Monday, February 26, 2007

Little big brother

Little big brother
The Guardian Comment is Free Post - see below for the link

Rudy Giuliani is running for president on his reputation as a tough-guy mayor, but he should explain where his emergency HQ was on 9-11 - and why.

February 23,

In the unlikely event that Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani face off against each other for the presidency, Americans could be faced with a difficult choice. Both support abortion rights, the death penalty, and the war in Iraq; both oppose a single payer health system; and both support gay rights and being mean to welfare recipients. And both have instant name recognition for reasons tangential to their own deeds.

Both will also flip-flap like hummingbird wings to avoid appearing over-committed to anything that could lose them votes. In classic Clintonian triangulation (this time to get the evangelical vote), Giuliani is busily promising that, while he personally supports abortion rights, he would appoint judges who don't.

If the policy differences are negligible, it will all come down to "character". Now there is no doubt that, despite her faux-folksiness, the softest thing about Hillary is her teeth. She has an impressive drive for power that is reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher on the rampage.

Immediately one can hear the objections "what about Rudy, America's mayor, the hero of 9-11?" Never was there a more fragile legend than the daring deeds of Sir Rudy. I was living downtown on September 11, and watched the World Trade Centre when it was hit by those pretty convincing holograms (well done George Monbiot).

While reporting by phone from my fire escape to radio stations, I heard on a local station that Giuliani was looking for an emergency headquarters. I almost telephoned to tell him where it was. It was on the 23rd storey of No 7 World Trade Centre. And the Mayor had spent no less than $16m building "the Bunker" in the face of strong contrary advice.

Apart from the sheer stubborn silliness, there was the typically Rudyesque detail that the Bunker was on a twenty year lease paying $1.4m annual rent to one of his major campaign contributors. His own city's fire regulations wisely forbade putting a 6,000 gallon tank of diesel fuel in the building to keep generators running. So he declared it to be part of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and had it installed regardless.

On September 11, when No 7 caught fire as a result of blazing debris from the WTC itself, the diesel caught fire, and helped melt the retaining girders so the building collapsed onto the Con Edison electricity substation in the basement. The resulting floods from fire hoses trying to put out the blaze knocked out downtown Manhattan's telephones after water reached the neighboring Verizon station.

Some are born to greatness, some grow into it and some have it thrust upon them. Blacking out the world's financial centre for a week is indeed a rare accolade.

Maybe we can overlook a little lapse like closing down Wall Street for a week, not least since no one seemed to notice its absence at the time. But that toxic smog downtown has occluded memories of Giuliani's unheroic performance as mayor.

Never has there been such an example of acquired memory syndrome. Giuliani has taken the credit from David Dinkins boosting the size of the police force and from Bill Clinton for providing the federal cash to pay for it. And "America's Mayor" basked in the spurious glory of a financial boom that happened to coincide with his term in office. Lower poverty, more police, less crime - and nothing to do with him or his corrupt police commissioner (and subsequent business partner) Bernard Kerik.

Kerik was Giuliani's poodle, whose fur was famously clipped when he lost his scandal-ridden nomination for secretary of the Homeland Security Department. 9-11 did not sanitize him well enough. But one wonders whether it will whitewash Giuliani.

Americans expect a certain degree of decorum from their President. They will need to judge whether or not a man who claims to be a devout Catholic - and then announces his third divorce at a press conference without telling his long-suffering spouse - meets that requirement.

Of course loyalty counts - and indeed Giuliani loyally backed President Bush when the latter churlishly halved the 9-11 aid that Congress voted to the city. So much for what voters can expect in return.

This week in Florida, Rudy has been touring firehouses and associating with "first responders". These great photo opportunities should be fogged by memories of his November 2001 order drastically reducing the number of firemen on the Word Trade Centre site, where they were sifting the rubble for human remains.

It could have been justified as an economic measure, except every cop in New York had been on almost unlimited overtime for months, manning stupid and ineffectual checkpoints on bridges and roads across Manhattan.

Petty and petulant as ever, he obviously remembered that the New York firefighters' union backed his opponent. In December 2001, after that failed, he tried to "privatize" the Twin Towers Fund that the city had set up for the widows and orphans of firefighters. He transferred the funds to a private foundation he controlled that would pay salaries of up to $250,000 a year to six of his pals - including his mistress.

As Manhattanites said of him, "you can take the boy from the suburbs, but you can't take the suburbs out of the boy". Those suburbs were white. The cops who sodomized Abner Louima with a toiler plunger may not have shouted "It's Giuliani time", but they knew that it was. Implicitly, their mayor backed the idea that any black victim of a police shooting must have been guilty of something.

Perhaps the most frightening thing about him is that he has consistently shown the insecurity of a little bullied school kid, getting payback by behaving like Big Brother when anyone is foolish enough to give him the authority. His most defining quote is a verbose expansion of "Freedom is Slavery" - a succinct summary of the Patriot Act. He said, "Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it."

On second thought, that alone may overcome the conservative reluctance to back a pro-choicer and put him the ballot next year. If he won, he would make W look like a liberal.

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