Olmert Out

Behind The News
July 31, 2008 1:08:47 PM PDT
Peace in the Middle East by the end of the year was always a long shot. A very long shot. Tonight, it's even longer.

The resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, while not surprising, officially throws the ever-evasive peace process into chaos. Which is about the same spot the Israeli government now finds itself, politically.

Olmert's downfall comes six weeks before Israeli elections, and Olmert figured to have tough opposition anyway. He was never a popular Prime Minister during his two years, but his popularity has been in freefall recently because of a nasty bribery and corruption scandal - a scandal involving a businessman from Long Island. Morris Talansky testified two weeks ago in an Israeli courtroom that he gave Olmert $150,000 in cash between 1992 and late 2005. During that time, Olmert was Mayor of Jerusalem and a government minister.

Olmert has denied any wrongdoing; he's described Talansky's money as "campaign contributions." But the pressure was on for Olmert to step down - before he was voted out during the elections in September.

So now what? Olmert was one of the three leaders who are trying desperately to forge some sort of peace. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas needs to make peace work, if for no other reason than to show Palestinians that his way is more viable than the violent means of the more popular Hamas party. And Pres. Bush looked at a brokered Palestinian-Israeli peace as a way to make some sort of positive foreign policy mark on an Administration where success abroad is hard to find.

While there was never much chance that these three unpopular leaders would coagulate their desires into peace, Olmert's resignation virtually dooms the hope that a peace pact could be forged by year's end.

We'll have the latest on the resignation and what it means for peace, tonight at 11.

And we're at JFK airport tonight, where the problem is luggage. Lots of it. Lots of luggage piling up at American Airlines ticket counters.

The issue is a computer software glitch, which has crippled American's bagging handling system at JFK. It's a mess that will likely continue until tomorrow.

Jen Maxfield is there for us tonight.

And under the heading: How do we afford to fix all the problems? Officials in New Jersey now admit that repairs to the aging Pulaski Skyway - the nearly 4-mile span that connects Jersey City to Newark - will cost nearly $40 million, about four times the original estimates.

The bridge repairs became a front-and-center issue last summer after that deadly bridge collapse in Minnesota. There are many bridges in our area that need either repair or replacement (have you driven the Tappen Zee or Throgs Neck recently?). Just like the subways need work. And the water pipes. And the rest of our aging infrastructure.

Those who manage government have been loathe to invest in these capital improvements, choosing instead to trickle out small tax rebates. If we as taxpayers did this in our own lives -- spending any extra money and not saving it - our houses would fall apart, our kids wouldn't be able to go to school, and nothing that breaks would be replaced.

And now that the economy is in trouble, the odds of spending money on infrastructure are pretty slim indeed. Cuts in service and state worker layoffs are what's on tap, not capital spending.

Call me nuts, but it just seems a weird way to run a government.

And while we're on the subject of money, consider what's happening in the troubled country of Zimbabwe. Today, the central bank there dropped 10 zeros from Zimbabwe's over-inflated currency. That means that $10 billion is now $1 dollar.

They had to do this. Last week, the central bank introduced a new $100 billion note. But that wasn't enough to buy even a loaf of bread. Of course, that's assuming anyone can find a loaf of bread. Store shelves are empty, there are shortages of just about everything, and an estimated 80% of the workforce is out of work.

Something to think about.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's steamy AccuWeather forecast, and Marvell Scott (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.