The Cliffhanger, Feb. 1
Ever since the language of the “fiscal cliff” was appropriated to describe the political battle over a tax increase, it’s become increasingly clear that every issue is a “cliff” now. Here are today’s snapshots from the edge…
** Ed Koch passes on: Former New York mayor Ed Koch died on Thursday night at the age of 88, apparently of congestive heart failure. Koch was a big, bold, brassy, funny guy, one of the last partisan Democrats who seemed to be having a good time while lambasting his opponents. (These days, the adjective “bitter” is almost always attached to “partisan.”) Then he headed into his third term and wasn’t quite so partisan any more, running as both the Republican and Democrat candidates in 1981, and eventually going so far as to speak on George Bush’s behalf at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Look, if they didn’t want us to have fun in politics, they wouldn’t call ‘em “parties.”
An extraordinarily thorough New York Times obituary this morning credits Koch with “leading the city government back from near bankruptcy in the 1970s to prosperity in the 1980s,” in part through what would now be called “austerity.” He once helped to break a transit strike by leading an army of commuters across the Brooklyn Bridge and yelling, “We’re not going to let these bastards bring us to our knees!” But he remained proudly liberal throughout his career, and was occasionally consumed by doubts about his own austerity measures. His liberalism was particularly pronounced in the areas of abortion (he ordered the city to provide funding for abortion after the Hyde Amendment restricted federal money), public housing, and public transportation… from which department arose one of the many corruption scandals that sank his third term as mayor, while making the bones of a prosecutor named Rudy Giuliani, although Koch himself was never directly tied to the crimes. He was drafted into the Army during World War 2, and came home with two battle stars. He spent a bundle securing a rare burial plot in Manhattan, because he said he never wanted to leave his city. His trademark greeting to constituents was, “How am I doin?” Not half bad, Mr. Mayor. Rest in peace.
** Bob Menendez is one of the best friends anybody ever had: The New York Times is no longer ignoring the Menendez scandal, and while they might be reluctant to dip their toes too deeply into the underage Dominican hooker stuff, they came up with 500 million other reasons why the New Jersey senator is in trouble. It seems the Senator’s good buddy, opthamologist Salomon Melgen – who occasionally drags things out for a few years when it comes time to pay his taxes, but is always quick to throw money at his favorite politicians – bought himself an inert contract for port security in the Dominican Republic, and suddenly his bosom pal Menendez was on the phone to the State Department, which might be slow to answer calls from ambassadors sent into terrorist beehives without adequate security, but always picks up the phone when somebody from the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere is on the line. Lo and behold, that contract wasn’t dormant any more, and at least $500 million of taxpayer money flowed into its veins. It was probably all totally above board, which is why the FBI swooped down on Melgen when they saw an industrial strength paper-shredding truck roll up outside his office.
No wonder Harry Reid doesn’t want to talk about Bob Menendez any more! It’s sad, because it seems like only yesterday that Reid’s Super PAC was collecting $700,000 in donations from Salomon Melgen’s company to help get Menendez re-elected. Some might find these big-money adventures inconsistent with reports that Menendez underpaid his winsome Dominican sex workers. You don’t get rich by paying retail, folks.
** A view of the EPA from the lawlessness cliff: Today’s banana-republic update comes from the Environmental Protection Agency, which decided to ignore a silly little court order and dramatically increase the production quota for biofuels. Most biofuels are hideously expensive and cause poor people to starve, because production diverts farmland from churning out food. But it’s cool, because these particular biofuels don’t even exist, which means no one is starving when they’re non-produced. The EPA wanted 8.7 million gallons of this imaginary junk last year, but now it wants 14 million phantom gallons, and companies will be fined for failing to meet this impossible goal, even though an appeals court frowned on the practice. Those Luddites and their crazy “laws,” always trying to thwart the Obama Administration’s glorious frog-march into the future! In case you’re wondering about the point of fining companies for not using something they not only don’t want, but couldn’t get if they wanted it, it’s because the Administration doesn’t have the guts to forthrightly jack up gas taxes, so they’ll soak the oil villains by fining them for their failure to meet an impossible mandate. Look, just shut up and give the government the money it wants, and nobody has to get hurt.
** Suicide bomber strikes U.S. embassy in Turkey: A guard at the American embassy in Ankara was killed by a suicide bomber who apparently detonated his weapon at a security checkpoint on Friday. Responsibility for the attack has not yet been fixed. The suspects include Kurdish rebels and militants linked to al-Qaeda, which has been pumping out an elevated level of Internet chatter about an upcoming wave of “strong, serious, alarming, earth-shattering, shocking, and terrifying” attacks against the United States, France, Denmark, and “other countries in Europe.” They’re angry about the Western intervention in Mali, which al-Qaeda really wanted for itself.
** Hey, what do you know, armed guards at schools DO make a difference: A 14-year-old student, evidently looking to settle some sort of grudge against one of his peers, opened fire at the Price Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia on Thursday afternoon, wounding one other student. Thankfully, the school has an armed security officer, an off-duty cop, who was able to disarm the shooter. The attacker was somehow able to get his gun past the school metal detectors, and since no major media outlets have yet identified the weapon, it almost certainly was not an “assault rifle.” No information has been released about the shooter yet, and it is not known how he obtained his gun, but at this point it looks like nothing else could have prevented a loss of life except the heroic security officer who did.
** Obamanomics update: It’s tough to have malaise while you’re hanging from a cliff; you have to hold onto the fiscal cliff with one hand, while gulping down your malaise with the other, and pray to God that your deficit pitons remain firmly anchored in the bankrupt rock. Anyway, unemployment rose to 7.9 percent in January, but the labor force participation rate remained relatively stable, which means we had anemic job growth (157,000, about on par with population growth) plus a surge in new unemployment claims. The media has been keeping frozen smiles on its carefully painted faces while it repeats the insane Obama spin about an economy “poised” for growth. A few faces might just crack today. If you work in a TV studio, please try not to get hit by the shrapnel.
** Rand Paul wonders if it’s a good idea to send high-tech weapons to an imploding dictatorship: But not enough other Senators had the same doubts, because Paul’s amendment to block the transfer of American F-16 fighters and Abrams tanks to Egypt failed, 79-19. “I think this is particularly unwise since Egypt is currently governed by a religious zealot, a religious zealot who said recently that ‘Jews were bloodsuckers and descendants of apes and pigs.’ This doesn’t sound like the kind of stable personality we would be sending our most sophisticated weapons to,” said Paul (R-KY). “I think it is a grave mistake to send F-16s and tanks to a country that detained American citizens on trumped up political charges. On a country that currently is still detaining Egyptian citizens on trumped-up political charges. I think it is a blunder of the first proportion to send sophisticated weapons to a country that allowed a mob to attack our embassy and to burn our flag.”
He also worried that these weapons might one day be turned against Israel. Relax, Senator Paul! There’s no way Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel would sit still for that, right?