The meeting of two larger-than-life mayors

London mayor Boris Johnson describes meeting New York mayor Michael Bloomberg:

When the mayors met for the first time, Mr. Johnson recalled, Mr. Bloomberg kept talking about trans fats.

“I didn’t know what trans fats were,” Mr. Johnson said, a glint in his eye. “I thought it had something to do with transsexuals, obese transsexuals, or something. Anyway, he made a great deal about that.”

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An unconventional endorsement, and an eye-opening one

Today, Michael Bloomberg sprung a November surprise with his “endorsement” of Barack Obama. But it wasn’t exactly…wholehearted. Here’s a segment:

In 2008, Obama ran as a pragmatic problem-solver and consensus-builder. But as president, he devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists, which doomed hope for any real progress on illegal guns, immigration, tax reform, job creation and deficit reduction. And rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice, he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.

Hm. But that still wasn’t as much of an eye-opener as this one by Likud-maniac Alan Dershowitz:

With regards to Iran, which poses the most immediate threat to the security of the United States and its allies, most especially Israel, the policy of the Obama administration is crystal clear: It has taken containment off the table and kept the military option on the table. Everyone hopes that the military option will not have to be employed, since it would entail considerable loss of life, especially among Israeli civilians who would be targeted by Hezbollah rockets fired in retaliation against any attack on Iran.

But the best way to avoid the need for military action is for the Iranian mullahs to believe that the United States will never allow them to develop nuclear weapons. If they believe that reality then the pain of the sanctions will pressure them to give up their nuclear ambitions. President Obama has clearly stated that he is not bluffing when he says that his administration will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. A secondterm president generally has more credibility than a firstterm president when it comes to threatening military action.

The Obama administration has strongly supported Israel’s security by helping to construct the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, by backing Israel’s responses to rocket attacks from Gaza and by coordinating closely with its military.

When it comes to reenergizing the moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Romney has said that he would do nothing other than kick the can down the road.

President Obama, on the other hand, would almost certainly try to bring the parties together to achieve a two-state solution that guaranteed Israel’s security while allowing the Palestinians to govern themselves.

So much for Obama throwing Israel “under the bus.”

Michael Bloomberg’s cash is not welcome here

Today, The Morningside Post published an op-ed* I wrote on New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to start his own SuperPAC, Independence USA PAC:

Two years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that, for the purposes of the First Amendment, corporations were people – a phrase presidential candidate Mitt Romney made famous last year –the floodgates burst to unleash torrents of political campaign advertising. What rendered this decision especially troubling was the fact that these SuperPACs – a category that did not even exist prior to 2010 – are often funded by “dark money,” or unknown financial backers, whose advertisements and other campaign expenditures have already surpassed $400 million during this presidential campaign.

Candidates shuttling back and forth among moneyed patrons and trading away their policymaking autonomy for the chance to blanket Ohio in 30-second TV spots: this is no way to run a democracy. According to the Washington Post, since June of this year, the two candidates have personally attended 176 fundraisers (69 for Obama, 107 for Romney). Republican strategist Karl Rove’s fundraising organization American Crossroads has spent over $63 million in the 2012 election cycle alone, and yet its donor list remains a closely guarded secret.

In the face of this frontal assault on our democratic ideal of “one person, one vote,” Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to launch political moderates back into the halls of power amounts to little more than a bandage. And it is the worst kind, because it confuses the symptom for the underlying illness: by using the very same funding tactics that helped drive the fringe into the mainstream American political landscape in the first place, Bloomberg’s efforts constitute an implicit endorsement of the post-Citizens United world. But accelerating the funding arms race is not the right long-term approach.

* Edited here only to add spaces after punctuation marks, which were accidentally eliminated in the transition from Microsoft Word to The Morningside Post.

A smattering of gun control-related links

Over the past few days, I’d kept meaning to post something about gun control in the wake of the Aurora shooting, but I never quite found the time. Meanwhile, the links that I felt added something to the conversation kept piling up in my browser to the point of slowing down my computer.Well, God knows I need my laptop running optimally for appropriate time-wastage purposes, so here is a collection of links relating to the gun control debate that’s been swirling ever since James Holmes’ violent rampage.

First, Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory wonders when the Massachusetts delegation will start heralding its own sterling gun control record and attempt to expand its success to the national level:

Legislation has been languishing in Washington since last year’s Tucson massacre to outlaw lunatic gun clips that hold more than 10 bullets at a time. Add in the fact that the alleged killer, with his freakish orange hair and absent eyes, was a veritable poster boy for stronger national gun laws. The result should be a hue and cry, far and wide, for the type of sensible gun policies that could save lives.

And in that regard, there’s nobody better to lead on the issue than the members of the Massachusetts delegation. This state has some of the strongest and most successful gun laws in America. We have an assault weapons ban. We have safety training requirements, licensing, registration, and a waiting period.

And we also have something else. Massachusetts has, per capita, the lowest rate of gun-related fatalities of any state in the nation – number 50, with 3.14 annual deaths per 100,000 people. The national average is 10.19 deaths. The worst state, Louisiana, has 18.03 deaths.

Think about this. We are an industrial state with a congested city. We are bordered by Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, states that have no gun controls to speak of. And fewer people die here than anywhere else from firearms. And there’s really a debate over whether stronger gun laws work?

Michael Bloomberg was affiliated with Salomon ...

Meanwhile, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is (admirably, in my opinion) continuing his one-man crusade to take on the National Rifle Association in an op-ed for…OK, for Bloomberg View:

There is one particular fear the NRA manufactures with great success: fear of electoral defeat. Romney has walked away from the assault-weapons ban he once supported, and in nearly four years, Obama has offered no legislation to rein in illegal guns. In Congress, the NRA threatens lawmakers who fail to do its ideological bidding, although its record in defeating candidates is much more myth than reality.

What can be done?

One of the U.S. Senate’s most pro-gun members has paradoxically shown how the battle might begin. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, also the chamber’s most sincere fiscal conservative, has made it his mission to diminish the influence of another ideological group that has exercised unwarranted sway over public policy: the anti-tax absolutists led by Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform.

To confront Norquist, Coburn identified an indefensible tax — the ethanol subsidy — isolated it and forced a vote on it. His colleagues, many of whom had signed Norquist’s pledge never to raise taxes, were forced to choose between opposing what Coburn decried as an obvious “special interest giveaway” or looking like spineless shills for Norquist. By heightening attention on the vote, the tactic worked. The $5.4 billion ethanol subsidy was voted down.

The Coburn approach could be applied to guns. Elected officials who profess to be tough on crime but who also oppose tougher measures to stop illegal guns can’t be in two places at once — particularly when many law enforcement organizations support basic gun measures that simply don’t exist today. In the same way Coburn pointed out the ethanol-corporate welfare contradiction, a pro-gun senator can point out the obvious: It’s impossible to support police officers and law enforcement agencies and also oppose giving them the tools they need to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

Then, GQ provides a little counterbalance to Bloomberg’s optimism on the possibility of confronting the NRA:

I asked a Democratic legislative staffer for a first-person description of the NRA’s power on the Hill. Here’s the response I got, on the condition that I not provide any further identifying information. It’s pretty breathtaking.

We do absolutely anything they ask and we NEVER cross them—which includes asking permission to cosponsor any bills endorsed by the Humane Society (the answer is usually no) and complying with their demand to oppose the DISCLOSE Act, neither of which have anything to do with guns. They’ve completely shut down the debate over gun control. It’s really incredible. I’m not sure when we decided that a Democrat in a marginal district who loses his A rating from the NRA automatically loses reelection. Because it’s not like we do everything other partisan organizations like the Chamber [of Commerce] or NAM [National Association of Manufacturers] tell us to…

Pandering to the NRA is the probably worst part of my job. I can justify the rest of it—not just to keep the seat, but because I believe most of the positions he takes are consistent with what his constituents want. But sucking up to the NRA when something like Colorado happens is hard to stomach.

And then there’s the tiny little matter of the American people themselves:

Firearms sales are surging in the wake of the Colorado movie massacre as buyers express fears about both personal safety and lawmakers who are using the shooting to seek new weapons restrictions.

In Colorado, the site of Friday’s shooting that killed 12 and injured dozens of others, gun sales jumped in the three days that followed. The state approved background checks for 2,887 people who wanted to purchase a firearm — 25 percent more than the average Friday to Sunday period in 2012 and 43 percent more than the same interval the week prior.

Dick Rutan, owner of Gunners Den in suburban Arvada, Colo., said requests for concealed-weapon training certification “are off the hook.” His four-hour course in gun safety, required for certification for a concealed-weapons permit in Colorado, has drawn double the interest since Friday.

The more things change…