Sunday, October 31, 2010

Memo from NYC

In a couple of days America will go to the polls to vote for -- or more likely against -- their members of Congress. This will be seen, obviously, as a report card on the Obama presidency. And in all likelihood this Ivy League graduate will be given a failing grade.

Democrats will lose Congress and wail about everything they did wrong. Republicans will win Congress and boast that this validates their ideology, policies, and overall worldview. I've seen this scenario many, many times over -- and it's depressing.

See, I learned a long time ago that facts don't really matter in politics. That's not to say that they never matter -- sometimes they do. But usually facts get overwhelmed by overheated rhetoric, posturing, and fear-mongering. It's the reason in life that the nice, dweeby guy doesn't usually get the girl -- the bad boy is more exciting and better to look at. Flash beats substance (mostly).

So in the interests of elevating flash over substance, here are the facts: President Obama and the Democratic congress inherited the absolute worst mess of any president since FDR. An exploding Federal debt, two badly run wars, a collapsing auto industry, and a damaged international reputation for the USA. All of that would have been bad enough if not for the fact that, on top of all this, the American economy had imploded and was in its absolute worst shape since the Great Depression. The Bush administration and the Republican congress had wrecked this country so much that, everyone knew, the clean-up crew following them was going to have a long, hard, miserable job ahead of them.

Boy was that true.

And what would do you do in this situation? First, you would try to boost the economy and prevent the financial system from collapsing. Then you would look at the things that are going to create economic problems in the future (like health care and a failing education system) and do something about them. Second, you would try to save the auto company instead of letting a great American industry vanish, which would otherwise means lots of unemployed people and basically ceding the car market to the Japanese. Third, you would try to turn the disastrous wars you inherited around: commit more troops to the war of necessity (Afghanistan) but with clearer goals, objectives, and timetables; and get the hell out of the war of choice (Iraq) that we had no business launching in the first place. Fourth, you would try to fix the damage to America's reputation by re-engaging our allies and enemies alike (keep your friends close and your enemies closer, you might say).

That's all that Obama and company did for the last two years. And apparently it's going to cost them dearly in November.

And what if none of this had been done? Well, instead of 9% unemployment we would have 12% unemployment, the US financial system and auto industry would be gone (leading us into another Great Depression and turning the US into a banana republic), schools would continue to fail and health care costs would continue to bankrupt people, the badly run wars would still be going ... badly ... and the US would still be reviled around the world. To me, this would have been an unacceptable situation and things would be so much worse right now.

But apparently not many Americans believe this.

Apparently these folks (calling themselves Tea Partiers after the people who triggered the American revolution) believe that all the government should have done is cut taxes (but they won't say by how much) and cut spending (again, they won't say what or by how much) and that somehow everything would have just magically worked out and America would be back in business, just dandy. Seems idiotic and bizarre to me but millions of people apparently believe this, according to the polls.

I've kvetched plenty about the Tea Party on here and I won't do it much anymore. Either you think this fake "movement" is for real or you don't. Either you see it for the faux populist-hypocritical-corporate scam that it is or you don't. And besides, the great Matt Taibbi dissects it more brilliantly than I ever could in his latest article and you should probably just read that (he is spot on when he says that the Tea Party movement is, as its fundamental core, narcissistic).

Something else occurred to me, however. The Tea Party is thusly named because it invokes the American revolution. And in the last few decades, Republicans have come to love their revolutions. We had the Reagan Revolution of 1980 and then the Gringrich Revolution of 1994. Now it seems that the Republican party is getting ready for its third revolution in thirty years. That's roughly one revolution per decade.

Republicans apparently love America so much that they see the need to overthrow it so often.

But then here's the question (or two): if the Reagan revolution was so successful in the 1980s, why did Bill Clinton end up as President in the 1990s? And if the Gingrich revolution and Bush presidency were so successful in the 1990s and 2000s, why did Barack Obama end up as President (and the Democrats running Congress) in the 2000s second decade? It seems to me that all of these Republican revolutions eventually fail. These right wing, reactionary attempts to fit the government according to some kind of ideological template all, in the end, come to nothing (kind of like the Soviet Union).

If you guys screwed up your previous two revolutions, are we to believe that somehow the third time will be the charm?

My message to Republicans is this: you've had your chance and you've blown it -- on multiple occasions! In the last thirty years, your party has controlled either one or both branches of the Federal government for twenty-six of them. Most of my conscious life has been when you maniacs were in charge. And it always seems to lead to misery: promises of fiscal discipline lead to exploding spending and deficits, promises of ethical behavior and honesty in government lead to scandals and indictments, promises of a sensible foreign policy lead to wars and even more scandals, promises of job and economic growth lead to recessions and falling wages.

And on and on and on.

Basically, all of your promises for a great conservative future, a trickle down flood leading to a rising tide lifting all boats, the market magically fixing everything and prosperity reigning supreme, come to nothing. You always have lots of wonderful intentions and yet everything always seems to end up going horribly wrong. And then who do you blame? Not yourselves or your policies or your narrow ideology. Oh no. Somehow it always turns out to be the fault of the media (i.e. Jews), the liberals (i.e. more Jews), Hollywood (i.e. even more Jews), egghead professors (i.e. lots more Jews), the blacks, the illegal immigrants, the Muslims (and various other swarthy people), you know, the usual suspects.

And I'm sure when your next "revolution" fails, you'll start blaming these people all over again. So depressing. So familiar.

So after this record failure, my big question to the Republican is this: why should anyone believe you now?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Abuse of Power

If you listen to the media in this town, things have never been better in New York City government. Even in these tough times, the powers that be in this city are considered tops. The bad old days are gone and New York today is a new governmental nirvana. Sure, New York State government is corrupt and dysfunctional but not, so the pundits say, is city government. It's great! And all of this is thanks to our two "great" mayors, past and present, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg.

Not so fast.

The story of how Rudy appointed corrupt people like Bernie Kerik to top positions in city government is well known (Kerik is the first NYC police commissioner to go to jail, something that didn't even happen during the good old bad days of Jimmy Walker). But Rudy's biggest sin is how woefully underprepared this city was when 9/11 hit -- the police and firefighters didn't have enough resources and Rudy arrogantly put the Office of Emergency Management in the World Trade Centers after he had been told to put it underground in Brooklyn after the 1993 attack on the WTC. And yet the myth persists that Rudy did a "great job" handling 9/11 -- he beacme "America's mayor" and his leadership a model to be replicated. Something tells me that if Rudy had been a Democrat, the story of his "leadership" would have been considered a much different thing by the media.

But that was then. Today, under Mayor Mike, we're told that city government has never been this clean and honest. BS! Last year I wrote about the bombshell story that the mob had essentially taken over the Department of Buildings. This story hit in the midst of the mayoral election -- when Bloomberg was running for this dubious third term. But how did the media pundits treat it? With a big yawn. And as I said then and I say again now, something tells me that if Mike had been a Democrat this would have been a much different story.

Mike's hypocrisy continues. Yesterday he came out in favor of the new ballot initiative that would restore the two-term limit for city office holders. Even the media is having a tough time swallowing this one. You gotta love these headlines (the toughest he's ever faced):

Bloomberg's Latest on Terms: 3 for Him, but Only 2 for Everyone Else
Bloomberg Zig Zagging on Term Limits

Ouch. But he's not the one getting the toughest headlines. Today it was revealed by a great website called nypdconfidential that Ray Kelly, our sainted Police Commissioner, has been having his drinks and meals and membership dues at the Harvard Club comped for years! Some "non-profit" called the New York Police Foundation has been picking up his tabs since 2002 in blatant violation of the rule that city employees can't accept any gift over $50. Something tells me that tabs at the Harvard Club over the years have come to something more than $50.

Even more outrageous: Kelly has accepted numerous free flights from Bloomberg on his private jet to his vacation home in Florida. Not billionaire Mike's place in Florida's -- Kelly's house in Florida! Isn't it interesting that a lifelong lawman like Kelly is able to afford a second home? And apparently Mike jetted Ray down to Florida six times in 2008 and five times in 2009. Wow! I wish I had been able to go on vacation five or six times in one year! Isn't our "amazing" police commissioner such a common man? And Commissioner Kelly has failed to report these gifts since 2002. Again, if a Democratic mayor was doing this stuff and his police commissioner was accepting free gifts and going on vacation multiple times per year, the media would be going crazy with what a big scandal this is. But no, in this situation, it's just a minor story.

And the police under Kelly have become needlessly aggressive in going after our citizens, violating the Constitution, and engaging in racial profiling. If readers to my blog stay tuned, in days to come, I will have an exclusive, first-hand story of police abuse that will make your skin crawl.

So even today, there's still plenty of corruption in NYC government. It's just that it's more insidious. If Jimmy Walker came back to life and saw what was going on, he'd probably feel that nothing had changed.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: "A Little Night Music"

Stephen Soundheim is one of the geniuses of American musical theater, and few of his shows are more sublime or enjoyable than A Little Night Music. Originally produced in 1973, there is now a wonderful revival on Broadway starring Elaine Stritch and Bernadette Peters. It's not the hottest ticket in town at the moment but, in terms of quality, it's probably the best.

Set in Sweden in 1900, A Little Night Music is based on Ingmar Bergman's movie Smiles of a Summer Night where men and women of various ages and class backgrounds swap lovers and hearts set to gorgeous music. A wealthy, widowed lawyer named Fredrik lives with his innocent second wife Anne and his horny son Henrik who is just coming of age. Henrik lusts after his stepmother who fancies him too but is trying to make her new marriage to Fredrik work. In the meantime, Henrik occupies himself with his father's beautiful housemaid Petra who teases and tempts him mercilessly. Meanwhile Fredrik is looking for love elsewhere and reconnects with an old loved named Desiree who is a great and famous actress. Desiree, however, is not without her baggage: besides having an elderly mother who disapproves of her lifestyle, and a daughter she loves that she's trying to raise right, she also has another lover named Count Malcolm -- who also has a jealous wife. This romantic octagon comes to a head during a weekend in the country at Desiree's house where the tangle of love and hearts is straighted out and love conquers all.

This is an amazing show. The sets, costumes, and staging are perfect. The dancing and singing are, as you might imagine, incredible. But what struck me most of all were the performances. They are so strong, so moving, there is such richness and texture to each and every actor that you find yourself rooting for each character -- even when they are rooting against one another. Elaine Stritch plays Desiree's mother and her performance shows a women wise beyond her many years -- a woman whose many lovers and disappointments in life have given her a sad wisdom. Bernadette Peters is amazing as Desiree and her rendition of "Send in the Clowns" (the show's most famous song) is incredible. Indeed, as many have noted, watching this legend of the theater sing this legendary song is the kind of thing you live for when you go to musicals. And I'm just so glad to have seen it.

Yet as good as the two marquee performances are, the show has an amazing supporting cast. As Fredrik, Stephen Buntrock crafts a dimensional, complex man who you can't help rooting for even when he's behaving very badly. His amazing voice and charming performance gives him such charisma that you can understand why Desiree would be tempted to spurn her scary lover and go back to him. Also impressive is Bradley Dean as Count Malcolm, the aforementioned lover who manages to be both terrifying and hilarious at the same time. (He has the best line in the whole show: when he decides to end it with Desiree and go back to his wife, he tells her, "Darling ... I forgive you"). But the real show stealer is Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra, the horny housemaid, who manages to be both erotic, funny, and mysterious all at once. Towards the end of the show, she sings "The Miller's Son" and does it with such emotional power you almost wish the entire show had been about her. This is an actress I think will be on Broadway for years and decade to come.

It's rare that such a great show with such a perfect cast comes to Broadway. If you can go see it and see a piece of musical theater history, do it! You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Secret Places of NYC

New York City abounds in ironies: it is geographically huge but its individual neighborhoods really make it a bunch of small towns. There are lots of places to live but it's almost impossible to find one that's available. It is the most populous city in America yet, in many ways, it's the perfect place to go if you're looking to be alone and live anonymously.

NYC is both a place to go and a place to get away to.

There is so much we know about the city, it's history, and what's in it. Yet, at the same time, there's vastly more that we don't know -- and there are lots of places in this city we know nothing about or would never think of going to (because we don't know they exist).

Take our history: a bunch of old New York City history books that were long out of print are now available for sale online. These include books of photographs of NYC from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I love old pictures of NYC. Looking at them, you see a city both distant and familiar, a place you know and a place you don't. It's really amazing to see, for example, what Union Square looked like in 1900 and to see the buildings that survived and those that didn't. Another irony of old NYC: it's a place you know very well and, at the same time, not at all.

Or parks and public spaces: when you're looking to relax in public, we all think we know where to go: Central Park, Riverside Park, Battery Park, Prospect Park, Bryant Park, etc. You can hang out at public spaces at Lincoln Center or South Street Seaport. But there are lots more secret places that are right there out in the open called vest-pocket parks: places like Abingdon Square, Duane Park, and Jackson Square. These are nice little cozy places away from the roar of the crowd where you can go and mentally repair. And just this past week I found a new secret place: even though it's something of a monstrosity, the Trump Soho on Varick and Spring Streets has a nice little plaza behind it with lots of benches and trees. It's just off the corner and you wouldn't know it's there. When I passed by it the other day, at around noon on a weekday, it was nearly empty. It's a perfect place to go if you want to go read a book or listen to your IPod in peace. Also, I'd imagine that amorous young couples might find it a great make out spot. These are the little places that New Yorkers like me like to go and escape from the city -- right in the very heart of it (another irony indeed).

But the secrets of NYC aren't all charming. Did you know that NYC has it's very own paupers grave? A place where unclaimed dead bodies -- abandoned babies, homeless people who have frozen to death, elderly people with no family, poor people, etc. -- go to their final rest? Known innocently enough as a "potters fields", NYC's pauper's graves exist on Hart Island, a mile long place just off the coast of City Island in the Bronx. Hart Island is where Long Island Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean and is about as far from the rest of the city as possible. The bodies are sent there and the graves are dug by prisoners who are ferried in each day from Riker's. There are almost a million dead New Yorkers buried there and some people are now trying to find and locate body's so that they can be given a decent burial.

It's hard to imagine that anyone should ever end up in such a place. One can only feel sad for those people whose lives ended so sadly that that's where they ended up. And fortunately it's a part of our city that most of us don't see or experience, the kind of place we know exists but otherwise stays far from our own consciouses. But it's there, and it represents something sad and distressing, and it's just as much a part of our city as Rockefeller Center or the Brooklyn Museum. It's a secret of NYC that shouldn't be secret at all.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oh No! Carl IS one of the perrverts!

"I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich. While I was eating it, they come running and they say, 'Paladino became gay!' I said, 'What?' And then they showed me the statement. I almost choked on the kosher salami."

-- Rabbi Yehuda Levin, quoted by the New York Times, when told New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino (R) apologized for his attack on gays.

In Carl's defense, I don't think he's gay. After all, he has a ten-year old out-of-wedlock love child. This truly is a man who doesn't like making a mockery of marriage.

Please Carl, save us from the ... perrverts??

And Away He Goes

File this under the End of an Era section.

Richard Johnson is a man you have not have heard of, but you should know who he is (or was): for twenty-five years, nearly a quarter of a century, he was the editor of Page Six, the New York Post's signature gossip section. He was basically the King of Gossip in NYC, and the Lord High Executioner of reputations and careers. The daily column that he (and his minions) produced would go after celebrities, politicians, sports stars, the rich and powerful, the ugly and unfortunate -- anyone, basically -- who had messed up in their life or was doing something interesting.

Getting into Page Six was rarely a good thing and, needless to say, Johnson was not popular with the people he covered. But now Johnson is leaving Page Six -- and NYC -- for new exciting opportunities on the West Coast. And even the people he covered are saying they're going to miss him. Surprising, huh?

Then again, maybe not. After all, basically being The Guy in Gossip in NYC for more than two decades is pretty impressive. And, as John Huston once said in the great movie Chinatown, even "ugly buildings and whores become respectable if they last long enough." I guess the same is true gossip columnists.

So farewell Mr. Johnson. Best of luck in LA. And if you want to hear the man's parting thoughts, you can read them right here.

U.F.O. Sighting Stops New Yorkers

Apologies for the Spotty Blogging

Life's been busy (really busy) and I have lagged in my blogging duties. But have no fear, Mr NYC is here (for the moment). You can breath now.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Power in NYC

Due to life happenings, I haven't been able to blog much lately (in case you hadn't noticed) but I would be remiss if I didn't direct you to New York magazine's Who Runs New York? feature from last week (in case you missed it).

Obviously the most powerful people in NYC are Mayor Bloomberg and other politicians -- along with the powerful financial, real estate, and media interests that support them. But, as this insightful report indicates, it's more complicated than that. The days of the old moneyed Wall Street establishment are over, the days of The New York Times and their erstwhile newspaper competitors controlling the daily new agenda are waning, and there is a new generation of real estate moguls who have a different idea of what should and shouldn't be built in this town.

The power in NYC fragmented like never before. Chaos reigns.

For example, take the media. Those who own big the media in this town are no longer the most powerful people (think Sulzberger, Zuckerman and Murdoch). Instead, you have folks like Nick Denton, an irascible Brit, who founded the snarky Gawker site. Ten years ago this guy didn't even live here -- and now he's as important a media figure in this city as Jimmy Breslin ever was.

Or politics. Mayor Bloomberg still may run NYC with as close to absolute power as any mayor in history but his days in office are waning. Soon he'll be just a billionaire instead of the mayor/billionaire. So who will take his place? That will depend, largely, on the new political kingmakers in this town. We're a long way from the days of Tammany Hall bosses like Carmine De Sapio and from labor union leaders like Mike Quill and Albert Shanker. But if you want to find their successors, look no further than Dan Kantor of the Working Families Party, the third-party organization that has succeeded in getting lots of up-and-coming politicians like John Liu and Bill DeBlasio elected. The effectiveness of the WFP turn out operations on election day are becoming famous. In 2009, while Bloomberg spent $100 million on his third term, the WFP was able to get out enough voters to reduce Bloomberg's margin of victory to an embarrassing four points. Kantor may be the most powerful person in NYC you haven't heard of -- but you will.

And then there's the likes of Lauren Santo Domingo who may be in the running for become the city's new Social doyenne, the new Mrs. Astor.

As you can see, in this era of the niche, power in New York is getting more diffuse even as wealth is getting more concentrated. It's an interesting, almost absurd paradigm -- one that is powered as much by new technology as anything.

Even this blog could be considered, in it's small, small way, a part of the new power game in NYC. For example, here am I, a regular guy, a simple blogger, who has been able to publish interviews with the likes of Kurt Anderson and Michael Musto, who has been asked by various business to advertise and plug their products, who has been invited to parties and events because of this blog, and who has gotten more than one person (including a prominent newspaper editor) extremely angry by some of the stuff I published on here. None of this would have happened if not for this blog and the small, tiny bit of power it has in the huge NYC media universe. (By the way, with one exception, I've turned all the invites and requests to plug stuff down. I ain't that kinda guy.)

So who runs New York? Who has the power? We do, my friends, you and me.

"Now, now, now, ya' insulted him a little bit, ya' were a lil' outta order ya-self .... mmm insulted him a lil' bit"