Posts Tagged ‘ Michael Bloomberg ’

Occupy: Out of Zuccotti Park And Into The Streets

By Eugene Robinson for The Washington Post

Occupy Wall Street may not occupy Zuccotti Park anymore, but it refuses to surrender its place in the national discourse. Up close, you get the sense that the movement may have only just begun.

Demonstrators staged a “day of action” Thursday, following the eviction of their two-month-old encampment this week. The idea was, well, to occupy Wall Street in a literal sense — to shut down the financial district, at least during the morning rush hour.

For the most part, it didn’t work. Entrances to some subway stations were blocked for a while, and traffic was more of a mess than usual. But police turned out in force, erecting barricades that kept protesters from getting anywhere near their main target, the New York Stock Exchange. Captains of commerce may have been hassled and inconvenienced, but they weren’t thwarted.

There was some pushing and shoving, resulting in a few dozen arrests. Coordinated “day of action” protests were held in other cities. They did not change the world.

A big failure? No, quite the opposite.

Lower Manhattan was swarming not just with demonstrators and police but with journalists from around the world — and with tourists who wanted to see what all the fuss was about. A small, nonviolent protest had been amplified into something much bigger and more compelling, not by the strength of its numbers but by the power of its central idea.

There is a central idea, by the way: Our financial system has been warped to serve the interests of a privileged few at the expense of everyone else.

Is this true? I believe the evidence suggests that it is. Others might disagree. The important thing is that because of the activism of the Occupy Wall Street protests — however naive, however all-over-the-map — issues of unfairness and inequality are being discussed.

This is a conversation we haven’t been having for the past 30 years. For politicians — and those who pay lavishly to fund their campaigns — the discussion is destabilizing because it does not respect traditional alignments. For example, white working-class voters are supposed to be riled up against Democrats for policies such as affirmative action and gun control. They’re not supposed to get angry with Republicans for voting to bail out the banks and then flatly ruling out the idea of relief on underwater mortgages.

How people feel about fairness — the 1 percent at the top versus the other 99 percent — has nothing to do with how they feel about limiting abortion or banning assault weapons. It has nothing to do with whether people think racism is a thing of the past or a continuing scourge. Fairness can’t be dismissed as some sort of first step toward socialism, unless we’re willing to concede that capitalism and fairness are fundamentally incompatible. I don’t believe this is the case. Maybe some of the Occupy protests’ most vocal opponents would like to disagree.

In Midtown Manhattan, many blocks from Zuccotti Park, famously jaded New Yorkers were eager to talk about Occupy Wall Street. Buttonholing people at random, I found a lot of support for the decision by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) to clear the park of tents, sleeping bags and other appurtenances of a permanent settlement. But I also found a lot of agreement with the protesters — even if not everyone had the same idea about just what the protesters were saying.

“Yeah, they were talking a lot of crazy stuff, some of them,” said Ramon Henriquez, owner of a limousine company, who was idling on Central Park South behind the wheel of one of his cars. “Some of them, when they’d do that crazy human microphone thing, they would talk about socialism. I didn’t like that at all. But I liked what they said about the banks.”

He remembered one Occupy speaker asking what would happen if every homeowner decided to skip a month on the mortgage, instead putting the money in escrow — just to get the banks’ attention. “You saw what happened with the debit-card fee,” he said, referring to Bank of America’s abandoned attempt to squeeze new revenue out of account holders. “They listened because they had to listen.”

The erstwhile occupiers of Zuccotti Park swear that they aren’t going anywhere — that they’ll get back into the park one way or another. But they’ve done something more important: They’ve gotten into people’s heads.

‘Bhutto’: For Pakistan’s Heroine, A Hagiography

By Ella Taylor for National Public Radio

A new documentary about Benazir Bhutto lets a full hour go by before entertaining the mildest doubts about its subject, the hugely popular prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated on her triumphant return to Karachi from exile in 2007.

Bhutto is smart and thorough on the inflamed history of Pakistan. But as a portrait of the first woman elected head of state in an Islamic nation, it comes closer to hero-worship than to considered biography. Front-loaded with glowing testimonials from family and FOB’s East and West, the movie gives a startling degree of face time to its own co-producer, Mark Siegel, a political consultant and close friend of Bhutto who co-authored a book with her.

The director, Duane Baughman, also a political consultant, helped get Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton elected, so he knows how to brand a public figure, dead or alive.

Not that this particular public figure needs much enlarging. Bhutto’s sense of mission and her personal courage, as she returned again and again to try and democratize a nation whose military leaders blithely murdered their opposition, are beyond dispute. Like her adored father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first democratically elected head of state (and the creator of its nuclear program), she struggled to bring basic services to a country mired in poverty, illiteracy and chronic conflict across its volatile borders with India, Afghanistan and Iran — to say nothing of its ambivalent dependency on a United States worried to death by the Taliban, al-Qaida and the enriched uranium in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals.

About Bhutto’s failings and mistakes, however, the film is discreet to the point of squeamishness. Luckily, this magnificently complicated woman’s contradictions tumble out anyway. Almost despite itself, the movie offers a riveting melodrama about a daddy’s girl born into a close but feuding Western-educated dynasty known both for its populist politics and its champagne tastes. (The Bhuttos were thought of — admiringly, Baughman implies, though given the straits in which most Pakistanis live, one wonders — as the Kennedys of Pakistan.)

From grieving family and friends (inevitably, Arianna Huffington was a pal at Oxford), we learn of a serious-minded young woman freed from her burqa by Dad while still in her teens. At Harvard, where she roomed with Kathleen Kennedy, she absorbed feminism and leftist politics.

After Bhutto’s murder, her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, became co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party — and the nation’s new president. After Bhutto’s murder, her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, became co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party — and the nation’s new president.
Yet later she willingly submitted to an arranged marriage with a Karachi playboy-entrepreneur, Asif Ali Zardari, who has been Pakistan’s president since the fall of Pervez Musharraf in 2008. She prayed to Allah in public, yet worked hard to bring schooling to girls in an Islamic state vehemently opposed to rights for women.

Bhutto inherited her father’s charm, charisma and elegant tailoring, as well as his preference for backroom wheeler-dealing. Remarkably, her father chose Benazir over her two brothers as his successor, and her political career eerily echoed his, zigzagging between triumph, prison, exile and return to repeated rapturous welcomes from adoring masses.

Bookended by footage of the sniper fire and suicide bombing that killed her, Bhutto faithfully follows the hectic arcs of her life and death. Yet the movie glides smoothly past the corruption charges — never proved or disproved — that led to Bhutto’s exile and her husband’s imprisonment, effectively dismissing them as trumped up by her enemies. Much time is spent, meanwhile, on the moving but sentimental memories of her tearful family, topped up with new but unedifying audiotapes of Bhutto herself outlining her ideals, the harshness of her incarceration in a Pakistani prison and the loneliness of exile in Dubai.

Bhutto could stand a less adulatory tone — and more reliable skeptics than her clearly disgruntled niece, for instance, when it comes to topics such as Bhutto’s role in the mysterious plane crash that killed the military dictator responsible for her father’s murder. Despite herself, and for all her efforts toward reconciliation, Bhutto proved an enormously polarizing figure.

Perhaps she had no choice, in a country so riven by internal strife and external threat. At its best, Bhutto is a fascinating study in the difficulties of bringing democracy to a radically unstable nation plagued by its colonial legacy, by the cowboy politics of a dictatorial military, by daily terrorism and the sporadic interventions of world powers arguably less interested in rural voting rights than in pushing their own interests on the global stage.

Bhutto’s untimely death at 54 years old was a private tragedy and a tremendous loss for a country desperate for moderate leadership. But she was a heroine, not a saint. Eliding this distinction, Bhutto unwittingly diminishes her.

Mayor Bloomberg on Mosque: ‘A Test of Our Commitment to American Values’

As Reported By The Wall Street Journal

In a speech at a Ramadan Iftar dinner at Grace Mansion Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered an extended defense of the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site. Those who say the center should not be built “would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom,” the mayor said. “There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.”

Below, the full transcript of Bloomberg’s prepared remarks.

Good evening, and Ramadan Kareem. I want to welcome everyone to our annual Ramadan Iftar at Gracie Mansion.

We call this ‘The People’s House,’ because it belongs to all 8.4 million New Yorkers who call this city home. People of every race and religion, every background and belief. We celebrate that diversity here in this house with gatherings like this.

And for me, whether it’s marking St. Patrick’s Day or Harlem Week or any other occasion, these gatherings are always a powerful reminder of what makes our city so strong and our country so great.

America is a nation of immigrants, and no place opens its doors more widely to the world than New York City. America is the land of opportunity, and no place offers its residents more opportunity to pursue their dreams than New York City. America is beacon of freedom, and no place defends those freedoms more fervently, or has been attacked for those freedoms more ferociously, than New York City.

In recent weeks, a debate has arisen that I believe cuts to the core of who we are as a city and a country. The proposal to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan has created a national conversation on religion in America, and since Ramadan offers a time for reflection, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on the subject.

There are people of good will on both sides of the debate, and I would hope that everyone can carry on the dialogue in a civil and respectful way. In fact, I think most people now agree on two fundamental issues: First, that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan and second, that the site of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. The only question we face is: how do we honor that hallowed ground?

The wounds of 9/11 are still very much with us. And I know that is true for Talat Hamdani, who is here with us tonight, and who lost her son, Salman Hamdani, on 9/11. There will always be a hole in our hearts for the men and women who perished that day.

After the attacks, some argued – including some of those who lost loved ones – that the entire site should be reserved for a memorial. But we decided – together, as a city – that the best way to honor all those we lost, and to repudiate our enemies, was to build a moving memorial and to rebuild the site.

We wanted the site to be an inspiring reminder to the world that this city will never forget our dead and never stop living. We vowed to bring Lower Manhattan back – stronger than ever – as a symbol of our defiance and we have. Today, it is more of a community neighborhood than ever before, with more people than ever living, working, playing and praying there.

But if we say that a mosque and community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.

We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.

Islam did not attack the World Trade Center – Al-Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great religion is unfair and un-American. Today we are not at war with Islam – we are at war with Al-Qaeda and other extremists who hate freedom.

At this very moment, there are young Americans – some of them Muslim – standing freedoms’ watch in Iraq and Afghanistan, and around the world. A couple here tonight, Sakibeh and Asaad Mustafa, has children who have served our country overseas and after 9/11, one of them aided in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. I’d like to ask them to stand, so we can show our appreciation. Thank you.

The members of our military are men and women at arms – battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values, which have always inspired people around the world. But if we do not practice here at home what we preach abroad – if we do not lead by example – we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.

In a different era, with different international challenges facing the country, President Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, explained to Congress why it is so important for us to live up to our ideals here at home. He said, ‘The United States is widely regarded as the home of democracy and the leader of the struggle for freedom, for human rights, for human dignity. We are expected to be the model.’

We are expected to be the model. Nearly a half-century later, his words remain true. In battling our enemies, we cannot rely entirely on the courage of our soldiers or the competence of our diplomats. All of us must do our part.

Just as we fought communism by showing the world the power of free markets and free elections, so must we fight terrorism by showing the world the power of religious freedom and cultural tolerance. Freedom and tolerance will always defeat tyranny and terrorism – that is the great lesson of the 20th century, and we must not abandon it here in the 21st.

I understand the impulse to find another location for the mosque and community center. I understand the pain of those who are motivated by loss too terrible to contemplate. And there are people of every faith – including, perhaps, some in this room – who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate.

But it won’t. The question will then become, how big should the ‘no-mosque zone’ around the World Trade Center be? There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it too, be moved?

This is a test of our commitment to American values. We must have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy. And we must put our faith in the freedoms that have sustained our great country for more than 200 years.

I know that many in this room are disturbed and dispirited by the debate. But it is worth keeping some perspective on the matter. The first colonial settlers came to these shores seeking religious liberty and the founding fathers wrote a constitution that guaranteed it. They made sure that in this country the government would not be permitted to choose between religions or favor one over another.

Nonetheless, it was not so long ago that Jews and Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them with suspicion and less than fully American. In 1960, many Americans feared that John F. Kennedy would impose papal law on America. But through his example, he taught us that piety to a minority religion is no obstacle to patriotism. It is a lesson that needs updating today, and it is our responsibility to accept the challenge.

Before closing, let me just add one final thought: Imam Rauf, who is now overseas promoting America and American values, has been put under a media microscope. Each of us may strongly agree or strongly disagree with particular statements he has made. And that’s how it should be – this is New York.

And while a few of his statements have received a lot of attention, I would like to read you something that he said that you may not have heard. At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, ‘If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind, and soul: Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad; Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one. If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one.’

In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.

By affirming that basic idea, we will honor America’s values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city in the world. Thank you.

%d bloggers like this: