Daily Archives: February 12, 2010

Individually, Chinese are great people. By the billion, they’re pains in the ass

Chinese shopper calling her chef

Demand for tiger private parts doom the animal. They aren’t helping sharks, either.

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Unless he’s senile, toss away the key

73-year-old robs banks “to pay mortgage”. First of all, if he’s that old and still has a mortgage, the old fart’s been refinancing to play Lotto, so screw him. Second, when did a mortgage payment achieve the moral stature of, say, medical treatment for a sick child? I’d put this right down there with supporting a crack habit – which, judging from the perp’s pic, is likely – so again, unless he’s fried those neurons, send him off to three hots and a cot.

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God Damned people!

Boulder, CO residents speak green with their tongues but lust after big screen TVs. And the eco-cops can’t stop them. But they’re stepping up their efforts.

In 2006, Boulder voters approved the nation’s first “carbon tax,” now $21 a year per household, to fund energy-conservation programs. The city took out print ads, bought radio time, sent email alerts and promoted the campaign in city newsletters.

But Boulder’s carbon emissions edged down less than 1% from 2006 through 2008, the most recent data available.

By the end of 2008, emissions here were 27% higher than 1990 levels. That’s a worse showing than the U.S. as a whole, where emissions rose 15% during that period, according to the Department of Energy.

“If a place like Boulder that regards itself as being in the environmental forefront has such a tough time, these types of efforts are not going to work as a core policy” for the nation, says Roger Pielke Jr., who studies the political response to climate change at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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Big duh of the day

Collapse of the Euro is inevitable. Well of course it is, as is the collapse of western civilization. My hope is that the Euro will go long before civilization – say, three years? Two? But I’m confident our bankers will make money all the way down.

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12 Doubling Road

Thanks to readers I’ve been alerted to a previous owner of this estate, one J. Arthur Warner, a Wall Street  crook of the first water. Nice to know that Greenwich has always attracted the illustrious. Here’s just one article about him from Time Magazine, 1953:

In cafe society, Broker J. (for James) Arthur Warner, 52, has long cut quite a figure. A wavy-haired frequenter of Manhattan’s Stork Club and other elegant pubs, he numbered among his friends such leading lights as Walter Winchell, Ginger Rogers and Cinemogul Joseph Schenck. By cafe society standards, Warner really arrived two years ago when his second wife, a beauteous Hollywood B-movie player named Kay Buckley, walked out after exactly 21 days of marriage, with a wedding present of $100,000 in cash.

In Wall Street, Warner had arrived long before. The son of a Boston house painter, he worked his way through New York University, graduated with honors, and in 1932 set up a brokerage house of his own in Manhattan, later branching out into New England. Specializing in “over-the-counter” securities, J. Arthur Warner & Co. flourished, became one of the nation’s biggest dealers in unlisted securities, with assets of $8.8 million.

But for Warner, 1951 was a bad financial as well as marital year. Acting on complaints from some of his customers, the Securities and Exchange Commission started investigating him and his company, turned over its findings to the Justice Department. Last week in Boston, a federal grand jury returned a 70-count indictment, against Warner, two of his office managers and seven of his salesmen.

Core of the indictment: Warner and his associates had traded “customers in & out, and in again, at frequent intervals . . . and at net losses to the customers.” J. Arthur Warner & Co. had thereby indulged in the “fraudulent practice known … as ‘churning,’ by means of which a large part of the customers’ invested capital was taken … in the form of repeated commissions, charges and profits.”

A favorite Warner & Co. trick, said the indictment, was to advise customers to buy stocks that were about to declare a dividend, then trade them out when the stock went ex-dividend, without explaining that the price had fallen by the amount of the dividend. Thus the customers broke even in the market but actually lost money because of Warner’s commissions.

The grand jury, did not undertake to estimate how many of J. Arthur’s customers had been bilked of how much. But five of them have already filed suit to recover a total of $270,000.

UPDATE: The poor guy had trouble with his love life, too. I’m sending this to my pal Bernie Yudain and I’ll see what he remembers of this fine citizen.

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The best argument against a VAT in America

The politicians keep raising it.  Britain is going to raise its to 20% and thus keep even with its European counterparts. Whatever low rate a VAT were to be introduced at into  this country, it would soon soar.

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Ooh, how could this happen?

Obama may abandon civilian trial for 9/11 terrorist. But but, things are so … complicated!!!

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Megan McArdle – ain’t no one going to cut spending

Because it’s political suicide.

But I’m not sure how much more realistic a VAT is, and not just because the Republicans are against it.  It occurs to me that over the last twenty years, the parties have adopted each others’ rhetoric so completely that now almost all viable solutions are off the table.  By which I mean that Democrats want to be the party of tax cuts . . . as long as you make under $250,000 a year.  And Republicans want to be the party of big spending . . . as long as you’re elderly, or have a farm.

The problem is, neither party is willing to go where the money is.  You cannot fund our budget deficit with tax increases on the rich.  The people who make over $250,000 control a large share of national income.  But not that large.  Your ability to tax tops out somewhere–and not at 90%.  Eventually, avoidance, evasion, and changed work habits start rapidly eroding your gains.

Nor can you fund it with unspecified cuts in spending, not even pork.  Pork should be cut because it’s a waste–but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to social security, medicare, defense, veterans affairs, and other things that Republicans don’t really want to mess with.

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Just one question about the America’s Cup race

How could Cousin Henry go over to Spain to cover it and not bring me along? Something about blood thicker than water here, no? Ungrateful pup, although if pressed, I’m not sure I can come up with a reason he should be grateful – perhaps finally stopping teasing him over how long it took him to learn to tie his shoes? (probably 4 – we kept the teasing going until Henry was 12 or so)

As for the race itself, eh. I love multi-hulls, but I’m not impressed with these two, when 3-foot seas keep them in port. Speed is wonderful, but seaworthiness is just as important. Multi-hulls can provide both but these big boys were built just for speed. I mean, they are way cool, but really – stopped by baby waves? Bah.

BMW won the first race of the series today by the way, if you care.

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Price reported

53 Sound Beach

53 Sound Beach Avenue (December contract) sold for $890,000 on an asking price of $995,000. Owners paid $885,000 for it in 2004 and assessment is just $609,000, so I’d say they made out pretty well.

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British health care

Sore toe becomes ulcerous, doctors amputate, infect entire leg, chop off  foot and send man home with two left feet. Nobody tell Paul Krugman.

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Presented without comment

Welcome to Greenwich!
2007 Built Cos Cob Condo
Nestled in the exquisite town of Greenwich you will certainly enjoy this very impressive complex located in the Cos Cob section of town.

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Rumor confirmed

12 Doubling Road was rumored to have a buyer and so it does – contract reported today at $11.250 million, which is a lot. Nice house.

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Lowered expectations

161 Riverside Ave.

This 1965 Murphy house (which sold, I think I remember, for $27,000 back then) is put up for sale periodically by its owner and then pulled in favor of a rental. It’s back for sale today and I think its asking price history tells a tale:

2005: $1.495

2007: $1650

2008: $1550

2010: $1.295

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A sale on Pheasant Lane

45 Pheasant Lane  has sold for $3.3 million (November contract, so don’t get too excited). Its original price back in May 2009 was $4.8 million but the owner was smart and dropped the price down quickly rather than let the place linger up there in the stratosphere. Nice house, needs work.

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A piece of history for sale

30 Sherwood Avenue

The former home of Elie Wiesel is for sale, priced at $3.850 million (it sold for $2.5 in 2005). I haven’t seen what changes the current owner has wrought but I remember it five years ago as a really nice house – dated but I didn’t care. Of course, there was the aura of its owner enhancing it, which probably affected my judgement but still – 7 plus acres. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

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There’s a bright, big beautiful tomorrow…

Right around the corner from Chieftans on 66 Sherwood Avenue, a homeowner is  taking a positive attitude. His house wouldn’t sell for well over a year even though he dropped its price steadily from $2.894 million to $1.8 million so today he’s bumped it to $1.950. That should do it – when buyers who have been hesitating see that they’ve been punished for their foot dragging, they rush right over, checkbook in hand. Or something.

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Catch a falling knife?

12 Chieftans

Chieftans, the development on the old Gimble estate off King Street, has always been a tough sell. Nice houses, but way off to the west and under the airport flight path, they seem to have limited appeal – not no appeal, mind you, but certainly not for everyone. Here’s one owner who must be finding that out.

Number Twelve was built new in 2000 and listed for sale again in 2002 for $2.595 million. The owner tried again in 2007, at $2.995, in 2008 at $3.1 and today he’s back down to $2.8 million. Assessment is $1.7 million.

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Greek fire

A couple of readers have said the same thing, but here’s a depressing story about Greek corruption in the Asian Times.

Corruption in Greece has been systematically cultivated by all governments and parties. Everyone has relatives living off the public sector in cushy, do-nothing jobs. They get paid through various funding sources that successive governments have created so even though the nominal wage is low the actual take home and all benefits are quite high. Another important dimension to the public participation in corruption is that the rich by and large do not pay any taxes. The only people who pay are those who can’t escape the clutches of the state: pensioners and civil servants i.e., sectors where the salaries can be accounted for. According to the President of the National Bank of Greece, 30% of the budget of the last administration was unaccounted for—yes, just disappeared into the coffers of their families and well-wishers, and I would guess the other 70% was never audited.

The common psychological traits of the corruption are what the ancients called alazoneia (brash presumption of knowledge by the ignorant) and anaischuntia (shamelessness). All public institutions have one purpose: Suck money from the EU (or via loans) and redistribute it through an inverted pyramid of chicanery with the the loaf going to the top, the crumbs to the bottom. Most people in their little niches of decay are “expert” at this. They “know” the ropes. As the country psychologically devolves there are no lines demarcating the “good from the “bad”, “responsibility” from irresponsibility”. No one ever goes to jail; no one gets punished.

The Europeans know the state of affairs in the country (which they contributed to for a variety of reasons). They know that no Greek government can implement reforms through a political process of consensus. The people are waiting for their doles; the students are waiting for their payback (cushy jobs somewhere), the unions, the coops are all poised to demand their due from the machines that serve them. Meanwhile the rich are sending money out of the country (Switzerland and Cyprus) in the billions out of fear that the government may have no recourse but to grab part of their accounts in the future.

Hence it seems to me that the only game in town is to put Greece under complete receivership with all orders coming from abroad for fiscal cutbacks and the like. Since the EU has no machinery for doing this and the Greek government could never have a consensus for such a program, these measures will be accomplished through fear. Greeks will be left dangling at the mercy of speculators and others, yet at the same time tacitly supported, so that with each assault the Greek government will be implementing (in a climate of panic and fear) some new unpopular measure to mollify the rating agencies and bondholders. The Greeks have not yet woken up to this new reality. They still think EU is Santa Claus or that someone will bail them out (maybe the Chinese!). The lollipops are being taken away and whatever sweets are left will probably go to prop up the banks.

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Come on, anyone can make a mistake!

Director of Chilean mint fired after misspelling name of country on coins.

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