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cynical Archive

October 26, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

The Great Test of Character

Politics is a great test of character: What will a politician say or do to get to wherever s/he wants to go? Where is the bottom line? Is there one?

Nowhere is a politician’s character tested as visibly and severely than in an election campaign. The office holder generally has the time, space, and privacy to bob and weave, tack and trim; the campaign is a desperate, winner-take-all, loser-go-home affair.

My wife and I began as Hillary Clinton supporters. Four more years of Republican misrule would finish the country and neither of us thought Obama could win a general election. (Sometimes The People surprise and delight you.) A reporter asked Hillary “You said you’d take Senator Obama at his word that he’s not…a Muslim. You don’t believe that he’s…,”

“No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”

We looked at one another and decided almost simultaneously that as much as we respected her intelligence and determination, and as crucial as it was to get the Republicans out, for us at least, she had failed the test of character. We didn’t see a bottom line. On reflection, maybe we judged her too harshly. It was a bad moment in a brutal campaign.

But character counts and it counts a lot in politics. Smart is only the ante. Everybody – or almost everybody – is smart enough. If you’ve got character and judgment, you can hire smart. For too long, the country has needed smart leaders with character. We finally have a brilliant president with character. We will know soon enough whether “the American people deserve” him. (Whenever you hear a politician use that phrase, check your wallet.)

And that brings me to Michael Bloomberg and the New York Times. If political campaigns test the character of candidates, they do the same for newspapers, especially those whose owners and editors lay claim to journalistic respectability.

Three items that appeared in Saturday’s New York Times brought the character question into sharp focus, the first two as it applies to the paper itself, and the third for Bloomberg—although for me that question was settled long ago .

First, there was the front page piece on how much Bloomberg had spent to gain and hold office, second, was the Bloomberg editorial endorsement, and then there was Bob Herbert’s column on the recent Bloomberg race-baiting gambit.

The spending piece was headlined Mayor’s Political Quest is Costliest Ever in U.S.

It was the usual thing about how Bloomberg’s political spending contrasted with Thompson’s lack of it. Sandwiched between them and the color item on the vast amounts of Goodfellas Brick Oven Pizza the mayor buys to feed his campaign legions (and, hah, hah, how good a boost the pizza money is for the economy of Staten Island) was the obligatory statement from a well known attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group on Bloomberg’s undermining of municipal democracy. I don’t know what he actually said to the reporter, but what got into print was only the campaign spending.

Well trodden territory, not worth the ink or the time to read it. But the story didn’t matter. It was all about the picture. There it was, the large, front-page photograph of “Just Mike,” the regular guy, standing alongside Colin Powell at the counter of a hot dog joint. The mayor was reaching across the counter, his gloved hand clutching a few dollars. Surrounded by reporters scribbling and cameramen clicking, according to the caption Bloomberg was “treating Colin Powell to a hot dog.” A giant front-page photo op. A good follow-up to front-page piece on Bloomberg The Golfer that the paper ran a couple of months ago.

Maybe before Bloomberg, when she was a bit younger, the old gray lady rolled over for a politician now and then, but if she was ever this obscene, I don’t remember it. What an embarrassment it must be for the real reporters who are still working there.

The sadness one feels watching Colin Powell, a once-trusted public figure, an American icon really, debase himself yet again in the service of yet another nasty and corrupt Republican politician is overshadowed by the contempt we feel for the leadership of a once great newspaper. They accelerate their race to the bottom, seemingly positioning the paper as a kind of New York Post with subtitles, like Murdoch and Zuckerman, and all the other banksters, leveraged buyout artists and real estate scamsters, eager for four more years of Bloomberg’s rule.

Then there is the endorsement. We won’t go over the old, tired ground. But there are one or two statements that deserve special attention.

“With little city money to spend,” Bloomberg we are told, “wants to focus more on helping working-class and middle-class residents with cheap banking or aid in fighting foreclosures or finding jobs and housing. He wants to give a lift to small businesses.”

Readers are urged to take a look at our report, Michael Bloomberg v. The People of New York City: The Spin v. The Facts.

There you’ll find out what Michael Bloomberg has done not only with his money but with our money as well, and what he has been doing to – not for – working-class and middle-class New Yorkers.

As for term limits, here is the editorial:

Mr. Thompson also argues that the mayor unfairly worked to get rid of term limits so that he could run this third time. We supported his efforts to do so because term limits unfairly limit voters’ choices. But the mayor has sent signals that once he is elected, he will set up a charter commission to try to restore the limits. That is a bad call.

The paper was always opposed to term limits, but here is what it said in June 2008.

As good a mayor as Mr. Bloomberg has been, we are wary of changing the rules just to suit the ambition of a particular politician — in this country or any other. Mr. Bloomberg, should he want to continue his public service, would make an excellent prospect for other important offices.

The editorial talked about education, affordable housing, the environment, and all the other good things Bloomberg has done for us or intends to do. Again, we urge you to take a look at Michael Bloomberg v. The People of New York City: The Spin v. The Facts.

The paper’s saving grace is its columnists, among whom Bob Herbert is one of the best. But here is an excerpt from his Saturday column. “It was truly disheartening, dismaying,” he wrote, “to have the mayor turn his back on all that last Sunday during an appearance with Mr. Giuliani before an Orthodox Jewish group in Borough Park, Brooklyn.”

The “all that” to which Herbert referred was that until this campaign, Bloomberg hadn’t played the race game. Of course he hadn’t–at least not the Guiliani race game.

Since taking office, Bloomberg has positioned himself as the non-Giuliani, a uniter, not a divider. He didn’t need an opinion poll to tell him that that this was the best, the only political posture. New Yorkers had had their Rizzo moment—eight years of police killings and broomstick sodomizing. They were tired of it. It was time for “healing.” And the bloodless Bloomberg made a good contrast to the over-the-top Giuliani and the out of uniform police thugs whom he had led in a City Hall race riot against David Dinkins.

But it’s election time and you gotta do what you gotta do, which means ratcheting thing up. So Bloomberg raised the specter of New York becoming another Detroit if the Orthodox Jews were to be so foolish as to fail to turn out for Bloomberg. And his bride for the day, who is readying himself for a Bloomberg-financed state campaign, said “you know exactly what I’m talking about.” Indeed we did — a black mugger lurking behind every shul. Don’t vote for Bloomberg, and you’ll get another David Dinkins, and the blacks will run riot, a shameful piece of race-baiting that’s right up there with Al Shanker’s mass distribution of a crude anti-Semitic pamphlet during the Ocean-Hill Brownsville era, or the Giuliani-led police riot against Dinkins, a man who throughout his career, say what you want about his management skills, showed great integrity and courage in his opposition to Farrakhan and other prominent anti-Semites.

It’s election time, and so it’s Giuliani time again, time for a little race-baiting. Bloomberg tries to keep a low profile on it, delivering the message only in receptive neighborhoods. But it doesn’t surprise anyone who has been on the wrong end of Bloomberg’s eight-year reign. It doesn’t surprise the hundreds of thousands of young black and Latino kids who are illegally stopped and frisked, the kids who have no criminal records and who are illegally arrested for trespassing in their own housing complexes because they aren’t carrying identification papers, it doesn’t surprise the kids and the teachers who are subjected to frequent abusive and unrestrained police behavior in the public schools, or the people who have been arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana (New York City is now the marijuana arrest capital of the country encouraged by a mayor who has said he has smoked and enjoyed it “You bet I did.”) — all these things and more – occur out of sight of the middle class.

Ray Kelly handles that stuff, and the New York Times has given the mayor and Kelly a pass. The paper will have to report it, but they’ll call it a “blemish.” A softball mention now and then allows the paper’s editors to proclaim their virtue and issue the formulaic rejoinder at those journalism seminars: “How would you know about it unless we reported it?” The truth is that the New York Times readers don’t “know” in the sense of understanding as a meaningful political fact what Bloomberg has been up to. Just as they didn’t “know” about routine police brutality until the police raided the Columbia University campus in the 1960s and put the truncheons to the heads of their own kids.

So long as the paper continues to run front page features like the Colin Powell hot dog style story and attaches the “life-long Democrat” label to the mayor’s name to assuage the sensibilities of readers who need assurance that they are still progressives, Bloomberg will sail along. So long as the boomers and their offspring are told that Bloomberg isn’t really one of those nasty Republicans who fly around in private jets to their mansions all over the world, pushing deregulation and privatization, making billions and billions more, feasting off the Wall Street scams, paying for plenty of law and order and light on the civil liberties please, embracing and financing Bush, McCain, Pataki, Bruno and the Boyz, the readers will continue to think of him as a moderate, even liberal fellow, just “Mike” whose watching the cash register and wants to do good things for working-and middle-class folks.

Bloomberg’s election campaign race-baiting is a piece of and entirely consistent with a much larger and more important pattern of behavior. Isn’t it apparent to anyone who has watched how — and for whom — this mayor has governed, and how he has bribed and bullied his way into political power that Michael Bloomberg has no bottom line other than Michael Bloomberg? That someone as astute and principled as Bob Herbert seems to have fallen for the spin is what really dismays and disheartens me.

– Neil Fabricant

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October 26, 2009 @ 11:11 am

Michael Bloomberg v. the People of New York City: The Spin v. The Facts

Filed under A Good Manager?, cynical, Education, Gay Rights, Housing, News, Reading List, term limits · 2 Comments »

October 20, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

Favoring Bloomberg: The Times’ Double Standard

Does The New York Times have a double standard favoring Mayor Michael Bloomberg? Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, says yes.

Via Leonie Haimson and The Huffington Post:

The New York Times was a great cheerleader for continued mayoral control over our schools – including Bloomberg’s ability to appoint a supermajority of members to the Board of Education (which he likes to call the Panel for Educational Policy, to make clear it has no real power to overrule him.) The paper also supported his overturning of term limits, without a peep of dissent.
Read rest of story…

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October 19, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

The Republican Mushroom Cloud is Back

Yikes!!! The Republican Mushroom Cloud is back! You remember Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet—the whole sleazy crowd. We suffer from a national memory disorder and a limited attention span, but really, it wasn’t that long ago.

Better invade Iraq: He’s building nukes. He’s going to blow up the world. Germ warfare. Whaddya want? The smoking gun to turn into a mushroom cloud? And then there were all those colorful terrorist alerts right before key political moments. You remember those?

Well, we know how that one worked out. The fraudsters kept their power, their cronies at Halliburton and the other war-profiteers with the sole source contracts made a bundle, a lot of innocent people died—and are still dying—the country went bankrupt, and they left Obama to try to clean up the mess. And they’re still at it; doing everything they can to stop him.

Now we have the New York City version. Whaddya want? Another Detroit?

Giuliani is campaigning with Bloomberg and telling the ultra- orthodox Jewish voters in Brooklyn that unless Bloomberg is reelected, New York City could become another Detroit. Crime will soar—and you know all the rest. You can almost set it in song:

There’ll be muggers and pederasts, and murderers and buffalo wings; these are a few of Thompson’s favorite things.

Giuliani even threw in a reference to the ovens:

“I think, you know, because of the presence of the Holocaust survivors and so many other things, how important this is, so please vote for a mayor that’s been there for you.”

A mugger lurking behind every shul.

This is maybe the most craven and corrupt piece of garbage we’ve seen in what has become a bottomless pit of political trash.

You remember Giuliani, don’t you? He’s the guy who warned New Yorkers that if George Pataki became governor, it “would usher in a state government “of D’Amato, for D’Amato and by D’Amato.” “If the D’Amato/Pataki crew ever get control ethics will be trashed.” Well, he wasn’t wrong about that. But he said it only because he wanted to take over the Republican Party in New York.

He was also the guy who endorsed D’Amato and helped him win another senate term. Here he is with senator sleaze in a made for Hollywood undercover drug buy.

damato_giuliani

Giuliani helped The Fonz present himself as a drug-busting crime-fighter rather than the sleazy political operator everyone knew him to be. He did it because D’Amato had ruined his first effort at becoming mayor and he didn’t want it to happen again. And now Giuliani is with Bloomberg because the mega billionaire will underwrite his next political move. It’s only tip money for Bloomberg.

As for Bloomberg, remember this one?

This is simple folks—Bloomberg is the guy who put his thumb in our collective eye and said “do something about it—I dare you!”

Well, all those New Yorkers who aren’t enthused about Thompson because he doesn’t have the charisma they yearn for, or because they’ve bought into the $200 million dollar spinmeisters’ tale (my grandmother would call it a bubbameiser) that he’s not competent or that the city will turn into Detroit, all you folks who are thinking about sitting home or worse, voting for these serial liars and con artists deserve what you get. I’m a fed up New Yorker, and I’ll do whatever I can to help Thompson help us take back my city.

This election isn’t about Bill Thompson V. Michael Bloomberg; it’s about Michael Bloomberg V. The People of New York City. I know which side I’m on.

– Neil Fabricant

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October 19, 2009 @ 9:02 am

Giuliani Says Vote for Bloomberg Or NYC Will Become Detroit

Via The Daily News:

Former mayor Rudy Giuliani warned Sunday that crime rates could soar to 1990s levels and the city could again be a victim of terrorism if Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t win reelection.

Giuliani’s dire predictions came during a tag-team campaign swing – the first time Bloomberg has tapped the one-time GOP star for help on the stump this election season.

“This city could very easily be taken back in a very different direction,” Giuliani told a crowd of ultra-Orthodox Jews at a breakfast sponsored by Brooklyn’s Borough Park Jewish Community Council. “It could very easily be taken back to the way it was with the wrong political leadership. Politics is important. It’s important toour safety. It’s important to our security.”
Read rest of story…

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October 15, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

The Siegels: Can Bloomberg’s ‘Luxury’ City Survive?

Fred and Harry Siegel have written about how the middle class is losing a battle to survive in Bloomberg’s “Luxury City.” They now turn their attention once again to Bloomberg’s hallowed out “Luxury City” — a city that “even as it’s losing the luster of Wall Street, taxes small businesses the way California taxes millionaires.” Thanks to Eric Dixon for passing this along.

Via The Wall Street Journal:

New Yorkers take pride in their city’s ability to reinvent itself, as witnessed most recently in the bubble-aided recovery from the 9/11 attacks. “While any city may have one period of magnificence,” journalist A.J. Libeling wrote of New York in 1938, “it takes a real one to keep renewing itself until the past is perennially forgotten.”

But as next month’s mayoral election approaches, the city faces an economic downturn and a political reordering that augur badly for the future. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a two-term incumbent running against Bill Thomson, a lackluster Democratic challenger all but disavowed by his own party, has already spent at least $70 million funding 336 times as many TV ads as his rival through late last month. Yet the incumbent can barely break 50% in the polls.

The standard explanation for Mr. Bloomberg’s weakness is anger at his ham-handed repeal of the term-limits law he had once championed. But underlying that, there’s a growing civic unease, a foreboding that’s remained nameless while the candidates have sidestepped the city’s economic problems. While the city’s unemployment and commercial vacancy rates have both passed 10%, so far the city has lost only 100,000 jobs (compared to the 330,000 lost from 1989 to 1993 under Mayor David Dinkins). But more losses are coming.
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October 8, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

Using City Resources to Create Bloomberg’s Bubble

A NY1 investigation revealed that it’s common practice for city employees to arrive hours before a mayoral event to clean up graffiti, sweep the street and empty garbage — giving a quick shine to a neighborhood to give the mayor the impression that the city is much cleaner than it normally is. NY1 describes this as the Bloomberg “bubble” and the city employees as the mayor’s “personal clean-up crew”:

If you want to make sure your street is free from litter, your best bet may be to invite Mayor Michael Bloomberg to your neighborhood. A NY1 investigation conducted over the last four months found that hours before Bloomberg and the reporters who cover him arrive at one of his regular events, clean-up crews are working on the scene.

Garbage trucks descend on the neighborhood, litter is swept up from the sidewalks and gutters and trash bins are emptied. On one occasion, NY1 found two anti-graffiti trucks parked across the street from one of the mayor’s events, removing unsightly scrawls in advance of his arrival.

“Generally it’s pretty clean, but we just want to double-check. We’d hate for the mayor to come over here and it’s not as nice as it could be,” says William Wade of the Department of Sanitation.

Employees on the city payroll seem to be acting as the mayor’s personal clean-up crew, putting a shine on neighborhoods that goes far beyond what’s normally done. Sometimes the streets are cleaned by sanitation workers and other times, New Yorkers performing court-ordered community service sweep up.

“There have been like 18, 20 trucks today. You never see this. And the people with the pails, you never see them around,” says an Inwood, Manhattan resident called “Raul.” “It’s not a dirty neighborhood, but don’t send 20 trucks in one day just because you’re coming.”

The practice is coming under fire from Common Cause, a government watchdog group, which says it raises questions about the way the city is allocating its resources. They also say it raises questions about the extent to which Bloomberg operates in a bubble, insulated from the way the city really looks.

“It reminds me of what I read about the Beijing Olympics, that the Chinese wanted to look good to the world. They just built blank walls where there were slums, so that people didn’t see the slums,” says Susan Lerner of Common Cause.

The mayor’s press secretary says that with some small exceptions, there’s no directive from the mayor’s office to clean up the streets before his events. The spokesman notes that Bloomberg is obsessed with keeping the city clean, and describes the mayor as a “one-man garbage and graffiti-reporting machine.”

A spokesman from the Department of Sanitation says it’s been a longtime practice to make sure an area is clean before a special event.

There were times when NY1 arrived early to the mayor’s announcement and did not find a clean-up crew at work. But more often than not, the crews were there, ensuring that before the mayor arrives on the scene, the streets are sparkling clean.

[See the video at NY1]

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October 2, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

More Flip-Flopping From Mayor Bloomberg

Yesterday’s reports of the Bloomberg campaign producing a four-page brochure attacking Democratic Mayoral Challenger Bill Thompson’s management of the City’s $80 billion pension system, also showed the mayor making a U-turn to say that he actually believed Thompson has done a solid job as comptroller.

On the road to marriage equality, Bloomberg has made another U-turn. Two weeks ago, Bloomberg told Gay City News that he put the chances of passing a gay marriage bill this fall at “zero, zero.” Yesterday, he told a crowd of LGBT supporters (and voters): “I actually think in my heart of hearts that this is going to get done.”

Obviously, the mayor is looking to recoup some votes from the gay community he might have lost after he made his previous comment. Thinking about passing a marriage equality bill in your heart is one thing. Bloomberg has been saying a bill should be passed ever since he appealed a court decision legalizing gay marriage in 2005, so will he even try to get a bill through now? We’d put the chances of that at zero, zero.

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October 1, 2009 @ 11:55 am

Bloomberg Says We’re All Basically Happy with the Status Quo

Earlier this morning, I saw several people at various subway stops urging New Yorkers to register to vote for the November election. Perhaps this video compelled them to do so.

Here’s a video posted yesterday of Bloomberg saying low voter turnout for Tuesday’s runoff was due to people being basically happy.

(Via The Daily News)

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September 29, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

Attention Mayor Bloomberg: Lower SAT Scores Don’t Equal ‘Success’

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University, asks how there can be progress in education when students are doing poorly on the SATs.

Via Pajamas Media:

Mayor Bloomberg has consistently announced the success of his educational initiatives in the last four years. In fact, his claim for an unprecedented third term is based in part on the strides made by city students on reading and math tests. Chancellor Joel Klein has been praised and virtually beatified for his role in “turning around” the educational system. At one meeting after another the mayor has noted that the control he exercises over the city school system has paid dividends.

However, a recent report challenges the credibility of the mayor’s well-advertised claims. Despite an explosion in educational spending and a capitulation to the demands of the teachers’ union, city scores on the SAT spiraled downward for the fourth straight year.
Read rest of story…

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