Ed Koch Commentary

God Bless the Navy Seals, C.I.A. Director Leon Panetta, President Barack Obama and The United States of America


          Everyone around the world should welcome the killing of Osama bin Laden by Navy Seals this weekend, but we know that is not to be.  However, this momentous event does not mean that our war against terrorism is over.  It will go on for years to come.  It is a war declared by radical Islamic terrorists primarily against Western civilization, Christians, Jews, Hindus and polytheists.


          The fact that bin Laden had been living for years just 30 miles outside the capital of Pakistan near a Pakistani military base in a large fortified compound demonstrates that the Pakistani government and military have been aiding al-Qaeda and its leaders while they received U.S. aid of $20 billion since 9/11.  Their duplicity is monstrous and should be made public and condemned.  We should use them when it serves our national interests, but never be deceived into thinking Pakistan is an ally.  It is not.


          The success of the operation against bin Laden notwithstanding, the willingness of the Obama administration to turn a blind eye to the conduct of the Pakistani government has typified its general approach to the Muslim world, and Middle East, which was to desert a true ally such as Israel in the hope of ingratiating itself with the Muslim world, making demands on Israel during its ongoing negotiations with the Palestinian Authority which, if conceded, would affect its security, endangering that state.  Israel has survived seven wars waged against it by its Arab neighbors, the most recent being against Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.


          An immediate and direct threat to the very existence of the State of Israel is the recent agreement between Hamas and Fatah, who have decided to form a joint government for Gaza and the West Bank.  The Times on May 2 nd reported, “Hamas is sworn to Israel’s destruction.  Israel, like the United States and the European Union classifies the group as a terrorist organization and refuses any dealings with it.”  Prime Minister Netanyahu, responding to the announcement of the new Palestinian coalition, said, “Peace is possible only with those who want to live in peace alongside us and not with those who want to destroy us.”


          The Hamas position on the death of bin Laden says it all.  Hamas leader Haniyeh stated the following on the death of bin Laden: “We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior.  We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.”


          There are more than one million Arabs living in Israel who are citizens of the state yet it is the policy of the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) that the West Bank and Arab areas of East Jerusalem be Judenrein (free of Jews).  Further, the Palestinian Authority will not agree that when and if a peace agreement is arrived at that the state of Israel will be recognized by the new Palestinian state as a Jewish state; while Israel and the world accepts that the new Palestinian state will be Muslim.


          In contrast and according to The New York Times of April 10, 2011, “[d]ozens of Israel’s most honored intellectuals and artists have signed a declaration endorsing a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders and asserting that an end of Israel’s occupation ‘will liberate the two peoples and open the way to a lasting peace.’”


          Is there a single Arab state in the Arab League of 22 states that has ever seen a group of Arab intellectuals make a declaration favorable to Israel in the years since Israel was founded in 1948?  Indeed, Arab professionals living in Egypt and Jordan, states that are nominally at peace with Israel, risk losing their professional licenses if they even visit Israel as tourists.  In contrast, tens of thousands of Israelis have visited Egypt and Jordan.


          The Obama administration’s approach towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is matched by its recent regrettable approach towards Egypt.  Our support of the so-called “Arab Spring” as the harbinger of democratic change in the Arab world has resulted in the house arrest of the U.S. ally, Hosni Mubarak, who is threatened with a criminal trial and a possible death penalty.  Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands of Egyptians recently demonstrated every day, is where Lara Logan, a U.S. television reporter, was torn from her crew when they were filming by a mob of Egyptian male demonstrators who stripped her, groped her sexually and raped her, as she said in an interview on “60 Minutes,” “with their hands.”  She reported during the assault someone shouted she was an Israeli and a Jew (she is neither) and she believed the mob was going to kill her.  So much for the “Arab Spring.”  She was fortunately rescued by a group of Egyptian women and Egyptian soldiers.


          It was President Obama who announced every day for a week, “Mubarak must go.”  The Egyptian army arrested their president.  What has followed his removal?  The border between Gaza and Egypt heretofore blockaded by the Egyptian Army is now open and the smuggling of war materials through tunnels no longer needed; they can now be transported openly on trucks. 


          Who will enforce the Sadat/Mubarak agreement not to allow Egyptian army personnel into the Sinai above a stated limited number?  No one.  Certainly not the U.N. or the U.S.  The U.S. has sent its armed forces into Iraq and Afghanistan and hopes to maintain them there far out into the future.  The U.S. has used our armed forces to support the rebels in Libya.  We have no idea what those rebels stand for.  Hopefully, we will assassinate Qaddafi, but should we be using our air force to help the rebels in Libya?  I don’t think so.

          The Obama administration should rethink its approach to the Muslim world and to the Arab-Israeli conflict so that our enemies, such as Iran, are not emboldened and our remaining allies, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states, do not lose faith in our willingness to stand with them. 

          The Navy Seals who conducted the covert entry into Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden deserve Congressional Medals of Honor and an appropriate medal should be awarded to C.I.A. director Leon Panetta.  God bless them, President Barack Obama and the United States of America.

Energy and A Needed Czar

          Like many other Americans, I simply do not believe the statements our government makes to calm us down during a catastrophe.


          I can understand and accept -- and believe others can as well -- the  government not telling us all it knows.  There are a  host of reasons for keeping secrets, security of the nation being the primary one.  But, we must beware of deliberately false statements from government leaders and agencies.


          During the 9-11 crisis and the rebuilding of downtown Manhattan, we were told primarily by the then Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Christine Todd Whitman that the air in the neighborhood of Ground Zero where the World Trade Center had been was safe for residents and those living in nearby areas.  The only official that I can recall who warned New Yorkers, particularly pregnant women not to remain  in,  or move to,  the affected area was Congressman Jerry Nadler.  I don’t know if we have ever had a final ecological and medical report on the effects of the polluted environment of lower Manhattan, and what, if any, adverse impact occurred on the population there following 9-11.  The danger when a layman like myself with no expertise on the subject speculates on the effects of contamination produced by the implosion of the two towers and the release of contaminants such as asbestos and heavy metals into the air, is that uninformed speculation might be added to the brew.  But without a universally accepted credible authority providing information, there will be such speculation.


          Interestingly, today’s New York Post reported, “A city official for the first time is revealing a rise in cancer among firefighters who served at Ground Zero.”


          I suspect that very few people in Japan or worldwide believe we are getting the whole truth from our governments, particularly the Japanese government.  We know  that contaminants and radiation have been and are still being released, extending as far east as the American Atlantic coast.  We are constantly told by government spokesmen that whatever levels of contaminants and radiation there are in the air are not dangerous to human beings.  But we know that radiation is cumulative in effect, so if a plume – a descriptive word used in describing winds carrying contaminants and radiation – sits overhead for any period of time in a geographical area, there is an increasing exposure to the population below, before the plume moves on.


          Similarly so with the milk and vegetables carrying the poisons of radiation which we drink and eat every day.  Aren’t they, too, accumulating?  What we desperately need is the appointment of a truly blue ribbon panel universally respected as free from government dictation and intellectually honest to examine all of the information and report to the American people, and quickly.


          Remember, when the Japanese plant first exploded and Americans in Japan asked our government whether they should leave Japan, President Obama urged Americans to heed the advice of the Japanese government.  That was, I believe, not sound advice, since the Japanese government would certainly be reluctant to urge anyone to leave Japan.  Today, I suspect Americans are told by our government they should leave Japan or at least send their children home to the United States. 


          I am in my 87 th year and do not fear the effects of the Japanese devastation for myself, but I am fearful for America’s population, young and adult.  Shouldn’t we know the true dangers ahead?  The President should appoint that blue ribbon panel immediately.


          No one has discussed that Japan may now have a swath of land from west to east that will be dangerous to cross, affecting if not closing, traffic from Tokyo to northern Honshu.  What will the economic impact be?


          The New York Times had a superb article on March 31 st assessing our response to the energy crisis we appear to be facing because of escalating oil prices and shortages resulting from the turmoil in the Mideast in Muslim countries, euphemistically described by the media as the Arab Spring.


          The Times article describes our natural resources which include huge amounts of natural gas and coal with far smaller quantities of crude oil, as opposed to oil extracted from tar and sands which environmentally is subject to problems and danger to the environment.  Other resources described include nuclear energy, wind and solar resources and renewable sources using agricultural crops converting them to alcohol.  In addition, available in dealing with the energy problems are increased car gas mileage requirements set by the government and conservation.


          Requiring all existing 18-wheel trucks to use natural gas instead of diesel fuel, I’ve been told, would reduce oil imports by half.  The cost of conversion for current trucks would be approximately $64,000 per truck.  Why not mandate the change, providing subsidies if required and appropriate?  Why not require auto companies to only manufacture natural gas using trucks in the future?


          President Obama points out that presidents before him starting at least with Nixon back in 1973 when OPEC embargoed oil to the U.S. and his successors have talked of energy self-sufficiency and while there have been improvements in our supplies and sources, we still are importing 50 percent of our oil from abroad.  Two countries that are truly friendly to us are Mexico and Canada.  Most of the others in the world cannot be counted on at all times and under all conditions to continue to supply us with oil.


          I believe we can indeed become self-sufficient, but only if there is a true national effort directed by a czar appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate with the necessary financial resources and authority to get the job done.  Someone who would create a Manhattan Project and the think tanks needed.  Someone with the energy, ability and spine of steel needed.  Surely, the President can find such a person.

Revolution Is Apparently The Order of the Day 

          I’m back in the office after a 16-day cruise on the "Crystal Symphony."  We sailed north from Buenos Aires, stopping in Rio de Janeiro, Devil’s Island, French Guiana, Bridgetown, Barbados, Grand Turk in the Turks & Caicos Islands, and departed the ship in Miami.  (We weren’t able to leave the ship at Devil’s Island due to turbulent waters.) 

          Preceding the trip, I wondered what I would do on such a long voyage, and assumed I would go crazy from boredom.  Someone once said that being on a boat is like being in jail, with a chance of drowning.  But no.  The cruise was a delightful and perfect vacation, thanks in large part to the extremely solicitous personnel, gourmet meals, and nightly entertainment worthy of Broadway. 

          While away I kept up to date with current affairs by reading The New York Times which was faxed daily to the ship.   

          During my 16 days abroad, the world went crazy.  We saw revolutions, minor and major, take place in a number of Arab countries.  Some have been successful in turning out their authoritarian leaders, e.g., Egypt and Tunisia, and others are seeing the fight go on, e.g., Bahrain and Libya.  More Arab countries may yet be involved. 

          The other revolution is taking place here in the United States, started in Wisconsin by its Governor, Scott Walker.  He wants to eliminate some collective bargaining rights for city and state employees in Wisconsin. 

          Collective bargaining for employees in the private sector in the U.S. goes back to 1886.  Wikipedia reports, “The industrial revolution brought a swell of labor organizing in the US.  The American Federation of Labor was formed in 1886, providing unprecedented bargaining powers for a variety of workers.  The Railway Labor Act (1926) required employers to bargain collectively with unions.  In 1930, the Supreme Court, in the case of Texas & N.O.R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, upheld the act's prohibition of employer interference in the selection of bargaining representatives. In 1962, President Kennedy signed an executive order giving public-employee unions the right to collectively bargain with federal government agencies.” 

          At its high point in the private sector, unions represented 35 percent of American workers.  In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that union membership in the U.S. was approximately 12 percent of all workers, of which more than half are in the public sector.  How the mighty have fallen.   

          In most jurisdictions, government workers who are permitted to unionize do not have the right to strike.  The Taylor Law in New York imposes severe penalties for striking.  Workers are charged two days’ pay for each day on strike or on slow-down, and unions can be precluded from having the municipality deduct union membership fees from salary checks.  Many workers won’t pay their dues without the benefit of this deduction. 

          One of the greatest blows to government workers’ unions was delivered by President Ronald Reagan when PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) illegally struck in 1981 and he fired all of the controllers.  I thought he should have given them one more opportunity to return to work or be fired, but he did not.  Nevertheless, on reflection, and because I served as Mayor and had to contend with illegal strikes, I agreed with the President’s action.  A city is different than a private business.  It cannot close down and move elsewhere.  It must continue to deliver essential services – fire, police, water, education, etc.  

          I believe that union leadership has gotten much, but not all of the message, which is that the public is fed up with unions’ excesses, particularly in their resistance to their members paying a reasonable part of their pension and health costs, as do most private sector workers.  In Wisconsin, Governor Walker has succeeded in getting the unions’ attention, and most of the people in Wisconsin are behind him.  Pension and health care costs are key factors in that state’s huge budget deficits, as they are in many others, including New York City and State.  Union leadership in Wisconsin has agreed to the copayments the governor has demanded.  But his ongoing attempts to end their right to collectively bargain with city or state employers on pensions, benefits and working conditions -- permitted in the private sector --  goes much too far.  According to The New York Times of February 25, 2011, “A USA Today/Gallup poll found that 61 percent of the 1,000 adults they surveyed on Monday opposed laws taking away the bargaining power of public-employee unions.” 

          The goal for each of us should be justice.  When it comes to labor unions, justice, in my view means preserving the right to collective bargaining for state and city employees, coupled with laws prohibiting and penalizing illegal strikes.

          Now, back to the Arab revolutions taking place in the Mideast.  

          These uprisings clearly demonstrate that it is not the issue of Israel that is rocking the Arab world, but the presence of arbitrary and repressive regimes.  Of course, we should all hope and pray for peaceful outcomes and a victory for democratic governments, yet to be formed.  However, we should not forget that Arab countries have never had real democracies and that many fanatical religious opposition groups long to fill in the void left by the departed dictators.  These groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that is the ideological forbearer of al-Qaeda, seek to reestablish a Caliphate from Spain to Indonesia, incorporating more than one billion Muslims under the leadership of one religious leader – the Caliph – who would impose on everyone Muslim religious law: Sharia, with its barbaric penalties that include death for offenses such as adultery and amputations for stealing. 

          But we are living in extraordinary times.  There is danger in the air, but there is also hope that real and positive changes are taking place.  I’m rooting for the spread of democracy in the full sense of the term, which includes not only free and fair elections, but also democratic institutions and the protection of individual liberties.

Reflections on Sarah Palin

           As I see it, in the current battle for public opinion Sarah Palin has defeated her harsh and unfair critics. 

      After the January 8 shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six others in Tucson, Arizona, some television talking heads and members of the blogosphere denounced her and held her in part responsible for creating a climate of hatred that resulted in the mass attacks. 

          An example is Joe Scarborough and his crew on the “Morning Joe” show, which I watch and generally enjoy every morning at 6:30 a.m. when I rise to start the day.   Because Palin designated Congresswoman Giffords and others for defeat in the November elections by the use of crosshairs on website maps of the Congressional districts, they blamed Palin for creating an atmosphere that caused Jared Loughner (whom everyone now recognizes as being mentally disturbed) to embark on the shooting and killing spree. 

          Then reason set in, led by President Obama in his now famous and widely-lauded speech in Tucson bringing the country together.  Most commentators did an about-face, recognizing that the lack of civility in both speech and actions by politicians, particularly in Washington, were not the cause of the shootings.  A friend of the shooter said he had no interest in politics or talk radio.  Insanity was the cause of his vicious acts, not political rhetoric.

          While the charge of responsibility against Palin was dropped, the Scarborough crew continued to assail her for defending herself on her website where she stated that she had been the subject of a blood libel.  Her critics were incensed that she should use the term “blood libel.”  That was the description given by Jews to the charge of Christian clergy who falsely accused Jews of killing Christian children in order to make matzos (unleavened bread) during the Passover holiday.  That libelous accusation was intended by those using it to cause pogroms that killed and injured thousands of Jews.  It started in the early centuries A.D. and continues to date, according to Wikipedia.  That same charge – blood libel – is now repeated by the media in Arab countries to stir up the anger of the Arab street against the Jews in Israel.  The libel continues to do damage.  

          Today the phrase “blood libel” can be used to describe any monstrous defamation against any person, Jew or non-Jew.  It was used by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he was falsely accused of permitting the Lebanese Christian militia to kill hundreds of defenseless and innocent Muslim men, women and children in Lebanese refugee camps.  The killings were monstrous and indefensible revenge for earlier killings by Muslims of innocent Christian civilians.

          Time Magazine published a story implying that Sharon was directly responsible for the massacres.  He sued the magazine.  At trial it was determined that the magazine story included false allegations, but since Sharon was a public figure, he received no monetary damages. 

          How dare Sarah Palin, cried the commentators, use that phrase to describe the criticism of her by those who blamed her for creating the atmosphere that set Loughner off in his murderous madness.  Some took the position that it proved their ongoing charges that she is not an intelligent person and probably did not know what the phrase meant historically.  In my opinion, she was right to denounce her critics and use blood libel to describe the unfair criticism that she had been subject to.

          Here are excerpts from her statement:

          “Like millions of Americans I learned of the tragic events in Arizona on Saturday, and my heart broke for the innocent victims.  No words can fill the hole left by the death of an innocent, but we do mourn for the victims’ families as we express our sympathy.”


          “Like many, I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance.  After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.” 


          “Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions.  And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere.  If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision.  If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas.  But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.  That is reprehensible.”


          “As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, ‘We know violence isn’t the answer.  When we take up our arms, we’re talking about our vote.’  Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box – as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next.  That’s who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be.  Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength.  It is part of why America is exceptional.”


          Why do I defend Palin in this case?  I don’t agree with her political philosophy:  She is an arch conservative.  I am a liberal with sanity.  I know that I am setting myself up for attack when I ask, why did Emile Zola defend Dreyfus?  Palin is no Dreyfus and I am certainly no Zola.  But all of us have an obligation, particularly those in politics and public office, to denounce, when we can, the perpetrators of horrendous libels and stand up for those falsely charged.  We should denounce unfair, false and wicked charges not only when they are made against ourselves, our friends or our political party but against those with whom we disagree.  If we are to truly change the poisonous political atmosphere that we all complain of, including those who create it, we should speak up for fairness when we can.  

          In the 2008 presidential race when Sarah Palin’s name was first offered to the public by John McCain as his running mate, I said at the time that she “scared the hell out of me.”  My reference was to the content of her remarks, not to her power to persuade voters. 

           It was McCain who lost the presidential election, not Palin.  Since that time she has established that she has enormous power to persuade people.  A self-made woman who rose from PTA mother to Governor of Alaska, she is one of the few speakers in public life who can fill a stadium.  Her books are enormous successes.  Her television program about Alaska has been a critical and economic success.  When Sarah Palin addresses audiences, they rise to their feet in support and applause.  She is without question a major leader of the far right faction in the Republican Party and its ally the Tea Party. 

          I repeat my earlier comment that she “scares the hell out of me.”  Nevertheless, she is entitled to fair and respectful treatment.  The fools in politics today in both parties are those who think she is dumb.  I’ve never met her, but I’ve always thought that she is highly intelligent but not knowledgeable in many areas and politically uninformed.  I don’t believe she will run for president in 2012 or that she would be elected if she did.  But I do believe she is equal in ability to many of those in the Republican Party seeking that office.  

          Many women understand what she has done for their cause.  She will not be silenced nor will she leave the heavy lifts to the men in her Party.  She will not be falsely charged, remain silent, and look for others – men – to defend her.  She is plucky and unafraid. 

          While I disagree with her and I am prepared to oppose her politically, in the spirit of longed-for civility I say, Ms. Palin you are in a certain sense an example of the American dream:  You have the courage to stand up and present your vision of America to its people.  Your strength and lack of fear make America stronger and are examples to be emulated by girls and boys, men and women who are themselves afraid to speak up.  You provide the example that they need for self-assurance. 

Are We Witnessing A Greek Tragedy?

          The debacle that resulted from President Obama's negotiations with the Republican leadership is extremely complicated.  Examining each vote and action by the Democrats in both Houses and assigning a significance to that vote and action would take the skills of a first-class investigative journalist with the resources and staff needed to do the interviewing of Democratic members of Congress and the Senate.


          I don’t have those resources, so those interested in the rise and fall of President Obama will have to wait until some individual writer is stirred to do a book or a major media facility – one of the great newspapers – assigns an appropriate staff to examine the torturous road that brought President Obama to extraordinary heights.  He won the presidency by defeating a gifted old pro, Hillary Clinton, whom I supported.  Ultimately he was brought to his political knees by his inability to successfully govern.  Has a tin ear and appointed a staff that left him vulnerable to a far greater degree than anyone could have imagined.


          What the President would call his major legislative success – passage of the comprehensive health care legislation –-- could also be called his first major failure.  I supported its passage because I wanted written into law the concept of universal medical care.  However, instead of finding ways to cover the 32 million people he ultimately added to the system, he embarked upon a year and a half program to reinvent the wheel, endangering the coverage of the millions more who had insurance policies they liked.  Yet, by taxing what his staff referred to as the “gold plated” insurance contracts that many of us had paid for with our own monies, Obama Care jeopardized the entire reform.  The major achievements of preventing insurance companies from rejecting those with prior major medical conditions or terminating or not renewing contracts, as important as they were, did not assuage the fear that we who liked our policies were in danger of losing our protection. 


          So what should have become a monumental achievement on his part became instead a liability.  A majority of the country’s citizens oppose the Obama healthcare legislation now the law of the land.  That failure set the stage for President Obama’s taking a shellacking at the polls, losing 63 House seats and six Senate seats in the 2010 Congressional election.


          What bothered the supporters of the president most about his leadership of the Democratic Party in the negotiations that involved him and the Senate leadership was that legislation that was perceived as Democratic signature legislation was never adequately fought for or defended by the President.  When the Republican leadership threatened a filibuster – 60 votes being needed in the Senate to defeat one, with the Democrats having only 56 votes, the Democratic leadership including the president, folded, withdrawing the contested measures the Democrats wanted to pass, e.g., having a single-payer option in the comprehensive insurance legislation, restoration of income tax rates for those earning over $250,000 or enacting the Schumer compromise (those earning over a million), extension of unemployment insurance benefits for the now two million Americans for whom such insurance was running out, and many more legislative items.


          What the Democratic members of Congress, particularly those who had survived the election debacle, wanted the President to do was exercise his leadership to bring those measures to the floor, dare the Republicans to filibuster and force Republican Senators to physically be present keeping the Senate Chamber in session 24 hours a day at least until the end of the year and perhaps do so next year as well, since the Democrats still have a majority in the Senate this year and next.


          The President declined to do so and, with the Democratic Senate leadership, caved to the simple threat of filibuster.  Obama apparently hoped to be seen as a new President, now willing to meet with his Republican adversaries, whom he had spurned, selling out to the latter by extending the Bush tax cuts on those making $250,000 for the next two years.  In exchange, he got an extension of unemployment insurance for 13 months and a host of tax cutting measures such as a reduction in Fica (payroll) taxes for one year.


          It offends me and anyone I’ve talked with to have the president’s defenders prattle he pressured the Republicans to accept his tax cuts.    No one believes that the Republican leadership had to be pummeled to agree to the Obama tax cuts.  The Republican leadership probably jumped with joy at the request, hoping he would request even more tax cut proposals, no matter the jeopardy to the nation’s economic stability and addition to the national debt.


          It is unheard of for Democrats to refuse in such a concerted way to support a Democratic president’s request, as the House caucus did last week, with all but one voting down a resolution to support Obama’s agreement with the Republicans. 

          The New York Times of December 13th reported “While Democrats held on to the Senate, the sentiment is not much different across the Rotunda, though Democratic senators appear more resigned to the compromise on taxes.”  The Times also reported, “Reluctant House Democrats predicted that the package would be approved before Congress adjourns this year, as days of rage and frustration began giving way to resignation and acceptance.” 

          Politics is the most fluid of professions.  No one is ever out until the election is over.  We all believe anyone can recover and become successful.  Are we witnessing a Greek tragedy?

Are We now A Paper Tiger Both In Fact and The Way The World Views Us?                       

          Has our country reached the point when we, like so many great nations before us, are no longer the leading state of our time?

          The evidence of our decline is everywhere, but nowhere is it more apparent than in the way we are being treated by other countries.  Some of our allies, including Canada, Holland and Spain, have left or are leaving us in the lurch in Afghanistan, withdrawing their troops.  Many states, including our allies, have sought to embarrass us diplomatically.  The trip that President Obama took recently to the Pacific Rim was an example of that.  He was rebuffed by countries large and small.  Most media observers called his journey a fiasco of sorts. 

          There was a time when the U.S. military said it was capable of fighting 2 ½ wars at the same time.  Today, as a result of being bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, we probably are unable to fight a third war, and our enemies know it. 

          Last Spring, North Korea sank a South Korean navy ship, killing 46 South Korean sailors.  The U.S. is an ally of South Korea with 28,000 U.S. troops in that country.  We’ve always been told that those troops are there as a tripwire, so that North Korea would know if it attacked South Korea, it would be attacking the U.S. in the same way that an attack on one NATO country would be seen as an attack upon all NATO members.  In the case of North Korea, it has paid no price for its sinking of the South Korean ship and, just as bad, no price for its recent unprovoked artillery bombardment of a South Korean island which resulted in the deaths of two South Korean soldiers and two civilians and injuries to 15 others.

          Today comes the revelation from the American secret documents disclosed by WikiLeaks that North Korea has been supplying long-range missiles to Iran.  According to The New York Times of November 29th the documents “reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles.”

          Other than decrying the most recent attack on South Korea and sending the George Washington aircraft carrier to participate in a joint military exercise in South Korean waters, so far as I know, we have done nothing to retaliate.  Undoubtedly, South Korea is reluctant to retaliate or escalate, fearing to expose millions of its citizens to further military action, including a possible nuclear attack by North Korea, which has the fourth largest army in the world.  North Korean citizens may be dying of starvation, but their army is well provided for.

          Do we have the means or resolve to launch a punishing attack against North Korea, which is perceived as crazy enough to launch a nuclear attack against South Korea or Japan, expecting China to continue to protect it at the U.N. and provide it with military support?

          Aside from our not having the resources to take on another war with North Korea, especially if the latter is supported by China – remember General MacArthur’s error in 1951 in approaching the Yalu River and having the Chinese army enter the fray and drive us back to the 38th parallel – most troubling is we don’t have the resolve.  America is simply not prepared or willing to go to war again, after our terrible experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We are not willing to accept the hardships a war requires, including the need to pay for that war with additional current taxes.  Nor are we willing to reimpose the draft requiring everyone to do their part.

          We simply are not prepared to protect our national honor and national security as we once were when we went to war with Nazi Germany.  Indeed, the situation today is looking more and more like Munich of 1938 when the world caved to the Nazi threats, as we today cave to the threats of countries like North Korea and Iran.  We have even succumbed to the threats of Somali pirates who, according to The New York Times of November 9th, are holding for ransom 25 ships and 500 people.

          We should tell North Korea and Iran to turn over by a stated deadline their nuclear weapons to China or Russia, countries where we believe the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) still applies, or suffer military consequences.  We should warn them that any act of war they engage in worldwide will result in an immediate military response on our part of a devastating nature.

          What our current situation requires is the resolve of President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when he made clear to the U.S.S.R. that the U.S. would immediately respond to the Soviets’ placing nuclear missiles in Cuba deeming it an act of war.  Is President Obama up to it?  This is his 3 a.m. telephone call.  I pray he is.

Interesting Correspondence

          I am a strong believer in the importance of setting the record straight.  I do not ignore inaccurate or incomplete statements about me or my record.

          For example, on August 26 I read a blogger’s article mentioning me in a way I did not appreciate.  The blogger, who is associated with Columbia University, wrote:  “For good measure, Ed Koch a conservative Democratic former mayor of New York who frequently supports Republican candidates has also written in support of the proposed Islamic Center.”

          I responded:

           “You refer to me as a conservative Democrat.  I refer to myself as a liberal with sanity.  Would you please list the substantive issues where my support or opposition of them can fairly be described as conservative in view? 

          “I have indeed crossed party lines about two dozen times in my political career of more than 50 years while voting for thousands of Democrats.  One Republican by the way was John Lindsay for whom I voted twice.  Another Republican was George W. Bush in 2004 when I announced that while I did not agree with him on a single domestic issue, I supported his willingness to stand up to Islamic terrorism.  The soft position of the Democrats and John Kerry on that issue compelled me to cross party lines.  I also supported Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Republican, in three elections:  when he ran against Mark Green, Fernando Ferrer and Bill Thompson.  As Jack Kennedy once said, “Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.” 

          “Also, my position on the building of the mosque near Ground Zero is different than Mayor Bloomberg’s position.  He apparently does not believe that an effort should be made by anyone to convince the supporters of the mosque to move the location for sensitivity reasons.  My position is that the feelings of 70 percent of all Americans on the issue, and particularly the family members of those who died and the survivors of the catastrophe, should be considered by the Muslim supporters of the mosque.  They oppose the mosque on that site, because the terrorists who killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11 were Muslims.  However, if the Muslim supporters conclude that they see no sensitivity issue and seek as they allege to build a mosque as a bridge on that site, their rights should be protected and enforced.

          “Further, no one acting on behalf of government should seek to dissuade them.  Finally, I also believe that everyone, regardless of which side of the issue they support, has a right to peacefully protest.  All of these rights are protected by the same First Amendment.  Is my position liberal or conservative in your lexicon?”

          No reply to date.  I’ll keep you posted. 

          I read an interesting article in The New York Times on August 25 which stated:

          “Alan K. Simpson, the Republican co-chairman of President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission, removed his ‘size 15 feet’ from his mouth to apologize to a critic on Wednesday for a stinging letter in which he compared Social Security to ‘a milk cow with 310 million tits.’”

          Alan Simpson is a friend of mine.  We have known one another for many years, having served together years ago in the House of Representatives before he was elected to the Senate.  He is now a Co-Chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.  The most interesting part of the Times article for me was Alan’s comments about those who objected to his seeking to propose changes in Social Security which would insure its fiscal stability. 

          According to the Times:

          “The contretemps began when Mr. Simpson sent an e-mail on Monday to Ashley Carson, executive director of the Older Women’s League, to respond to an anti-Simpson column she wrote in April.  Citing Social Security’s chief actuary to buttress the need for changes, Mr. Simpson wrote:  ‘If you have some better suggestions about how to stabilize Social Security instead of just babbling into the vapors, let me know.  And yes, I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security, who milk it to the last degree.  You know ‘em too.  It’s the same with any system in America.  We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits!  Call when you get honest work!’”

          Perhaps as a result of pressure from the White House, Senator Simpson wrote a letter of apology to Ms. Carson in which he stated:

          “Over the last 40 years, I have had my size 15 feet in my mouth a time or two.  To quote my old friend and colleague, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, when I make a mistake, ‘It’s a doozy!’”

          I sent the following note to Alan the next day:

          “What did you say that required an apology?  Nothing that I can see from reading today’s New York Times report.  The Alan I knew in Congress would never have apologized. 

          “If you don’t make changes to reduce costs in Social Security benefits, e.g., eligibility age, benefits, excluding the wealthy from benefits, how will you guarantee permanent solvency?

          “Also, why not dedicate a national stock transfer tax, which cannot be avoided by Wall Street, for exclusive Social Security use? 

          “All the best.”

          Both tits and teats are apparently acceptable under The New York Times Rule Book.

          During his August 20 radio program in Albany, Dr. Alan Chartock discussed political reform with Blair Horner of NYPIRG, a good government advocate.  During their talk, Chartock referred to me as a “phony” in connection with my efforts as the founder of New York Uprising, a political PAC dedicated to reforming the Albany legislature, widely considered to be dysfunctional.

          I sent a letter to Dr. Chartock on August 20 in which I wrote: 

          “I was told by a friend who listened to your radio show on Saturday, August 14, 2010, that you were disparaging, by referring to me as ‘We got that phony Ed Koch running all over New York State -- it was the same guy who was all for going into Iraq,’ concerning my efforts as founder of New York Uprising to hold legislators’ feet to the fire, by asking them to sign pledges on three issues – impartial redistricting, ethics reform, including comprehensive financial disclosure and a GAAP balanced budget.   

          “I have listened to the tape of your radio show.  Your reference to my past support in 2003 for the initial attack on Iraq has no bearing whatsoever on reforming Albany.  Nevertheless, it is apparent during your conversation with Blair Horner, NYPIRG, you agree with me concerning the reforms that New York Uprising is trying to accomplish in cleaning up Albany.  We also welcome all those Albany legislators and candidates for State office who are for or against both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to sign the three New York Uprising reform pledges.  I have enclosed our pledges for your review.

          “For your information, New York Uprising was created this past March.  It includes as Trustees, Herman Badillo, Mario Cuomo, Rudy Giuliani, Ned Regan, Felix Rohatyn, Peter Solomon, Alair Townsend, Rudy Washington and John Zuccotti, who were instrumental in creating the three reform pledges.  Presently, we have received approximately 294 signed pledges, from the State-wide candidates for Comptroller, Attorney General, Assembly, Senate incumbents and legislative candidates supporting our three reforms.  The Gubernatorial candidates, as well as Congressional incumbents and candidates were only asked to sign a pledge that places them on record that they agree to support a veto by the Governor of any redistricting legislation that did not require an impartial panel to draw the lines.  All the Gubernatorial candidates have signed this re-districting pledge supporting impartial redistricting, along with 14 Congressional incumbents and candidates.

          “I do hope you will reconsider your characterization of New York Uprising’s efforts, including mine, and join us to reform our State government.

          “All the best.”

          Dr. Chartock responded on August 23:

          “Thanks for your recent letter.  We do agree on reforming Albany.  I have been preaching that gospel for many years, on many fronts, in many ways. 

          “Despite your unhappiness with my characterization, I find it very hard not to like you.”    

          I replied on August 26:

          “Thank you for your response to my letter of August 20, 2010.  I truly appreciate your comment:  ‘I find it very hard not to like you.’  I hope that you are able to overcome your resistance.

          “I am interested in knowing if you have recanted your description of me as a ‘phony.’  If you have, would you tell your listeners who may have been dissuaded from supporting New York Uprising?  If you still characterize me as a phony would you please tell me why?

          “All the best.”

          When and if a reply arrives, I will update you, my readers.

No Carrots For Iran

          The Sunni Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and other nations in the region, are a majority of the Arab people.  Because of a 1,300-year-old split between Sunnis and Shia, the Sunnis are just as fearful of Iran, a Shia country, getting a nuclear bomb, as are Israel and the United States.

          The Israeli position is well known.  For Israel, already singled out by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for extinction, the Iranian nuclear threat is an immediate danger.   But the rest of the world knows that Iran has long-range missiles and is working on increasing their range.   Iran's most recently tested missile has a range that includes parts of Europe.


          The United States under President Obama has many times said that no option on our part, including a military action, is off the table.  So far, our efforts have focused on negotiating with the Iranians.  When they spurned us, we turned to sanctions.  We recently were successful in convincing the United Nations to pass more severe sanctions against Iran, but the U.N. will never go for the jugular which would include prohibiting gasoline from being exported to Iran, it having insufficient refineries to supply its needs.  Russia and China have made it clear they see Iran as a supplier of their growing oil and other needs and will never agree to the kinds of sanctions that could cause Iran’s total capitulation.  Apparently, they believe they have no cause to fear Iran’s missile wrath being launched against them, and they are content to allow the U.S. to expend its efforts and spin its wheels trying to rally international support for further sanctions against the Iranian regime.  China follows a similar policy with nuclear North Korea, which they allow to exist because it's a thorn in the side of the U.S., Japan, and the West.


          Nevertheless, importuned by our allies Israel, Saudi Arabia et. al., and perhaps beginning to feel even greater frustration with Iran, President Obama is thought by many observers to be reaching the point where the military option is beginning to look more attractive.


          We know that once Iran actually achieves the nuclear bomb, a military option on our part becomes less viable.  Surely, that is why we have accepted without retaliation so many punches and insults from North Korea, even the recent destruction of a warship of our ally, South Korea, by a Chinese-made torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine.  Shockingly, the U.N. Security Council resolution on that clear act of war by North Korea did not even mention that North Korea was responsible for the destruction of the ship and deaths of 46 South Korean sailors.  That cowardly resolution was agreed to by the U.S. at the insistence of China, North Korea’s protector and neighbor fearful of an exodus of North Koreans across its border.


          So, we permit South Korea and Japan to live in fear of further military aggression by North Korea against them while North Korea and its apparent mad man president, Kim Jong-il, remains convinced that they need not worry about retaliation from the U.N. or the U.S.  North Korea, after all, has the nuclear bomb and can use it, perhaps against Japan and certainly against South Korea.


          Now comes an editorial in The New York Times on August 7th which unmercifully castigates former President George W. Bush for standing up to Iran.  In 2004, I crossed party lines and supported  President Bush because I said that, while I did not agree with him on a single domestic issue, I appreciated his willingness to stand up to Islamic terror which the Democratic Party was not so willing to do.  In my view, Islamic terror trumped all other issues because it involved the very existence of the United States and the Western world.  I have no regrets.

          The Times editorial denounces former President Bush, stating, “At first glance, President Obama’s policy on Iran and its illicit nuclear program is not all that different from President George W. Bush’s.  They both committed themselves, on paper, to sanctions and engagement.  Mr. Bush, however, was never really that serious about the carrots, and he spent so much time alienating America’s friends that he was never able to win broad support for the sticks: credible international sanctions.”

          Then, the editorial praises Mr. Obama, but only to a limited extent, stating, “Mr. Obama has done considerably better on the sanctions front — at the United Nations and from the European Union, Canada and Australia. But the other piece of a credible strategy — serious engagement — seemed to be getting lost.  So it was encouraging that he made the effort this week to reassert his commitment to talks with Tehran.  Meeting with journalists from The Times and other publications on Wednesday, he said his pledge to change the United States-Iran relationship after 30 years of animosity ‘continues to be entirely sincere.’”

          The Times asserts that “a package of inducements first proposed in 2006 – diplomatic ties, trade, nuclear energy technology – needs to be on the table.”  The so-called carrots.

          Shall we go back to the days of Munich, 1938, when Neville Chamberlain was dealing with “Herr Hitler.”  All Hitler seemed to want at that time in exchange for “peace in our time,” was the Czech Sudetenland, and he got it.  Without asking, he took the balance of Czechoslovakia and then went on to Poland and brought about World War II.

          I believe Ahmadinejad treats his own people, particularly dissenters, no differently than Hitler treated German dissenters, exclusive of the Jews.  No matter what he agrees to, does anyone think Ahmadinejad will give up his goals of getting the nuclear bomb and exterminating Israel and its Jewish population?  Hitler wasn’t satisfied with carrots.  They just whetted his appetite.  Ahmadinejad won’t be satisfied until Israel is destroyed.

          Senator John McCain said it best – “I still say there's only one thing worse than military action against Iran, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran."  President Obama hopefully will reach the same conclusion.

Title:  Death On A Friday Evening

          DeFarra Gaymon of Atlanta, Georgia, a married father of four children and a C.E.O. of a credit union, returned to New Jersey to attend the 30th reunion of his Montclair New Jersey High School class.  Instead of enjoying the reunion, which he helped organize, he was shot to death by an undercover police officer patrolling with a partner in Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey.

          The officer, according to the New York Times of July 21st, “had been on what is not usually a particularly dangerous assignment, scouring the park, in northern Newark, for men seeking sex.”  As reported by The Times, the officer’s version of what occurred, provided by the acting Essex County prosecutor, Robert D. Laurino is as follows:

          “‘The plainclothes officer was bending down to retrieve his handcuffs,’ Mr. Laurino said, ‘when he was approached by Mr. Gaymon, who was engaged in a sexual act at the time.’  Words were exchanged that the prosecutor said “would lead one to believe that’ Mr. Gaymon was propositioning the officer.  ‘The officer pulled out his badge, identified himself as a police officer and informed Mr. Gaymon that he was under arrest,’ Mr. Laurino said.  Then, he said, Mr. Gaymon shoved the officer to the ground and ran, ignored the officer’s demands to stop, and repeatedly threatened to kill the officer if he approached.  The officer cornered Mr. Gaymon beside a pond and tried to handcuff him, Mr. Laurino said, but again Mr. Gaymon resisted.  ‘Mr. Gaymon reached into his pocket and lunged at the officer in an attempt to disarm the officer,’ Mr. Laurino said.  The officer, ‘fearing for his life,’ the prosecutor said, shot Mr. Gaymon once, and he died at the hospital three hours later.”

          Only two men know what happened and one is dead.  However, one need not have been there to feel that this tragedy could have been avoided.  I believe that the officer was solicited for sex.  I believe that Mr. Gaymon may have resisted arrest, fearing the adverse consequences to his professional and family life.  I do not believe the officer feared for his life.  But even if he did, was he justified in shooting Mr. Gaymon, let alone killing him?  I think not. 

          Wouldn’t it have made sense, if the officer believed he could not subdue Mr. Gaymon without using lethal force to use his radio to summon a fellow cop in the area, or simply let Mr. Gaymon run away?  After all, assuming an arrest and a conviction, the likely punishment would have been a maximum of 15 days in jail, or even a dismissal, depending on the philosophy of the judge with respect to sexual offenses.  It is not a crime to solicit sex.  It is a crime to offer payment for a requested sex act.  The report of the police officer’s allegations by the prosecutor as reported by The Times does not refer to an offer of payment.  But even if there had been, in all likelihood, the sentence would have been suspended.

          The Times article also reported, “Mr. Gaymon was one of the organizers of the reunion, which he drove up to attend.  ‘All the people that knew him say you never met a kinder, nicer, more gentle person, and they’re stunned about what happened,’ said John Joyce, the president of the Montclair High School Alumni Association.”

          All of this begs the question of how Newark is using its resources to deter sex offenses of this sort.  Sending undercover officers into an area known to be a place for sexual pick-ups is not intended to deter, but rather to ensnare and arrest, while having a uniformed presence would deter.  Having signs warning against public lewdness, e.g., indecent exposure and engaging in public sexual intercourse, could have a positive impact.  The public’s rights must also be protected. 

          Some might say in defense of the police officer’s actions that a life has been taken by a law enforcement officer defending the right of society to protect itself.  But are we safer today because of that officer’s action in this case?  Hardly.  Four children and a wife now grieve the loss of their father and husband.  Newark and any other city seeking to ensnare these men seeking sex with men should hang their heads in shame.

          The Stonewall incident in 1969, which happened under Mayor John Lindsay, when gays and transgendered people at a bar in Greenwich Village fought back against the cops attempting to harass and arrest them proved to be a watershed in the gay civil rights movement, and Mayor Lindsay was responsible for changing the City’s direction.  Let’s hope that Mr. Gaymon’s death in a Newark park, which happened under Mayor Cory Booker, so horrifies people that it will bring about positive change in law enforcement protocols and priorities in Newark and elsewhere, and that Mayor Booker will similarly institute appropriate changes.

Vote out the enemies of reform: Ed Koch names names in his crusade to fix Albany

July 25th 2010

Between 1928 and 1932, the Empire State was led by Gov. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR followed in the footsteps of Alfred E. Smith, also a Democrat. Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican, created our great state public universities. These outstanding governors set the standards for leadership and social programs that lifted New York - and by emulation the rest of the country - into the modern era. There were other exemplary governors as well.

From 1975 to 1982, Gov. Hugh Carey was part of that tradition. During his eight years in office, Carey saved New York City from bankruptcy and New York State from financial ruin. By virtue of the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, our states are prohibited from applying for bankruptcy and the protections of the federal bankruptcy courts, which assure an orderly payout of the bankrupt's assets.

Carey's contribution to the well-being of the state and city he loves is not yet appreciated, but someday he will be recognized for his many achievements, perhaps by naming the Battery Tunnel in his honor, as suggested by our current lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch. (The latter's considerable talents are currently being wasted by Gov. Paterson, who was prescient in his appointment of Ravitch, but who unwisely declines to use his services.)

The leaders of our state Legislature are not well known. The two I worked with over an extended period were Speaker of the Assembly Stanley Fink, a Democrat, and Majority Leader of the Senate Warren Anderson, a Republican. Compared with today's leaders, Fink and Anderson were giants devoted to the public's needs.

Regrettably, the two current leaders - Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and Majority Leader of the Senate John Sampson, also a Democrat - are not in the Fink-Anderson tradition of public service. Indeed, at this moment, New York Uprising, a political action committee - in which I have a leadership role - is dedicated to cleaning the Augean Stables known now as the dysfunctional Albany Legislature.

New York Uprising has designated Silver and Sampson as "Enemies of Reform." Their names and many others are posted on our Web site, www.nyuprising.org.

About six months ago, along with Dick Dadey of Citizens Union and Henry Stern of New York Civic and others, I decided to undertake this crusade. We are taking on the state Legislature, which almost every New Yorker sees as a disgrace, shaming us with its antics and its inability to adopt a state budget.

As we speak, adoption of the budget is more than three months late. That lateness is not simply a delay without consequences. Municipalities dependent on state funding, as well as nongovernmental agencies similarly dependent, are suffering and have to privately or publicly borrow monies to keep operating - paying interest on loans. Commentators now compare New York with the bankrupt and equally scorned state of California.

In an effort to bring our state back from the brink, New York Uprising has asked each Albany legislator and challenger running in the upcoming November election to pledge to vote for and implement three common sense, good government reforms:

One, impartial and independent reapportionment (normally, legislators use reapportionment to draw lines that will reelect them).

Two, stronger ethics enforcement, with a State Ethics Commission having jurisdiction over the executive and legislative branches, campaign contributions reform and comprehensive financial disclosure requiring public reporting so that we will finally know exactly how much legislators make from outside sources and who they do business with.

Three, the adoption of budgets that are not only timely, but subject to generally accepted accounting principles, with no gimmicks.

All of the candidates running for governor, attorney general and controller have signed on. Interestingly, all of the Republican senators - 29 of them, led by their caucus leader, Dean Skelos - joined in, as did Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican.

However, both Democratic leaders, Silver and Sampson, did not, and about half of the Democratic senators stood with them in the "enemies" column.

So now it's up to the voters. New York Uprising has belled the cats who are depriving our state of good government. We'd urge voters not to vote for any Assembly member or State senator who is listed as an "Enemy of Reform."

Limit your choices, taking into consideration their political ideology, to those who are "Heroes of Reform."

In our lifetime there will never be another such opportunity to clean up Albany. If we fail to harness this righteous public anger and change the culture of our capital, then after November, you will have only yourself to blame.

On Life, Death and The New York Uprising

          It was last July that I left the New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights, after spending six weeks there, five of which were in the Intensive Care Unit.  I was there to have a quadruple bypass and heart valve replacement.  My gall bladder was also removed.

          Here I am a year later working full time at my law office, Bryan Cave LLP doing what I did before the surgery, including my radio and television programs, weekly commentaries on local, national and international issues, as well as my movie reviews.  The doctors had told me when I left the hospital that it would take about a year to be fully restored to health, and they were right.  It was interesting to observe how my strength increased with each passing day.  The only residual that I can detect is a little frailty in walking, with me somewhat worried about my balance.  To deal with that, I am going to take a class at the Hospital for Joint Diseases.


          My comments on the death of George Steinbrenner:

          I am not a big sports fan.  George Steinbrenner meant little or nothing to me before I was elected Mayor New York City in 1977.  Then, suddenly, he meant a lot.

          When the Yankees won the World Series in 1978, the City went crazy with joy.  Remember, at that time New York was in a state of depression because of the City’s economic decline.  We were on the edge of bankruptcy.  Indeed, Mayor Abe Beame had actually prepared bankruptcy papers for New York City before the Democratic primary, which I won.  But he had not yet filed those papers by the time I took over.

          I knew that bankruptcy was not an option if we were to avoid becoming another Detroit.  So when the Yankees won the Series in '78, it was a huge boost to our morale.  I announced that I would authorize a tickertape parade to celebrate.  The New York Times, I recall, published an editorial urging me not to, saying it would be a needless expenditure.  I knew, however, that New Yorkers needed a lift.  I responded to The Times with the comment, “New York Times, you have your head screwed on wrong!”  The parade was held, with a ceremony at City Hall.  It had a wonderful, energizing effect on the people of this great city.  In other words, George Steinbrenner's success in bringing a winning tradition back to Yankee Stadium had an important impact on New York City's return to full economic health.

          The Yankees’ World Series trophy was placed on display in the City Hall Rotunda for 30 days.  Thousands of people streamed in to see it.  Years later, I was asked by Senator Chuck Robb of Virginia to take a delegation down to Nicaragua to monitor the Esquipulas II  Accords, settling the civil wars taking place in Central America.  I knew that Nicaragua’s dictator, Daniel Ortega, was a Yankee fan, so I asked George Steinbrenner if he would give me six Yankee uniforms to give to Ortega.  He did.  I attended a big rally in Nicaragua where the plaza was packed with tens of thousands of Ortega’s bully boys, who looked like the storm troopers of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.  Ortega was giving a speech denouncing the United States.  As I passed in front of him, he was yelling, “Yankees will die either here or there.”   Then, seeing me, he said, “Except this Yankee, Ed Koch; he is as safe here as he would be on 42nd Street.”  The crowd roared approvingly.  The next night when I met Ortega and gave him the six Yankee uniforms, Ortega smiled and said, “I love the Yankees.”  I said, “You didn’t last night,” and he laughed.

          George Steinbrenner was a winner who knew how to negotiate.  He was constantly threatening to take the Yanks out of the Bronx and away from New York City.  In the late ‘80s, we wanted to extend his lease on Yankee Stadium, and we ultimately got him to the point where he agreed.  We agreed to all the terms, which included our getting 10 percent of the $50 million that the Yankees were then receiving for cable television rights.  However,  just before I left for Nicaragua, George called and said he wanted a two-week delay to select an option which had been offered to him by the City and which did not affect the overall contract.  I, of course, said yes.  Several weeks later, he called again and told me he was declining to sign the extension.  The reason, we learned, was that he had gotten a deal increasing his cable television rights to $500 million, and he didn’t want the City to get the 10 percent.  We had shaken hands on the deal, but he was a tough -- and sometimes ruthless -- negotiator.  For George, business was business.

          George Steinbrenner will always be remembered and associated with the great New York Yankees.  Even in the early days of his extraordinary ownership of the Yanks, everyone knew he was destined to be an important figure in the history of the City.  And so he is.


          I thought you would be interested in what I am doing regarding New York State issues.  I have created a political action committee that has taken on the New York State legislature which has been labeled “dysfunctional” by the Brennan Center for Justice, a good government private sector agency.

          The natural impulse during this election year is to “throw the bums out!”  However, in my view, this would be irrational and unfeasible.  There are 150 in the Assembly  and 62 in the Senate.  My suggestions to fellow New Yorkers is to join in an effort to educate and improve the quality of the existing membership and those who fail to assure their constituents that they have sufficiently improved should indeed then be thrown out.

          Those who have joined our organization, New York Uprising, decided early on that we would seek to have the incumbents in the Albany legislature and their challengers sign statements committing them to vote for legislation that would provide for impartial, non-partisan redistricting of all legislative districts, including Congress; balancing the budget according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP); and expanding the code of ethics to which they would be subject.

          At this point, 60 incumbents and 94 challengers (154 total) have signed the pledges – we require signed pledges on all three issues.  We have sent all candidates -- incumbents and challengers -- a letter advising them that if we don’t receive signed pledges on all three issues by July 21st, we will on our website describe the candidates who fail to sign as “Enemies of Reform,” and those who do sign as “Heroes of Reform.”

          In August, I will be traveling upstate to seek local media support of our endeavors and holding press conferences with those candidates who have signed the pledges and praising them.

          All of the candidates for Governor, Democrat and Republican, have signed the pledge committing to veto any legislation by the state legislature which does not provide for impartial, non-partisan redistricting.  I have also asked the members of Congress to pledge support for impartial redistricting.

          I am often asked why, at this point in my life, I am willing to spend so much time and energy on reforming our dysfunctional state legislature.  I decided to do this because no one volunteered to take the issue on as a project.  I decided to make it, as it were, my last hurrah.  I’ll keep you updated.  Interestingly, what we are doing in taking on our state legislature is being done in many other states.  The people of our great country are fed up with those who represent us.  We know we can do better and are entitled to better.

July 6, 2010

 If We Wait For the Afghan Forces To Be Ready To Take Over the Security of Their Own country, We Are Waiting For Godot

          The war in Afghanistan goes on with U.S. casualties mounting.  The month of June was the deadliest yet with 102 deaths, the highest since the war began nine years ago.  The war is supported by the Republican leadership, with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in the lead.  They denounced the Republican National Chairman, Michael Steele, for referring to the war as “not winnable” and a war of “Obama’s choosing.”  President Obama by increasing the number of our troops in Afghanistan and making it clear that we are not committed to withdrawing beginning with July 20111, is deepening our involvement in a war we can’t win.  If the Taliban were to surrender today, President Karzai would welcome them into his cabinet, just as he is doing now while we are losing.

          Dexter Filkins of The New York Times reported on July 5th, “Almost every phase of the war is going badly.  In June, 102 Americans and NATO troops lost their lives, more than any month since the war began.  The major offensive in Kandahar, the most important city in the Taliban heartland, has been slowed because of worries over the lack of local support.  The Afghan government and army show few signs of being able or even willing to take over.  In the United States, public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans have turned against the war.”

          General Petraeus on assuming command told “Afghan leaders and American and NATO officers at a ceremony here…we are in this to win.”  He also told them, according to The Times, “success here would be likely to take much longer than the July 2011 date set by President Obama to begin a withdrawal of American forces.”


          If we wait for the Karzai Afghan army to be ready to take over the security of their own country, we are waiting for Godot, and we will never leave.  Surely, at this point, we have given enough blood, lives and treasure to achieve the unachievable.  Our soldiers have suffered enough for that unattainable goal, which some American military experts have estimated would take 10 to 15 more years of war to achieve.  I believe it cannot be achieved because when we leave, whether now or 15 years from now, Afghanistan with its Shiite majority will become a satellite of Iran which also has a Shiite majority.  When we leave Iraq next year as promised, its Shiite majority will ensure that it, too, will become a satellite of Iran.


          The Shiites and Sunnis – divisions of Islam – have been killing one another from time immemorial.  Since we invaded Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Shiite and Sunni civilians have been blown up by one another as a result of their 1,300-year-old religious war.  Are we to sacrifice our young soldiers in a fruitless effort to restrain this religious warfare?  Mr. President, admit error or declare victory and bring our troops home.

          Those Americans who have concluded the war is undermining our security rather than protecting it, raise your voices so Washington hears them.  The antiwar activists should focus their efforts on a march on Washington.  We have sacrificed enough dead, wounded and treasure in a failed cause.  Enough is enough.


          Elena Kagan, Solicitor General of the United States, acquitted herself superbly before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearings.  What does that mean?  It means she basically told the Senators nothing that would reveal how she will vote.  Of course, we know she will vote as a liberal would and should.  Conservatives, while upset with her liberal orientation, are resigned to her confirmation because she is replacing a liberal – Justice John Paul Stevens – and therefore would not tip the Court in a liberal direction.

          To pacify her questioners, Elena Kagan paid proper lip service to the doctrine of giving great respect to legal precedents.  The New York Times in an editorial this past week pointed out how Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her confirmation hearings had similarly reassured the questioning Senators.  The editorial stated, “Sonia Sotomayor said last year that she understood the individual right to bear arms had been determined by the Supreme Court in 2008, but this week she joined a blistering dissent that said the 2008 decision was wrong.”

          Most gun control supporters – and I am one – are distressed with the huge victories that the National Rifle Association has had before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Congress, on the right to possess guns, particularly hand guns.  Most New Yorkers probably don’t know that it is relatively easy in New York State, except for criminals and the mentally impaired, to obtain a permit to keep a handgun in one’s home or place of business.  New Yorkers don’t have the right to carry that gun outside of their home or business; to do that one needs a special carriage permit which requires in New York City the consent of the New York City Police Commissioner under the Sullivan Law which goes back to 1911.  When Washington, D.C. and Chicago banned all handguns and the Supreme Court ultimately ruled on that issue, it decided that such total bans violated the Second Amendment.  The Court has not ruled on New York State’s law requiring a special permit for carrying a handgun through the streets.  Undoubtedly, such limitations will ultimately come before the Court.  I would be shocked if the Court were to strike that limitation down.  But this is an unpredictable Court that has shown that it is capable of consistently surprising us.


          The most recent shock was its decision, as The Times described it, “to allow unlimited corporate spending in elections.”  The Times neglected to mention that the Court’s decision also allowed unlimited spending by unions, as well.


          During the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe and its aftermath, FEMA purchased and made available 120,000 mobile homes to the homeless.  The Times in an article of June 30th reported, “The trailers were discovered to have such high levels of formaldehyde that the government banned them from even being used for long-term housing again.”  After the trailers were removed, the government spent $130 million a year to store and maintain them, but then decided to auction them off.  According to The Times, beginning in 2006, the feds unloaded 100,000 of them at public auction. 


          Now, apparently, the federal government has sold some trailers to those assisting in the Gulf cleanup who need housing.  The feds tell purchasers not to use them for housing, as though that takes the sellers off the hook. 


          Our government’s actions are shameful.  Rather than suing the manufacturers and distributors of the trailers for a refund of the purchase price – some $2.7 billion -- our government is putting more people in harm’s way.  Are those responsible still working for the government?




          A July 4th New York Times article reported that “[a]ccording to the most recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, released in 2005, capital investments like oil field leases and drilling equipment are taxed at an effective rate of 9 percent, significantly lower than the overall rate of 25 percent for businesses in general and lower than virtually any other industry.”  According to The Times, “[t]he American Petroleum Institute, an industry advocacy group, argues that even with subsidies, oil producers paid or incurred $280 billion in American income taxes from 2006 to 2008, and pay a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes than most other American corporations.”


          Wouldn’t it be nice to know the truth?  We know that oil companies are extremely profitable.  According to Fortune magazine, the most profitable company in 2009 was Exxon Mobil with a profit of $45 billion.  We also know, as mentioned in The Times, that “[t]he oil and natural gas industry has spent $340 million on lobbyists since 2008.”


          Having served in Congress, I can tell you that the members of oil states were the most effective.  The famed Charlie Wilson, Congressman from Texas and subject of the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” was a friend of mine.  I trusted him.  On one occasion, I rushed to the floor to vote – 15 minutes was allotted – and not having been on the committee that debated the bill, I looked to a friendly face – in this case, Charlie Wilson’s – for guidance on how I should vote.  Wilson gave me a thumbs up, so I voted yes with my plastic card.


          Fortunately, a fellow New Yorker saw my vote on the flashing board, came over and said, “Wrong vote, Ed,” explaining it was providing subsidies to the oil industry.  Of course, I changed my vote.  I went over to Charlie and said, “Charlie, how could you do that to me?”  He replied, “Ed, you can trust me on anything else but oil.”  Charlie was a great Congressman and I treasured our friendship.  However, I never fully trusted him again, as nice as he was.  Trust once breached is rarely ever fully restored.


          The oil industry has taken the U.S. taxpayers to the cleaners.  We should demand of Speaker Nancy Pelosi that an independent, fairly-composed committee of experts be appointed to examine the oil and gas industry and recommend to the Congress what subsidies, if any, should be available to that industry, which tax loopholes should be closed and what taxes should be paid, including, if the committee found it appropriate, an excess profits tax.


          Many in Congress, myself included when I was there, favored a tax ranging from a quarter to a dollar per gallon as far back as 1973 when our then Arab allies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states imposed their oil embargo.  The same amounts could probably be raised if the oil companies paid their fair share of taxes.  Those monies should be used to identify and implement alternate forms of energy.  China is way ahead of us on creating wind energy and other alternatives.


Ed Koch Commentary

June 22, 2010

Sometimes You Eat the Bear and Sometimes the Bear Eats You

          I have been in politics since 1956 when I volunteered to be a street campaigner and spokesperson for Adlai Stevenson who was running for president against Dwight Eisenhower.  I spent many lunch hours campaigning on the historic steps of the Subtreasury building, located at the corner of Wall and Nassau Streets.  In the summer and fall, hundreds of people who worked at the New York Stock Exchange on Broad Street would sit on the steps between noon and 2:00 p.m. and eat their lunches. 

          That experience started my political career which ultimately embraced 23 years in public service.  My years of public service included two years in the City Council, nine years in the U.S. Congress, and 12 years as mayor of New York City.  I enjoyed serving in each of those capacities.  Every day brought new challenges, sometimes ending in victory and other times in defeat. 

          My good friend and political mentor, David Garth, summed up these experiences common to all who serve in government by saying, “Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.”

          President Barack Obama illustrates the accuracy of that description.  Currently, his approval ratings are falling, and the bear is eating him for lunch.  However, we all should remember the halcyon days of not so long ago when he could do no wrong.  The press, pundits, and the Sunday morning talking heads are a fickle lot.  One week they are for you and the next week the entire press cadre, like marionettes on a string, move in an opposite direction.  Suddenly he is seen as incompetent, unfeeling or, even worse, a villain of the story occupying their attention, which is now the gulf oil spill.  Petroleum gushing from the ocean floor is shown daily on television.  Now when the President plays golf for recreation, it is seen as an insult to the people suffering the effects of the BP oil spill.  How ridiculous.  Today he can do no right.

          George W. Bush was our hero when he arrived at Ground Zero to view the World Trade Center site after 9/11.  I was on the West Side Highway when he addressed a crowd of hundreds who had been invited to greet him.  Those assembled included public officials, people who worked in the area, volunteers helping in various ways, and the clergy led by Edward Cardinal Egan.  I will never forget how the crowd reacted when President Bush appeared, jumped up on a pile of debris, was held steady by a retired firefighter, and began to address us.  Everyone, including the Cardinal, began to chant, “USA, USA.”  It was thrilling.  What it meant without a doubt was that we were united.  No one cared whether Bush was a Republican or a Democrat. 

          We wanted our president to know that we were willing to do whatever it would take to protect the greatest country in the world.  It reminded me of our nation’s reaction to the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.  We vowed to remember that sneak attack, pick ourselves up from the floor and kick the butt of the Japanese empire, regardless of how long it might take.  And we did.  

          Then came Hurricane Katrina, Bush’s ridiculous flyover of New Orleans, and his later comment, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”  And the bear voraciously ate President Bush.

          Similarly, President Obama’s solid victory over Senator John McCain and his inspirational speeches before and after his election, fed our desires for a new beginning that would embrace racial reconciliation and a change in government direction that would show far greater concern for the needs of the middle class and the poor.  President Obama’s poll numbers were very high at the time.  Indeed, despite a year of adversity, they still are sound, ranging from a low of 45 to a high of 50. 

          And then came British Petroleum (BP) and the gulf oil debacle.  Once again, the bear has arrived.  He is still tearing up the terrain, and his appetite is enormous.  

          But I have good news for President Obama.  I have been out of office for 20 years, since December 31, 1989.  Immediately upon leaving office, I decided to stay in touch with deputy mayors, commissioners, and their deputies who served during the 12 years of my mayoralty.  About 200 or so get together every December for a reunion.  I also have lunch with those same individuals, inviting about a half-dozen of them to join me every six weeks or so.  Those lunches have been ongoing now for the last two decades.   

          While discussing political issues at the most recent lunch about two weeks ago, everyone indicated that they were disappointed to some extent with the President’s performance to date.  Being Democrats, they had all voted for him in the last election.  When I asked, “If the election were held tomorrow, who would vote for President Obama,” every one of them raised their hand to convey they would vote for him again. 

          In closing, let me impart some age-old advice:  Illegitimi non carborundum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down.)  Also, continue to be yourself.  Nobody, except screen or stage actors, is ever sufficiently convincing when attempting to be someone else.  The people always know when a public official is trying to con them.

          I’d like to close with the phrase that we should all be shouting in the presence of every president, “USA, USA.”  He belongs to all of us.  God bless President Barack Obama, and may God bless America.

          It was announced this morning that General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, had insulted President Obama, National Security Adviser Jim Jones, and Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke.  McChrystal’s remarks were made during a Rolling Stone interview.  My advice:  Do what President Lincoln did in a similar situation.  He fired Major General George McClellan.  And do what President Truman did.  He fired General Douglas MacArthur.   In the USA, the military serves the civilian government, not the other way. 

“Mademoiselle Chambon” (+)

June 14, 2010

          A marvelous film not to be missed. 

          The simple story involves three main characters:  a builder, Jean (Vincent Lindon), his wife, Anne Marie (Aure Atika), and their son’s grammar school teacher, Veronique (Sandrine Kiberlain).  Jean, Anne Marie and their son, Jeremy (Arthur Le Houerou), would be described as part of the French bourgeoisie.  Veronique, bourgeoisie also, appears to be in her mid-30’s and on her way to becoming an “old maid.” 

          Jean visits his son’s school to meet with Veronique who is a good looking but not classically beautiful woman.  The two are immediately attracted to one another.  She asks him to look at the windows in her apartment that are falling apart, and when he goes to her home the romance, in a very demure way, begins. 

          Jean’s father is about to celebrate his 80th birthday.  His love for his father is evidenced by his weekly bathing of his father’s feet.  It reminded me of my visits with my father to my grandmother’s Old Law tenement apartment on the Lower East Side.  He would bathe her as she sat in her shift in the bathtub which was in the kitchen.  The bathroom was located in the public hallway.  There was an umbrella installed overhead to keep off the rain.  I looked forward to those weekly visits, because my grandmother always made grebenes for me (rendered chicken fat) which in my memory is still better than Godiva chocolate, although more dangerous to one’s health.  My father’s bathing of his elderly mother was not a chore.  It was a labor of love, as was Jean’s washing of his father’s feet. 

          Even though Jean and Veronique spend little time together, their relationship takes a toll on both of them as it does on Jean’s wife who knows something is wrong.

          The film is very placid in pace and seems to run in real time.  There is no speeding up of the relationship between Jean and Veronique, and there is only a single intimate scene which is very low key but carnal.  “Mademoiselle Chambon” is just about as perfect as a film can be.  In some fashion it reminded me of the 1945 British film, “Brief Encounter,” in terms of being just as understated and enormously affecting.  

          I saw the movie at the Cinema Village on East 12th Street on a Saturday evening, and was very surprised that the theater was half empty.  There should have been a long line of people waiting to see it.  (In French, with English subtitles.)

“Joan Rivers:  A Piece of Work” (+)

June 14, 2010

          This documentary, made with Joan Rivers’ cooperation, is excellent.  In addition to comedy scenes from acts that she has performed over the years which are very funny, it contains insightful and reflective monologues during which she reveals much of her true self.

          One comment that she makes about her New York City apartment is hilarious.  She states that it is decorated the way Marie Antoinette would have done it had she been rich.  That is certainly true.  I was once invited to her apartment for dinner and it was stunning.  Joan was a wonderful host concerned about the comfort of each of her guests.  I sat to her immediate left and to my left was Peggy Noonan.  When Joan asked if we knew one another, Peggy responded we did and that she didn’t think I liked her since she gave my then new book a negative review.  Peggy was right, but enough about me. 

          Joan is now 77 years old.  When she began her career back in the days of Jack Parr, Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson, her coarse humor and use of a drunken sailor’s profanity were shocking.  Although her sense of humor continued to be Borscht Belt, that tie soon gave way to even greater potty and sexual references.  For me, and I believe most of the public, her energy, intellect and comedic crudeness is now attractive and extraordinary. 

          Ms. Rivers has led the way for a new generation of female comedians, the funniest in my opinion now being Wanda Sykes, who is a combination of Mort Sahl and Joan Rivers.  Her sense of humor is political in nature rather than being sex-driven, and she is terrific in acting out her jokes.  Without Rivers’ rule-breaking career, I doubt that Sykes would be as successful as she is today with her appearances on HBO and Fox TV.  We owe Joan Rivers a great debt of thanks for having expanded the range of what is acceptable from female comedians.

          I saw the film at the City Cinemas 1, 2 and 3 on Third Avenue and 60th Street. 

          Henry Stern said:  “I didn’t know too much about Joan Rivers, except that she was a comedian who was often the butt of jokes about her plastic surgery.  It is a shame that people believe they must undergo operations to avoid looking old.  The movie was both funny and sad.  Joan Rivers is a driven person, a workaholic, who dominates her entourage.  Yet she is vulnerable and dependent on the approval of audiences and booking agents.  I enjoyed the movie, and I liked her and her daughter as people.  Being rich and famous doesn’t mean that you’re not lonely or needy.  She is a gifted and successful performer; I hope that brings her peace of mind.” 

“Kites” (+)
May 24, 2010   

          This Bollywood movie, which was filmed primarily in Las Vegas and later on in Mexico, contains the crazy, quixotic and humorous elements of a Mel Brooks flick and the deadly themes of violence and pyrotechnics of a Quentin Tarantino film.  In addition, it has a superb soundtrack of pulsating music.  While it doesn’t include a big dance scene usually associated with Indian pictures, a dance of two lovers in a downpour is reminiscent of Gene Kelly’s solo performance in “Singin’ in the Rain.” 

          The plot, which includes flashbacks that aren’t always understandable, depicts a wealthy, vicious and brutal Indian family that owns a casino in Vegas.  It consists of the father, Bob (Kabir Bedi), his son Tony (Nicholas Brown) who is a murderer, and his daughter, Gina (Kangana Ranaut).  J (Hrithik Roshan) is a gigolo and dance teacher who for money has married 11 illegal immigrants.  J, who hopes to get rich by marrying Gina, becomes attracted to a beautiful Mexican woman, Natasha (Barbara Mori), who is the fiancé of Tommy, his possible future brother-in law.  It turns out that Natasha is one of the women J married so that she could obtain legal status in the U.S., presumably after sneaking across the border.       

          The movie, which I saw at the Quad Cinema on West 13th Street, is somewhat loony but also adorable and one in which love conquers all.  (In English, Hindi and Spanish, with English subtitles. )

          Henry Stern said:  “Kites is a romantic comedy mingled with an action melodrama, or vice versa.  For a love story, they crashed and burned a lot of cars and trucks.  The plot is so absurd it is funny, while the flashbacks make it hard to understand until the chases begin.  A lot of people, cops and Mexicans, get killed.  The ending is Shakespearean, using modern technology.  The verdict:  amusing but confusing.”

a Commentary by Ed Koch

What Distinguishes the United States Is Our Pluralism and Tolerance

We are at war with radical Islam, and that war will go on for many years.

For me, the question is this:  will the secular Western civilization shared by America and Europe, which allows us to enjoy life and its creature comforts, still be standing at the end of that war?  Or will radical Islam, with an aggressive culture that treasures martyrdom and death over life, prevail?

 The vast majority of Muslims, of course, are peace-loving.  The fanaticism found among the Wahhabists of Saudi Arabia is not found in many of the countries where a billion, 400 million Muslims live. Nevertheless, we know that radical Islamists want to convert us to their faith, either voluntarily or, if necessary, by force.  Among the Islamist radicals there is a special hatred of Jews and Hindus and, to a lesser extent, of Christians. The hatred of Jews is such that some of the leaders of radical groups have called for the killing of Jewish civilians all over the world. For some, the Muslim rule is to permit Jews and Christians – as monotheists – to practice their religions, provided that they accept the supremacy of Islam and pay a poll tax – so described by Bernard Lewis, America’s foremost scholar on Islam.

 Mr. Lewis states “This tolerance is limited to monotheists and recipients of what Islam recognizes as a revelation. It does not apply in any circumstance to those who are seen as polytheists and idolaters. For them the rule was indeed conversion or death, though the latter was rarely enforced and in the past was often commuted to enslavement. The Wahhabi demand, as far as I know, is not that Christians and Jews convert to Islam, but that they accept the supremacy of Islam and the rule of the Muslim state. On that condition, they may continue in the practice of their religion.”

 All this is by way of preface to a current controversy here in New York City concerning the construction of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero at the World Trade Center site where near 3,000 people lost their lives in acts of terror perpetrated by 19 Muslim hijackers, 15 of whom were from Saudi Arabia, who deliberately flew two planes into the twin towers.

 Understandably, but nevertheless wrong, there are those who object to the construction of this mosque, believing its presence would insult the memory of the victims of the terror. In my opinion, and I believe the opinion of many others, including the local community planning board and the local elected political leaders, it would sully the good name of the United States and New York City were the members of the mosque which is permissible under existing zoning laws, prohibited from constructing it. While no one can be sure what activities will take place there, that is true of any religious institution. It also follows that none may violate the law with impunity.

 What distinguishes the United States is our pluralism and tolerance for minority groups, religions of every persuasion and acceptance of the rights of those with policies and philosophies different than the prevailing views of the majority, provided they are non-violent and observe the law.

Having said that, and believing in our tolerance for others, I believe we must be willing to defend our people and country against all attacks that are violent – tantamount to war – as well as those attacks that are unfair and intended to humble and denigrate our nation. It is infuriating to see Turkey, an actual NATO ally, and Brazil, a neighbor and trade partner here in the Western hemisphere, collude with Iran which has said through its president that it wants the U.S. to disappear and makes clear every day its enmity and threats directed at us and our ally, Israel. It is infuriating that North Korea threatens the world with its nuclear and missile arsenal and sinks a South Korean destroyer with a torpedo that an examining commission found to have North Korean markings, and no immediate military retaliatory action is taken, out of fear of consequences.  If Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress had failed to assist in the defense of Great Britain in its war with Germany, and Great Britain had gone down to defeat because early on we refused to become Great Britain’s supplier of naval ships and other war materials out of fear of the consequences, we here in the U.S. might be speaking German today instead of English. We would certainly no longer be the great and sovereign nation we are.

 Have we lost the will to stand up to the bullies of the world? The administration points with pride to the fact that it is proceeding with sanctions against Iran at the Security Council and that it succeeded in bringing Russia and China to the point where they too have agreed to vote for sanctions. To do that, the U.S. had to agree to Russia’s delivering arms to Iran, e.g., an anti-aircraft system that would be used to shoot down U.S. and Israeli planes that might in the future seek to eliminate Iran’s nuclear facilities. With respect to China and getting its consent to vote with us, we dropped sanction measures that would have crippled Iran’s banking and financial institutions and prohibited the sale of gasoline to Iran which has no conversion facilities, which would have devastated its economy.

Some will say that pointing out these failures of will is jingoistic. I believe these failures to stand up for allies and most importantly to stand up for ourselves is why we are taken less seriously by nations throughout the world than should be the case. When others fully respected us, we were able to keep the world at peace. We are losing that ability with each passing day, as we demonstrate our unwillingness to teach the bullies of the world the lessons they deserve.

  Speak softly and carry a big stick, Teddy Roosevelt said.  President Obama speaks apologetically and carries no stick at all.  No wonder North Korea torpedoed that South Korean warship, something they would not have done in all probability  if China had not quietly approved.  No wonder Brazil and Turkey thumb their noses at us.  We have become a laughingstock.


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