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Andrew Cuomo Cheerleader Fred Dicker’s Open To Suggestions On How To Stop Puckering Up For Gov’s Rump

New York Post state capital bureau chief/captain of the Andrew Cuomo cheerleading squad Fred Dicker asked us earlier this week what “tough questions” he should ask his pal Cuomo about the gov’s new budget, which — as Dicker swoons — is expected to be on time for the second year in a row.

Dicker was responding to our question, which asked if he ever planned on lobbing anything but softballs at his pal Cuomo, as he’s done so consistently in the past.

Well, we have a few suggestions for the long-time Albany journo, for starters — and we realize this isn’t exactly a question — he might be a bit more cautious when congratulating someone for doing his job.

]
Dicker’s radio show, as expected, was the first stop for the governor this week in his media blitz boasting his on-time budget.
Dicker opened the segment by congratulating the governor on the budget.
After about 20 minutes of what more resembled a Cuomo campaign ad than
an interview with a seasoned reporter, Dicker then ended the show by
congratulating the governor on the budget.

Granted, we’re not looking at a copy of the New York State Constitution
at the moment, but last time we checked, it’s the governor’s job to get a
budget done on time — that’s why he gets paid.

We’re not sure what it’s like over at the Post, but here at the Voice we
don’t get a pat on the back every time we simply do the job we’re
getting paid to do.

Historically, reaching a budget agreement by the April 1, deadline has
been challenging for New York governors — and we realize it’s no easy
task. But it’s still just part of the job taxpayers pay him to do.

As for some questions Dicker may have hurled at his BFF, the radio host
asked Cuomo if member items (legislative “pork”) were over in New York
for good. Cuomo, as politically savvy as he is, told Dicker that he’s no
fan of member items and he’d like to see them come to an end — “in
terms of any new ones.”

The governor’s self-serving response to the question was where Dicker’s inquiries about member items came to an end.

Had Dicker read the budget — as his NewsCore colleagues at the Wall
Street Journal
(not to mention his direct colleagues at the Post)
apparently have — he’d know that tucked into Cuomo’s $132 billion
budget is about $40 million in what’s called “bullet aid,” which is
basically “pork” in disguise.

“Bullet aid” is designated for Cuomo and legislative leaders to, as the WSJ puts it, “hand out
to school districts and nonprofits of their choosing outside the regular
funding process.”

The Post — Dicker’s own paper — goes further, noting that
“hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development grants being
sprinkled around the state by Cuomo’s administration amount to
Cuomo-controlled pork.”

Cuomo’s millions may not be called a “member item,” but if it looks like a pig, and spends like a pig, it’s probably “pork.” Dicker didn’t ask him about any of that, though.

In the midst of Dicker’s gushing over Cuomo’s on-time budget, he asked
the governor “why would it require all night sessions to get a budget
passed?”

What are you new, Fred? All night sessions are why budgets get passed in New York state at all.

As anyone familiar with New York’s budget process will tell
you, these late-night (closed-door) negotiations are when secretive,
backroom deals between the governor and the Legislature get ironed out
— and the souls of elected officials are often bought and sold. Perhaps
a better question Dicker could have asked the governor is “what the
hell went on during these closed-door negotiations that allowed for you
and legislative leaders to come to an agreement.”

Dicker didn’t ask that, though — he, it seems, was more interested in a lesson in governmental procedure.

During the interview, Dicker only briefly touched on groups that aren’t
thrilled with Cuomo’s budget, mentioning only one — the CSEA — by
name. He failed to mention that there are a few teachers unions that
also aren’t as in awe of the gov’s budget as he is — teachers unions
Cuomo has attempted to bully in the press.

As we reported last week, Cuomo and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg
decided to take the pissing match between the governor and two teachers
unions public by putting out a press release announcing that the leaders
were donating $72,000 to a Hispanic advocacy group to replace the
donation the unions yanked from the organization in protest of Cuomo’s pension reform bill.

Read all about it here.

When asked about the governor’s taking the dispute public — in the form
of a press release from the Executive Chamber — a representative from
one of the teachers unions told the Voice “there’s actually a press
release? From the governor’s office? Oh, for Pete’s sake!”

We argued that the governor’s press release was little more than a
publicity stunt to cast the unions in a negative light (under the facade
of announcing his and Bloomberg’s donation to the group). Had we been granted total access to the governor, like Dicker, we might have
asked him something about that — in the form of a “tough” question.

Those are just a few of our suggestions for the long-time member of
Albany’s fourth estate. Feel free to leave your own suggestions for
Dicker in the comment section of this post. 

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A Gift Guide for Rupert Murdoch’s 79th Birthday: 79 Presents to Give the Chairman

Happy Birthday, Rupert Murdoch! At the great old age of 79, the media baron’s going to have to be gifted well. Who knows how many he has left? It’s late in the day and you still haven’t gotten him anything, and you don’t know what to get him? Funny you should ask. We’ve got a few decent ideas, right this way:

1. Just a nice dinner with the family. That’s it! Really. That’s all he needs.
2. Full series order for Baby American Gladiators, to toughen and ready infant children to do battle with decrepit “teenagers” from past marriages.
3. Just a card.
4. To get away from this one-horse town.
5. An episode of Intervention for Col Allen.
6. Whoopie cushions for the viewing party. With Mort Zuckerman’s face on them.
7. A Party of Five reunion.
8. A cat named “Meow Jones.”
9. A box of Droopy Dog temporary tattoos.
10. A pretty yellow box.
11. A Chihuahua named “Slim.”
12. A Doberman to eat it.
13. A Sasquatch to eat the Doberman.
14. A New York Post reporter who can catch the Sasquatch eating the Doberman without calling it “Darkie.”
15. Actually kind of just wants “the Mexican” to go ahead and buy the New York Times.
16. A new beginning.
17. A Frisbee that doesn’t hurt his mouth so much. πŸ™
18. A ball gag.
19. Someone to put a ball gag on Roger Ailes.
20. A rock of Unobtanium.
21. A way to smoke it.
22. A Na’vi dicktail.
23. A triple bypass.
24. A Zhu Zhu pet.
25. The collector’s edition of Licensed to Drive.
26. A poster of a comically overweight cat stretched out on the Sunday Styles that reads I CAN HAZ SULZBURGUR.
27 – 47. New teeth, individually gifted, set apart on a scavenger hunt in the backyard.
48. An advance copy of Tha Carter IV.
49. Commemorative Stack of Paper Speech Paper Stacks.
50. A mashup of that speech and the “Numa Numa” song.
51. A Gosselin child. Preferably Aaden.
52. A Brangelina child. Any one will do, really.
53. A series order for Celebrity Baby American Gladiators.
54. The Arrested Development movie, like yesterday.
55. The two hours he spent watching Precious returned to him.
56. A walk-on one-liner on Gossip Girl: “I’m Chuck Bass.”
57. An eight-ball and some Rush on vinyl and to be left the fuck alone.
58. A pet rock named Lil’ Rupe with googly eyes.
59. Simon Cowell’s hair plugs.
60. Randy Jackson’s ear plugs.
61. Ryan Seacrest’s “caboose” plugs.
62. Some kind of written and verified admission from Seth McFarlane that he just blatantly rips off The Simpsons because even he knows it’s like so true, right?
63. A live goldfish. To eat.
64. Tickets to Cats.
65. A train set that runs “on time.”
66. Pants for everyone at the New York Post. Even those gossip writers. Especially those gossip writers.
67. A vanity plate that spells “NEWZBRAH.”
68. This cane.
69. This inflatable bedpan chair.
70. An hour with kids so someone can show him how to “delete this goddamn MySpace thing.”
71. A comically oversize phallus-shaped gavel, so he can bang his dick on the table harder than you.
72. Salsa lessons.
73. Coffee, “and not the shit we serve here.”
74. Wants Jimmy and Gary to be friends, just for him, just while he’s there.
75. A night out with Michael Wolff so he can roofie him, draw balls on his head in permanent marker, take a picture with him giving a passed-out Wolff the thumbs up and then for someone to post it to “the MySpace”
76. This Opening Ceremony toothbrush.
77. Refurbished jowls.
78. A search engine with a paywall in front of it, behind which, every search result turns up the same thing.
79. Cancer.

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Rupert Murdoch: Won’t Die Until WSJ Quenches Thirst for Sulzberger Milkshake with $100K Coffee

Good Media Magnate Monday Morning! screams New York‘s website with media reporter Gabriel Sherman’s deliriously fun cover story of an old, cranky, combative, elbows-out Rupert Murdoch who basically wants to destroy the New York Times with his most recent purchase, the Wall Street Journal, before he kicks the bucket. And it’s going to take $100,000 of coffee a year to do it. Does it have a sweet bottom note of cocoa? Berries? Blood, bile, and piss? We found out from deep inside the Journal‘s confines.

Sherman finds the News Corp. chairman on a mission to assert his red-blooded virility in the face of what John Cook characterized as a “crumbling” empire just this last Thursday on Gawker. Timely! Some of the plotlines include Murdoch’s laughable crackpot war with Google indexing News Corp. content, which is something he thinks they should pay for (and is supposedly considering suing over), and Fox News chief Roger Ailes, whose money Murdoch enjoys, but whose politics cause him headaches (like a PR snafu involving Rupe’s son-in-law being quoted slamming Fox News to a very willing press outlet).

Yet the best is saved for Murdoch’s white whale: said willing press outlet, the New York Times, noted as one his “ancient enemies” constructed of “characteristic self-interest wrapped in a cloak of high-toned moralism.” Especially when it comes to NYT chief Arthur Sulzberger, who Sherman notes is “a symbol of the Times‘ hypocrisy, its smugness, and its shortcomings” for Murdoch. The crux of this narrative is that Murdoch plans on taking Sulzberger down with the Wall Street Journal, which is played as his very expensive, shiny warhorse. Observe:

Murdoch has made the Journal feel like the center of his universe. He spent $80 million to transform four floors of News Corp.’s office tower into a state-of-the-art newsroom for the Journal. It is something of a showpiece. At the center of the cavernous space is a cluster of desks and computers known as “the Hub,” a Star Trek-like bridge where top editors pilot the paper’s 24/7 mission. Around the room, flat-screen televisions broadcast Fox News and the struggling Fox Business Network (“We’re doing our bit to help Fox Business,” Thomson joked to his staff). Digital clocks display the time in Singapore, New York, and London. Coffee machines are stationed throughout the floors, and the annual coffee budget runs $100,000. The newsroom buzzes with a confidence unusual for these times. “I didn’t go into journalism in 1975 to end up working for Rupert Murdoch,” David Wessel, the Journal’s well-regarded economics editor, told me, “but it sure turns out to be nice to have a deep-pocketed owner at this time in the industry.”

So, Murdoch cares about print, and making the Wall Street Journal his Print Machine of Death with a tough staff who will help him bleed out the Times and Sulzberger with a shiny office and a new Metropolitan section called “Project Amsterdam,” a name that invokes less the bong-friendly culture of the Dutch city’s present and more its rooting-helpless-Jews-out-of-top-floor-spaces past. The new section’s going to be “an eight-to-sixteen-page metropolitan section that will directly challenge the paper of record on its home turf.” Fun! Like a cockfight! But more importantly: $100,000 on coffee a year? What’s that like? We investigated.

$100,000 of coffee a year comes out to $273 and change a day.
Keeping the Journal’s aforementioned “24-hour mission” in mind, they’re drinking $11 of coffee an hour.

At Stumptown Coffee, New York’s new of-the-moment coffee spot in the Ace Hotel, a small cup of black coffee is $2. At Starbucks, a small cup of coffee is now $1.50 before tax, which is 182 cups of coffee a day, which would be 7.5 cups of coffee an hour. Murdoch’s probably buying in serious bulk, though, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and say he’s getting coffee cheaper than his employees would be able to buy it at the cart downstairs on 5th Avenue: $0.25/cup. Why the hell not? That’s 1,092 cups of coffee a day, 44 or 45 cups of coffee an hour. And most coffee drinkers are addicts, so as long as there aren’t more than 44 different people per hour who only require one cup of coffee each day, they’re fine.

The point is, for a guy who spent $80M on a new office, $100,000 a year isn’t that much to spend on coffee. Particularly if you want your employees to goosestep to the beat of a dropping Times stock price. We interviewed one Wall Street Journal staffer on what their $100,000/year coffee is like, and if it’s up to snuff for Murdoch’s ink-gangsters.

So: How is it?

Adequate. A little weak for my taste but better than most single-cup machines. Brand is Flavia. Consensus is their espresso roast is best.

There are choices? Are condiments provided?

At least a dozen varieties of coffee and tea. Paper cups, stirrers, sugar, Splenda, Equal, Sweet n Low, skim, 1%, 2%, half-and-half.

Wow. So, just to be clear, it does not taste like the blood of fired NYT reporters? No metallic-tasting bottom notes?

We sweeten our coffee with the profits from Avatar. I can only assume the coffee is not fair trade.

There you go: no coffee is black enough for the souls at the Wall Street Journal, not even when produced with the sweat and tears of presumably malnourished coffee harvesters, though there are choices, many of them, including a premium sweetener the rest of the non-Journal public doesn’t have access to: Na’vi blood. Finally, no comment on plans to start drinking the fine floral notes of boiling hot water poured over ground-up Times staffers, but given Sherman’s profile, it’s something Murdoch’s no doubt considered. A definitive projection on whether or not he’ll make it there–and make it there alive–remains to be seen. Because he’s either going to squash the New York Times like a bug, leave behind a not-crumbling empire for his spawn, leave behind a crumbling empire for his spawn, or stop caring and die. At some point, though, he will die.
The Raging Septuagenarian
[NY Mag]

The Fall of the House of Murdoch [Gawker]

 

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Dow Jonesin’: Rupert Murdoch reports big loss on ‘Wall Street Journal’-related writedown

The pot’s calling the kettle black: The New York Times runs a Reuters story this afternoon about Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp. posting an $8.4 billion writedown on the advertising-challenged Wall Street Journal and other properties.

The Times, as we know, is in even worse shape and has even reached out to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

Nevertheless, the snooty paper of record neglected to mention its own troubles β€” while it saw fit to mention the woes of other media corpses:

News Corporation is the latest media conglomerate to report gloomy financial results as advertisers slash their budgets in the weak economy.

This week, Time Warner posted a $16 billion quarterly net loss because of a write-down, and the Walt Disney Company posted a sharply lower-than-expected profit in part because of poor TV ad and DVD sales.

The bad news for the Wall Street Journal β€” the best piece of Murdoch property other than The Simpsons β€” is that it’s apparently dragging down the whole thing.

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about the Times‘s own troubles, read this story from Murdoch’s Post:

I told you last month that newspapers needed a bailout. But George W. Bush, whose presence on the scene provided mucho grist for the mill, has fled to Texas, and all he left us was this lousy meltdown.

 

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Markopolos bombshells: ‘I’ll deliver a mini-Madoff tomorrow!’ and ‘Arm SEC with Bloomberg machines!’

After only part of this morning’s House hearing starring Harry Markopolos, there’s little doubt that Bernie Madoff‘s true identity is Dr. Evil.

What else can one think when House members wondered aloud whether there are “mini-Madoffs” or “medium-size Madoffs” lurking in the Wall Street wastelands.

Markopolos answered in the affirmative and said he plans to “deliver a mini-Madoff to the SEC tomorrow,” adding, “Hopefully they listen to me this time.”

The House Financial Services Committee members agreed that this time the SEC will probably listen to Markopolos. There’s no hint, however, of who Markopolos is talking about.

A mini-Madoff! Like Mini-Me! Cool!

But speaking of Dr. Evil, Markopolos also pointed out (as I and some others have) that Wall Street’s fraudsters couldn’t pull off their schemes without Mayor Mike Bloomberg‘s proprietary sophisticated hardware/software machines.

There’s no other way, many say, to conjure up the increasingly sophisticated financial instruments that ruined Wall Street and will no doubt ruin it again during the next bubble.

Bloomberg is supposedly the biggest philanthropist in America; he got the money from the sale of his machines on Wall Street.

Which leads to the question: How could Mayor Bloomberg not have known the various nefarious uses to which his machines could be put? Of course he knows.

Which leads to this: Wall Street’s meltdown happened on his watch, and it was created by his pals — his customers — at the Street’s big banks. So why didn’t he stop it or at least see the signs of an impending disaster?

If not him, who? If not then, why not?

And now he wants another mayoral term to keep our streets supposedly safe when the only street he knows — Wall Street — has become the most dangerous stretch of pavement in the country?

Just wondering.

Markopolos didn’t make that point, but he did say that the SEC operates at a tremendous disadvantage in trying to understand the complex schemes of the Street’s white-shoed gangsters by not having nearly enough Bloomberg terminals. Give the SEC more Bloomberg terminals, he told the House panel, because the fraudsters and scamsters have them.

Wild-eyed Harry also has a beef with the press: He contended that a Wall Street Journal reporter (whom he didn’t name) was very interested three years ago and was willing to fly to Boston to meet with Markopolos but that the reporter’s editors were scared off by Madoff’s power and reputation and nixed it. (For more on that, see Gary Weiss‘s post on Seeking Alpha.)

Treated with extreme deference, Markopolos is surely one of the most brash witnesses to testify on Capitol Hill in quite a while. And well-prepared — browse his lengthy (but entertaining) written testimony if you can’t wait for the sound bites later today.

Of course, he can back it up, having warned a decade before Madoff confessed to his sons that Bernie was a fraudster.

At least, Markopolos can back it up for now. His hubris, his zealotry, his sense of certainty — they make you wonder whether Markopolos, like Madoff’s scheme, is too good to be true.

Anyway, Markopolos’s halo — or is it his intense eyes? — cast an eerie glow for now on the scene of perhaps capitalism’s all-time worst disaster.

California Democrat Brad Sherman noted that Markopolos isn’t just some “wild-eyed populist.” Sherman was half-right. Markopolos is definitely wild-eyed — he has the look and tone of a zealot — but he’s also the staunchest defender of capitalism one could imagine, and that includes Ayn Rand.

And imaginative, too. Markopolos raised the intriguing notion that retired Wall Street bigwigs, people with little or no hair, as he put it, should be hired by the SEC to replace the young whippersnappers who now infest the agency’s lower ranks.

Markopolos reasons that veterans won’t have to do it for the money, because they’ve already made theirs and that they would be foxes able to sniff out the rotten eggs in the henhouse.

This probably won’t happen, unless these Wall Street veterans are suddenly imbued with that sense of civic responsibility that Barack Obama mentioned in his inaugural address.

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Wall Street’s bonus army pulls bank robbery; Al Jazeera’s Josh Rushing joins his U.S. mates in Afghanistan

In “Taliban resurgence pushes troops to change tack,” Al Jazeera‘s Josh Rushing joins U.S. troops on the frontline in Afghanistan. Watch this and then ask yourself: Why isn’t this as freely available on your cable as CNN or Fox News? And yes, you’ve heard Rushing’s name; he’s the former Marine flack during the Iraq invasion who was featured in the documentary Control Room and then defied the Pentagon by talking about his experiences with Al Jazeera. Now he works for Al Jazeera.


Unlike Wall Street’s short-sellers, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but capitalism is not dead, despite the moaning and groaning from Davos to D.C.

The International Monetary Fund predicts that the global economy will come to “a virtual halt.” No, not yet and not for everybody. For evidence, see “What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses” in the Times:

Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.

That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller.

While the payouts paled next to the riches of recent years, Wall Street workers still took home about as much as they did in 2004, when the Dow Jones industrial average was flying above 10,000, on its way to a record high.

On the other hand, you can say that capitalism is in trouble, judging by the surprisingly cynical, lively tone of Ben White‘s above story.

In fact, this is one of the rare moments when a Times story is sharper and more skeptical than the tabloids’ stories on the same topic. Compare this morning’s Daily News story: “City takes hit as Wall St. bonuses cut.” Or the Post‘s: “WALL STREET BONUSES DROP TO LOWEST IN 30 YEARS.”

Yes, the fact that the bonuses sharply fell indicates trouble on Wall Street. But the main thing it indicates is that the bonuses in past years have been staggeringly unconscionable and are now falling back to being merely unconscionable.

In any case, Barack Obama, the nation’s first Kenyan-Kansan president, has already used his bully pulpit to preach social responsibility and rail against greed. Looks as if he might have to summon these Wall Street gangsters to the basketball court and posterize them. You know, add them to his In-Your-Facebook.

And you can just ignore the caterwauling by Capitol Hill’s Republicans about Obama’s stimulus plan. Even the Wall Street Journal reports that corporate types look favorably on Obama’s package.

For those of us accident victims bleeding after being run over on Wall Street or gasping for breath at the foot of Capitol Hill, that stimulus package can’t come too soon. The depression is finally hitting home: I almost dropped my laptop when I heard that profits earned by my Sony baby daddy dropped by 95 percent. Poor little laptop overheats as it is.

If yours still works (and if you’re reading this, it is), click on these items…

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

N.Y. Post: ‘MTA BOARD FARES BADLY AT HEARING’

Members of the MTA board were called “callous” and “oppressors” at a fare hearing in Brooklyn last night that drew nearly 500 people.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Continuing Jobless Claims Hit Record’

N.Y. Times: ‘What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses’

Despite crippling losses in 2008, employees at financial companies in New York collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.

N.Y. Post: ‘DEAD LETTER DAY IS LOOMING: POSTAL SERVICE LICKED BY $6B DEFICIT, LOOKS TO SLASH DELIVERIES’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Mobster put body in acid, then gave boss the finger — in soup’

N.Y. Post: ‘CONEY ISLAND’S ROCKET SPARED’

Astroland Park’s popular Rocket won’t be blasting out of Coney Island after all. City officials confirmed yesterday that the park’s longtime operator, the Albert family, has donated…

N.Y. Times: ‘House Passes Stimulus Plan Despite G.O.P. Opposition’

Without a single Republican vote, President Obama won House approval for an $819 billion economic plan as Democrats sought to temper their own differences.

Wall Street Journal: ‘U.S. Moves to Aid Credit Unions’

Bloomberg: ‘Gore Says Stimulus Package’s Investments Will Help Combat Global Warming’

N.Y. Post: ‘DA: #!@ ATT’Y $CAMMED SICK
MORGY CURSIN’ MAD OVER LOST MILLIONS’

It takes a special kind of thief to get Morgy this mad. Manhattan’s gentlemanly district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, yesterday needed a pair of profanities to describe a big-shot…

N.Y. Times: ‘Youth Charged With More Attacks on Latinos’

The seven defendants in the deadly assault on Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant, are accused of assaulting or attempting to assault a total of eight other Latino men.

N.Y. Post: ‘”BIZ BILK” GAL WANTS LOOT BACK FROM FEDS’

The wealthy Upper West Side woman charged with bilking $80 million from Fortune 500 firms is complaining that she can’t live without her Rolex, Warhol and MontBlancs…

Bloomberg: ‘Mitchell’s Firm Lobbied For Dubai’s Ruler to Help Quash Camel Jockey Suit’

George Mitchell, President Barack Obama’s special Middle East troubleshooter, was chairman of a law firm that was paid about $8 million representing Dubai’s ruler in connection with a child-trafficking lawsuit.

CBS: ‘CIA Officer In Algeria Accused Of Rape’

N.Y. Times: ‘Backers of Mayoral School Control Face Resistance’

N.Y. Post: ‘BEEF AT GAY INSULT: VEGETARIAN SUES’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘15,000 school jobs may go: Klein’

N.Y. Times: ‘Friends, Until I Delete You’

As your circle of friends on Facebook widens, you may wonder if there’s an etiquette to “defriending” someone, just in case.

FOX: ‘Curvy Kim Kardashian Thinks Curvy Jessica Simpson “Looks Hot”‘

N.Y. Times: ‘On Iraq, Obama Faces Hard Choices’

In redefining the nation’s mission in Iraq, President Obama must decide between abandoning a campaign promise and risking a rupture with the military.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Chinese Premier Blames Recession on U.S. Actions’

CBS: ‘LA Cardinal Subject Of Federal Probe’

N.Y. Times: ‘Stimulus Package’s Components Vary in Speed and Efficiency’

The impact of the $819 billion economic stimulus package will be felt within weeks once the final version becomes law, but estimating its effectiveness is far more complex.

N.Y. Times: ‘After the War on Terror’ (Roger Cohen)

In his first White House televised interview, with the Al Arabiya news network, President Obama buried the lead: The war on terror is over.

N.Y. Times: ‘Blagojevich to End Boycott of His Own Trial’

N.Y. Times: ‘White House Unbuttons Formal Dress Code’

N.Y. Times: ‘Musicians Hear Heaven in Tully Hall’s New Sound’


‘JPMorgan Exited Madoff-Linked Funds Last Fall’

From the Times:

…the bank suddenly began pulling its millions out of [funds that invested with Madoff] in early autumn, months before Mr. Madoff was arrested, according to accounts from Europe and New York that were subsequently confirmed by the bank. The bank did not notify investors of its move, and several of them are furious that it protected itself but left them holding notes that the bank itself now says are probably worthless.

N.Y. Post: ‘MADOFF: I’M WEAKENED AT BERNIE’S’

He’s “The Prisoner of Park Avenue.”

Bernie Madoff is whining to anyone who’ll listen that he’s being held captive in his palatial penthouse and unable to traipse around the Big Apple as he did before being busted for running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, a source familiar with the scam artist told the Post.

“I’m a prisoner in my own house!” Madoff fumed. “I can’t go anywhere! I’m stuck here all day!”…

In recent days, The Post has learned, private contractors have been moving at the request of federal authorities to install wiretaps on Madoff’s apartment phones and computers.

“If he surfs the Web or makes a call, it’s going to be tracked,” a source said.

NY1: ‘Queens Warehouse May Be Linked To Madoff Scheme’

Bloomberg: ‘Madoff’s Tactics Date to 1960s When Father-in-Law Was Recruiter’

Bloomberg: ‘Ex-Madoff Worker Objects to $58,000 Bill for Boss’s Mercedes’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Painting the Scene of Madoff’s Operation’

Forbes: ‘Wells Fargo becomes the first major U.S. bank to report Madoff-related loan losses’

CNBC: ‘Accused Swindler Cosmo Owed Thousands to Mob’

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Americans start acting responsibly, sending country deeper into depression

Your own private Idaho.


When you can no longer afford even a night out in Boise, Idaho, your country’s in deep financial trouble.

In a clever immorality tale about 21st century capitalism, the Wall Street Journal tells us this morning that people in the Intermountain West are having to give up meet and potatoes. Like many other families throughout the country, the average-American Capp and Muir families have had to stop spending and start saving.

No more nights out in downtown Boise. The Capps now have to stick close to their suburban home. But β€” the bad news keeps piling up β€” they’ve had to sacrifice cable TV! And they have teenagers in the house! (Memo to the parents: If you can’t afford to put meat on the table, at least serve your kids Robot Chicken.)

Kelly Evans‘s story, “Hard-Hit Families Finally Start Saving, Aggravating Nation’s Economic Woes,” fascinates, not only because it’s a detailed yet smooth human-interest yarn, but also because it points out the financial perversity spreading through the land because of Wall Street’s meltdown.

Don’t feel sorry for these hinterland families. The fact that they’re desperately trying to save their money, instead of going into more debt, spells doom for the rest of us. By trying to extricate themselves from their own mess, they’re just making it worse for all of us…and for themselves. Screwy, huh? Here’s the explanation, per Evans’s story:

As layoffs and store closures grip Boise, these two local families hope their newfound frugality will see them through the economic downturn. But this same thriftiness, embraced by families across the U.S., is also a major reason the downturn may not soon end. Americans, fresh off a decadeslong buying spree, are finally saving more and spending less β€” just as the economy needs their dollars the most.

Usually, frugality is good for individuals and for the economy. Savings serve as a reservoir of capital that can be used to finance investment, which helps raise a nation’s standard of living. But in a recession, increased saving — or its flip side, decreased spending — can exacerbate the economy’s woes. It’s what economists call the “paradox of thrift.”

It’s more like a “Cash-22.” I mean, you finally start acting responsibly, saving money instead of piling up even more outrageous credit-card debt and purchasing gizmos and gewgaws that relentless advertising has brainwashed you into lusting after, and that’s bad for you, your family, and the country? More from Evans:

U.S. household debt, which has been growing steadily since the Federal Reserve began tracking it in 1952, declined for the first time in the third quarter of 2008. In the same quarter, U.S. consumer spending growth declined for the first time in 17 years.

That has resulted in a rise in the personal saving rate, which the government calculates as the difference between earnings and expenditures. In recent years, as Americans spent more than they earned, the personal saving rate dipped below zero. Economists now expect the rate to rebound to 3% to 5%, or even higher, in 2009, among the sharpest reversals since World War II.

The truth is that our economy demands that you continue acting like suckers by trying to live beyond your means. And when you stop being a sucker β€” like when you’re laid off and you don’t have a choice because you have to start saving your money to pay your bills and plan for the hard times β€” then you’re blamed for not being a good citizen.

Oh well, Wall Street’s worse-than-usual greed may have caused this problem, but we New Yorkers can be part of the solution. Bailouts of Wall Street haven’t worked, so why not try to rescue some other downtowns?

Road trip to Boise!

Now that you know that the real goniffs are yourselves instead of people like Bernie Madoff, you’re free to click on the following news items…

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

N.Y. Times: ‘Death Toll Mounts in Gaza Offensive’

As European diplomats sought a cease-fire, Israeli troops poured into Gaza City, expelling residents and shooting militants. Meanwhile, Israeli troops suffered casualties from so-called “friendly fire.”

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Binge drinking raises HIV risk, report says’

New Yorkers who consume five or more drinks in one sitting face increased risk of HIV and other STDs, according to a new study from the city Department of Health.

N.Y. Post: ‘MODEL SNARED IN UGLY WEB: FIGHTING GOOGLE OVER “SKANK” BLOG’

FOX News: ‘U.S. Embassy in Iraq Largest, Most Expensive Ever’

N.Y. Times: ‘Ex-Detainee of U.S. Describes a 6-Year Ordeal’

Though never charged with a crime, Muhammad Saad Iqbal spent six years in American custody, during which he says he was secretly taken to Egypt and tortured.

Editor & Publisher: ‘Daily Show Returns β€” As Alan Colmes Becomes Stephen Colbert’s Co-Host’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘New poll sez Caroline is unsweetened’

Caroline Kennedy’s popularity has plunged as her push to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate hit rough patches, a new poll finds.

N.Y. Post: ‘CAR-NAGE! DECEMBER AUTO SALES CRASH & BURN’

Editor & Publisher: ‘Ann Coulter Kicked Off NBC’s Today Show

Editor & Publisher: ‘Locked Out: Israel STILL Keeping Foreign Reporters from Gaza War Zone’

N.Y. Post: ‘EL LOCO CHOKE-O: LEFTY HALTS OIL AID OVER MONEY WOES’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Hard-Hit Families Finally Start Saving, Aggravating Nation’s Economic Woes’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Analysis: Third stage will be war’s hardest test’

The hard part of Israel’s war against Hamas lies ahead β€” and the public’s willingness to fight on will determine its course.

N.Y. Times: ‘Toyota to Shut Factories for 11 Days’

N.Y. Post: ‘ARAB FLIER GETS 240G OVER SHIRT BAN’

A JetBlue passenger who was forced to cover up a T-shirt that read, “We will not be silent” in Arabic and English before boarding a cross-country flight won a $240,000 settlement from…

N.Y. Times: ‘Panetta Chosen as C.I.A. Chief in Surprise Step’

N.Y. Times: ‘Rent Reprieve for a Fixture on the Upper West Side’

Crain’s New York Business: ‘2 NY mortgage firms agree to restitution’

HCI Mortgage and Consumer One Mortgage will pay $665,000 for charging black and Hispanic borrowers higher…

N.Y. Post: ‘ALBANY POLS STILL SUCK’


Bloomberg: ‘Madoff Investor Awaits “Imbecile” or “Dupe” Verdict’

Patrick Littaye, 69, [co-founder of Access International Advisors,] invested all of his own money with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC last year, enticed by the firm’s positive returns as other hedge funds slumped. His error was compounded because he borrowed money to increase the return on his investment, leaving him with $4 million in personal debts, Littaye said in telephone interviews from Jan. 2 through Jan. 4. He declined to specify the amount he had lost.

“I’m going to sell everything I have and start over,” Littaye said from Brussels, adding that he planned to subsist on his French social security payments. “For Access, we’ll go to our investors over the next couple of weeks and we’ll see what they think of us.”

Littaye’s partner, Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, chose a different course. The 65-year-old co-founder and chief executive officer of Access was found dead Dec. 23 at his office in New York. Villehuchet killed himself after it became clear he wouldn’t be able to recover the funds he and his clients invested with Madoff…

N.Y. Times: ‘Bid to Revoke Madoff’s Bail Cites His Gifts’

Bernard L. Madoff tried to hide at least $1 million in assets from investigators, prosecutors told a judge.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘The city’s star crook: Fed entourage protects Madoff’

Bloomberg: ‘Madoff Sons Reported Jewelry Violations to U.S., Lawyer Says’

The sons of Bernard Madoff, who is accused of orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme, told prosecutors last week that their father violated a court-ordered asset freeze by mailing them jewelry, watches and other items, his lawyer said.

Time: ‘The Ponzi Scheme in Every Hedge Fund’

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Madoff’s victims number 8,000 β€” and counting’

In a further sign of the sheer enormity of Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme, on Monday a count-appointed trustee announced it had mailed claim forms to 8,000 former customers–an irate army of investors that is still only a fraction of the total number who may have been defrauded.

Bloomberg: ‘Bard College Had Losses of $3 Million Tied to Madoff’

Reuters: ‘New York University sues fund exec over Madoff’

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Blagojevich names Foghorn Leghorn to Obama’s Senate seat

Comparing the coverage by the Times and Wall Street Journal.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will name former Illinois AG Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama‘s Senate seat.

Read the mid-afternoon versions of that breaking story in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and it’s no contest.

The news is that Blago is naming some Foghorn Leghorn guy to the Senate. You gotta hand it to Gov.-not-for-long Blagojevich; he’s cleverly playing the race card by replacing a black senator with another black senator. That should blunt some critics. Maybe.

The race angle is for another story. What’s relevant here is the WSJ‘s third graf:

The choice is likely to face intense scrutiny because the governor faces federal corruption charges. The governor appears to be thumbing his nose at critics who have said the process allowing him to choose Mr. Obama’s replacement should be circumvented.

Compare that with the New York Times‘s second graf:

Mr. Blagojevich, who faces federal corruption charges including allegations that he tried to sell Mr. Obama’s former senate seat for a high-paying job or money, had not been expected to try to fill the seat. As recently as ten days ago, his lawyer, Edward Genson, said he would not attempt to make an appointment, since Senate leaders had indicated they would not accept anyone whom the beleaguered Mr. Blagojevich had appointed.

The snooty Times thumbs its nose at phrases like “thumbing his nose.” The Journal consistently beats the Times at analyzing the facts and giving us the gist in colloquial β€” or at least lively β€” English that pols and other crooks use when privately figuring out ways to screw the public.

The WSJ is the best daily in the city, obviously for business news, but also for political news. That’s because you don’t have to read very far into its stories to get the real skinny. After all, its audience is largely those people who skirt the line between being crooks or just barely legal (according to their own lawyers) sharks.

But even if you’re not a shark or otherwise scheming just to make money from money, the Journal‘s still a great read. Sound, detailed, lucid reporting, with plenty of human-interest angles and vivid descriptions, even of callow business people. The paper’s a cheap subscription and has a well-tuned website. Besides, it offers a good way for Americans who can’t afford million-dollar apartments to try to understand the nefarious activities of those who can.

Considering that the country is falling into a major depression, you commoners (who, after all, will feel the brunt of it) would be better off reading the Journal than the Times. At least you’ll get a more accurate and readable measurement of how far you’ll fall.

Both papers, incidentally, are likely to still be publishing a year from now. The same can’t be said of other papers.

 

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High prices at D.C. auto show

Even before Detroit’s Big Three CEOs get their bailout billions from recession-plagued taxpayers, their P.R. people must be breaking out the champagne.

Their ploy of having the execs drive fuel-efficient cars to D.C., instead of corporate jets, worked like a charm. The press this morning was plastered with pictures of these drivers, like GM’s Rick Wagoner hopping out of his Volt upon arrival at Capitol Hill.

Revolting. Their wobbly steering of their companies has been unsafe at any speed, and they should have been pulled over before they even left Detroit.

Yes, the stories about their testimony reflected lawmakers’ skepticism. But at least the P.R. pictures of execs driving low-cost vehicles (at right, Wagoner) was potentially worth millions in future hawking of such cars. And it will stand as part of the permanent record for future historians about how the Big Three were committed to new and innovative vehicles.

For now, there will be a bailout, no matter how skeptical Congress is. And it’s important to remember that lawmakers play for their audiences, and their brutal words directed at the automakers mean little.

If Congress β€” anybody β€” knew exactly how to pull us out of the deepening depression, the Big Three would have less of a chance of getting bailouts. But nobody knows yet what will work, and of course the failure of these huge companies is seen as disastrous right now.

Despite what the Wall Street Journal points out this morning in a smart piece (“Detroit Bailout Hits a Bumpy Road”), Congress will no doubt grant the Big Three CEOs their Christmas wish of cash instead of sweaters.

Their only problem is that, amid the infernal combustion of the economy, no one really wants to take responsibility for initiating the bailout of the Big Three. They all have their eyes on the next elections, which no doubt will take place during a severe recession, and bailing out executives won’t look good on the resumes. As the WSJ points out:

Despite a series of mea culpas from the companies’ chief executives Thursday, there remained little momentum behind providing government relief. That’s despite a general consensus among leaders in Congress and the Bush White House that a helping hand of some sort should be offered.

The calls for action have been hampered by a post-election power vacuum. The White House has kept an arm’s length from the legislative wrangling, while the economic team of President-elect Barack Obama has stepped back from direct involvement in a car-industry bailout. Absent strong presidential leadership, the debate over a rescue plan has steered into a legislative thicket.

Ah, the Journal is so good. Its reporters Greg Hitt and Matthew Dolan accurately call this “providing government relief” instead of Rick Wagoner’s euphemism of “federal assistance.” This is a direct plea for corporate welfare. This exasperating situation gives welfare a bad name.

Maybe Obama will have some spare change, even though his new administration looks suspiciously like a lineup of the usual suspects.

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

N.Y. Times: ‘Attacks Traced to Two From Pakistan’

N.Y. Times: ‘Live Blog: The Automakers Plead’ (Floyd Norris)

12:16 p.m. Road Trip?: Alan Mulally, Ford’s chief executive, assures the panel that the company is “focused.” And after a long drive to Washington to testify, he offers to return the committee’s hospitality. “We invite you to visit us in Dearborn and kick the tires,” he says.

McClatchy: ‘Contrite auto execs say they’ll drive back to Detroit, too’

N.Y. Post: ‘STAR’S G-MAN BEAU BUSTED: FBI AGENT SPIED AS ‘FAVOR’ FOR FIORENTINO’

N.Y. Post: ‘S&M LAWYER BEAT A PATH TO SAVE GAL’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Nab L.I. magician in foto trick’

If only he could make criminal charges disappear.

A man who calls himself “Long Island’s Favorite Magician” has been accused of secretly taping women and girls as they undressed – his second arrest in four months.

Boston Globe: ‘Losing jobs in unequal numbers: 1,069,000 fewer men are working than a year ago. 12,000 more women are working.’

AP: ‘Pakistani group under fire after India attacks’

Slate: ‘What Were Orthodox Jews Doing in Mumbai? Making better Jews.’

Six of the people killed during last week’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, died in Nariman House, the local headquarters of the Orthodox Jewish group Chabad-Lubavitch. What was a group of Orthodox Jews doing in India?

Slate: ‘The Enforcer: Obama’s most important national-security pick isn’t Hillary β€” it’s Gen. Jim Jones.

Times (U.K.): ‘Honda bows out as credit crunch hits Formula One: Japanese team could be just the first forced out of sport by global recession’

McClatchy: ‘Auto execs concede mistakes but earn little sympathy’

New Yorker: ‘Outside agitator: Naomi Klein and the new new left’

New York: ‘Poor Is Cool! (But Only If You’re Not Really Poor)’

 

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Daily Flog: Tally woe! Fears on voting machinery, machinations

In the final countdown to the presidential election, many Americans may actually hit zero, thanks to predicted failures of new voting machinery and rules.

This just leaves the curtain of the voting booth open for the machinations of GOP operative Hans von Spakovsky and his ilk.

Not only anti-Democratic but also anti-democratic, Von Spakovsky used to be on the Federal Election Commission, but he kept pissing in the voter pool and was finally forced out.

That doesn’t mean he’s not actively practicing voter fraud while railing against it. See Rolling Stone‘s new piece by Bobby Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast, “Block the Vote.”

For more Hans brinkmanship, see my late 2007 stories “The GOP’s Hounding of Voters” and “Hans Off Our Elections!”

And don’t forget fixer Karl Rove, who’s now larval in the Fox News cocoon. Tell me he’s not about to weave some webs to trap voters.

Even without those two goniffs, big problems loom for the quadrennial attempt at democracy. It’s so scary that even the British are on the side of the colonists. They’re running around our countryside with warnings of none if by land, zero if by sea. Today’s Guardian (U.K.) plays it up big, in “Ballot debacle predicted for November 4”:

A “perfect storm” could be building for US election day on November 4 because of a combination of sky-high voter interest, new ballot machines and a shortage of poll staff, the independent Pew group warned yesterday.

The Washington-based group set out a long series of problems still facing the US despite reforms aimed at avoiding a repeat of the 2000 and 2004 debacles.

Extracted from the report (PDF) at Pew’s electionline.org, here’s a lengthy passage β€” lengthy because it’s important:

[Voters] will encounter an election system that, while significantly changed since 2000, is in many respects no less settled after nearly eight years of debate and change.

Many of the old machines, laws and procedures that were blamed for the problems in 2000 are gone. But new machines, laws and procedures have themselves raised questions that continue to fuel controversy and concern as November approaches. Yet the biggest challenge in 2008 may not be changes to the system but the potentially record number of voters prepared to use it.

For nearly eight years, policymakers, election officials, and advocates have upgraded the plumbing of the nation’s election system β€” replacing some sections while patching and
plugging others β€” all in the hope of keeping Americans and their votes flowing smoothly.

In two weeks, however, voters will crank the pressure sky high.

An open seat for the White House, fueled by deep partisan, geographic, race and class divisions on issues at home and abroad, is about to result in a likely record number of voters turning out to vote on (and increasingly before) Election Day.

The question is no longer exclusively “will the system work?” Rather, it is “can the system handle the load?”

Nevertheless, vote early and vote often. And all you college grads out there: You might as well go to the polls because the job of democracy may be the only one available. From this morning’s Wall Street Journal:

“For ’09 Grads, Job Prospects Take a Dive”

College seniors may have more trouble landing a job next spring than recent graduates, as employers trim their hiring outlooks in response to the slowing economy and financial-sector turmoil.

Employers plan to hire just 1.3% more graduates in 2009 than they hired this year, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

That’s the weakest outlook in six years and reflects a sharp recent downturn. Just two months ago, a survey by the same group projected a 6.1% increase in hiring.

Wi-Fi it. Go ahead and order another triple-shot frappucino, go back to your table, and see if anything clicks . . .

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

AP: ‘US airstrike kills 9 Afghan soldiers at checkpoint’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘RNC spends thousands on dresses, make-up for Sarah Palin & family’

N.Y. Post: ‘GOP’S SHOCK “TERROR” ATTACK: MAILING TARGETS OBAMA’

Guardian (U.K.): ‘Pound tumbles as Bank head cries recession’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Joe the Plumber and GOP “Authenticity”: It’s hard to reach out to workers while cracking down on unions’ (Thomas Frank)

N.Y. Times: ‘Some Cut Back on Prescription Drugs in Sour Economy’

Guardian (U.K.): ‘Cyber-attack theory as al-Qaida websites close’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Gay Marriage in Peril in California’

Wall Street Journal: ‘U.S. to Ask Analysts if Lehman Misled’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Recession Fears Pummel Futures’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama Opens Double-Digit Lead: New Poll Shows McCain Ceding Ground on Taxes, Values; Palin Loses Shine’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Iran, Qatar, Russia Form Gas Alliance’

Wall Street Journal: ‘McClatchy’s Advertising Woes Mount’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Network Audience Keeps Eroding: Upswing in Delayed Viewing on DVRs Isn’t Likely to Offset Prime-Time Declines’