Friday, August 30, 2013

Has any New Yorker besides me noticed this Republican phenomenon?

Of the two leading Republican candidates in the New York City Mayoral Primary....

                                     One resembles a toad on Ambien....

The other looks like Satan with his horns cut off

Monday, August 26, 2013

“Patriotic” thugs may try to take over your property to enrich themselves, ruining your reputation in the process. This book tells the horrifying story.

A number of years back, my friends Bruce and Nancy Cole Silverman of the Los Angeles area told me a hair-raising story.

Seems a house that Nancy owned had been taken over by – were they crazies? Were they right wing neo-Nazi fanatics? Were they forgers acting on bizarre economic and legal theories? Were they a gun-toting militia? Or were they just plain outright thieves?

Turns out they were all of the above. Posing first as simple renters, they ended up trying to claim Nancy’s house lock, stock and deed, using a variety of forged documents. The FBI got on the case and Nancy finally got her house back. But not before the so-called "sovereign citizens" who tried to rip her off caused enough grief to turn your hair gray and leave you chewing on a stick.

Recently, Nancy (That's her on the left.) told the story as a work of fiction called “When In Doubt—Don’t!” I’m not in love with the title nor with the off-topic book jacket design, but the story is both a can't-put-it-down chiller and a  romance, whose timeliness has been amplified by a recent article in the New York Times.

I strongly recommend that you read the Times article here, before racing off to to order Nancy’s book, here.  But when you do, understand that these batcrap crazy thugs, somewhere to the right of the right wing Tea Party movement, are what happens when ignorance and misinformation gets not only tolerated in this society, but allowed to flourish as a business, driven by "educational seminars" that the Federal Trade Commission ought to sledgehammer out of existence.

Ignore these sociopathic lunatics (that’s the most charitable description I can use to describe the "sovereign citizens" movement and its members) and it could affect your credit rating, your ability to find a job, your peace of mind – and many thousands of dollars in legal fees, even if, after months or years of clearing up fraudulent liens against your property, you get to keep the house you bought and paid for.

Again, go here for the New York Times story. Then here to buy the book. Then pray that Federal law enforcement launches an all-out campaign against these right wing gangsters before you become another one of their victims.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A few choice words from the Guardian. And one from me: Bravo!

The English newspaper The Guardian, publisher of Glenn Greenwald and some of the material provided by American contractor Edward Snowden, has much to say about the British spy services. While you can find full details here, I take the liberty of sharing a few choice morsels of Simon Jenkins' commentary for the delectation of those too busy to read the whole thing.

You've had your fun: now we want the stuff back. With these words the British government embarked on the most bizarre act of state censorship of the internet age. In a Guardian basement, officials from GCHQ gazed with satisfaction on a pile of mangled hard drives like so many book burners sent by the Spanish Inquisition. They were unmoved by the fact that copies of the drives were lodged round the globe. They wanted their symbolic auto-da-fe. 
Last week in Washington, Congressional investigators discovered that the America's foreign intelligence surveillance court, a body set up specifically to oversee the NSA, had itself been defied by the agency"thousands of times". It was victim to "a culture of misinformation" as orders to destroy intercepts, emails and files were simply disregarded; an intelligence community that seems neither intelligent nor a community commanding a global empire that could suborn the world's largest corporations, draw up targets for drone assassination, blackmail US Muslims into becoming spies and haul passengers off planes.
The arrogance of this abuse is now widespread. The same police force that harassed Miranda for nine hours at Heathrow is the one recently revealed as using surveillance to blackmail Lawrence family supporters and draw up lists of trouble-makers to hand over to private contractors. We can see where this leads. 
I hesitate to draw parallels with history, but I wonder how those now running the surveillance state – and their appeasers – would have behaved under the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. We hear today so many phrases we have heard before. The innocent have nothing to fear. Our critics merely comfort the enemy. You cannot be too safe. Loyalty is all. As one official said in wielding his legal stick over the Guardian: "You have had your debate. There's no need to write any more."
Yes, there bloody well is.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A modest proposal for New York’s Stop-And-Frisk supporters, Mayor Bloomberg,and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly

Somebody ought to stop and frisk this character. This cranky post tells you where you can find him.

Hey NYPD, if you’re really looking for contraband, and if you’re really, really not doing racial profiling when you repeatedly stop all those Afro-American and Hispanic people coming out of their own homes in Harlem and Bed Stuy, I have a very helpful idea for you.

Why don’t you take, oh, say six months, and move a couple of dozen of your best stop-and-friskers to a few new neighborhoods where you can clearly demonstrate the color blindness and gender blindness of your stop-and-frisk policies?

I’m talking about the East and West 80s and 90s of Manhattan. Plus the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

That’s where you’ll be able to station stop-and-frisk cops around the private prep schools catering to the adolescent children of New York’s rich and powerful. They’re mostly white kids (with a some Asians, and a few Afro-Americans and Hispanics thrown in, sometimes on scholarship, as a token to diversity. And the schools prominently feature those minorithy kids in photographs on the school websites because...well, that's open to interpretation. But I'm getting off track here.)

Just stand at the entrances to any of those schools and pat down a few of the (mostly white) kids as they go in and out, after you notice them “behaving in a furtive manner.” Make 'em stick their hands in the air. Make 'em lie down on the sidewalk in their blue blazers, or plaid skirts and white blouses.

I’m talking, for example, about the preppy students of Chapin on East End Avenue, which in 2010 boasted an endowment of $78.5 million and charged tuition of $33,400.

Or how about the Dalton School, Trinity School, Horace Mann, and Riverdale Country School, whose website declares it’s in favor of (“Mind Character Community.”)

Or schools like Nightingale Bamford, whose motto, according to their website (it's nearly perfect for an institution that turns out future Mistresses of the Universe) is, “Being a Nightingale means that ­ no matter what you want to say to the world – you have the confidence to say it.” Which is close enough to the motto I propose for all of these schools, “Being filthy rich means never having to say you’re sorry.”

That’s only a partial list of New York prep schools, of course, but I think you get the idea. Their students are kids who aren’t likely to be carrying guns, but I’ll betcha that some intensive stop-and-frisking near their shcools will reveal a treasure trove of drugs, prescription medicines in possession of the wrong person, a hip flask or three filled with the hard stuff, and even some non-ballistic weapons. (“But these nunchuks and this 40-inch sword are for my after-school martial arts lessons, officer!”)

A few weeks of stop-and-frisks on the Upper East and Upper West sides and in Riverdale would create  such a hullaballoo that the practice would end, and the rest of the world would never have to endure warrantless, racially-targeted, quota-driven stop-and-frisks again. And I do mean a hullaballoo. After the first dozen or so arrests, the kids' parents, mostly denizens of Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue, and Central Park West would march en masse from Wall Street, first on City Hall, then on Police Headquarters, and finally on the mayor’s personal private mansion itself, on 79th between Fifth and Madison. They would pull the plug on municipal bond financings and political campaign contributions, upsetting the whole socio-political setup.

And stop-and-frisk would become a thing of the past.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Now Emperor Bloomberg’s I-don’t-give-a-damn administration feels free to make a residential building unlivable for its tortured inhabitants

The world is beginning to discover what an insufferable s.o.b. Mayor Michael Bloomberg really is. Well, it’s about time. This blog has laced into the mayor on numerous occasions, for egregious acts ranging from overturning vote-approved term limits, to fibbing about how he commutes to work, to persecuting scrap collectors. (A longer but still partial list, with links, at the end of this post.)

At last, the press in New York is beginning to wake up to the mayor’s racial profiling of blacks and Hispanics via his baseless stop-and-risk policies, thanks to a Federal judge who put a kibosh on the city’s policing policies.

"You're complaining about noise?
Sorry, I can't hear you."

Now there’s a new nightmare. Nearby residents in the West 50s of Manhattan are subject to ear-splitting barrages of noise, all day, all night, around the clock, while the mayor’s Department of Buildings looks on benignly, completely ignoring  justifiable noise complaints.

So says reporter Heather Holland of the online publication DNA Info. Seems that a high rise luxury condo at 157 West 57th Street is under construction – 24 hours a day. The fewer calendar days spent building the building, the sooner the developers can start selling off apartments and earning rich profits, so you can’t blame them for trying.

But you can blame them, and the Department of Buildings, for the brutal, nonstop assault of noise.The builders, Holland reports, have received over 300 variances from the Department of Buildings, despite irate complaints of residential neighbors.

Much of the noise comes from a hoist. One neighbor told Holland, “The hoist is incredibly loud. Imagine sitting in a subway station. When the train comes through, you can’t talk….”

Another residential neighbor complained to Holland, “There’s no place in this apartment that’s remotely quiet. When things have to be done, I have to step out in the hall. I have to turn everything up to its loudest level, to hear anything, and even with the soundproof windows, I have to wear headphones on the computer to hear what I have to hear.”

"This is not my department.
Also there is no department."

“Noise is not their issue,” a spokesman for the Department of Buildings said of his department. Except, of course, that it’s pretty damn rare (if this isn’t actually the only case) that 24-hour permits are issued for construction work. Evidently, complaints to the city’s Department of Environmental Conservation have also failed.

All of this leaves the city open to some cranky (and justifiable) speculation.

We suggest following the money

Are the builders also the buddies of Mayor Bloomberg, or of City Council President Christine Quinn (a Bloomberg disciple and herself a mayoral candidate) – and therefore getting special dispensation to make the lives of some New York City citizens miserable?

Does the billionaire mayor have a big investment in the building, which will be the tallest residential building in the city when it’s completed? If so, his administration’s failure to grant relief to the neighbors would be a clear case of corruption.

Is somebody in the Department of Buildings, or the Department of Environmental Protection, taking payoffs to issue these quality-of-life destroying variances, in violation of criminal law?

Some enterprising investigative reporter ought to look into the matter. Are you listening, all you young Turks at the New York Times?

A cranky (partial) catalogue of previous
sins of Michael Bloomberg
commented on by The New York Crank

Sexual discrimination at Bloomberg News when Michael Bloomberg was directly running the place. 

Fiercely fibbing about his “subway commute” (in part via two limos, as it turned out) from home to City Hall. 

Overthrowing the will of the people on term limits

Implying that you have to be a communist if you think people in New York should earn a living wage. 

Blocking reports of police spying on legitimate political activity. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

The sacred U.S. Constitution guarantees us freedom of religion. Freedom of MY religion that is, not YOUR religion. What next – witchcraft trials?

I don’t know what it is with parents. After listening once to Johnny Cash singing “A Girl Named Sue,” most of us should know better than to name our boys Sue, our girls Butch, or any of our kids with any kind of name that verges on outlandish.

That’s common sense, I suppose. But naming our own kids is still a more or less tacitly understood right, which a court should have no right to take away.

Except, of course, in red states like Tennessee.

Seems that down in Cocke County, Tennessee, Judge Lu Ann Ballew of Chancery Court ordered a child’s name changed from Messiah to Martin. Her reasoning, a landmark in American jurisprudential dunderheadedness, marks Judge Ballew as one of the greatest legal minds of the 17th Century. And here it is:

“The word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ.”

In other words, hew to the judge’s vision of religion, the diety, and Christianity – or else. Another interpretation, "There's nothing about this in the legal code, so I'll make up my own law."

Of course, this isn’t the first time in America where citizens have been punished for thinking differently, although most of them happened four centuries ago. Back in the mid-1600s, a Rhode Island man named Christopher Holder had one of his ears cut off for preaching Quaker beliefs.

Rhode Island, if I need to remind you, was founded by Roger Williams, a dissident Puritan who was on the lam from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for not hewing to their religion. And the Massachusetts Puritans, of course, founded their colony because they had to flee from England or lose their heads. Speaking of Massachusetts Bay Colony, I also ought to give a nod of recognition to all those “witches” who got burned at the stake.

Anyway, pending the first witch burning in Tennessee, which ought to come any day now if judges like Lu Ann Ballew (whose own name, speaking of names, sounds as if it was lifted straight from the L’il Abner Comic Strip)…if judge Ballew gets her way.  Meanwhile, go here and enjoy Johnny Cash singing “A Boy Named Sue.”

Friday, August 09, 2013

French egg farmers revolt! Awful punsters cheer at omelet-based opportunity.

This is eggzactly what I was hoping for on a dreary Friday afternoon with no prospects of the day improving and no billable hours on my schedule – a farmers’ revolt in France that has resulted in the smashing of 100,000 eggs. I’m not eggsagerating.

The French farmers are angry about the prices they get for eggs. They consider it practically a yolk that the market shells out a mere 94 cents a kilogram (roughly 2 lbs.) for eggs. Their incomes are getting fried. So they’ve begun smashing their eggs in the streets. As Adam Taylor, a writer for Business Insider put it, they are "scrambling to drive up prices."

To paraphrase the late Nikita Khrushchev (sort of), “In order to raise egg prices, it is first necessary to step in some omelets.” Or something like that.

Consequently, crossing the road in the town of Ploumagoar (I’m not making this up, that’s the name) is like walking on eggs. Eggsactly like walking on eggs, as a matter of fact. The cobbletones of Brittany are running yellow with bad yolks.

And if you expect local officials to be eggstremely outraged, you’re cracked. If America had a Boston Tea Party, the French are having a Brittany Egg Party. Helene Guillemot, adjunct for the mayor of Carbaix, another town in Brittany where broken eggs are flowing like blood over the cobbles of Paris in 1789, seemed to be egging the farmers on.

“We’re in solidarity with the protest because there’s a true crisis at this moment.” said the mayor’s adjunct, in an eleggant statement on behalf of the farmers. She called the protest “symbolic” and “tres pacifist.” (I wish she had used a pun-able English synonym for “tres,” like “eggstremely,” but she didn’t.)

Okay, you get the idea and I’m gonna run out of here before my puns get any more puny. Got a  wad of money in your pocket and nothing much to do? Hop an airplane France and head straight to Brittany. Be sure to pack your spatula and your omelet pan.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Clash of the Titans! Greedy CBS vs. Greedy Time-Warner. The guilty bystanders? Our paid-off Congress.

I forget exactly when I tuned my TV to WBCS-TV news in New York and saw a printed message instead of a TV broadcast, but it was about a week ago. A day or two after that, that particular channel (Channel 2 or HD Channel 702) has been broadcasting some third rate movie channel in the place of CBS.

What’s going on? CBS had blocked Time-Warner Cable from transmitting its shows, in a dispute over the fees Time-Warner pays CBS for the privilege.

For weeks before, viewers in New York like me had been bombarded with TV spots from both sides. Each side told me what a greedy, unreasonable, grasping, evil bunch of bastards the other side is.

Know something? I think they’re both right about that.

The real victims

The only victims in this war are cable TV subscribers, who are paying Time Warner for CBS  and not getting it. You’d think Congress might have something to say about this. Hah! According to the trade newspaper Advertising Age, Washington sees no percentage in getting involved with this, because the broadcast lobby is a big political campaign contributor, and nobody wants to turn off the spigot. I quote from Ad Age:
Congress probably won't act quickly, in part because broadcasters are a potent lobbying force present in every lawmaker's district, said Jeffrey Silva, a Washington-based analyst with Medley Global Advisors. 
Political nonstarter
"This is a fight between two parties," Mr. Silva said. "What upside is there from taking on the broadcasters?"
Nor should anybody weep for Time-Warner, the second largest cable broadcaster in America. Their parent company, Time Inc., just posted a 25 percent gain in operating earnings: nearly three quarters of a billion dollars for the second quarter of this year, as compared to less than half a billion dollars for the same quarter this year.

However the resolution shakes out, in the end the greedy bastards will end up directly or indirectly raising cable subscription rates for millions of cable subscribers like you and me, so that Les Moonves of CBS and Jeff Bewkes of Time-Warner can reward themselves with bigger bonuses, and keep paying off Congress.

Hurt them. Hurt them both.

One of the things Cable Viewers can do to sting these guys back, at least a little, would be not to complain to Time-Warner about the absence of CBS and to look into switching to RCN or – even though I hate them, too – look into Verizon Fios.

The switch would hurt Time-Warner. Meanwhile, the decrease in advertising revenues (which are based on audience size) will hurt CBS.

In an ideal universe, CBS and Time-Warner would put each other out of business, like two gladiators armed with long-poled hammers, simultaneously clobbering the other in the head. That failing, their respective chairmen could be locked together, stark naked and face to face, in a very small trunk, unequipped with a toilet, for eternity, in hell. Well, maybe we could squeeze in a few congressmen and senators, too.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The redder the state, the shorter your life

It's not an absolute correlation, and contains a few exceptions,  but studies seem to show that people who live in blue states as a rule of thumb live longer than people in red states.

It's not just a matter of poverty, either. Vermont, one of our poorer states, is blue and and yet its citizens have a longer life expectancy than far wealthier Texas.

I'll leave it to you to ponder why.