Sunday, January 25, 2015

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

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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.
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Joe Franklin (1926-2015)

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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.

POSTSCRIPT: LIVE FROM YOUR LIVING ROOM

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.




DWT SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post at 7am PT/10am ET
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Sunday Classics special edition: Getting even more "Carried Away"

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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.


NATURALLY FOR THE MAIN POST I INCLUDED
THE GREAT ACT I DUET "I GET CARRIED AWAY" . . .

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

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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:

Tuesday


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!

Wednesday


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:

Thursday

Friday

Saturday



IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE DOONESBURY HISTORY --

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

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WEDNESDAY, MAY 09, 2007

LIVE GRIFFITH PARK FIRE BLOGGING AT DOWN WITH TYRANNY


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

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Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) 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 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 head 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
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.
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Culture Watch: "Women's Grammar Worse Than Men's in Online Dating, Survey Says"

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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.
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Ms. Sandy Rios: Republican Kook of the Day

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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
Kampf
!!!

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?


FOR FURTHER READING

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)

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*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.


LET'S REVISIT THE CASE



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.


I KNOW WE HAVEN'T GOTTEN YET TO RUSSIAN
ONETIME OIL MOGUL MIKHAIL KHODORKOVKSY


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"

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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.

GP

Cross-posted with permission from Digby's Hullabaloo.
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Friday, January 23, 2015

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

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Mikhail does Charlie. I don't know whether Shelly has.

by Ken

In a manner of speaking you might say that what "Smelly Shelly" and Mikhail the Magnificent have in common is that they both got caught. True enough in its way, but that's not what I'm thinking of. You might guess then that they've both done Charlie Rose. (The show, I mean, not Charlie personally.) But I don't know whether Shelly has ever done Charlie.

No, I'm thinking of something a little more metaphorical. And it has to do with rules -- rules, laws, whatever you want to call them.

You may recall that, as I noted in my report earlier today about the arrest and indictment yesterday of NYS Assembly Speaker "Smelly Shelly" Silver, the second most powerful person in NYS government, on five federal corruption counts, the FBI special agent in charge of the bust, Richard Frankel, observed: "Those who make the laws don't have the right to break the laws."

Meanwhile Mikhail, the onetime Russian oil mogul who extracted a fortune worth billions of dollars from his country's economy, only to be busted by a rampaging Vladimir Putin and exiled to prison for ten years, tells Julia Ioffe in a fascinating profile in the January 12 New Yorker: "I just don't like games without rules. Either you play by the rules or you play without rules. There's no middle ground."

Or is there? I can't help thinking that Shelly and Mikhail did their most lucrative playing on just such a middle ground.

Which is what I mean to talk about tomorrow, at 10am PT/1pm ET. Also, I guess I should explain why we're all but required to call Shelly "Smelly Shelly."
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TV Watch: "This show has been a crazy ride for us" ("Better Call Saul" showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould)

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Better Call Saul showrunners Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan

"The character of Jimmy McGill has taken us places we never expected. Jimmy's not yet Saul Goodman: he's his own man, and he's messy and struggling and still finding himself."
-- from the open letter from Vince and Peter

by Ken

I realize that I'm risking becoming a PR shill for Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad prequel that AMC is unveiling in a two-part premiere Sunday and Monday, February 8 and 9, at 10pm/9pm CT. But frankly I worry more about the possibility of being let down by one of the few upcoming televisual events I'm actually looking forward to, coming as it does from people who have shown that they really and truly know what they're doing in producing TV drama.

The upshot is that here I am, passing along the latest promotional crumb from the AMC folks, or rather from the Better Call Saul folks, showrunners Vince Gilligan (creating and mastermind of Breaking Bac) and Peter Gould (a BB writer-producer who is credited with creating the character of that lawyers' lawyer Saul Goodman).


Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill

Welcome to the world of James M. McGill, Esq.

For viewers of Breaking Bad, there’s much that will be familiar in this series: the bright Albuquerque skies, the dark humor, and — most of all — the passion and devotion to detail from cast and crew.

Having said that, Better Call Saul is a brand new show. We’re telling a different story here — one with its own rhythm, its own look, its own tone. We’re excited to share it with you.

This show has been a crazy ride for us. The character of Jimmy McGill has taken us places we never expected. Jimmy’s not yet Saul Goodman: he’s his own man, and he’s messy and struggling and still finding himself. One day he’ll transform into Albuquerque’s favorite criminal lawyer, but right now he’s a more or less law-abiding underdog on the bottom rung of the legal system.

We’re loving every moment of Bob Odenkirk’s deeply human performance as unstoppable, inventive Jimmy races through an ethical slalom course, trying to make a name for himself.

We hope you enjoy it.

—Vince and Peter
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If Bibi Netanyahu speaks to Congress, it should be (a) at a better time and (b) by presidential invite

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I'm not big on e-petitions, but I signed this one urging my congressman to make a fuss about the GOP scumnuts' invitation to Bibi Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress.

"We're committed to Israel's future. Making Israel a partisan issue weakens the US-Israel relationship and undermines vital American diplomatic leadership."
-- J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami,
in a letter to potential petition signers

by Ken

Until proper banners can be printed up for display in both houses of Congress, I think the leadership in each should arrange with artisic members of their caucus to provide a supply of bedsheets to be hung in their chambers emblazoned with the increasingly well-earned call to arms:

"THE CRACKPOT 114TH --
AMERICA'S THUG CONGRESS
(estab. 2015)"

While the nutters bask in the glow of attention rarely paid to the criminally insane, it would be easy just to take each new manifestation of their psychosis and scumbaggery in stride. But I don't think we can automatically let go of the concept of "going too far," and there's a case to be made that the invitation by House Speaker "Sunny John" Boehner to Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress is a case in point.

Of course the GOP congressional scumnuts are thrilled with the opportunity to simultaneously bash the president while glorifying their own stinking selves, throw a monkey wrench into our foreign-policy-making apparatus, make our difficult relations with Iran even more difficult, and exalt -- and help reelect -- a despicable homocidal thug. However, while these may all be beautiful outcomes for the scumnuts, there may be other, more important considerations.

J Street is kinder than I would be to the idea of a thug like Bibi addressing Congress.
Israel's leader addressing America's legislators is great. As a pro-Israel organization which works to strengthen the deep ties of friendship and strategic alliance between the United States and Israel, we're grateful for the high honor of seeing an Israeli Prime Minister invited to address the US Congress.
The man is a disgrace -- a disgrace to Israel, to Jews everywhere, a disgrace to the human genome. Of course I don't suppose the J Street folks can say that. What they do say, though, is that "the timing here couldn't be worse." Per J Street founder-president Jeremy Ben-Ami's letter:
Here's what's wrong with Bibi coming to Congress on March 1:

* Traditionally, the executive branch -- President Obama -- leads on foreign policy. Boehner inviting a foreign leader, even a close ally, without even a simple "heads-up" to the president or his Democratic counterparts is a serious breach of standards.

* This invitation looks like a thinly-veiled attempt to scuttle the critical negotiations taking place right now aimed at ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. Bibi and Obama disagree on how to deal with Iran, and that's fair. But a foreign leader lobbying Congress (from the same spot where the President delivered his State of the Union address just days ago!) is inappropriate.

* This also looks like an attempt by some Republican power players to influence Israel's upcoming election, and that's just not something that democratic allies should ever do. Political leaders and pundits in Israel are already in an uproar.
"This is not the time," the J Streeters sum up, "for this politically motivated speech."

So J Street has gotten up a petition for us to sign and send to our Democratic members of Congress.
DEAR MEMBER,

Speaker Boehner's decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress--weeks before Israeli elections and without consulting the President--is a serious breach of protocol.

The leaders of any American ally should be welcomed by Congress--but the timing of this invitation is unnacceptable.

I'm urging you to express your disapproval of this shocking stunt to Speaker Boehner and demand that he postpone the invitation, in consultation with the White House, until after Israeli elections.
There seems little chance of getting through to the GOP scumnuts, who think that every time is the best time for (their kind of) politically motivated speech. The chance that any number of Democratic members of Congress could influence the scumnuts' "thinking" seems pretty remote. More likely they would add "Make Democrats madder than heck" to their list of goals to be achieved.

Still, while I'm not, as some readers know, an e-petition signer, I signed this one, which seemed to me not just to concern an important question but to serve a possibly educational function to Democratic recipients. It's possible that some of them haven't figured out that this is a really bad idea and some objection needs to be raised. I realize that the poor dears are spending a lot of time thinking about which fights are really worth picking, especially among so many fights that can't be won or even materially influenced. Still, sometimes you have to stand up.

I was tempted to say "or else," the "or else" being that the GOP scumnuts will get even crazier and less uninhibited. But that's going to happen regardless. Still, like I was saying, maybe there ought to be limits.
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Say it ain't so, Shelly Silver -- and see whether anybody believes you

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"For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question, how could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in all of New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly serve his constituents? Today, we provide the answer: He didn't."
—Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District
of New York, at yesterday's press conference

"At the news conference, Mr. Bharara offered a stinging assessment of a state capital where money flows freely and deals are cut behind closed doors -- sometimes at the expense of taxpayers, and to the enrichment of lawmakers. He said the charges against Mr. Silver 'go to the very core of what ails Albany.'

"Mr. Bharara added, somewhat ominously, that his office had a number of other public corruption investigations that were still continuing. 'You should stay tuned,' he said."

-- from reporting by the NYT's William K. Rashbaum,
Thomas Kaplan, and Marc Santora

"The day before his arrest, Mr. Silver was in Albany, where he attended Mr. Cuomo’s State of the State address and had a prominent seat on stage next to the governor. . . .

"After the disclosure, Mr. Silver said he had done nothing wrong but declined to comment in detail."

-- from the NYT report

by Ken

When Sheldon Silver became speaker of the New York State Assembly, in February 1994, succeeding deceased-in-office Speaker Saul Weprin, the governor was Mario Cuomo, the first of five governors he has served alongside, the most recent being, of course, Mario's boy Andrew. This has made hime, for 21 years, one of the two or three most influential pols in the state.

Yesterday our Shelly was arrested by FBI agents for arraignment at the U.S. Courthouse on five federal corruption counts.

As the team of NYT reporters assigned to the story yesterday put it: "[T]he complaint against Mr. Silver outlines a capital culture rife with back-room dealing, where money and influence shape public policy for the benefit of private agendas."

Two things were pretty clear back in 2014 when Mario Cuomo's boy Andrew shut down the commission he himself had previously willed into existence with the supposed mission of rooting out corruption in state government. First, the commission had been decommissioned because its investigators were getting unacceptably nosy about business dealings of people in Boy Andrew's circle, including even His Boyhood himself. Second, if there was anyone who was really, really peeved by Boy Andrew's little comedy of corruption non-fighting, it was Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

USA Preet had been consulting and coordinating with the commission, and you got the feeling that he felt he'd been had -- that Boy Andrew, while pretending to be serious about exposing corruption in the way business is done in Albany and possibly doing something about it, had in fact been treating him like some kind of schnook for buying into the gag, like as if Boy Andrew had been serious about corruption-busting!

You also got the feeling we hadn't heard the last word on the subject of corruption in NYS government from USA Preet. And yesterday Shelly Silver surrendered his passport following his indictment on charges instigated by USA Preet's office.

People in that office, starting with the USA himself, were indicating that Speaker Shelly wasn't the only NYS pol whose business dealings they've been looking into. If Speaker Shelly's day was ruined, there are likely other NYS pols who were sweating bullets.

I was so taken aback by the news bulletings that I hardly paused in expending a nytimes.com free click on the paper's early coverage. That click turned out to be No. 5 of my allotted ten for the month of January, and I would do it again.

Now let's be clear that we operate under a legal presumption of innocence, and so as of now our Shelly is still as innocent as a new-born lamb. Still, you have to think that maybe USA Preet and his team haven't just made this stuff up. Here's some of what they're saying our Shelly did.
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.
Oh yes, this brings us to one of my favorite details: "The authorities seized approximately $3.8 million of Mr. Silver’s money on Thursday morning." Now I suppose that in the Land of the 1% there are circles where it's regarded as no big deal having $3.8 million sitting around available for seizing on, say, some random Thursday morning in January. I figure if I emptied all my pants, really dug into the couch cushions, and tracked down the remnants of all the piles of would-be laundry quarters I've started around my apartment, the total would come to comfortably less than $3.8 million.

Now we should stress that the way the NYS Legislature is set up, members are not only allowed but assumed to have outside income; it's not supposed to be a, you know, full-time job. Is our Shelly, to pick a random example, really supposed to get by on the mere $121K salary we the people pay him? The question is whether and where a line might be drawn between what's OK in the way of outside toil and what's not, so that if, say, your business is butchery, you and your family can keep the butcher shop going while you're feverishly legislating in Albany -- between that and, say, well, the sort of thing our Shelly is accused of doing.

Here's a little more of the NYT report:
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.
There are aspects of this odd relationship to the law that our Shelly seems to have staked out which I want to discuss a little more -- including a seemingly out-of-left-field reference to the relationship to law outlined by an improbably related figure: Putin-struck but unbowed Russian oligarch-turned-"reformer" Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But for now let's close with one utterly unpardonable thing our Shelly has done.
Mr. Silver was easily re-elected speaker this month when the Assembly gathered in Albany to begin the new legislative session.

But as news of the arrest spread, there were signs that he might have trouble maintaining support.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, took to Twitter on Thursday to call for Mr. Silver’s resignation.

“Speaker Silver should resign for the good of the people of New York,” Mr. Hoylman wrote.
It's only to be expected that Republicans would pounce on our Shelly's misfortune. And make no mistake, when you're rummaging around the lower ranks of the human evolutionary spectrum, you're going to find NYS Assembly Republicans, essentially cut off from any sort of power for as far back as most minds go. The horrible thing is that this Hoylman yutz has a point. And this is what I consider unforgivable on our Shelly's part: to put a yutz like this Hoylman in a position where he has a point.
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The Six Billionaire-Engineered "Hostage Crises" of 2015 — A Handy List

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[Click to enlarge.]

by Gaius Publius

In a tweaky tweet, the bipartisan right-wing organization and billionairist propaganda machine known as "Fix The Debt" challenged President Obama to mention seven "fiscal speed bumps" in his State of the Union address. He didn't, of course. Not his style to tweak back about anything but his victories.

But one person's "fiscal speed bump" is another's "hostage opportunity," and the bipartisan right-wing consensus has them all lined up. The graphic version from the tweet is above. Here are six set up for 2015 in handy list form (we'll look at the seventh, in 2016, another time):

February 27, 2015
Resolution funding the DHS expires

March 16, 2015
Debt ceiling reinstated (again)

March 31, 2015
"Doc fix" expires

Fall 2015
Debt ceiling must be raised (again)

October 1, 2015
Sequester returns
CR-Omnibus and CHIP authorization expire

December 31, 2015
Deadline for retroactive renewal of "tax extenders" (again)

You've seen what happens when the debt ceiling has to be raised (and I won't go into it here why the whole concept makes no sense). You've also seen what happened during the CR-Omnibus battle — the bipartisan right-wing coalition loaded it up with billionaire candy, knowing it was a "must-pass" bill, or at least could be sold as one to the easily (or eagerly) blackmailed. Even Obama lobbied for much of that candy, like the Wall Street–written "Citigroup rider."

The list of dates above? Six more bites at the billionaire-pleasing apple, which will surely be taken. Mark your calendars. It's going to be a fun year.

GP
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