Saturday, January 24, 2015

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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Thursday, January 22, 2015

From the DWT Mailbag: We answer reader questions like "Where's Howie?"

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Okay, we've got a little time and space here, so why don't we dig into the DWT mailbag and answer a question or two? Okay, let's go for two. Right, here are the questions readers are asking most often at the moment.

(1) So where the heck is Howie?

(2) Man, that other guy sucks!


LET'S TAKE THEM IN REVERSE ORDER

(2) Technically this isn't actually a question, and so there isn't much we can say, except that sure, the guy sucks, but what you may not know is that he's here on scholarship, and giving him the boot would mean he'd have to be sent back where he came from, and the cable-TV offerings there are even more pathetic than than they are here.

(1) As to Howie, it so happens that he cracked a couple of ribs and collapsed a lung, and has been in a fair amount of agony while waiting for some healing to happen. 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.

While we wait, we're happy to have the post Noah contributed earlier this evening, "Searching for Love in All the Wrong Places," and we're delighted to have Gaius Publius pitching in big-time, not least because that guy is wicked smart.


No, this isn't Howie's actual blogging chair, so
please don't ask where you can get one like his.
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Culture Watch: Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

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Gilberto was just looking for a little love.

by Noah

Everyone wants love, don't they? Some are lucky in love. Some are not. Love will alter your future. Love will affect the way you look at life and the world. Love can soothe the savage beast within. Scientists say it can even lower your blood pressure.

These are just a few of the things love can do.

Ah, but not having love can drive a person to distraction, the despair of loneliness, drink, and self-destruction.

Some women will buy a concert ticket and park themselves right up front of the stage in hopes that the star of the show will take an interest. Guys can name their price for backstage passes. But none of that is real love. Neither is getting on the Internet and arranging a meeting with trouble with a capital T.

We all see those matchmaker ads on TV, with dozens of smiling happy couples, some of whom really did find their mate after answering several questions, creating a profile and being computer-matched with someone who did the same. For them, the price was worth it.

So it was with great interest that I read this particular story, the story of one lonely man's attempt to find love, right here in New York City. The problem for this particular man is that he has a past, a very high-profile past. His name is Gilberto Valle, and he is known as New York's "Cannibal Cop."

Last year, one of now ex-cop Valle's two guilty verdicts was vacated. The vacated verdict was for “conspiring to cook, kill and consume women.” A judge ruled that Valle, who had put such fantasies online, never actually consummated his stated desires. Valle's other conviction, for "unlawfully accessing an NYPD database," was upheld. He'd used the Police Department database to find information about various women, and then discussed his culinary needs in deranged Internet chat rooms.

Gilberto the Cannibal Cop served 21 months in prison, but now he's free, serving one year of "supervised release." Ah, but the call of the computer is strong with this one. Feeling lonely and needing love, he filled out a profile at Match.com. Hey, his family says he's such a nice boy. What's not to like?


[Click to enlarge.]

Is there that “perfect someone” out there waiting for Gilberto? Will she be willing to overlook a certain something in his past? Valle says he is looking for someone who is "non-judgmental," a woman who "can make the best out of a situation that is less than ideal." He says he is a man who has "the ability to see the humor in most situations."

Is there a woman for Gilberto who has quite the necessary sense of humor? Alas, we may never know. You see, once Match.com found out about Valle's past this week, they removed him from their site.

Fear not, Gilberto! As my own “"perfect someone" reminded me when I mentioned your situation to her, there are always plenty of women who will marry prisoners on Death Row, so, I bet there are some out there lining up right now, eager for you to take them to dinner and top it off with a nice Chianti. Be careful though, Gilberto, she may end up being more like you than you ever expected. This is New York, after all, and they say the Big Apple can eat you alive.



So much for looking for love in New York. What about looking for love in London? Those who know me know how I feel about England. Not that I haven't had a few very good English friends, but they escaped their weirdo homeland and came here. As for the others, I once worked for a now-deservedly-defunct English-owned record company, and the experience taught me all I need to know about British ways, manners, and customs.

I present to you the case of one quite inebriated Paul Bennett.


Paul is quite the rage now in London. How'd it happen? Well, it seems he fucked a mailbox. You read that right. He fucked a mailbox. The thing is, some passersby called the coppers on him. He had pulled down his pants and, well, you can guess the rest. He was having quite a good time of it too, repeatedly screaming “wow!”

Unfortunately, Bennett was arrested before he could wander down the street and do some more mailboxes. I don't know what the record for fucking London mailboxes is, but from what I've seen of England, I imagine the number is quite high. My theory is that he saw that nice big Crown logo on the mailbox and thought he was having it on with the Queen, or maybe just Prince Andrew.

Having actually spent time in England stepping over all the people lying on the sidewalk passed out in their own beer vomit, I wouldn't be shocked if getting it on with inanimate objects is some sort of national pastime. I noticed that Stonehenge is now surrounded by a very high fence, presumably to protect the standing stones from carnal assault. I guess Brits, inbred as they are on that little isle, see those big hard stones sticking up and they just lose all control. The place is such a madhouse that they might even make Paul Bennett an honorary member of the House of Lords.

Sad really, but, as the song says, love can tear you apart.



For more reading on the subject of looking for love in all the wrong places, may I suggest this little tale from Tennessee, another place known for combining alcohol with inbreeding: "Drunk Tennessee man tried to have sex with ATM, picnic table: cops." This guy has a thing for ATM machines. At least he probably got some cash. If not, his pimp is gonna beat the crap out of him.
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And speaking of "balanced" coverage in the "liberal media," the NYT sticks up for Republicans in 2015 and 1995

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Plus: E. J. Dionne Jr. says the president got it right in
not trying to play nice with obstructionist Republicans



Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Perhaps bosom-buddy Sens. "Young Johnny" McCranky and Lindsey "I'm Going to Be the President" Graham, seen here listening (more or less) to the president's SOTU address Tuesday night.

"There is something odd in the notion that Obama is supposed to abandon his convictions because the Republicans won a low-turnout midterm election whose Senate races were fought mostly in territory hostile to Democrats."
-- E. J. Dionne Jr., in his Washington Post column
"Obama ditches his illusions about Republicans"

by Ken

In yesterday's NYT "First Draft" post, Carl Hulse did a fine job portraying Republican outrage followoing "a State of the Union speech that has Republicans shaking their heads and lamenting a lost opportunity for cooperation":
Washington will try to get back to business on Wednesday after a State of the Union address that found a confident and relaxed President Obama delivering a speech that seemed to leave the new Republican majority in Congress genuinely perplexed.

After their resounding election victory just two months ago, Republicans had hoped to hear the president say he had gotten the message and was willing to find common cause. What they got was a sharp reminder that he had twice won the presidency, veto threats and a call to embrace a series of government initiatives that Republicans are not inclined to support (except for new trade deals).

He made no mention of their congressional ascendancy.

“He hasn’t adjusted to the new reality at all,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican who is usually considered a candidate for cooperation with the Democrats.

Republicans did not interpret the president’s jabs at their positions on the minimum wage, climate change and Cuba – interspersed with calls for compromise – as a hopeful sign. “He’s not looking for cooperation,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.
It would be wrong to say that Carl pays no heed to the other side of the aisle, although his focus shifts back pretty quickly.
Democrats said they found the speech and the president’s attitude refreshing. “It was almost joyful,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

That was not the word Republicans had in mind.
Well, it was nice to hear from Senator Amy!

Now I'm going to argue that there were no Republicans who were "genuinely perplexed" by the president's attitude -- surprised, perhaps, but certainly not perplexed. Because I don't believe that there are any Republicans who believe that there was any actual "opportunity for cooperation" to be lost. Republicans like to forget how far backwards the new president tried to bend in the early years of his presidency to cooperate with congressional Republicans, then in the minority in both houses. A lot of us wondered what it would take for him to understand that there was zero inclination on their part to cooperate in any way -- unless the "way" consisted of being given what they wanted. What was actually in place, as it didn't take all that long for us to find out, was the strategy of then-Senate Minority Leader "Miss Mitch" McConnell to do everything possible to undermine the president -- and fuck the country in the process -- with a view to ensuring that his administration would be a one-term one.

But that's not the point in time Carl wants to take us back to. Instead, he wants to revisit a legitimately relevant moment in history: 1995, when President Bill Clinton facing a Congress in which both houses were now controlled by Republicans.
President Obama’s decision on Tuesday night to ignore the Republicans’ election victory and the party’s new majority in the Senate was notable. It also raised the question of how former President Bill Clinton handled a similar situation in January 1995 after Democrats were trounced in the midterm elections and Republicans took back the House for the first time in 40 years.

He certainly didn’t avoid it. Mr. Clinton wasted no time in noting that “once again our democracy has spoken.”

“So let me begin,” he said, “by congratulating all of you here in the 104th Congress and congratulating you, Mr. Speaker.” That was, of course, Newt Gingrich.

But, like Mr. Obama, Mr. Clinton also made sure to point out that he’d had his own big election victory in 1992.

“If we agree on nothing else tonight, we must agree that the American people certainly voted for change in 1992 and 1994,” he said. “And as I look out at you, I know how some of you must have felt in 1992.”
Again, there's just a wee bit of history left out -- namely, how did that work out? Remember "triangulation"? Do we really not recall that by the time Bill C ran for reelection in 1996, angry Republicans were denouncing him for having stolen all their positions? And that was a time when Republican positions were conservative, yes, but nothing like the combination of unrestricted economic predation and ideological crackpottery that now constitutes "mainstream" Republicanism.

Let me return now to the sentence I quoted at the top of this post from E. J. Dionne Jr.'s Washington Post column "Obama ditches his illusions about Republicans": "There is something odd in the notion that Obama is supposed to abandon his convictions because the Republicans won a low-turnout midterm election whose Senate races were fought mostly in territory hostile to Democrats." E.J. continues:
Ronald Reagan was never asked to stop being a conservative after Democrats took the Senate in the 1986 elections and emerged in control of both houses of Congress. Republicans praised George W. Bush for his courage in upping his commitment in Iraq through the troop surge, even though the Democratic sweep of 2006 was in large part a repudiation of the war on which he doubled down. Are only progressive presidents expected to trim their sails?
E.J. gets to this point by starting out like so:
“This is good news, people.”

With those five words, President Obama made clear that he thinks it’s far more important to win a long-term argument with his partisan and ideological opponents than to pretend that they are eager to seize opportunities to work with him. He decided to deal with the Republican Party he has, not the Republican Party he wishes he had.

Those ad-libbed words followed what ranks as one of the more polemical passages ever offered in a State of the Union address. “At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious,” he declared, “that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health-care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years.”

Good news, indeed, and in telling the Republicans that all their predictions turned out to be wrong, he reminded his fellow citizens which side, which policies and which president had brought the country back.

His analysis of the nature of his political opposition, in turn, dictated the approach he took in the rest of the speech. There was no point in hedging on his wishes, constraining his hopes or compromising in advance. Earlier in his administration, he might have begun the negotiations by offering his interlocutors their asking price upfront and then moving backward from there. No more.

Instead, he laid out what he would do if he had a more cooperative Congress. This time around, Obama’s agenda was organized around the interests of middle-class workers, the group his administration acknowledges has not been dealt into the economic recovery.
"There seemed to be a disconnect," E.J. writes, "between Obama's combative opening and his close defending his signature refrain that 'there wasn't a liberal America, or a conservative America.' "
He acknowledged that many saw it as “ironic” that “our politics seems more divided than ever.”

But notice that he used this passage to suggest how the American debate had to change. He proposed that discussions of abortion focus more on the successes we’ve had in reducing teen pregnancies and abortions themselves. Referring to the recent confrontations in Ferguson, Mo., and New York, he urged us to consider the fears of African American young men and police officers alike even as we join in celebrating declining crime and incarceration rates.

Obama clearly still believes that the country is less divided than our politics allows us to be. But he is no longer drawn to the illusion that his adversaries in the other party will beat their swords into plowshares anytime soon. He is battling not just for a personal legacy but also on behalf of a perspective that he hopes the country will someday embrace.
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With "balance" like this, is it any wonder that right-wingers hold NPR in special scorn among the vast hordes of the liberal media?

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Today's "balance" quiz: Let's say you're going to have Colorado freshman Sen. Cory Gardner as a guest to shred the president's SOTU address on behalf of the Crackpot Scumbag Party. How would you "balance" him? Take a few seconds to think about it. What's that? With a self-styled conservative Democrat, you say? Ding-ding-ding!

by Ken

After the nifty close look our friend Gaius Publius just gave the president's SOTU speech, surely nobody expects me to have anything smart to say about the speech. Besides, as I noted yesterday, I have the additional handicap of not having seen, heard, or read it. The specifics just don't seem to matter all that much, considering that mostly all that's going to result is more talk.

As I also explained, in the case of such events, I trust to a process of osmosis to sort of squoosh whatever I need to know about the speech into my pores. And sure enough, from the moment I woke up it was pouring out of the radio at me. NPR's Morning Edition was awash in SOTU yammering. Of course I wasn't listening all that carefully, but I see on the Web page for yesterday's show that, along with Mara Liasson's report, "Obama Lays Out Ambitious Agenda In Address To Nation," which I don't remember hearing but which I assume gave some representation to the president's views, there were features like "Fact Checking Obama's State Of The Union Speech" and "Republicans Charge Obama Isn't Serious About Working With Them."

I was charmed to note that when the broadcast turned to a pair of senators for comment, they were carefully chosen. There was on the one hand conservative Dem Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and on the other hand scumbag crackpot Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado.


That's right, you "balance" a lying-scumbag right-wing Republican with hearty Conservadem Heidi Heitkamp.

No, Senator Gardner, the Colorado freshman, wasn't identified as a "scumbag crackpot Republican (some things, it seems, you have to know on your own), but Senator Heitkamp was emphatically identified as a conservative Democrat from a conservative state, and was asked about how she works with the president on mattters where her and her state's views are more conservative. So conservative Democratic senators were represented, and scumbag crackpot Republicans, and since it's not as if there are non-scumbag-crackpot Republicans to talk to (please don't talk to me about Maine's Suzie Q. Collins; I did notice that she was grousing about the president's failure to try to cooperate with Republicans -- just the way she used to bitch about Chimpy the Prez Bush's failure to try to cooperate with Democrats, right?), I guess all the major Senate constituencies were covered.

Let's just double-check:

• Conservative Dems, check.

• Republicans, check.

Um, er, up, that's it. That's all there is, right?

With "balance" like that, is it any wonder that right-wingers hold NPR in special scorn among the vast hordes of the liberal media?
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The State of the Union, Hillary Clinton & Obama's "Piketty Moment"

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"The Robbers of the Senate"

by Gaius Publius

I want to deal with President Obama's State of the Union address, but in pieces and in more than one pass, since there's a fair amount to deal with, from climate and taxes to oil and Iran. There are also the obvious yet invisible clunkers, like this:
My first duty as Commander-in-Chief is to defend the United States of America.
No, his first duty as anything related to his office is the oath he swore, to "protect and defend the Constitution." As a constitutional scholar, I assume he knows he's lying, if conveniently, given his forgiveness of torture, murderous use of the military, and its unconstitutional spy apparatus.

Or this horrifying explanation of the wonderful middle-class benefits of TPP:
21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. ... But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.
But let's look at some of his domestic proposals and ask, why is he asking for these things?

The Speech Has a Structure

Like many speeches in this category — highly rhetorical — the speech has a clear structure and a dependence on rhythm and repetition. After the introduction, we find this section:
It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.

Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort? ...
He asks a series of these questions, one each on the major proposal areas, the first being the economy. Then follows a tale of a typical ("focus-tested" is the phrase I'd use) American couple, which leads to a look back at his hopes for the country from the vantage point of his first election in 2008. (The section that follows — "We believed" ... "We believed" — is so deceptively framed as to deserve its own comment. So we'll pass for now.)

Redistributionist "Middle-Class Economics"

The mention of his typical American family, however, allows him to develop his main "money and jobs" theme — what he calls "middle-class economics":
So what does middle-class economics require in our time?

First — middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change. That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement — and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year. ...
Which brings us to his tax proposals:
Where we too often run onto the rocks is how to pay for these investments. As Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes, as long as everybody else does, too. But for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight. They’ve riddled it with giveaways the superrich don’t need, denying a break to middle class families who do.

This year, we have an opportunity to change that. Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America. ... And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college. We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.
What he's proposing is, in fact, redistributionist. For all the Clintonian (and often junk) proposals — like sending people to community college for free so they can better compete for jobs (that don't exist) — this one is pretty dramatic. Here are some of the specifics:
During his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama will lay out a plan to extend tax credits to the middle class by hiking taxes on wealthier Americans and big banks, according to senior administration officials.

Under the plan, the capital gains tax for couples with income over $500,000 per year would be raised from its current level of 23.8 percent up to 28. The plan would also strip a tax break, known as a "step-up," that allows heirs to avoid capital gains taxes on large inheritances.

In addition, the plan would institute a new tax on the biggest financial institutions, basing the fee on liabilities in order to discourage risky borrowing. The administration says the fee would hit the roughly 100 banks that have assets of $50 billion or more.

The president's plan would use revenues from those tax code changes to finance credits aimed at the middle class, officials said. That includes extending the earned income tax credits to families without children, which would benefit an estimated 13 million low-income workers, while also tripling the maximum tax credits for child care in low- and middle-income homes.

"This proposal is probably the most impactful way we can address the manifest unfairness in our tax system," an administration official said.
In the same article, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah is quoted as responding:
“The audacity, that he thinks the government has a right to people’s money? He wants to transfer wealth," Chaffetz said. "It’s one of the most immoral things you can do, is try to steal somebody’s inheritance, to steal it away from their family.”
And on one point, Chaffetz is right. "He wants to transfer wealth" — not much, but some, and transfering any wealth is anathema to the wealthy. Why is he asking for it, and why now?

Barack Obama's "Piketty Moment"

None of Obama's policy proposals (including TPP, I'm told) will pass. Most, in fact, don't have a prayer, in the new Congress or the old one. There are, for example, too many bought-and-paid Democrats to pass anything that taxes Wall Street one dime, the first penny, or the first tenth of a cent. And if something has not a prayer of passing — and is proposed by someone traditionally opposed to anti-One-Percent proposals — it starts to look oddly like an ad campaign, or an attempt to put an enemy on the defensive, or both.

As I've written elsewhere, I don't buy the idea that "this" Obama is "newly freed" Obama, someone who can express his true progressive beliefs. Obama was a free-trade, reform-Social-Security neoliberal in 2006; there's your "true Obama." If he was a secret progressive, he lied to Robert Rubin and Roger Altman to their faces, two years before he first ran for president.

So where is this new-found concern for the "middle class" coming from? Three things to consider:

▪ Legacy — Obama's major job for the next two years will be creating his post-presidential life. Has he chosen the Carter model or the Clinton model? You'll know as soon as he starts giving speeches for money. My money's on the Clinton model, and I'd bet any amount you want that I'm right.

▪ Clintonian legacy requires parting gifts to the already-wealthy. As noted above, Obama is promoting "free-trade" and TPP even as he's telling the old-old lie about "more jobs."

▪ But he can't appear to be handing out cash and prizes, giving the store to thieves, or his legacy as a closet progressive — touched with the Carteresque brush — won't pass muster. So he needs a cover story, one that many will buy. Aid for community college education, tax credits for child care, guaranteed sick and maternity leave, increased overtime pay, and the like help burnish that story.

It's not that those things are meaningless; they aren't. It's that they won't happen. But that won't stop him getting credit for saying them, and therein lies the beauty. Can anyone say, for sure, he's being insincere? Not many. (I can, but then, I've read the whole speech carefully. His left hand takes back what his right hand publicly offers.)

Still, guaranteed sick leave and the like can only advance the story so far. To put the icing on the cake, Obama needs a "Piketty moment" — yes, they're actually calling it that — because thanks to Elizabeth Warren, people finally get that the economic problem is structural, the rich have bought the game, and the solution is not a community college education. Whatever else it does, this speech offers Obama's Piketty moment.

Does This Speech Also Strike at Hillary Clinton?

Which brings me to something else. It's noted in many places, mainly on the Fox News right, that Barack Obama both distrusts and dislikes Hillary Clinton. I'm not buying it — there's so little current evidence — and stories like this from the left go back to the contentious 2008 campaign and don't proceed forward in time.

Yet this from David Frum caught my eye, mainly because Frum is not an echo and has, along with people like Steve Schmidt, been more or less ostracized from the Koch-bought modern Republican party. Here's his comment, published in The Atlantic:
The Real Target of Obama's Speech on Tuesday? Hillary Clinton

The president's proposals are designed to force his presumptive successor to campaign and govern on his terms.

There’s a subtext to President Obama’s slew of domestic policy proposals since the November elections: President Obama does not trust Hillary Clinton very much.

None of the president’s domestic-policy brainwaves has much chance of becoming law in the next two years: not free community college, not cash grants to selected middle-income households, and certainly not heavy tax increases on upper-income earners. The president knows these odds better than anybody. So why keep propounding such no-hopers? The intent, pretty obviously, is to box in his presumptive successor as head of the Democratic Party.

Every time the president advances a concept that thrills his party’s liberal base, he creates a dilemma for Hillary Clinton. Does she agree or not? Any time she is obliged to answer, her scope to define herself is constricted.

Hillary Clinton emerges from the Democratic Party’s business wing. Whatever her own personal views—still an elusive quantum after all these years in public life—she is identified in the public mind with her husband’s record, her husband’s appointees, and her husband’s donors. Not just in the public mind, but seemingly in the president’s mind, too. So as the clock runs down on his administration, he seems determined to set the post-Obama Democratic Party on a more leftward course than he himself had the strength to steer.
Is Frum carrying right-wing water with this comment? Possibly, though he's been known not to. Does he know something that only insiders know? Also possibly, but if so, he's the only one outside of the manufactured Fox News bubble saying it.

But Obama's motives aside, is what Frum says true? Does laying down a "Piketty" gauntlet pose problems for Hillary Clinton? Almost certainly. "Hillary Clinton emerges from the Democratic Party’s business wing," Frum writes, almost as an understatement. As its most recognizable national figure, she may just be the business wing, or at least its most recognizable feather.

Yes, she's trying her own brand of populist rhetoric, giving her own belated "Piketty" speeches — but she offers no Piketty proposals that could tie her hands. On this, Obama is tacking to her left, at least as a chess move. If you're asking if Obama's Wall Street tax proposal fills Warren's sails and challenges Hillary's, the answer is yes, it does. If you're asking if that was his intention, the answer may not matter.

GP

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