooms have since shuttered, teachers are now assigned office busy work while the Department of Education pursues cases to fire teachers on the basis of incompetence or misconduct, which on average takes 18 months to accomplish.

Unfortunately for New York’s students, their teachers’ union prioritizes keeping every teacher in the classroom and on the payroll, fighting to make sure teachers can hide their incompetence. A recent story from the school district of the city of Rochester exemplifies just how difficult firing teachers for alleged sexual misconduct can be. How many of the teachers with complaints made against them in recent weeks will be kept on the city’s payroll for months or years more, incapable of being fired? How many will be let back into the classroom to perhaps abuse again?

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Amazing Hypocrisy Alert on the Upper West Side

This story tells of a demonstration staged by Democratic politicians on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on the issue of homelessness. In attendance: Rep. Charlie Rangel, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilwoman Gail Brewer, and others. What they’re all doing, though, is protesting against the creation of a homeless shelter.

In one of the craziest acts of regulatory silliness in recent history, members of the New York state legislatures took it in their heads to get all riled up about the fact that “residential hotels” in Manhattan were increasingly being used not as places to live but as places to rent rooms by the day or week to travelers and tourists. A tenant pays $400-$500 per month. A transient will pay $100 a night. You do the math.

The conversion of these residential hotels (which, in the context of permanent housing, refers to facilities with tenants living in rooms without kitchens) into tourist hotels was for some reason deemed a great evil and unfair to the residents. Some of the buildings are not zoned for transience; others do not have the right permits. Nobody seems to care about all this except “housing advocates,” a category of activist all but unique to New York City, whose hunger for more affordable housing would seem to be in conflict with their hatred of everybody who actually owns a building and dares to rent out an apartment.

An assemblywoman named Linda Rosenthal explained how mean the use of residential-hotel space for transient payers is: “They lose a lot by having people stay there who don’t feel a responsibility to keep it clean and nice. When there are transients there, they feel like they can do whatever they want.” And so it was time for a state law to layer on top of other laws to prevent such horrible transience — for what particular reason is not clear. But it was passed, and then-Governor Paterson signed it, and it goes into effect soon.

So what some of those who own these hotels have decided to do is lease them to the New York City Department of Homeless Services, which will pay them a generous room rate to house homeless people comparable to what they would get from Europeans looking for a cheap room. That this is what would have happened if the law had passed originally was clear at the time; the landlords themselves said it’s what they would do; and the city needs the shelter space.

But … but … not in my affluent and ostensibly caring (70 percent Obama) neighborhood! So gasp these very liberal Democratic politicians, who are not ordinarily known for taking a stand against the notion that the city and state should be responsible for housing the homeless. In particular, Rangel has long claimed the mantle of homeless advocate, but evidently not when he’s still mindful he might be out of a job in two years owing to his legal troubles.

New York City has had a demented housing policy for six decades, and this is just the latest iteration. By the way, one of those residential hotels is right across the street from my apartment building. And the people who seem to be staying there all look very nice, rolling their bags up and down the block. If it becomes a homeless shelter, those nicely packed bags will soon become grocery carts, and the people pushing them won’t be quite so nice.

This story tells of a demonstration staged by Democratic politicians on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on the issue of homelessness. In attendance: Rep. Charlie Rangel, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilwoman Gail Brewer, and others. What they’re all doing, though, is protesting against the creation of a homeless shelter.

In one of the craziest acts of regulatory silliness in recent history, members of the New York state legislatures took it in their heads to get all riled up about the fact that “residential hotels” in Manhattan were increasingly being used not as places to live but as places to rent rooms by the day or week to travelers and tourists. A tenant pays $400-$500 per month. A transient will pay $100 a night. You do the math.

The conversion of these residential hotels (which, in the context of permanent housing, refers to facilities with tenants living in rooms without kitchens) into tourist hotels was for some reason deemed a great evil and unfair to the residents. Some of the buildings are not zoned for transience; others do not have the right permits. Nobody seems to care about all this except “housing advocates,” a category of activist all but unique to New York City, whose hunger for more affordable housing would seem to be in conflict with their hatred of everybody who actually owns a building and dares to rent out an apartment.

An assemblywoman named Linda Rosenthal explained how mean the use of residential-hotel space for transient payers is: “They lose a lot by having people stay there who don’t feel a responsibility to keep it clean and nice. When there are transients there, they feel like they can do whatever they want.” And so it was time for a state law to layer on top of other laws to prevent such horrible transience — for what particular reason is not clear. But it was passed, and then-Governor Paterson signed it, and it goes into effect soon.

So what some of those who own these hotels have decided to do is lease them to the New York City Department of Homeless Services, which will pay them a generous room rate to house homeless people comparable to what they would get from Europeans looking for a cheap room. That this is what would have happened if the law had passed originally was clear at the time; the landlords themselves said it’s what they would do; and the city needs the shelter space.

But … but … not in my affluent and ostensibly caring (70 percent Obama) neighborhood! So gasp these very liberal Democratic politicians, who are not ordinarily known for taking a stand against the notion that the city and state should be responsible for housing the homeless. In particular, Rangel has long claimed the mantle of homeless advocate, but evidently not when he’s still mindful he might be out of a job in two years owing to his legal troubles.

New York City has had a demented housing policy for six decades, and this is just the latest iteration. By the way, one of those residential hotels is right across the street from my apartment building. And the people who seem to be staying there all look very nice, rolling their bags up and down the block. If it becomes a homeless shelter, those nicely packed bags will soon become grocery carts, and the people pushing them won’t be quite so nice.

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Thinking Deeply About Government’s Purpose, Not Just Its Size

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high. Read More

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high.

This line of reasoning inevitably leads us to law-enforcement policies ranging from incarceration to policing strategies to the “broken windows” theory. (In the 1980s, Professors James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling argued that public disorder — as evidenced by unrepaired broken windows — is evidence of a permissive moral environment, a signal that no one cares, and therefore acts as a magnet to criminals.) And in looking at some of the great success stories in lowering crime, such as New York City in the 1990s, one finds that the key to success wasn’t the size or cost of government, but its efficacy. The question Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police chief, William Bratton, asked wasn’t “How big should the police department be?” but rather “What should the police department be doing?”

The answer to that question led to a policy revolution in law enforcement.

The point is that fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the state aren’t academic ones; a public philosophy needs to be at the center of our debates about public policy, and we need public figures who themselves are able to think clearly and deeply about these matters.

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Radical Islam to Be Investigated: CAIR Cries Foul

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said yesterday that the House Committee on Homeland Security that he will chair in the next Congress will hold hearings on the radicalization of American Islam.

Given the string of terrorist plots in the past few years that can be directly linked to radical Islam, it’s reasonable for the U.S. Congress to devote some time to studying what’s been going on. But, predictably, the group the mainstream media treat as the mouthpiece of American Muslims is screaming bloody murder about the prospect of such hearings. In fact, Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said such hearings will be an “anti-Muslim witch hunt.”

It is true that any congressional hearing, no matter how important the topic or germane the line of questioning might be to public policy, can be an excuse for shameless grandstanding by politicians who know little about the subject matter but are hungry for a good sound bite. But Hooper and CAIR have their own agenda here, and it is far more sinister than that of any of the publicity-hungry members of Congress who participate in such forums.

Founded as a political front for a group that funneled money to the Hamas terrorist group (the Holy Land Foundation, which has since been closed down by the Treasury Department) back in the early 1990s, CAIR poses as a civil-rights group for Arabs and Muslims, but its true purpose is to put a reasonable face on a radical ideology. It rationalizes anti-American and anti-Jewish acts of terror and seeks to demonize Israel and its supporters while falsely portraying American Muslims as the victims of a mythical reign of terror since 9/11. Most insidious is its attempt to deny the very existence of radical Islamism, either here or abroad. Indeed, during a debate in which I participated at Baruch College in New York City last month, a spokesman for CAIR claimed it was racist to even use the word “Islamist” or to dare point out the danger from radical Islam to highlight the way foreign interests in this country have funded mosques in which such radicals have found a platform. Though there has been no backlash against Muslims, CAIR has been successful in manipulating the mainstream media into claims of victimization. Indeed, rather than listen to the evidence of the threat from Muslim radicals, we can expect many in the media to hew to CAIR’s talking points about “witch hunts” in their coverage of King’s hearings.

While Rep. King will have to carefully manage such hearings to prevent his colleagues from hijacking their serious purpose, his main problem will be in combating the successful efforts of CAIR to label any such inquiry as beyond the pale. It will be up to the committee’s staff to assemble the compelling evidence already largely on the public record and focus the public’s attention on the real danger. Otherwise, this initiative will become yet another opportunity for CAIR to stifle discussion on the source of motivation for home-grown Islamist terror.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said yesterday that the House Committee on Homeland Security that he will chair in the next Congress will hold hearings on the radicalization of American Islam.

Given the string of terrorist plots in the past few years that can be directly linked to radical Islam, it’s reasonable for the U.S. Congress to devote some time to studying what’s been going on. But, predictably, the group the mainstream media treat as the mouthpiece of American Muslims is screaming bloody murder about the prospect of such hearings. In fact, Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said such hearings will be an “anti-Muslim witch hunt.”

It is true that any congressional hearing, no matter how important the topic or germane the line of questioning might be to public policy, can be an excuse for shameless grandstanding by politicians who know little about the subject matter but are hungry for a good sound bite. But Hooper and CAIR have their own agenda here, and it is far more sinister than that of any of the publicity-hungry members of Congress who participate in such forums.

Founded as a political front for a group that funneled money to the Hamas terrorist group (the Holy Land Foundation, which has since been closed down by the Treasury Department) back in the early 1990s, CAIR poses as a civil-rights group for Arabs and Muslims, but its true purpose is to put a reasonable face on a radical ideology. It rationalizes anti-American and anti-Jewish acts of terror and seeks to demonize Israel and its supporters while falsely portraying American Muslims as the victims of a mythical reign of terror since 9/11. Most insidious is its attempt to deny the very existence of radical Islamism, either here or abroad. Indeed, during a debate in which I participated at Baruch College in New York City last month, a spokesman for CAIR claimed it was racist to even use the word “Islamist” or to dare point out the danger from radical Islam to highlight the way foreign interests in this country have funded mosques in which such radicals have found a platform. Though there has been no backlash against Muslims, CAIR has been successful in manipulating the mainstream media into claims of victimization. Indeed, rather than listen to the evidence of the threat from Muslim radicals, we can expect many in the media to hew to CAIR’s talking points about “witch hunts” in their coverage of King’s hearings.

While Rep. King will have to carefully manage such hearings to prevent his colleagues from hijacking their serious purpose, his main problem will be in combating the successful efforts of CAIR to label any such inquiry as beyond the pale. It will be up to the committee’s staff to assemble the compelling evidence already largely on the public record and focus the public’s attention on the real danger. Otherwise, this initiative will become yet another opportunity for CAIR to stifle discussion on the source of motivation for home-grown Islamist terror.

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You Want to See Islamophobia?

Perhaps American journalists eager to apologize to the world for America’s Islamophobia should take note of the following. According to the AP, “An Islamic centre has been firebombed in Berlin — one of more than half a dozen arson attacks on Islamic institutions in the city this year — prompting a Muslim official to demand police protection for all mosques in Germany.”

If New York City had seen six arson attacks on mosques in one year, Manhattanites would probably be under something like open-ended martial law. A handful of peaceful protests brought presidential pronouncements, sensational front-page scare stories, and New York Times apologias. One oddball Florida preacher mentioned his intention to burn the Koran and figures from all spheres of American leadership, including David Petraeus and Hillary Clinton, stepped in to dissuade him.

As Jonathan Tobin pointed out last week, the newest FBI data on hate-crime in the U.S. this past year shows “931 anti-Semitic incidents, compared with 107 anti-Islamic incidents, a ratio of better than 8 to 1.” There’s your great Islamophobic America for you. If someone really wants to have fun, they should compare the number of anti-Islamic incidents in the U.S. to figures for the rest of the world.

Perhaps American journalists eager to apologize to the world for America’s Islamophobia should take note of the following. According to the AP, “An Islamic centre has been firebombed in Berlin — one of more than half a dozen arson attacks on Islamic institutions in the city this year — prompting a Muslim official to demand police protection for all mosques in Germany.”

If New York City had seen six arson attacks on mosques in one year, Manhattanites would probably be under something like open-ended martial law. A handful of peaceful protests brought presidential pronouncements, sensational front-page scare stories, and New York Times apologias. One oddball Florida preacher mentioned his intention to burn the Koran and figures from all spheres of American leadership, including David Petraeus and Hillary Clinton, stepped in to dissuade him.

As Jonathan Tobin pointed out last week, the newest FBI data on hate-crime in the U.S. this past year shows “931 anti-Semitic incidents, compared with 107 anti-Islamic incidents, a ratio of better than 8 to 1.” There’s your great Islamophobic America for you. If someone really wants to have fun, they should compare the number of anti-Islamic incidents in the U.S. to figures for the rest of the world.

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Morning Commentary

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has hit the ground running as the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First items on the agenda: cutting the State Department budget, forcing significant changes at the UN, and increasing pressure on “rogue states.”

Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Paul has been an outspoken critic of the National Endowment of Democracy, which he claims helps stir up international conflict with taxpayer money. Much of Xiaobo’s fine work has been funded through grants from the NED.

George H.W. Bush has thrown his support behind New START, becoming the most prominent Republican figure yet to publicly back the controversial legislation.

James Fallows cautions not to put too much stock into those exceptional Shanghai test scores, noting that the students tested may not have been representative of the average Chinese student. “No doubt these results reflect something real,” wrote Fallows. “But as with just about everything concerning modern China, the results should also be viewed with some distance and possible skepticism.”

Former Army analyst Bradley Manning is facing half a century in prison for leaking secret military documents to WikiLeaks, but it seems he’s become something of a folk hero among left-wingers. The city council of Berkeley is considering a resolution honoring his “patriotism.” The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway suggests: “Once they take care of this vital matter, perhaps they can get around to finally doing something about all the deranged panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg may protest allegations that he’s running for president, but his speech yesterday sure sounded like it. And as NBC’s Mark Murray noted, the words also sounded vaguely familiar.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has hit the ground running as the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First items on the agenda: cutting the State Department budget, forcing significant changes at the UN, and increasing pressure on “rogue states.”

Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Paul has been an outspoken critic of the National Endowment of Democracy, which he claims helps stir up international conflict with taxpayer money. Much of Xiaobo’s fine work has been funded through grants from the NED.

George H.W. Bush has thrown his support behind New START, becoming the most prominent Republican figure yet to publicly back the controversial legislation.

James Fallows cautions not to put too much stock into those exceptional Shanghai test scores, noting that the students tested may not have been representative of the average Chinese student. “No doubt these results reflect something real,” wrote Fallows. “But as with just about everything concerning modern China, the results should also be viewed with some distance and possible skepticism.”

Former Army analyst Bradley Manning is facing half a century in prison for leaking secret military documents to WikiLeaks, but it seems he’s become something of a folk hero among left-wingers. The city council of Berkeley is considering a resolution honoring his “patriotism.” The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway suggests: “Once they take care of this vital matter, perhaps they can get around to finally doing something about all the deranged panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg may protest allegations that he’s running for president, but his speech yesterday sure sounded like it. And as NBC’s Mark Murray noted, the words also sounded vaguely familiar.

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The Rangel Censure Joke

For months now, we’ve witnessed a charade when it comes to the wrongdoing of Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York. The charade came to a climax yesterday with the official vote to censure Rangel. But what is censure? Censure is nothing. Rangel will have to stand before his colleagues and have the details of his wrongdoing read aloud to him. That’s it.

You’re hearing, I’m sure, about how this is extraordinary because it’s the first time in 27 years that a House member will be formally censured. Yes, it’s very rare, so the punishment sounds very dire. But how totally dire can it be when the House has actually expelled more members in the past 30 years than it has censured? Since 1980, two sitting congressmen were kicked out of the body because of their illegal behavior (Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, who took an ABSCAM bribe, and Jim Traficant of Ohio, following convictions for tax evasion and bribery).

Everybody knows that Rangel played it extraordinarily fast and loose with federal income tax laws, the rules governing nonprofits, and New York City’s rent-control statutes. On a planet filled with graft-mad politicians, what Rangel has done is small beer, even by recent standards of the House of Representatives — in which one San Diego Republican named Duke Cunningham took millions from defense contractors, and William Jefferson of Louisiana had that famous $90,000 in his freezer. Neither was censured or expelled, because they left the House before action could be taken against them. This is what explains Rangel’s seemingly inexplicable hauteur in relation to the charges; it is as though he were saying, “You’re nailing me for this? I’m only doing what everybody does, and I’m not getting credit for much I’ve turned down!”

Rangel’s true wrongdoing has far more to do with the ways he and others impeded economic progress in Harlem than it does with a Caribbean vacation or a fourth cheap apartment. But the only censure he gets for that is from the people who know the truth about it.

There’s something of a game afoot here. Rangel, by fighting so hard against censure, has made it seem like it’s just a terrible, terrible punishment; but it isn’t at all. Maybe it’s kind of embarrassing, although it couldn’t be much more embarrassing than what he’s already been through. By acting as though he’s being scourged, he’s playing a role. Indeed, he has played it so well that he got himself a standing ovation from the very same Democrats who had just voted to censure him. Which really gives the game away.

For months now, we’ve witnessed a charade when it comes to the wrongdoing of Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York. The charade came to a climax yesterday with the official vote to censure Rangel. But what is censure? Censure is nothing. Rangel will have to stand before his colleagues and have the details of his wrongdoing read aloud to him. That’s it.

You’re hearing, I’m sure, about how this is extraordinary because it’s the first time in 27 years that a House member will be formally censured. Yes, it’s very rare, so the punishment sounds very dire. But how totally dire can it be when the House has actually expelled more members in the past 30 years than it has censured? Since 1980, two sitting congressmen were kicked out of the body because of their illegal behavior (Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, who took an ABSCAM bribe, and Jim Traficant of Ohio, following convictions for tax evasion and bribery).

Everybody knows that Rangel played it extraordinarily fast and loose with federal income tax laws, the rules governing nonprofits, and New York City’s rent-control statutes. On a planet filled with graft-mad politicians, what Rangel has done is small beer, even by recent standards of the House of Representatives — in which one San Diego Republican named Duke Cunningham took millions from defense contractors, and William Jefferson of Louisiana had that famous $90,000 in his freezer. Neither was censured or expelled, because they left the House before action could be taken against them. This is what explains Rangel’s seemingly inexplicable hauteur in relation to the charges; it is as though he were saying, “You’re nailing me for this? I’m only doing what everybody does, and I’m not getting credit for much I’ve turned down!”

Rangel’s true wrongdoing has far more to do with the ways he and others impeded economic progress in Harlem than it does with a Caribbean vacation or a fourth cheap apartment. But the only censure he gets for that is from the people who know the truth about it.

There’s something of a game afoot here. Rangel, by fighting so hard against censure, has made it seem like it’s just a terrible, terrible punishment; but it isn’t at all. Maybe it’s kind of embarrassing, although it couldn’t be much more embarrassing than what he’s already been through. By acting as though he’s being scourged, he’s playing a role. Indeed, he has played it so well that he got himself a standing ovation from the very same Democrats who had just voted to censure him. Which really gives the game away.

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Good News on Durban III?

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

Read Less

City Journal at 20

City Journal, perhaps the country’s best and most interesting public-policy quarterly, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Today in the New York Post, I examine its role in the most heartening development in American governance of our time, the rebirth of New York City:

Changing New York’s trajectory required a new way of thinking about how to manage, govern and live in a gigantic, complex, aging city. That new way of thinking had to look back to the past — to what a functional New York was like and how to recapture that. It also had to look to the future, to ways in which the city could be more hospitable to new kinds of employers.

More than any other enterprise in New York, City Journal was the vehicle for this new way of thinking…What made City Journal revolutionary was the deep understanding informing every beautifully laid-out page of every quarterly issue (now edited by the estimable Brian Anderson) that the key problem was not political, not economic, but spiritual.

Happy birthday, City Journal.

City Journal, perhaps the country’s best and most interesting public-policy quarterly, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Today in the New York Post, I examine its role in the most heartening development in American governance of our time, the rebirth of New York City:

Changing New York’s trajectory required a new way of thinking about how to manage, govern and live in a gigantic, complex, aging city. That new way of thinking had to look back to the past — to what a functional New York was like and how to recapture that. It also had to look to the future, to ways in which the city could be more hospitable to new kinds of employers.

More than any other enterprise in New York, City Journal was the vehicle for this new way of thinking…What made City Journal revolutionary was the deep understanding informing every beautifully laid-out page of every quarterly issue (now edited by the estimable Brian Anderson) that the key problem was not political, not economic, but spiritual.

Happy birthday, City Journal.

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Netanyahu Isn’t the One Playing Politics on Iran

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

Read Less




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