Monday, January 26, 2015

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


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?


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


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 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.

DWT SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post at 11am PT/2pm ET


Sunday, January 25, 2015

"White House gives Fox accurate place cards at SOTU lunch" (HuffPost's Calvino Partigiani)


by Ken

Credit poor Shep Smith with keeping his cool as he notes how, at the White House SOTU lunch, he and Fox Noise colleague Bret Baier had place cards that identified their affiliation as just "FOX," unlike such nearby colleagues as Brian Williams of "NBC NEWS" and Scott Pelley of "CBS NEWS" and David Muir of "ABC NEWS." He says he thinks he and Bret will go with "News."

If only it were their choice. Unfortunately for them, the decision as to what goes out on their network was decided from the inception by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, and in the years since, they've only doubled down on their original inspiration. Clearly HuffPost's Calivno Partigiani got it right in saying that the White House had given the Noisy Network's guys "accurate place cards."

Do you suppose Shep thought his viewers would be outraged rather than bemused at the White House's evident slight? Personally, I'm going to go with bemused.


Joe Franklin (1926-2015)


RIP, Joe -- an American original

by Noah

Joe Franklin was, for real, an American original. He is one of the earliest childhood memories I have of media, along with people like Sandy Becker, Soupy Sales, and Ernie Kovacs. He got on radio and television and was successful by -- like the others I just mentioned -- being himself. He was proudly unscripted. His everyman qualities, eccentricities and all, endeared him to those who tuned in, and they tuned in for over 40 years starting in the 1950s.

Franklin's show was no-frills, no-bullshit. It was just Joe interviewing his guests and saying whatever came into his mind. The fact that his show walked a tightrope was part of its appeal and why it is remembered so fondly today. So was the fact that his guests were often total unknowns or even has-beens. They were often just people he thought were interesting or had interesting ideas or lives. In fact, sometimes it seemed that his guests were just people he met on the street or in a coffee shop.

None of this is to say that he didn’t also have celebrities on his shows. He did. A famous show with Bing Crosby comes to mind. There was also one with The Ramones.

Joe was so natural, down to earth, and honest that it didn’t matter that he somehow managed to mispronounce Ramones throughout the entire interview. He made people and what they had to say interesting. His guests may have been, on the surface, of no interest to his viewers, but his interviews showed that, underneath the image or the surface, everyone had a story and it was a story that people could relate to. Irreverence and oddness were always welcome. Enthusiasm counted.

Here's another excerpt from a Joe Franklin show. In 1976, my friend Michael Simmons, then a mere 21, a music journalist par excellence and a professional musician in his own right (Kinky Friedman’s band, for instance), appeared on the show. At the time he was just starting out as a country musician. Michael adds his own commentary on the appearance.
Host Joe Franklin holds up the first issue of new soccer rag and turns to Michael Simmons.
JOE: So, young Mr. Simmons, whaddaya think? Soccer magazine? America? Hot new sport?
MICHAEL: Well, Joe, I think there’s been a huge hole in America's newsstands that will be filled with the long-overdue arrival of this magazine.
JOE: Thank. You. Michael. Simmons. America’s hottest new country singer. He opens at the Rainbow Grill on September 7th and is bound to become one of the great singing stars of the future.

(That didn’t work out either.) So long, Joe. You were the greatest Joe Franklin of all time.
Joe Franklin would never get on TV in today's corporately stifled and strangled world. The suits would say they didn't like his hair or his sport jackets, which often looked like they came from some alternate universe’s Amani Ted Baxter line of menswear. Joe Franklin would never get past the stuck-up Hollywood morons or the focus-grouped-to-death sessions. Hell, he probably didn't even go to the "right" restaurants. More's the pity.

Please take a look at this great New York Times obituary by James Barron.
Joe Franklin, Local Talk Show Pioneer, Dies at 88

By JAMES BARRON | January 24, 2015

Joe Franklin interviewed Debbie Reynolds at the WOR-TV studios in 1985.

Joe Franklin, who became a New York institution by presiding over one of the most compellingly low-rent television programs in history, one that even he acknowledged was an oddly long-running parade of has-beens and yet-to-bes interrupted from time to time by surprisingly famous guests, died on Saturday in a hospice in Manhattan. He was 88.

Steve Garrin, Mr. Franklin’s producer and longtime friend, said the cause was prostate cancer.

A short, pudgy performer with a sandpapery voice that bespoke old-fashioned show business razzle-dazzle, Mr. Franklin was one of local television’s most enduring personalities. He took his place behind his desk and in front of the camera day after day in the 1950s and night after night in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

In 1993, he said that he had hosted more than 300,000 guests in his more than 40 years on the air. Another way to have interviewed that many people would have been to go to Riverside, Calif., or Corpus Christi, Tex., and talk to everyone in town. He may have been exaggerating, but whatever the number was, it was impressive.

And although he never made the move from local television in New York to the slicker, bigger realms of the networks, he was recognizable enough to have been parodied by Billy Crystal on “Saturday Night Live” and mentioned on “The Simpsons.”

What came to be considered campy began as pioneering programming: the first regular program that Channel 7 had ever broadcast at noon. WJZ-TV, as the station was known then, had not been signing on until late afternoon before the premiere of “Joe Franklin — Disk Jockey” on Jan. 8, 1951.

Soon celebrities like Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby and John F. Kennedy were making their way to the dingy basement studio on West 67th Street — a room with hot lights that was “twice the size of a cab,” Mr. Franklin recalled in 2002. He booked Woody Allen, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Bill Cosby and Liza Minnelli as guests when they were just starting out, and hired two other young performers, Bette Midler and Barry Manilow, as his in-house singer and accompanist.

“My show was often like a zoo,” he said in 2002. “I’d mix Margaret Mead with the man who whistled through his nose, or Richard Nixon with the tap-dancing dentist.”

Mr. Franklin claimed a perfect attendance record: He said he never missed a show. Bob Diamond, his director for the last 18 years of his television career, said that there were a few times in the days of live broadcasts when the show had to start without Mr. Franklin. But Mr. Franklin always got there eventually.

And he always seemed to have a gimmick. He celebrated his 40th anniversary on television by interviewing himself, using a split-screen arrangement. “I got a few questions I’m planning to surprise myself with,” he said before he began.

Had he asked himself, he could have told viewers that he was born Joe Fortgang in the Bronx. He explained in his memoir, “Up Late With Joe Franklin,” written with R. J. Marx, that his press materials had long said that he had been born in 1928, “but I’m going to come clean and admit that my real birth date was March 9, 1926.” He was the son of Martin and Anna Fortgang; his father was a paper-and-twine dealer who had gone to Public School 158 with James Cagney.

By the time he was 21, he had a new name, a radio career, a publicist and a too-good-to-be-true biography invented, he wrote in “Up Late,” by a publicist. In that book, he denied an anecdote that appeared in many newspaper articles about him: He had met George M. Cohan in Central Park when he was a teenager. That led to a dinner invitation from Mr. Cohan, who let him pick a recording from his collection and take it home — or so the story went. It never happened, Mr. Franklin wrote in “Up Late.”

But a real invitation to pick records was his big break. He had been the writer for the singer Kate Smith’s 1940s variety program, which featured guests like Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Edward G. Robinson — “all my childhood heroes” — when the radio personality Martin Block hired him to choose the records played on Block’s “Make-Believe Ballroom” on WNEW. Block arranged for Mr. Franklin to go on the air with a program called “Vaudeville Isn’t Dead.” After stops at several other stations in the 1950s, Mr. Franklin settled in at WOR in the mid-60s with his “Memory Lane” program — “that big late-night stroll for nostalgiacs and memorabiliacs,” as he described it.

He was both. He owned a shoe of Greta Garbo’s, a violin of Jack Benny’s and a ukulele of Arthur Godfrey’s — not to mention 12,500 pieces of sheet music and 10,000 silent movies. His office was several rooms of uncataloged clutter, first in Times Square, later at Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street. “You know, I was a slob,” he said in 2002.

Mr. Franklin met his wife when she applied for a job as his secretary. Soon they were being mentioned in gossip columns. “Dorothy Kilgallen wrote that we were ‘waxing amorous,’ ” he wrote in “Up Late.” “Walter Winchell queried in his column, ‘What radio voice with initial J. F. seen ‘round town with model Lois Meriden?’ ” Soon, too, she was accompanying him to the studio for his 6:30 a.m. broadcast. “Lois made faces at me through the control room window, wiggling her ears and her nose,” Mr. Franklin wrote in “Up Late.”

They were married on a television show called “Bride and Groom.” Off camera, he wrote in 1995, “things weren’t going right — it’s been like that for 40 years.” He added, “Lois is happy, I’m happy, I live in New York, she lives in Florida.”

After his television show was canceled in 1993, Mr. Franklin repeatedly tried to cash in on his fame and his collection of memorabilia. In 2000, he lent his name to a 160-seat restaurant on Eighth Avenue at 45th Street. Eventually it became a chain restaurant with “Joe Franklin’s Comedy Club” in the back; later the restaurant and the comedy club closed. And in 2002, he sold some of his memorabilia at auction.

He continued to do a late-night radio show, on the Bloomberg Radio Network, almost to the end. Mr. Garrin said Mr. Franklin’s Tuesday show was the first scheduled broadcast he had missed in more than 60 years.

His survivors include his son, Bradley Franklin; a sister, Margaret Kestenbaum; two grandchildren; and his longtime companion, Jodi Fritz.

On television, Mr. Franklin did not like to rehearse, and he never used cue cards or prompters. The opening monologue and the questions were all in his head.

“I was the only guy who never had a preproduction meeting,” Mr. Franklin said in 2002. “You don’t rehearse your dinner conversation. I’m not saying I was right, but I lasted 43 years.”

Ashley Southall contributed reporting.


As I said, Joe Franklin is one of my earliest media memories. His early sets, as you can see in the Times photo with Debbie Reynolds, were literally a living room with an interview desk. I used to imagine how cool it would be to have an interview desk in the 1960s living room of the house I grew up in. I fantasized about interviewing my parents' friends, relatives and neighbors, often using incriminating gossip that was going around. Joe Franklin was inspirational!

It appears that the Seinfeld people were having the same sort of inspiration when they created the "Merv Griffin Show" episode from Season 9 (written by Bruce Eric Kaplan), where Kramer finds the discarded Merv Griffin set and sets it up in his living room.

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Sunday Classics special edition: Getting even more "Carried Away"


COMDEN, GREEN, and BERNSTEIN: On the Town: Act I opening: "I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet"; Introduction; "New York, New York"

John Reardon, Gabey (and First Workman); Cris Alexander, Chip (and Workman); Adolph Green, Ozzie (and Workman); 1960 studio cast recording, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony

Samuel Ramey, Lindsay Benson, and Stewart Collins, Workmen; Thomas Hampson, Gabey; Kurt Ollmann Chip; David Garrison, Ozzie; London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas, cond. DG, recorded in concert at the Barbican Centre (London), June 1992

by Ken

A month or so ago I put together a pair of posts, "New York, New York, it's a heckuva town" and "A cluster of explosive young talents explode in On the Town," inspired by the terrific piece Adam Green wrote for Vanity Fair, "Innocents on Broadway," about the creation of the 1944 Broadway musical On the Town. The show, you'll recall, had book and lyrics by Adam's father, Adolph Green, and his eventual life-long writing partner, Betty Comden, and music by theirt good friend Leonard Bernstein, in collaboration with some other exploding young talents like choreographer Jerome Robbins, who'd had the idea for the ballet he created with Lenny B, Fancy Free, which became the germ for On the Town.

As Adam Green wrote: "On the Town was a landmark, the first show by a bunch of bright upstarts -- Bernstein, Comden and Green, and Jerome Robbins, all still in their 20s -- who would go on, together and apart, to help shape the cultural landscape of the 20th century."

In those posts I turned to the very special 1960 studio recording organzied by Columbia Records' Goddard Lieberson, which was conducted by the composer and featured a number of performers from the original cast, including Comden and Green themselves, re-creating the roles of Claire and Ozzie, which they'd actually written with themselves in mind (but in the end lhad had to auditon for!). Lieberson was a great proponent of "creators' recordings," and was largely responsible for invaluable projoects like Columbia's extensive Stravinsky-conducting-Stravinsky and Copland-conducting-Copland and, yes, Bernstein-conducting-Bernstein, and the 1960 On the Town, whether it was thought of as such or not, certainly qualified.


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Doonesbury Watch: This couple doesn't have a future, do they? (Well, yes and no)


DOONESBURY by G. B. Trudeau - Monday [click to enlarge]

by Ken

To the best of my recollection, the last time we checked in on the Classic Doonebury reruns, it was to return to yet another critical moment in the life and times of Joanie Caucus. Joanie, you'll recall (or see "When the young(er) Joanie Caucus met up with the Doonesbury gang"), first hooked up with Mike and Mark when they picked her up as a hitchhiker, having walked out on her abusive first husband.

Joanie meets Mark S and Mike D, then Zonker H
[Click on any strip to enlarge it]

DOONESBURY by Garry Trudeau

Day 1

Day 2

Two days later

More recently we were reminded that when Joanie walked out on her husband, she also walked out on her baby daughter, J.J. This came up, logically enough, when J.J. suddenly reappeared in her life. In a remarkably short time J.J. has managed to pack in an impressive amount of chaos, until her spaced-out boyfriend Zeke kicked up the chaos level a notch too high even for her, burning down the house they were living in.

Which has led to one of the great turning points in Doonesbury history: when Mike, now a Walden senior, came under the spell of J.J. The difference now is that we experience it with knowledge of the immense amount of history that flowed from it. But as we've been reminded, it was hardly an auspicious beginning.

It wasn't the first strip in this sequence, the one I've put at the top of this post, that made me feel I had to share it, or this one that followed:


No, it was the next one, the one that reappeared Wednesday. Taking it in, all I could think was: Talk about two people who are completely mismatched!


The heart wants what it wants, however, and while over the long haul the mismatchedness turned out to be oh-so-true, it also turned out to be far from the whole story of J.J. and Mike.

To return to the immediate future (past, that is), though, here's how "Classic" developments have developed since Wednesday:





You can fill in the basic blanks from either the official Doonesbury "The Cast" page or Wikipedia's list of Main characters, with particular reference to J.J. and Alex. From there you can online-search your way to Doonesbury insanity.


It takes a lot to dislodge Howie from his blogging chair -- a blast from the past




the green on the upper left is all charred now

Yesterday I was so busy excoriating Chris Carney for lying to me about his position on equality when he wanted Blue America support, that I didn't pay any attention to anything else. So when my ex-roommate, Roland, called as he was driving home from school-- he teaches in Compton and, like me, lives in Los Feliz-- his news surprised me. "Get out of there," he shouted. "The fire is headed right towards your house." What fire? "What planet are you on?" he asked. "Are you sitting and working on that crazy blog of yours all day? Turn on the TV." He called about 30 minutes later and I had to admit I hadn't turned on the TV. At that point it was something like 3PM and I still didn't know there was a fire other than having heard it from him-- and he tends to get dramatic sometimes.
-- the start of Howie's DWT post at 1:36pm PT on May 9, 2007

by Melody

Yep, as Ken wrote the other day, telling us about Howie's temporary absence from his usual perch: “It takes a lot to dislodge him from his blogging chair, which is the place where he pretty much most likes to be in the whole world.” For those of you who don’t know Howie’s priors, I want to take you back to that day in May 2007, when the DWT post that began as you see above appeared at 1:39pm PT -- with the aerial photo highlighting "Howie's Pad" and text that began as you see here.

I have dug out two YouTubes from Day 1 of the Griffith Park fire -- the fire that led Roland to ask, "Are you sitting and working on that crazy blog of yours all day?” (Which of course he was!)

Bear in mind that while all of this was going on, Howie had been busy -- as he told us here -- excoriating Pennsylvania freshman Congressman Chris Carney. Chris Carney is a paticular sore point for all of us who have followed Howie’s tireless efforts for Blue America, and just to bring this report full circle, he has refused to vanish into the night. Just this past Tuesday Howie wrote a post titled "The Return Of Blue Dog Chris Carney?," which began:

In the 2006 midterms Blue America made a ghastly mistake. We allowed ourselves be be taken in my a bold-faced liar and fast-talking charlatan running for Congress in northeast Pennsylvania. Although we were warned that Carney, a former employee of Douglas Feith in the Bush White House, was untrustworthy, we endorsed him and helped him raise money and develop strategies against against Republican incumbent Don Sherwood. (We did not know at the time that he had worked as an "interrogator" at Guantanamo.) During our endorsement interview he portrayed himself as a progressive and vowed that if he were elected he would vote for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. He was elected, immediately joined the reactionary Blue Dogs and started voting with the Republicans on one crucial roll call after another. . . .

Blue America apologized to our contributors, and asked Carney to refund the money our donors have given him. He started cursing at me. We started raising money to let PA-10 voters know what a fraud Carney is and in 2010 he was one of the dozens of Blue Dogs swept out of office. Republican Tom Marino beat him 109,603 (55%) to 89,170 (45%) and we hoped we'd never have to think about him again, except as an object lesson about how to deal with dishonest candidates.

Unfortunately, Carney is rearing his ugly head again, threatening to run against Joe Sestak in the 2016 Pennsylvania Senate primary. Anti-Choice, anti-gay, he's so right-wing he could easily switch to the Republican Party. But over the weekend he said he wants to run against Republican incumbent Pat Toomey as a Democrat. . . .
I can only conclude that Chris Carney has some really bad mojo.

Chris Carney may not agree, but here's hoping that Howie's back in his beloved blogging chair ASAP.

KEN ADDS: I wish I had news to report, but as of my latest information Howie is still resting mighty uncomfortably while, presumably, those cracked ribs do some healing. Thanks to all for all the good wishes. We'll try to keep you posted.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Movie Watch: A few quick words about "Boyhood," a film unlike anything you've likely seen -- or likely ever will


Divorced dad Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) visits with his son, Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), and daughter, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), at the start of the 12-year journey chronicled in Richard Linklater's Boyhood -- unlike anything you're likely ever to have seen.

by Ken

Since the question comes up so often in writer-director Richard Linklater's Boyhood, let me say upfront that yes, I had done my homework when I slipped out of the house late this afternoon for the long trek to Astoria (Queens) and a Museum of the Moving Image screening of the film. I was so curious about it that during its commercial run I came this close to paying box-office prices to see it. To make matters worse, I had missed my shot at an earlier MOMI screening, so when I saw this one on the schedule, I determined not to miss it.

I think I'll want to write a little about the film, but I have to think about what I can say without giving away any more about it than you probably already know, which is already TMI. As I've mentioned before, this has been on my mind increasingly with movie reviews -- I don't know how reviewers can avoid giving away information they feel is necessary just to give readers enough to go on in deciding whether they should see a film, but really and truly, when the lights go down and the picture comes up, I'd like to know as little as possible.

Still, as you surely already know, Linklater made Boyhood over a 12-year period, and chronicles the lives of his central characters -- a mother (Patricia Arquette), her ex-husband (Ethan Hawke), and their nine-year-old daughter Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter) and seven-year-old son Mason (Ellar Coltrane) -- over, yes, a 12-year period. Just as a technical feat, this kind of boggled my mind, and I would have been intrigued to see the film just to watch this 12-year process unfolding. Where else are we going to see such a thing?

I've heard the reaction that beyond this feat, the picture isn't especially interesting, though I can't say I'd heard a reaction quite as lamebrained as this one, in the Amazon comments, with the title "Wow! What a boring movie!"
Boring. It's a lifetime movie without the tears or emotion. It is liking watching a home movie of someone else's kid growing up. No plot. no emotion. no suspense, no murders, no brawls, no sex, no terminal illness, no good/bad guy, no victories, no conspiracy, no humor. It's a whole lot about nothing.

This movie is too long and you keep thinking something must happen to one of the characters, but nothing happens. You will not be glued to the screen with this one, you can miss a hour of the film and not miss anything, you can go on a nature break, get a snack, cook dinner and eat without stopping the movie, in fact I recommend you do not stop the movie - let it play and go do something else.
This gives a person sudden unexpected respect for the people who get to decide which movies to make, people I don't usually have much respect for. But when you consider that these are the people they have to sell those movies to, God bless 'em. And in a wacky game of "Can you top this?," an even bigger jackass added the comment:
What a great review! Laughing my rear off! "Let it play and go do something else." Classic!
It's not clear whether this lamebrain, before laughing his rear off, actually saw the movie, and so had the slightest idea what he was exercising his butt about.

This is admittedly a long movie, though the action is so compressed, given its actual chronological span, that I found it moving way too fast. However, I can indeed imagine people who wouldn't find Boyhood of interest. The two categories of people I have imagined so far are:

* People who have found for themselves satisfactory answers to the range of basic questions that might be grouped up in the catch-all questions: Life? Time?

* People to whom such questions have never occurred.

In case you haven't gotten the idea, let me say that Boyhood isn't like anything I've ever seen, and I was overwhelmed. As soon as I finish writing this non-review, I'm going to go to a suitable website and order myself the Blu-ray, which I see comes on two discs. I hope that means there are lots of extras. I'm glad I got to see it the first time on a big screen, but it should survive transfer to the small screen.

Until I figure a way to write more about the movie without giving any more away, let me just say that even if you wind up not liking it, you should probably give it a shot, because if you're at all susceptible to the material, it's a movie you won't forget.


Culture Watch: "Women's Grammar Worse Than Men's in Online Dating, Survey Says"


Attention must be paid: Come on, let's get serious. This important new information about women and men comes from a dating app, so it must be significant. (Say, looks like this Sasha has work to do on her Response Rate and Message Quality.)

"The concept for The Grade came from complaints from men who said women seemed unresponsive to digital advances and appeared to use online dating sites for sport, [app developer Cliff Lerner] said. For women, the complaints were against men who sent them lewd comments and photos."
-- from Serena Solomon's DNAinfo New York report

"You don't have to be an A+ English student. But if you don't know simple grammar at this stage of your life, it's going to hurt you."
-- Cliff Lerner, developer of The Grade, quoted in the above

by Ken

This is a story I've been kicking around in my head for several days now. I can't help feeling that it's deeply significant, possibly even important. However, I haven't been able to work out in my head just what its significance or possible importance might be. I wasn't even sure whether to file a post like this as, say, "Grammar Watch" or perhaps (with a hat tip to the great James Thurber) "War Between Men and Women Watch."

I mean, this report even comes with professional analysis from a sexuality psychologist! With expertise like this, you know you can't go wrong. As a result, the deeper one digs into this report, the more disturbing it becomes.

In the end I've decided to just bite the bullet and lay the thing out for you to work out on your own.
Women's Grammar Worse Than Men's in Online Dating, Survey Says

By Serena Solomon on January 19, 2015

Women have worse grammar and use slang more often in online dating messages than men, according to a survey.

Dating app The Grade gives users a letter grade according to their responsiveness to other users, the quality of their profile, including how many photos they upload — and how often they make grammar mistakes in messages.

After surveying the behavior of the nearly 3,000 users in the five boroughs, the site found that in every borough except Brooklyn, women sent more inappropriate messages (containing incorrect grammar, slang or sexually explicit content) than men. Staten Island men proved to be the most PG when it came to their correspondence.

"I think women — especially in NYC — put on a tough exterior," wrote sexuality psychologist Amber Madison in an email to DNAinfo, on the survey's results. "I see slang and grammar issues as playing into the 'I don't give a s--t/too busy for you' exterior a lot of NYC women want to project."

The Grade’s study also took emojis into account.

Female users in Manhattan most often sent the “cried with laughter” emoji. Brooklyn men sent an emoji communicating “a relieved contentment.”  Male users from Queens and the Bronx both used the ‘OK’ hand sign more than any other emoji, according to The Grade’s data.

The Grade's analysis included 1,118 people from Manhattan, 720 from Brooklyn, 600 from Queens, 306 from the Bronx and 114 from Staten Island.

The app's algorithm flags hostile correspondence and also penalizes acronyms such as "smh," shorthand for "shaking my head."

But the poor showing for New York City's women is attributed more to high levels of slang and grammar mistakes rather than lewd content, according to Cliff Lerner, the app's developer.

"The vision is to truly have a community of high-quality daters with the intent to actually meet someone,”  Lerner said. His company, Snap Interactive, has been in the dating game for almost a decade after developing an early Facebook dating app called Are You Interested.

The concept for The Grade came from complaints from men who said women seemed unresponsive to digital advances and appeared to use online dating sites for sport, he said. For women, the complaints were against men who sent them lewd comments and photos.

When a user first signs on to the app they are given "grade pending" status. A grade is assigned once the site has enough data, which can happen within minutes or longer depending on the user's activity.

Basic grammar is a part of how The Grade evaluates users, penalizing slip-ups such as “there” versus “their.”

“You don’t have to be an A+ English student,” said Lerner. “But if you don’t know simple grammar at this stage of your life, it’s going to hurt you.”

Slang includes using acronyms such as "lmao" (laughing my ass off), which was the one most commonly used by Brooklyn males in The Grade's survey or "hbu" (how 'bout you), which was the favorite of female users in The Bronx.

The app's algorithm also picks through profiles, awarding points to users who describe themselves in a few paragraphs and punishing those who only use a few sentences. If users upload additional photos of themselves, their grade will increase in real time, according to Lerner.

The Grade's survey revealed that daters from the Bronx scored an F on average, Manhattan daters earned an A and Brooklyn's average came in at a C+.

Lily Nunez, 31, an audit consultant from Brooklyn, has been using The Grade for about a week and said the app has yet to filter out the same poorly behaved daters who exist on other platforms. The app graded Nunez with a B.

"You anticipate someone with an A grade being really good, but they still haven’t filled their profile out," she said. "Honestly, it is a bit misleading."

Nunez said a lot of profiles she came across on The Grade used random photos and quotes on their "about" section to plump up their profiles and skirt the app's algorithm.

The app has followed through on its promise to delete the profiles of users who continue to get bad grades, booting about 150 New Yorkers since it launched in November, according to Lerner. Holding an overall F grade for more than a week puts a user in danger of being deleted, he said.

The good news for floundering users is that the app instructs them on why they have dismal grades and how to improve, he said.

What the app doesn’t do is allow users to grade each other.

“If I go on a date with a girl and she doesn’t like me, that doesn’t impact my grade," Lerner said.

To see The Grade's interactive statistics, click here.
One final note: I think we all have to approve the system whereby daters don't get to grade each other, since we all know how bitchy daters can be. And it's good to know that not only are grade-deficient app users given the heave-ho, but they're offered counseling first.

I'm not sure it would have occurred to me that the grammatical sensitivity of grammatically persnickety daters extends not just to slang but to sexual suggestiveness. What's more, since The Grade is an iPhone-only app, it would appear that non-iPhone-equipped daters, if they even exist, are automatic F's.


Ms. Sandy Rios: Republican Kook of the Day


Frotunately, it's not just FOX News! Today Noah celebrates another stalwart infromer.

by Noah

I was going to call this post "Republican Kook of the Week" (in the tradition of the Crazyspeak of the Year Award I gave in my end-of-year review series, "Crackpot Utopia: The Year in Republican Crazy"), but let's get real. Not a day (or even an hour) goes by when some Republican somewhere raises their freak flag and spouts off some bizarro thought that they just had to share with the world.

So, Kook of the Day it is. I don't have time to write about the denizens of the Crackpot Party every day, but today I give you: Sandy Rios.

Ms. Sandy is a speaker of crackpot-ese for the American Family Association's radio station. She has discovered that, during his recent State of the Union speech, President Obama was planting subliminal (or sublabliminal as Dubya would say) pro-Islamic messages into the minds of Americans who tuned in without their tinfoil hats. (See Right Wing Watch's report here.)

Our Kook of the Day zeroed right in on Obama's use of the word "pillar" when he used the word to describe the foundations of American leadership in the world: "There's one last pillar to our leadership- and that's the example of our values." Sez Rios:
He has done this before, you know, there are five pillars of Islam, and he used the term "pillars" again in his speech last night.
Well, Ms. Sandy, I didn't know about the five Islamic pillars thing, but now, thanks to you, I do! Thank you, Sandy! All hail the American Family Association! I am intrigued! I must look into this Islam thing. Maybe it has something for me! I will go to secretly Muslim Amazon or Secretly Muslim Barnes and Noble and buy a Koran today!

Until you, Ms. Sandy, pointed this out, I was only thinking that, when Obama used the word "pillar," he was subliminally referencing Judaism with a reference to the Old Testament story of Lot and his unfortunate
wife who disobeyed the voices from on high and looked back and therefore turned into a pillar of salt. Ah, but you've made it all so clear!

Rios has awakened me! I am inspired! Following her lead, I have decided to go through the President's speech (there's a recording and complete transcript here) and see what else I could find! I decided to look for other subliminal messages and hidden meanings that the dastardly Obamaman might have planted in his secret Muslim, pro-Marxist-Socialist hypno-address to the nation.

Take a look at some of these incredible finds!
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:
Did you catch that? Right off the bat, President Obama uses the secret hypno-phrase "my fellow Americans"! It could not be more obvious that Obama is trying to plant the idea in our minds that he, like us, is an American! He even uses the very same phrase at the end of his speech! Wow!

Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high. And more Americans finish college than ever before.
Well, la-di-da-da-da! There he goes again, looking down his nose at those of us who ain't got no edumacation. Obama is planting the idea that being educated is good. How elitist of him! It's disgusting. Who needs school? We have Jeopardy, Ancient Aliens, Swamp People, Mountain Monsters, Ice Road Truckers, the Duck Dynasty guy, and, most of all FOX News!

The cast of Destination America's Mountain Monsters

We believed that sensible regulations could prevent another crisis, shield families from ruin, and encourage fair competition.
Notice how Obama combines the words "sensible" and "regulations" together in a pathetic attempt to have us thinking it possible that any regulation could be sensible! What about our freedoms? We are not fooled by such attempts at empowering government. This reeks of socialism, whatever that is!

And, speaking of socialism:
And in the past year alone, about ten million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage.
Yeeesh, whatever happened to "Let him die"? This guy is sooo boastful and arrogant, isn't he?

Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works.
Obama always sneaks in something about economic status. Here he is hoping to plant the seeds of class warfare.

Then, in talking about our country's history, he hammers home his secret socialist code words:
We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid . . .
Can you now have any doubt about President Obama being a Marxist-Socialist? "Worker protections"! Code for unions!

[W]e need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever . . . and that's why my plan will make quality childcare more available, for every middle-class and low-income family . . .
"My plan"! Do you know who else repeatedly used those words, not only in his speeches but in a very famous book where he laid out his plan for his country. I'll tell you. Adolf Hitler, that's who, in Mein

I rest my case, and I'm not even halfway through Obama's clever attempt at spellbinding us into a future of
Muslim-Marxist-Commie-Pinko-ism! Ms. Sandy Rios of the American Family Association, you have done us
proud. Boy, that Obama sure is a sneaky one!

See how I cleverly threw out a juicy racist bone that will appeal to republicans everywhere by putting the words "boy" and "Obama" in the same sentence?


This is not the first time Rios has pushed the "Obama is a Muslim" idea that republicans gravitate to like crack. There's this claim that Obama is some sort of ISIS ally:

And, of course the Obama is from Kenya meme:

And what about George W. Bush?

Remember his "Three Pillars of Security" speech, while he was still president, in London back in July 2008? Three pillars? Is he a Secret Muslim too? My God, they're everywhere!

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What do "Smelly Shelly" Silver and not-quite-humbled Russian ex-oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky have in common? (continued)


*Silver's reported income only includes payments from Weitz and Luxenberg. Records from 2002 and 2003 are incomplete, and Silver's 2014 income report was not included in court files.
The U.S. attorney's office produced this chart showing NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's reported income over the period 2002-14 as well as income from law firm Weitz and Luxenberg and an unnamed real-estate law firm that has been identified as Goldberg and Iryami.

by Ken

Officially, as I promised last night, we're supposed to be looking at the question, "What do "Smelly Shelly" Silver and not-quite-humbled Russian ex-oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky have in common?"

But first I think we have to make sure that non-New York Staters -- and probably even many New Yorkers -- grasp the magnitude of the convulsions in the Empire State with the arrest and indictment Thursday of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a guy they may never even have heard of? After all, as far as I'm aware Shelly never really sought the limelight. It seems to have been enough for his purposes that the people who mattered knew who he was. For those people, if there's any truth to the allegations in the five federal counts lodged against him by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, his name was enough to make unseemly quantities of dollars move, many of them unrelated to the workings of government, with millions of those dollars landing in his personal accounts.

It's traditional to describe the clout of the NYS Assembly speaker in terms of the storied "three men in a room," the others being the governor and the Senate majority leader, the three men who, going back to the days of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, pretty much hammered out the state budget, and most other legislative initiatives, amongst them. What's more, for decades the system was arranged so that the Assembly was controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans. As long as everyone understood the system, it wasn't hard to rig with some hard-headed gerrymandering every time the legislative redistricts had to be redrawn.

Obviously that didn't leave a whole lot for Assembly Republicans or Senate Democrats to do, but there were enough financial rewards in the way legislative cash was disbursed to keep them reasonably content, and there was lots more cash disbursed to Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans as they carried out the will of, you know, the "three men in a room." Who, you'll notice were pretty well guaranteed to be of different parties. Yes, bipartisanship was rigged into the system! Governor Rockefeller himself, of course, tended to get whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. Later governors had to manage to work with one legislative solon of the opposite party.

More recently, however, the system began to break down, notably as the state Republican party began to crumble, not helped by the national trends in Republicanism. Oh, the NYS GOP has always had its share of far-righters, though they might not throw the proper scare into other states' far-righters. They were there, and we even had our own Conservative Party to keep the GOP in line. But Nelson Rockefeller obviously wasn't any kind of right-winger, and the NYS GOP embraced a wide political spectrum that ran well to the center (and I mean the old center) and beyond, easily enough encompassing people like Sen. Jacob Javits and NYC Mayor John Lindsay.

The slide of the NYS GOP reached a point where not only did it become hard to field credible statewide candidates, but the storied party grip on the state Senate bergan to loosen. Eventually, for only the second time in living memory, Democrats actually won control of the Senate. (I remember the first time fairly well. Howie and I were seniors in high school in Brooklyn, which means dinosaurs had only recently trod the earth.) Of course Senate Democrats once again proved wholly unequal to the job of trying to run the place; you may be familiar with the recent follies whereby greedy and/or crackpot Dems joined the useless mass of Senate Republicans to form their own little Senate majority.

The decline of the NYS Senate Republican caucus had a perhaps less noticed consequence. It meant that the Senate majority leader, though obvious still a person of great consequence, since after all every piece of legislation that passed through the legislature, including authorization for spending every dollar of state money, required the consent of the Senate. Bu† the majority leader wasn't quite the colossal figure he once was. (By the way, I can keep saying "he" in connection with these mighty figures because the "three men in a room" have still always been men. Oh, we have women in our state legislature, both houses, but they don't get much of a cut of the power.)

Whereas, you'll recall, Shelly Silver has been running the Assembly since February 1994. And so, while his governmental power is theoretically equivalent to that of the Senate majority leader, in reality it isn't. It's significantly larger.

And now let's go back and take a closer look at the chart atop this post. Note the time frame studied by the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The period covered is 2002-14. Let me stress again the presumption of innocence. Nothing has been proved yet either in a court of law or a plea-bargaining hideaway. But you don't have to look all that closely at the federal indictment to see that the charges concern misbehavior that looks: (a) massive, (b) appalling, and (c) extremely well-documented.


Here is some of how it was described Thursday by the NYT team of William K. Rashbaum, Thomas Kaplan, and Marc Santora:
In a statement, Richard Frankel, the F.B.I. special agent in charge, said, “Those who make the laws don’t have the right to break the laws.”

“As alleged, Silver took advantage of the political pulpit to benefit from unlawful profits,” he said. “When all was said and done, he amassed nearly $4 million in illegitimate proceeds and arranged for approximately $500,000 in state funds to be used for projects that benefited his personal plans.”

The criminal complaint outlining the charges accuses Mr. Silver of “using the power and influence of his official position to obtain for himself millions of dollars of bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income.”

He is charged with honest services mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit honest services mail fraud, extortion “under the color of law” — using his official position to commit extortion — and extortion conspiracy.

The complaint maintains that for more than a decade, Mr. Silver devised a scheme “to induce real estate developers with business before the state” to use a real estate law firm controlled by a lawyer who had once worked as Mr. Silver’s counsel. That lawyer, according to the complaint, orchestrated payments to the speaker for referrals to the firm.

The complaint, referring to the personal injury firm, Weitz and Luxenberg, also said that “there is probable cause to believe that Silver received approximately $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees solely through the corrupt use of his official position.”

Prosecutors, according to the complaint, said Mr. Silver did no work for the payment. Investigators could find no court appearances by him and no records at either law firm that showed he had done any legal work whatsoever, except for one case in which he represented an employee of the Legislature in a property dispute, but took no fee.
Then there was this:
While it is legal for lawmakers, who work part time, to hold outside jobs, investigators said Mr. Silver failed to list all the payments from the Goldberg firm and Weitz and Luxenberg on his annual financial disclosure filings with the state.

The real estate firm is led by Jay Arthur Goldberg, 75, who once served as Mr. Silver’s counsel and also on New York City’s Tax Commission during the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch.

In the past, Mr. Silver has been criticized for his outside law practice, a lucrative career that supplements the $121,000 he earns as speaker.

In 2013, on his most recent financial disclosure filing, Mr. Silver listed at least $650,000 in law practice income, including work for the personal injury law firm, Weitz and Luxenberg.

But what he does to earn that income has become one of Albany’s enduring mysteries, and Mr. Silver has refused to provide details about his work aside from saying the bulk of his work was as a personal injury lawyer.

The complaint said Mr. Silver was credited with referring more than 100 clients to the firm, the majority for potential asbestos litigation. Investigators, however, spoke with more than 10 of those individuals or their surviving relatives and found that none had ever contacted Mr. Silver to seek legal representation, nor had they been contacted by him or knew of any role he played in providing any legal service.
Remember too that when the feds went to impound a chunk of Smelly Shelly's cash, they don't seem to have had any trouble finding "approximately $3.8 million" lying around available for seizing -- and they don't seem to have had any trouble getting legal authority to do so. Now this isn't Koch Bros. kind of dough, but for the leader of one house of a state legislature to have racked up from, allegedly, blatantly corrupt use of his office, it seems to me a lot.

For now I would just direct attention to one other thing about Smelly Shelly's alleged misbehavior: that it isn't alleged to have taken hold, at least in a way that would draw the attention of federal prosecutors, until he had been speaker for going on a decade. What is it they say about all power corrupting but absolute power corrupting absolutely?

I promised yesterday that I would explain why it seems to me not only proper but almost to refer to Smelly Shelly as Smelly Shelly. It's something that I doubt would have occurred to me or anyone else on, say, Wednesday. Wednesday Shelly was still riding high. But everything changed Thursday.

Anyone who has spent time on a playground with a kid named Sheldon may have had the experience of discovering that fate has ordained him to be called "Smelly Shelly." On Thursday when FBI Special Agent Richard Frankel's team collared our Shelly, he officially became Smelly Shelly. For better or worse, legal presumptions don't affect the smell.


Which I also promised yesterday. It'll take us another post to get there. But maybe you'll see where we're heading with this quote from Julia Ioffe's profile in the January 12 New Yorker. Before Khodorkovsky was brought down by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, you'll recall, he had at a remarkably young age amassed a fortune that made even the fortunes amassed by the other rampaging oligarchs look ho-hum. And today, while he remains, as Ioffe puts it, "unapologetic," he's a little, um, defensive about what he did. He told Ioffe:
When people say, ‘It was impossible to live back then without violating the law,’ I say, ‘Come on, don’t make me out for a fool,’ ” he said, with a sneer. “When there are so few laws and they’re so imperfect, you have to be a total idiot not to be able to find a way to do what you want without violating the existing laws.”

He had only taken colossal advantage of a nearly lawless landscape. “Back then, I didn’t grasp the fact that people of a slightly older generation than me simply couldn’t adequately assess the opportunities in front of them,” he said. “In this case, we are—or I was—also victims of the same problem. Because we got property but in a flawed way.”

He went on, “We weren’t the Rockefellers, but we weren’t modern Americans, either.”
More anon.

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"Yes, Virginia, all that money printing did show up as inflation"


Red line: S and P. Blue line: Fed Funds rate. "Tightening" means Fed raises the Funds rate. See why we'll never see the Fed raise rates? (Source) [Click to enlarge.]

by Gaius Publius

Nice catch by Ian Welsh. Start here, then think about it:
One of the great “mysteries” of the last 7 years or so is why all the  money from unconventional monetary policy hasn’t shown up as inflation. Many analysts thought that printing that much money must surely increase prices, but inflation indices in most of the developed world are barely up, and in many cases are flirting with deflation.

The answer is obvious, but you’ll hardly see anyone point it out.
My inner Modern Monetary Theorist says, an expanded money supply can't show up as inflation until there's way too much, which there isn't yet. That's the nature of fiat money systems, which we have, especially at zero interest rates.

But Welsh is onto something. There is way too much, but only for some people — our "billionaire overlords," as Digby is wont to say. Welsh completes the thought:
First, who was the money given to?

Rich people and corporations.

Ok then, what do rich people and corporations spend their money on? Stocks, and real estate—high end real estate.

In America as a whole, let alone New York, housing prices have not returned to pre-financial crisis values. But luxury apartment prices now exceed pre-financial crisis prices. Real estate prices, period, in London, are now higher than pre-financial collapse.

Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Index is up about 175% off its lows of 2009.  The annualized gain is therefore about 29% a year. GDP has not risen anything like that, neither have wages. Corporations, however, are flush with money, and they have spent a great deal of it on stock buy-backs, while rich people, of course, have bought stocks.

Inflation has, then, shown up exactly where one would expect, in the assets bought by the people who were given money.
Welsh has more to say, but I'd like to end here, with one more instance of what I've been calling the invisible obvious:
This is not hard, this is not difficult, this is not complex. The fact that mainstream analysts and pundits do not connect the dots on this is because they do not want to.
Too right.

By the way, if you think that asset inflation is a problem or an error, think again. Assets are where the global wealthy have parked their money; their piggy bank. If Fed governors don't keep those values high, they'd be replaced by governors who will.


Cross-posted with permission from Digby's Hullabaloo.

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