Sometime soon, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush will declare whether or not they are running for President, as will a host of others. The campaigns will probably be dominated by personalities, opposition research, an endless series of debates, one gaffe or another, one catchy slogan or another and virtually nothing of useful substance.
Today’s Commentary, of course, begins with deepest condolences to Mrs. Cuomo and the entire Cuomo family. Our hearts go out to them at this most difficult time, a time when we all mourn the loss of a very special man, Governor Mario Cuomo.
For months the American government has averted its gaze to the nefarious activity of the Iranian government. As the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, one might assume our national policy would be designed to counter this Iranian threat. In fact, it is no longer accurate to describe the war in Syria as conflict between Assad’s regime forces and the rebels. It is a war directed and fought by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah with Assad playing a secondary role.
I’ve been reading a case decided in the European Court of Human Rights. It involved opposing libel suits arising out of claims of police brutality in Bergen, Norway. The opinion of four judges, whose names I will not try to pronounce, struck me. The judges pointed out that the purpose of the libel suits brought by the police officers “was to suppress the debate on this issue....” But they pointed out that the government has “a monopoly over force” and that monopoly “also entails the danger of force being abused to the detriment of the very values it is meant to uphold.” Therefore “abuse of force by officials is not just one of many issues of broad general interest.” Instead, “it is ... a matter of primary concern in any society.” Keeping authorities in check is particularly important for a democracy. And the ability to hold the states’ use of force in check requires protecting those who raise the alarm.
Like the rest of the nation, New York State allows its legislators to have outside jobs – they are considered part-time. Laws are in place to ensure that such outside income does not create a conflict-of-interest for the lawmakers – laws require a combination of requirements that lawmakers recuse themselves of decisions which may directly affect their wealth, prohibit them from using their office for personal gain, and by requiring the disclosure of the sources of outside income in order to ensure that the public – and regulatory agencies – can monitor lawmakers’ behavior.
The negotiations in Vienna to restrict or prevent Iran from enriching sufficient fissile material to build nuclear weapons, raises the specter of yet a new round in what some have described as “the second nuclear age.” For the uninitiated, the first nuclear age was the period in the Cold War when the U.S. and allies confronted the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. The second nuclear age is defined by the multiplicity of nuclear powers linked together by varying levels of cooperation and conflict.
Some years ago I called Phil Shrag whom I knew from law school. He’d run the National Organization for the Rights of the Indigent for the NAACP and worked for the New York City Commissioner of Consumer Affairs. Phil was and is a very public spirited person. At the time he was teaching at Columbia. I don’t remember what I called him about but at some point in the conversation we made small talk. I asked him what he was teaching. Tax. That was a surprising answer since none of the things Phil had done suggested significant involvement with the tax code. But he pointed out that every public policy runs through the tax code. So it made a lot of sense.
On this One-Hundreth anniversary of the ‘Yuletide Peace, undeclared but observed by ordinary soldiers on both sides of the field of slaughter, in World War I, this grizzled but grateful, WWII Veteran turned ‘Pundit,’ thought it an apt time to examine our progress toward a peaceful and permissive world or the lack of one…, and try to fathom, why not?
Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the latest in a series of rulings on campaign finance regulations – the Citizens United decision. That decision was the latest in equating free speech with the ability of individuals and corporations alike to spend as much as they wanted to advance a political point of view.
We now are celebrating the year’s top films and performances as we compile ten-best lists and prognosticate about whose name will be announced in February after “...and the Oscar goes to...” But it also is fitting to recall the talent we lost in 2014: those individuals who no longer will be appearing in yet-to-be-released films with Academy Award aspirations.