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Ed Asner, Up and Lou Grant actor, dies at 91

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Ed Asner, the burly and prolific character actor who became a star in middle age as the gruff but lovable newsman Lou Grant, first in the hit comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later in the drama Lou Grant, has died aged 91.

Asner’s representative confirmed the actor’s death in an email.

Asner’s official Twitter account included a note from his children: “We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully.

“Words cannot express the sadness we feel.

“With a kiss on your head – Goodnight dad. We love you.”

Built like the American football lineman he once was, the balding Asner was a journeyman actor in films and TV when he was hired in 1970 to play Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

For seven seasons he was the rumpled boss to Moore’s ebullient Mary Richards (He called her “Mary,” she called him “Mr Grant”) at the fictional Minneapolis TV newsroom where both worked.

Later, he would play the role for five years on Lou Grant.

The part brought Asner three best supporting actor Emmys on Mary Tyler Moore and two best actor awards on Lou Grant.

He also won Emmys for his roles in the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man (1975-1976) and Roots (1976-1977).

He had more than 300 acting credits and remained active throughout his 70s and 80s in a variety of film and TV roles.

In 2003, he played Santa Claus in Will Ferrell’s hit film Elf.

He was John Goodman’s father in the short-lived 2004 CBS comedy Centre Of The Universe and the voice of the elderly hero in the hit 2009 Pixar release, Up.

More recently, he was in such TV series as Forgive Me and Dead to Me.

Nonetheless, Asner said in 2009 that interesting roles were hard to come by.

“I never get enough work,” he said.

“It’s the history of my career.

“There just isn’t anything to turn down, let me put it that way.”

“I’d say most people are probably in that same boat, old people, and it’s a shame,” he said.

As Screen Actors Guild president, the liberal Asner was caught up in a political controversy in 1982 when he spoke out against US involvement with repressive governments in Latin America.

Lou Grant was cancelled during the furore that followed and he did not run for a third SAG term in 1985.

Asner discussed his politicisation in a 2002 interview, noting he had begun his career during the McCarthy era and for years had been afraid to speak out for fear of being blacklisted.

Then he saw a nun’s film depicting the cruelties inflicted by El Salvador’s government on that country’s citizens.

“I stepped out to complain about our country’s constant arming and fortifying of the military in El Salvador, who were oppressing their people,” he said.

Former SAG president Charlton Heston and others accused him of making un-American statements and of misusing his position as head of their actors union.

“We even had bomb threats at the time … I had armed guards,” Asner recalled.

The actor blamed the controversy for ending the five-year run of Lou Grant, although CBS insisted declining ratings were the reason the show was cancelled.

Asner’s character had caught on from the first episode of Mary Tyler Moore, when he told Mary in their initial meeting, “You’ve got spunk … I hate spunk!”

The inspired cast included Ted Knight as Ted Baxter, the dimwitted news anchor; Gavin MacLeod as Murray Slaughter, the sarcastic news writer; and Betty White as the manipulative, sex-obsessed home show hostess Sue Ann Nivens.

Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman, playing Mary’s neighbours, both saw their characters spun off into their own shows.

Mary Tyler Moore was still a hit when the star decided to pursue other interests, and so it was brought to an end in the seventh season with a hilarious finale in which all of the principals were fired except for the bumbling Baxter.

Asner went immediately into Lou Grant, his character moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to become city editor of the Tribune, a crusading newspaper under the firm hand of publisher Margaret Pynchon, memorably played by Nancy Marchand.

Although the show had its light moments, its scripts touched on a variety of darker social issues that most series would not touch at the time, including alcoholism and homelessness.

Asner remained politically active for the rest of his life and in 2017 published the book The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs.

Asner, born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1929, almost became a newsman in real life.

He studied journalism at the University of Chicago until a professor told him there was little money to be made in the profession.

He quickly switched to drama, debuting as the martyred Thomas Becket in a campus production of TS Eliot’s Murder In The Cathedral.

He eventually dropped out of school, going to work as a taxi driver and other jobs before being drafted in 1951.

He served with the Army Signal Corps in France.

Returning to Chicago after military service, he appeared at the Playwrights Theatre Club and Second City, the famed satire troupe that launched the careers of dozens of top comedians.

Later, in New York, he joined the long-running The Threepenny Opera and appeared opposite Jack Lemmon in Face Of A Hero.

Arriving in Hollywood in 1961 for an episode of television’s Naked City, Asner decided to stay and appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, including the film El Dorado, opposite John Wayne; and the Elvis Presley vehicles Kid Galahad and Change Of Habit.

He was a regular in the 1960s political drama series Slattery’s People.

He was married twice, to Nancy Lou Sykes and Cindy Gilmore, and had four children, Matthew, Liza, Kate and Charles. – AP



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The truth about Ireland’s monster €240bn debt: it wasn’t the banks

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There’s a perception that Ireland’s monster debt – it will be €240 billion by the end of the year, on a per capita basis the third highest in the world, was put there by band of rogue bankers. And that we as a people have been victims of a terrible wrong.

The truth of course is more sticky, more unpalatable than the bar stool narratives we tell ourselves.

Most of the debt – more than €100 billion – arose from a sequence of budget deficits run up in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and linked to then government’s mismanagement of the public finances, a government that we voted into office three times in succession.

The former Fianna Fáil-led administration had spent lavishly in 2000s while using windfall taxes from the property sector to plug the holes in its accounts.

Deficit

When these taxes dried up, the deficit ballooned. At the height of the crisis in 2009 the deficit was €23 billion. That meant the State was spending €23 billion more than it was taking in by way of taxes and other income.

This necessitated borrowing on a grand scale, which went on – to a varying extent – for a decade until the State ran a budget surplus in 2018.

The original cost of bailing out the banks was €64 billion but this has been clawed back to around €40 billion by way of levies, dividends and share selloffs arising out of the State’s ownership of the banks.

It’s a big number, but less than half the bill foisted upon us from budgetary mismanagement, none of which can be clawed back.

On a per capita basis, the State’s debt figure equates to €46,000 for every man, woman and child in the State and €103,300 for every worker.

And the cost of servicing it has cost us €60 billion over the past decade: equivalent to three years of health spending. Make no mistake the State is paying for its boom time folly.

So it behoves us to sit up and listen when the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (Ifac) sounds a note of caution about the Government’s budgetary strategy, particularly when it claims we’re sailing close to unsustainable debt trajectory.

And not to dismiss the council’s critique, as some do, as an act of fiscal pedantry, far removed from the realpolitik of government.

While the €4.2 billion spending hike earmarked for Budget 2022 is broadly welcomed, the council takes issue with the Government’s medium-term budgetary strategy, which envisages a series of much bigger budget deficits out to 2025 and nearly €19 billion in additional borrowing.

Debt

This will leave the State with a bigger and less manageable debt up the line and therefore more exposed to the next crisis. There was now a one in four chance of the national debt moving on to an unsustainable trajectory in the years ahead, it said.

The council also warned that borrowing and ramping up spending during a strong recovery could “backfire” triggering an acceleration in prices if capacity constraints, most notably in the construction sector, bite.

You would think that as a country with a big debt, the chief threat here is rising interest rates, something that is likely to arise if the current pick-up in inflation proves longer than expected.

Ifac has stress-tested the Irish economy against possible interest rate hikes and growth shocks, finding the latter poses a greater problem.

While a big 2 percentage point shock to the Government’s borrowing costs would add just 0.4 percentage points to the debt ratio in three years it would barely raise annual funding costs. This is largely because the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) bond issuance is long-dated and, in the main, fixed rate.

In contrast a typical growth shock of 3.6 per cent for two years could add over 20 percentage points to the debt ratio in three years. “With high debt ratios to begin with, this could snowball and make it difficult to pull down debt ratios in later years,” it said.

Plan

Two years ago, NTMA chief Conor O’Kelly was asked what the chief financial risks facing the agency were and if it had a Brexit contingency plan.

He said the agency operated on “permanent contingency” basis . As a small, highly-indebted economy, which relies on international investors for 90 per cent of its borrowings, he said Ireland and the NTMA needed to be in a permanent state of crisis readiness.

The reality is that the next shock, the next thing that will hit our funding market, will probably be something that we have not yet thought of and is not on the front page of every newspaper in the world, O’Kelly said. Nine months later, the Covid crisis hit and the global economy fell off a cliff and the NTMA’s borrowing plans were out the window.

This goes to the heart of Ifac’s commentary: it’s not a case of wondering if there will be another recession or if there will be another financial shock, that’s a given, they’re coming on average every 10 years.

Downturns are part of the natural cycle, financial shocks are part of the global economy. The question is, will you be in a position to borrow and spend your way out of it.


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Berlin house seizure referendum approaches decision day

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In her apartment in suburban Berlin, Regina Lehmann despairs at the letter from her landlord, a big real estate group: the rent is going up.

Effective November 1, the increase of 12.34 euros ($14.54) on her monthly rent of 623.44 euros will be “difficult” to finance with her only income a disability pension, Lehmann tells AFP.

Almost 700 of her neighbours in the popular Berlin neighbourhood of Spandau will suffer the same fate, boosting their rent by up to eight percent.

Increases like these are at the root of a popular initiative to “expropriate” real estate companies such as Adler, which owns Lehmann’s flat,
that will culminate in a local referendum on September 26, the same day as national and municipal elections.

Residents in the capital have become increasingly frustrated with rising housing costs, as the city’s attractiveness to outsiders has grown in recent years.

And beyond Berlin, the cost of housing has become a hot topic on the campaign trail in the contest to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor.

Back in Lehmann’s living room, surrounded by pictures of her family, Lehmann says she simply “won’t pay” the rise.

“I think, if we pay, after a while they’ll just increase the rent again,” she says.

364,000 signatures

Rent campaigners secured the referendum in Berlin after collecting 346,000 signatures in support of their proposition — well above the number needed.

They are pushing to “expropriate” homes from real estate companies with more than 3,000 properties.

The result of the poll will not be binding, but advocates hope to force city government to respond to soaring rents, with the cost of housing going up by 85 percent between 2007 and 2019.

The rise has been painful for residents in the capital where 80 percent of people are renters, and 19.3 percent of people live under the country’s poverty line, compared to 15.9 percent in the country as a whole.

Campaigners lay the blame at the door of major real estate groups, such as Adler, which owns 20,000 properties in Berlin.

In Lehmann’s Spandau district, activists argue Adler’s attempt to hike rents is illegal, exceeding a legal reference index linked to the average rent in each area.

SEE ALSO:

The property group, in response, describes an “improved environment” around the lodgings that gives it grounds to charge more.

Supporters of expropriation have upped the tempo of their campaign in recent weeks to win over undecided voters, hanging posters and organising demonstrations across the city.

Many Berliners experienced rent increases after the German constitutional court struck down a rent cap which had been introduced by the city earlier this year, and a poll by the Tagesspiegel daily showed 47 percent of residents supported the radical proposal put forward in the referendum.

“We have to fight for our rights,” says Catia Santos, 41, who recently attended a rent protest with her partner.

“Recently my rent has gone up by 100 euros, even though I am not earning any more than before.”

Political clash

On Friday, just over a week before the vote, the city of Berlin announced the purchase of 14,750 residential properties for 2.4 billion euros from German real estate giants Deutsche Wohnen and Vonovia, a deal forged under pressure to find an answer to rising rents.

Forcibly taking ownership of privately owned accommodation has largely been rejected by national and local politicians in favour of plans to speed up the building of new homes.

“The best protection for renters is and always will be having enough places to live in,” Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor, told a real estate conference in Berlin in June.

The social-democrat favourite in the local Berlin elections, Franziska Giffey, also declared her opposition to the proposal, saying it could “damage” the city’s reputation.

But her party’s candidate to be chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has called for a “rent moratorium” to stabilise prices.

Only the far-left Die Linke and some individual Green candidates have come out in favour of expropriation, with some even displaying the rent campaigners’ logo on their election materials.



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President’s decision to decline invite to centenary an ‘own goal’, says Senator

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President Michael D Higgins’s decision to decline an invite to a centenary church religious commemoration of partition and the establishment of Northern Ireland has been branded an “own goal” by Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell.

The move was “uncharacteristic” of the President, who has “always been the man to step forward for reconciliation and to do his bit to try to bring this country together”, said Mr Craughwell on Saturday.

The event in Co Armagh next month is not a celebration, but a commemoration, he said, adding that the declination has brought about a “deep sense of disappointment” in some unionists.

“I think we have missed an opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to the more moderate unionists and we have actually enraged the more radical unionists,” he told RTÉ’s Saturday with Katie Hannon radio programme.

Mr Higgins was invited to a “service of reflection and hope”, the Senator noted, adding: “Any of us sitting in this country today, north or south, would want to reflect on the history of this country with the hope that we might have for the future of the new Ireland- an Ireland that would embrace all traditions.”

Mr Higgins’s statement politicised the situation, which was “so uncharacteristic of the President it is difficult to accept”, he added.

Mr Craughwell was one of six Independent Senators who signed a letter to the President on Thursday voicing concerns that he had declined the invitation.

In their letter, the Independent Senators said: “We earnestly suggest, if possible that you should reconsider the matter with a view to attending the event as we believe your attendance has significant potential to advance the cause of reconciliation between the different traditions in Northern Ireland and on this island.”

‘Serious mileage’

Mr Craughwell said there will be “extreme unionists who make serious mileage out of this and the more moderate ones will be deeply hurt”.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane told the programme he could not see “any circumstance” where the President of Ireland would mark, commemorate or celebrate partition.

Mr Cullinane said there is a “fine line between commemoration and celebration”, and he said partition of the island is not a historical event but contemporary, as the country “is still divided and our country is still partitioned”.

Social Democrat co-leader Róisín Shortall said she agrees with the actions of the President, who was “completely within his right” to decline the invitation.

“The partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland is not something that most people would consider good developments or something that we should celebrate in any way,” she said.

There would be a “very different discussion” to be had, with other concerns expressed, said Ms Shortall, if the President had accepted the invitation to the event with its current title, which stated it would “mark the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland”.

Minister of State for the Department of Health Mary Butler said the discussion around the issue has been “a little bit unhelpful” as it overshadowed the President’s visit to the Vatican.

“Unfortunately something that was really positive turned into a negative … The President of our country is entitled to make a decision on any invitation he receives,” she said.

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