The Political Animal

Citizen Bloomberg & the Fallacy of Appeal to Efficacy


When will it stop? I’m asking. When? These are supposedly educated people. (If all the supposeds in the world were actuals, the world would be a far, far better place than it has ever been before: all the cows would come home to hear the fat lady sing.) When will the people who would lead us, when challenged on their wrongful acts and policies, cease to introduce in argument the red herring of the irrelevant appeal to efficacy? When they cease to try to mislead us or themselves, one might answer. Or when reporters begin regularly to call them on it.

Challenge members of the George W. Bush administration, then or now, on that administration’s torture policy, and you will hear in response how many terrorist plots the policy thwarted and how many lives were accordingly saved.

Challenge figures in the national security apparatus during the current administration about sweeping and excessive data collection on American citizens, and you hear from every Tom, Dick, and Obama how many terrorist plots the policy thwarted and how many lives were accordingly saved.

Challenge his royal mayor of New York – Bloomberg the First, by the Grace of Billions, of the Five Boroughs and its lesser Islands, Head of the City and Defender of the Untermed Out – about the racial profiling at the foundation of New York City’s Stop-and-Frisk policy, and he will reply,

Every day Commissioner Kelly and I wake up determined to keep New Yorkers safe and save lives. Our crime strategies and tools – including Stop-Question-Frisk – have made New York City the safest big city in America. And I’m happy to say we are on pace for another record low number of shootings and homicides this year because our police officers follow the law and follow the crime.

They fight crime wherever crime is occurring, and they don’t worry if their work doesn’t match up to a census chart. As a result, today we have fewer guns, fewer shootings, and fewer homicides. In fact, murders are 50 percent below the level they were 12 years ago when we came into office – something no one thought possible back then.

Stop-Question-Frisk – which the Supreme Court of the United States has found to be constitutional – is an important part of that record of success. It has taken some 8,000 guns off the street over the past decade – and some 80,000 other weapons.


The fact that fewer guns are on the street now shows that our efforts have been successful. There is just no question that Stop-Question-Frisk has saved countless lives. And we know that most of the lives saved, based on the statistics, have been black and Hispanic young men.

It’s worth remembering that as recently as 1990, New York City averaged more than six murders a day. Today, we’ve driven that down to less than one murder a day.

Think about what that change really means: if murder rates over the last 11 years had been the same as the previous 11 years, more than 7,300 people who today are alive would be dead.

Stop-Question-Frisk has helped us prevent those and other crimes from occurring – which has not only saved lives, it has helped us to reduce incarceration rates by 30 percent, even as incarceration rates in the rest of the nation have gone up.

That’s why people across the country and around the world have come to learn about how the NYPD has been so successful, and how we’ve driven crime down to record lows. We are the poster child that everybody wants to follow.

The issue of racial profiling is a legal one. It is a legal issue because it is a moral one. The judge based her decision on Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations, and asserted her power of injunctive relief based upon those violations, and the moral considerations around them, not on the effectiveness of stop and frisk.

The effectiveness of stop and frisk is an entirely separate matter, and Bloomberg’s argument in support of the policy on those grounds is markedly deceptive and easily challengeable in its own right. I presented that case here.

Bloomberg followed the comments above by stating,

Throughout the trial that just concluded, the judge made it clear she was not at all interested in the crime reductions here or how we achieved them. In fact, nowhere in her 195-page decision does she mention the historic cuts in crime or the number of lives that have been saved.

She ignored the real-world realities of crime…

The mayor is a bright enough man to know that the reason the judge was, by Bloomberg’s lights, “not interested” in those issues is that they were not the issue before her. She did not rule on the effectiveness of stop and frisk, but on the constitutional violations it was argued before her the policy entails. Yet contrary to what Bloomberg claims, Judge Shira Scheindlin was cognizant of the “real world.”

With regard to the public interest, the City has expressed concern that interference in the NYPD’s stop and frisk practices may have a detrimental effect on crime control. However, as previously noted, I am not ordering an end to stop and frisk.

However, unlike the mayor, Judge Scheindlin properly understood the legal and ethical issues that were the purview of the legal challenge brought before her.

Furthermore, as in Ligon, it is “‘clear and plain'” that the public interest in liberty and dignity under the Fourth Amendment, and the public interest in equality under the Fourteenth Amendment, trumps whatever modicum of added safety might theoretically be gained by the NYPD making unconstitutional stops and frisks.

If one does not recognize the essential germaneness of this point, if, worse, one chooses demagogically to ignore the essential germaneness of this point, then one does not understand or chooses to ignore the very idea of American democracy and constitutionalism, and the purpose of the Bill of Rights.

Judge Scheindlin states later,

I have always recognized the need for caution in ordering remedies that affect the internal operations of the NYPD, the nation’s largest municipal police force and an organization with over 35,000 members. I would have preferred that the City cooperate in a joint undertaking to develop some of the remedies ordered in this Opinion. Instead, the City declined to participate, and argued that “the NYPD systems already in place” — perhaps with unspecified “minor adjustments” — would suffice to address any constitutional wrongs that might be found. I note that the City’s refusal to engage in a joint attempt to craft remedies contrasts with the many municipalities that have reached settlement agreements or consent decrees when confronted with evidence of police misconduct.

If the overriding value is effectiveness – efficacy – what works – then we might spy on everyone without regard to any foolish notions of private lives and individual integrity, we might torture every suspect and hope we get the goods on him – we can claim we did, anyway – and we might even more surely lock up every black male under the age of thirty-five in a Supermax prison. Those policies will surely diminish the costs of terrorism and lower the black on anybody crime rate.

If that rhetorical flight strikes as absurdly hyperbolic – absurdly because it is so clearly excessive and transgressive of bounds – bounds somewhere that most of us at some point would finally notice and observe, then that is the point. Before we can stand on the efficacy of a policy or course of action, we need rise first on an ethical foundation rooted in our values and the principles of our constitutionalism. When challenged on ethical grounds, one cannot resort to leaping onto functional planks. Even if one wishes to argue that practical considerations – what works and what does not – have influence over formation of our ethical understanding, still one recognizes the primacy of the moral ground of consideration and can argue honestly only in acknowledgment of it and by addressing it.

As long as our Bloombergs and our Cheneys (oh, the former surely thinks himself different from the latter, don’t you think) arrogantly disperse through the filter of their commanding judgment – their rule of the real world – our visionary, liberating, and founding ideals, they do not serve, but disserve us. And they argue badly, too. Or boldly deceive us.


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The Political Animal

I, Governor


Americans love personality. In the centuries since each individual in his distinction from every other unlike him was raised above competing notions of identity, no culture has exalted the individual personality more than that of the American. It is the altar of existential and political personhood. Be any wild and unaccountable thing, but above all be yourself, radiantly and singularly yourself.

It is because of this socially transcendent credo that of all the ideas about writing and literature I labor to impart to my students, the concept of style is one, superficially, very easily communicated: if nothing else, all over the land and bodyscape, the young in this country be flossin’, baby, they be stylin’.

So it is that we have one of the degradations of the American political scene. Increasingly, against all the apparent evidence for a contrary judgment, we bring ourselves to pass the common sense and praise the personality. If nothing else – and you know, really, by any commonality of sense, there is nothing else – Herman Cain, for instance, has personality. So does Sarah Palin – she’s loaded for bear with it. (Or something.) Arnold Schwarzenegger had personality, and a dick, and is a dick, but somehow, because, of course, California voters wished him to, he persuaded them that he could transform the state, its politics, and its government. Jessie Ventura, the unshrinking former Navy Seal and professional wrestler made the same sale in Minnesota. He made the sale for one reason – he has personality, big personality. Neither one of them transformed anything.

Back in the last millennium we even had that great romance with Ross Perot. Perot, a lesson for some, should have been the whole semester for many. My business-oriented brother, immune, as was I, to Clintonian charm, and longing for some two-party alternative, credited Perot his business acumen and, well – Perot’s got personality. I was not entirely out of sympathy with my brother, but my sister, politically sharp, but maybe a tad less attuned to all the currents, resisted seduction. We had some crackling Adlerian political debate around restaurant tables. Sister has since worn the confirmation of her judgment like a Super Tuesday sweep.

Now, I have nothing against personality. I have it on authority that I possess a little myself. In my youth I was chastised by a Cascade Mountain communard who ran a cross-country Magic Bus for being too much the city hippie – I wasn’t mellow enough and I hadn’t gotten with the program. Personal truth be told, the sight of masses of people prostrating themselves in unison, gesticulating together, or shaking their bodies in common before a holy object makes me soul sick.

But the personality that fills the room and takes it over is often concerned more with its affect on the room than with the room itself. The play’s not the thing, it’s the player, and the audience is only a mirror reflecting back an image to a performer intent on regarding it.

Put the two together – the strong personality and the group that exalts or cowers before it – maybe both – and you get, if not the Stalinist tyrant, then the great man who governs as a form of self-expression, in fulfillment of himself. The governed, then, are the recipients of his destiny’s largesse. You get, perhaps, New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg (for great wealth is a form of personality, purchasing our attention), who consents to govern for the pauper’s sum of one dollar in recompense. We are to view the dollar as a gesture of self-awareness: the billionaire shall not take in payment money he does not need from the people whom he offers, generously, to serve with the bounty of his gifts. But great gifts too freely given engender a sense of entitlement, of alternative reward – look at all I have given you. So we get a governor – he who governs – who thinks he need not in a democracy  account to his constituents, his employers, for his whereabouts; who persuades himself, and hardly tries to persuade us, that it is a democratic act to overturn through political manipulation an eletorate’s confirmed imposition on him of term limits; and who reveals at last, three years into the Great Recession, that he thinks its fault lies with the low and the screwed, and those (other than him) they chose to govern them, and not with the greatly rich whose greatest aspiration is to become greatly richer. Writes Matt Taibi at Rolling Stone (citing the Capital New York), in “Mike Bloomberg’s Marie Antoinette Moment”:

This is the evil lie Bloomberg is now trying to dump on the Occupy movement; this is where he’s choosing to spend all that third-way cred he built up over the years with the HuffPost sect. And the mayor put a cherry on the top of his Marie-Antoinette act with the rest of his speech:

“But [congress] were the ones who pushed Fannie and Freddie to make a bunch of loans that were imprudent, if you will. They were the ones that pushed the banks to loan to everybody. And now we want to go vilify the banks because it’s one target, it’s easy to blame them and congress certainly isn’t going to blame themselves. At the same time, Congress is trying to pressure banks to loosen their lending standards to make more loans. This is exactly the same speech they criticized them for.”

Bloomberg went on to say it’s “cathartic” and “entertaining” to blame people, but the important thing now is to fix the problem.

Jesus … I mean, for one thing, Fannie and Freddie don’t even make loans. That’s how absurd this whole thing is.

The history, though, is that New Yorkers bought a whole lot of magnitude on the cheap. The city rebounded from 9/11 in an ever business-romantic municipal environment, and now the average rent for a Manhattan apartment is $3331 a month, $4137 for a two bedroom – and those are non-doorman buildings. In a doorman building, the average two-bedroom rent is $5857. If you don’t live in New York, your cornea just hit the floor. You thought the Occupy protestors in Zucotti Park have somewhere else to live.

Yes, the thinking repeatedly goes, he’s a billionaire, but consider what that buck-making ability might do for us. He’s a huckster motivational speaker who once created a fast food chain, and doesn’t know the first thing he’s talking about, but CNN and Gloria Borger think he’s “likable,” even if some women who worked for him, we discover, disagree. But Cain speaks his mind. I like that. Affiliated Ron Paul websites flirt with anti-Semitism. But Paul’s an iconoclast (like Perot – remember him?) I like that. And Rick Perry, a sitting governor, flirts with secession, but he’s real Texas, you know, big and brash, a straight shooter , and when you don’t like a guy’s monetary policy where Perry comes from, you “treat him pretty ugly.” I LIKE that.

We have an entire political party in the United States that don’t know much about history, biology, or no science book, but it does know it loves personality, and what a wonderful world this could be.

We have a news establishment that thinks assessing likeability, and devoting hours to accusations of sexual harassment, while only minutes to policy and intellectual analysis, is the calling of a free press.

The U.S. population in 1790 was just under 4 million; today it is over 300 million. Then we had the minds of the constitutional convention; today we have those stick figures on the GOP debate stages. George Washington, a modest, retiring man who took no factional side and who might, had he wanted it, have become king, declined to run for a third term. Michael Bloomberg connived to take it in city council meetings and then bought it. The humble Abraham Lincoln predicted “the world” would “little note nor long remember” what he said; Herman Cain says we all need to get a sense of humor.

We may be a nation in decline, but we’ll get where we’re going in style. We’ll have personality.


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The Political Animal

Citizen Bloomberg

Reports The New York Times:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has been frank about why he took pains to keep his search for a new schools chancellor secret, saying he wanted to avoid a public spectacle.

But a spectacle is exactly what Mr. Bloomberg has unleashed, and one week after announcing his choice of Cathleen P. Black, a publishing executive, to succeed Joel I. Klein at the helm of the country’s largest school system, the mayor’s aides are trying to fend off mounting skepticism about her selection.

If you know enough about the political career and procedures of Michael Bloomberg, you know it was not a public spectacle he sought to avoid, but public scrutiny. Now, the CEO-King encourages his nominee to behave like another nabob who is equally elevated above the mob.

Ms. Black has repeatedly declined interviews, allowing other voices to fill the void.

None of this should surprise from a ruler mayor who believes himself unbeholden to those he deigns to govern for free out of corporatist-technocratic noblesse oblige. He can defy the people’s will in overturning the term limits they imposed on his job, he will travel in secret without any acceptance of an obligation to transparency, and still – he is so wealthy – he can purchase the endorsement of the electoral will and the acquiescence of those over whom he lords.

The opposition has coalesced slowly, partly because of the mayor’s tight grip on the city’s political sphere, which is strengthened by his popularity and his vast financial resources.

We learn the lesson without end, and some never do, that those who descend to govern or raise themselves up in their governance, however well-intentioned they begin or believe themselves to be, lose the democratic spirit just as they find entitlement. We have three more years to fully learn the lessons of just how wrong was Michael Bloomberg’s third term as mayor of New York City.

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The Political Animal

Let the CEO-Kings Rule

The other day we learned from the modest Rupert Murdoch that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

had described President Obama as the most “arrogant man” he had ever met after playing his first and presumably last round of golf with the commander in chief.

Bloomberg is the modest Mayor who conspired, democratically, with his City Council to overturn the twice-expressed will of New York City voters that mayors and other office holders be subject to term limits. It is also the Bloomberg who believes that the City of New York should be entrusted in his care but that its citizens have no right to knowledge of his whereabouts.

Mr. Bloomberg, who owns a waterfront estate here, has walled off his life in Bermuda from voters in New York, arguing it is none of their business. He steadfastly refuses to say when he is on the island, and to blindfold prying eyes, he has blocked aviation Web sites from making public the movements of his private planes.

Now we learn more of his governing practices, after two plus terms.

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg circulated through his City Hall offices, introducing a tall, blond woman who looked slightly familiar to his top aides. A foreign dignitary, perhaps? Or maybe an ambitious out-of-state politician hoping to impress the mayor? Somebody’s wife whom they were supposed to recognize?

No, it was Cathleen P. Black, and in less than an hour, Mayor Bloomberg would stun New York’s political, business and education establishments by naming her as the city’s schools chancellor, replacing Joel I. Klein.

To a degree unusual even for an administration that relishes keeping its deliberations as private as possible, hardly anyone knew of Mr. Klein’s departure or Ms. Black’s arrival until minutes before the official announcement. While such posts are typically filled after highly publicized national searches that can last months or even a year, there is little evidence that anyone else was seriously vetted or considered — and few of the usual suspects, including members of the mayor’s inner circle, were even consulted.

Salon’s Alex Pereene is not impressed. May I say neither am I?

We’re two terms into mayoral control of the New York schools and not much has changed — besides the fact that fewer black students are attending the better public high schools. What looked like soaring test scores turned out to be a sham. The idea of Cathleen Black reversing those trends (through effective management!) is laughable, unless you subscribe to the religion of private sector superiority.

The appeal of Bloomberg to his Democrat-voting, comfortable, educated Manhattan base is that everyone assumes he’s quietly a Democrat who — unlike the actual Democrats — isn’t beholden to New York’s various special interests (unions and minorities), who are generally presumed to be the reason why managing the city is so damn hard. But this sort of move — along with his steadfast support for unaccountable authoritarian police commissioner Ray Kelly — demonstrates contempt for all New Yorkers who don’t summer in the Hamptons. This isn’t a cold, evidence-based approach to city management. There’s no “evidence” here beyond a rich man’s conviction that things would be better if only everyone in charge of everything were more like him.

The problem with public schools, inasmuch as there is a problem, is a problem of poverty. The idea that an injection of profit motive is all we need to become Finland is an idiotic daydream inexplicably beloved by supposed do-gooding liberals. At least this appointment is so nakedly wrong that it may shut up the “Bloomberg for president” speculation — for a week or two.

via Michael Bloomberg and the myth of corporate genius – Michael Bloomberg –

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The Political Animal

Lessons in Democracy

The New York Times reports that a majority of New Yorkers do not favor Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s serving another term, despite Blumenthal’s success last October in getting the New York City Council to “extend” term limits so that he and council members could all serve third terms.

Term limits were imposed in New York City through a 1993 voter referendum, reaffirmed by a second referendum in 1996. But Bloomberg is afflicted with a certain form of michaelbloomberg-thumbuniversally contagious arrogance. He is a self-made billionaire. He serves as mayor, because of this, for a dollar a year, and so may conceive himself a kind of Platonic philosopher-king – he deigns to provide his competence to the people for no reward other than to provide those he serves with the benefit of his talents, asking only that he be able to buy their votes every four years with $100 million campaigns that swamp the competition.

Indicative of Bloomberg’s arrogance was his desire to eliminate the voter-imposed barrier to serving a third term. Did he go to the voters of New York City and ask them, in a vote, to reconsider the limits for which they had twice voted? He did not. He went to the equally self-interested city council and asked it to vote to extend the limits on both him and its members.

Rudy Giuliani considered the same possibility after 9/11, but did not act. Bloomberg, however, has been a great success in business – there is no denying it – and he has been a very successful mayor – even those who do not wish to see him serve a third time acknowledge it. From these successes, from the money, and from the elevated atmosphere of that wealth and power and the company of various elites, comes – like a contagion – expectancy that all this is his proper sphere, in which, with a little bit of finagling, he should be permitted to continue to operate as long as it pleases him to do so.

It should be self-evident, though, that public servants – both those who strive and those who deign to serve – should not properly author legislation from which they personally benefit. Even the demagogue Hugo Chavez went to the people of Venezuela twicehugo-chavez before persuading them in February of this year to vote their freedom more completely away by eliminating term limits on his presidency. (Here, a prohibition on personal benefit would have protected the Venezuelan people from themselves.) But Michael Blumenthal is a billionaire, while Hugo Chavez is not, so clearly even smarter, and he felt no compunction to concern himself with what the people he “serves” might actually wish, either in 1993, 1996, or in 2008. Clearly, thought the Bloomberg, my eight years of sterling service will have led them to reconsider. No need, really, even to ask.

Yet now we see that New Yorkers, uncharacteristically quiescent during the unseemly 2008 power grab, are exhibiting the periodic wisdom of the vox populi. Reports the Times:

Despite generally broad approval for the job Michael R. Bloomberg has done as mayor, a majority of New Yorkers say that he does not deserve another term in office and that they would like to give someone else a chance, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Cornell University and NY1 News.


“I think the city’s needs change as time goes on,” said Deborah Fantera, an architect who lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. “And I also think there’s a complacency that happens when someone has been in their position too long.”


“Eight years is long enough for a politician to do his service,” said George Chin, a retired financial consultant and political independent who lives on the Lower East Side. “Lengthening terms sets up some sort of crony system where things get stagnant and politicians get too chummy with all the people they work with. I approve of Bloomberg, but I probably would not vote for him because term limits is a significant issue, and it’s time to get someone else in.”

Bloomberg has already driven potential challengers from the field in the prospect of the overwhelming financial assault he plans to unleash in the developing mayoral race. He has let it be known that he is prepared to spend another $100 million of his own fortune to win a third term.

The open question is whether New Yorkers, in the face of an onslaught of advertising and PR, can maintain their current wisdom and balance and lance another boil of presumption – by thanking Michael Bloomberg for his service and asking him to move on.


The Political Animal

The Greatness of George Washington

Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, like his predecesor, thinks himself the indispensable man. Giuliani, after 9/11, considered seeking an extension of his second term to lead the city in its hour of trial as, he thought, no one else could. Even he didn’t do what Bloomberg did. Bloomberg, financier and billionaire – a very successful mayor, as was, despite his many shortcomings, Giuliani – believes himself the man to guide New York through the fiscal challenges of an imploding economy.

He thinks, methinks,  Hey, I’m a billionaire, no?  Clearly I know money. And I work the job for a dollar a year. What shape of benevolent philosopher king art I?

So in a very undemocratic spirit, he enlists the New York city council – a collection of very interested parties – to overturn the term limits that had been imposed on all of them by popular vote. (I am a successful mayor. I am a billionaire. I am so urbane. I am indispensable!)

Now, once again throwing scores of millions of his own dollars at a campaign run outside the city’s campaign finance system, he resorts to dirty tricks against even non-entity potential challengers. (Challengers? I have challengers? Is that allowed?) Nixonian. And with the aide of the Democratic Rove – Howard Wolfson.

Beware the man who seeks to change the rules for himself and who won’t move on.