Ray, Russell and Rudy Rob City of $250,000

Maybe Ray Harding, boss of the state Liberal Party, has persuaded himself that Rudolph Giuliani hired a college dropout named Russell Harding for an important position in city government because the then Mayor believed that young Russell was the person most qualified for the job. The rest of us are free to believe otherwise.

Mr. Harding’s Liberal Party is, in fact, a sham political party which lacks even the most rudimentary policies or recognizable structure, and there’s certainly nothing “liberal” about it. But it can provide the margin of victory for politicians who know how to pucker up. Mr. Harding’s support for Mr. Giuliani in 1993 allowed him to run as a Republican-Liberal, which was good for thousands of votes from Democrats who might otherwise have stayed home. You could make the argument that Ray Harding did the public a service by supporting Mr. Giuliani and having a hand in ending the Dinkins era. And you might think that Mr. Harding would have been satisfied to support a quality candidate and would expect no further reward.

It turns out that Mr. Harding wanted more than a piece of history from Mr. Giuliani; he wanted jobs for his sons. One of them, young Russell, subsequently managed to use his position as president of the New York City Housing Development Corporation to ring up a quarter-million dollars in travel, entertainment and dining expenses in about three years. Nice work, if you can get it. And Russell Harding had no trouble getting it, despite his complete lack of qualifications in the field of housing.

Russell Harding was stealing from the public, yet no one seemed interested in monitoring his behavior. This is a failing of the former Mayor. The city Department of Investigation is now looking into the matter, although the younger Harding says he’s reimbursed the agency $52,000 and will pay back more, if necessary. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau ought to have a look at the case.

Mr. Giuliani’s indulgence of Ray Harding remains bewildering. The former Mayor made a name for himself prosecuting corrupt politicians, and yet he’s always had the time of day for Mr. Harding. The current Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, ought to think twice before accepting Ray Harding’s invitations.

Bush’s War on Nature

While Americans have been preoccupied by events in the Middle East, George W. Bush has continued his appalling assault on the nation’s environment. What is most striking is how profoundly out of step the President’s actions are with the wishes of most Americans.

Mr. Bush pulled his latest scam early this month, when he instructed the State Department not to renominate Dr. Robert Watson as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Dr. Watson has chaired the international global-warming panel – which is composed of hundreds of scientists and operates under the auspices of the United Nations – for six years, and has won high praise from his peers.

Why does Mr. Bush want him out? Dr. Watson, an American who also serves as chief scientist of the World Bank, is an atmospheric chemist who believes that human behavior, such as the burning of coal and oil, is a major factor in global warming, and that disaster awaits if steps are not immediately taken to cut down on such emissions. Not surprisingly, car manufacturers and oil companies can’t tolerate him, and when his position recently came up for renewal, Mr. Bush bowed to their demands and threw the weight of the U.S. behind an Indian engineer, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, who lacks training in the panel’s primary concern, atmospheric science.

The silencing of Dr. Watson is part of Mr. Bush’s long-term plan to gut this country’s environmental protections. A recent study by Yale and Columbia universities of the environmental health of 142 countries found that the U.S. ranked 51st, behind Cuba and Botswana. Under Mr. Bush, the ranking will only get worse. His administration rejected the Kyoto treaty, attempted to weaken the standards for arsenic in U.S. drinking water, tried to open 13,000 acres of New York’s Finger Lakes National Forest to oil and gas drilling, and has refused to shut down shoddy nuclear-power plants, such as Indian Point, which are catastrophes waiting to happen. The President is pushing hard to turn the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge over to the oil companies; meanwhile, it was recently reported that the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline is in disrepair and vulnerable to an oil spill that could re-create the devastation caused by the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.

Americans overwhelmingly favor protecting the environment, even if it means they have to pay higher taxes. They want their children and grandchildren to breathe clean air, drink clean water and enjoy the country’s natural beauty. Which is why they will eventually make Mr. Bush pay for his reckless attack on the country’s environmental well-being.

The Ziff Family: Schlocky Sleazemeisters

Gaudy wealth is nothing new, but occasionally it achieves new levels of arrogance and bad taste. William B. Ziff Jr., the publishing executive who sold the Ziff-Davis empire of computer magazines in 1994 for $1.4 billion, has given new meaning to the term “bad neighbor.”

As reported by The New York Times , the tale begins in 1998. After cashing out their magazine money, Mr. Ziff and his three sons proceeded to build a 60,000-square-foot home on 1,000 acres in Pawling, N.Y. Not satisfied, they decided they needed some big boulders strewn about their land to give it a “natural” look. They had seen such boulders in the Walter G. Merritt County Park, a nature preserve owned by Putnam County, and so in 1998 and 1999 they asked permission to remove some of the rocks. The county turned them down, twice, and also refused the Ziffs’ offer of $15,000.

End of story? Not if you’re a Ziff. In a stunning example of sleazy behavior that could have been taken from an episode of The Sopranos , Mr. Ziff and sons sent heavy machinery into the nature preserve and ripped out the boulders they coveted, trampling trees and anything else that got in their way. “It looks like a comet went through there,” said Sam Oliverio Jr., a Putnam County legislator. “He just raped that area…The damage he did can never be repaired.” The county estimated the loss at $6 million, and the district attorney, Kevin Wright, began an investigation.

The Ziffs, smelling jail time, recently wired a $1 million settlement and an $8.25 million “contribution” into the county’s treasury, without admitting any wrongdoing. Putnam officials seem placated, although the D.A. says his investigation is continuing. It will be unfortunate if the Ziffs succeed in buying their way clear of criminal prosecution. One can only imagine what will happen the next time they decide they like the looks of something that doesn’t belong to them.