Wednesday, January 28, 2015

No, everything is far from all right between "Big Bill" de Blasio and "Boy Andrew" Cuomo

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-- cover by Bruce McCall: "Moving Day" [Click to enlarge]


"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
-- Sun-tzu

"There's no goniff like a left-wing goniff."
-- Calvin Trillin repertory kibbitzer Harold the Committed

by Ken

Since this is a New York story, I thought it would be a good time to present the February 2 New Yorker cover commemorating the magazine's historic decamping from Times Square to Manhattan's nether regions and the new World Trade Center tower. (We eavesdropped recently on cartoon editor Bob Mankoff's grapplings with the great relocation.)

And we should note that the stately moving procession depicted by great New Yorker artist-writer could not have happened during the Great Storm Traffic 'n' Transit Ban, which has become even more controversial since the portion of the storm that wound up striking the Big Apple turned out to be so much less than the direst weather prognostications had prepared us for. And as I was noting last night, it seems to be Mayor Bill de Blasio rather than Gov. Andrew Cuomo taking the heat for the 11pm Monday transit total shutdown, even though that decision clearly came from the governor. (The MTA, which operates nearly all the transit facilities in the metropolitan area, is a state agency.)

Now we learn that "Big Bill" de B not only had no input into the transit-shutdown decision, but his people got a whopping 15 minutes' notice of the announcement being made by "Boy Andrew" C.

It's not exactly news that Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio aren't best buds, and perhaps not that hard to understand. For one thing, NYS governors and NYC mayors never get along, and the difficulties are often worse, not better, when they're of the same parety. Then, Boy Andrew and Big Bill are wildly difficult sorts of political animals. While we may question the legitimacy of the mayor's progressive credentials, it's probably enough for the governor that he even claims them -- enough, that is, for him to hate the guy. Boy Andrew's approach to government is rather unapologetically "Let's all get along," where the "us" refers to him and the big-money interests.

Still, I don't know that it was generally known just how bad relations between the mayor and the governor are.

During the blanket pre-storm and then actual-storm coverage, it was noted occasionally that the two never appeared together. This might have been attributed to their busy storm-preparedness schedules, but there really didn't seem to be much indication that they or their people were even in especially close contact. It wasn't till the meteorological storm had passed us that we learned about the other storm brewing.
DNAinfo New York
Mayor Got 15 Minutes Notice of Cuomo's Subway Shutdown for Snow

By Jeff Mays and Trevor Kapp


Snow falling on subway tracks as seen from the Gates Avenue J/Z platform on Jan. 26, 2015, as a snowstorm headed for New York City.

MIDTOWN — Mayor Bill de Blasio got just a 15-minute head's up that the governor planned to announce the subway would be completely shut down because of a storm meteorologists predicted would dump 2 feet of snow on the city, an unprecedented snow-related move.

The news came despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo's assurances Monday that his office was "totally coordinated" with the mayor, and was the latest indication that the leaders may not be on the same page.

"We did not get a lot of advance notice," de Blasio said Tuesday at a City Hall press conference.

Cuomo announced about 4:45 p.m. Monday that the subway would stop operating at 11 p.m. The governor and his aides said the move would help protect subway equipment and allow service to be restored more quickly.

City Hall sources say they learned of the plan just 15 minutes beforehand.

City and state officials had been saying throughout the day that subway service would be ramped down in the evening in order to store trains on the express tracks underground. But they had stopped short of suggesting a full subway closure.

Cuomo's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The admission by de Blasio only spurred more questions about a rift between he and Cuomo.

The governor handed de Blasio a defeat over charter school expansion last year and, more recently, Cuomo was said to be considering stepping into the increasingly nasty feud between the mayor and the police unions.

De Blasio, however, did step up to support Cuomo's lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul when polls showed a tighter-than-expected race. Cuomo also recently supported extending mayoral control of schools and agreed to continue funding one of de Blasio's signature initiatives of pre-K expansion.

The two leaders did not appear together publicly before or after the storm, which dropped about 10 inches of snow in the city, falling far short of the 2 feet that meteorologists had predicted.

On Tuesday, de Blasio appeared on CNN and held an afternoon City Hall press conference.

Cuomo held two press conferences Tuesday, one in Midtown and another with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who was highly complimentary of the governor.

Both Cuomo and de Blasio said they had no regrets over shutting down public transportation and enacting a road travel ban.

"To me it was a no-brainer. We had to take precautions to keep people safe," said de Blasio.

"Weather forecasters do the best they can and we respond to the best information we have," Cuomo said Tuesday morning as he lifted road travel restrictions.

"THERE'S NO GONIFF LIKE A LEFT-WING GONIFF"
goniff. (Yiddish) A thief or dishonest person or scoundrel (often used as a general term of abuse) -- The Free Dictionary
The last time I tried to research my recollection of the exact origin of the above Calvin Trillin quote, for a post called "When a left-leaning crook leaves progressive charities teetering on the brink, we have to help," it was December 30, 2008, and the left-leaning goniff smiling out at readers was none other than Bernie Madoff, whose then-crumbled empire had included, it turned out, donations that seemed wildly generous to any number of progressive charities and enterprises that were devastated by the loss of what,in real-world terms, weren't all that regal sums. I came up short in my research, so I'm going to continue going with my recollection that the source of the quote, from among Trillin's circle of legendary kibbitzers, was the unreconstructed Old Leftie Harold the Committed (aka Hal the C).

Perhaps it's a bit fanciful to conjure an Italian-American goniff, and I suppose I can be questioned for imputing left-wingedness to Boy Andrew. But remember how in the last gubernatorial election it became important to Boy Andrew to preempt the left-wing vote, in his drive to run up an attention-getting reelection margin with a view to the 2016 presidential sweepstakes. So I like to think that even the hard-to-satisfy Hal the C might accept him as at least an honorary left-wing goniff.

As to the famous Sun-tzu friends-and-enemies quote, it may be that Boy Andrew hasn't heard it, 'cause he doesn't seem to much care to have his friend-or-enemy Big Bill anywhere near him.


SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post tomorrow at 7am PT/10am ET
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Buffoon Watch: Steve King's Greatest Hits

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He can't be for real, can he? Alas, all too real.

by Noah

There are two Steve Kings of at least some renown in our society. One is Stephen King, the world-famous writer of horror. The other is Rep. Steven King of Iowa. He is a monster for real.

Rep. Steven King has a special talent for articulating what the Republican Party stands for. That talent has led to his prominence in the party. Tim Moran, a former Iowa GOP State Central Committee member thinks King should run for senator, saying the Republican Party might find it ". . . refreshing to have Steve King at the top of a ticket to drive the message and definition of the party."


KING OF BUFFOON-O-RAMA

This past weekend Representative King was the cohost of the so-called Iowa Freedom Summit, aka Buffoon-o-Rama 2015, designed to kick off the 2016 Republican presidential primary season. Most of the usual suspects were there, including "The Donald" and his hair Sarah Palin with her special talent for speaking complete gibberish,  and neo-fascist Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Mittens Romney and John Ellis "Jeb" Bush chose not to attend, presumably to try to convince us that they are not as buffoonish as the other participants.

But King was in his self-proclaimed glory, acting as a combination ten-ring master of ceremonies and smarmy game show host. He even made sure to have his name emblazoned on the front of the podium as if it was the seal of the president of the United States. If you read the following selections from King's ever-expanding list of greatest hits, you will see that when it comes to heading up a confab of buffoons, Representative Steve is at the top of his class and a perfect choice. The following is just a small, but I think representative, sample of Steven King's Greatest Hits. There is so much more, and no doubt there will be so much more to come.


1. ON ANIMAL CRUELTY

Do you like dogfighting and cockfighting? If you are of the Michael Vick persuasion and enjoy throwing animals in a pit and watching the blood squirt, Representative King is your man! He has led the fights in Congress to block legislation that would crack down on such barbarism. During discussions of the 2012 farm bill, it was King who led the fight against an amendment that would make it a crime for an adult to attend or to bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight. In 2007 he had opposed House bill H.R.137, which made it a felony to transport animals or cockfighting implements across state lines for the purpose of fighting.

King is one of the few lawmakers of either party who opposed including pets in disaster planning. He also voted against the 111th Congress's H.R.80, a bill written to prohibit interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the pet trade.

There's a whole lot more where this type of thing came from, but you get the picture. Basically, if something protects an animal somewhere, Representative King is against it, even more so than some members of his own party.


2. ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

In 2003, Sioux City (Iowa) Judge Jeffrey Neary granted two lesbians a divorce. King's response was:
Unicorns, leprechauns, gay marriages in Iowa; these are all things you will never find because they just don't exist. But perhaps Judge Neary would grant divorces to unicorns and leprechauns too.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Iowa six years later, in 2009. Like his party, Representative King is a man of no vision.



3. ON IMMIGRATION

King is clearly his party's leader on anti-immigration matters. One of his most famous statements about immigration -- and there are many of them -- is what is known as "the cantaloupe comment." Referring to immigrant children coming across our borders, he said:
For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.

King has also compared Mexican immigrants, documented and undocumented alike, to dogs:
You want a good bird dog? You want one that's going to be aggressive? [P]ick the one that's the friskiest . . . not the one that's over there sleeping in the corner. . .&nbsp. You get the pick of the litter.
We already know about what Representative King thinks of dogs. I suspect such a man would like to set up "Mexican fighting pits" that would be just like cockfights and dogfights. Maybe they'll have that at the 2016 Republican Convention and Hatefest.


4. ON GLOBAL WARMING

King has called climate change " more of a religion than a science."  He has repeatedly demonstrated his contempt for science and his complete lack of understanding of the issue. He is not even smarter than a fifth grader. Perhaps his arrogance about the subject is best pointed out by this quote: "I spent a lot of my life cold. It felt pretty good to get warmed up."



5. ON CONTRACEPTION

King is a key player in the Republican anti-contraception movement. He has made a lot of noise objecting to the idea that Obamacare could cover birth control for women as a free preventive service without a copay. Says he:
Well, if you applied that preventative medicine universally, what you end up with is you've prevented a generation. Preventing babies from being born is not medicine. That's not constructive to our culture and our civilization. If we let our birth rate get down below replacement rate, we're a dying civilization.

This statement is a classic example of an extremist using extremist thinking. Dying civilization? Hardly. As it is now, the U.S. population is 312 million people, and it's on course to reach 439 million by 2050. To turn that pace into a dying civilization would require a staggering amount of contraception use, an amount way, way beyond what the Obamacare provision would realistically lead to.

As far as I'm concerned, the best solution to the population problem, at least in this country, would be for Republicans to immediately stop procreating. It would solve a lot of other problems too!


FOR FURTHER READING --

As I indicated, the above barely scratches the surface of Representative King and what a perfect one-person embodiment of the Republican Party philosophy he is. You can click on the DWT "Steve King" label below for some of our favorites. Then here are a couple of suggestions for further reading:

• "Steve King: Gays Wouldn't Face Discrimination If They Didn't 'Wear Their Sexuality On Their Sleeve'" (HuffPost Politics, December 2010)

and especially:

• "Right-Wing Demands Obama Fire Kevin Jennings for Helping Gay Teens Not Kill Themselves" (Julie Farby, HuffPost Politics, March 2010, updated May 2011)


SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post at 7pm PT/10pm ET
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Why shouldn't America have the best danged gov't the Koch Bros. and their billionaire buds can buy us?

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Plus "Smelly Shelly" Silver update (see below)


Chucky Koch, the brains of the Koch Bros. (little bro Davy, whom we see below, would be more like the sexy front guy), is seen here in 2012 in his office in Wichita.


"In 2014, Democrats made a concerted effort to make the Kochs into bogeymen. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) routinely used Senate floor speeches to castigate them. Democratic groups ran TV and radio ads tying the Kochs to GOP candidates and presenting them as polluters and job outsourcers who were out of touch with the middle class.

" 'The oil billionaire Koch brothers are showering millions on Thom Tillis like he's one of the family,' said an ad from the Democratic-aligned Patriot Majority USA.

"But Tillis is now a U.S. senator from North Carolina, part of a wave of Republican wins that cost the Democrats their majority. . . .

"Most voters don't know who the Kochs are. Sixty-four percent of voters said they had no opinion or a neutral impression of them, according to an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll conducted about a month before the November midterms. But among those who did, attitudes were overwhelmingly negative."


by Ken

By now you've no doubt heard the exciting news that "the wealthy industrialist Koch brothers" are drawing up plans for dumping upwards of $1 billion of right-wing cash into the largely secret network they've concocted in Election 2016. (The actual figure announced is $889 million, but you just know the right-wing billionaires participating were counting on casual journalistic round-up to make themselves look like bigger deals at a cut-rate price.)

Luckily we already have the sworn opinion of Supreme Court Justice "Slow Anthony" Kennedy that this won't corrupt the election, and I'm pretty sure there's some rule that says he can't say it if it isn't true. The Scalia Rule, maybe? Of course the Supremes' hands would be tied anyways, seeing as how this is merely upwards of $1 billion worth of free speech. (Sounds like pretty expensive speech to me, but never mind.)

Still, can you believe that those gosh-darned Democrats are trying to make a federal case of it? They must really hate America. Naturally it's just politics, those America-hating Dems going after all those right-wing billionaires exercising their pricey "free" speech. You'll probably be relieved to know that they aren't any more likely to succeed with their scare tactics now than they did in the past. We've got a couple of Washington Post political reporters here to reassure us on that count. (Links onsite.)
Politics
Democrats see new chance to attack Kochs after $1 billion spending announcement


Americans for Prosperity Foundation Chairman David Koch speaks in Orlando, Florida in 2013.

By Sean Sullivan and Anne Gearan

Forget Jeb, Rand and Ted. For Democrats, it’s all about Charles and David.

The announcement this week that the vast political network backed by the wealthy industrialist Koch brothers aims to spend nearly $1 billion on the 2016 elections has reignited Democratic hopes of casting the brothers as electoral villains and linking them closely to Republican candidates.

It’s a campaign strategy that yielded little success for the party in 2014, a banner year for the GOP. But Democratic officials and operatives say they are hopeful that their anti-Koch message will have more potency in a presidential election year.

Groups supporting potential Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as the House and Senate Democratic campaign arms, plan to single out the Kochs in their advertising and fundraising efforts.

“I think the Koch brothers dumping a billion dollars on the elections is definitely something the American people are interested in learning about,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

He said the DCCC plans to mention the brothers in online fundraising efforts. The DCCC raised $70 million in the last election cycle.

David Brock, founder of the pro-Clinton American Bridge political action committee, said his group will be retooling a 2014 war-room operation called “Real Koch Facts,” which he acknowledged did not achieve big results. The project aims to educate potential voters about what Democrats say is the Kochs’ largely hidden agenda and to attempt to shame recipients of Koch money.

Said Peter Kauffmann, a spokesman for the pro-Clinton Priorities USA Action super PAC: “Will Priorities USA Action talk about the Koch brothers’ attempt at a hostile takeover of the government of the United States? Stay tuned.”

But former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who ran for president in 2012, compared Democratic attacks against the Kochs to failed GOP efforts to tar Democrats for receiving support from organized labor.

“The fact is we never got anywhere trying to explain to the country all of the extra advantage they got, for example, from labor unions,” Gingrich said. “It’s too indirect an argument.”

The Koch-backed network’s plan to spend $889 million on the 2016 elections was announced Monday at a Rancho Mirage, Calif., event hosted by Freedom Partners, a tax-exempt organization that serves as the nerve center of the political operation supported by the brothers and several hundred other conservative donors. Not all of the money will be put toward shaping elections; it will cover advertising and policy work as well as education and academic research, among other things. Much of the spending will be cloaked in secrecy.

James Davis, a Freedom Partners spokesman, said in an e-mail: “Democrats’ past attempts to divide America by demonizing job creators didn’t work too well. We remain focused on advancing free-market principles.”

In 2014, Democrats made a concerted effort to make the Kochs into bogeymen. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) routinely used Senate floor speeches to castigate them. Democratic groups ran TV and radio ads tying the Kochs to GOP candidates and presenting them as polluters and job outsourcers who were out of touch with the middle class.

“The oil billionaire Koch brothers are showering millions on Thom Tillis like he’s one of the family,” said an ad from the Democratic-aligned Patriot Majority USA.

But Tillis is now a U.S. senator from North Carolina, part of a wave of Republican wins that cost the Democrats their majority.

“It clearly didn’t work in 2014,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the center-left Brookings Institution. “That election was a disaster for Democrats. It seems to me they need to recalibrate the message.”

He said Democrats would need to tie their anti-Koch rhetoric to “substantive issues in a way that resonates with voters.”

Most voters don’t know who the Kochs are. Sixty-four percent of voters said they had no opinion or a neutral impression of them, according to an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll conducted about a month before the November midterms. But among those who did, attitudes were overwhelmingly negative.

“The Koch brothers are not going to be a household name overnight, but our goal of making them a political liability for the people they are funding will continue,” Brock said.

The newly announced spending goal is unlikely to affect Clinton’s plans to begin her formal campaign in early April, strategists said. The goal is for her to raise an impressive total for the fundraising quarter that begins April 1.

But the early flurry of activity could apply pressure on mega-donors such as billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican and staunch gun-control advocate who has donated mostly to Democratic candidates. The two were among the biggest givers in 2014.

Adviser Chris Lehane said Steyer will be looking at “where he can have the biggest impact” in 2016.

Like many Democrats, Lehane subscribes to the view that an anti-Kochs attack strategy could work better in 2016 than it did in 2014. “There will be a better voter pool, the Senate states will be more blue states than red states, and the media interest will be even bigger,” he said.

Campaign finance reform advocates also say the Koch-backed spending plan is a fresh opportunity to push for revamping laws that allow well-funded independent groups to dominate elections, often without revealing their donors.

“There is just no matching this amount of wealth directed in this way,” said Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), who introduced a bill this week that would create a matching system for small donations and seek to limit the influence of super PACs. “Of course, nobody should have to match it. We should have a system that keeps spending within reasonable limits.”

But Price acknowledged that it would be difficult to pass such reforms in a Republican-controlled Congress. In the meantime, he said, raising the Kochs as an electoral issue isn’t a bad idea.

“I think in some cases it does work to dramatize the issue and make it more real,” Price said.

Matea Gold and Scott Clement contributed to this report.
Yeah, I bet the Kochs and all the other right-wing billionaires are really scared.


"SMELLY SHELLY" UPDATE: BYE-BYE!

Note that I've updated my post yesterday about indicted NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver with the announcement by Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle of Rochester that "on Monday, there will be a vacancy in the office of speaker," and an election to choose the new speaker will follow on February 10.


SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post at 3pm PT/6pm ET
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"She hears the voices no one else hears"

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DOONESBURY by G. B. Trudeau (Jan. 18)


[Click to enlarge]

by Gaius Publius

I wanted to point out this nice Mike Lux piece, at Huffington Post and elsewhere, because it makes an important point. It's also an obvious point, but the obvious often goes unnoticed. The buzz and eager interest in an Elizabeth Warren presidency is not about Warren herself. It's about what she offers at this historical moment.

Lux (my emphasis):
It seems like just about everyone these days is talking about Elizabeth Warren. I saw Jay Leno- not a very political guy or especially progressive- the other day on Bill Maher's show, talking about how shocked he was that Elizabeth Warren was only 18 months younger than Hillary because of how vital and energetic she seemed.

A focus group of swing voters, who traditionally don't follow politics very closely, in Colorado a couple of weeks back were disdainful of the politicians they had heard of like Jeb Bush and Hillary who were likely running for president, but loved what they were hearing about Elizabeth Warren.

The Sunday Doonesbury this weekend was a plea to "run, Lizzie, run" because "she hears the voices no one else hears". The Washington Post print addition on Sunday had a front page article whose headline asked "What does Elizabeth Warren want?"

Why is a first-term Senator in the minority party, a wonky college professor who had never held elective office before 2013, a woman who insists to everyone who asks that she is not running for president, striking such a chord in American politics right now? ... I think the chord she strikes has at least as much to do with the moment we are in as to who she is. I think most Americans in both parties have come to believe that government is too bought off by big money special interests to care about them anymore.

That is so refreshing to voters and activists alike, and it is turning Elizabeth into an icon that people respond to. ... She calls "Charge!" on a nomination fight for a position that no one has ever heard of, or a legislative fight that they weren't even aware of, and people answer the call because they trust her- they know in their hearts that she is fighting for them.
That "nomination fight" was over Wall Street insider Antonio Weiss for under-secretary of Treasury, and was covered in a number of venues, including here.

Lux goes on to detail the history of the Warren phenomenon, and lists her implied economic agenda. It's a good read and well worth your time. But I want to return to the headline quote from Doonesbury:
"She hears the voices no one else hears."
No one but us voters, that is, red-striped or blue; the many; the ignored. What does this tell us? That we need to be finding more Elizabeth Warrens, not just the one; and we need to be doing it now — just in case the first is not available.

GP

Cross-posted with permission from Digby's Hullabaloo

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Notes on the blizzard that wasn't -- at least not right where we are

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"We'd love to come, but the weather
mongers have paralyzed us with fear."
Well, I stayed up a good part of the night waiting for the blizzard that didn’t come. And then, at about 3 A.M., the forecast was downgraded to overcast with a chance of flurries. The kid in me was disappointed, but the part that passes for an adult was really happy that I didn’t have to shovel my driveway.

I don’t fault de Blasio, Cuomo, or Christie for their abundance of caution, but enough already with the exuberant weathernoia of the television forecasters.

Also, memo to the forecasters in their hermetically sealed TV studios: Next to one of those humongous touch-screen displays, install a window.
-- New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff,
in a blogpost this afternoon,
"Blizzard?"

by Ken

Before proceeding, let me look up to that phrase I added after the dash in the post title: "at least not right where we are." As we all know (don't we?), every when the weather folks correctly predict the general path of a storm, they still can't ever predict its exact path, and differences in distance that don't amount to much on the cosmic scale can count for a great deal on the ground. Here in NYC we got something like eight inches of snow -- not nothing, but a heap less than the two feet or more that was bandied about yesterday. However, to the east of us, on the eastern part of Long Island and on into New England, there was nothing "disappointing" about the storm that materialized. This morning, as the weather guy on the NY1 cable-news channel reviewed the situation, he said it wasn't quite true that the brunt of the storm "missed by a mile," that it was more like 23 miles. But they were an enormously significant 23 miles.

That said, you may recall that in my storm post last night, as we here in the Big Apple stood watch for a nor'easter threatening us with two feet of snow, if not more, I included Noah's prognostications, among which the first was:
1. The "Blaming of de Blasio" will begin by 7:00am on Tuesday.
Right on target, as it turned out. The wrinkle here is that what Big Bill stands charged with is overpromising stormwise, or should I say for overpreparing for a storm that just didn't measure up to the conjurings of the "weather mongers" featured in the Bob Mankoff cartoon pictured at the top of this post.

And, strangely (or maybe not so strangely), it seemed to be Big Bill rather than Boy Andrew, the governor of our empirical state, who stood accused of "overreacting," even though the decision to shut down the transit system by 11pm was the governor's and not the mayor's.

All of this, mind you, despite the fact that a regular feature of last night's all-storm coverage was the very near-impossibility of matching the level of storm preparedness to the level of eventual actual storm. How many times did we have the talking heads on the TV droning on about the dilemma of, on the one hand, doing too much to prepare for a storm that delivers too little as against, on the other hand, doing too little to prepare for a storm that delivers too much?

Of course, this was also a prominent feature of our last pre-storm talkathon, the run-up to Superstorm Sandy. And post-storm recriminations were pretty sharp then too, even though the level of damage could hardly have been more impressive or widespread. The storm itself, though, hadn't been the monster we were expecting; why, it hadn't even maintained its hurricane force -- hence, the rechristening from Hurricane to Superstorm Sandy. The damage was mostly caused by the rains in combination with tides.

Last night, as was widely noted, there was no precedent for a transit shutdown in anticipation of a snowstorm -- in part because the only precedent we had for a deliberate shutdown was the one for Sandy, when the shutdown may hardly have prevented damage to the system but assuredly protected an awful lot of transit resources that would surely have been lost otherwise, and also made the restart of the system, as slow as it was, a whole lot faster than it would have been otherwise. (Of course the biggest obstacled to the restart were the electrical-power outages and the devastation of the subway and under-the-river tunnels, in a city that sits almost entirely on islands.)


As NY1 showed us, rush hour on 14th Street wasn't terribly rushy this morning. Drivers who violated the traffic ban in force through this morning were threatened with summonses, but reportedly none were issued.

In addition to the transit shutdown, last night there was an equally unprecedented 13-county ban on non-emergency road traffic. So one thing we didn't see in NY1's endless on-location reports from reporters who were stationed at various points around the metropolitan area was traffic struggling along clogged roads. For that you need traffic and clogged roads. Instead we had pictures of locations around the metropolitan area that were traffic-free to an extent that probably nobody as seen since the invention of the automobile. Well, no, even farther back. Before there were motor vehicles, there were horse-drawn carriages and the like to clog those roads.

Times Square with no New Year's Eve revelers and also no traffic, anyone?

I SUPPOSE IT'S JUST HUMAN NATURE

You just about can't win. Get people prepared for a level of mayhem that doesn't materialize and it's all your fault. Contrarily, fail to prepare for the actual level of mayhem and it's also all your fault.

What's more, as Noah was intimating last night, if you're Mayor Big Bill, you walk the city with a target on your big back. The odds are pretty good that whatever happens, it's going to be all your fault.

By morning we had known for hours that here in Gotham we weren't getting "historic storm" quantities of snow. By 9am word was that the subways were gradually being restarted, and by noon they should be running on a "Sunday schedule," meaning markedly lower levels of service than a normal "weekday" or even a "Saturday" schedule. I didn't know this yet, though, because about 7am I ended my overnight vigil in order to get some sleep, having no idea that this time the subways could be restarted so quickly, relatively speaking. (The NYC Transit people had planned this, apparently running trains all night to make sure the tracks were clear and the equipment was ready to roll when called upon.) Once I was up to speed, a couple of hours later, I decided I would give it a shot -- getting to work, that is -- still not really knowing what conditions I might encounter, not knowing even whether my office building would be up and running. I was all set to go, more or less, when my resolve failed me. Yeah, there's stuff I should have been doing at the office. We have publication schedules we're answerable to, and forcibly yanking a day out of the schedule isn't consequence-free. Oh well. It'll all be there for us tomorrow.


A QUICK NOTE FROM HOWIE

He thanks everyone for all their good wishes, and of course hopes to be back in harness soon. The doctors don't seem able to tell him much, though, and don't seem to much of a grasp of, or interest in, the concept of a "blogging chair."


SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post tomorrow at 7am PT/10am ET
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Legacy business legislation in San Francisco is necessary to survival of humanity

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"Family-owned bars and restaurants, corner groceries, unique boutiques, and arts- and culture-related businesses -- the very places that once gave San Francisco its charm -- have been the first to go" in the city's hemorrhage of small businesses. Cuco's, a Lower Haight taqueria, was run for 23 years by Carmen Campos and her husband Domingo.

"To live in a city without small businesses owned and patronized by people of all ethnicities is unthinkable to me."
-- the author

by Denise Sullivan

I don't know about where you live, but here in San Francisco, we have a disturbing phenomenon:  The city is hemorrhaging small businesses. Family-owned bars and restaurants, corner groceries, unique boutiques, and arts- and culture-related businesses -- the very places that once gave San Francisco its charm -- have been the first to go.

In the final quarter of last year, San Francisco Supervisors David Campos and Mark Farrell released the findings of a report they'd commissioned which revealed that by the end of 2014 San Francisco would lose 4,378 of its small businesses. Drawing on previous studies, the report stated the uptick in small business displacement was  "a significant increase from the 693 businesses lost in 1992, the first year of the study." Significant?  I'd call it criminal, but for corporations and tech-based companies in San Francisco it's just business as usual.  As you've no doubt read, the escalation of hyper-capitalism run amok (I hope that isn't a redundancy) is that much more . . . amok here.

Just today, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story about people with more money behaving like jerks more of the time than the rest of us. Referring to a survey conducted out of UC Berkeley, studies suggest drivers of luxury cars are more likely to run over pedestrians in a crosswalk than those behind the wheel of a "beater."  I'm fascinated by the stats, and believe the findings, based on personal experience. I'm also intrigued by the use of language in the article, as it reveals how changing mores, changing attitudes, changing language are all part of the gentrification process, though sometimes it's hard to tell garden-variety change from generalized gentrification, hyper-gentrification and what our local activists call "gentrifucation."

Since the city's initial 1992 report and its final analysis in 2011, the stats on closures and relocations leapt from 1,300 annually to nearly 13,000. The report judges this bleed unacceptable and, further noting that among those businesses many were longstanding neighborhood and community-serving establishments, for example purveying plaintain burritos and vending vintage housewares, advises a move toward legislation. Adding to the urgency is that many of these closures were in Campos' district, the venerable Mission, home to Latino families, artists, and now the tech elite (Facebook Mark Zuckerberg lives on a bordering neighborhood, where his McMansion looks down on the flatlands). Farrell's district recently lost 28-year-old All Star Donuts.



All Star Donuts closed in September after 28 years in the Marina.

The supervisors' report claims that London, Barcelona, and Buenos Aires have policies to aid local heritage, and San Francisco has established a program for its local bars and restaurants that qualify for legacy status. It's possible we could really lead the way here and become the first U.S. city to add small, local, and culturally relevant businesses to a roll call of brick-and-mortar establishments deemed worth preserving. Incentivizing commercial property rentals for landlords, providing assistance through city agencies for purchase of properties for tenants, issuing small business loans to businesses that need increased cash flow will all go some way toward preserving our neighborhoods' character and keeping jobs local. It's said stable local neighborhood businesses also lead to reduced crime.

But the political will of voting-age San Franciscans is weak: Aside from the overworked and underpaid activist and community-organizing committees who do the heavy lifting, the few here who vote on local issues are not enough to carry support for these kinds of measures. We who support protections are labeled old and in the way; it's said we are nostalgic, pining for a San Francisco that no longer exists.  That may or may not be true, but to live in a city without small businesses owned and patronized by people of all ethnicities is unthinkable to me.

"City Hall has a responsibility to protect successful businesses from the unnatural economic pressures created by the affordability crisis," said Campos in a prepared statement. Though one wonders what qualifies as a successful business?

I'll  tell you what a successful small business means to me, based on personal experience. One night, at closing time, I was at the counter of the bookstore where I work (one of my three jobs, supplementing my income as a writer, of course). A man asked if we had a Spanish-language copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. To my great pleasure and his relief, I said yes, and grabbed it off the shelf for him. We chatted, as you do in a bookstore, and he told me he was off to visit his relatives early in the morning; he needed the book as a gift for his 12-year-old niece, hoping it would inspire her to follow her dreams.

If not for transactions like these, a young woman may not have received the priceless gift of the message The Alchemist has delivered to its millions of readers. The human touch, books, and dreams are not generally the way of city governance, though they could be. Today, I am embarrassed to say I am San Franciscan, though I have hope that we can turn things around. "When we love, we always strive to become better than we are," writes Coelho in The Alchemist.  "When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too."

Bruce Springsteen, "Human Touch"

The rights holder doesn't allow us to embed the song, but you can see and hear it here.

Denise Sullivan, the author of Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop, is a San Francisco writer whose most recent DWT contribution was the January 19 post "Selma Songs and More Music for MLK Today."


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While pondering the legal mess surrounding NYS Assembly Speaker "Smelly Shelly" Silver, Jeffrey Toobin offers us a "war story" from yesteryear (with update: Bye-bye, Shelly)

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UPDATE: Smelly Shelly gets the heave-ho


It appears that Assembly Dems used the day off they scheduled for themselves yesterday -- free from GOP interference that might have occurred if the Assembly had been in session -- to reach agreement on the future of their embattled leader. Wednesday morning DNAinfo New York's Jeff Mays reports:
Sheldon Silver Out as Assembly Speaker

NEW YORK CITY — Sheldon Silver is out as speaker of the Assembly just days after his arrest on federal corruption charges in an alleged bribery and kickback scheme.

"On Monday, there will be a vacancy in the office of speaker," Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle said in Albany Tuesday while surrounded by most members of the Democratic conference.

The Assembly will elect a new speaker on Feb. 10. Morelle, a Rochester Democrat who is considered a top candidate for speaker, will serve as interim speaker until that election, after a special vote to change the rules to allow him to do so.

Silver, who has maintained that he is innocent and has said he will be vindicated, is aware of the decision, Morelle said.

"The speaker will not impede the transition. He knows about it. He has asked me to say that he will not impede the transition," Morelle said.

It is unclear if Silver, who has represented the Lower East Side and Downtown since 1977, will resign or whether the Assembly will force him out.

Asked what would happen if Silver refused to resign, Morelle said, "It means that on Monday there will be a vacancy in the office of speaker. The speaker knows that. The members know that. We are united in purpose and that's going to happen." . . .
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by Ken

I still owe you a post on my imagined link between former Russian oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and now-indicted NYS Assembly Speaker "Smelly Shelly" Silver, charged -- as The New Yorker's esteemed legal correspondent, Jeffrey Toobin, sums it up -- "with taking more than four million dollars in bribes disguised as legal fees." That post is still coming.

Meanwhile, a quick update. Once the immediate dust of Smelly Shelly's arrest and indictment settled, it began occurring to all concerned, even the Smellyman himself, despite his protestations of innocence and his plan for vinciation, that while the case moves through whatever process it will be moving through, the Assembly can't proceed as if nothing has happened. Naturally there were calls for Shelly to quit, calls that have gone unanswered, unless we count the implied "not on your life" as a reply.

A cynical observer might observe that if Shelly gives up his Assembly seat in general and the Assembly speakership in particular, he gives up his best, perhaps only, bargaining chip. After all, didn't that work out just great for indicted Staten Island Congressman "Mikey Suits" Grimm? It wasn't till after Mikey was reelected to Congress in November that it became clear just how important holding on to his House seat was for him. However much federal prosecutors might have liked to pursue the case, not just the already announced indictments but whatever additional charges were being investigated, their first priority had to be getting the slimeball out of Congress.

Possibly no such thing is on Smelly Shelly's mind, but it clearly has occurred to him that while his legal troubles are hanging over him, he can't simply continue to go about his, and the state's, business. He can't, for example, continue being one of those storied "three men in a room," watching over the state's business along with the governor and the state Senate majority leader. In fact, there's an awful lot of his job that can't very well be done by someone in the position he now finds himself in. And so he began talking about delegating powers to certain carefully selected (and apparently still to be selected) Assembly members. It's still not clear whether he's talking about all of his powers or only certain selected powers.

Meanwhile Assembly Democrats appear to be thinking more along the lines of "Shut the door behind you on your way the hell out, Shelly!" Again, this is a bit vague -- are they suggesting, for example, that Shelly merely step down from the speakership or quit his Assembly seat altogether? It's not clear. It's not clear, for that matter, how keen Shelly would be to continue hanging out in Albany as a back-bencher.

For what it's worth, no, there is no obvious candidate to take over the speakership, and by "obvious candidate" I mean "anyone who has the votes" to seal the deal, even if, as Assembly Democrats seem to be hoping, Smelly Shelly simply disappeared. It's said, though, that part of the thinking of the Assembly Democrats in calling off today's session in addition to yesterday's is that minimizes the opportunity for Assembly Republicans to share their thoughts on the subject in any official way.

ONCE UPON A TIME --

So the situation remains, shall we say, "fluid." At this moment the aforementioned Jeffrey Toobin has chosen to offer us a little legal comic diversion, diversion with perhaps a tinge of legal "moral," in the form of a newyorker.com blogpost called "Sheldon Silver and the Lawyers of New York." Noting that "much of the case against Silver rests on his relationship with Weitz and Luxenberg, the law firm where he was employed for many years," and that that firm was co-founded by "a very successful lawyer named Perry Weitz," Jeffrey asks us to permit him "a war story," concerning the law firm where Perry Weitz started his career, Morris Eisen, P.C., "an outfit so extravagantly corrupt, so hilariously dishonest, and so creatively malign as almost to defy belief." (Morris Eisen, Jeffrey informs us, was Perry Weitz's father-in-law.)

For the record, Jeffrey makes clear that "the young Perry Weitz was not implicated in the original investigation or in the criminal trial of the Eisen firm," and for that matter that "while the firm of Weitz and Luxenberg, which specializes in personal-injury cases involving asbestos, is mentioned more than twenty times in the criminal complaint against Silver, neither Weitz nor the firm has been charged with any crimes," and the firm claims to be cooperating fully with authorities. He allows that this blast from the past may be "just a big coincidence." Or maybe not, he seems to suggest.

JEFFREY TOOBIN'S "WAR STORY"
When I was a federal prosecutor in the early nineties, in Brooklyn, my favorite case involved the law firm known as Morris Eisen, P.C., an outfit so extravagantly corrupt, so hilariously dishonest, and so creatively malign as almost to defy belief. The firm dealt largely in personal-injury cases, often representing individuals against those thought to have deep pockets, especially the City of New York. (New York taxpayers, who were the actual defendants in these cases, may not have thought of themselves in that way.)

The business model for the Eisen firm was to fake evidence. Sometimes the lawyers embellished the facts of accidents, and sometimes it simply invented incidents altogether. Perry Weitz started his legal career at the Eisen firm, and Eisen himself was his father-in-law.

The Eisen team had great imaginations. Many of the firm’s cases involved accidents purportedly caused by potholes on New York City streets. One lawyer shrunk a twelve-inch ruler on a photocopier so that it was only about eight inches long. The shortened ruler would be placed by potholes and photographed, so that the potholes looked bigger than they actually were. (Sometimes, firm operatives just used pickaxes to make the potholes bigger.) An Eisen employee was injured at a firm softball game; after the game, the group went to find a suitable pothole at Aqueduct Raceway (deep pocket), where they could pretend the accident took place. The firm once won a seven-hundred-thousand-dollar settlement against the city because of an accident purportedly caused by a pothole on the Queensboro Bridge. A bystander named Arnold Lustig testified that he saw both the pothole and the accident. Six months later, the firm had another case involving a man killed on the Whitestone Expressway, in the Bronx. The eyewitness in that case? Arnold Lustig again! Alas, as my colleagues Jerome Roth and Faith Gay demonstrated, in what proved to be our office’s first Eisen trial, Lustig was actually in prison at the time he claimed to have seen the second accident.

As the Second Circuit Court of Appeals wrote, in affirming the convictions of seven Eisen firm attorneys, investigators, and office personnel (including Eisen himself), ‘‘The methods by which the frauds were accomplished included pressuring accident witnesses to testify falsely, paying individuals to testify falsely that they had witnessed accidents, paying unfavorable witnesses not to testify, and creating false photographs, documents, and physical evidence of accidents for use before and during trial.’’

Eisen was sentenced to fifty-seven months in prison, and served three years. He was disbarred in January, 1992. Reflecting the chutzpah that characterized the entire firm enterprise, Eisen commenced lawsuits, following his release, claiming that other firms had stolen legal fees that were legally due to the tragically disbanded Eisen firm.

The young Perry Weitz was not implicated in the original investigation or in the criminal trial of the Eisen firm. It is true, too, that, while the firm of Weitz and Luxenberg, which specializes in personal-injury cases involving asbestos, is mentioned more than twenty times in the criminal complaint against Silver, neither Weitz nor the firm has been charged with any crimes. A firm spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that the firm ‘‘fully coöperated’’ with the investigation and ‘‘wasn’t involved in any of the alleged wrongdoing.’’ In other words, according to the Weitz firm, its founder’s connection to one of the most notorious (proven) scams in New York legal history and one of the most notorious (alleged) scams is New York political history is just a big coincidence.

Perhaps it is. After all, in a parody-defying example of scandal convergence, Eisen himself had an appearance in yet another story, when, a dozen years after getting out of prison, he turned out to be one of the victims of Bernard Madoff’s own long con.

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What's Going On In Greece?

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by Gaius Publius

Just a fast comment, a quick hit, since I'm on deadline editing an interview. The recent news is that the left-wing Syriza party has won the Greek general elections, sparking concern that Greece might default on its debt, on purpose, and exit the euro. Naturally the holders of that debt, led by Germany, are aghast at the prospect. The word "irresponsible" comes up.

Here's Paul Krugman on that (my emphasis):
Ending Greece’s Nightmare

Alexis Tsipras, leader of the left-wing Syriza coalition, is about to become prime minister of Greece. He will be the first European leader elected on an explicit promise to challenge the austerity policies that have prevailed since 2010. And there will, of course, be many people warning him to abandon that promise, to behave “responsibly.”

So how has that responsibility thing worked out so far?

To understand the political earthquake in Greece, it helps to look at Greece’s May 2010 “standby arrangement” with the International Monetary Fund, under which the so-called troika — the I.M.F., the European Central Bank and the European Commission — extended loans to the country in return for a combination of austerity and reform. It’s a remarkable document, in the worst way. The troika, while pretending to be hardheaded and realistic, was peddling an economic fantasy. And the Greek people have been paying the price for those elite delusions.

You see, the economic projections that accompanied the standby arrangement assumed that Greece could impose harsh austerity with little effect on growth and employment. Greece was already in recession when the deal was reached, but the projections assumed that this downturn would end soon — that there would be only a small contraction in 2011, and that by 2012 Greece would be recovering. Unemployment, the projections conceded, would rise substantially, from 9.4 percent in 2009 to almost 15 percent in 2012, but would then begin coming down fairly quickly.

What actually transpired was an economic and human nightmare. Far from ending in 2011, the Greek recession gathered momentum. Greece didn’t hit the bottom until 2014, and by that point it had experienced a full-fledged depression, with overall unemployment rising to 28 percent and youth unemployment rising to almost 60 percent. And the recovery now underway, such as it is, is barely visible, offering no prospect of returning to precrisis living standards for the foreseeable future.

What went wrong? I fairly often encounter assertions to the effect that Greece didn’t carry through on its promises, that it failed to deliver the promised spending cuts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Greece imposed savage cuts in public services, wages of government workers and social benefits. Thanks to repeated further waves of austerity, public spending was cut much more than the original program envisaged, and it’s currently about 20 percent lower than it was in 2010.

Yet Greek debt troubles are if anything worse than before the program started. ...
Read the rest here. It's pretty insightful.

What's not being said is that this nightmare is part of the plan. As I've written many times, during times of bubble-creation — Europe and the U.S. before 2008, for example — hot money floods smaller markets, looking for profit. In Europe, all of the countries that were or are in "trouble," like Spain, Iceland, Italy and Greece, saw huge inflows of capital. Then the bubbles burst, especially the housing bubble, and that hot money flowed out, withdrew, leaving mountains of debt that "must be paid." Leaving also lower wages and deflationary prices.

How does a person or country who has no capital pay its debts? By selling off its assets until it's wholly owned by outsiders, then starving, if the outsider so wishes. 

Which is where we are today. The only country listed above not to be starved into submission was Iceland, who kicked the bankers out in a national election some time ago and forced debt-holders to eat the debt. Greece, on the other hand, tried to repair itself on terms good for the debt-holders, and it's being eaten. Syriza has a (belated) opportunity to correct that error, though as Ian Welsh points out, much of the damaging privatization has already been done. (Did you know that selling off, "privatizing," the ancient Athenian port of Piraeus was part of the austerity demands? Piraeus was a Greek port before Socrates was born.)

As Krugman points out in his conclusion, the Syriza solution may not be radical enough to produce a real recovery from depression, and it's unlikely that Greece will exit the euro soon — the ultimate, though painful, solution, in my opinion.

Still the song of the austerians these days is ... every banker must be made whole; every bond must be paid in full. It's dishonorable, for others, not to honor a contract. Right. Tell that to any number of U.S. corporations who declare bankruptcy before breakfast in order to dishonor union contracts and pension obligations before lunch.

They, the concentrated holders of capital, are trying to have it both ways, be paid without having to pay in their own turn. Greece, for a change, is fighting back. So far, they're fighting back with the Syriza party instead of the fascist Golden Dawn party ... so far.

GP


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Monday, January 26, 2015

Stormy weather

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Noah sent along this reminder of four young men who didn't let a little snow get them down.

by Ken

Here in the Northeast today has been sort of like a shorter version of the weekend we spent back when waiting for Hurricane Sandy to bear down on us. We knew it was coming, and it was likely to be bad, but in the meantime the weather, while hardly salutary, shouldn't by itself have prevented life from proceeding normally. Except that there's nothing normal when the weather gnomes are talking about two feet of snow starting to descend on us late tonight, with maybe 6-8 inches by morning and the rest continuing to amass.

The word for the day was:



Not surprisingly, the news and the e-mailbox are overflowing with announcements of cancellations of stuff scheduled for today, as the city gradually shut down. By mid-afternoon, for example, there ws word that the scheduled home games of both the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets are off. As for tomorrow, it's looking like fuhgeddaboutit! (I think it's safe to say that there won't be any trip to Brooklyn for the New York Transit Museum's scheduled program celebrating the triumphant reconstruction of the Montague Street subway tunnel under the East River, which suffered the heaviest damage of the East River tunnels from the ravages of Sandy, and just reopened in September after being closed for 14½ months.)

Meanwhile, with an entire day to prepare for the grim night and beyond, it has been a big hoarding shopping day:



With the expectation that tomorrow will look more like:



A little after 4pm Noah filed this Manhattan storm report:
Snow-maggeddon! The great sacking of the grocery store! I was in a Food Emporium and they had all the registers going with plenty of people to help. The carts were all in use, though. I saw one grown woman with one of those little shopping carts for the 4 year olds! I went to the post office to pick up a couple of packages and they had closed at 1:00 claiming "due to the severe weather." Whatever happened to neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow...? It was in no way severe at 1:00 and it still isn't, but I wouldn't want to be out once it gets dark.
To everyone who's in the path of this storm, or one of your own: Stay warm, dry, and above all safe. I'm rather surprised to be quoting my corporate HR chief (who's perched in one of our California offices):
Safety is the number one priority. People should not endanger themselves in any way and if that means leaving early or not coming in during a storm then that’s what needs to happen.
And to all those who aren't in a storm path -- well, as you were. You've probably got  troubles of your own.


YOUR STORM BONUS: NOAH PROGNOSTICATES
My storm predictions:

1. The "Blaming of de Blasio" will begin by 7:00am on Tuesday.
2. The goons on FOX will offer the storm as "proof there is no global warming."
3. Any food shortages on Wednesday will be blamed on "Teamster union truckers."
4. "Gay Marriage" caused the storm. God is angry!

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As Ukraine heats up again, and the picture in the Middle East enmurkifies, we have to worry, how threatened does Putin feel?

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Maybe Putin doesn't think in the long term because he sees only a series of short terms that he absolutely has to control.

by Ken

As if the Middle East mess weren't messy enough, and as we still try to process the implications -- for both the locals and for us -- of the collapse of the long-tottering Yemeni government, and the hardly unexpected death of Saudia Arabia's King Abdullah (and the accession to the throne of yet another half-brother, King Salman, but with the naming of his nephew, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as deputy crown prince, the first member of the next generation of the House of Saud to stand in the official line of succession), not to mention convulsions that are felt all through the region, now things are heating up to the north, in Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists appear to be on the move. ("War Is Exploding Again in Ukraine; Rebels Vow More," the NYT head says.)

And if you don't think developments in Ukraine and on the Arabian peninsula can be closely related, think again.

Throughout the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine (the crisis that has included Russia's legally unsacnctioned annexation of Crimea -- you remember that crisis?), Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has seemed to get his way, and to get away with murder, at pretty much every step, to the frustration of most onlookers. And through all of it, commentators who have seemed to me to have some idea of what the situation entails have insisted that each action of Putin's was all but certain to negatively impact Russia in the long term but that in the short term there wasn't much that could be done to or about him. You get the feeling that in Putin's thinking there is no long term, a short term that he needs to control in order to be in a position to control the ensuing short term, and so on.

In his post on the heating up in Ukraine, Ian Welsh has a lot to say about that link to Saudi Arabia, but he also has interesting things to say about Putin's situation and outlook. Perhaps the reason he can't afford to think in terms of a "long" term is that he's thinking even more than the rest of the world what a post-Putin Russia will look like, and he likely understands that it doesn't look good for him.
The question, then, is this: how threatened does Putin and the rest of the Russian leadership feel? Putin is unlikely to survive a leadership change for long unless it is his hand-picked heir who takes over, and maybe not even then. Many others in his government would similarly be in danger.
I think the whole piece is worth a close read. I think you'll see why I've boldfaced the final paragraph.
So, the Separatists are now on the offensive in the Ukraine

2015 JANUARY 24

by Ian Welsh

Granted, I think the evidence points to significant Russian support. Nonetheless, the Ukrainian army is just embarrassing at this point.

Back in 2008 I wrote that Crimea and the Ukraine would be the next likely flashpoint, and that Russia would never tolerate any possibility of losing Sevastapol. The serious people who know how the world works told me how wrong I was—that the Ukraine and Europe and Russia were in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

But arrangements change, and Russia has always been a country with a clear view on what its strategic interests are.

So now we have an economic war against Russia and a shooting war in the Ukraine, encouraged by the Russians (and by the Americans: the first big Ukrainian offensive occurred after CIA chief Brennan visited.)

Sanctions did little to the Russian economy, but crashing oil prices did. Russian currency dropped almost exactly in concert with the drop of oil. Given the consensus that dropping oil prices so precipitously was a Saudi decision, meant in part to take out high cost unconventional oil production, but also in part to damage Russia and Iran, this can only be seen as hostile foreign action by the Russians.

Russia’s vulnerability is due to mistakes made by the Russians. The lack of diversification of the economy, and the vast corruption made Russia a petro-state, reliant almost entirely on oil revenues. Countries which need to import a great deal are always vulnerable to foreign economic action.

The question, then, is this: how threatened does Putin and the rest of the Russian leadership feel? Putin is unlikely to survive a leadership change for long unless it is his hand-picked heir who takes over, and maybe not even then. Many others in his government would similarly be in danger.

If they feel endangered, then the traditional thing to do is start a war. This proxy-war in the Ukraine may not be enough.

Keep an eye on the security of Putin’s leadership. If it starts looking insecure, the Americans will think they are close to getting what they want: a new leader, who will understand he rules only so long as they are kept happy. But it will also be the point Russia becomes most dangerous.

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Who exactly are Republicans trying to impress with their sudden discovery of income inequality?

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But wait, suddenly GOP candidates care!

"Someone up the GOP food chain seems to have decided that inequality and poor people now belong in everyone’s talking points, class warfare be damned. But why?"
-- Catherine Rampell, in her Washington Post column
"Republicans have started to care about income inequality"

by Ken

Quick, check up in the sky and see if there are pigs flying. Down in hell we can guess that the skating is fine on the frozen-over waters of Hell. It's almost impossible to believe, but Republicans have suddenly discovered income inequality -- and they're against it!

Naturally it's all President Obama's fault, but that's the one part of the story that's no surprise. In the minds of the mental degenrates of the Right, everything is President Obama's fault. It beats observing reality and actually thinking. Not that right-wingers have ever been much good at any of these activities, but now they have become formally obsolete. Obama! Obama! Obama!

Still, hearing Republicans raising the issue is a head-turner. All through the current period of growth in economic inequality to historic levels, Republicans have stood by cheering, screeching "class warfare" at anyone who so much as dared to mention the subject. As Catherine Rampell notes in her recent Washington Post column "Republicans have started to care about income inequality":
Inequality has obviously crossed the GOP’s radar screen before, but like other phenomena that get noticed and politely ignored — washroom attendants, global warming — it didn’t generate much comment. When Republicans have taken note of our country’s income and wealth gaps, the sentiment has usually been dismissive and disdainful, full of accusations of class warfare waged by resentful, lazy people unwilling to hoist themselves up by their bootstraps.

Then, in just the past week, many of the likely 2016 Republican presidential contenders began airing concerns about the poor and condemning the outsize fortunes of the wealthy.
The roster of sudden converts to the cause is mind-blowing:

* Sen. Rafael "Ted from Alberta" Cruz
On Fox News after the State of the Union speech, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) denigrated the administration’s economic track record by doing his best Bernie Sanders impression.

“We’re facing right now a divided America when it comes to the economy. It is true that the top 1 percent are doing great under Barack Obama. Today, the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our national income than any year since 1928,” he said, quoting an oft-cited (by liberals) statistic from the work of economists Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.

* 2012 GOP presidential nominee Willard Romney
Likewise, here’s Mitt Romney, in a speech last week: “Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before.” Sound-bite highlights from his past presidential campaign, you may recall, included a reference to the “47 percent” who don’t pay federal income taxes and a conclusion that “my job is not to worry about those people.”

Apparently his job description has changed.

* Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush, too, has newfound interest in the lower income groups and deep inequity flourishing in our nation. His State of the Union reaction: “While the last eight years have been pretty good ones for top earners, they’ve been a lost decade for the rest of America.” Sen. Rand Paul, as well: “Income inequality has worsened under this administration. And tonight, President Obama offers more of the same policies — policies that have allowed the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer.”

Which leads Catherine to the question I've put atop this column: "Someone up the GOP food chain seems to have decided that inequality and poor people now belong in everyone’s talking points, class warfare be damned. But why?"

She tries a couple of theories, but she isn't persuaded, and neither am I.

"Maybe to broaden the tent for 2016 by appealing to people who feel “left behind” by the recovery"
But the poor are not exactly the most politically engaged constituency and seem unlikely to switch allegiances. To put it in Dos Equis terms: The poor don’t always vote, but when they do, they vote Democratic.

"Maybe it’s the result of rebounding economic growth and declining unemployment,"
which means Republicans have to be more precise about exactly which part of Obama’s record is vulnerable to criticism. Although of course the rise in inequality long predates Obama’s time in the White House; the top 1 percent’s share of national income has been trending upward since Obama was in high school.

"Or maybe it’s really more about reassuring Republicans’ core middle-class voters,"
who might suspect that Republican-led cuts to safety-net programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance are, well, heartless. For the “compassionate conservatism” reboot to be convincing and guilt-alleviating this time around, though, Republicans need to offer strong anti-poverty proposals of their own. So far — with the exception of Paul Ryan’s plan last year — we’ve mostly heard more of the same tax-cutting, deregulating shtick, whose relevance to inequality and poverty is tenuous at best.

I'm still confused on this point. These lying buttwipes are clearly trying to send some sort of message, but what's the message and to whom is it being sent? Catherine has hit the obvious suspects, and there's probably some truth in each. But I'm left thinking that it's some sort of combination of all of them -- that it's a recognition of just how cosmically wrong they've been and how humiliatingly exposed they stand to be as the truth begins to dawn on all those left behind on the "screwed" side of the economic chasm.

I take it personally, though, in the case of lying low-lifes like Ted from Alberta and Willard, given the history of their slavering savagery toward the people they worked so hard to screw. They should be stripped naked and bound to posts to hear their own psychotic ravings read back to them until they apologize for having been born.

Naturally, the situation isn't without irony. Where power-mad moral defectives are involved, there's usually irony.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have reconfigured their messaging as well, to focus more on the middle class than the destitute. While the State of the Union speech touched on policies intended to lift those at the bottom — increasing the minimum wage, for example — Obama’s rhetoric mostly emphasized “middle-class economics,” abandoning his previous “bottom-up economics” coinage. Even programs that are usually associated with the poor, such as community college access, have been pitched as a middle-class benefit. And he didn’t even mention one of the starring, bleeding-heart, anti-poverty promises from his speeches the past two years: universal pre-K.
And this, says Catherine, "brings us to an uneasy question." It's a hoot.
If Republicans have pivoted to care more about the poor, and Democrats have pivoted to care more about the middle class, who’s left to look out for America’s newly neglected rich?

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Football Watch update: Coach Bill the Science Guy seems to be stronger on football than on science

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The New Yorker's "Daily Cartoon" for Friday, January 23rd



by Ken

Okay, we get it. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick really, really doesn't care for the NFL front office. He thinks they don't like him, and try their darnedest to make his job harder, whlie they're screwing up stuff they're supposed to be doing. Also, he wishes this whole confounded Deflate-gate thing would go away, and since he gets that he can't ignore it or just wish it away, he finally decided to tackle it head on, sort of.

Now in his dim opinion of the league office, who's to say he isn't on to something? The Fiscal Extraction Dept. seems on top of its game, but otherwise the league hasn't been showing itself to stellar advantage in recent times. And certainly one understands that people in hsi organization understand that their jobs include doing whatever falls within their job description to do everything possible to maximize the team's chances of winning. And so maybe it wasn't entirely a coincidence that 11 of those 12 footballs officials impounded after the Pats' 45-7 trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts in the NFC Championship game apparently came up clearly under the league-mandated minimum air pressure.

The league says every team supplies the game balls it will use for a game, subject to pregame checks, and so if there's any way a team can massage those balls to its advantage within the rules, well, it would be irresponsible of the team's people responsible for preparing the balls not to do it. The Pats' balls, alas, seem to have fallen to an eerie extent outside the rules, however, and this is a problem. It was promptly noted that those under-inflated balls are widely thought to be easier for receivers to handle and hold onto, especially in wet conditions. Well, the team is likely set to do what it did back when its people got caught spying electronically on opponents. Everybody does it, they said, but they paid the fine and moved on.

Unfortunately, Coach Bill, who clearly has one of the great minds in the history of the game for focusing all aspects of his team's operation on maximizing the chances of winning, isn't so adept at public-relations niceties. And the worst time to be fumbling your way through a mess like this is in that first week of the two-week gap between the conference championsihps and the Super Bowl, when media stiffs have next to nothing to do, and are apt to be reduced to interviewing one another.

Coach's first line of defense, that he had never spent a day of his life thinking about the internal air pressure of game footballs, was a nonstarter, because clearly somebody in his organization clearly had been devoting a lot of thought to the subject and was spending a lot of time before every game doing something about it. As, again, they should be. I don't think anyone was suggesting that Deflate-gate was his personally concocted scheme. But did he really expect anyone to believe that he runs an operation where nobody deals with the question?

So naturally Coach Bills' next move was to make it worse. As ESPNboston.com reported:
During Saturday's impromptu meeting with reporters, Bill Belichick said more than once that he wasn't a scientist. But he sure sounded like someone who had been buried in his lab conducting experiments when detailing measures he and members of his staff took to simulate the team's steps to prepare game balls.

Their conclusion was that part of their preparation process -- perhaps the way they rub down the balls to get them to the preferred texture -- raises the air pressure inside the balls.
I hope you're strapped in, because we've got a rocky science ride coming up.
“We simulated a game-day situation in terms of the preparation of the footballs and where the balls [were] at various [points] in the day or night, as the case was Sunday,” Belichick said Saturday. “I would say that our preparation process for the footballs is what we do -- I can’t speak for anybody else, it’s what we do -- and that [preparation] process we have found raises the PSI approximately 1 pound [per square inch]. That process of creating a tackiness, a texture, the right feel, whatever that feel is, a sensation for the quarterback, that process elevates the PSI approximately 1 pound [per square inch] based on what our study showed, which was multiple footballs, multiple examples in the process as we would do for a game. It’s not one football.

“Now, we all know that air pressure is a function of the atmospheric conditions, it’s a function of that. So, if there’s activity in the ball relative to the rubbing process, I think that explains why when we gave them to the officials and the officials put it at 12.5 [PSI] if that’s in fact what they did, that once the ball reached its equilibrium state, it probably was closer to 11.5 [PSI]. ... So the atmospheric conditions as well as the true equilibrium of the football is critical to the measurement.”

Asked further about his research, Belichick invited others to replicate his experiment.

“The situation is the preparation of the ball caused the ball to I would say be artificially high in PSI when it was set at the regulated level and it reached its equilibrium at some point later on, an hour or two hours into the game whatever it was,” he said. “That level was below what it was set in this climatic condition. I think that’s exactly what happened. And I think anybody that wants to do those experiments should go ahead and do them themselves. Don’t take my word for it. I’m telling you, we are trying to get to an answer to this and that’s what we have.”
Well, Good Morning America called on Bill Nye for his thoughts, and the Science Guy isn't impressed.



"What he said didn't make any sense," says the real Science Guy. He doesn't see how rubbing the ball can change the internal air pressure. For that, he says, you would need to use an inflation needle to change the amount of air inside.

And there it stands. Unless we get really lucky, the Super Bowl will go ahead as scheduled Sunday after the usual 11 hours of pregame festivities. We may yet look back nostalgically on Deflate-gate.


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