Tuesday, January 27, 2015

While pondering the legal mess surrounding NYS Assembly Speaker "Smelly Shelly" Silver, Jeffrey Toobin offers us a "war story" from yesteryear


Smelly Shelly is talking about delegating powers, but not -- at least so far -- about stepping down.

by Ken

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post at 3pm PT/6pm ET 

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What's Going On In Greece?


by Gaius Publius

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

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

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

So how has that responsibility thing worked out so far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Stormy weather


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

by Ken

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

The word for the day was:

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

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

With the expectation that tomorrow will look more like:

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

My storm predictions:

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

DWT SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post tomorrow morning at 7am PT/10am ET

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


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.

DWT SCHEULE NOTE: Next post at 7pm PT/10pm ET

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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?

DWT SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post at 3pm PT/6pm ET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

DWT SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post at 7am PT/10am ET

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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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