Corzine to play Two-Face in new Batman!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Corzine as Two-Face

This just in from Hollywood– Jon Corzine, who until about a week ago was Top Dog in the tanking Wall Street unreality series My Own Private MF Global has been cast as supervillain Two-Face in the next Batman opus. Buzz sez Bat producer Michael Uslan saw the Reuters piece The Two Faces of Jon Corzine and after reading it, got Jon on the honker. According to sources, what really wowed Uslan were these lines:

…Corzine sounded like a real Wall Street reformer during [a] speech at Princeton in September 2010, titled After the Crash: Regulating the New American Economy.…Corzine said he generally supported much of the financial regulatory law known as Dodd-Frank and believed it would lead to less risk taking on Wall Street…Corzine went on to say it was unacceptable that some of Wall Street’s biggest players were leveraging shareholders’ equity at a ratio above 30 to 1 going into the financial crisis…Yet just before [Corzine’s company] MF Global filed for bankruptcy, the firm was operating with a leverage ratio of 33 to 1…

Like, how Two-Face is that? If anyone needs more proof Corzine is perfect for the part, check this from the Newark Star Ledger:

[Corzine] has also has emerged as a key lobbyist against proposed rules that would have restricted firms such as his from, among other things, borrowing customer money to make investments.

Those rules Boys & Girls, are part of the same Dodd-Frank reform law Corzine “supported”!

Weird coincidence: Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, whose names top the regulatory bill Corzine sought to undermine, were also offered the role of Two-Face (one half Dodd, the other Frank) due to their star turns in Housing Bubble: The Monster that Ate Wall Street. Both turned it down. Citing their busy schedules as financial reformers.

Though not first choice as Two-Face, Corzine jumped at producer Uslan’s offer. Snapping back “Mister, I was made for it.” Demonstrating his film savvy by channeling Tyrone Power as the master con turned chicken-chomping geek in the classic noir, Nightmare Alley.

Talking pop culture history, the original Two-Face, as created by DC Comics in the 1940s, was a good guy gone supervillain wrong. Two-Face was once Harvey Dent, the reformer district attorney of Gotham City. But Dent goes bonkers after a criminal tosses acid on him, hideously deforming one side of his face. Dent embraces his “Two-Face” and becomes a crime boss.

Fans who’ve followed Corzine’s political career know he too once appeared a reformer. In 2000, he shelled out $62 million for the role of senator from New Jersey in Mr. Corzine Goes to Washington. It was a short run; in 2005, Jersey’s political bosses on the D side cast Corzine as governor. Many in the voting audience believed the wealth Corzine garnered as former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs (1994-99) would make him immune to sleaze. The myth of the gazillionaire political savior rides again. Hope springs eternal, even in Jersey. Reviewers gave Corzine a Golden Turkey .

Inquiring minds want to know– who tossed acid on Jon Corzine and when did it happen? When he was a Jersey pol or Goldman CEO?* Or way earlier, when Corzine was climbing the Wall Street ladder in the American Psycho ’80s?**

Past is past. Big things are happening here & now for Jon. Thanks to the sudden collapse of MF Global, the mysterious disappearance of roughly $600 million of its customer funds, and the possible co-mingling of customer and company money (a regulatory no no), Corzine will now be starring in a series of federal and state investigations, plus civil litigations produced by some of the hottest firms in the biz.

Corzine has hired Andrew Levander, a former assistant U.S. attorney to help him handle the load. Levander’s celebrity clients have included John Thain, Merrill Lynch’s former boss, and Ezra Merkin, a former associate of Bernie Madoff.

Even with such high-powered assistance, Corzine won’t have much time for his usual social whirl…

Right before MF folded like a cheap Goldman, Jon Corzine was spotted on Wall Street bundling mega campaign donations for President Obama– in hopes of replacing crony capitalist superstar Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. (Imagine the boffo box office if MF Global had tanked after Corzine was appointed!) While bundling, Corzine sported full frontal Two-Face. Knowing his fellow players would dig the ironic Lon Chaney.

Though the Treasury appointment is now gone with the wind, don’t cry for Corzine. Being in a Batman beats hanging with the too-big-to-fail. And if the Bat doesn’t fly, there’s always the circus. Buzz sez the geek routine is making a big comeback. New twist; biting the heads off free range chickens. (First you gotta catch ’em.) And my buddy Buzz is always right about trends.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

*Trivia: Corzine’s illustrious co-stars at Goldman included his protégé, mortgage banker and bond trader Kevin Ingram. After racking up mega losses at Deutsche Bank in 1998, Ingram went on to star as a money launderer for a B movie bunch of Jersey-based terror plotters.

**More trivia: the film version of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho starred pre-Batman Christian Bales in the title role. Think Bruce Wayne, through a glass darkly.

 

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Mortgage Fraud! Mollusks! Taxpayers Rush to Invest

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Ah, mortgage fraud. The unsung power tool of the housing bubble. Starting around 1999, the FBI issued repeated warnings that mortgage fraud was surging. Few in government listened. Fraudsters ranged from organized cross-country rings of real estate, banking, and investment professionals, to non-profit profiteers and Joe and Joan Doakes lying on mortgage aps ’cause they just had to have that house. Feeling nostalgic about the big grift that sent no major players to jail but left taxpayers holding the Hefty and the landscape blotted with foreclosures? No need. Boom or bust, the impetus for mortgage fraud is a constant. When housing is hot there’s pressure to keep the market booming, in bust mode there’s pressure to jack it back up.

According to Core Logic (a leading provider of business information), after taking a breather in 2009 mortgage fraud increased more than 20% in 2010. (The Mortgage Asset Research Institute reports that Florida and New York lead the nation at number one and two respectively.) With government now owning or insuring 97% of mortgage bonds via Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), taxpayers are on the hook more than ever. And they’re paying for new twists. Quoting* mortgage fraud attorney L. T. Lafferty, a former federal prosecutor specializing in white collar crime, “fraud is… perpetrated differently when there are different opportunities”.

When one door closes, another opens…

Loan origination fraud, a mortgage fraud staple, is seeing new emphasis on hiding debt and liabilities. (Prior mortgage defaults? No problem.) Due to increased requirements for proof of income, credit, etc., mortgage fraud rings increasingly rely on identity theft rather than fake documents– thereby involving a wider circle of victims. Then there are the homebuilders with a glut of houses or condos who offer buyers financial incentives that aren’t disclosed to lenders. After buyers obtain loans, builders welch on the incentives. Oops, more underwater mortgages. Faked occupancy is on the rise. (Loans for second homes, and for rental properties without an owner in residence require larger down-payments and higher interest rates.) And hey– foreclosure rescue scams are on fire! Loan modification, refinancing, short sales, real estate owned (REO) sales, and government sponsored programs are being mined big time. Of course, almost the entire housing market might now be called a government sponsored program…

To date, taxpayers have kicked in $153 billion just to prop up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Fan and Fred’s oversight agency (an organ of the FHA) estimates that the agencies’ losses through 2013 will require another infusion of between $68 billion to $210 billion. In government speak, a massive transfer of wealth from the general public (roughly one third of whom are renters) to cover a mountain of bad private assets is called an “investment”.

In Washington, the Obama administration and Congress are trying to hammer out a plan for “weaning the $11 trillion mortgage market from its dependence on government”**. The weaning, which will allegedly include the waning of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, must be done carefully and slowly so as not to damage the fragile housing market. (When the market was robust, reform was rejected ’cause it might damage the boom.) A time frame of five to sevens years has been mentioned. By then the full wean will be in the hands of the next administration. In the meantime, the real estate lobby is beating down doors in DC, to make sure that nothing (untoward) is accomplished. The National Association of Realtors, the American Bankers Association, the National Association of Home Builders, the National Council of State Housing Agencies, and the National Fair Housing Alliance are united by their determination to protect folks from being cheated out of the American Dream of Home Ownership.

Do Mollusks Dream of Electric Drills?

Mortgage fraud isn’t the only real estate product backed by taxpayer investment. There’s always (forever and ever) urban revitalization. Point of info: investment in urban revitalization does not put the truly needy in safe, clean public housing and bring industry back to fading blue collar cities. Instead it pumps luxury condo enclaves, twee art and restaurant districts, and political corruption. Perhaps no place exemplifies this type of urban revitalization better than Hoboken, New Jersey. A small (one mile square) waterfront town across the Hudson River from Manhattan, which after biting post-industrial dust was reborn as the jewel of government-backed new urbanism. That almost all of Hoboken’s blue collar residents were pushed out of town in favor of wealthier professionals largely employed by Wall Street mattered not. Gazillion urban planners saw the future and it was Hoboken.

What they didn’t see were the mollusks. More about them in a minute. First, the corruption. Everyone saw the corruption. Over the roughly three decades in which Hoboken became the revitalized gem of Jersey’s “Gold Coast”, developers and public officials from Hoboken and its parent entity Hudson County, went down like nine pins; bowled over by federal and state investigations frequently targeting corruption related to government-backed development projects. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and U.S. Department of Transportation were soaked again and again. As were assorted state agencies. Tax breaks were/are crony candy. Hudson County’s other cities revitalized their historic corruption with equal fervor, inspired by Hoboken’s new urban success.

Hoboken eventually became one of the most valuable chunks of real estate in the country. Yet taxpayers have never stopped investing in its revitalization. The promenade that stretches along the city’s condo-lined waterfront was a mega investment. The walkway and its park areas are open to the public. Hoboken’s master builders would have preferred waterfront access to be restricted to condo dwellers but local green space activists fought not only to keep it open, but to expand the walkway into an unbroken strip running along the entire Gold Coast. Since public largess was powering waterfront development, developers had to bend. Pols scrambled to speed their plow, cutting government red tape re construction. In Hoboken the promenade was largely in place by the 1990’s. New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection signed off on it every step of the way.

Now we get to the mollusks.

The first cave-in on Hoboken’s promenade occurred in 2007, at Castle Point Park in mid Hoboken. Just a small collapse. No cause for alarm. But two years later, part of a sports field that had been built atop a pier slid into the Hudson. When the field was developed in the 90’s engineers warned that the pier’s pilings were infested with shipworms, a type of mollusk. Shipworms eat wood. Suggestions were made that the pilings be replaced with something less tasty. The suggestion went into the memory hole.

In early 2010, a section of the walkway in the north, near a cove between Hoboken and Weehawken collapsed. Last October, a fifty foot sinkhole opened on Frank Sinatra Drive. (Sinatra was a Hoboken boy.) The drive, which is 13 years old, runs along the river in front of a strip of luxury condo towers– including one which houses former NJ governor and ex Goldman Sachs boss Jon Corzine. The sinkhole, which was also allegedly caused by mollusks, followed two smaller collapses on Sinatra. Recently, engineers determined that the steel beams supporting Pier A, a popular park on the south end of the promenade near Hoboken’s train and ferry stations, need a makeover. Seems the concrete jackets on the beams aren’t covering all they should. No danger from salt water corrosion yet. Just being proactive. Pier A is like, totally safe.

Despite all the wealth that hangs in Hoboken, the city has severe financial problems. Hoboken isn’t the only entity responsible for repairing the collapsing waterfront (as example, Sinatra Drive was a county project) but the city will have to cover much of the rehab. The cost will be more than the entire city budget. Massive debt will be assumed via bonding. According to the New York Times***, Mayor Dawn Zimmer (elected in 2009) is holding out “hope for state and federal aid”. And Hudson County is hoping to obtain federal grants to repair the Sinatra sinkhole. As for the mollusks, they have high hopes for more wood.

*Mortgage Fraud: Worse Before Better, Expect More Schemes and More Regulatory Oversight in 2011, Tracy Kitten, Managing Editor, Bank Info Security, 02/04/11

**Obama Administration Calls for Winding Down Fannie, Freddie, Lorraine Woellert and Rebecca Christie, Bloomberg News, 02/11/11

***As Hoboken’s Riverfront Crumbles, the Cost for Repairs Soars, Richard Perez-Pena, New York Times, 02/08/11

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The Cassette Culture Sound of Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl– in Stereo!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

If only I were Edith Piaf. But alas, I can’t say je ne regrette rien. Once upon a wasted time (circa late 1970’s and early 80’s) I hung on New York City’s downtown art/music scene. The scene never fit me, I tried to fit it. Which was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. My only excuse is that I was caught in a spiritual downdraft. Couldn’t see how deeply the Punk New Wave No Wave Ironic Transgressive thing wasn’t me. Its gods weren’t mine. The Velvet Underground gave good vinyl but their legend was tiresome. William Burroughs seemed shallow. Neo-Expressionism? A few pieces were sharp (albeit over-priced) but a lot looked like puke splattered on a sidewalk outside the Mudd Club .

Oh. Yeah. Those fabulous avant-garde nite spots…

Color me ashamed for ever taking pride in being approved by a doorman.

By ’83, I was outta there. Living in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson from Manhattan. In those days Hoboken felt far from NYC. An escape from hip happening hell. David Solomonoff (my future husband) and I lived in a five floor walk-up in the tallest building on our block. No telephone. Couldn’t afford it. Up there in the clouds, where no phone ever rang, we began doing Mail Art and making music cassettes as Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl. The post office became our scene and we loved it. No cliques, clacks or clutter, just real deal underground art. Via snail mail we connected with artists and musicians all over the world.

Our first connect came via Jim Sauter of Borbetomagus. (Aka the “pioneers of aggressive improvised noise music”.) Jim gave us contact info for Japanese Mail Artist and musician Masami Akita. The work received from Akita was a revelation. His dense rich collages were non splatter and his music as Merzbow was full-tilt lush noise. Apres Akita, the deluge. Our correspondents eventually numbered in the hundreds. Some were creative trifectas (art, music, words) others specialized. We developed collaborative relationships (as opposed to just trading work) with many, both for Mail Art and cassette projects. We contributed numerous pieces to cassette compilations and also supplied material for other musicians to cut up and rework.

In no particular order, our cassette culture collaborators* included: Joel Haertling (Architect’s Office), Zan Hoffman (Zanstones, Zanoisect, Zidsick, etc.), Al Margolis (Sound of Pig; If Bwana), GX Jupitter-Larsen (The Haters), Seiei Jack Nakahara (Joke Project), Rafael Flores (Comando Bruno), Mike Honeycutt (Mystery Hearsay), M. Nomized (Fraction Studio), Hal McGee (Homemade Alien Music), Shinichi Igari (Uterus of Plant), Alain Neffe (Insane Music Productions), Rudi Tuscher (Nisus Anal Furgler), Wally Shoup, Kowa Kato, Bart Plantenga, Ken Clinger, Denier Du Culte, Calypso Now, Soft Joke Productions, Magthea, Absolute Body Control, DDAA (Déficit Des Années Antérieures), Intrendent Fansette, Bog-Art, Reportage, and So On & So Forth. The last a place holder for anyone I’ve inadvertently omitted.

Over roughly four years, we produced five cassette “albums”: In The Mood, Swim Or Die, Great In Bed, God Is Love, and finally, The Element That Defies Description. Great In Bed was a compilation which included work by some of the people listed above. It came packaged in a black nylon stocking. (We’d bought boxes of them at a Hoboken odd lots store.) In The Element we took tracks supplied by others and reworked the material into an overarching musical structure and metaphysical theme.

The Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl sound was shaped by having little money. Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood once said “A man’s got to know his limitations.” The same goes for broke musicians. Our equipment was limited and we knew those limitations intimately. We worked them. Our apartment was our studio. Its ancient inadequate wiring meant lots of line hum. The hum would sing in shrill choruses when channeled through the frequency analyzer (aka ring modulator), a groovy 70’s effect manufactured by Electro-Harmonix. David had a made-in-Korea electric guitar and a Polytone Mini-Brute amp. Which was indeed brutish. When its spring-reverb was sproinging and its distortion was cranked the Mini-Brute turned into Godzilla doing Tokyo. We also had a vintage tube hifi amp which we played through the kind of wooden PA speakers that once hung in schoolrooms.

Our biggest (in terms of size and lineage) instrument was a 1960’s Vox Continental organ. The keyboard that carried The Doors. When momentarily flush from a freelance writing job, I’d bought the Vox for 200 bucks from The Major Thinkers, an Irish punk group. They claimed it previously belonged to Hall & Oates. The Vox was a workhorse. It had a few iffy drawbars but the randomness was a good thing; it seemed as if the Vox were actively improvising. Vox and Mini-Brute were bosom buddies.

Our other keyboards were miniature Casios. An MT-40 and VL-5. Among the earlier Casios on the market, their cheesy rhythm sections had options that allowed jump-cut transitions twixt say, samba and disco. When jacked with the line-humming frequency analyzer and/or our Doctor Q envelope filter (also made by Electro-Harmonix) samba and disco shattered into infinity. When the Casios’ batteries got weak, the shattering became even more extreme.

We also snagged rhythm from records. Most typically, ones from the 1950’s that demonstrated the exciting new audio technology of Stereo. Think demented bongos bouncing back and forth, forth and back, while Dad mixes martinis (clink clink) in the rec room. We also pulled snippets of exotic instrumentation from easy listening albums. We found countless treasures of Incredibly Strange Music and Exotica in Hoboken’s many junk shops. Prices ranged from 10 cents to a dollar. An LP had to be really special to warrant a dollar. Something like: Mario Lanza Gargles Gershwin– in Stereo.

We listened intently to the records we mined. Culling snippets of rhythm, minuscule musical phrases, and single syllables. Everything we sampled was sampled without a sampler. David was fast on the draw with our Pioneer turntable. He’d hover over a spinning platter, tone arm in hand– his other hand poised to punch the ree-cord button on our cheapie cassette deck. We had three cheapie decks. Plus a stereo amp with cheapie speakers, a good set of headphones, and a Radio Shack four channel mixer. Four tracks in, two tracks out. Layer up and do it all over again. Toss in a few guitar effect pedals (which we also used on samples and keyboards), a Roland analog micro synth/sequencer, a microphone, and me on vocals. That was our sound. Tech wise. As for the creative process–

When creating a piece we carefully assembled and structured the materials, then combined them through improvisation. We’d have a clear idea of what mood we wanted to create, how it should sound, and how the piece should generally progress. But the road was open to inspiration. Instrumentals by David and myself, together and solo, were improvised but sometimes sampled, cut-up, and recast. My vocals were fairly straight (no, no Yoko) inclining more to cocktail lounge and big band than rock. Sometimes a bit gospel. The sound of Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl (in Stereo) was/is described by others with words such as Industrial, Electronic, Experimental, Sound-Collage, Noise, Art-Rock. I’ve never known how to describe it. Guess I’d just say it is what it is.

One thing I do know– we had a whole lot of fun doing it. Though being so broke was no fun. That big old railroad apartment was only heated at one end, by the kind of gas heater that even then was archaic. Up on the top floor we froze in the winter and baked in the summer. We didn’t have a stove for a year and juggled pots on a hot plate. And like I said, no phone. But hey, we always managed to scrape together enough for postage and blank cassettes. And when the no-cash blues got tough we got going. Cranking the Mini-Brute to the max and ring-modulating our cares into the international ether.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Mondo QT

“I hear you singing in the wire, I can hear you through the whine…”

Wichita Lineman, Jimmy Webb, 1968

*So as to not clog this paragraph with links, I’m supplying contacts and/or background material re our cassette collaborators below. Haven’t been in touch with some of them for years. Apologies if I’ve missed more apropos links:

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Mondo QT

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